Rocks, rain, and sky: the first six days
Today’s day 6 of my hike. I’m sitting on a cafe patio in Hiawassee, Georgia, waiting for a sandwich and a salad. It’s my first day off-trail since I started at Amicalola Falls on Monday, 78 miles away. I walked in 6 miles this morning to Dick’s Creek Gap, and got a ride from the hostel there with Frizzle, a trail angel who was headed into town with some other hikers. Thank you Frizzle!!!
Day 1: Starting out Early
The first two days on the trail were simply gorgeous. I walked up the waterfall stairs at sunrise, and had an easy walk up the approach trail chatting with Echo, a fellow early bird from Maine. We decided that I should go with the trail name Red Squirrel, which I thought of a while back — a couple of other people like it too, and now that it’s been a few days I think it’s stuck. I walked with Echo and some other fellow-travelers all the way to the Stover Creek shelter, 3 miles past Springer Mountain.
After we parted ways, I went on a mile or two by myself and set up camp. This set a pattern I’ve stuck with all this week. I don’t stay at shelters or established camping areas, but I hang out there in the afternoon and cook a meal while people filter in. Most people are turning in very early, at least four hours before sunset, and that’s just not the way I want to do this hike. So I get up before sunrise and walk for a few hours by myself, and then once it’s after 9 and I’m past a shelter I get some company along the way. Then 4 o’clock comes around and I’m on my own again, until I decide it’s time to stop and find a nice site tucked away in the woods.
Some of these ‘stealth sites’ have been really nice. I’m surprised more people haven’t been taking advantage of them! The first night I camped by a swimming hole below a cascade, surrounded by dense rhododendrons. On Tuesday I set up next to Preacher’s Rock, a big slab of granite with a spectacular view. I’d definitely recommend ‘stealthing’ to any prospective thru-hikers out there!
Day 3: Trail Magic at Neels Gap
On Wednesday I crossed Blood Mountain, and speeded on down from there to Neels Gap. There’s an outfitter there right on the trail. I took full advantage of the situation, and I hung out there for a few hours eating pizza and getting some supplies. I got a contractor bag to use as a pack liner, and an extra pair of liner socks. The first ‘trail magic’ of my hike also showed up at Neels Gap, when a church group from south Georgia set up there and offered us more pizza. I accepted, of course.
Day 4: A Prayer to Go Slower
Starting out the next day, I regretted both my speedy descent of Blood Mountain and the extra food I’d picked up at Neels Gap. My knees did not appreciate either one. I took it slow all day, and carefully wound my way along the Blue Ridge for 16 miles. Late morning we hit some more trail magic at Tensatee Gap. A big guy named King Tut was making people sandwiches, and handing out all sorts of things. When I told him I’d run out of dental floss, he even managed to find some for me. He was doing it as mission work, but I didn’t mind, since he wasn’t pushy and he helped us out so much. As I left, he said a little prayer over me, which I call it the “prayer to go slower.” I took it to heart.
Day 5: Moonlight and Thunder
That night I ended up with a neighbor, since we were walking looking for a site at the same time. He must found it pretty odd when I struck camp at 3 am and started out by moonlight. Walking under a full moon is one of my favorite things, and I put in 6 miles before the sun rose over Unicoi Gap. A lot of folks go down from here to Helen, a faux-Bavarian resort town down the valley, but I pressed on.
At the top of Tray Mountain, one of the steepest climbs in Georgia, I heard the rumble of thunder and the rain came rolling in. I’d known it was coming, and thought I was prepared. I made a crucial mistake, though — I’d put on my rain pants with nothing underneath. As the temperature dropped below 50 and the rain came down in sheets, I gradually got soaked from the waist down. I kept struggling on — I think ‘struggling’ is the right word — at s snail’s pace. Once I even backtracked half a mile when I got disoriented after a water stop. As I set up camp, a howling wind came over the ridge and threatened to blow my tent away. I hunkered down in my tent in my warm wool clothes and made myself soup for dinner.
Day 6: Taking a Break
Then came today, a rest day, though apparently not a ‘nero’ (= ‘nearly zero’) since I walked 6 miles and I won’t be staying in town. I got a shower and did laundry, and have a chance to plan my food for the next week. I’m enjoying my time off but can’t wait to get back on the trail. 70 miles down, only 2,124 to go! Next week comes North Carolina and the high country of the Nantahala.
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