Day 10

Start: Hiawassee, GA
Finish: Hiawassee, GA
Miles: 0 Total Miles: 69.6

Another zero. I’d hoped I’d been making more progress at this point, but it is what it is. My body is definitely making its needs felt. I spent the day relaxing, resupplying for the next leg to Franklin, NC, and giving my knees another break.

Tomorrow, I should, if all goes well, start off on a four day stretch to the next trail town.

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Day 9

Start: Tray Mountain Shelter
Finish: Dicks Creek Gap
Miles: 11 Total Miles: 69.6

Well, last night was pretty awful. First the rain set in early and continued through much of the night. No problem there, as I was in a shelter and dry and warm in sleeping bag. However, one or two individuals, who shall not be named, snored. Not just snored, they engaged in a cacophony of such volume and violence that the heavens themselves wept. I might have managed to get an hour or so of sleep, though that might be optimistic. And yes, I did have ear plugs in, Nd they were almost totally ineffectual.

So when dawn arrived, I was a little tired. And dawn wasn’t all that great, since we were on top of a mountain in a cloud that was still spitting rain, and the fog was thick and misty. When I set off, it was still only a half light and this was at 8:00 am. On the other hand, I got to use the privy at the shelter before I left (another first!), though since it didn’t have any overhead covering, I was utilizing it in the rain, and the fog, which delivered what I think might be one of the more surreal moments of my life.

The fog lasted through the morning, though the rain had quickly ceased, and I was just pelted with drips from the mist condensing on the bare tree branches overhead. Fortunately it wasn’t all that cold.

The trail today was fairly mild with only one sharp climb at Kelly Knob, after which it was a slow descent into Dicks Creek Gap which became much steeper the last couple of miles. Since again there were a bare minimum of rocks in the trail, it was still better than the descents a few days earlier. Although the the mud was much in evidence and caused a couple of near spills. So far, I haven’t been blessed with much in the way of views because of the near constant fog, the sun did break out half heartedly after midday which lifted spirits considerably. And let me see the views from a couple of vistas, which encompassed views of more than a few dozen feet for the first time in days.

I had planned on spending the night at a hostel a half mile from Dicks Creek Gap, but the experience in the shelter the night before made me quite leery of another night sharing a group bunk room with a group of potential snorers. Quite frankly, I desperately needed a private room and at least ten hours of uninterrupted sleep. So on the hike down, I resolved to get a ride in whatever manner I could, down to Hiawassee again and the Holiday Inn Express.

When I arrived at the gap, I met Gadget and a couple of other hikers who were camped at the gap and doing trail magic. I also met one of the shuttle drivers from the hostel, who told me that he could come back after he delivered a couple of other hikers to the hostel, and take me back with him where I could catch the 4:00pm resupply shuttle down to Hiawassee. While waiting, one of the trail magic hikers, Crazy Horse, told me he was going down into town, and had his car there at the gap and he’d be happy to take me down. I eagerly leaped at the offer. I then almost as eagerly thought seriously about retracting the acceptance once I saw the vehicle I’d be riding in. It had four wheels, and some sort of engine inside the hood from what I could discern. An engine that seemed, from the sound of it, to be already dead, and then resurrected as part of some weird zombie ritual. I felt like there was a better than even chance I’d be back on the side of the road in a very short time, and trying to hitch the rest of the way into tow.

While on Mister Crazy Horse’s Wild Ride, he regaled me with his involvement with Warrior Hike, an effort to help former soldiers ‘walk off the war’, something that sounded quite interesting. I would have paid even more attention, and responded with something more than monosyllabic grunts, but most of my attention was elsewhere. I was transfixed with the thought, that with the engine sounding like it did, and the interior of the car looking like it did, what did the brakes look like? The answer was something I devoutly hoped I’d never know.

We managed to make it to the motel, intact, and I thanked my host profusely, as well as whatever gods I don’t worship, but whom obviously have a soft spot for me. After a shower, a pizza, and some fresh ice for my knees, I was soon in sleeps’ warm embrace.

Since the weather threatens a severe cold front starting tomorrow, I’m going to take another zero, and let my knees recover some more.

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Day 8

Start: Unicoi Gap
Finish: Tray Mountain Shelter
Miles: 5.7 Total Miles: 58.6

Back on the trail after the better part of two days off.

Started with climbs up and over two good sized mountains. Today, fortunately, a lot fewer rocks to clamber over, for which I, and my knees, were obscenely grateful. I decided on a short day to avoid overstressing said knees. So only six miles overall from Unicoi Gap. I took it slow and easy and arrived at Tray Mountain Shelter a little after 1:00 pm. I felt a mighty temptation to continue on as it was rather early, but the closest potential camp spots were five miles away, almost doubling my mileage for the day.

Fortunately, a group of youngins, of the party animal persuasion showed up at the shelter soon after I did. I was concerned that I was in for a night of depraved debauchery, and wholesale consumption of illicit substances (well in this state anyway), but they indicated that they’d be moving on just as soon as they were mellow enough to do so. Apparently, the mellowness required some fresh brewed coffee, which they had to make from fresh beans, pounded in a bandanna with a rock. Their departure meant that I got to call dibs on the first spot in the shelter, which turned out to be fortuitous as rain set in shortly before sundown.

Tonight, in and around the shelter was Odin (sans Thor alas), Twizzler, Solo, Mcat, Chip, All The Way, and several others who’s names I either didn’t catch or neglected to write down.

We made a fire (also a first) that we got to enjoy for an hour or so till the rain arrived.

At this point I’ve been out in the woods for a total of six days and I’ve been in fog or rain or both four out of the six. Clearer weather is forecast in a couple of days but it appears it will be accompanied with sharply lower temperatures.

By the way, I had for the first time the Beef Stronganoff dinner from Mountain House, which I had been led to believe was one of the better dinners. It isn’t. I won’t be buying this one again. I had a Snickers to make up for the disappointment.

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Day 7

Start: Unicoi Gap
Finish: Unicoi Gap
Miles: 0 Total Miles: 52.9

Zero day!

Managed, after quite a bit of searching, to find a couple of knee braces that I tried out walking around town. They seem to help substantially. I’m still going to spend the rest of the day with ice and my dear friend, ibuprofen, and am planning on resuming the trail again tomorrow.

I’ve also dumped my remaining stock of Kind bars. Although I like these a lot, unfortunately on the trail, they are like eating a handful of sawdust, and require immense quantities of water to wash down. I’ve substituted granola bars instead. So along with the fast food I’ve been consuming the last two days, I’ve dropped the healthy snacks and am racing to scrounge around the bottom of the barrel of foodstuffs as fast as possible. I’ll try and see if I can find a salad tonight that is only 20% saturated fats.

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Day 6

Start: Blue Mountain Shelter
Finish: Unicoi Gap
Miles: 2.4        Total Miles: 52.9

When I woke this morning and got moving, my right knee was just barking. I was concerned that continuing on with the knee as it was would just bring more problems down the trail. So I decided to get off in the next trail town, and spend a day or two resting the knee, and possibly getting a knee brace to give me some more support. Today would be my first nero. A Nero is a near zero day. A zero day is a day with no mileage on the trail.

The descent from Blue Mountain Shelter down to Unicoi Gap was not pleasant. A night of rain had left the trail, again filled with mossy slimy rocks, now covered with a substantial layer of mud, and the trail was quite steep. Between trying to favor a bum knee, and trying to keep from slipping down over a steep precipice, every other step, I managed to overstress the other knee. I definitely need some time off.

I got down to Unicoi Gap, which is relatively close to the trail towns of Helen, GA, and Hiawassee, GA, around 9:30. I found a group of hikers who’d left the shelter before me waiting for a shuttle to take them into town. Everybody, except interestingly enough the Dartmouth coeds, was looking forward to a day in town, and a motel to dry off and clean up. A short time after I got there, a taxi pulled up to drop off a couple of hikers who’d smartly spent the rainy night in town. I asked the driver if he’d take me into Hiawassee and the Holiday Inn Express there and he agreed. Easy fare!

Fortunately, a room was available right away, so I was able to shower and get my clothes washed first thing. I walked down the road to Hardee’s for lunch. I don’t think I’ve been to a Hardee’s in over twenty years. It hit the spot, quite nicely. Obviously, during this thru-hike I’m going to be hitting a bunch of fast food restaurants that I would never have considered before. It seems like my hunger is starting to ramp up. Which is good, since already my clothes are becoming decidedly roomier.

After spending the rest of the day icing both knees and updating my journal, I decided to try another fast food emporium, a Huddle House. I’d never heard of this brand before, but someone described it as a variant on a Waffle House, which does seem accurate. Trying to get my veggies in, I asked for a BLT, plus the only thing on the menu that had actual not-carbs, a salad, on the side. It was a salad with which even the most dedicated non-veggie eating types would have been comfortable. It came with three components, and those components each made up precisely one third of the total salad. There was iceberg lettuce at the bottom, diced tomatoes in the center and shredded cheese at the top. Simplicity itself. I believe that this may be the first time I’ve had a salad in which cheese made up one third of the total volume. I suspect that, since I’ll be hiking in the South a good deal longer, it may not be the last.

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Day 5

Start: Poor Mountain
Finish: Blue Mountain Shelter
Miles: 10.0 Total Miles: 50.5

This was not my best day. Yesterday, I noticed my right knee was starting to bother me a bit. Today, it really began to become a problem.

I packed up camp early, and got on the trail by 8:00. The forecast was a chance of rain, which other than a brief shower before dawn, held off till I was a couple of miles from my goal of Blue Mountain Shelter. At which point, there began a slow and steady rain that continued for the rest of the day and most of the night.

I started off with a climb to the top of Sheep Rock Top, and then a descent into Low Gap, where the shelter I declined to stay at the previous night was located. I used up most of my water and was intending on stopping at the shelter to refill, but managed to walk right past it while pondering something, probably of incredible inanity. Fortunately, there was a little waterfall a third of a mile beyond the shelter where I was able to resupply. I started ascending a mild climb which would last the majority of the day, eventually depositing me atop Blue Mountain, or at least close to it.

The trail today, until the last mile or two was the nicest I’ve encountered since starting the thru-hike. Ah, if only the whole trail were like this! Of course, when I finally got to the rocky section of the hike, the rain started and the rocks I had to clamber over were also quite mossy and slimy. I like to say it was great fun, but I can’t. With going up, over, and down the slippery rocks I put a lot of stress on my knees and they were killing me by the time I got to the shelter. And it was raining. I think I mentioned that.

I hung out in the shelter for a while until the rain temporarily slackened, and then rushed out to set up my tent. I got it up just before the rain started up again. The shelter and the surrounding tent sites were quite busy with a dozen thru-hikers and a party of coeds from Dartmouth that were hiking the trail for spring break. This is the first time on my hike that I’ve spent the night at a shelter, though I didn’t actually sleep in the shelter itself.

I heated up some water for a gourmet meal of spaghetti and meat sauce, courtesy of Mountain House, and then sat around and got caught up on the trail gossip. Apparently, another interesting individual that I haven’t met yet, has become locally famous as 90 Pound Pack Guy. Since he has started the trail at Springer Mountain, he has been shedding gear at each and every shelter. So far the loot has included, among other things, a throwing tomahawk, a hatchet (why anyone would need both of these is a mystery for the ages), and a gun. Yes, he left a gun on the trail. And a couple of German hikers, who were in the shelter that night found it. As I told them, “Welcome to America, you come to visit and we give you a gun! When you get home, tell all your friends!”

At this point, another hiker pulled out what he described as a present from his brother, that he felt compelled to carry along, at least till he gets to someplace where he can mail it back home. It was described as a knife, but from my reading on the subject of ancient weaponry, would more properly be recognized as a Roman short sword. It was a Bowie knife on steroids. As the wielder of this oversized piece of ironmongery pointed out, it also had a compass, and a fire starter, and probably half dozen other implements buried in the hilt. I asked him what he intended on doing with it when he got home, as the only time I’ve ever seen a knife of this size and wickedness, it was in the hands of a particularly depraved serial killer on TV. Of course, once one guy pulls out a knife, every one else had to pull out their knifes for comparison. Fortunately, everyone else had something sensible. I left my Swiss Army knife in my pack, because, knife envy.

I spent a pretty restful night listening to the rain on my tent, snug as a bug. My sleeping pad has been incredibly comfortable. I managed to sleep for close to eight hours, which Mary will attest I hardly ever do at home.

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Day 4

Start: Neels Gap
Finish: Poor Mountain
Miles: 8.8.      Total miles: 40.5

My first day on my own. Mary dropped me off at Neels Gap at mid-morning, and the weather was promising a nice day, albeit mostly overcast. After a bunch of hugs, and a bit of guilt, because I’m deserting my wife, which they used to flog men for back in the day, we parted. I’ll miss her terribly. I’m already missing her terribly. She flies back home today.

Today I hiked over a couple of decent little mountains, Levelland and Cowrock, followed by a hard descent into Tesnatee Gap. From that point there was a difficult ascent to the top of Wildcat Mountain, where a side trail lead to Whitely Gap Shelter. I considered stopping there for the night, but two factors persuaded me to continue. First, was the fact that the shelter was a mile and a quarter off the trail, a distance I’d have to hike back over again just to get to the trail. Second, I encountered a number of day hikers who informed me that there was trail magic at Hogpen Gap, the first I’d encountered on my hike so far. If you don’t count the water jugs left at a couple of previous gaps, that is, which were much appreciated by many. So I soldiered on to Hogpen where a church group was serving up hot dogs, snacks and drinks.

I discovered that after a long and weary seven miles, a Coke is a thing of beauty indeed. And the hot dogs were mighty fine also. I took the opportunity to snag several water bottles to refill my bladder as I was now planning on camping a couple of miles beyond the gap, rather than trying to make it to the next shelter which was supposed to be quite crowded, and also five more miles away. I found a beautiful site on a ridge with great views, and soon found myself with company. A thru-hiker who’s from the area was visited for the night by his mother and nephew, who hiked in with him from the gap, and spent the night camping.

Some additional firsts today besides the trail magic. I got my first blessing from one of the church group members that was hiking along the trial. I’m not sure if blessings will be all that effective for me, fallen sinner type fellow that I am, but the thought was appreciated. Then there was the encounter with an individual that other hikers were referring to as the Mountainman. There was a tale, that I didn’t place much credence in, about a young man hiking the trail barefoot, with his possessions in a bindle. Along about dusk, I was all set up at camp, sitting leaning against a tree eating dinner, when I heard someone running up the trail adjacent to camp. I looked up and discovered that the tales were indeed true. A young man, apparent age in his twenties, barefoot and with a stick on his shoulder that held two plastic grocery bags of who knows what, suddenly appeared from around a bend. He was bushy haired and bushy bearded, and he was as startled to see us as we were to see him. He stopped for a moment, stared at us with a inscrutable gaze which I was devoutly hoping was not homicidal mania, and then trotted off down the trail, probably never to be see again, by yours truly at least. As someone commented earlier in the day, the Appalachian Trail allows one to be what one wants to be. Or something along those lines.

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Day 3

Start: Woody Gap
Finish: Neels Gap
Miles: 10.9       Total Miles: 31.7

Well, it didn’t rain today, that is if you don’t count the drizzle that started up about a mile before the end of the hike, which we aren’t. It was cloudy, foggy, cool, and a pretty brisk wind up on top of the mountains. Today though, I only had to climb one, Blood Mountain, which despite the bone chilling name, was actually quite tame. I think at 4400 feet it is the tallest mountain in Georgia, at least on the AT. It wasn’t too bad, at least the climb. The descent, on the other hand, was six kinds of hell.

Although it didn’t rain, the trail itself was majorly muddy, everything that wasn’t muddy was slick, and the fog contributed a significant amount of drippage to keep everything well lubricated throughout the day. Not entirely pleasant. Still it was better overall day of hiking than yesterday, probably because I left some of my pack weight pack in the B&B for this one climb, and it was shorter mileage also.

At the end of the day, and the mountain descent that shall not ever be mentioned again, except while leaning a bar and nursing a brandy, I met Mary at the trailhead in Neels Gap. Where the famous Mountain Crossings outfitter is located, literally straddling the trail. I now have a t-shirt that establishes the fact that I’ve been there. And a new sun hat, because in three days of hiking I’ve already managed to misplace my first one. Mary said I should start a running log of ‘Things Mike Lost Along the Appalachian Trail.”

Item 1. Sun hat

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Day 2

Start: Hightower Gap
Finish: Woody Gap
Miles: 12.2       Total Miles: 20.8

Much groaning and moaning was heard this morning when someone, a certain thru-hiker wannabe, tried to get out of bed. Everything hurts today. And it’s raining. It’s going to rain all day.

I could have called it a day and holed up to outlast the weather, but if I’m going to hike to Maine, I’m going to get wet, often, and not just from sweat. So I put on my rain togs, covered my pack with a rainproof pack cover, and let Mary convey me to the trail in our heated automotive conveyance. That part was fun. The rest of the day, a twelve mile hike in the rain was much less so. Soon after we arrived, we met a young man who had experienced some serious misfortune, and Mary helped him out, after dumping me on the cold wet trail and leaving me to my own devices. She’s a true trail angel. Her story can be found on her own blog.

The hike itself today wasn’t too bad, if you were in shape, you had your trail legs, and it wasn’t cold and raining. For the rest of us, it was a couple or four miles too long a day, and climbing over Sassafras and Justus Mountains early on in the hike was pretty much the icing on the cake. By noon, I discovered that the only way to stay comfortable was not to stop, but keep moving. So I’d bolt a Kind bar, and start hiking again when I started shivering. If things got too bad I always had my tent and sleeping bag, so it was never dangerous, just uncomfortable.

By the time Mary picked me up in Woody Gap, 12 very long miles later, I had just enough energy to shovel a few bites of barbecue in, and collapse into bed. Hopefully, tomorrow will better, as they’re only forecasting a 30% chance of rain.

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Day 1

Start: Springer Mountain
Finish: Hightower Gap
Miles: 8.6      Total Miles: 8.6

Mary drove me to the parking lot a mile below the summit of Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, to start off my thru hike. It was not an auspicious beginning. I shouldered my pack, said goodbye to my long suffering wife, and promptly started off in the wrong direction. A hiker having breakfast at the side of the parking lot silently pointed out the correct direction. I’m not saying this is conclusively a bad omen, but if the Romans had seen something like this, they’d have been sacrificing vestal virgins in job lots.

So before starting the AT, if one starts at the nearest trailhead to Springer Mountain, one has to hike backwards a mile to the summit, turnaround, and then hike pack to the parking lot, and continue northwards. Therefore, I actually hiked 9.6 miles, but alas only 8.6 miles count.

It was an overall decent day for hiking, temperatures in the 70’s, partly sunny, and a slight breeze. Everyone else on the trial was anxious to get places, probably Mount Katahdin. I suspect none of them quite made it that far as yet. The hiking was not too onerous, with a slight descent for the first half of the day followed by a massive Everest class ascent during the afternoon. Well, it felt like that, anyway.

Mary picked me up at Hightower Gap and whisked me away to a very nice bed and breakfast several miles away. While my fellow hikers were dining on freeze dried lasagna ramen, I had a couple of bottles of a nice crisp IPA, and sinfully rich shrimp and grits. Then a night in a much too comfortable bed. Hiking is hell.

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