Bye bye Georgia
Leaving the hostel we catch the second shuttle out that morning. It only has to take us the 1/2 mile to the trail where we left off two days ago. Before we load up Becky and I weigh our packs once again. Mine, with 2 liters of water, weighs in at 26 lbs. A full 4 pounds more than when I started. I’ve added a second liter of water, a second shirt (which Becky says doesn’t flatter me), a new pair of gloves, my new water bottle attachment, and of course, a full food resupply from our mail drop. I am good with the extra weight but vow to pair down at the next opportunity.
Becky tips the scale at 33 lbs! What? How did she gain 11 lbs to her pack weight? We go into immediate review of what she is carrying. Her only new equipment was a tyvek sheet to use as a welcome mat of sorts for the tent. For some reason she has 4 liters of water. One liter of water weighs 2.2 lbs. She sheds the additional 3 liters and immediately gets down to my equal of 26 lbs.
We start the morning hike in our first patch of fog. Rain from the night before had the forest shining in the morning fog and the overall mood is positive. The extra day of rest has me feeling awesome and I’m excited for the new day. David, aka Freeze Dried, and another German, Wolfgang, is with us at the start along with a few others. David quickly separates with a hasty pace. Wolfgang has a pace similar to ours and stops with Becky and I when I scamper through the bushes to fertilize the Peach State forest one last time.
Once the morning fog was burned off by the rising sun we were treated to the ever present beautiful Georgia landscape. Everywhere you go in the Chattahoochee is someplace special with a great view. Today was just a continuation of the same. The trees have yet to sprout leaves that would greatly reduce our area of sight. It’s crazy to think that after such a short time on the trail we had been spoiled to the point that we took the spectacular views as the norm. Add in 95% of the time has been great weather and zero bug issues and the start of our journey has been nothing less than ideal when you consider only the setting.
One State Down
We stop at Plumorchard Gap Shelter for lunch around noon. That leaves us with only about 4 miles to the GA-NC border. The near finish of the first state has us energized. The last few miles of Georgia turn dark but our thoughts remain positive about our near accomplishment.
By dark I actually mean charred. Evidently, this area of the forest has seen fire recently. The leaves that would normally be on the ground and the underbrush have all been burned off. A black floor is all that remains. Standing trees have burn marks half way up their trunks. A layer of brown on the evergreens is next before the green pine needles start to dominate the tops. Scorched Earth is an appropriate description.
Becky, Wolfgang and myself walk through the ever changing landscape of burn patches and budding forest until reaching a single tree ordained with a simple sign reading GA-NC. We have covered a little over 78 miles of the AT. We happily snap a few photos and say a couple woohoo’s before moving on. We feel our accomplishment is significant. Math whispers that we have indeed accomplished something: 3% of the trail is now behind us. Maybe 4% if we round up. We go only a tenth of a mile beyond before setting up camp for the night.
North Carolina, ugh
First morning in North Carolina and already the fake academic standards of their NCAA basketball champion university is degrading my own judgement. I left clothes hanging out all night that now must continue to hang in order to dry from the nights dew. When we finally start hiking the first sign of flying pests emerge. Gone is beautiful SEC country. We now must sludge through the ACC.
Something resembling gnats in cardigan sweaters fly around my face. Knowing I’m from Kentucky they don’t land on me. They just seem to fly in front of me and look me over like a judge in a dog competition would. One by one they fly in close just above eye level looking down on me. They make their individual snooty or haughty gestures before moving on. Just daggummit letting me know given a choice they would daggummit rather pester someone more daggummit worthy of their time.
Kids With Knives And An Axe
We stop for lunch at Muskrat Creek Shelter. The trail around this area seems a little swampy for my liking. I am trying to enjoy myself when a group of 4 or 5 dads show up with their horde of boys from Florida. The dads relax and engage us in conversation about thruhiking while the boys RUN around WITH their KNIVES slashing at low hanging tree beaches. One of the dads takes a second to explain to his two delinquents that cutting at live trees is frowned upon. The boys turn their attention to learning the art of carving on the shelter walls.
Wolfgang, Becky and myself set out to get ahead of the herd as it becomes known that we are all heading to Standing Indian Shelter for the night. David had keenly already left our lunch spot the moment he heard a troop of boys were heading in. The rest of us make it to Standing Indian just ahead of the pack and find a flat spot for the tent before they were all gone.
First overnight rain storm and the tent did well. While getting some cleanup completed I spend a few moments watching one of the dads instructing the kids on how to handle a hand axe. They are each getting a turn hacking at a downed log. Each time it gets to be another boys turn the transition of the current boys last swing and the stepping in of the new boy seems a little dangerous. That last swing is always getting a little more oomph behind it while the eagerness of the next one to jump in continues to accelerate the longer the new Daniel Boone has been waiting.
I’m torn between wanting to film the inevitable with my phone or continue to wipe down my tent. Once the party ends without incident the dad joins the others to pack up. The boys then turn their attention to pulling down the tops of small trees to see if they can hit each other by the recoil of when they jump off. Amazingly, they break camp without a single scream.
Watching the shenanigans of youth puts me behind getting my day started. Wolfgang is working the same schedule. We don’t start to hike out until nearly noon. Like most days, we start with an uphill climb. At the top of the first mountain I catch some cell service and break to catch-up the blog. Becky and Wolfgang continue on.
First Alex, then Elena and Phillipp make an appearance. They had been playing catchup since taking a zero in Helen GA. It is a happy homecoming although a short one. Their plan is to go farther than our current pace because they were out of smokes. We will be playing catchup to them from this point. I don’t expect to catch them until Trail Days rolls around.
I Learn How To Set Up Our Tent
The hike over the last few days has continued to wind through burned out forest. At times it is a picture of devastation. At others, a show of the struggle between the forest staying green and the fire claiming only the prior dead within the green. As Becky, myself and Wolfgang roll into Carter Gap Shelter area for the night it is a picture of despair. The old shelter walls lay in an area that was claimed by fire. Only dirt is present where leaves and underbrush once padded the ground. Black covers everything else. The whole area is dotted with tents. A bubble (large group of hikers in one spot at the same time) has settled in the area for the night.
Becky and I position our tent between an early to bed David and a newly acquainted Kelly. Wolfgang sets up about ten yards behind. I put the tent up a little differently this time. We use two trekking poles as the supports for the ceiling. Normally, I would lower the poles a few inches from their max height before inserting them as the tent frame. This time I went with the trekking poles all the way extended. It gave us more headroom and brought the sides higher off the ground to avoid mud splashing on the sides in the case of rain. Becky gives me the eye because she said it should have been put up this way all along. Somehow I knew this but failed to do it until now.
A Grand Plan
We first met Kelly, aka Jolly Rancher, at Standing Indian Shelter the night before. Kelly is from Missouri and doing a section hike for a few weeks. He says his vehicle is a few days away and he suggests a zero day in Franklin NC after we make it to his parking spot. The timing is perfect for Becky and I as it falls within our zero day schedule. Wolfgang and David are on board as well. Wolfgang is running out of food and David already had a mail drop scheduled in that town.
Now that we have a plan together we have a full two days to work out the details. Becky makes reservations for us two at a hiker friendly Budget Inn. David suggests him and Wolfgang share a room but Wolfgang wants the time for a little privacy. Wolfgang reserves a room at the Budget Inn also. Kelly tells David he has room at the Hampton Inn and suddenly everybody has their accommodations. Ain’t life grand?
A Jewel In North Carolina
David and Kelly our up and out of Carter Gap Shelter area pretty early. Becky, Wolfgang and I get up around 7 but don’t start hiking out until 10. The new tent setup worked wonderfully. The weather gives the impression it might rain but none ever falls. Today’s hike includes what should be a tough climb to 5200 feet atop Albert Mountain.
To this point North Carolina has only sparingly elicited the awe that was so common in the mountains of Georgia. Mix in the multiple burned out portions and the first 20 miles of North Carolina have been downright gloomy. Albert Mountain changed all of that. Albert Mountain is no joke. At times you want to ditch the trekking poles and grab hold of the steep portions with your hands. When you finally get to the top you know you just climbed a mountain. On top of Albert Mountain is a fire tower. My hope is that you get to climb Albert Mountain on a clear day just like we did. It is worth it.
Bonus round: the 100 mile mark for the north bound thruhiker on the Appalachian Trail is basically at the top of Albert Mountain.
My First Shelter Sleep
We hike down to Long Branch Shelter for the night. Becky and I survey the options for our tent and they aren’t good. Only a few spots remain and one of us is going to be on a slight slant at best. Furthermore, the sky is dark, dark grey. We decide to claim a couple spots inside the shelter. This will be our first time we are going to stay in a shelter this trip. Keeping everything dry will help us in the morning to get going and possibly keep up with Kelly and David in order to make the ride into Franklin that much easier to facilitate.
Before the storm hits I grab water to filter from the spring. I take a few minutes to soak my feet a couple times in a deep hole that allows me to submerge up to my ankles. It is freezing cold. I feel like I’m at a spa. My feet feel wonderful. There have been no knee or hip problems this week. I’m about to sleep without worry about an approaching storm. To top it all off I’ll be sleeping in a hotel tomorrow.
Otis Was Everywhere
I lay awake watching the rain approach. Lightning flashes across the sky. When the rain does start it drowns out everything else with a constant splatter on the shelters tin roof. It is one of those storms where you don’t want to be camping in a tent. I could be listening to someone a few feet away snoring. It could be one or all 8 of the other people in the shelter that night snoring, or talking, or whatever they could possibly do that would keep me awake.
Instead, I must have the best sleep I’ve had this trip. I figure this to be true because during the night my dog, Otis, shows up and we go for a walk. He is off his leash like when we walk in the woods and I know there isn’t a chance for him to run into traffic. He runs and jumps on the bed to let Becky and me rub his belly before bolting away for a quick game of hide and seek. No matter where I imagine we’re at he is there. Except when I wake up. That’s when he goes back to my nieces house. I hope he had the same dream.
Crossing The Border
It is still storming in the morning. Kelly and David were in tents but still manage to get packed up before us. Them leaving is all the motivation we need to pick up our pace. We get up, pack up, energy bar for breakfast and off we go hiking in the rain. I’m giving my favorite pants the second chance I promised since causing the tops of my knees to break out the third day on the trail. They disappoint as their water wicking ability can’t keep up with the current rain flow.
Becky is setting a pace that is hard to keep up with. She once thought her trail name would be Turtle but there is no way that would be in play today. We pop out of the woods into a parking area where Kelly and David show surprise we show up so quickly. We catch a ride in a van to Kelly’s SUV. The van doesn’t have any seats and we all sit on the floor in the back with our gear. We joke that we’re attempting to cross the border undetected.
When we reach Kelly’s ride it is spotless clean and we all try to keep from getting our muddy boots from touching anything but the rubber floor mats. First stop is our Budget Inn. We are able to check in immediately. Wolfgang has to wait. It’s a few hours before Kelly and David can check into the Hampton. Screw that. We drop our stuff along with Wolfgang’s in our room and head over to Huddle House for breakfast.
Kelly tells us about a home style service place to eat about 20 minutes away that he would like to go to while in town. We all agree it sounds worth seeing. So after breakfast we return to the hotel to shower and prepare for meal number two. Long story short, the second meal that night at Dillard House was amazing. Beautiful old restaurant that I can’t possibly do justice too describing.
The next day we take a zero. Kelly is gracious enough to shuttle us to a couple different outfitters and Walmart to resupply. We have a nice lunch. While I go through our groceries getting the back pack ready Becky gets a ride to the local VA. It all winds down with a planned 6:30am pickup to be shuttled back to the trail. I only wish that I didn’t have to stay up to get all this wrote down.
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