Days 32 – 35 (4/1/15 – 4/4/15)

Day 32, 4/1/15

Start: Roaring Fork Shelter
Finish: Hot Springs, NC
Miles Hiked: 18.4
Miles To Go: 1914.4
Overall Miles Hiked: 274.8

After pulling 18+ miles yesterday, I woke up pretty sore and although the trail was mostly downhill, it was hard to get going. After yawning my way down 6 miles of trail, I stopped to eat lunch at Walnut Mountain Shelter. There were a few hikers already there who I camped with the night before and one of them was Lonestar. Apparently, 3 miles back he had seen a bear and as soon as the bear saw him it bolted. Although it is April Fools Day, we believed him. The weather has warmed up quite a bit and we expect that the bears will finally start moving after a cold winter. I hiked with Lonestar most of the day. He got out of the military after 5 years of service in February and started the A.T. a month later to try to figure out what’s next. We exchanged stories, which helped pass the time and before we knew it we were looking down the mountain at Hot Springs, North Carolina. The trail literally goes down Spring Creek St., the heart of town, for about a mile. It will be one of the only true flat walks we will have. Hot Springs’ unofficial motto is “Where Mayberry meets the Twilight Zone.” Hippies, river guides and mountain millionaires rub elbows at either of the two taverns while little old ladies offer fresh baked cookies to starving hikers. Famous for its natural spring waters and the healing properties they offer, Hot Springs draws hikers and tourists alike. In fact, many hikers leave the trail here to find work and become part of this community. While I share no such aspirations, I certainly see the attraction. Billy Goat, Lonestar and I checked into Elmers Sunnybank Inn. This hostel opened in 1947 and housed the famous Earl Shaffer in 1948 and again, 50 years later in 1998. Shaffer was the first documented A.T. thruhiker, he hiked the A.T. 3 times and from both directions. He was 79 on his last trip. The hostel is now run by Elmer Hall, who for over three decades has housed thousands of hikers and has cooked breakfast or dinner for nearly all of them. Hikers are free to come and go as they please…as long as they leave their boots outside! After two very long days, we turned in.

Snake crossing the A.T.

Snake crossing the A.T.

Elmer Hall, Elmers Sunnyside Inn

Elmer Hall, Elmers Sunnyside Inn

Elmers Sunnyside Inn

Elmers Sunnyside Inn


Day 33, 4/2/15
Start: Hot Springs, NC
Finish: Hot Springs, NC
Miles Hiked: 0
Miles To Go: 1914.4
Overall Miles Hiked: 274.8

We took a zero today. I walked over to Laughing Heart Hostel just down the street and retrieved two packages I had waiting for me. The first was from my brother and sister-in-law. The package contained a few high energy bars and a box of Nerds. I’m saving the bars for another day, but could have used them theses past few days for sure. The Nerds…well, I think I’ll have to pass those along to another hiker. (Don’t worry, this is an inside joke.) Along with the snacks was a typed letter, which brought tears to my eyes and gave me a few laughs. Thanks, Zack & Krista! The other package was from Leigh and contained several food items I needed to resupply. There were also two envelopes, one from my parents and another from Leigh. My parents gave me some much needed cash and praise, thanks Mom & Dad! The envelope from Leigh only strengthen the reason I married her and again brought tears to my eyes. In my defense, it was pretty windy this morning and it could have just been sand in my eye! After packing up my resupply items, I walked over to the Spring Creek Tavern and ate a hamburger while watching two guys fly fish in the creek below. Several rainbow trout were caught and quickly released; it was extremely relaxing and I didn’t move from my spot in the tavern for most of the day. Before bed, we were treated to an open mic night at the hostel as several hikers played their music and read poetry. I sat this one out!

My view from Spring Creek Tavern

My view from Spring Creek Tavern


Day 34, 4/3/15
Start: Hot Springs, NC
Finish: Lovers Leap Rock
Miles Hiked: 0.9
Miles To Go: 1913.5
Overall Miles Hiked: 275.7

Due to a miscommunication between my wife and I, which was 100% all my fault, I wasn’t able to leave town until 3:00PM. I needed to speak to her and my parents to organize my next mail drop and Duke’s (my dad) trip to see me. I was finally able to get in touch with them and setup all the plans this afternoon. I would be meeting Duke somewhere between Atkins, VA and Pearisburg, VA in 3 weeks. The next time I will be able to speak with him won’t be but a few days before he departs. By the time I got off the phone, it was raining hard and the lightning was closing in. Car Bomb, Made It, Billy Goat and I decided to get out of Hot Springs and hike about a mile away to camp along the French Broad River. We had camp setup and just enough time to eat before the weather turned bad. The lightning was popping and the rain was relentless. We were in our tents from 6:00PM to 8:00AM the next morning, by far the longest time spent in our tents yet.


Day 35, 4/4/15
Start: Lovers Leap Rock
Finish: Allen Gap
Miles Hiked: 13.5
Miles To Go: 1900
Overall Miles Hiked: 289.2

When we woke up in the morning, we realized how close we were to making a mistake. During the night, the river had risen several feet and was only about 3 ft. below our tents, close call! After spending way too much time in my bag, I was the first one ready and headed out.

Coolest camp site yet along French Broad River

Coolest camp site yet along French Broad River

After a few miles, a woman without a pack passed me and said there would be trail magic at Allen Gap. I thanked her as she sped past me. I didn’t check my map because I thought I remembered seeing a sign saying it was only a couple miles away. A few hours passed and 3 bearded guys came up from behind me on the trail. Again, no packs and they said there would be trail magic at Allen Gap. I said thanks and asked if they were thruhikers. They responded, “no, just passing through. Say, do you carry a gun?” I was a little caught off guard, but managed to say, “no, I haven’t needed one yet.” They seemed harmless enough and got a kick out of my answer and they moved on. I thought that maybe a church had gathered a few of their members to pass along word that there would be trail magic ahead and thought nothing of it. After another mile I was descending into a gap and noticed a parking lot. My pace quickened as I could taste the goodies awaiting me. To my horror, there was no trail magic to be seen. I was in pouting mode when I checked my book and realized I was in the wrong gap. Allen Gap was another 8 miles ahead. Dang it! I fixed a quick lunch of Ramen Noodles and moved on. By the time I reached Allen Gap I was exhausted and could have eaten just about anything, but thanks to a fellow thruhiker’s parents, I was in store for a real meal! It turns out the 3 bearded guys that had passed me earlier were in fact thruhikers by the names of T-Bone, Remedy and Scooby. Scooby’s parents were now treating about 15 other hikers to burgers, hotdogs, sodas, beer and baked goods. The guys said they messed with every hiker they passed… just to see their reactions when they handed them a beer at the trail magic feast. Judging by some of the other stories hikers told of these three, I got off easy! After saying goodbye to Scooby’s parents, me, T-Bone, Remedy and two other thruhikers, Loon and Mile Marker, walked into the woods and set camp with full bellies!

Days 18 – 20 (3/18/15 – 3/20/15)

Day 18, 3/18/15

Start: Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC)
Finish: Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC)
Miles Hiked: 0
Miles To Go: 2051.9
Overall Miles Hiked: 137.3

When I woke up I could barely walk. My knees were in a lot of pain after the hike into the NOC, so I decided to take a zero today. I had breakfast with my group and made plans to meet back up with them in three days in Fontana Village, NC, they hiked on. With an entire day and no plans, I decided to take advantage of what the NOC had to offer. For $40, I  was able to secure a spot on a whitewater rafting trip and geared up in a wetsuit. It was a great experience as I was able to get a different view of the mountain I climbed down the day before. The Nantahala River is fed by a giant flume that turns 6 miles up into the mountains leading up to Lake Nantahala. Every night, the supply of water is cut off and the river slows down to a trickle. During this time, river rafting guides will sometimes add piles of large rocks to the riverbed to alter the course and rush of the rapids. (Apparently, this practice is not exactly legal, but adds some thrills to once tame sections of the river.) After 3 hours of rafting, we arrived back at the NOC. I definitely recommend checking this place out! There is so much to do in such a beautiful setting.

Whitewater Rafting at the NOC

Whitewater Rafting at the NOC

Rafting the Nantahala

Rafting the Nantahala


Day 19, 3/19/15

Start: Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC)
Finish: Stecoah Gap
Miles Hiked: 13.4
Miles To Go: 2038.5
Overall Miles Hiked: 150.7

The climb out of the NOC was 3,200 ft. up, up and up. It kicked my ass the entire morning. I reached the first shelter of the day and had a big decision to make – set up camp and call it a day or hike on? I had hiked about 7 miles and needed to make up some ground to catch up with my group, so I pressed on. In hindsight, I probably should have stayed put. The weather was deteriorating with dense fog, stiff winds and pestering light rain. After hiking another 6 miles, I made it to a highway crossing around 5:30PM. The fog was so thick I could barely make out the A.T. marker just 50 feet away. I crossed the highway and started walking up a steep trail. I was moving slow, each foot barely clearing the toes of the other. At this rate, it would have taken me another couple of hours to reach the next shelter and I was starting to shiver from being cold and wet all day. After lunch, I had made a mistake. In an effort to get warm, I put my down jacket on underneath my rain gear, Down is extremely warm when dry, but unlike wool, when wet it is absolutely worthless. By the time I reached Stecoah Gap, my jacket had become saturated with sweat, rendering my warmest article of clothing useless…and the temperature was starting to drop. I decided to turn around and go back to the highway to hitch a ride, but the fog was so thick that the cars couldn’t see me. I grabbed my A.T. guidebook and dialed away. On the third attempt, I was able to reach Donna, who owns a nearby hostel. They were booked solid due to the weather, but she said for an additional $10 I could rent a private cabin, DONE AND DONE! I was picked up within 15 minutes and driven to my luxurious quarters for the night. I was now shivering uncontrollably and took the longest hot shower of my life. Lesson learned!

Hiking up away from the NOC

Hiking up away from the NOC


 

Day 20, 3/20/15

Start: Stecoah Gap
Finish: Fontana Dam Shelter
Miles Hiked: 15.2
Miles To Go: 2023.3
Overall Miles Hiked: 165.9

I was back on the trail early. For most of the day the weather was okay. There was light fog with no rain (hooray!) and I was enjoying hiking alone. About 6 miles from my intended shelter/stopping point for the day, I decided to stop and eat lunch. It started to drizzle just as I was finishing up. I had already done 10 miles over some pretty sloppy and slippery trail. Normally, I would have just called it a day, but I was trying to meet back up with my group ahead of schedule. I continued on, but would later come to regret this decision. Just like the day before, the weather began to deteriorate quickly. This time, I left the down jacket in my pack. With 4 miles to go, my knees began to give me a lot of trouble when going up or down stairs. The A.T. is not always a flat trail. Due to the steep inclines and declines, steps made of wood or boulders have been put in by trail maintainers. It takes more energy and places a greater strain on your body for every flight of stairs you have to take. Today, the downhill ones are the WORST! I have used hiking poles since day 1 and they have already proved to be a crucial piece of equipment for my thruhike. Without them, I know for a fact that I would have fallen countless times and placed even more strain on my sore knees. If I didn’t have my hiking poles today, I would have been forced to  literally crawl up and down the stairs, my knees were hurting that bad! I popped a couple I-vitamins and continued on, very slowly. (I-vitamins are what we call Ibuprofen.) With 2.5 miles to go, I seriously contemplated stopping to make camp. I was in pain and couldn’t see 50 ft. in front of me due to the fog and rain. I cursed myself and trail aloud, threatening to kick its ass. At this moment, I sat down and asked myself this question, “OK, dumbass… Having fun yet?” I thought to myself, “If you could leave the trail right this second and be dry and warm at home with the flip of a switch, would you do it?” I responded “no” out loud and stumbled on. The scary part was that I actually believed myself. I’ve heard that every thruhiker has similar conversations with themselves – we are all sick, crazy and addicted to pain, but we keep moving. Finally, I made it to the shelter. I was told my clan was at the hiker lodge. You could opt for a shuttle to pick you up from the shelter or you could walk an additional 3 miles to arrive by foot. No one had a cell service and the shelter was already full. I decided I would head to the lodge and thought I could easily get a ride there, I was so wrong. I walked an additional mile or so off trail before I was able to catch a ride. I met up with some of my group and hit the bed completely and utterly exhausted. Hiking 29 miles in two days in this weather will do that.

The A.T. crosses several highways like this. Also, I hate stairs!

The A.T. crosses several highways like this. Also, I hate stairs!

Cable Gap Shelter. Typical A.T. shelter.

Cable Gap Shelter. Typical A.T. shelter.

 

Days 15 – 17 (3/15/15 – 3/17/15)

Day 15, 3/15/15

Start: Rock Gap
Finish: Siler Bald Shelter
Miles Hiked: 8
Miles To Go: 2075.2
Overall Miles Hiked: 114

For the first time in two weeks, we awoke to clear skies. Spirits were high as we anticipated our hike for the day. The shuttle driver dropped us off right where we left the trail and we started walking. The 6 of us have formed a solid group and now everyone has trail names thanks to a quick stop at a sports bar last night. In addition to Billy Goat, Blazer and myself, we now have Hula (formerly Hannah) along with Made It and Car Bomb (formerly the two guys from New Hampshire.) We practically had the bar to ourselves, but I guess that is what you should expect at 6:30PM in a town like Franklin, NC. The guys drank while Hannah played with a hula hoop in the corner. The two New Hampshire guys drank Irish Car Bomb after Irish Car Bomb and kept saying how happy they were that they made it this far. After a few drinks, trail names were easy to disperse! We only hiked 8 miles today, so we got to the shelter around 5:00PM. Siler Bald Shelter is a really cool campsite and we found a small field just south of the campsite where we set up our tent city. After dinner, we hiked an additional half mile to the bald to watch the sunset. A bald is  the top of a mountain where trees can’t or haven’t grown, giving you a 360° view. Luckily, the skies were clear, so the views were incredible. It took us two weeks and over 100 miles, but we finally witnessed a spectacular sunset.

Group picture at Siler Bald. From Left to Right: Blazer, Hula, Poboy, Made It, Car Bomb, Billy Goat

Group picture at Siler Bald. From Left to Right: Blazer, Hula, Poboy, Made It, Car Bomb, Billy Goat

Siler Bald right before sunset.

Siler Bald right before sunset.

Beautiful Sunset

Beautiful Sunset

Siler Bald Sky at Sunset

Siler Bald Sky at Sunset

Siler Bald Sunset through the trees

Siler Bald Sunset through the trees


Day 16, 3/16/15

Start: Siler Bald Shelter
Finish: Cold Spring Shelter
Miles Hiked: 11.6
Miles To Go: 2063.6
Overall Miles Hiked: 125.6

Right next to the field where we camped was a small stream where we decided to cook breakfast. As I was preparing to cook my beef flavored ramen noodles (yes, ramen for breakfast!) I filled my stove with enough fuel to bring 300mL of water to a boil. Instead of lighting my stove on the ground, I lit it in my hand. I know, dumb. The stove got hot much faster than I anticipated and in an early morning panic, I dropped it. Unfortunatley, I dropped it in my food bag. As the flares spread, I sprung into action and half tossed/half kicked the bag into the stream extinguishing the fire. My bag had melted into the scorched food leaving me with only half of my intended rations.  As I cursed myself, everyone else was choking on their food in laughter. Glad I could make them all laugh! The worst part of this was my food bag contained a king size Twix bar to eat tonight, but the wrapping had melted, making it inedible. In another month or so, I would probably eat it anyway.

Our crew just moments before I lit my food on fire

Our crew just moments before I lit my food on fire

It was tough hiking all day as we got closer to the Smokies. Our elevation is much higher and the ups and downs are much larger than they were in GA. We had a really awesome moment together while having our lunch atop Wayah Bald. On the top of the bald is a stone tower that is now a tourist attraction. From the bald, we could see Siler Bald, Albert Mountain and Standing Indian Mountain. As the crow flies, Siler Bald was only 3 miles away, while the other two mountains were 10 miles away. By A.T. miles, Siler Bald was 7 miles away, Albert Mountain (and the fire tower we climbed a few days ago) was 21 miles away and Standing Indian Mountain was 33 miles away. It was an awesome experience being able to see exactly how far we have come and to see the mountains and unnamed hills we have crossed over the last week. We walked the remaining 4 miles and setup our tents on some fairly level ground, but trying to avoid the shelters and their mice mean you will have to endure a few nasty campsites.


Day 17, 3/17/15

Start: Cold Spring Shelter
Finish: Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC)
Miles Hiked: 11.7
Miles To Go: 2051.9
Overall Miles Hiked: 137.3

With low food rations I wanted to push myself to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (better known as the NOC) which is a sprawling outdoor center that sits at the bottom of a 3,000 ft. descent. So far, my biggest descent was only 1,000 ft., so I knew my knees would be in for a test. I packed up early and left my hiking clan behind as they were not planning on making it all the way to the NOC today. About half way into my hike, I ran into Dave and Robin, a friendly couple from Hiawassee who I had met about a week ago. We talked about hiking and sunsets and before long, I was back on my way to the NOC. With about 2 miles left in my hike, I hit a wall. My knees and feet were on fire with every step. (I feel like I should note that unlike my food bag, I did not light my body on fire!) All I wanted to do was set up camp and call it a day. I was out of food with the exception of a lonely package of ramen and I’ll be damned if I eat ramen for the umpteenth meal in a row! The NOC or bust! Well, I made it – sweaty, stinky and crippled, but I made it! My first stop was the registration house, but I had to find it first. From across the parking lot, I yelled at another hiker I recognized, “Where do I get my room?” “Follow me!” he shouted back. After a quarter mile of hiking back up a mountain, I asked if he knew where we were going. Sadly, he misheard me and I was back on the A.T. It took me another 30 minutes to limp back down and find the registration house. Sigh. After paying for my bunk, I was informed that the hostel at the NOC was under renovation which meant the bathhouse was closed, but they had set aside a cabin (downhill and 1,000 yards away) for us to use to take a shower. Towels were in a separate building far, far away that I had no intention of walking to… my plan was to drip dry. I painfully made it to the cabin so I could shower and opened the bathroom door. To my surprise, it was clean, but had no shampoo or soap. Honestly, at this point it did not matter. On the floor was a fairly clean bath mat, which I decided instantly would serve as my towel. Gross, I know, but hey, I’m just a hiker!

 

After showering, I made it to the restaurant overlooking the Nantahala River. To my surprise, I was waved over to a nearby table from Dave and Robin. They are retirees and avid hikers and even maintain several miles of the A.T. I really enjoyed talking to them and was very surprised when they picked up the tab for my burger! They have helped several hikers over the years and I hope to meet them again. The NOC restaurant is situated perfectly as diners watch rafters negotiate the rapids of the river below. I decided to stay until closing and enjoy the view.

Me, Dave and Robin having lunch at the NOC restaurant

Me, Dave and Robin having lunch at the NOC restaurant

After my burger, why not ice cream and a brownie to wash it down!?!

After my burger, why not ice cream and a brownie to wash it down!?!


Days 12 – 14 (3/12/15 – 3/14/15)

Day 12, 3/12/15

Start: Muskrat Creek Shelter
Finish: Betty Creek Gap
Miles Hiked: 16.2
Miles To Go: 2091.6
Overall Miles Hiked: 97.6

We awoke to light rain again and packed our gear with damp spirits. For now, our little foursome has doubled. We seem to be hiking within a bubble with some other hikers and we tend to cross paths every night or so. Along with my quartet, we now have Hawkeye and his dog, Lucy, Happy Warrior and two younger guys from New Hampshire. We all mesh pretty well and the company is welcome. The eight of us, plus the dog, all left camp within 10 minutes of each other and crossed paths all the way to Standing Indian Mountain. At 5,500 ft. it was our highest peak yet, but once again the weather robbed us of a great view. All day and the overwhelming majority of the last week and a half, we could not see more than 50 yards ahead of us. The weather has definitely been tough to deal with. Everything is wet, muddy and an endless damp cold has crept into our bodies. The only cure is sunlight, which I have only seen twice and for no more than an hour total. The rest of the time so far we have been blanketed in thick fog, rain or snow. My advice to any future thruhikers is to hike in April! I heard a few trail updates from Happy Warrior and Hawkeye today. It seems a few more guys I started with are now gone. Apparently, one of them had been hiking with a girl he met on the trail. The girl had already hiked the A.T. two years ago and was in great shape too, but was still struggling with the trail. Anyway, the two had become inseparable and had been discussing how great it will be to hike together for the next 5 months. About 200 yards from their intended campsite, he took a bad step and blew out his knee, ripping a tendon. He had been pushing himself hard to keep pace with her. As quickly as it began, their A.T. romance was over. The girl hiked on, our Romeo did not. One bad step is all it could take out here and your hike is over. It is impossible to spot every rock or branch in your way, so there is a certain amount of luck needed to successfully complete a thruhike. We walked into our expected shelter for the evening around 4:00PM. On one of the three walls was a hand written note:

TRAIL MAGIC FEAST

Rock Gap

Friday, March 13th

Late morning to early afternoon

PIZZA! FRIED CHICKEN! FRUIT! SODA!

This sounded incredible, but there was just one problem – Rock Gap was over 12 miles away. If we made camp here, we would not make it in time the next day. It was decision time. Do we let the promise of free food push us another 4 miles despite our aching bodies? Or do we set camp and take a much deserved rest? Exactly, free pizza it was! We hiked the additional 4 miles like zombies to Betty Creek Gap where we would be in a much better position to reach the feast in the morning.

Hawkeye and Lucy

Hawkeye and Lucy

Rocky descent of Standing Indian Mountain

Rocky descent of Standing Indian Mountain

Trail Magic Feast sign!

Trail Magic Feast sign!


Day 13, 3/13/15

Start: Betty Creek Gap
Finish: Rock Gap
Miles Hiked: 8.5
Miles To Go: 2083.1
Overall Miles Hiked: 106.1

We woke up early and traveled in darkness for the first hour with only our headlamps showing the way. Free pizza is one hell of a motivator! A few miles into our hike had us standing at the base of Albert Mountain. The last 50 yards of the mountain are some of the steepest steps a hiker will have to endure on the A.T. Some hikers are even forced to put away their hiking poles and use their hands to scale the jagged rocks. After scaling the nearly vertical trail and reaching the summit, hikers are welcome to climb the Albert Mountain Fire Tower for an even better view. Because of the wind and cold on top of the mountain, the steps to the top of the fire tower were covered in a thin coat of ice. My movement up the tower was slow and deliberate, but well worth the risk. I snapped a few pictures and moved on.

Albert Mountain Fire Tower

Albert Mountain Fire Tower

Rainy view from Albert Mountain Fire Tower

Rainy view from Albert Mountain Fire Tower

Selfie on Albert Mountain Fire Tower

Selfie on Albert Mountain Fire Tower

We reached Rock Gap around 11:15AM – No one was there! We were in panic mode as our great day had suddenly been turned upside down. Most of us had skipped breakfast in hopes of satisfying our hunger with greasy pizza and other goodies. After 30 minutes, a few hikers moved on, disheartened. My group of 8 (Billy Goat, Hannah, Blazer, two guys from New Hampshire, Happy Warrior and Hawkeye) gave up hope as well, but decided to call for a ride into Franklin, North Carolina instead of walking an additional 4 miles off trail to get there on foot. While we were waiting for our ride, a big white van pulled up. The doors opened and eight teenagers and one adult spilled out of the van and charged towards us. What they were carrying almost brought us to tears. Dominos pizza, donuts, sodas, fruit, fried chicken, candy bars and many more tasty treats were being presented to us. The group was on Spring Break from Ohio and wanted to “pay it forward.” More hikers showed up as we shook hands and offered thanks to our benefactors; our words barely audible through our stuffed mouths. Fat and happy, we piled into our shuttle and rode into Franklin. We found a cheap motel and checked in. We performed our hiker chores of laundry, resupplying and checking our gear and turned in for the night.

Rock Gap Feast Trail Angels

Rock Gap Feast Trail Angels


Day 14, 3/14/15

Start: Rock Gap
Finish: Rock Gap
Miles Hiked: 0
Miles To Go: 2083.1
Overall Miles Hiked: 106.1

We took a well deserved and much needed zero today. After hiking 40 miles in 3 days we were sore and needed to rest our legs. The best way to go home early is to push yourself this early in the game. Many successful thruhikers advise taking one or two “zeros” a week until you get into Virginia. By then, your body is accustomed to the miles and the trail gets a little easier. I spent most of the day holed up at McDonalds to use their free WiFi. It is  still raining, so there isn’t much else to do. For dinner, we decided on a Chinese Buffet restaurant. All you can eat (AYCE) places are always first on a hikers eat list. We called on a local shuttle driver for a ride. Beverly Carini arrived to bring us to dinner. She was a sweet older lady who loves shuttling hikers all over Franklin. Her deceased husband was a hiker, so she knows how much it means for us to have support. When we arrived at the restaurant, we invited Beverly to join us. We were not surprised when she gladly accepted our offer. Beverly seemed to take a liking to Billy Goat despite the 50 year age difference. We made sure she had a seat right next to him so they could talk undisturbed. Billy Goat was not amused. After dinner, we all had sleep on our minds, but Beverly tried to recruit Billy Goat to attend a local watering hole with her. Unfortunately, she was not successful – Oh, what could have been! The weather is supposed to clear up tomorrow as we hit the trail again…it better.

Days 9 – 11 (3/9/15 – 3/11/15)

Day 9, 3/9/15

Start: Unicoi Gap
Finish: Sassafras Gap
Miles Hiked: 10.4
Miles To Go: 2125.9
Overall Miles Hiked: 63.3

With fresh clothes and a stocked food bag, we left Hiawassee and headed back to the trail around 10:00AM. Our goal was to walk to the next shelter, but by the time we got there the weather was still cooperating, so we pushed on. Around 6:00PM we reached a campsite at Sassafras Gap. Just when we had a nice fire going, the rain moved in. It is supposed to rain all week, but temperatures should be nowhere near last week. Billy Goat and I get along well with John. Hannah’s hiking speed is very similar ours too, so it looks like the four of us will be traveling together for the foreseeable future. Although it was not my intention, hiking in a small group is nice. Morale is up and friendly conversation helps pass the time. John is now Mountain Blazer because he is the fastest of us all, even at 56. He likes to start off behind us all, but it is not long before he blazes past us. I’ve been on the A.T. for over a week now and things are going well, so far. I’m having a blast fulfilling this silly dream of mine and my body is doing okay. Everything hurts and I only have one blister. It is raining pretty hard right now, but I’m hopeful that it will stop before morning. Breaking down a wet camp is not fun, plus it adds a few pounds of water to your soggy pack in the morning. Oh, and I told my Unicoi Gap story to a few other hikers here at our campsite – poetry snaps all around! Life is good!

View from Sassafras Gap

View from Sassafras Gap


Day 10, 3/10/15

Start: Sassafras Gap
Finish: Dicks Creek Gap
Miles Hiked: 6.3
Miles To Go: 2119.6
Overall Miles Hiked: 69.6

After sleeping through never ending rain, we got lucky at day break and packed up in a light drizzle. Packing up wet gear sucks! After hiking through on-again, off-again rain, we arrived at Dicks Creek Gap where we decided to eat lunch. A highway crosses the trail here and we saw a sign… and what a beautiful sign it was! It read, “Top of Georgia Hostel.” We were all smiles. I was the only one who wanted to keep hiking, but the others were fixated on the part that stated there were 13 inch pizzas for $6.00. They didn’t have to twist my arm too hard. Top of Georgia Hostel is run by Bob Gabrielson, better known as Sir-Packs-A lot. After showering and settling in, Bob said that he offers free pack shakedowns. A shakedown is when a professional hiker, such as Bob, goes through your entire pack and determines what you don’t really need to help save weight. An older guy volunteered first. I had been talking to him earlier when he told me he wanted a shakedown. When no one was looking, I added two big rocks to his pack and made a quick getaway! When Bob opened the section of his pack with the rocks and pulled them out of the pack, the whole room exploded with laughter. I never fessed up either! He was convinced his buddy did it earlier in the week and that he had been carrying the rocks throughout Georgia. That will make for an interesting conversation  when he meets back up with his buddy in a week!

Top of Georgia Hostel

Top of Georgia Hostel

The crew staying at the Top of Georgia Hostel

The crew staying at the Top of Georgia Hostel


Day 11, 3/11/15

Start: Dicks Creek Gap
Finish: Muskrat Creek Gap
Miles Hiked: 11.8
Miles To Go: 2107.8
Overall Miles Hiked: 81.4

I was one of the last ones to wake up at the shelter, no surprises there. After eating my regular breakfast of Poptarts and Snickers, I did my own pack shakedown. I actually saved myself from carrying about 5 lbs. of unneeded food and gear, bringing my base pack weight (everything but food and water) to 21 lbs. and to 29 lbs. total with my food and water – Not bad! Keeping your pack as light as possible will save your body over the long haul. Billy Goat and I were going through our packs when the shuttle that we were supposed on be on with Blazer and Hannah pulled out. Oh well. We had to wait another one and a half hours for the next one. We knew we were going to be hiking 12 of the hardest miles yet and the loss in time could put us hiking in the dark if we didn’t hustle. It rained, heavily at time, which turned the trail into a soupy mess, which was not very fun negotiating. With daylight running out, Billy Goat and I were hiking fast. Well, I may have been hiking too fast because I had my first fall this afternoon. Luckily, it wasn’t too bad as I escaped with just a small cut on my wrist and a bruised ass. Just before the shelter was the Georgia/North Carolina border. We made it out of Georgia in 9 days, which I think was pretty good; One state down! Billy Goat and I high fived and moved on. We made it to the shelter at 6:30PM set up our tents, ate dinner and went to bed.

Muskrat Creek Shelter

Muskrat Creek Shelter

I made it to the GA/NC border!

I made it to the GA/NC border!

Billy Goat at the GA/NC border

Billy Goat at the GA/NC border

Georgia was hard. In fact, I’d like to start a petition to name it Loose Rocks. The trail was littered with 1 – 20 lb. chunks  on granite hiding just beneath the fallen leaves, their only purpose is to make you trip. Either way, after miles of it your feet begin to deteriorate. Due to all the rain and snow, it has been hard to keep my feet dry in Georgia and for several days I had a painful rash on my toes that burned with every step. Once I started keeping my wet socks in the sleeping bag with me at night, which would dry them by morning, the problem went away. Other than my feet, my knees and quads hurt the most. 80 miles of lunges with a 30 lb. pack will do that to you. All in all, Georgia was great.The people along the way have been very helpful and trail magic was plentiful. We hear the trail in Georgia is about 4 out of 10 in terms of difficulty (with 10 being the hardest.) We have also heard that North Carolina is a 7…Yeah! Can’t wait. Physically, I’m in a lot of pain. Mentally, I am good, though. I crack jokes, again no surprises there, which helps keep everyone upbeat, in turn helping me feel better.