The Journey Begins: Night Hikes and Mines of Moria
It has begun: the journey of a lifetime. And boy, did ours begin with a bang. 10 days in and we’ve made it roughly 50 miles (hey, I told you it’d take us a while to get started) but we’ve kept on truckin’.
We started at Amicalola and ended the bright sunny day at Black Gap Shelter, where we met some friends of the Good Badger, Wakarusa and Bald Eagle who were back on the trail. The next morning we climbed through the fog and rain to Springer Mountain, where a small crowd had gathered atop the summit to sign the log book and get a picture with the first White Blaze and the terminus.
Then the real fun began. We stopped at Stover Creek Shelter, a beautiful and spacious shelter about 2 miles from Springer because we heard a storm was a brewin’. There turned out to be no storm, but we did meet a lot of amazing and dedicated hikers. I wish them all the best; they’re probably in North Carolina by now. We stayed up telling stories and hoping our hikes would be the BEST HIKE EVER.
Hiking through the fog the next morning, we passed Three Forks in a surreal mist. I took out my DSLR to take a picture of the rushing water and the green rhododendron emerging from the fog, and as I went to re-attach my camera to my hip belt camera holder I noticed it wouldn’t attach. Great. The belt clip was broken. So maybe I wouldn’t have my camera as accessible as previously hoped. That’s okay, life goes on. I congratulated myself for being so easy going. That day, the wind and rain picked up and it got steadily colder. We made it to Hawk Mountain around 2:00 and spent some time warming up before deciding to try to make it to Justus Creek. We had run into a ridge runner that warned us that Sassafras Mountain would be our first “real” test on the trail, and to be careful since it was going to get into the 20s that night. Feelin’ awesome and encouraged by the sun coming out, we continued on the trail to Sassafras.
Here’s the thing about taking it slow. We’re hikers, we can hike the trail but we’re not in optimal shape by any means, averaging a mile an hour. That means that when the sun was about to set it put us right on top of Sassafras. Both beat and exhausted, we decided to try to get some rest on top of the mountain in the dropping temperatures and snow flurries. However, an hour later, I heard a tree crack and that was enough to prompt us to hike down Sassafras and up and down Justus. In the dark. In freezing temperatures. With lots of cursing and some close falls (and only once losing the blazes), we finally made it to the campground (where there was no wind) around 1:30 a.m. Exhausted but safe, we slept soundly next to the creek.
The next day we decided to hike to Gooch Gap and I stopped to have breakfast at Gooch shelter, where I met a boy scout troop who built me a fire. Score! There would be no trail magic at Gooch Gap this Saturday, but we decided that was okay as we decided to take a nearo and head to Wolf Pen Gap Hostel for the night. The Hostel was great and full of animals, which is my kind of place. They had laundry room kittens! KITTENS!
Moving slowly but steady, I ran into fellow App Trials blogger Colleen, who I would be seeing for the next several days. Cameos in the following week also included bloggers Stacia and Emmi, who have blown past me by now because they are awesome embodied.
The day we were to cross Blood Mountain and get through “the Bear Zone” I was feeling especially icky. I had been struggling with eating and drinking enough and looked and felt like hell that morning coming up from Lance Creek. Andrew and I had crossed Blood Mountain in 2011 and made the executive decision to take the bypass trail, the Freeman Trail, instead…under the assumption that it was easier. Despite a warning that it was cheating, we pressed forward into what would later be referred to as the Mines of Moria option. A rocky and wet “trail” awaited us, one that would probably be a lot of fun if I wasn’t feeling like I was on the verge of passing out, and what we thought would have taken us an easy couple of hours turned into about 5 hours to safely and slowly traverse. It was a veritable jungle gym of rocky goodness, and I’m sure the stones and boulders were plotting against our ankles eagerly.
We made it safely to Neel Gap (again, after lots of cursing and some close calls) and settled in at the Mountain Crossings Hostel where we were treated by the First Baptist Church of Leesburg, Florida to dinner. I ate enough alfredo for every hiker on the AT, I’m sure. After a shakedown the next morning, where I said goodbye to my beloved and expensive telephoto lens. Also, Shoutout to Mountain Crossings for the earbuds that helped me get my groove on the past few days.
Cut to after my hiking playlist, “Bossypants”, and “Dad is Fat”, I realized my knee issues were flaring up. Big time. No blisters, no foot pain, no muscle aches, but my knees suddenly became so geriatric that I’m pretty sure they’ll be qualifying for AARP (no offense to those of you of a different generation with spry knees. You have my jealousy and reverence.) After an excruciating hike from Low Gap to Blue Mountain Shelter, where I hung out with the Amazing Family of 15 From Texas (you’ll hear about them, I’m sure), I realized my knees needed a couple days to recuperate.
And now I’m sitting in a hotel room in Helen, watching Dinosaur Train on PBS and regaling my tales of my first ten days on the Trail. It may take us a while, and it won’t be easy, but I wouldn’t give up this adventure for anything. If anything I’ve fallen in love with the Trail even more. Maybe I’m not knocking out 12 miles a day but I’m getting there one step at a time. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to elevate my knee and learn about pteranodons.
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