Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
March - The Beginning
Day 1 - Springer Mountain Shelter - 9.0 miles total - .2 on AT
Grace, my shuttle driver (Thanks Grace!), picked me up from my friend’s mother’s place in Atlanta. Thankfully, she had my new tent, a Nomad Lite (long) from Kurt Russell at Wanderlust Gear. The drive to Amicalola was uneventful and we arrived before the ranger station there opened. I took the extra time to set up the tent and make sure there were no obvious problems. Normally, I would not want to start a trip with untested gear but in this case, it was saving me two pounds and seemed well worth the risk.
I then weighed my gear. With six days of food and one quart of water, my pack weighed in at 42 pounds. I signed in at the ranger station and made use of the last flush toilet I expected to see for a few days.
There was one other hiker, Ray, hanging out at the arch behind the ranger station. The arch is at the start of the approach trail. We exchanged cameras so we could each have pictures of ourselves under the arch. Then we set off together to take the first steps of the longest trail I have ever tried to hike. We hiked together for a while but then I wanted to walk alone for a while but I couldn’t "lose" him. Finally, I got a bit ahead of him before the summit of Springer Mountain and it gave me some time to think. As much as I was looking forward to hiking solo, I did find myself feeling that my friend who had given me the idea to hike the AT should be there for the hike to Springer.
I had been warned that the approach was hard and perhaps not worth it. If I was short on time, perhaps that would have made sense, but all but a short stretch on gravel going to the top of the falls was a very nice hike. Well maintained, mostly smooth paths made for easy walking, if hilly. Once here, however, it seems those of us who regularly hike in the Whites thought it was a nice hike. Others found it more strenuous.
I was met on the top of Springer by harmonica music. I found a whole group of thruhikers heading for Maine there. I expect to see a lot more of them.
It was great to see register entries on the top of Springer from various other "list" members. Already, someone coming to the shelter behind me recognized my name. People here at the shelter include Marci and Johnny, George, John and Alan (from the list), Ray (aka Checkdam), Rich, Rob, Steve from England, Kevin and his dog, Tigger, Lisa and her dog Jasmine out with Anthony (aka Walkabout ’98), and Jennifer and Eric.
Flora and Fauna today - saw a woodpecker (probably downy), some sort of hawk, and Holly trees growing along the trail.
Day 2 - Hawk Mountain Shelter - 7.4 miles - 7.6 total
Well, the mice were active last night. They stashed a bunch of nuts and seeds in someone else’s boots. I got the results from the other end. Blech! I will always remember to shake out my boots in the morning.
Today was a quick and easy day through beautiful arches of tree height Rhododendron bushes. A lazy lunch stop at 11:00 at Long Creek Falls, then a quick stop at an old cemetery to see very well maintained sights with freshly cut flowers on each grave. Nearby was a playground toy, kind of like a see-saw but spins rather than rocks. I spent much of the day hiking with Rob.
In general, I’m feeling just great. I’m having no problems with aches and pains in my shoulders, hips, back or legs. The bottoms of my feet are sore but that is probably because I’m still breaking in the new soles on my boots. I will continue to stick with these low-key, low mileage days until my feet feel better. At least I have no blisters. Sunburn is also an issue. I keep forgetting to use my sunscreen - but at least I have it with me.
The Esbit stove has worked well so far, but lighting the fuel can be problematic at times. I am glad I have a lighter.
One of the guys at the last shelter, Alan, comes from East Hartford, about a mile from where I grew up. He works in Rocky Hill, about a mile from where my sister’s family lives. Small world. Tonight at the shelter, there’s mostlyu the same crowd as last night, plus Teabag and Carefree, Andy, Russell, Hungry Hiker, and Tom. Wes just wandered in with greetings from Twilight. Tonight, Kevin and I suggested Rob take the trail name Sir Pee-a-lot, so he did. Cool!
Today we were repeatedly buzzed by a helicopter (a dozen times or more). Once close enough that when we waved, they waved back. There was a controlled burn happening nearby. Only after it turned dark, could we see the fire ringing the burn area a few miles away.
Day 3 - Gooch Gap Shelter - 8.4 miles - 16 total
Today's major climb was over Sassafras Mountain, all of a 700’ climb. Once again, the body is willing to go more miles, but my feet were glad to stop at 2:15 here in Gooch Gap. I got my first blister on the bottom of my heel. It does not hurt and is not slowing me down, so I will just keep watching to make sure it does not get worse.
My appetite seems to be kicking in. I have not been hungry, but I am eating more. Today’s major stop at Justus Creek was beautiful. We stayed for quite a while and had lunch, cooled our feet and watched Tigger, the German Shepherd/Malamute mix, and Jasmine, the Jack Russell Terrier, chase each other around. They have been our entertainment for the last two days.
Here in Gooch Gap, it has been very smoky. There’s even some ash flying around, but the fire must be far away. Talked to a local, who does not know whether this is from the controlled burn or the fire caused by an overturned gas truck that set off a forest fire. One of the things that surprised me is the number of roads criss-crossing this area. The forest roads here are well maintained, and we see occasional vehicles on the road.
There are five of us in the shelter tonight, Sir Pee-a-lot, Russell, Andy, Shadowman, and myself. All of the other in the area camped below by the road. At dusk, a mouse ran across the front of the shelter. Sir Pee-a-lot jumped up - and only "just" remembered to bring his sleeping bag with him. Ah, the dangers of sleeping in the nude.
Day 4 - Bird Camp, near Wood's Hole Shelter (tent) - 10.6 miles - 26.6 total
There were a number of firsts today. First paved road crossing, an opportunity to talk with some trail maintainers and throw out some garbage. First weekend on the trail brought out lots of weekend backpackers, day hikers and a couple of trail runners. First opportunity to be seen as a novelty amongst other trail users. First trail casualty when Tom got off the trail to deal with bad blisters. Tonight will be my first tent night. Report on the Nomad due tomorrow.
Once again, I found the hiking to be relatively easy. Here, instead of going up for hours climbing 3000 feet, then coming down for hours, you go up and down a few hundred times all day long. It probably amounts to the same amount of climbing, but it does not seem to take as much out of you. Once again, I was torn when I got to Bird Camp. I knew I could make it up Blood Mountain, and thought I could make it to Neel’s Gap - but I decided not to push it. Besides, I had all this extra food to eat with me.
So far, the weather has been in the 60’s during the day, and sunny. Tonight, the wind is freshening and already we had a few sprinkles. Perhaps I will end up reading for the first time tonight as well.
Sir Pee-a-lot, Andy, Kevin, and Marci and Johnny went ahead.
Day 5 - Goose Creek Cabins - 4 miles - 30.6 total
White blazes, sentinels in the fog. These 2"x6" white paint markers on trees, rocks, telephone poles and the occasional building will be my guide from Georgia through Maine. Today, in the fog, they are welcome markers where there are no other points of reference.
This fog is the remainder of a violent storm that blew through at 4:00am this morning. The lightning was blinding, but the thunder, thankfully indicated that the lightning remained a good five miles away. Coming down off the summit of Blood Mountain, I encountered a beautiful view of hills with fog settling in the valleys in between.
Once down in Neels Gap at the Walasi Yi Center, I made my phone calls to my support (Lori) and a local friend (Coosa), and then was treated to doughnuts and chocolate milk by one of the thruhiker’s parents. Then it was off to Goose Creek Cabins to dry out, shower and have my laundry done. It feels so good to be clean. A quick trip to a local convenience store for sandwich makings, boiled peanuts (the jury is still out) and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Tonight will be take out pizza and a salad. I will be sharing a cabin with Torti (sp?) tonight.
Rob, Andy, Kevin and Tigger went ahead to Low Gap. Who knows when or if we’ll see them again?
Observations: Woodpeckers are ubiquitous here. Flushed a grouse, saw a cardinal and a robin. Heard what was likely a deer moving about the campsite yesterday. The descent off the summit of Blood Mountain was more like the Whites than anything else to date.
Notes on the Nomad:
Setup was quick and easy. I cannot tell which end is the head or foot as Kurt intended, but I prefer to sleep with my head away from the door end. (I think Kurt intended the reverse.) There was just one quarter sized puddle in the tent this morning. I do not know where the "leak" came from, but it was far enough in that it was not a problem. Other than that, there was some splashing up from the ground to the netting, but not enough to be a problem. The tent sagged a bit when wet. The tent provided enough head and foot room for me, but if you’re much taller than 6’1", there are physical limitations to the hiking pole arrangement. For me, I can sit up, lie on my stomach, or toss and turn in relative comfort.
Day 6 - Low Gap Shelter - 10.6 miles - 41.2 total
Goose Creek Cabins is in Union County, a dry county. Last night, however, chips were available in the lodge. Chips, or potato chips, are a euphemism for beer.
This morning, I sent my first bounce box ahead to the Blueberry Patch. Most of what I sent ahead was extra food. A few miles up the trail, I’m sure I will appreciate it. Right now, it’s just extra weight. At the Walasi-Yi Center this morning, I bought a bite valve adapter for my Dromedary bag. Unfortunately, it did not seal properly and leaked almost immediately. Thankfully I realized that while I was still at the center, so I could return the bite valve.
It was about freezing when we set out this morning. We started out fast to help up warm up. For most of the morning, I walked with Jennifer and sometimes Eric too. At Hogpen Gap, we experienced our first episode of trail magic. There, "Even Steven" was handing out soda and mints. Your choice of Pepsi, Mountain Dew and Sprite. He maintains the spring area in the Gap and makes sure hikers have a place to sit and relax.
From there, Even Steven said it would be 2½ hours to Low Gap. I took off with Eric and we found ourselves at the shelter just 1½ hours later. It promises to be another cold night out tonight.
The usual crowd was here tonight plus Dan, Tom, Drew and Jason.
Day 7 - Indian Grave Gap (tent) - 12.1 miles - 53.3 total
An early start today had me on the trail by 7:30. Walking on an old road for the first few miles was easy going. Then there were a few ups and downs with some rocky stretches, reminiscent of New Hampshire. By 11:30 we arrived at Blue Mountain Shelter, my original destination for the day. I had some interesting conversations with George along the way.
After eating and napping, I was ready for some more hiking. Unfortunately, a bloody nose as I descended Rocky Mountain put a damper on my intended Cheese Factory destination, so I camped near the road with a large crowd. There is safety in numbers, I hear. Also camped here are Russell, Steve, Mule, Red Blaze, Popeye and Olive Oyl.
Today was the day I finally gave in to the temptation to go further than my original schedule suggested. With any luck, I will make it to the Blueberry Patch a day ahead of schedule. That should be just in time to beat a storm headed in this direction.
Mule and I stayed up a chatted a while after the other had gone to sleep. We both find it difficult to go to sleep so early and stay asleep so long.
Day 8 - Deep Gap Shelter - 9.9 miles - 63.2 total
So far, a typical day of hiking entails leaving the shelter around 7:30, hiking for a couple of hours, stopping for a snack, hiking for a couple more hours, and then stopping for lunch. If not with people while hiking, we almost always hook up with other hikers during the breaks. It’s not unusual when stopping for lunch to take of your boots and change into Teva-type sandals. If it’s a nice day and a picturesque spot, lunch can stretch to an hour long or more. With these short mileage days, there is often no afternoon break before getting to the next shelter or campsite around 2:00 or 3:00.
Today was my first day of hiking primarily alone. I find a go a bit slower on average when I am hiking alone. I take a lot more time to look around, watch for birds and other interesting flora and fauna. I’m also taking the time to enjoy the views. The trees are still bare so you can see for miles. It is easy to imagine how limited the view will be after they leaf out.
Tonight we’re sitting around a campfire built by a couple of guys on break from Georgia Tech. There is a beautiful moon - halfway to full and a stiff breeze pushing clouds by the moon.
Rob, Dan, Russell, Mule, John, Alan, and Steve (now Candleman) are all here tonight.
Day 9 - Dicks Creek Gap - 3.5 miles - 66.7 total
A short hike out today. This morning around sunrise, we were treated to a beautiful sight of fog spilling over the nearby Deep Gap (our shelter was .2 miles east). As we hiked up to the Gap and further up the ridge we had an amazing view of a sea of fog below us to the west. The nearby peaks were islands above the fog.
As I continued up the ridge, I smelled the noxious fumes of a skunk. When I mentioned it to some rednecks (their term, not mine), they informed me that down here, they’re called Polecats and they may only have a white spot on the back of the head, rather than a stripe running the length of the back. I’ll be careful.
Today I am headed to the Blueberry Patch. Here’s a list of things I need to do:
Hiawassee: Look for bite valve adapter, eat and get dinner stuff?
Phone calls to Lori - send 1998 Thru Hiker Handbook
Groceries - 4 lunches, 3 or 4 breakfasts (butter, cheese, meat, Poptarts, sunscreen)
Rearrange bounce box
Well, it’s closing in on bedtime. I managed to do everything but my boots. Perhaps in Franklin...
Today in Hiawassee we made a quick trip to the local Ingles SuperMarket for lunch and breakfast stuffs. Then we all met at Daniel’s, a local AYCE (All You Can Eat) place for chicken, meatloaf, salad and more. I think we all got our $5.00 worth.
After dinner/lunch, we met up with Lisa and Checkdam in town. They will be spending an extra day in town. We expect Lisa to catch up with us a few days out of town - she’s really been moving.
Also at the Blueberry Patch are Marci and Johnny, Candleman, Russell, Mule, and Larry (LH51).
Day 10 - Blueberry Patch (Dicks Creek Gap) 0 Miles - 66.7 total
Woke up at 3:00am today to another violent thunderstorm with sleet pelting the roof. It continued raining/sleeting all morning until breakfast, when it turned to wet, heavy snow. All during this time, it would thunder and lightning on and off. A few people headed out into the elements on the first shuttle up to the gap, but a lot of us ended up staying in town when the road to the gap was closed due to the snow.
By noon, we had about four inches of snow which was fast melting. Large clumps of slush were falling off the trees, soaking everything underneath. We spent the rest of the morning watching and listening to the storm die down.
Tom, from Take a Hike, the local outfitter, gave us a ride into town early in the afternoon. Many of the people who got to town today had to catch up on their shopping and mail drops. I just made the rounds to the local hotels and motels, visiting with various hikers. Mulls Motel takes dogs this year so Lisa (Cassiopeia) and her dog Jasmine (Freak Dog), as well as Full Moon with Sundog, were staying there.
Mule, Gump, Trail Rage, Doc, Creeper, Bagel, Big Daddy, Baltimore Jack and more were all staying at the Holiday Inn. We ended up back at Daniel’s for more AYCE, only today I ate much less. Then it was a quick trip back to Ingles, the supermarket, for some Ben & Jerry’s, and back to the outfitter for a shuttle up to the Blueberry Patch.
There, we played a two person card game called Speed for awhile, and then the group of us played Spoons, a fast paced elimination game. We did not have enough spoons, so we used plastic knives. Who knew they were sharp enough to cut skin?! I'm now sporting a couple of Band-Aids, just to protect a couple of paper cut sized wounds.
Day 11 - Plumorchard Gap Shelter - 4.3 Miles - 71 total
Today, we had another great breakfast of pancakes with blueberry compote, sausage, cheese biscuits and juice at the Blueberry Patch. Then, at 9:45, we were shuttled back to the trail, where we finally started hiking again.
The trail was slushy and muddy. Where we started there was two inches of snow on the ground. As we climbed, there was as much as four inches on the ground. It was melting fast and we understand that there was as much as six inches on the ground when the snow ended yesterday.
We stopped for lunch here at Plumorchard Gap Shelter, and decided to stay the night once we realized it was a nice shelter with plenty of space. This shelter has three different levels and a picnic table under cover on a concrete foundation. Erik and Creeper quickly got down to business, creating anatomically correct (sort of) snow people. (Snowballs and nips), each with a backpack and she with hiking poles.
People meandered in all day and by nightfall there were 16 of us in the shelter and perhaps another 10 tenting in the area. This is what happens after the bottleneck in town with all the bad weather we had yesterday.
Being a weekend, there are also quite a few people here who are out for the weekend. A couple of Jiffy Pop attempts netted the quote of the evening. "You shake and I will blow" followed by other such raunchy comments as "get right down there and blow." Thankfully, the evening seems to be winding down and I will be headed for bed soon.
Day 12 - Standing Indian Shelter - 12.2 miles - 83.2 total
Up early and out by 7:30. Hiked mostly with George (Papa Bear) for the morning. About a mile out, we came across Fanny Pack handing out trail magic from his car in the form of cookies, bananas and sodas. Then a few miles more, we finally came to our first state line. A bunch of us stopped to take pictures there and watch others reactions as they crossed the line. So now it's one down and 13 to go. (States, that is.)
A quick lunch at Muskrat Creek Shelter and then it was mostly a steady climb for the rest of the day, to the highest shelter yet, at around 4,700 feet. It promises to be a cold night, but with seven of us sardined into a six person shelter, perhaps we will stay a bit warmer.
At lower elevations, the snow is probably completely melted, but as we hiked up, the snow got deeper, even though the sun was warm. In places, especially at the north facing slopes, the snow was a good six inches deep. Here at Standing Indian shelter, there is still a couple of inches on the ground, so all breezes are cold.
Day 13 - Carter Gap Shelter - 7.6 miles - 90.8 total
Early this morning (2:30am) we were awakened to the patter of rain on the metal rooftop. There was a scramble as everyone tried to rescue boots and packs from the edges of the shelter where rain may splash in. I started thinking about how the last storm ended - leaving up to a foot of snow on the higher elevations. Back to sleep and reawoke at the more normal time of 6:30ish, still, unfortunately, to rain. We were a bit slow to get going, as we were reluctant to head out into the rain, but even still, it was only just after 7:30 when I set out. By then, it was just drizzling and the climb up to the summit of Standing Indian was a warm one, if soggy. Coming down, I could not move fast enough to stay warm, but I was not too cold so I kept moving. Sunshine and Mule passed me going down the slippery, mushy mix of slush and mud.
Down in the gap, Sunshine and Mule took a break, and I continued with Chuck, who had just broken camp there. From there, we had a long, fairly flat stretch that moved very quickly. We were following the contours of the land, so we kept entering gullies, crossing streams, then walking out the other side. It always seemed like a long way to walk to go a short distance, but of course, a shorter trail would have been much more prone to erosion.
We caught up with Doc and ?? right as we came to a wonderful overlook with a beautiful view of fog. From there, the four of us basically walked the final distance of a mile or so to the shelter at Carter Gap. There, we found Cooper enjoying lunch at an old, tiny shelter. We stopped with them and had lunch, only to hear Cooper yell back at us just a couple of minutes after leaving, "Hey guys! There's a new shelter right over here." There was a scramble as those of us who were planning on staying the night vied for space in the new shelter. As soon as we had the seven thermarests spread out, Raven dubbed them, "The Communal Thermarests." Until the weather cleared, the seven of us huddled on our pads under our sleeping bags for a few hours, reading the shelter register, listening to the radio, reading books and writing long journal entries. Finally, around 4:00, the fog cleared and we could dry our clothes outside.
Today I have my first reason for concern about my physical health. This morning, the tendon on my left ankle, just above the ankle bone on the inside of my leg started bothering me. Then, the front of the shin on the same leg also started bothering me. Tendonitis and shin splints, perhaps? I hope not. I've already taken some Vitamin I (Ibuprofen) to alleviate the pain and reduce swelling. Hopefully, with a couple more doses before morning, this pain will be short lived. If not, perhaps I will take another day off in Franklin, NC as I pick up my mail drop. In the meantime, I'm trying not to worry about it, because I know it will not help. DINNER TIME!! More tomorrow…
Day 14 - Rock Gap Shelter - 12.1 miles - 102.9 total
Started off slow to try to alleviate the tendonitis in my ankle. The shin pain seemed to be gone. Ibuprofen seems to help, so when I got to the top of the climb and had no significant change in pain, I decided to continue on and do my full 12.1 miles to Rock Gap shelter.
So far on this hike there have been four major green plants on the trail: Pine trees, Holly trees, Rhododendron "trees," and Mountain Laurel. There has also been a green/red ground cover leaf which is quite beautiful, but I have yet to figure out what they are. Perhaps I can figure it out when I get home.
We arrived at the Rock Gap Shelter around 2:30 and settled in. Then about an hour later we were visited by Beorn [sic], a trail "Legend" who says he has hiked the trail around four times but acknowledges that he has been called Wingthumb at times. He also said that there were three miles he has not hiked and never will hike, so he will never be a thruhiker. Time was short, however, so we never got the full story.
Dinner time came with a feast to celebrate our 100th mile, but more to get rid of food before going into town tomorrow. Then there was time to warm up by Sky’s fire before going to sleep.
Jennifer (Sky) and Eric (Raven), Candleman, John (LJ), and Papa Bear are all here tonight.
7:30pm - listening to a Barred Owl… Who cooks for youoooo? Who cooks for youooo?
Day 15 - Franklin Motel, Franklin, NC - 3.8 miles - 106.7 total
Once again, this mornings hike started slowly, with me trying hard not to favor my left ankle. I left a few minutes before Papa Bear and LJ, knowing they would soon catch up to me. They caught up with me as we approached Rock Gap. There we met up with Beorn again, who had camped in the Gap. He peppered us with his words of wisdom until we found a suitable place for him to pass. We caught up with him again at Standing Indian campground, where he was waiting for a ride.
After that, my ankle seemed to warm up and I was able to maintain a reasonable pace and not favor the sore ankle. For the most part, it was not very painful while walking along. Perhaps the Ibuprofen kicked in, or maybe it really was getting better. In any case, we covered the 3.8 miles in just over an hour and a half. By then, Papa Bear had dropped back and the three of us going into town (Candleman, LJ, and I) arrived at the trailhead on Rt. 64 at about the same time.
Within a minute, we watched a pickup drop off a hiker and head in our direction to turn around to go back to town. He offered us a ride on our way back. What luck! Turns out he's in the local hiking club and often shuttles hikers to and from the trailhead. Given the rain we were hiking in, a hitch to town for three soggy hikers had seemed unlikely.
Once in the truck, our driver gave us some suggestions for in town. Suggestions we took to heart. We got a room, did laundry, showered, cleaned and waterproofed boots, and did a lot of eating. I also took the opportunity to ice my sore ankles. (The road walk to the post office had aggravated my right ankle too.) I'm getting more concerned about my ankles, but will try to continue by going slowly and not pushing the miles.
I unsuccessfully asked about the presence of a Jewish community in the area - much to the amusement of Baltimore Jack. So, tonight’s dinner was AYCE at the Western Sizzlin’ Steakhouse rather than a Passover Seder.
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