Archives for the month of: March, 2013

We are getting back on the trail this morning after spending a night in Robbinsville.  It was a way to restock on food before we get into the Smokies and very limited resupply options.  Clean clothes and a shave are nice, too.  Of course the extra-big resupply meabs that we will be heading out with extra-heavy packs.  Hooray.

The weather continues to suck.  The climb out of NOC was a tough incline and we could have done without the 4 hours of freezing rain and snow while we did that.

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So far the most notable (to me) hiker that the weather has knocked off the trail has been Maine Man.  I felt that he would cruise through the trail due to experience and demeanor.  He got bumped over a week ago due entirely to bad weather days.  There have been lots of others if course but it’s the ones you think have it together that rattle you.

I expect the Smokies to be particularly challenging and to cause more dropouts.  This year is going to have a lower than normal completion rate I think.

Equipment:  I lost my air pillow due to cold making the nozzle so brittle that it broke off.  In Progress (Jess) lost shoes due to bad fit and is walking without orthotic inserts for the first time since we met.  She lost a toenail in that process.  My thermasilks are on their last legs due to nothing but wear and tear.  We have bought and used a sewing kit to save bith our hiking pants.  Jess sent her air pillow home.  Most importantly any expectations we fostered that we might have good weather on this hike have perished.

Our desire and determination to thruhike the AT has not.  Despite the various issues we are having a good time.  Lots of awesome views daily.  Nice folks everywhere we turn.  And with all the rain and snow water is really easy to find.        
   

We crossed the border from GA to NC a couple of days ago.  Before my last post, even.  This got somewhat eclipsed by the weather and the contortions we went through dealing with it. 

There’s a sign but it’s not really at the border…  I dunno why.

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The border is actually at this cool tree about a hundred yards North.

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The trail actually turns back South for a bit  following the ridges, mountains and property lines that it does.  Yesterday as we passed Carter’s gap we were very close to GA again despite having hiked well over twenty miles since we crossed into NC.

We got rained on again last night and have dealt with wet gear today.  We are mostly dry now but there is a high chance we’ll get more of the same tonight.

Our mileage has been increasing despite the issues.  We did 12+ today and took a side trip that was another mile or a bir more.  We went to see the poplar.  It’s huge and dead.

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We also got to check out a new shelter.   It was well built but the area surrounding it is a mudpit so it could have been cleaner.  Smelled of new wood so I liked it anyway.

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Over the past few days I have seen several cool looking ice formations and I want to share them.  Not many of these around in Florida.  Since I froze my ass off for them I hope that more than just I get to see them.

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We departed Hiawassee on the 9AM shuttle and hit the trail with full bellies, full packs and certain knowledge that cold times were coming.  The forecast shows 22, 23, or 24 depending on who you believe and all of those are for lowlands whereas we are hiking in mountains where the temp will be 6-10 degrees colder.  Good times.

So…
I said something about a forecast didn’t I?

It was 20 degrees inside the tent this morning.  And there were a couple of inches of snow in one of my shoes. 

Outside our tent:

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We were tented by Muskrat Creek shelter and one of the other tenters brought his weather radio over and we listened to it for a while then decided to get ourselves into Franklin.   Cold, wet and more cold.  This is a hike – not an endurance trial.

So we are at the Budget Inn in Franklin.  We have a shuttle scheduled to take us back to Deep Gap where we were picked up this morning so we can pick up where we left off.

It is said that feet are what put people off the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) and knees are what put people off the AT.

I am beginning to understand the part about the knees. Jess has been having issues for about five days now and I have been hurting for three. For a couple of days I felt like I was having ‘body-part-bingo’ as my pain shifted around daily but now my left knee has pulled into the lead. Jess has been using the ace bandage and I bought a second one today so that we can both be wrapped at once.

We had a wet tough day yesterday. It started out early with mixed fog and rain waking us at 5:30 AM. We were camped at the Cheese Factory, which is not a shelter but just a camping area. We quickly moved gear around to minimize what would get wet. We could have done a better job but that’s what you get at 5:30 in the cold dark wet. We actually began hiking about 7 when it became obvious that the weather was not going to improve and we managed to stuff our soggy gear into our soggy packs and strap those onto our soggy asses. We hiked a couple of miles to get to a shelter and then cooked breakfast.

When we left the shelter the day went downhill steadily. The fog was joined by chilly wind and drops of condensation rained on us regularly. We had a long haul ahead of us – almost 13 miles to Dick’s Creek Gap if we wanted to even have a chance to get into Hiawassee (seven miles away by shuttle.) By noon it was clear that we could not do that. We needed to climb Kelly Knob which was universally dreaded by everyone that we spoke to on the trail. Jess promised me hell on that particular ascent and the trail delivered in spades.

Kelly knob ascent in the fog:
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We wound up pushing past the knob and making it to Deep Gap shelter in the early afternoon. We had skipped lunch since it was so miserable the whole way and once we made it to the shelter we first made sure to claim spots – we really wanted to get dry and warm pretty badly. Then we cooked and ate a hot meal. About an hour later we cooked and ate again and finally started feeling human. That was as good as it got.

People continued to trickle in over the next few hours. We slept with 16 in the shelter made for 12. Maybe 17. It rained. It hailed. Wind blew hard enough that the precipitation was in the shelter despite it having a covered porch. Took me all night to get dry.

We got up later than I wanted. I felt sure that if we got up at 6 we could hike out 3.6 miles and catch the shuttle at 9.
We didn’t get moving til 7. No breakfast. We squabbled. We made it to Dick’s Creek Gap around 9:30 after a good bit of grumbling at one another – I know better than to deprive Jess of coffee.

Ten minutes after we started cooking a belated breakfast the shuttle showed up. It was awesome. We got to town fast. We got dibs on a hotel room which was really lucky since it was the only open room for hours. We ate a huge breakfast. We did laundry. We bought food. We ate lunch and dinner at restaurants instead of out of plastic bowls hurriedly heated.

The Budget Inn doesn’t claim to rival the Don Cesar but it sure does meet the need for hikers. Microwave, fridge, laundry – this place has it all.
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We got started on the AT today.  As I write this we are at Stover Creek shelter.  We made 10ish miles, which was more than we planned for but we felt up to it so we kept going.  Right now I hurt a lot but I am glad we did continue forward.

We left the lodge at 9 and made it to Springer about 1:30 which was faster than average. 
Me on Springer:
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At the shelter:
5 girl scout leaders training for backpacking
Coyote – met him at Springer.   He is yoyoing.
Old guy who did trail in 73 and now section hikes
Another old guy whose daughter did the trail a few years ago.
Family of 5 from Arkansas who want to thru
Guy who left lodge 5 minutes ahead of us and is thruhiking.

Day Two

We made it further than planned again today.  We were only going to go about 5 miles and then stop due to bodily aches and such.  We camped in Cooper Gap which is a waterless gap and a local resident came by with some kindness in the form of crackers, cookies and a granola bar for each of us.

We actually came 9.5 miles and we really hurt.  Jess has numerous blisters which I feel bad about but has troopered on insisting that she can deal.  My various aches keep our pace very similar.  I have no blisters yet but have had the hot spots which tell me that they are coming.

We need to do 8 miles each of the next two days to skip Blood Mountain which currently requires a bear canister – that most people don’t have.  Then we hit Neel’s gap.  Food, outfitter, etc.  We are trying to get cabin reservations at Blood Mountain Cabins.

Day Three

It was really cold last night.  The thermometer Jess carries was on her pack right outside the tent and read 22.  Add on howling winds and you get a good dose of miserable.  At least we were dry.  We broke camp and walked a mile before getting warm enough to cook breakfast.   

After lunch we ran into Miss Janice who was holding a cookout and feeding  any passing hikers.  We had just eaten but I took a soda and soaked up the conversation.

We needed more like 9.5 miles each day; not 8.  We made something close to 10 today.  The bad part about that is we wound up nowhere near a shelter.  The good part is we are camping at an unnamed spring with familiar faces.  Two girls who camped beside us last night in the wind gale at Cooper Gap were just getting set up as we came in.  One of them is thruhiking;  she calls herself Homeward Bound since she is from Maine.  We also have the older guy from the shelter who had a daughter that did the trail came up not long after we did; he calls himself Maine Man.  They both seem pretty cool.  

Also – I found a guardian tree to camp by:

Day Four

I set up the tent poorly last night and paid dearly for it.  I had the side that was both windward AND downhill.   So all night we both slid downhill which kept pushing me into the draft.  I was too cold for breakfast without hiking some to warm up first – again.

Today we did Blood Mountain, the highest point we will cross in Georgia.  It was tough for me.  First I started to go to a shelter and found out it was WAY too far off the trail to be useful.  I did get water but I was pissed after the seventh curve I rounded without finding anything but more blueblazed trail and I said screw it.

When I was about to start up Blood Mountain (Jess and I usually hike 5 – 15 minutes apart depending on how fast each of us us moving)  I ran into Maine Man.  He mentioned that I would do  better with a hat so I got mine out and slapped it on for the first time on the hike.  That was some good advice.  I was in sun 90% of the way up. The hat is something that I brought because I knew I should but just have not been wearing.  It’s an old floppy hat that belonged to my father in law so carrying it seemed a little like taking him along for the ride. 

The view up top was awesome.

And the way down made me pay for it in full.  I had to go down rock facings which gives me all the confidence of a moose on roller skates.  Throw in the facts that my right knee started whining like crazy early in the descent and that the trail isn’t well marked in some heavy use areas resulting in numerous ‘trails’ and I got downright cranky.  Jess caught up to me five minutes before Neel’s Gap and we crossed the road together.

We bought a couple of snacks and then ran into Maine Man’s party outside.  He lives near here and his wife put on food for all:  fried chicken, potato salad,  homemade candy, sweet tea and sodas.  Cranky had departed at the sight of Neel’s. It was replaced by awesome.  I cannot extol the virtues of fried chicken and those who provide it enough.

We checked in to our cabin, had showers, got our laundry done, bought and ate (more) food and then celebrated clean bodies and clothing repeatedly. I feel very refreshed.

We drove from Cobb to Amicalola Falls state park today. We left around 9AM and arrived about 1:30PM with only a couple of brief stops along the way. The lodge was able to get us checked in when we arrived and even got us adjacent rooms. After dumping suitcases we drove down to the visitor center and signed in to start our thru-hike.

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When you’ve hiked the whole AT and apply for a ‘2000 miler’ certificate from the ATC the information is needed for the application process. We weighed our packs (Jess was 21and I was 24) and we are both in pretty good shape compared to some of the horror stories I’ve heard about hundred pound packs. Then we tossed them back in my mom’s car and slack-packed the Approach Trail back up to the lodge. It’s pretty steep and slack-packing is advised. In my opinion, the waterfall view is worth it.

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We met back up with my mom and aunt at the lodge just as it began to rain. The lodge is pretty nice considering the price. Our rooms are under $70 per night. The view is awesome and it has a restaurant so you don’t have to drive a half hour into town to get a meal.

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We are all ready to go. We’ll get up in the morning and have breakfast then start on the rest of the Approach Trail.

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We drove from Tampa yesterday up to my parent’s place in GA.  We got started early, smuggling individual items out the back door and around the house to put them in the truck.  We didn’t want to wake our friends who have been so generous in letting us stay with them the past several days but we wanted to get moving.

After a slow drive through Tampa we hit I-4 and made our way over to Plant City and hooked up to the cargo trailer.  Then we hit a gas station and I topped off the air in the tires.  That was the final prep step – we finally got on the road about 9:30. 

I did some mental math at the next gas station around 100 miles later and shuddered.  8 mpg.  Ouch.

Getting back on I-75 afterwards the idiot light on the dash lit up and kept me company for the rest of the trip.  It’s off now and I have determined that it wa s the MAF sensor and can be ignored.

Once we got to Cobb life got better.  All the dogs were happy to see us, even if Buddy was too busy chewing a squirrel to come visit.  I was able to park and drop the trailer. 

We put our fern in the dog pen.  Wait, that needs clarification.   We put our fern in the dog pen so that the dogs wouldn’t hurt it.  Wait,  that needs clarification. We put our fern in the dog pen because the dogs don’t have access to the dog pen and we don’t want it chewed up. Wait, that still doesn’t explain it. …  Screw it.  We put our fern in the dog pen. See?
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  We unpacked vital items out of the truck and spent time with my folks. Fridays are Mexican restaurant day. This always means a trip to Cordele and dinner at El Girasol. I never skip out because their food is consistently awesome.
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Today we made a trip to grab some foodstuffs but I feel like we are about as ready as we are going to get. Two more days and that can be put to the test.

For the past four days I have been putting finishing touches on the condo and our move preparation in general. During this period of time I also pet-sitted for some friends and in the process stayed away from home overnight. Jess was also out of town, as she was transporting our dog to Michigan by driving there in the car and then spending a couple of days of orientation. So the cats got a lot of no-human-interaction time.

This was a concern going in but the cats came through it just fine. Each day when I visited to do some work they were happy to see me and enjoyed the attention but they were not frantic. And nobody peed on anything. If there’s a litmus test for calm cats, it’s peeing. Unhappy cats pee on things. Not to be confused with territorial cats, which also pee on things, just for obviously different reasons.

Each day I made sure to hand out some treats and give each of them some personal attention and they seem to have come through the transition with no more issues than they had going in. I’m finishing this post two days after I started it with the above paragraphs and the statements still carry the same truth. We visited the cats (and Ashley, our renter) today one last time before we leave town tomorrow. The cats were nonchalant about the change of people in the condo. They seem to share our confidence that Ashley will scoop litter, refill the water fountain and be available for petting and rubs as needed. It was reassuring.

On a completely different note I got a pedicure today. First time ever. Jessica urged me to give it a try and I figured it couldn’t hurt to be nicce to my feet since I am going to put them through hell soon. They feel pretty damn good right now.

Tomorrow morning we will load up and head to GA to spend a few days with my parents before starting to hike.
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