Friday, April 20, 2007|
Location For The Night: Deep Gap Shelter
Miles Walked Today: 12.60
The AT is in amazingly good shape due to the untiring work of various clubs and volunteers that sacrifice their time to keep it that way. There have been few if any sections so far that I have not seen the results of recent repairs. I met two maintenance workers yesterday working near the top of Blue Mountain. The work they do is important because the walking is tough due to the ups and downs even with the good maintenance.
I am certainly learning to appreciate three important things about walking that I learned from Ray Jardine. First, watch your breathing. If you start breathing hard slow down. Second, bend your knees a little, particularly on the downhill, letting your upper leg muscles act as shock absorbers for your knees and lower legs. Third, plant your feet softly, very softly. When one concentrates on a soft foot plant it's as if only a portion of one's weight is actually being born by the feet. Really. Try it. If I wasn't doing each of these I would either be hurting or out of commission by now. As it is, however, my feet and legs are doing and feeling great. Thanks Ray.
Ron, the owner of the Hiawassee Inn and his staff were great last night and this morning. They go out of their way to help hikers. Yesterday Ron picked me up at another motel that was full, did my laundry, and then drove a bunch of us walkers to a steak house and a super market. This morning he furnished breakfast and had me back on the trail (a 14 mile drive up the mountain) by 7:15am. Thanks Ron.
Today I walked from Unicoi Gap to Deep Gap Shelter, a distance of 12.6 miles, so I'm still on schedule. Sometimes the mileage gets confusing out here so I've asked Glen to check me and keep his "Hikometer" up to date and accurate. It feels like it's going to be cold up here tonight. Good sleeping weather.
Today's photo is a shot of my waterbag at a charming little spring here at Deep Gap. I was gathering water for tonight and tomorrow morning. Exciting, huh? Got to go. The sleeping bag is calling. I'm at a shelter site but out on the ground under my tarp. I've had enough of mice running over my face and snoring bunkmates.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Location For The Night: Muskrat Creek Shelter
Miles Walked Today: 15.10
Georgia, sweet Georgia. She's been on my mind since Monday morning but now she's gone. I crossed into North Carolina at exactly 3:00pm today. It felt good to be in another state and to know that I've come this far already. It's a delightfully beautiful weekend and lots of folks are out enjoying the mountains. Because of that some other cool things happened today too.
I left Deep Gap Camp at 7:15 this morning. About an hour later I was passing under a long arched tunnel of rhododendron similar to the mountain laurel tunnels I've mentioned before. All of a sudden a bird that appeared to be a small hawk came racing up through the center of the tunnel of greenery, making a beeline. It missed my head by inches. It was surreal, like something in one of those computer animated movies. Seconds later a high school boy, out for the weekend with a fishing pole on his pack, rounded the corner of the trail. I excitedly asked if he had seen that bird. He had, in fact he was the one that startled it causing it to fly. He even knew what it was, a mourning dove. He said he had been studying birds in school. I showed he and his buddies the ring trick. I'm Ringmaster you know.
About an hour later I met 10 high school girls with a male teacher out for the weekend too. The teacher was last in line and we talked awhile. Finally he asked if I were through hiking. (That means doing the entire AT in one year.) I said yes and he said, "I'll bet you don't get to Virginia carrying that thin pack on one shoulder like that. That shoulder strap will be ripped off by Damascus. You need something tough like I've got." I said I'd take him up on that and asked him to meet me in Damascus. He declined and we parted amicably.
Next I had my first experience with "trail magic". Trail magic is performed by "trail angels" and it's an AT tradition. I stopped for water at a campsite at Mile 67.7. The spring was down at the bottom of a steep hill. There were 4 full cokes in the spring. I thought a camper had left them their to cool so I left them alone and walked on. 30 minutes later I saw a coke can on a log about 200 yards ahead. This was unusual because there is almost no litter out here. When I got to the can it was unopened. Then I understood - trail magic. I drank the coke, crushed the can and put it in my trash bag. In another 30 minutes I came upon a couple eating lunch. I asked if they left the coke. They said they had but that it was one they had gotten out of the same spring where I had seen the other cokes. So, though I thanked them they were not the true benefactors. Whoever he, she or they are, thanks.
About a half mile from North Carolina I ran into a guy in shorts carrying a plastic grocery sack. He had scrapes and blood all over his legs . He said he was collecting "ramps" and he had close to a bag full. He handed me a ramp and said smell it. It smelled like an onion. He said the ramps were good cooked, not raw. Don't eat 'em raw he said or you'll run everybody out of those shelters. I declined his offer of a handful of ramps explaining that my cooking entailed boiling water only, not simmering. He graciously accepted my refusal and climbed on up in the briars to dig some more ramps
Well, let's see, I started the day at Deep Gap Shelter, mile 63.1 and I'm here under my tarp at Muskrat Creek Shelter, mile 78.2, that's 15.1 miles today and I feel as good as I did yesterday after 12. God bless all of you. It's getting cold again. Good night.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Hello North Carolina
Location For The Night: Betty Creek Gap
Miles Walked Today: 16.20
I arrived at Deep Gap at 10:00am this morning and was welcomed by a bevy of Forest Service employees. They were there to fight a 100 acre fire southeast of Deep Gap. I showed them my ring trick. Just as I was about to hit the trail two locals showed up with small canvas sacks and small spades. You guessed it, they were there to dig ramps. One said ramps were good in mashed potatoes and meat loaf. The other said they were in the leek family. Both warned me not to eat 'em raw, just like the guy yesterday did. So which is it, lilac family or leek family or other? You all do a word search and let me know please.
I met a lone volunteer trail worker at 1:40pm and thanked him for his work.
Today's walk was the easiest yet. The grades were not as steep as those in Georgia. I left Muskrat Creek, mile 78.2, at 7:15am and rolled into Betty Creek Gap, mile 94.4, at 4:50pm. That's 16.2 miles today. For you folks in Paducah that's like walking from the the I-24 bridge over the Ohio to Exit 16 at Reidland while gathering your drinking water out of springs and creeks.
There are two others here tonight at Betty Creek Gap, Gypsy and Hans. Hans has hiked the AT before and seems pretty knowledgable.
By the way, so far my feet are holding up very well. No blisters or other problems yet. I guess all that training is paying off. God bless you all.
Monday, April 23, 2007
Location For The Night: Siler Bald Shelter
Miles Walked Today: 15.90
I left camp this morning at 7:05am so I'm getting a little faster at packing. I've been waiting until good first light, just after 6:00, to start packing, but tomorrow I plan to get up at 5:15 so I can hit the trail at 6:00. The morning hours are always the best walking for me. If I can add one additional hour so much the better.
At 8:00am I was tempted, for the first time, to take an alternate blue blaze trail on a Forest Service road. There are many alternate routes on the AT. This one ran along the side of Albert Mountain and bypassed the 500' climb to the top. I only thought about it for a second though, then headed on up to the top. I'm out here to follow the white blazes.
15 minutes later Hans caught up with me. He had had left camp after I had. I had to ask of course and the answer was, "No, I took the blue blaze around Albert. I'm trying to catch my buddy who's up ahead of us." To each his own, but this made me feel better about staying with the white blazes.
At 12:45 Hans and I arrived at Winding Stair Gap where the AT crosses US-64. There were 6 Trail Angels there with two folding tables full of goodies and two coolers full of cold drinks. These folks were members of Coweeta Baptist Church in Otto, NC. And they do this as a ministry. It sure did minister to me. After eating and drinking my fill one of the Angels, Sonny Elam, drove me into Franklin, NC, so I could resupply and then drove me all the way back to the trail. Before leaving I prayed with these fine folks and asked the Lord to bless them. I was walking again by 3:00pm.
Two things hit me today about God's amazing creation. First, the grandeur of all that I'm surrounded by in these mountains, and, second, the remarkable human foot. I look at my own two and I stand amazed. How could something so ugly and strange looking, with so many parts and pieces perform so wonderfully, day in and day out? Only one answer suffices - God made them that way.
Today I started at Betty Creek Camp, mile 94.4, and tonight I set my tarp up at Siler Bald Shelter, mile 110.3, 15.9 miles for the day. Rain is predicted for the next three days. Let it come. Got to to get used to it sometime.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Location For The Night: Wesser Bald Shelter
Miles Walked Today: 17.90
I was up at 5:15am today and on the trail at 6:00. It was cloudy and still dark enough I had to click my flashlight on a couple of times. At 6:49 I saw three deer. You really don't see much wildlife out here. I guess they here you coming. At 9:30am there was bear scat on the trail, evidence that there really are bears in these woods.
It rained half the day today, from 10:00am until 3:00pm. I did not have any problems. All my rain gear worked as intended. In fact, so far all my gear is performing well. I made about half of the gear I'm carrying. I made my backpack, stove and accessories, and about half of my clothes. I also made a summer weight sleeping quilt that will replace my goose down sleeping bag in a few more weeks.
The photo is a restored fire tower on top of Wayah Bald, elevation 5340'. Quite a view from up here but it was foggy and misty.
I walked from Siler Bald Shelter, mile 110.8, to Wesser Bald Shelter, mile 128.2, a total of 17.9 miles. It seems can do more miles without much more effort by rising earlier.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Day of Rest
Location For The Night: Lodge, Nantahala Outdoor Center, Wesser, NC
Miles Walked Today: 5.60
Yesterday's journal posting was difficult. Three disappointing things happened and I was discouraged. First, I hiked into Wesser Bald Camp fully intending to set up my tarp. But, alas, all the tent sites were sloping mudholes. So, reluctantly, for the second time, I elected to stay in a shelter, dreading the mice and the snoring. Second, my little computer went haywire. The stylus operated QWERTY touch screen converted (in a mystical instant) to a "letter recognizer" function and I could not change it back. I completed the posting using the manual keypad fearing I had lost my coveted touch screen friend forever. Third, for two hours the youngsters around the campfire, all seemingly good kids, men and women alike, engaged in trifling conversation salted with lewd innuendo and profanity, all for the sole sake of the lewd and profane. What meaningless drivel. And my opinion has nothing to do with my age. Meaningless drivel is meaningless drivel at any age. At least they shut it down about 9:00pm.
Well, as discouraged as I was there were no mice and no snoring. None. A good night's sleep. Thank you Lord.
I was up at 5:15am and on the trail at 6:12am, first light. As I descended from 4115' to 1750' the forest canopy grew more full. At about 1850' I saw the first dogwoods in bloom. It's been late winter at the higher elevations the past 9 days, no canopy and nothing in bloom. At 9:00am I arrived at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, Wesser, NC, PDA in hand. I immediately asked for a computer geek. I was told Philip in the bike shop was the man. It took Philip all of 5 seconds to get my touch screen working. Thank you Philip. Thank you Lord. On the fireside conversation, today I told a few of the guys what I thought about it and I could tell that deep down they agreed with me. Maybe my admonishment will register one day. Anyway, thank you Lord for the opportunity.
I had three huge restaurant meals today, a big breakfast buffet, a monster burger with fries and a BLT and salad. I also downed two pints of Ben and Jerry's ice cream. I did my laundry, took two showers, bought some food, repaired some gear, watched rafters and kayakers run Nantahala Falls, took some pictures and a long afternoon nap, and now I'm in a bed in a lodge room looking forward to a good night's rest. It sure is good to be able to talk to all of you like this. It really helps to keep me focused. Thanks to those of you that have offered encouragement and to the two of you that looked up the information on ramps. As it turns out the ramp is in the leek family but related to a lily, not a lilac. I still ain't eatin' any.
Got to climb out of here tomorrow, about 3200' elevation gain in 9 miles. They say it's a doozy. High winds and thunderstorms are predicted.
Today was a short day for mileage, from Wesser Bald Shelter, mile 128.2, to Wesser, NC, mile 133.8, a total of 5.6 miles, but I think the rest was worth the reduced mileage. The bridge in the photo is the AT crossing over the Nantahala River.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Long Steep Hill
Location For The Night: Brown Fork Gap Shelter
Miles Walked Today: 16.10
This morning at 7:00am I ate another big buffet breakfast at the NOC's River's End Restaurant. I was on the trail at 7:38am ascending from elevation 1750' at Wesser to 5062' at Cheoah Bald, an 8.2 mile ascent. It really wasn't that difficult. I seem to be getting stronger. Scooter, a flatlander (his words) from Florida, caught me at about 9:30 and we walked together to the top of Cheoah Bald. Then I discovered how he got his name. He weighs about 160 pounds and he scoots down the hills. We were about equal on the climb and then he took off.
It started raining at 10:00am and rained until 5:00pm, a cold blowing rain. Scooter and I and 5 others are in the shelter (photo) here tonight. Yesterday when I talked to Gil he said, "Dad, I thought you weren't going to use the shelters or camp in the established campsites." Well, I have been. One reason is the fellowship. It gets lonely out here. Another is rain. As I gain experience and the weather warms I plan to use shelters less and less. Plus, I did 16.1 tough miles today and it's wet and I'm tired.
The hardwoods are finally putting on leaves up here and the rhododendron blooms look like they will burst forth any day now. There are blue, purple, white and yellow wild flowers along the trail and in the woods. I wish I knew their names.
At breakfast today a fellow walker told me that my 5.6 miles yesterday is considered a "nero" day, meaning near zero. A zero day of course is a layover day when you do zero trail miles.
Today's 16.1 miles was from Wesser, NC, mile 133.8, to Brown Fork Gap Shelter, mile 149.9.
Friday, April 27, 2007
Full Time Job
Location For The Night: Fontana Village Room
Miles Walked Today: 11.60
I told you yesterday that the climb out of Wesser, NC, was not so bad, but I failed to tell you that the afternoon ascent from Stecoah Gap, elv. 3165', up to elv. 3910' was a killer, one of the toughest yet. Everyone in the shelter agreed that this seemed tougher than the morning climb of 3000' plus. Weird.
I got up late today as not to disturb my bunkmates. It was a good night's rest with no mice and no snoring. I was on the trail at 7:15am.
Spring is finally trying to burst forth, even at the higher elevations, but there is still a marked difference between the low valleys and the high peaks.
I caught up and passed one Badger McGill at 10:30am. I'm not sure if this is her real or trail name or some of each. Badger said she'd heard about me, that I was the one with the 8 pound pack. This is not true but it demonstrates how rumors spread. My pack's baseline weight, without food and water, is actually about 10 1/2 pounds right now. The ring trick, however, rang forever true right before her eyes.
At 11:00am I reached the crest of High Top. Here, atop High Top, Fontana Lake came in view to the east. She was to be my companion for the next two hours, her blue-green waters glistening in the morning sun. After walking high above the lake for about an hour her massive constraint, Fontana Dam, came into view. Shaped like Boulder Dam only smaller it rises high above the Nantahala River which it impounds. The impoundment begins just downstream from Wesser, NC. This truly was a memorable site.
I arrived at Fontana Dam Marina at 1:00pm and called for a shuttle to the Fontana Village Post Office where I had a drop box to pick up. I also made a reservation for a room. (This is not cheating. The goal is to walk the trail with a full pack.) I ate lunch while waiting for the shuttle, cinnamon wheat thins and tuna. I picked up my drop box, cleaned up, bought some real food for the trail and a longer cord for hanging my food bag in bear country and then repacked everything. Then I ate some ice cream and a big burger, in that order. Believe it or not it was 6:30pm by the time I got all this done.
Scooter is here too, lower right foreleg injured. Shin splints I think, from going too far too fast. I've had them before and they hurt. His wife is driving up from Gainesville to pick him up. He is a good man and he is sad to leave, but he has a good wife and he will return another day. God bless you Scooter.
You may wonder if I'm concerned about things back home. The answer is no. I probably would be if I had time. I am on other trips. Walking this trail and all it entails requires full and constant concentration and organization. I don't have time to think about much more than the task at hand, getting one more day's mileage under my belt and covering all the bases associated with doing so. Besides, everything at home is in good hands.
Today's walk took me from Brown Fork Gap Shelter, mile 149.9, to Fontana Dam, mile 161.5, a total of 11.6 miles. I start through the Smoky Mountains tomorrow. Today's photo is a scraggly snag along the trail that I thought looked like a duck being tapped on the head by an anteater's proboscis. What do you think? Quack, quack. God bless you all.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
A Good Day
Location For The Night: Spence Field Shelter
Miles Walked Today: 17.80
This morning I loaded five days of food in my pack, the most weight I've carried yet. I was nervous about the weight. The reason for five days of food is to get through the Smokies without having to resupply in Gatlinburg which is known to be a hassle. I was a little apprehensive about the bears too. So, when the night security man at Fontana Village picked me up at 5:45am I was low on confidence. He took me back to Fontana Dam where I got of the trail yesterday and I was walking at 5:52. I used my flashlight for the first 15 minutes.
Almost immediately I decided to turn the additional pack weight into a positive by telling myself the additional weight was good strength training for the rest of the journey. It worked and I started to actually enjoy the extra weight.
I crossed Fontana Dam at 6:53. At 8:00 two small whitetail deer grazed within 10' of me showing no alarm at all. Bear scat was evident on the trail all day. At 12:00 noon I met Smoky Mountain Ridgerunner Carl Goodman at Mollies Ridge Shelter. Carl patrols the trail in the Smokies to make sure the park rules are adhered to and to help hikers that are in need. He and others like him work 5 day shifts in the mountains walking the trail and sleeping in shelters. He was helpful and encouraging.
A light rain started at 12:45 and lasted until 2:00. At 1:38
I passed a man and a woman on horseback. This section in the Smokies is one of the few spots on the AT where horses are allowed. They do terrible damage to the trail.
I arrived at Spence Field Shelter at exactly 3:00pm, just over 9 hours of walking. Tonight's supper was refried beans with bacon, cheddar cheese and wheat thin, and dried apricots for dessert. I am tired but revitalized. There are four other guys here tonight; Gimpy, Flaxseed, Just Bill and Mixin.
The extra weight was good today. It actually made me feel stronger. It was a good day confidence wise. And, my legs feel a little stronger each day.
Today's mileage was 17.8, starting at Fontana Dam, mile 161.5, and ending at Spence Field Shelter, mile 179.3. All and all today was a very good day.
Sunday, April 29, 2007
North Carolina - Tennessee
Location For The Night: Double Spring Gap Shelter
Miles Walked Today: 13.50
I've been walking the North Carolina / Tennessee border all day long and part of yesterday. This ridge is our eastern national divide. Water falling on its east finds its way to the Atlantic Ocean, on the west to the Mississippi River. I'm sure I've been back and forth between states all day and at times had my right foot in North Carolina and my left in Tennessee at the same time. Sort of strange when you think about it.
Since entering the Smokies yesterday I have been trying to think of a word to describe the difference between these mountains and the previous forest, because there is a difference. The word I have chosen is ancient. Everything seems older here. The dead fall is bigger and older, the moss on the rocks and trees is heavier and more lush, the trail is deeply rutted and shows less recent maintenance. And there are no public or Forest Service roads to cross or private homes and farms on the horizon. Yes, everything about the Smokies seems ancient and remote. And, there are more rules up here, particularly about where and how to camp.
You must stay in a shelter if there is room. If the shelter is full you must camp in the immediate area. Stealth camping away from shelters is prohibited. There is a pecking order that determines who gets a birth. It has to do with permits and itinerary and seems to be fairly complicated and confusing, not unusual for a government agency. Through hikers, however, are guaranteed four spots, permits notwithstanding. Last night and tonight this has not been an issue as the shelters I've stayed in have not been full.
Today I was on top of Rocky Top, elv. 5441', at 7:48am. A magnificent 360 degree panorama circled down below. In the distant valleys Fontana Lake wrapped itself around the mountains it surrounds. Later, at 8:26, I reached the top of Thunderhead Mountain, elv. 5527' (photo). I believe this is the highest peak to date.
Today was hard. This ridge is not level. It was up and down and up and down all day long. I started at Spence Field Shelter, mile 179.3, and ended at Double Spring Gap Shelter, mile 192.8, for a total of 13.5 miles. Tonight's supper was two huge bacon burritos and a big serving of Bob's Red Mill 10 grain cereal with raisins, brown sugar and powdered milk. A culinary symphony. Tomorrow I will walk over Clingman's Dome.