Haze on the Trail: Week 2
Thursday, 3/3: Deep Gap Shelter to Hostel Around the Bend (3.6mi)
Around the Bend is awesome; Hiked down there from Dicks Creek Gap with Kelly and Julyan— Katie from WI and Bricks had been at the same Shelter area the night before and were already there; real fun crowd in general. Showered, put up my hammock in the tenting area, started laundry and then went into Clayton on the shuttle to go to Outdoor 76, get lunch, and resupply.
After stopping into Outdoor 76 to sign the 2022 thru-hiker banner (and get a Buff!) as well as pick up some more electrolyte tablets, I joined some of the others from the hostel who had gone to The Universal Joint (a cool little restaurant across the street) and sat at the bar with Michigama, Trunks, and a few others.
I’m not usually much of a drinker at all (and I really don’t generally like beer), but I ordered a (10%!) Peanut Butter Porter along with my Cheddar Burger and it was utterly delicious. (I’m still thinking about it while writing this almost a week later. Yum.)
We all loaded back into the shuttle and Gordon drove us to Walmart for resupply. It was like a collaborative mad dash as we all beelined straight for the hiker classics and loaded up. Bricks and I realized we both only needed about half a box each of oatmeal packets and granola bars, so we decided to each buy one and split them when we got back to the hostel. Boom— Teamwork!
The story at Hostel Around the Bend (the location/property previously known as Top of Georgia) is an interesting one— The new owners Lisa and Gordon didn’t know that they had bought a hiker hostel — As Gordon would say: “we just bought it for our house then hikers kept showin’ up!” Frustrated by their previous jobs, they went in on the ‘career change’ and leaned into rebranding their newfound hostel.
If I hadn’t heard this story, I never would have known that this wasn’t a lifelong intention or ambition for them; They run an excellent, welcoming, cozy venue that I never had a single complaint about in the two days I spent with them. I really can’t suggest it enough for any hiker. Absolutely wonderful people!
Friday, 3/4: 0 Day at Hostel Around the Bend
Went into Clayton again to send a small box back with a few things I had either replaced, decided to swap out, or otherwise didn’t want to carry around with me, find some postcards to mail to family and friends back home, and get a different base layer to replace the zip-neck one that had been driving me crazy. (Oh, and get enough signal to call my Grandpa! While the Hostel has excellent WiFi, my cell phone service was pretty lacking.)
Afternoon was mostly spent writing postcards. The downside to camping out back (and being at a hostel in general), is that I didn’t feel able to nap or completely unwind the way I’d be able to on my own. After trying to lay down for a while and failing to actually feel rested, I checked the shuttle sign-ups for the evening group into Hiawassee and saw that there were quite a few spaces available. After checking in with Gordon about it, I jotted my name on the list. Might as well actually see Hiawassee itself while I’m here.
I didn’t need anything else in terms of resupply, but another dinner among hikers and seeing a different trail town seemed like an enjoyable way to spend the evening if I wasn’t going to be able to nap anyway. (Dinner at the Hiawassee Brew was delicious, though not quite as memorable as my experience at The Universal Joint. The live music was excellent, however.)
While the other hikers who hadn’t yet been able to resupply ran into Ingles, I quickly realized I had forgotten my debit card at Hiawassee Brew, and Gordon was kind enough to drive me (and a few others who were still in the van) back to get it. (Thanks Gordon!)
Back at the hostel I packed up as much of my gear as possible for the next morning, and hit the sack fairly early.
Saturday, 3/5: Dicks Creek Gap to Muskrat Creek Shelter (11.8mi)
I was up at my usual early hour, packed up my sleeping gear, and ate a pretty solid breakfast before checking out with Lisa. Bricks and I hopped on the shuttle (predominantly full of ‘slack-packers’ headed to Unicoi) and Gordon dropped us off at the Dicks Creek parking lot where we got back on trail for the day.
The first four-or-so miles of my day, my legs felt like they barely wanted to move. Kelly and Julyan (who had taken a later shuttle to trail) passed me fairly early on, but otherwise I didn’t see many people on trail at all.
After a couple of days surrounded by my fellow hikers, returning to the near-silence of trail felt a little odd. My steps felt heavy and awkward, but eventually I began to feel as though I had shaken the dust off of them.
At Blue Ridge Gap, I was very pleasantly surprised to see some impressive trail magic set up by a few guys from Wilderness MENistry. They clearly knew what hikers needed: Coffee, soda, jugs of water for refilling, donuts, fresh bananas, a trash bag, and even a charging station for juicing up phones/electronics (while taking a break in the camping chairs they’d thought to provide!)
I dropped my pack nearby, cheerfully accepted a bottled ice coffee and a banana, and disposed of the granola bar wrappers from my earlier morning snack. The young daughters of one of the guys showed me the “fairy houses” they had constructed nearby, and I had a pleasant time talking about all the usual ‘hot topics’ with their whole group: the trail, gear, weather, etc.
Before I headed back out, their apparent leader gave me a card and encouraged me to let them know if I had any ideas or thoughts on what they could do or add to make their trail magic better for hikers. I was, and still am, fairly stunned and can’t think of a single thing. They had an impressive set-up going, and I felt pretty spoiled by what had turned out to be my first official experience with trail magic. (Up until then, I seemed to have a knack for passing through areas shortly before trail magic had gotten going in that location for the day. It didn’t bother me a bit, but it had been sort of funny.)
Thinking about the mileage I had remaining, and realizing I had already been there for about 20 minutes, I bid them my thanks and farewell, told the other hikers who’d stopped that I’d see them up-trail, and got back on my way. Maybe it was the coffee talking, but I felt way better than I had earlier on.
At about quarter of two in the afternoon, I came upon the GA-NC border sign, which felt fairly satisfying: One state down, thirteen to go.
When I got to the shelter for the night, Moss, Tim, and Chaos all greeted me cheerfully, and I decided to make packing up in the morning a few minutes easier by crashing in the shelter with them. I hung my bear line, cooked an early-ish dinner, and got settled in to journal a bit when Tim came running back into camp, out of breath.
“Guys!” He huffed, “Incredible view! Excellent sunset!” When one of the other hikers tried to ask him for some specifics, he shrugged before turning back to run toward the trail. “If it’s not good, I’ll give you jerky.”
Trusting this glowing five-star review, I followed him (journal, pen, and several pages of AWOLs Guide still in hand) down the blue-blazed Raven Rock Trail along with John and Chaos (who stopped at the first overlook). The rest of us continued to the far ledge, flabbergasted by the rippling mountains below the sunset. I don’t think Tim owed anyone jerky that night.
Sunday, 3/6: Muskrat Creek Shelter to Carter Gap Shelter (12.5mi)
Just before sunrise, John, Tim, and I all made our way back along the Raven Rock Trail for sunrise. The cloud cover and high mountain ridge between Raven Rock and the sun meant that while beautiful and satisfying, it was no where near as impressive as the sunset the night before. That said, we had a great time enjoying each other’s company and the view.
I got a later start on trail than usual despite staying in the shelter, but it felt like a fairly easy hike and I felt significantly better mentally than I had the day before. North Carolina was already revealing itself to be a different beast than Georgia had been, with numerous blow-downs to climb over despite comparatively gentle topography.
Given all the blow-downs I passed during the day, and the whining treetops, I felt a peculiar anxiety trying to set up my hammock upon arriving at the Carter Gap Shelter area. Eventually I found a cluster of trees that felt somewhat trustworthy, but I remained unusually on-edge about it overnight.
Rain was in the forecast for the next couple of days, so I resolved to get an early start the following morning: Albert Mountain was on the docket and I had no interest in a repeat of my experiences back on Blood Mountain.
Monday, 3/7: Carter Gap Shelter to Rock Gap (12.2mi)
I got up early, woke a few people who had taken me up on the offer for a “wake-up call” the night before, and set off a little before sunrise, daunted by the near-vertical spike of Albert Mountain on my FarOut (formerly/still affectionately known as Guthooks) App.
Despite mostly-cloudy skies, I caught a couple of good views and found my morning hike to be particularly pleasant. Just before approaching Albert Mountain, Lumen caught up with me while I paused to throw on some rain gear and we discovered we hiked at very nearly the same pace (we’d continue to hike the remainder of the day together, chatting as we went).
Albert Mountain was certainly a steep ‘up’, but not as challenging as I had feared. That said, I was still grateful not to be doing it in slippery, wet conditions. Lumen and I independently paused at the fire tower to take pictures (and took each other’s photos in front of the 100-mile marker scrawled on one side of the tower stairs).
The rest of the day felt easy— Switchbacks guided us down the northern side of Albert and along most of the day’s remaining ascents and descents. We briefly stopped at Long Branch Shelter to make some rain gear/pack adjustments and eat a snack, and continued on our way toward Franklin, NC.
By the time we reached Rock Gap Shelter at around 2:15PM, Lumen’s legs were done hiking for the day, and the winds were rapidly starting to pick up. I rested briefly, and intended to continue toward Winding Stair Gap, and the promise of a shuttle into town. Approaching the Rock Gap parking lot (and noticing I had full bars on my cell phone after having extremely limited service all day), I decided to call the shuttle and ask if they had access to Rock Gap. They did, as of that morning— Score!
The next shuttle would be passing by the parking lot there in an hour. I decided to save the 3.7mi section between Rock Gap and Winding Stair Gap for a Nero the following day, and returned to the Rock Gap Shelter to stay a little warmer and tell the others about the shuttle. Lumen decided to come with me, and headed to the parking lot to get cell phone service to call home, and get a room in town for the night.
Within a couple of hours I was showered, my gear was strewn about my hotel room to air out, and I was warm and dry.
Tuesday, 3/8: Rock Gap to Winding Stair Gap (3.7mi)
Woke up, grabbed breakfast in the hotel lobby, called the shuttle service, and got ready with time to kill before my ride. I compulsively checked the weather— The forecast for most of the east coast was not looking good Friday night into Sunday morning. Ugh.
I was able to empty most of my pack (aside from the basics and some rain layers just in case) and unofficially slackpack to Winding Stair. I met a Nantahala Outdoors Club trail ambassador, and caught up with Tenacious, Tim, and Chaos (the latter two I hiked with the rest of the way where their shuttle was there to meet us).
Their shuttle driver was able to fit me in for the ride, so I got back to my hotel about an hour earlier than expected. I took another shower and set about doing my “zero day chores”, and some additional tasks, including filing my warranty claim for my hammock, and trying to book a way to be indoors during the storm headed my way that coming weekend—
While my shelter and sleep set-up could take me into single-digit temperatures and I like cold-weather backpacking, I did not feel equipped to handle the predicted -15F wind-chills headed our way.
I was about two days’ hike out from the NOC anyway, and was able to secure a space in the Bunkhouse for Friday night. Saturday would remain to be seen (places seemed very full), but I would figure it out.
After submitting the warranty claim, I grabbed the dental floss and needle from my first aid kit and set about repairs on both the hammock and a small hole that tripping over a stick had caused in my camp leggings. Time consuming, but worthwhile.
I then typed up the remaining days from my journal for my Week 1 post and got that uploaded, then it was time for bed (much, much later than expected, but I was glad to have the post taken care of.)
Wednesday, 3/9: Winding Stair Gap to Wayah Bald Shelter (11mi)
Taking the shuttle from my hotel to the trail meant I was on-trail later than I typically like to be (9:45AM), but I made good time and had a pleasant hike to Wayah Bald Shelter despite the fog, light intermittent rain, and mushy mud puddles that constituted some lengths of the trail.
Near the top of Wayah Bald I met up with Popeye, Lumen, Fire, Tapeworm, and a couple more hikers on a snack/smoke break at the road. We all made our way toward the stone tower before descending toward camp. While most of us stopped at the Shelter area, Popeye continued on the extra mile to Licklog Gap.
At the shelter I saw Julyan and Kelly, and decided to stay in the shelter itself with them and Fire for the night. I also got to catch up with Georgia and Muse, who I hadn’t seen since Low Gap almost a full week before. I ate dinner and fell asleep pretty early after getting into my quilt to get warm around sunset.
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