(2) Sunday, March 23, 3:30PM:
I've hiked a very slow six miles so far today. I still have 2.5 miles to reach Gooch Gap Shelter. I have a climb ahead of me and I'm hoping to get me fourth wind before starting. I just used my PUR Hiker water filter for the first time today. It seemed to work just fine, even though the whole process is a pain.
I feel very tired today. I had a fitful sleep last night in my tent. I am really looking forward to reaching Helen, GA so that I can send some items back that are weighing me down. I've been making a mental note of what I may not need. I hope to get down to 65 lbs.or less. My food seems to weigh an awful lot. I may reduce the time between mail drops so that I can carry less food.
I'm in my tent at the Gooch Gap Shelter. There again must be 20 people here. I wasn't sure that I would make it this far. My break at Justus Creek made all the difference. I spoke with a seasoned old man/hiker who was testing himself for a Thru-Hike. I gleaned some good advice from him. Basically, do without all perks/luxuries until your body has been conditioned by the trail. His trail name was Max. I really enjoyed visiting with him. He said that just because I sent stuff home now it didn't mean I couldn't ask for it back later. And I might even find out that I didn't need the stuff anyway. I made the 2.5 miles to Gooch Gap Shelter by 5:30. Again, I was the last one in. I'm only about 4 miles tomorrow from Woody Gap, which puts me into Suches, GA . . . which has a post office. So I will really have to test my commitment of lightening my load. I hope to temporarily get it below 60 lbs. I'm pretty confident that I can do that. This weight right now is just killing me. I'd love to continue the 8-9 mile pace I'm on for a while.
My feet have no blisters, but several hot spots. I'm hoping the hot spots are gradual calluses. I baked corn bread tonight to use my oven before I temporarily send it back. I'm still optimistic, but today definitely tested me a bit. Now I'll just have to wait and see how I feel after lightening my load.
My meals are working out very well. At this point I'm considered a gourmet . . . If only they new. My meal portions are huge, but I'm forcing myself to eat every bite, even as it gets cold. I know that my body is just burning through the calories.
8.5 Miles Today, 16.1 MTD (Miles To Date)
(3) Monday, March 24, 5:00PM
I'm in camp already. I got here about 4:00. It sure is nice to stop early. I was the last one out of Gooch Gap this morning, leaving at 9:30. My first mile was tough. I couldn't seem to get my legs to wake up. After that though, I got my first real notice of my Hiking Legs. It was great! I really moved well all the way to Woody Gap where we crossed our first paved road (GA 60). I did those 4 miles before noon. I then immediately hitched a ride to the Post Office in Suches. I got there just before the Postman was about to close for lunch. I got a box from him and spent his lunch break emptying my pack. I was very pleased to learn from him that I had removed 14 lbs. from my pack. I don't know for certain, but it must be under 60 lbs. now. I sent back my sandals, paperback books, baking kit for my stove, meat packets for my meals and several other things. I would be pseudo-vegetarian on the trail for a while.
I ran into Jeff, a fiftyish IT (Information Technology) guy from Boston. He was hanging it up already, here on day 3. He weighed 265 lbs. and was in no condition for such an undertaking. He was pretty disappointed. As I was getting ready to leave, a guy dropped off Brian and Karen (from New York). They were pretty downtrodden, looking for a few days off to let some blisters heal. They had a friend at Clemson that they were going to try to stay with.
I looked up Joan Moody from my days with COG (Concours Owners Group), a motorcycle club. I spoke with her husband, Bill and learned that she would be out shopping for several hours. He told me that he would fill her in, and maybe she could come see me during my stay in Helen.
Less than two hours after getting off of the trail, I was hiking again. I felt very good and intended to cover some ground until I saw Jenny (Capetown, S. Africa) parked along a beautiful stream. The next reasonable campsite (Slaughter Gap) was still 4.5 miles away, so I called it a day. I'm going to stop and have dinner now.
I'm in my tent now. Two more hikers joined us to round out our campsite. Magic Merk and Re-Pack are from Philadelphia. Magic Merk is a high school substitute teacher, and his school is all behind him. He is starting to write clever post cards that the principal will read over the PA system. He was very pleasant to have with us. His partner is a rather quiet old man. Merk made a fire that we all enjoyed. It got rather chilly this evening with help from the wind, but it doesn't feel so bad once in the tent. I can't complain, because today was yet another gorgeous day. They are calling for rain tomorrow night, so this will change soon enough.
The first half of tomorrow will be spent climbing Blood Mountain. It is the highest point on the AT in GA. I hope my walking legs will be with me tomorrow. I would also feel better if my hips were a little more used to the sharp pain of a very tight hip belt. I plan to actually try to rise early tomorrow. I'll know soon enough how things will go tomorrow. All in all, I feel much more optimistic today than I did yesterday. I hope it holds.
6.8 Miles Today, 22.9 MTD
(4) Tuesday, March 25, 4:00PM
I'm sitting in a nice dry warm cabin at Goose Creek Cabins down the road from Neels Gap. I'm showered and wearing the only clean clothes I have; a pair of long-john bottoms and running shorts while all my dirty clothes are being washed. I'm sharing this cabin with three other hikers: Jenny (S. Africa), Henry (retired chemistry professor from Newfoundland), and Brian (young kid from New Hampshire).
I just got back from getting pizza with the gang. Eight of us got a taxi to Blairsville to join up with six other hikers from the hostel at the Walasi-Yi Center at Neels Gap. I woke up and began hiking in the rain this morning at 7:30. Feeling Great! I hiked all 7.8 miles to Neels Gap by noon. All the folks in the hostel were so glad to see me. They were concerned that my heavy load might break me. Most of them hadn't seen me since Gooch Gap. It was a great reunion. I felt so welcome. But the hostel had filled up by 9:30 this morning with wet hikers willing to wait the rain out for a day.
All the hikers eventually get a handle or trail name. Some choose their own, while others let it be chosen for them. There has been no shortage of handles for me. I have kind of settled in on "Bigfoot", but I've liked the others I've heard: "Schmuck" for carrying 77lbs.; "Sasquatch" instead of Bigfoot; and today someone referred to me as "Gentle Giant", not knowing any of my other names. I've been very amenable to these different handles . . . willing to answer to any of them if offering to buy me a beer in town.
These fellow hikers that are all starting at a similar pace are forming a marvelous community. The town people that see us together are quite impressed with our level of mutual support.
I really felt great today, and plan on pushing for some extra distance tomorrow.
7.8 Miles Today, 30.7 MTD
(5) Wednesday, March 26, 8:00PM
I'm camping with several other familiar people and two new ones at Poplar Stamp Gap. The familiars are as follows: Telephone Man, Mickey & Mallory, Brian, and Asha. New ones are Dale and ???. We're 8 miles from Unicoi Gap where I get off to hitch the 9 miles into Helen, GA for my mail drop. I intend to get a very early start so that I get to Unicoi by 2:00 and easily make it to the post office before it closes. I plan to spend the night by myself in a motel in Helen and get all caught up on my correspondence.
This morning I hit the trail strong at 8:30 after a brutal night of thunderstorms. We picked the right night to stay under roof. It was still very wet this morning as I hiked in a cold drizzly mist on the mountain. I got to the top of the crestline and was hiking along when instantly the misty clouds disappeared showing a beautiful blue sky. The rest of the day has been wonderful sunshine. It is expected to drop into the low 30's tonight, and the wind is howling through this gap in the mountains.
I hiked my longest day so far covering 12 miles. My body is steadily adjusting to the considerable demand of hiking up and down mountains. I am among the fortunate that hasn't gotten a blister yet, but my hips are killing me from the force of my hip belt. I am also nursing my left knee that aches when I am descending steep portions of the trail. I rely on my walking stick considerably to help me up and down the mountains.
My training trips at East Fork Lake State Park in Ohio were good for testing and breaking in my gear, but they were wholly inadequate at testing me. The ups and downs of those trails were so short that they never created a repetitive strain. The ascents and descents of this Appalachian Mountains trail can last for miles at a time. This is truly challenging recreation.
I had a few moments of elation today. What else matters?
12 Miles Today, 42.7 MTD
(6) Thursday, March 27, 1:30PM
I had another great morning. I covered 8 miles by noon. I really hauled ass, starting at 7:40 this morning. Right now I'm sitting in a cheap hotel room in Helen, GA having already picked up my mail drop. I intend to soak in the tub for a while and have a fine dinner tonight before hitting the trail again in the morning. Tomorrow begins some more really tough climbs.
8 Miles Today, 50.7 MTD
(7) Friday, March 28, 8:30PM
I'm in my tent right now for the night and the wind is blowing very hard up here on Tray Mountain. It's been raining ALL day. But it's supposed to break some time before morning after another thunderstorm or so. I didn't get on the trail today until 1:00, which meant that I had 25 hours of down time. My body and mind truly appreciated the break.
I had a big prime rib dinner with 3 Coronas. I truly feasted. I took care of all my food, laundry, mail and e-mail. I even made a few phone calls. I slept very well last night in the hotel bed. I really hadn't been sleeping that well, so the good nights sleep was particularly special. I had original plans of getting an early start this morning, but I ended up letting myself sleep in; especially after I noticed how much it was raining. I was also dreading the two steep ascents ahead of me in today’s hike.
I felt like a cold was coming on so I hit the drug store for some vitamin C and kept taking it throughout the day and night. It really seemed to help. My body also loosened up over the break. It really needed an easy stretch. I finally got moving this morning and walked in the rain up to the Huddle House restaurant for a western omelet and hash browns. I then walked down to the post office to send off the last of my mail before checking out of my room around noon. I walked through the pouring rain to the edge of town before I got a ride. I'm really upset that I left my nice fleece hat in his truck. I had been using the hat folded up as additional padding under my hipbelt for my sore right hip. I really feared I would miss having it during today's strenuous hike.
I could not believe how well I felt. My rested fresh legs cruised right up Rocky Mtn. and then Tray Mtn. It was no walk through the park, but I certainly managed it well. While I missed my extra padding, it turns out that my hips are beginning to bear the load better. I just need to let them breathe frequently by resting or hiking with all the weight on my shoulders for a couple minutes.
The rain never lifted all day today, but it was still a great hike. I remember feeling less than great this morning, contemplating staying another night in the hotel. After all, who in their right mind ventures out in such bad weather if they don't have to? But then, once I was about an hour into my hike, it occurred to me how beautiful these mountains are in the rain. I had no trouble enjoying a very difficult hike today.
I didn't see hardly anybody while walking today. I figured everyone had gotten out well ahead of me since I made a town stop. Boy was I wrong. I got to the Tray Mtn. Shelter only to hear a big hurrah from many of the familiar hikers: Mickey & Mallory; Doug & Jennifer (now Trail Mouse & Technicolor) and several others both new and old. They all enjoyed my bacchanalian tales of steak & beer. I really enjoy the company of these people. I used the dry comfort of the shelter to cook my dinner, and then I pitched my tent.
I haven't slept in a shelter yet. They are far too crowded at this early stage on the trail. I have also heard unpleasant stories of snoring and mice encounters that are enough to discourage me. My tent provides me with the cozy privacy that I enjoy.
There is a marvelous rumor spreading around that some church group, or is it the owners of the Blueberry Patch Hostel . . . well whoever it is, they are rumored to be setting up a big Easter Sunday breakfast right on the trail at Dicks Creek Gap for us hikers. Tonight I am only 10.6 miles from that spot. How serendipitous. I can hike a light 8 or so miles tomorrow to leave me just short of Dicks Creek Gap for an easy hike into breakfast Sunday morning. It sounds phenomenal. I sure hope its not just some ugly rumor to fool some hungry hikers. We were all licking our chops tonight at the thought of such a fine breakfast.
We're looking forward to favorable weather for the next few days beginning tomorrow morning after this storm blows through.
5.5 Miles Today, 56.2 MTD
(8) Saturday, March 29, 4:30PM
I am comfortably resting just 1 mile from Dicks Creek Gap, where breakfast is supposed to be served tomorrow morning. I was just telling my campmates (Mickey & Mallory, and Trail Mouse & Technicolor) that I'm going to be real disappointed if this breakfast affair is just a ruse, especially after last night’s ordeal.
Last nights storm really raised some hell. Beginning about 10:30, the sky let loose a three hour torrent of thunder, lightening and rain. When it finally seemed to blow through around 1:30, it was followed by gale force winds that were testing everyone's tents. Some tents failed the test as campers scurried about in the wind to re-secure their tents. Mine faired quite well. As if all of that wasn't enough, an entirely separate storm came on like a freight train around 3:00 and lasted until 6:00. Then as dawn broke this morning the clouds disappeared and we had beautiful sunshine. Everyone had wet gear which led to lines being strung between all available trees. Nobody rushed out of camp this morning, taking advantage of the sun and wind so that their packs wouldn't be burdened by wet gear. Since we were up on Tray Mtn., we were in the middle of the storms. Many hikers confessed that it was a truly terrifying experience.
Storm or no storm, I still didn't sleep well last night. I can't figure out why I'm not sleeping well. I'm getting plenty of rest, but the nights last forever. Nonetheless, my spirits are high and several have openly admired my hiking optimism. I'd just like to finally start sleeping better.
9.4 Miles Today, 65.6 MTD