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.