Days 7-9 on the Appalachian Trail

In which we entertain the notion of taking a break.

Sun 3/31: Day 7

11.9 Miles, 3,212′ Elevation Gain

The beautiful weather continued with another warm sunny morning. The grouse were drumming a farewell off the mountain as we set out, me still babying my foot.

About halfway through the day I heard a rustling in the leaves up ahead. Birch’s ears pricked way, way up. As we started rounding a bend in the trail I could see that it was a group of wild hogs! Birch’s enthusiasm was overpowered by my desire to avoid confrontation; it was several adults with piglets and I just really wanted no part of that at all. They were still a ways ahead and were already in the process of crossing the trail. I clapped my poles together a couple of times and the group noisily bustled off into the woods. It certainly reinforced my decision to have Birch on leash at all times when we’re on trail.

I got to Deep Gap Shelter at around 3:45. As I was setting up my tent, a few more people arrived. Then a few more. By 6:00 PM or so, the place was packed.

MAJOR tent city at Deep Gap. There was a whole other encampment further up from the shelter, behind where this picture was taken.

We are in what’s known as “the bubble,” the time when the biggest concentration of people are starting and moving through the early sections of the trail. Honestly it hadn’t seemed too crazy at other shelters before this, but for a lot of people this was the last stop before heading into Hiawassee. There were also some shorter-term hikers in the mix, so it was a busy place. A lot of people were looking forward to their first zero mile day, enjoying the evening and meeting other people. I was pleased to feel like, except for this foot issue, I could have kept going if I needed to.

But a beer also sounded pretty nice.

Mon 4/1 – Tue 4/2: Days 8 and 9

Day 8: 3.9 Miles, 653′ Elevation Gain

Day 9: Zero Day

In the morning on Monday we made the quick hike down to the road crossing where a group of us got a shuttle to the hostel.

Happy hikers on their way to their first break from the trail. Me, Limpkin, Venus, Spark, Sniffles.

The place was also an outfitter where a few members of our group switched out packs and other gear.

No, these aren’t shoes of people who decided to quit the trail. But they are the shoes of people who hated their shoes and got new ones here. One of our group added her shoes to this tree.

The down time was good to assess the first week.

Overall, things were pretty good: my legs hadn’t fallen completely off and my gear was working out well. My foot issue seemed to at the very least not be getting any worse and this break could only help.

Birch was doing great. I had wondered whether all the leash training we’d done would fly out the window the second we got on the trail, but she had been amazing right from the beginning.

The community in and around the trail, especially here at the start at this time of year, was really energizing, and it was exciting to be a part of it.

A hiker signboard in an outfitter store in Hiawassee. Keep in mind, these are just the hikers who happened to stop in at this store.

And just the zaniness of this new reality was enjoyable. I mean, this is a place where people will, without hesitation, call you Pocket Hulk because your shoes are green, for Christ’s sake. It’s refreshing.

I’d met a lot of great people. It had been such a pleasure to get to know people along the trail. Everyone taking on this bananas idea individually and finding themselves together. I really appreciated the group I’d gotten to know.

Dinner in nearby Clayton the first night. The group who found this place made sure they allowed dogs before suggesting it as a place to meet up. How do you not love a gesture like that?

And Birch had many people in her corner, which warmed my heart to no end.

Birch enjoying a bully stick after a successful Operation: Dark Night, whereby with the help of my hiking friends we snuck her into the hotel room in Hiawassee where dogs were not allowed.

And of course, above all else there was the trail itself. Every day out there had been amazing (yes, even the rain day). I knew there would be harder days to come, and that it was ridiculous to feel accomplished after finishing just one week of the trail – but at the same time, it was in fact the longest continuous hike I’d ever done to that point. So it was also kind of hard not to feel accomplished.

A few days earlier, I had been debating whether to take time off at all. I was just so keyed up and there was just so much trail left to go, foot be damned. In hindsight, it was beyond the right move. I kept thinking of something one of our group, Schnitzel, had said: “You should always be looking for reasons to stay on the trail, not excuses to get off.” Except she had said it in the context of taking a zero day to facilitate continuing on. Which I thought was such a great kung fu maneuver to use on those nagging doubts as to whether you’re going far enough or fast enough.

If not for these past couple of days, I may very well have pushed myself past the breaking point in the early going without realizing it – the most classic hiker mistake, the one they keep telling you not to make. Take the time you need. Take the time your body needs. Sometimes getting off the trail is the reason to stay on the trail.

Lesson learned.

Plus, I did get my beer, and then some: I spent a glorious afternoon at a brewery in Hiawassee tasting flights and giving Birch a solid brushing.

Birch with the beginnings of her own hair golem.

So we were about a ready as we could be to keep going.

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