Day 16

A zero today in Franklin. I resupplied, switched out some new gear from an outfitter, and lazed around digesting heavy starchy meals leavened with as many salads as I could find. The whole day it was overcast and occasionally spitting a little rain, so I wasn’t disappointed to be off the trail.

Tomorrow I start the trek to the fabled Nantahala Outdoor Center, followed soon after by Fontana Dam. And then the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

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Day 15

Start: Rock Gap Shelter
Finish: Winding Stair Gap
Miles: 3.8 Total Miles: 109.8

In the morning, I finished off the last of my breakfast comestibles, and packed up as quickly as I could. Of course, around nine the previous evening there had been another thunderstorm, this time with hail, or so I was told by others, but I was too sleepy to poke my head out and check. So another wet tent to pack up. I wanted to get an early start because there was a close to four mile hike to the gap where I could catch a shuttle into Franklin, and supposedly the shuttles only ran at 9:00 and 11:00 am.

The elevation graph for the hike was a little misleading and the first mile was a bit of a killer, but I still made good time and got to the gap within two hours. As it turned out, the town of Franklin has instituted a shuttle service of its own, as opposed to the shuttles supplied by a couple of the motels in town, and the town shuttle would take me direct to my motel, a Microtel on the east side of town. And the town shuttle was only three dollars, which was a great deal.

I rode into town with Zirco, from Ottawa, and Mountain Dew. The Microtel is pretty bare bones, and actually it’s the first time I’ve stayed in one. They’re ubiquitous in Europe, but I don’t think they’ve been here in the States all that long. The one draw back to this motel was that there wasn’t a laundry on premises, so after I finished taking a shower I spent the next hour washing clothes in the tub. Thank god for quick drying hiking gear.

Food choices were as usual fast, and frequently deep fried. I managed to find a Shoneys with a salad bar, which I utilized the upmost capability only skipping the broccoli, cause who needs that? There was also a fried chicken side excursion, later on, but the less said about that the better.

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Day 14

Start: Betty Gap
Finish: Rock Gap Shelter
Miles: 8.4 Total Miles: 106.0

Another milestone today. I made it past a hundred miles. I should probably have gotten a photo or a plaque or something to denote this momentous event, but I managed to hike right past the hundred mile mark without noticing it.

The day started off with a climb up Albert Mountain. From the map it looked absolutely terrifying, seemingly going straight up to the peak. And it was very steep, with a couple of spots where I had to throw my hiking poles up ahead, so I could use my hands to clamber over rocks. But all told, it took only about a half hour to do the worst part of it. On the top of the mountain is an old fire tower, that the Forest Service locks up, but you can still climb to just below the top level. Why does one want to climb further up a rickety tower (it wasn’t really rickety, Mary) after climbing a steep mountain path? Humans be crazy, I guess. The views were worth it. It was a beautiful day with crystal clear visibility, or what counts as crystal clear visibility in the Southern Appalachians.

As luck would have it, I managed to pull a muscle in my left calf, and not on the steep ascent, but on the approach trail. So I had to nurse that for the rest of the day, which slowed me down, although I still made it to Rock Gap Shelter by three. The next gap, where one can get a ride into Franklin, NC was another 3.8 miles ahead, but I figured at the pace I was going, I’d get there close to dark so I decided to pull up and camp at the shelter. I was the first one there and soon joined by Greenman, Ofie, Paradox, Lean Too, and a bunch of others who I’ve seen the last several days. It seems like everyone is planning on getting off in Franklin tomorrow. I will also, and take a further zero to heal up, resupply and buy a few new pieces of gear.

The Smartwool boxers I have performed as advertised via a vis resisting odors (thank god), but unfortunately I seem to be prone to some sort of rash from them. So I’m going to have to replace them at one of the outfitters in Franklin. I need a new carabiner for hanging my food bag as the one I have is shot. Small things like that.

Tonight is the fourth night in a row I’ve camped out which makes it the longest continuous camping expedition I’ve spent in my life. The surprising thing is how many other people I’ve encountered who are in the same boat. Everyone you talk to is pretty upbeat and having a good time.

With the pulled muscle and all, I was tired and hit the sack early. Too early. Apparently, shortly after I retired a couple of women showed up at the shelter, coming up from a road which was just below the shelter, and brought a couple of pizzas and bunch of beers. Trail magic. Which I missed again, and it was literally no more than twenty feet from me. When I saw a few remaining beers sitting on the picnic table in the morning, Lean Too told me what I missed. He joked that I might consider changing my trail name to No Magic. It’s appropriate but I’ll stick with Metallic for now.

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Day 13

Start: Standing Indian Shelter
Finish: Betty Gap
Mile: 11.3 Total Miles: 97.6

As predicted, a thunderstorm moved in just before dawn. It was pretty exciting, especially for someone from Colorado, where thunderstorms when you’re hiking are more likely to induce stark, screaming terror. Since normally, if you encounter a thunderstorm above tree level you are the highest standing object and thus make for a natural and soon carbonized lightning rod. But snug in my tent, below tree line, I was comfortable and enjoyed the light show. The rain continued till about seven, then tapered off. Still packing a wet tent in temperatures just slightly above freezing in the morning wasn’t what I’d call fun.

This morning, I ate a more substantial breakfast than I have normally, and also had some hot coffee before setting out. I wanted to hike around twelve miles for the day, which would put me just a little over a day from the road that leads to Franklin, NC.

For the first time since I started hiking, I really made good progress with a minimum of pain and effort. I’m not saying I’ve got my hiker legs yet, but I’m getting closer. The hike started off with a major climb. I managed that in a little over on an hour. From there, the rest of the day was extraordinarily pleasant. Of course, I started in fog with drippage from the trees, but by 11:00am the sun broke out, and although it was still fairly cool, it became a great day for hiking.

I made it to Betty Gap around 3:00, which was a little early, but since very soon after was the climb up the dreaded Albert Mountain, I decided to call it a day. For a change, the camping site was located in and among a grove of rhododendrons, so instead of the usual bare trees and dead leaves that we usually see, there was actual greenery.

Tonight, I dined on the first of my AlpineAire freeze dried meals, a Chicken Vindaloo. It didn’t resemble any vindaloo I’ve ever had previously, but it was mildly spicy and filling. So far I’ve had the Mountain House Beef Stronganoff, Lasagna, Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, and Chicken and Rice, and of them all, the Lasagna was the pick of the litter. Although it does leave a thick deposit of quasi-cheese on the spoon, which takes quite a while to chip off. It occupies one’s evenings, when seated around the campfire.

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Day 12

Start: Bly Gap
Finish: Standing Indian Shelter
Miles: 7.7 Total Miles: 86.3

Temperatures were under fifteen degrees this morning. Even though my bag is only rated for thirty degrees I was fairly comfortable, with a set of base layers, and my puffy jacket. And gloves and a wool watch cap. And wool socks.

Bly Gap is located just across the North Carolina border, so the first real Carolinian mile of hiking was this morning, and a steep one it was. Seemed like it was pretty much straight up. Evil portent or light hearted tease? The jury is out.

After that first mile the rest of the day was fairly standard hiking. It warmed up a bit and the sun was out all day which was a nice change of pace. I’m continuing to try and keep my miles low so my knees and various other parts of my anatomy can adapt. It seems to be helping, slowly.

Tonight, I’m camping at the shelter, but not sleeping in the shelter itself. They’re forecasting temps in the thirties overnight which will be somewhat warmer than last night. They’re also forecasting 109% chance of rain before dawn. Because. That means I’ll be packing up a wet tent, but at least I don’t have to put up with the snorers in the shelter. And they don’t have to put up with my snoring, so everyone involved will be happier, I’m sure.

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Day 11

Start: Dicks Creek Gap
Finish: Bly Gap
Miles: 9 Total Miles: 78.6

Back on the trail, again! I used the same shuttle as last time to get back out to Dicks Creek Gap and started climbing up around 8:30 am.

For the first day back hiking after time off, it wasn’t a bad day overall. There was one good climb over Buzzard Knob, then a gradual climb up to Bly Gap, about a mile short of Courthouse Bald. I made it to Bly Gap around 2:30 pm, and the next shelter at Muskrat Creek was only another 2.4 miles. But the forecast was for low temperatures of around 15-20 degree F tonight. The shelter was located 800 feet higher than the tenting area at Bly Gap. Which also had the added benefit of being below a ridge and thus largely protected from the wind. I can hear it howling overhead but here in the gap it’s calm.

The big news for the day is that I’ve made it to North Carolina! My first state complete. Everyone than adds thirteen more to go, but I won’t do that.

There are lots of people camping here in Blys Gap tonight. Familiar thrus include Odin, Twizzler, Young Gun, Crispy, Greenman, Ofie (I think that’s how it’s spelled) and scads of others.

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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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