Taking It Slow
It’s taken a few days for my mind to adjust to a life away from work. It really began to hit me on the fourth day of training.
As I was leaving Gooch Mountain Shelter, I checked the weather and saw that a combination of rain and snow was in the next day’s forecast. I can do cold, I can do wet, but I’m not keen on cold and wet. With 16 miles between me and a warm bed at Neel Gap, I thought it might be a good opportunity to apply some gas and test my body for weaknesses.
In past long-distance hikes, I’ve been sidelined for Achilles tendonitis, patellar issues, metatarsalgia, and a really fun one, Giardia. I’ve learned to listen to my body almost too well. If I detect the slightest twinge in a knee or ankle, I start wondering if the end of a trip is near. The goal for these 20 training days is to not injure myself before arriving at the US-Mexico border.
About ten miles into my day, I hit a wall. The rain was falling and I was sitting under an umbrella at the base of Blood Mountain. I totally bonked. I downed the remnants of my food bag, rested for an hour longer and set out on the last stretch of trail with something of a second wind.
I made it into Neel Gap half past five only to find everything closed. The hostel office at Mountain Crossings shut its doors at five. Blood Mountain Cabins a quarter-mile down the road was closed Wednesdays. So I flipped through the guidebook, found a $100/night cottage, and called for a ride.
The first stop was a combination Taco Bell-KFC. I ordered a Cheesy Gordita Crunch Meal, a mashed potatoes bowl, and a box of biscuits. Before I could eat, I resupplied at an Engel’s for the upcoming 40-mile stretch to Hiawassee, and settled into my room. I devoured my meal, pulled everything from my wet pack to dry, did a load of laundry, showered, and tucked myself in for the night.
Most of day five was spent in bed as snow fell outside. I charged my electronics and spent some time in front of the fireplace contemplating when and where I should turn around for the hike back to Amicalola. I also managed to repackage the 15,000 calories I’d purchased and successfully fit it all inside of my pack.
The nice thing about this training period is that I have no real defined goals. The purpose of this excursion is simply to loosen up my joints, tendons, and ligaments in preparation for the PCT. Instead of doing huge miles, I’ve opted to just go with the flow, rest a lot, and maximize the enjoyment of being in the mountains. No pressure.
I returned to the snow-covered trail on Friday and hiked five miles to Hog Camp Gap. I pitched my tarp a quarter-mile past the road. In the morning I decided to hike another five or six miles to Low Gap Shelter. Since the sky was clear and dark, I worked up the courage to leave my sleeping bag around midnight to shoot some photos of the stars.
On my previous hikes, I’d listen to audiobooks from Audible. For $15 per month, I’d get to add a new book to my library. I’d burn through the selection in two days and either reopen past downloads or listen to podcasts. When I moved to St. Petersburg to work at the Times one of my first stops was the Pinellas County Library. While filling out my application, the librarian on duty helpfully mentioned that audiobooks were available, free, and on demand, through an app. Since the beginning of this hike, I’ve burned through two books at no cost (Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and One Summer and am now on a third; Craig Pittman’s Oh, Florida! All have served as great distractions from the uphill climbs.
While many hikers in my bubble are headed to Hiawassee tonight in an attempt to escape a fast-approaching storm, I’m going to put in another 30 miles to Dicks Creek Gap before returning to town. I don’t want to slip into the habit of comforts every other day. I’ll probably be at Blue Mountain Shelter tonight, but I’m taking my time. Today is an easy day.
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