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.

Posted in Appalachian Trail | Comments Off

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.

Posted in Appalachian Trail | Comments Off

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.

Posted in Appalachian Trail | Comments Off

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.

Posted in Appalachian Trail | Comments Off

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

Posted in Appalachian Trail | Comments Off

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.

Posted in Appalachian Trail | Comments Off

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.

Posted in Appalachian Trail | Comments Off

Amicalola Lodge

We originally planned on staying at the Amicalola Falls State Park Lodge for a couple of nights. That didn’t work out. It might have been the fact that water gave out at 7:00 pm the first night we were there, and still wasn’t restored halfway through the second day.

Or it might have been dinner in the lodge the first night, when Mary ordered a glass of wine. She was looking for a nice little Pinot Noir. Unfortunately, our waitress came back with a substitute glass of wine, because they were out of the Pinot. The waitress said though, that the substitute wine was the closest too pinot that they had in house. When Mary asked what kind of wine it was, the waitress became flustered, and stammered that it “was red, uh, red.” And so it was.

The staff is friendly, the lodge has been recently renovated, and there’ s a nice view. And they have red wine. I’m not sure why we only stayed one night, but Mary has this thing about flush toilets.

I checked in at the park visitor center and signed the register for through hikers. I was though hiker #529 for 2015. Tomorrow, I start a’ hikin’!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off


Flying out of a small airport like Colorado Springs has its benefits. Like being able to long-term park close in to the terminal, check-in queues that are usually in single digits, and being one of the few people who gets to use PreCheck. What the airport gains in Mayberry-like, small town friendliness, it looses in efficiency and flexibility. Direct flights to anywhere besides Dallas (American’s hub) and Denver (United’s hub) are few and far between. If we’re lucky enough to have a direct flight somewhere, it’s going to be at some ungodly hour.

Like our flight to Atlanta this morning which left at 6:30 AM, in the dark, and the cold.

We did get to Atlanta before noon, so there’s that, and after picking up a rental car and checking into our hotel, we were able to spend the afternoon relaxing, napping, reading and obsessing about what I forgot to pack. It took me several hours but I finally figured out that the vague feelings of having forgot something have, for once, turned out to be correct. I’m short one pair of Smartwool boxer briefs. Not the end of the world, just a little wobble on the axis. Since we have to stop by REI tomorrow on our way up to Amicalola Lodge, to pick up the gas canister for my JetBoil, I can replace the briefs at the same time.

Our room on the Club level at the hotel comes with an offer to press two articles of clothing, for free. I expect that will be the last time I will see that particular amenity for a long, long time.

Dinner at Buckhead Diner was enormous. I know in a month, I’d be happy, happy indeed with a meal that has enough calories to feed an entire sumo wrestling club for an hour or so, but right now it’s a little over the top.

Posted in Appalachian Trail, Travel | Comments Off

One Week Out

Well, one week from today, I’m be on the trail, living free, enjoying the outdoors, and starting to think about when I can get off again. All of my gear purchases are done, initial foodstuffs are acquired, pack has been packed, and repacked, and re-repacked. Plans for meetings along the trail with significant others have been proposed, shot down, altered and proposed again, and provisionally accepted.

I’ve packed the same small bar of soap three times now, taking it back out, because of weight, and then putting it back in after reconsideration of my hygienic ablutions. Although scraping dirt from the skin with a knife or a piece of flint was considered the height of personal grooming back in the day, it is apparently not as popular today.

I’ve gotten advice on how to handle dangerous situations with animal predators (shoot them), reptilian predators (shoot them), and human predators (shoot them, reload, and shoot them some more). All of which I ignored because guns are heavy, I don’t have any, and statistically I have a better chance of getting a date with Christina Hendricks, then I do of encountering any type of predator, that wants to do me harm, while on the trail.

I’ve taste tested every kind of processed food suitable for rehydration, that can be found in a grocery store, and concluded that 75% of my nutritional needs will probably be met with Snickers bars. I made up a first aid kit with provisions for every emergency it’s possible to conceive, found out it was going to weigh twelve pounds, and cut it down to the real essentials, Imodium and Benadryl.

So, at this point everything is packed, stuffed, loaded, cinched down, tied down, bagged, tagged, and ready to go. And so am I!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment