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Kicked with my own boot
How I got kicked with my own boot and other stories from my two year anniversary hike on the AT...
March 18, 2001
Two years earlier, starting a thruhike on the AT, the prospect of walking to Katahdin was daunting and though we tried to seem calm, many of us aspiring thruhikers were in fact a bit freaked out by the whole prospect. This time, getting onto the AT and starting to hike north, was a joyous, carefree experience. I had no agenda other than walk north for a week.
I spent Sunday with a friend, Michele, visiting the falls at Amicalola, something that I skipped two years ago in the rush to start hiking. Then we drove around to FS 42 and had a nice leisurely walk to the summit of Springer, just .9 miles from the parking area. Relaxing there and reading the summit register, I was recognized by Tarpiní Tom, a hiker I had met at Goose Creek Cabins two years earlier. He remembered Mule, Papa Bear, and all the others from the crowd that gathered there for a night to dry out after a violent storm the previous night two years earlier.
Then, another hiker approached me to tell me that he had just met a family at the Hike Inn that said they had just finished a southbound hike. As far as I could figure, it could only be the Family from the North would had finished the trail a week earlier. Perhaps they are working at Amicalola now? (Has anyone heard anything?)
We then walked up to the Springer Mountain shelter so I could show Michele what they were like and ran into David, a friend of Waterfallís. We hung out there for a bit and then started on our way back to the car. As we passed a small group heading to the summit, one stops me and asks if I was at the ALDHA Gathering last fall. Turns out he was among the fireplace soccer players.
Michele is beginning to realize just how small this thruhiker world really is.
I finally leave the parking lot at FS42 and head north just before 5:00pm. I bypass the shelter and camp just south of Long Creek Falls for the night.
March 19, 2001
The next morning, I have breakfast at the falls and start moving up the trail.
What a difference two years, a bunch of confidence, and a lightweight pack make. With just three days of food, a new pack, and some other new equipment, my pack is only 28 pounds, down from 42 pounds when I had started my thruhike. I was just as prepared as I had been two years earlier.
So, Iím basically just strolling along. Mostly catching up with, and passing people. Two years earlier, I was definitely amongst the slowpokes.
Once again, Iím recognized, this time by Joyce and her husband who I had met at the Ruck this past January. As I pass a trio of slackpackers, they give me a message for a friend of theirs ahead on the trail. I would recognize him by his lightweight green backpack. Sure enough, I eventually meet up with him and heís carrying one of the new Golite packs that has a belt. We walk and talk for the last mile or two into Gooch Gap. Try on each otherís packs and talk lightweight packing options. I met a bunch of hikers there including two men, a journalist and photographer, hiking the trail together. They are carrying significant weight in the form of a MAC laptop and good cameras. Itíll be interesting to see if they continue to carry that equipment for the duration.
I eventually move along and walk a few more miles. The wind has picked up and a storm is due the next morning. Already, thereís been a bit of drizzle so it doesnít seem like itís going to hold off and I look for a spot to camp in the lee of a hill or gap.
One mile south of Woody Gap, I finally pitch my tent with one other hiker, Zigzagger, who also has a Nomad. For once, I found my compass truly useful on the AT. We knew there was high pressure to the north and low to the south. The wind was going to really blow from the east and we both had Nomads. I used my compass to identify east and we pitched our tents carefully to hopefully keep the brunt of the wind from making a sail out of our awnings.
I stretched my tent across an old, overgrown gravel road. I used a hooked branch off of a huge log to ďstakeĒ one end of the tent and have no problems getting a stake in for the other end. For the awning stake, there was no getting a stake in the ground. So, I haul a large (7" diameter, 8í long) log across the road to use to stake the awning out. It has no branches so I pull over some smaller branches to use as chocks to keep the big log from rolling.
Thereís been a little drizzle already starting as we eat dinner but not enough to rush into our tents. Finally, itís getting dark and we call it a night. The wind certainly picks up but the tent is performing admirably - until 1:45am.
Then, the wind starts getting squirrelly. Itís stays primarily from the ENE but starts occasionally gusting from the ESE, just the direction to catch our awnings. At 1:45, a gust catches my awning and literally lifts it up and pulls that huge log a couple of feet closer to the tent. For the first time ever, I decide half mast will be the better option for the awning. I get it set up from inside my tent but then decide I need a pee break. While Iím out of the tent, I clear the snow off the tent. Then I take a look and decide that if the wind could move the log once, then even at half mast, it can grab the awning and move it again. So, I grab another equally large and heavy log to put between the original log and the vertical pole holding my awning up at half mast. I figure that if the original log tries to move, it will bump against the new log which will bump against the pole and then just be stuck and unable to move. Cool. Looks like a great setup.
And this setup did work for another 4+ hours. Then I had a rude awakening when I got kicked in the stomach with my own boot. The wind caught the awning, with a gust strong enough to lift the awning which in turn caused the original log to jump the new log. The log crashed into my tent but thankfully hit where my hiking pole was supporting the tent. My boots were just inside the hiking pole so when the log hit the pole, the pole hit my boot which in turn got sent right into my stomach. Ouch! I quickly realized that if the log hadnít hit the hiking pole, it probably would have crashed through the wall of my tent and hit me much harder than my boot had.
That was it. It was now dawn and light enough to hike. I couldnít do anything to keep the rain out so I packed as quickly as possible. Everything got wet so I knew I had to make it to Neelís Gap, as planned, just 11 miles away. It looked like I would be out a tent stake and an awning pole for a while. They were nowhere to be seen as I packed the tent. I finally found the stake about 20 feet from the tent and then the pole about 15 feet from the tent in some rough grass. I was very glad my poles were yellow and not black like Zigzaggerís.
March 20, 2001
I was mostly getting wet from rain and slush dripping off the trees for the first few miles. After five miles or so, I come across a cluster of tents and approaching the closest tent, inquire if everyoneís OK. Everyoneís OK but the hiker in the first tent I had approached asks if Iím Cheerio. Turns out she was in the next tent over, a Nomad. So I quickly make my way over there and had a little reunion. I hadnít expected to catch up with her so soon.
While the weather had been dangerously windy, with trees and branches coming down even as I walked, it really hadnít been too rainy or snowy so I tell Cheerio as much. Well, I finally say Ďbyeí after making plans to share a cabin at Goose Creek Cabins and continue on my way. Within 10 minutes, the rain starts up again. As I ascend, it turns to snow, then back to rain during the descents. The trail is a creek and thereís no walking on the edges to try to stay dry. I recognize that and donít even try. I follow footsteps of someone who had been camped with Cheerio and gang and he, too, eventually gives up trying to avoid the flood in the middle of the trail.
I skipped Blood Mountain and took the Freeman trail around. It would not have been a good day to climb Blood. Then again, the Freeman trail was remarkably rough compared to anything along the AT in Georgia. But, I was glad to stay lower down the mountain.
In the meantime, I have allowed myself to get totally soaked through. With temperatures hovering around freezing, I know I could easily get in a bad situation if I stopped moving. So, I take it slow and easy knowing that I now have no protection if something keeps me from being able to walk. But, I have no problems getting to Walasi-Yi and hiked the 11 miles by noon.
There, I warm up with a hot chocolate and make my way to the dryer where I start stripping my clothes and shoving them in the dryer. Thereís a heater in that room so I start warming and drying myself by the heater while my clothes dry. Every now and then, I pulled something dry out of the dryer and threw something else wet in. By the time an hour was up, my clothes were dry and I was warm and dry. I met Dan, Peanut Butterís friend repacking his backpack and getting ready to head out into the elements. Then I caught a shuttle to Goose Creek Cabins. There, I found that Cheerio had managed to get a ride into town (from Jarrard Gap?) and had already gotten us a room with one other hiker, Billie.
The three of us ended up sharing that room for two nights, drying everything out. Cheerio finished seam sealing her tent that day. Billie did some soul searching. I basically just hung out and made some (invited) suggestions for Tuckerizing their packs.
I also realized that my thruhiker appetite had already kicked in. Then again, I was already hiking thruhiker miles at thruhiker speeds so I guess it should have kicked in.
March 22, 2001
This ended up only being more evident on Thursday when I left Goose Creek Cabins early. I realized that the Blue Mountain shelter was 18 miles up the trail and I thought it would be great if I could get there so I could see the sunrise from the shelter the next morning. I really had no idea if I could make it or would want to but I thought I would give it a try.
I finally got on the trail at 9:00 after a stop at Walasi-Yi and quickly gave up on the idea of reaching Blue Mtn. shelter. The trail was still snowy and slushy where it wasnít muddy. The going seemed really slow - until I got to (Hogpen?) gap and realized I had just hiked 5.5 miles in under 2.5 hours in really sloppy conditions. I really was not pushing, but just hiking at a comfortable pace. So, I just kept going, taking breaks here and there. I pulled into Blue Mountain shelter just a little after 5:00.
While I was glad to see the shelter, I was also a bit disappointed. The shelter has been modified and now has extensions to the walls and roof. It used to allow a lot of weather in to the shelter during bad weather. The modifications solve that problem but perhaps affect the ability to enjoy the sunrise. There was also plastic sheeting up blocking whatever view we would normally have. Had I gotten there earlier in the day, I probably would have pulled it down, but with the crowds there, I was not so inclined.
So, I settled in to the shelter, got to meet a bunch of the other hikers, and had plenty of time to get water, cook dinner, and hang out at the campfire with the rather large crowd gathered there.
Once again, I met the journalist and photographer hiking the trail with their heavy equipment. They are hoping to come up with a book on the AT more for the mainstream rather than the typical niche market. Heís a journalist though and is not trying to write another 'Bryson' type book. When I mentioned at-l and my own web site, rather than noting it down, he pulled out his laptop and noted the information there. He did not apparently even think that might be annoying to some hikers. For anyone interested, you can find his web site at www.wolftrails.net/vrexployer. I tried it and it hasnít been updated since they started. Itís also extraordinarily slow to load - and thatís from my speedy work connection. [as of 10/1/01, it doesn't exist anymore]
I had been a shelter rat on my thruhike and so far had felt little desire to stay at shelters. I mostly wanted to stay here just for yucks, to try to regain that thruhiker feeling, and to see the sunrise which I had bypassed two years earlier. I had assumed that I would want to remain a shelter rat because even in the Whites all last year, I preferred to stay in shelters than set up my tent. But, after a night next to a squirmy four year old who was having nightmares and constantly trying to invade my Thermarest, one night in a shelter was enough for me.
March 23, 2001
The next morning, someone woke me up for a spectacular sunrise.
I had an interesting experience as I was getting ready to hit the trail in the morning. My favorite NH 4,000íers Nalgene water bottle was full and ready to get added to my pack. The top was on tight so I wasnít too concerned when someone knocked it off the edge of the shelter. Then, I realized there was water everywhere. To everyoneís amazement, the entire top of the Nalgene bottle had broken off the rest of the bottle. Now I know that old Nalgene bottles can get brittle but this one was only 6 years old or so. Granted, it had been all over the world and spent six months on the AT, I didnít think it was anywhere near the end of its useful life. While I have other bottles, it was really nice to have such a distinctive bottle. Iíll probably replace it next time I get to Ragged Mountain Outfitters in NH.
I took all day to go the 12 miles to Sassafras Gap. There, I camped with four other people, including Serge, a former pro basketball player. At 7í3" and with size 19 feet, Iím willing to admit that he has a harder time finding appropriately sized gear than I do. But, he has a mother who sews.
March 24, 2001
The next morning, we were treated to yet another spectacular sunrise.
Shortly after I passed the turnoff to Deep Gap shelter, I see something ahead on the trail. At first I think porcupine but then I realize, NO! Itís a polecat! Yikes! And I almost walked right up to it. For those people like myself who grew up in the north, a polecat is a skunk. This one had a white spot on the back of its head and neck but no stripe like Iím accustomed to seeing up north.
Anyway, you just donít hurry a polecat so as I watched a couple of guys caught up with me in time to see the polecat meander away. It was only as I reached the side trail to the "vista," that I realized that two years earlier, I had smelled skunk in about the same spot I had just seen one. It was at that vista two years earlier that I met some locals who informed me that they were called polecats.
With only 6 miles to go, I slowed down a lot as I approached Dickís Creek Gap. I was much earlier than I had expected to get there and now I really wanted to prolong the hike. It would be so easy to just stay on the trail and keep hiking north. But, when I got to the gap, I hitched a ride to town and managed to get POG on her cell phone before she stopped at the trailhead trying to find me. A half hour later, my stuff was loaded in her car and we were off. Another AT thruhike will have to wait for another year.
We drove back up to the Blueberry Patch where I got to say Ďhií to Gary. Then continued to the trailhead where we worked the trailmagic for three hikers who we then brought back to town. Then we meandered our way back towards Atlanta with a stop at Walasi-Yi.
All in all, it was a great hike and a much better way to spend the two year anniversary of the start of my thruhike than fretting in my cube for a week. For what it's worth, I covered in about five days, what took me nine days to cover on my thruhike.
I have high hopes for meeting some of the hikers I met in Georgia when they get to New England.
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