Trail Magic & Milestones
Hello all! It has been a very exciting week with our first snake encounter, briefly setting a table on fire, hitchhiking, and making it into North Carolina!
Our second week on trail has us feeling a little faster and a little more confident than we did last week. We’ve met so many wonderful and interesting people and have started to up our mileage a bit as we both start to gain our “hiker legs.” Here are some highlights from week two:
R&R at Your Home in the Woods
We had the most wonderful rest day, watching the rain from the comfort of the indoors, at Your Home in the Woods Bed & Breakfast. Staying with Paul and Bonnie was like staying with family. Instead of treating us like the dirty, stinky vagabonds that we are, they welcomed us like old friends into their home with hot apple cinnamon pancakes. It took me about 10 minutes of hard scrubbing in the shower to get all of the Appalachian mud off of me and I spent some extra time with my nose buried in my clean laundry.
At the B&B we made some more friends who were scattered about on the trail (because Paul and Bonnie will pick you up from anywhere on the trail in Georgia- aspiring thru-hikers, take note!). That night we all squeezed around the dinner table and shared stories from the trail and our normal lives alike.
The next morning, after a wonderful send-off of quiche, sausage, waffles, and fist bumps with our new friends, we got back on trail at Hogpen Gap. The rain had passed, the sun was shining, and we were greeted with relatively easy hiking after a day with our feet up. I felt a little sluggish for the first few miles like I was out of sync with my new hiking and camping rhythm. Perhaps by spending a night off-trail, I had fooled my mind and body into thinking the journey was over, that this was only a short section hike and that we should now be on our way back home. Luckily, Nick helped me stay positive and we crossed over the 50-mile mark- our first milestone!
As we came down into Unicoi Gap, we ran into our first occurrence of trail magic. Trail magic is any random act of kindness that people provide along the trail, whether that’s a snack, offering to carry out trash, or providing a lawn chair to lean back in. A father-son duo, Possum and Jumanji, gave us some hot chocolate, donuts, and candy to give us the energy to power up the next mountain. As we began to leave the gap to start hiking again, a van pulled up filled with some of our trail friends who had spent the night before in town. Rejuvenated by snacks and the sight of familiar faces, we set out to tackle the two more big (by Georgia’s and our own standards) peaks- Rocky Mountain and Tray Mountain.
I have to be honest, Tray Mountain kicked my butt. It was a steep climb with a teasing plateau halfway up. The sun was beating down hot and while I had no mirror to check my reflection, I’m sure my face was beet red as I puffed up the mountain. As the afternoon wore on, we decided to hoof it over one more daunting climb before calling it a night. We have started describing obstacles as either “current Nick and Kara’s problem” or “future Nick and Kara’s problem,” and we decided that Kelly Knob was the current Nick and Kara’s obstacle to get over.
As we hobbled into Deep Gap campground after our 15-mile day, we were overjoyed to find two of our hiking buddies already there: Stride and Danny. The four of us and some others sat around on the ground cooking dinners, catching up on what we had all been up to for the prior two days, and getting excited about being so close to the North Carolina border. It’s pretty amazing how quickly strangers become friends on trail and how much my spirits were lifted to see familiar faces.
The morning started with a bang when I knocked over my water bottle into Stride’s burning alcohol stove and briefly lit the shelter table on fire. Nobody was hurt and nothing was damaged, thankfully! With our food reserves running low, Nick, Stride, and I decided to make the trip into town the next day for a resupply. Danny’s family had just dropped off a week’s worth of food and therefore he didn’t need to go into town, but somehow we persuaded him to join us in spending a few hours off-trail (mostly by telling him we would get Chick-Fil-A in town).
Stride secured us a “shuttle” (a local with a pickup truck) to get into town and we hustled down the mountain to get to Dick’s Creek, where the trail intersects a road. Gracie, our driver, pulled up to the small parking lot accompanied by a man with a lot of facial tattoos riding in the bed of the truck, and we piled in. As the four of us unloaded in a parking lot in Hiawassee, the man with the facial tattoos made no effort to leave and asked Gracie to take him to Dick’s Creek (the site we, and he, had just come from). The four of us awkwardly avoided eye contact with each other for fear we would burst out laughing as Gracie tried to explain that he just had the opportunity to get out at Dick’s Creek. You meet some strange characters on trail.
Nick, Stride, and I got some groceries and told Danny we’d meet him at Zaxby’s, because unfortunately, Hiawassee did not have the Chick-Fil-A we promised. When we arrived at Zaxby’s, we found a very content Danny who was filling up his fourth (maybe fifth?) cup from the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, earning him the trail name Refill. We then sat around a fire pit in Adirondack chairs at Hiawassee Brew, enjoying the sun and the stunning mountain view. When it was time to get back on trail, we tried our hand (literally) at hitchhiking and were delighted when a Prius pulled over and took the four of us back to the trail.
The Georgia / North Carolina Border
We officially crossed Georgia off of our list of AT states conquered!! It was a tough day with a lot of elevation change, but man, it felt good to see the sign marking the border and wave goodbye to Georgia.
We joined two men for our midday break at Muskrat Creek Shelter and found out that one of them was a former animator for DreamWorks! He helped to illustrate The Land Before Time and The Prince of Egypt, two films that I grew up watching.
After a chilly and rainy night, we got up to set off for our longest day yet. I had become accustomed to Georgia’s 70-some degree hiking weather and the 50-degree morning caught me off guard and I hiked in almost all of the layers that I have with me. We enjoyed the NC scenery, even more so as the sun started to peek through and make the day a little less dreary.
In the afternoon, we heard a rumor about a man giving out ice cream to hikers as we made our way toward Albert Mountain. Sure enough, with the fire tower on Albert in sight, we were greeted by a man who calls himself Onesimus (from the biblical book of Philemon) with ice cream sandwiches and bananas.
The ascent up Albert Mountain involved a brief scramble, which means climbing with both your hands and feet rather than walking. The view at the top was well worth the challenging climb and only a few more steps down the trail made us official 100-milers on the AT.
Expectations vs. Reality:
Expectation: if we clean up with baby wipes every night, surely we won’t smell THAT bad…
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