Day 9: Crisis
The Calm Before the Storm
Today was a tough day.
But let’s start with yesterday, which wasn’t. By noon on our zero day yesterday, Mrs. Incident and I felt that we’d taken in all the wonders of Hiawassee, at least all those that can be done with two doodles tagging along. So, we packed up and headed out to Deep Gap to prepare for the next day’s hike.
By her own admission, Mrs. The Incident is map challenged. Consequently, driving alone down miles of unpaved forest roads into the deep woods of southern Appalachia is not her forte. Frankly, the thought of her doing that gives us both anxiety. When such drives are required, we’ll make them together to assure ourselves the roads are drivable. Then, we’ll camp together if she feels she can handle the road back out alone, and I’ll hike back to civilization and our pickup point.
In today’s case, I hiked southbound from Deep Gap back to Dick’s Creek Gap. The plan had everything to do with logistics. It was just a happy accident that hiking this 15.8-mile stretch southbound instead of northbound turned a net 2,000-foot climb (5,161 ft. total gain) into a net downhill trek. Going south still had 3,500 feet of climbing, so either direction was a workout.
Deep Gap Road was in good condition despite the rain. We arrived at the AT trailhead around 1:30 pm and settled in for a quiet afternoon of napping, writing, and dodging the rain. When we pulled in, a young man, dressed in only a t-shirt and shorts (no backpack, no car) was sitting on the edge of a soggy fire ring. We waved and said hello, but he seemed to want to keep to himself.
Some Go Slow, Some Don’t
About an hour later, I heard someone call out. The young man jumped up and had an animated conversation with a runner who’d just come up the trail…something about his GPS taking him to the wrong place. The runner was wearing the sort of gear ultra-marathoners use and had calves the size of my thighs. The runner drained the young man’s water bottle, shouted something about a med kit and what he needed for dinner, and then immediately headed out again.
The young man looked a little bewildered, so I asked him if he needed anything, but he said he was fine and that he needed to bushwack back to where he’d left his car. Why he hadn’t driven it here and why he hiked here instead of driving remains a mystery.
As he left, I asked him if the runner was trying to set an FKT (fastest known time). “Yeah, that’s Gerrit. He’s going for less than 40 days,” he said as he headed into the woods. That’s 40 days to walk/run the 2,198.4 miles from Springer to Katahdin. Zowie.
We had just enough internet to figure out that we’d just seen Gerrit Van Ommering, who left yesterday from Springer Mountain. I’m kicking myself for not taking a picture.
By mid-afternoon on his second day, Gerrit had covered 85 miles. He’ll need to average 55 miles per day to break the current record. By comparison, the next person that hiked into Deep Gap after Gerrit left Springer Mountain two weeks ago. You can track Gerrit’s progress on www.fastestknowntime.com. As I write this, he’s at Mile 134, approaching the NOC.
The rest of yesterday afternoon was uneventful. Fancy Feast and Las dos Madres (whose trail names are actually Mountain Goat and Eventually, names that reflect their climbing styles) passed through and chatted for a while. One of Roux dog buddies also hiked in with its owners, but they just growled at each other. Everyone is grumpy after a hike if they haven’t eaten yet.
Today, I hiked out of Deep Gap before sunrise. We had no frost on the windshield, but it felt like we could have. Plus, the wind was howling, creating a wind-chill that must have been in the high 20’s. But the sun was coming up and the skies were clear. An excellent day for hiking.
Roux & I had the trail to ourselves until about 9:30 am, though we passed a very crowded camp around the Muskrat Creek Shelter. After that, we saw only one or two hikers until we met Dr. Doolittle at the Georgia-North Carolina State line.
Georgia is No Longer On My Mind
That’s right. One state down, thirteen to go. Woot! Woot!
Actually, the state line was a little anticlimactic. I’ve hiked past there before. And technically, I hiked back into Georgia, not north into North Carolina. Plus, I guess I was a little wonked. That is, physically tired and low on blood sugar. Still, it’s an important milestone. I made it out of Georgia. Or, I would when Kate drove me back to Deep Gap, which is in North Carolina.
Just after the border, I started noticing poison ivy growing along both sides of the trail. I’d seen it few times in isolated places last week, and then a lot of it on the last climb down into Dick’s Creek Gap on Saturday. Today’s poison ivy crop took it up a level, leaving practically no place to sit down that wasn’t in a poison ivy patch.
I’m very allergic to poison ivy. It’s one of the reasons I wear long pants, high socks, and long sleeve shirts when I hike. And one of the reasons I carry a plant ID app on my iPhone and a small vial of Dawn dish detergent in my first aid kit.
I’m pretty confident that I can avoid contact with poison ivy by being vigilant. I am less confident that Roux or Gus can. So, I spent most of the next eight miles pulling Roux from one side of the trail to the other to avoid getting the poison ivy oils on her hair (Doodles have hair, not fur…look it up.). Roux on a leash meant using only one trekking pole, which in turn meant more tripping and almost falling…into the poison ivy.
I arrived at Dick’s Creek Gap foot-tired from a long hike, stressed from dog wrangling, hangry from not stopping, out of gas, and out of cell service. And Kate wasn’t there. Fortunately, a 2007 thru hiker was doing a little trail magic, and I got a hamburger, a hot dog, an ice-cold La Croix (my drink of choice), and few salty chips. He even cooked up a dog for Roux and gave me a little timely advice about handling the mental aspects of completing a thru hike. I heard it, but I didn’t do it.
You’d think that be enough to bring me out of my funk. It wasn’t. I was stuck in mental quagmire trying to figure out how to keep the dogs out of poison ivy, whether I should send the dogs home, find a boarder, or just quit. That’s how I felt. An overreaction, I know, but there it is.
Kate showed up, having had a stressful morning of her own, which included taking the wrong road out of Hiawassee and ending up at Unicoi Gap instead of Dick’s Creek Gap. She’s as allergic to poison ivy as I am and wasn’t thrilled to hear my news about Roux’s possible exposure. Our moods weren’t a good combination.
Crisis Averted. I Hope.
It took us 30 minutes to get out of the Dick’s Creek Gap parking area and another hour using the WiFi at Ingles in Hiawassee to figure out a plan. Thanks to a new big tub of Dawn soap and a box of latex gloves from Ingles, as well as large pile of quarters at the HiaWASHee car wash, Roux got a prison shower and is now sanitized. So have I, though I can tell you my heartrate jumps every time I get the slightest itch.
The Doodles are not going home, and neither am I. I am, however, going to eat more and keep my blood sugar stable. And take a deep breath. And remember yesterday’s meditation.
We also now have a homemade poison ivy dog wash kit. Mental crisis #1 averted.
Stay tuned to see how this all works.
- Start: Deep Gap, NC (Mile 85.0)
- End: Dick’s Creek Gap, GA (Mile 69.2)
- Weather: Cold & windy, but sunny
- Earworm: Neil Diamond’s “Cracklin’ Rosie”. Ugh.
- Meditation: Jn 8:7
- Best Thing: North Carolina! Also, a Pink Lady’s Slipper blossom.
- Worst Thing: Poison Ivy!
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One stranger’s opinion from the internet: The family/pet/job logistics of a thru hike prevent many from even starting. No shame in turning it into sections. I personally wouldn’t put myself nor my dogs thru that level of stress if I was confirmed allergic to something so abundant.
Have to agree with the above comment from Pinball. Love our animals, but no way are they good on a leash and on trail and avoiding poison ivy that is everywhere. That sounds like a recipe for disaster on so many levels. Keep it simple. It’s already a tough trail. Don’t make it harder. Life on life’s terms. The trail is what it is. But of course, it’s always HYOH. good luck
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