Well, it’s been 2 weeks since I finished the Trail, so I’ve had a chance to process the trip. What a great trip it was! I still have the hiker’s high. Joanne asked me if the trip was what I expected, to which I replied, “I didn’t know what to expect, but I wanted an adventure, and that is what I got.” I wanted to meet people who were not like me. But, you know, I came to realize that anyone who attempts the Trail is looking for an adventure, like I was. Regardless of whether you walk a few days or go all the way to Maine, hiking the Trail makes an impact on you. You learn a lot about yourself on the Trail. You are both by yourself as well in the Trail community at the same time. People are so nice and, although everyone has their own goals, people really come together as a community.
Here are a few final observations:
• After I returned from the trip, I realized that I had lost 7 pounds. After doing some basic calculations, I realized that I had about a 15,000 calorie deficit, so that weight loss makes sense.
• I expended almost 7,000,000 ft-lbs of energy.
• I climbed about 32,000 feet. Thar’s about the cruising altitude of a jet. The next time I take a flight and reach cruising altitude in 30 mins, I realize it took me 11 days to hike that distance!
Well, I plan continuing this adventure next year, as I plan on starting at NOC and hiking through the Great Smokey Mountains to Davenport Gap – about 100 miles.
Until then, I’ll be refining my pack weight and getting in a lot more practice hikes.
I hope that you have found this blog interesting. My 11 days on the trail were certainly a transformational experience for me.
Ok, time to introduce you to some of my trail friends, or Tramily (Trail family) as someone put it. You meet so many interesting people on the Trail, here are few of those whom I met. By the time I reached NOC, people tend to find others walking at their pace or who had the same destination on an evening. All of these are through hikers, except as noted. I used the Trail names where they exist:
Zach is from North Carolina and graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in recreation. He spent a year or two in Germany where he worked with recreational activities at an air force base. He met his girlfriend there, who has moved to Hawaii to be an activities coordinator at a hotel out there. Zach will be joining her after he finishes the AT.
Bradley is from Alabama and has put his life on hold for 5 months to hike the Trail.
Bradley and Zach were traveling together at this point on the Trail. They had already had a number of enriching (hair raising?) experiences in the first 10 days and were looking forward to the next few months. I hiked with them for a few days, but they were much faster than I.
Couple from Taos, NM. The wife works in schools with kids with disabilities and is an ultra-marathoner. The husband is a geologist who has quit his job. Very fast hikers. They were doing 20 miles a day. Had packs that weighed 17 and 19 pounds.
Brooklyn – IT specialist from Brooklyn, NY. Quit his job working for a private equity firm to hike the Trail. Sleeps in a hammock.
Rodeo – From Ft. Worth, TX. Pack weight was 11 pounds without food. She said that at the age of 14, she knew what she wanted to do as a career – ride horses in the rodeo, which she did for a number of years. She rode forward, backward, off the side of the horse, through rings of fire and two horses at once. She travelled around the Midwest performing at various rodeos. She met her husband in the rodeo – he was a roper. After a while, she decided she wasn’t making any money in the rodeo, so went to the local junior college and asked what degree would make her the most money in Anytown, USA. The answer: accounting. For 8 years, she studied accounting and earned her degree. Today, she manages a large accounts payable department at a county hospital. She was continuing to Fontana Dam, where she was pulling off the trail. Her pace was steady. She was often the first one out of camp in the morning.
Shannon: From Allentown, PA. Has degree in psychology and was working at an Outward Bound program before she began the AT. She only decided two weeks before she began the AT that she was going to walk it. Her mom tracks her progress with a map and post-it at home each day and sends her a screen shot of the map so that Shannon knows where she is. “Mom, I know I know where I am, because I’m here.”
Doppler: So named because he tracks the weather each day. Has taken a leave from his job as a trucking logistics coordinator at a Miler-Coors brewery in Indiana. His family is meeting himself at various points on the trail.
Ghost: So named because he is so quiet on the trail, that the only time you know he’s there is when he passes you. Is an IT security specialist from Virginia. Quit his job to hike the Trail. Has backpacked many places round the world – including the Camino in Spain.
Marvel: Name came from the Marvel superhero movies. She had a quote from the movie tattooed on her arm, unfortunately, I can’t remember what the quote said, but it was inspirational. She taught English in Japan for 5 years before her last job working in a hospital system.
Scott – From Menlo Park. I know his parents from youth soccer and church. His mom had heard that I was doing the AT, and made the connection for us. We met a couple of times before we both left for our trips to exchange notes. He is on a gap year before starting college. He started 3 days after me, but caught up to me at NOC. Spent a night in my room before I came home and he headed north to Maine. Fast hiker. He was doing 20 mile days.
Day 12 was a day to unwind and relax before my trip home tomorrow. I originally built this day into the schedule in case I needed it to complete the hike. Fortunately, I didn’t need it for that purpose. I was able to get ahead a few days on the trek, which allowed me to struggle through the storm when the bad weather hit.
I was able connect with a friend from Menlo Park – a 19 year old who is hiking the Trail in his gap year before college. He started several days behind me, but was able to put in some monster 20 mile days to get to NOC. I was able to get a double room tonight, so Scott had the top bunk.
Had dinner at the NOC restaurant. Terrific trout tacos and pizza!
It was a cold night as the temperature dropped into the 30s. I was able to keep my upper body warm by wearing a fleece. Unfortunately, my socks didn’t provide enough insulation. Brooklyn, a guy I first met on Springer Mountain, suggested Heat Holders socks. He showed me a pair and they looked quite warm. Brooklyn is sleeping in a hammock and seems to know about keeping warm.
I arose just before daybreak and saw an incredible sunrise! I watched it for about half an hour before I pushed on for the day. This was to be one of the shorter days, with only a small amount of uphill and a lot of downhill.
The first stop for the day was the Wesser Bald fire tower. What a great view. Spent a lot of time on the tower enjoying the scenery. There were even 2 chairs on top to sit on to enjoy the scenery. After about 20 mins there, I headed toward the Nantahala Outdoor Center, which would be the end of the trail for me this time. Although it was mostly downhill, there were a few uphill portions. There was one particularly treacherous right turn that, if you missed, you would go over the edge – I didn’t bother getting close enough to see how far you would fall. I was grabbing the trees all the way around the corner! The descent was quite difficult on my feet as there were lots of rocks and tree roots and my feet were being jammed into the front of my boots on each step. After a couple of hours I made it to NOC and checked in at the store. My hike for this year was over! I was both sad that my friends would be going on to Maine without me and glad for a warm bed that night.
NOC is a pretty cool place as there was a fast flowing river to soak your feet in and they have a whitewater kayaking school. Would be fun to do sometime.
Had dinner with Rodeo – she was headed out to Fontana Dam the next day, another 30 miles. I was happy for a hot shower.
Began the day with OJ and hash browns from McDonalds. My first breakfast other than a Clif bar on this trip. Got the shuttle to Winding Stair gap driven by a guy named Ron Haven, who owns Baltimore Jacks, a local hostel, and who apparently once owned the Sapphire Inn. He was quite a character, who claimed to be a former pro wrestler – he visited Martinez, Stockton, and LA in California during his pro career. Pretty conservative guy, but hey, liberal hiker money is just as good as anyone else’s. He was very friendly and gave some good advice for the trail.
He dropped us off at Winding Stair Gap where, in my rush to get out of the rain the day before, I had left my poles. Realizing how important poles are to hiking the trail, I had purchased a single pole at the outfitter store. To my delight, both my poles where were I had left them the day before. I gladly grabbed them and set off on my way. The day was quite cold and I’m glad I had a pair of gloves, although they were not as insulated as they could have been and my hands kept getting cold. This continued for several hours.
The first stop for the day was at Siler Bald. Which provided a terrific 360 degree view of the area. I took off my pack and took a short 10 minute walk to the top. I came to learn that a Bald is a mountain with a meadow on top.
After a few more hours of walking I came to Wayah Bald, which had a fire tower, and more Trail Magic, for which I was grateful.
After Wayah Bald, I hiked a few more hours to the campground just outside Cold Spring shelter and arrived around 7 pm. It was quite cold and I quickly made dinner by heating water with my jet boil to have my last rehydrated meal. After a day hiking, these dinners taste sooo good. It has been a long day, although with the shuttle ride, we didn’t get started hiking til about 10 am, so not too much longer than the other days.
This was to be my last night on the Trail this trip. I was camped with a group on the ridge and it got cold as the sun was going down, I got into my sleeping bag as soon as it got dark. My feet were cold during the night – need better insulated sleeping socks next time.
I did make my only wrong turn on the trip today and went in the wrong direction for about 15-20 mins, but realized I was on the wrong trail and back-tracked. The Gut Hook app I had bought for my phone confirmed this, so Im glad I had the app. The trail was marked, but I wasn’t paying closed enough attention. Also ran into a family hiking there Trail. The father was 0n a few month sabbatical and one of his kids suggested they hike the AT. It was great to see the kids running and laughing down the Trail as I struggled to climb the next hill!
Slept in the top level of the shelter as it rained as hard as I can remember during the night. As daybreak drew, the storm had abated and 3 of us started out for winding stair gap where we hoped to get a shuttle to Franklin, nc.
When we began the walk, the sky was a little overcast, however, after about an hour, the heavens let loose all their fury. I can’t remember walking on such a storm, even when I picked the worst days in my training. It was so windy, that at one point, I was almost blown off the trail. My original plan was to get a ride into Franklin and pick up some supplies and head out. The storm changed that. When I arrived at winding stair gap, there was no shuttle to take me into town, and the ride I had arranged, wasn’t going to arrive for 2 hours, so I found a guy in the parking lot to give me a ride.
Most of the hikers stayed in the budget inn, but it was full, so I ended up in the sapphire inn. The name belies the actual condition of the inn. It was 1960s style, with beaten up
furniture, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers and it had a roof and a bed, so I was happy. Cost the princely sum of $65 a night. It was right across the street from a McDonald’s, where I had my first real food in a few days: 2 Big Macs, large fries, medium drink and a vanilla shake. It was good.
After drying off, I went to the “liberal hiker” part of town to an outfitter where I bought some supplies and had a beer in the back of the store. Think REI with a saloon in back. This is a very conservative part of the state and there were only a couple of stores open.
Had dinner at a Mexican restaurant, which was quite good if you take out the margarita.
Turned in for the night and was glad for a roof over my head.
One of the streams crossed in the pouring rain. The white blaze on the tree points the way.
Began the day by trying to get my bear bag from the tree. One problem, it wouldn’t come down. The bears couldn’t get the food, but neither could I! Now, this presented a bit of a problem. I was finally able raise the bag quickly enough and shake the rope to get the bag to drop low enough to be able to whack it with a stick and retrieve the bag.
After packing my gear, the day began with a brisk walk up Indian Mountain. The weather was good, so there were nice views all day. The highlight of the day was the hike, or should I say scramble, up a rock face to Albert Mountain to the fire tower. According to Gut Hook, the app that everyone seems to use around here, the slope was 1230 ft/mile, pretty freakin steep. Although, my eyes told me that, it was less than comforting to know how steep. The total ascent was about 380 ft.
So, upward I went. More than hiking, I was grabbing every tree branch I could to pull me and my 35 pound pack upward. After 20 mins I reached the top, and what a view! This was my first fire tower on the Trail. Went up the tower itself, which gave a better view, but it was pretty windy, so I didn’t stay too long.
Hiked down to the Long Branch Shelter for the night. It is a double decker shelter and I got a place up top. A good thing there was space as there was a storm brewing. There were mice at this shelter, so there were cords to hang backpacks from. The cords also had anti-mouse devices to keep mice from climbing down the cords into backpacks.
On the way to the Long Branch Shelter
The path up Albert Mountain.
The fire tower on Albert mountainAt the top of Albert Mountain
The Long Branch Shelter. Note the backpacks are hung because of mice.
Began the day with a “hearty” breakfast of sugary cereal and milk. Took the shuttle to Dicks Creek Gap to start the day. Took a couple of Advil for my left knee pain and began the day. The walk began uphill and I ended up walking with Ghost. Most people go by trail names here. Ghost has acquired his name because he has a light step and walks rather silently. The first time you know he’s there is when he passes you. We spent some time walking and talking. He’s a cyber security expert who was hiked extensively around the world. He has walked the entire length of the Camino in Spain. It was raining and he was was wearing shorts, trail shoes, and a t-shirt. The idea is you are either going to sweat or get rained on, so you may as well wear something that will dry out. This is the approach that many experienced hikers seem to take. I decided to follow suit and took off my jacket . My shirt got wet, but soon dried out.
Ghost walked at my pace for a while, but after about 45 min, he picked up the pace, and, like a Ghost, was gone.
Was going to stop at Muskrat Shelter after about 12 miles, but felt good, so walked on to Standing Indian Shelter. Starting to get my trail legs. Found a tent site at Standing Indian Shelter and hung my first bear bag.
Had an early start (7:15), which began with a typical day of getting my bear bag (in Georgia so far there have been bear boxes), putting my sleeping bag in its stuff sack, putting my neck pillow into its stuff sack, roll up the sleeping pad, putting the tent and fly away, packing the backpack, and getting water. I have been using a Katadyn purification system, which seems to be working well. A water source out here is a steam or creek. On a hot day, you are so happy to see one.
This was supposed to be a sunny day, but it was misty til about 1 or so when I arrived at Dicks Creek Gap. Another Trail Magic at Dicks Creek Gap. Good chicken chili and drinks. People are very kind to the hikers here. Spent the night at the Top of Georgia hostel. Met Bradley, Zach, Rodeo, and Brooklyn at Baxter’s ( a burger and BBQ place for dinner) – delicious! Stocked up at the grocery store with another 4 days supplies.
Wow, what a day today! 5200 feet of climbing with my left knee bothering me most of the day. I found the climbs up Rocky Mountain and Tray Mountain challenging. The last climb took quite a while. We had another Trail Magic at Unicoi Gap. Had a bowl of chili and some drinks – much welcomed. The view from the top of Tray Mountain was beautiful, as was the view from the campsite. Had a hearty dinner and then set up the tent on the ridge. It was windy, but got a good night’s sleep. Stayed up to watch the night sky. Was surprised at how close the town lights were to us.