AT Day 6 – Helen
Yesterday at our lunch break, Keith and I met Mike. A lawyer from New Orleans who had taken some time off from work to have this hiking adventure. He had some good equipment, and he had done some practice hikes, but his experience on the Appalachian trail challenged his body and mind way beyond what he expected. Fortunately, he stumbled into the Hostel Above The Clouds. There he found some encouragement and advice from the proprietor. Well, to put it in terms he might like, he got a retrial. He slowed down and took on a series of small training hikes around the hostel. Every few days he returns to the hostel for a new assignment. Soon he will be continuing north on his own again.
Mike ended up at the shelter with us last night, and this morning he was up as we departed. I suggested a trail name for him – Jump The Gun. I hope he doesn’t take my suggestion in the wrong way I do not mean to belittle his pre-trail efforts. I meant it as a compliment and a testimony to his decision to press on. Many start a grand task, but we admire those that press on after a stumble. I wished him well. I hope he has the hike of his life.
A trail name for Keith
While talking about trail names, I proposed one to Keith, my hiking partner from Florida. For some reason, I couldn’t shake the image of him camped out in his free standing tent in the Shelter at Woods Hole. He was not satisfied with all the deluxe accommodations we have out here on the trail: quilts, tents, mattresses, shelters, etc. The man had to combine everything into one campsite. He had to go for Double Deluxe. And that is what I suggested for him. It is true that he is not an official thru- hiker. But I am convinced he will be. And when he is, he will truly be Double Deluxe.
To Unicoi Gap
We broke camp at 7:37 this morning – a little late, but the fog was thick in camp and the added moisture made it seem like we were leaving in the rain. Our spirits were high, however, because we were heading for the town of Helen and our first nero.
The trail was soft for the first half mile as were crested Blue Mountain. The two miles down to the road at Unicoi Gap were moderately rocky, but we made good time because our hearts were light. We had no luck finding an Uber. There were some business cards on the bulletin board at the trail head, but I asked Keith to let me give hitching a try. Our luck was good. The second vehicle that passed pulled over.
His name was Coop and he was very familiar with the trail having thru-hiked it in 2004 and hiked several sections multiple times. In fact, by Coop’s estimation he had logged over 10,000 miles in the AT. He says he has never desired to thru-hike any other long trail. Oh he has hiked plenty of other trails in the area, but the AT has always been his “go to”.
Coop drops us off in the parking lot of a southern food restaurant, so we feel it incumbent upon us to go and start eating. I had the special: chicken fried steak, fried potatoes, scrambled eggs and a cat head biscuit (don’t ask). We got our soda fix. Keith is a Dr. Pepper man; i prefer “swampwaters.”
We waddle out into the morning, looking for our room. The roads in these small mountain towns are devious and designed by the locals to force you to ask for directions so they can mention their establishments. Keith has made all the lodging arrangements. Our room is only $99 and it’s right on the river. Upon arrival, everything is in order. The front balcony has all the free chicken poop you could ever desire. The shower has a super duper triple deluxe massage head on it. The bed is soft and more sloped than many of our campsites. We have Apple TV. There is a fridge to chill our 20-oz sodas for the morning. I guess that does it.
We have not yet acquired our trail noses yet. Painfully, we still know exactly how bad we stink. We wash off what we can. After checking in with our wives we head out to buy food and do laundry.
I am pretty sure that Bigfoot lives in Washington state. And while he has not been seen there in a while, it appears that he does vacation in Helen. Here he is looking quite jovial.
Our resupply store was Betty’s. It is great for all manner of trail food. The only thing I think they did not have were my chili cheese Fritos. 😞. My favorite pickup was two enormous double chocolate chip cookies.
After that we find a pocket knife for Keith and ice cream cones for both of us. Then it’s back to the to the room to put our feet up and watch as much Star Trek as we can stand!
At 5:30 we head over to this really cool German restaurant on the river. Here is Keith trying to read the menu from across the river. He starts drooling on himself. A nice young couple tries to give him some money.
I forgot to mention, Helen is a German-themed vacation village with restaurants, gift shops, and hotels. In the summer months it is overrun with tourists. But in early May we found it very pleasant, with reasonable accommodations every where and great food.
Anyway, at the German restaurant I got the grilled Rueben with mashed potatoes, awesome. Keith got some good stuff too. The German beer was terrific!
The last chore for the evening is to secure a ride from our trail exit back to Atlanta. We reach out to Brett again and he says he is happy to help. Cool. It has been fun chilling today, but as the day ends, I feel the excitement building in me again. I want to be back out there. Hiking is our raisin d’etre. We have not secured a morning ride to the trail though. But it will happen, because it must. I am not worried in the least.
- May 9
- Miles hiked today: 3
- Total AT miles: 53
- Unusual species: Bigfoot, Vulcan, Romulan, Klingon
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