I left the trail today. I wasn’t planning to exit at Woody Gap today, I was supposed to exit at Neels Gap tomorrow. There was a water buffalo at Cooper Gap and I could see that I was down to 1.5 liters of water. I really didn’t want to clean my Platypus filter when I got home, so I loaded up with 4.5 liters (10lb) of water at the gap, saying all the time that my knee would hate me. I was right in ways I had never done to abuse myself.
By the time I made it down the trail 2 miles to Justus Creek, my knee was already bothering me. I stopped for another break and gave myself the excuse that it was lunch time. There was a tiny hike uphill to Devil’s Kitchen campsite, where I took another break (I didn’t have enough for lunch). As I hiked another mile to Gooch Mountain Shelter, I was thinking of those inspirational Navy Seal speakers that say you’ve never really met the real limits of your body, that people quit hard physical labor long before their real limits, but I decided that even though I’d only gone another mile, I had to stop to use the Gooch privy. It would lighten my load, you see.
By the time I got to Gooch Gap, at 9 miles into the day, I was thinking about stopping to camp for the night, but it was still like 1:30 in the afternoon. Between Gooch and Woody gap, I started pulling out my phone at regular intervals to check for service. My left knee was killing me. Rocks that I would normally just walk over without a thought and past brought me multiple second moments of pause. The worst part was the physical vs mental struggle. Every time I paused, the first step off with my knee would be torture. Where’s the Advil, I ask myself? At home! Where’s my knee brace? At home! Idiot.
In short, I called my wife on Ramrock Mountain, took some parting photos, and made my exit from this elective event with many lessons learned. Woody Gap is a nice place for picking the trail back up later, much easier to access than the rocky forest service roads.