Trail Names and Foot Pains in My First Week
I could give you a rundown of mileage and gear selection, but I’d much rather tell you about my actual adventures.
I think my adventures really began in earnest at Neel Gap. My friend Jams (christened by me) would tell you they began there because that was when I met him, but he would be wrong. No, my adventures began there because I finally began taking the time to interact with the hikers around me and experience that amazing thing known as camaraderie. We sat at the famed picnic tables chewing the cud, commiserating about aches and pains, and delighting in things like soap. (Coincidentally, soap and a bandana were the only two things I bought at Neel; yay me and feeling like I could touch my food again.)
Besides getting an old man up Springer Mountain and meeting one of my favorite ladies on the trail, Neel Gap is one of my first entertaining trail stories. I’d been hiking with an amazing and hilarious gal (Moxie) who is 54 and proud (as she should be) and a 24-year-old guy who was super proud of being ultralight, but not obnoxiously so. He always wore a blue, button-down shirt and a red and white hat very similar to the character Ash Ketchum from Pokemon. Hence, the trail name Ash Ketchum was being thrown around. Well, Moxie was not very familiar with Pokemon and thought that Ash Ketchum’s name was Ass Catcher, which caught on like wildfire. Moxie still didn’t get it and just responded, “You’ll probably be able to find a girl that’s into that.” After that night, I never saw Ass Catcher again. We thought he probably sped up to outrun his accidental name.
After passing through Neel Gap, the sore feet I’d been nursing became worse and worse and I became suspicious of my shoes. My only recourse was to shuffle along to Hiawassee, which was about 18 miles away at the time. Both my baby toes had painful, bulbous blisters, but worse was what I imagine was a touch of plantar fasciitis. Not going to lie, though I hurt, I felt like a true thru-hiker suffering for my craft. I’ve always been a bit of a weenie when it comes to pain, but that day going into Hiawassee, I was a stoic. I gritted my teeth and hobbled along with a fierce determination. Then a middle-aged man came up behind me and began to talk. He glided down the trail. I offered to let him pass, but oh, no, he was not about to leave me to my hobbling humiliation on my own. He had to add to it by rambling on about how great his Altra trail runners were. If I were his wife, I’d be jealous of his Altras. He described them in glorious detail, then told me no less than three times about the different styles and their various merits. He also knew very little about the anatomy of the foot. If he had, or had bothered to ask me, he would have learned that zero-degree drop heels are the last thing someone suffering from plantar issues needs (unless I was planning on taking a couple weeks off the trail to adjust to that style of hiking, which I was definitely not).
I did finally make it to Top of Georgia. I wish everyone could experience the pure, unadulterated joy of that first shower. I came out of the bathroom and a lady named Vagabond asked me how it was. I had no words. I just began giggling, then tears of happiness came from my eyes. Elation.
Unfortunately, my shoe situation quickly took away my good mood. There are no hiking shoe stores in Hiawassee. Note: amazing business opportunity for someone. Vagabond told me there was nowhere to get new shoes and my face must have changed four different shades because another guy who worked at the hostel ran out and got the doctor… who happened to be the circuit trail chaplain and consummate trail angel who took me on an hour and a half round trip to go to Outdoor 76 and meet shoe guru Rob, which is a much longer story than I am prepared to type on my smartphone.
Tune in next time for week two when I meet Treebeard, experience Franklin (again), and learn about Hellebore.
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