From the Suburbs of Illinois to the Mountains of Georgia
Nearing the end of day eight.
I lie with my right leg on a pillow, ice compressed onto my knee. Today can be chalked up to a lower end nearo and a highly satisfying buffet in Hiawassee, GA.
Tomorrow will be my first zero day as I need to give my knee time to recuperate. My recent snowboarding related injury has started veering its head on the downhills. The plan is to get it stronger before it gets weaker, and thus a full day of rest is required.
The last eight days have at times felt so incredibly surreal and each night I have been left filled with a lively sense that has lied dormant in me for too long. I have a vague remembrance of having this same feeling when I was a young child. I’ve remembered it again during other adventures and mishaps. Out on the trail it has been at a prolonged, mostly constant state.
Today’s morning brought a fucking beautiful sunset, and with it a growing gratefulness for the better-weather days. Only eight days in, yet still thinking back on those first steps up Springer Mountain seem such a distant place from where I find myself now. It feels like so long ago that I was still working, still saving up for this venture. With a weird fondness, I remember the often disapproving looks I got from some of those who I informed of my plans. I remember those who simply didn’t think I would or could do it. I remember being able to see it in their eyes. Then there were those who simply couldn’t comprehend why anyone would want to submit themselves to enduring something like hiking the AT.
I remembered those instances while I watched the hot pink and fluorescent orange sunrise, and I smiled.
As for the days leading up to the sunrise, let’s begin with my last day in Illinois:
We were still packing our bags when we realized it was just about time to go. In a rush, we settled our belongings, kissed our cat goodbye-for-now and headed for the car. Seamster’s parents shuttled us to the train station where we had a few minutes for hugs and pictures before the end of the line ten o’clock train whisked us away into the city of Chicago.
From there we took the goddamn-almost-midnight bus to Chattanooga, TN where we spent several days in good company eating good food and enjoying the perks of being lazy as hell.
The seventh day of March began with an epic breakfast off pecan waffles smothered and peppered hashbrowns, an egg, toast and some always-needed coffee from a high class southern restaurant that is very dear to my soul, Waffle House.
This breakfast of champions was followed by winding mountain roads and a nine mile hike from Springer Mountain to Hawk Mountain Shelter. Along the way I saw two folks dropout, found a pair of much-needed sun glasses (first ounce of Trail Magic!) and met a variety of others with backpacks and dreams. Some of them had smiles on their faces. Some seemed concerned. Some were catching their breath. Some were already comparing their gear. Once at the shelter we made camp tacos out of tvp and rice with quoinoa, enjoyed a fire and quickly fell asleep in the shelter to the lullaby of mice scattering around us.
That first day and night left my stomach filled with butterflies and my imagination filled with possibility. When I awoke I was met with my first taste of sexism on the trail- a man who couldn’t believe that it was my idea to hike the trail, “…but really, he didn’t talk you into this?” He laughed with unbelievement and gave me the same kind of smile lonely, slightly creepy older men have given me when I order straight whiskey and sit by myself at the bar.
I was also met with finding used tampons in the mulch bucket at the privy. I realize that the bucket could look like a trashcan to someone, and so I felt I should try to take some of the ladies aside to ask if it was theirs. This is an awkward thing to bring up, and so I felt, of course, awkward. But, it had to be brought up. No one wants to go to grab for mulch and end up with a bloody, super-sized tampon in their hand. No one should be putting trash in the mulch buckets, no matter what it is. I finally questioned one of the ladies who had camped at the shelter. She replied proudly and quite matter-of-factly that she buries her’s. Shit dude, don’t do that. Well that’s what I thought, but I widened my eyes and she walked away.
So you have Trash.
1) Pack out your Trash. Don’t throw your trash in the mulch buckets.
2) Please don’t bury your trash. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. Don’t bury your tampons. Pack them out in a ziplock bag. You can throw them away when you get to an actual trashcan. If this seems difficult, go ahead and buy yourself a Diva Cup. They are better than Tampons in every way possible, including reusability and less trash.
3) All I’m saying is, be good to the trail.
The other ladies who had been there had either already left or were glued to the table having breakfast with everyone. Feeling to awkward to interrupt breakfast to pull anyone aside, and not wanting to blurt it out in front of everyone, we headed out for our day’s hike to Woody Gap.
Woody Gap and Beyond
Along the way passed through Cooper Gap where we were met with beer, candy, sandwiches, cookies, granola bars, sodas, two happy dogs and three very happy trail angels. Obo Hobo and his lovely pooch had flip-flopped in 2012, and I, unfortunately, can’t remember the other angels’ names. They made our morning awesomely bad ass. Beer at 10 in the morning? Of course I’d love one.
Woods Hole was our haven from the first long night of rain.
There we made the best damn mac n cheese concoction I think that ever will be made. It was a mix of dehydrated potatoes, Annie’s Mac and Cheese and Berberé spice. Twas amazing. Twas god like. At this point my body, not being used to such constant of a workout, was quite sore. Here I experienced what I like to call the crank.
The Crank: When one’s body is so goddamn sore that the act of going from non-motion to motion is not only difficult, but feels nearly impossible. Once in motion, the body’s function of mobility sinks in and everything is seemingly ok. For example, I was hiking at a good pace, but then I stopped for water. In those sixty seconds, my joints, muscles and bones corroded and I had to push hard to crank them back into working condition. It fucking sucked.
The cranks lasted but two days. I am sure I will meet with them again, further down the trail. For now, I am glad to see them go.
We were later accompanied by Loren and Rachel. Rachel had a nightmare and woke up in the middle of the night roaring like a bear in her sleep. If it weren’t for the cranks, I would have shot up out of my sleep. Instead, for ten seconds I laid there thinking a bear was right in front of us. Then Rachel explained she had been dreaming, and I laughed while I fell quickly back to sleep.
The next day we got up early . Hiking up Blood Mountain was when the rain started. It came early in the morning, and layered our early day’s hike with a thick must of humidity and misty ridges. It laid the perfectly muddy red carpet to Neel’s Gap where we were met with new friendly faces, and dirty versions of the ones that we had met on the first two days of our hike. Inside of the outfitter we were met with the holy grail, a refrigerator filled with frozen delicacies. Among them were boxes and boxes of over-priced Red Barron pizzas. They called out to me in a similar fashion that adventure does: loudly and lustfully. I could taste the melted salty cheese product that covers the thin dough and cracker like layer of sauce before it had even been cooked, and once it was Seamster and I consumed it in the quickest way possible.
We were there for far too many hours, rearranging our packs, rolling my dreads and enjoying the smelly couches in the hostel. Everyone who I met who worked there was friendly and outgoing, although I couldn’t help but notice they were of a different breed. They were the “cool” kids of the thru-hiking world, Seamster and I were one of the many could-be thru-hikers who had stopped for a break. We quickly downed another pizza and hoofed it four more miles to Baggs Creek campsite. Peacedog and Dan, who we had met on our first day, were close behind us and joined us as camp site neighbors. After some debauchery, we all soon called it a night. The next morning I had my first PB and Breakfast Biscuit Taco with a lovely hot cup of instant coffee.
On the fifth day we hike 14.6 miles to Blue Mountain Shelter. The route there was beautiful, and no picture I took could give it any justice. The path was a muddy and often slippery mess. It was there that I ended up having my left leg slip from beneath me- my weight fell onto my right leg and thus spurred the predicament in which I now find myself.
The few remaining miles to the shelter were tough. I took it very slow. Once we arrived the shelter was full, we set up camp, cooked up a storm and laid in our tent. I had trouble falling asleep, rather I lied awake for a while listening to the nice sound of light rain covering hitting the roof of the tent.
With a few personal issues to attend to and only wet clothes and socks, we hitched a ride from Miss Janet and her adorable pup into the cutesy wanna be German town of Helen, GA. Miss Janet is an amazing Trail Angel who spends the hiking season driving thru hikers in the area into towns. The survival of her much appreciated shuttle service depends on donations. Her love for the trail and hikers is obvious, and her smile is contagious. She’s also a sweet and caring person who will do her best to help a fellow person out in any way possible. My gratitude to her is large. I hope to run into her again one of these days.
With darkness nearing, we ended up staying the night in Helen. This wasn’t what we had originally planned on, but life often has different plans and so we booked a night at the Super 8 Motel. Blueberry Moonshine, some smoke, $2 PBRs, $6 cheezy bread and $1 Keno!
Lottery made for a nice night at Pies and Pints with a friend we had made on Day One, Scout. Although we had a great night, and of course it had been great to do laundry and put on dry socks we couldn’t wait to get have the dirt, once again, underneath the soles of our shoes. Being in town felt a bit bizarre. The neon signs and cars passing by were dissatisfying and mesmerizing. Fluorescent light is bullshit compared to the rays (or misty days) that are provided in the wilderness. In the morning we feasted on free breakfast and with our thumbs up for under a minute, we caught a ride in the second car that passed by. Tim is a craftsman who is the toymaker of Helen as well as an awesome ride back to the trail.
With two mountains, roaringly vicious cold wind and rain, we hiked to Tray Mountain Shelter, and the day after we hiked to Deep Gap shelter where we dried off, made delicious camp quesadillas and played ukulele. Seamster is absolutely wonderful, and he played beautiful songs while I mostly rested my leg. My knee had really began to become bothersome, the rest was great. Loren and Rachel ended up and deep gap, too. Loren’s knee is also bothering him, so he led an impromptu stretch session. Overall it was a great end to the day. We were later joined by two weirdos, and I mean that in the best way possible. I am bad with names, and so I only remember that one of them went by the name of Mr. Fluffy Pants, and one of them had pretty red hair. I hope to run into them again later down the trail.
After a night of sleep, awaking to that beautiful sunrise and catching a quick ride to Hiawassee, here I lie on the Budget Inn motel bed, icing my leg and drinking coffee.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.