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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.

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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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In 2001 I was working at a food distribution warehouse in
Calhoun county in South Carolina. Calhoun has the distinction of
being the second poorest county in the state but also sharing
borders with two of the three richest counties of South Carolina.
The disparity of income is obvious in homes and businesses. My
company had received tax breaks for locating there to help the
local economy. The building is located on a dead end frontage road
beside I26. There is a rest stop on the interstate about a hundred
yards past the driveway to our building. The area is otherwise
deserted. No homes or businesses for miles; just scrub pines and
sand. Each weekday we opened for inbound receipts at 6AM. One day I
could hear a dog barking in the parking lot. Loud and constant –
bark, bark, bark. It stopped about lunchtime. I figured it to be a
trucker’s dog. Many over the road truckers who make long hauls keep
a dog with them for company. The next day was a repeat: bark, bark,
bark. I got to see it, though. It was a sheltie, and very nervous.
It barked at trucks, at people; at noises and at any movement. It
also barked for reasons I could not determine. Bark, bark, bark.
Then around noon – silence. After a third day it became clear that
a routine was established. The barking shift started work at 6AM
and knocked off for the day at noon. No one was allowed to get
within 50 feet. She didn’t ease away; she ran. Guys were tossing
food from the vending machines out in the parking lot but she never
came close enough to get any while there were witnesses. I tried
not to get involved. I have a soft spot for animals and knew the
danger: I had a dog at home; I didn’t want another dog. Dogs are a
lot of responsibility. About a week after it first showed up James,
a mechanic’s assistant told me he would like to give that dog a
home but he couldn’t catch her. “Say no more – I will catch that
dog for you,” I promised him. You cannot catch a dog who has been
eating hot dogs and honey buns by using dog biscuits. Day one –
fail. This dog recognized a wire dog crate and wouldn’t be bribed
near said crate with mere hot dogs and honey buns. Day two – fail.
On day three of ‘I will get that dog for you’ I came armed with a
pot roast. I went to the grocery store bought a pot roast and
cooked it – solely to lure this canine to me. She (I could see that
it was a she when she approached the man peddling ambrosia)
actually took some from my hand. A few tidbits later and she
followed me over to the wire crate. A dozen tasty bites later and I
tricked her into leaning too far into the doorway and I shoved her
in. I am treacherous, I am. James backed out of his verbal
commitment to the dog as fast as any weasel could ever hope to
squirm. The facility manager had a sheltie of 11 years who had died
only three months prior – too soon. He couldn’t stand the idea of
another dog yet. So I did what a guy should do when he traps a lady
with a pot roast. I took her home with me. One trip to the vet
later and I knew she wasn’t chipped. Posters went up. No responses.
I had a dog. She fit in very quickly. She was subordinate to my
other dog and he trained her about yard and house manners in short
order. He passed away several years ago but she has remained a good
companion since she agreed to eat my cooking on that fateful day.
Twelve years later and I still have a dog.

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Saturday after we finished up volunteering with Animal Warriors four of us drove over to Juniper Springs to hike and camp.

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It was a late start, Florida is too hot for this crap, we smelled vaguely of manure, and hiking in “sugar sand” always just plain bites. Perfect for a shakedown hike.

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Whenever you plan to use minimal equipment for an extended period of time such as, oh I don’t know – say, hiking for 6 months with only what you carry on your back, it’s a good idea to have a reasonable degree of comfort with that equipment BEFORE you get started. That also has to be balanced against wear and tear. You don’t want to overuse something and have to deal with it being on its last legs when you need it to be in prime condition.

So, given that we are fairly comfortable with our gear we put this off until last weekend.

The hike started off with confusion. The ranger had to cancel our park admission and rerun the transaction. For the record hiking there costs about half of a day use pass. Weird.

We got out on the trail soon enough and spotted a campsite within 100 yards of the road. Nice if you were hiking the FT and wanted to use park facilities.

After about 1/4 mile I started pushing out ahead of the group. I wanted to stretch it out a bit and to get some alone time as well. Outrunning the group was win-win for me.

I hit a large succession area after about another mile. This was caused first by hurricane damage and followed up by wildfire. The newer vegetation was all under 10 feet with the occasional tombstones of old burned pines reaching for the sky. This area was pretty hot with the sun beaming down and nothing to intercede on our behalf. I actually got out my hat.

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After another mile to mile and a half I ran up on a dry pond alongside the trail. Following it for about half its length I ran across a small open area that was too small for anything except the smallest of tents yet was still an open shaded spot where I could have a much needed break. I drank up the rest of my Gatorade, changed socks, excavated 1/4 ton of sand from my shoes and rested for 10 minutes or so and then pushed on. I was beginning to get worried about finding a good campsite – there had been nothing since before the succession area and the sun was definitely on decline. I thought we had about an hour and a half til sundown.

As I made my way through a treeline my phone rang. The group was worried that I might be too far ahead and we needed a campsite that everyone would reach before dark.

After some discussion I dropped my pack in the treeline and scouted ahead. Three hundred yards or so up the trail was a suitable area. My phone rang again as I made it back to my pack; the group had found a campsite that I flat out missed just before the dry pond.

We regrouped at that location and set up camp. Surprise! I left the tent pole at home. We improvised with pretty good results. Two trekking poles and a few feet of paracord later we were almost as good as if we had a pole. Tarptents are really versatile: Henry Shire makes a damn good product.
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Dinner was couscous cooked with water boiled over our Esbit stove.

The night passed with little drama. Started out too hot (Florida), started to rain, then quit (Florida), and I learned that my sleeping pad was defective. I bought a Thermarest Prolite XS which just lays under my torso. My bag goes under my feet and this helps me conserve space and weight. It also only takes a couple of breaths to inflate. And if the valve leaks it goes flat in a couple of hours. I reinflated twice and sucked it up the rest of the time. Pine needles are soft.

The next morning I made coffee and oatmeal while Jess packed. She cleaned dishes while I packed. We were ready to go with little time and no rush or confusion.

The skies were cloudy and the temps were cooler; the hike out seemed short and we reached the car by 9:30. Spirits were high and we all had a good time.

Before the drive home we stopped at the park facilities for a bathroom break and I checked out the spring – very pretty.

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We’re on our way home as I peck away at my cellphone to create this post.  I’m riding in the back of our friend’s Jeep and trying to correct all my errors as we bounce down I75.

We camped in Ocala National Forest last night.  Yesterday was a busy day.  We threw all our prepped hiking gear in the car and drove over to our friends’ house where we transferred it to the back of their jeep to ride with their packs. 

Then we drove up to Ocala to do volunteer work with Animal Warriors.  For yesterday we worked at Kindred Spirits, which is a farm animal sanctuary.   They give a home to a variety of farm animals rescued from vad situations.  The work for this visit wss routine but needed – we cleaned stalls in a barn.  Scrubbed walls kind of cleaned – not just replacing litter. 

After the work we fed out apples and carrots we brought in to the residents – a treat for us and them.  We finished up with a picnic style lunch put on for us as thanks.  It was vegetarian and I am not but it was still pretty tasty.  Chips, hummus, pita bread, salads and fresh strawberries.

With a little manure aroma to spice up the ride we parted from the other volunteers and headed to Juniper Spri ngs.  Along the wsy we stopped at an Arby’s where I deemed the stall in the Men’s room to be up to sanitary standards for me to change into hiking attire. 

I have special underpants for hiking.  After getting some serious chafing on some early hikes I researched and found it to be a common problem.  A swipe of antiperspirant on the areas likely to be affected does fantastic as prevention.  So does wearing wicking undergarments.  As my thighs have toughened I have found that I no longer  need to put on the antiperspirant.  One less thing to carry – yay.

So I changed in an Arby’s restroom.  Then we went to hike, which I will post about soon.

Yesterday we went on a fossil expedition down near Arcadia. There is a small company (husband and wife team) who take people out for a day of fossil hunting for a reasonable fee. What you get for your money: a location that produces fossils regularly, tools to excavate the fossils, and a guide who provides both of the above along with a plethora of information about your finds and generally good conversation during your expedition. You can find out about what they do by checking out ther website: http://www.fossilexpeditions.com/

Our group was not very large. There were nine of us, including a young kid who spent over half the day playing on his dad’s ipad instead of out in the creek. Oh, the creek. In the area we’re in you don’t find fossils in layers of rock. You find them in layers of clay. And the best way to get them out of that clay is to wash it away. Or to have access to a creek that is already doing that for you. Our guide has exactly the latter. The site we went to was on private property where no one else digs so our guide had a very good idea of not only where to set us up but also of what we were likely to find. After a fifteen minute or so briefing where he did some show and tell with some example fossils he set us out and let us choose from places he identified as good spots. As we got going in our various spots he visited each group and identified our findings, gave friendly advice and chatted us up a bit. All in all it was confidence inspiring.

Initially I was shocked at the water temperature; has no one informed the creek that this is Florida? C-c-cold. After a half hour or so I didn’t mind the temp any more because I was getting the knack of it enough to really enjoy myself. I would get a shovel for Jess in her sifter and then get one for myself and we would work the material. We found shark’s teeth first. They are easy to recognize. Then we started identifying bone bits, and after a long while I came up with a fine old world horse tooth. It would be the best thing I found throughout the day.

Old world horse tooth found on 2013-02-20
In the afternoon Jess had enough and declared her session at a close. I stuck it out and used the added flexibility of working solo to move around a bit and try some different methods. I discovered that the guide had definitely put me on a spot that was rich in fossil material. I moved into slghtly deeper water following the vein of material. After removing shovel fulls I began using a ‘Florida snow shovel’ to rake over the area to see if I could pull up anything that may have been dislodged and just sitting around on the bottom. I wound up finding a lot of turtle plating that way and eventually a piece of alligator jaw. Good stuff.

We finished up after nearly five hours of excavating time and the timing was excellent. Despite having taken a small break for lunch I was flagging. We gathered around the vehicles and exclaimed over one another’s finds for about half an our and then we went our separate ways. A good day.

 

Fossils Found on 2013-02-20Forty or so shark teeth found on 2013-02-20

 

 

 

 

 

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