AT Day 7 – Back to Reality

The day starts with another shower. My second in the last 24 hours – what decadence! We are waiting outside the Huddle House when it opens at 7am. As we eat, we work on our first task: getting a ride back to the trailhead at Unicoi Gap. Keith works the phone, the internet and Uber/Lift while I work the old fashioned methods: asking people point-blank for a ride, or engineering a hitch. All Keith’s efforts fail so it is up to me now.

A ride to the trail

We walk to an optimal location and I put my thumb out. After about 15 minutes a white work van pulls over. I am excited and cocky. Put your phone away, Keith. This is how real hikers get around. It’s a couple painters heading to work. They do not speak English. The speak only Spanish. OMG. I just this morning rushed through another desperate Duolingo Spanish lesson. Unfortunately, at this moment I can’t think of a single Spanish word!

The driver rolls down is window. I point up the road toward Unicoi Pass and the AT trailhead. It’s about five miles away. “Cinco…, uh, cinco…” Crap! I can’t remember the word for miles! “Cinco miles, por favor.” He nods and Keith and I jump in. The painter in the passenger seat slides awkwardly to the floor between the two front bucket seats. I get into the passenger seat, and Keith enters the back of the van through the sliding side door. I hear him fumbling around for a place to sit. There are no back seats. He eventually perches himself on a paint can and of we go up the mountain. I tried to explain to the painters what Keith and I are doing. But I do not know the word for hiking or trail. Dang this is hard.

Eventually we fell into an uneasy silence. I tell Keith to follow our location on his phone so we do not drive by the trail. What can I say to them!? Think! “Ustedes son muy simpático. Muchas gracias.” (You guys are really nice. Thank you.) “De nada,” he replied. Well, at least I seem to have got that right. They drop us off at the trailhead and we say our good buys. I couldn’t even remember adios so it was, “Hasta luego!” (See you later!) Good grief.

Adiós, amigos

Friends appear

Just then a bunch of young guys start piling out of a van that just pulled up. It is Gordon and some other hikers we have met over the last three days. The spent the night at a hostel in Hiawassee. The hostel host is dropping them off.

I tell them our problems with getting out of Helen. “They are not well served,” the hostel owner says. We mention that we had hitched up with some painters that had stuffed Keith in the back with all the paint. One of the guys from the hostel notices that Keith has paint all over his face. I look at Keith and start laughing like a hyena. His face is covered with white latex! He must have accidentally wiped his face with fresh paint from the paint cans.

Paintball target?

Keith tries to shout over all the laughing. “You idiots! It’s sun block. I just put some on for the sun today.” Well, then I felt pretty stupid, but the moment was still funny. Someone needs to show him how to put sun block on. He had blobs of I all over parts of his face and neck all day.

The trail embraces us

I really love the morning trail. The flowers are excited about the promise of sunshine.

My morning coffee

And we have a real view of the surrounding area from near the top of Tray Mountain.


Hiking together

What is it like to hike a long trail with someone? It can be really fun, especially if you don’t enjoy being alone all the time. But there are considerations. Of course it helps to have compatible personalities, but those differences can be mitigated by hiking apart during the day. I think the most important thing is to hike with someone with whom you can agree on common goals. The most important consideration is average daily distance goals. If you disagree on this, one person will feel pressured and the other held back. Keith and I hike well together. I am slightly faster (especially on the downhill sections) but I stop to take more photos. We agreed on mileage goals ahead of the hike. And we are both flexible enough to make adjustments along the way, if necessary. For this segment, Keith prefers that I walk ahead of him. Here is what Keith’s hike looks like.

That’s me in the distance

And even with this much distance between us, I always consider myself as hiking with someone. We chat dozens of times a day. I really enjoy how this is going. I think he does, too.


Along the way

Today we also discover our first trail magic. It is pretty basic, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Basic trail magic

Keith and I are happy for the sun today. Yes, we are sweating like pigs on the uphills, but it beats walking in rain-soaked clothes and shoes. And I am more disposed to resume my flower hunting. I really like these delicate white flowers. And the next picture shows some very interesting variegated leaves. It’s hard to see in the photo, but the leaves have various shades of green, white and pink.

My brain is eating itself again

And then there is the weird stuff. OK, maybe it’s not that weird. Maybe I’m the weird one. First, can anyone tell me what a “swag” is? There is a sign on the trail proclaiming the “Swag of the Blue Ridge.” It’s prolly some obscure geological feature. And, yes, I could google it. But I am sick of googling everything. I think I would rather be an idiot. No wait, I’m gonna make up my own story. The Swag of the Blue Ridge is a boutique on the trail for the despondent hiker who is missing the creature comforts of home. The store is run by a group of interstate bandits that rob Amazon delivery vehicles and resell the merchandise to hikers.


Next we have the worlds tiniest cairn – five stones stacked four inches high on the side of the trail, marking nothing that I can see. The significance of this cairn escapes me and I like it that way.

A marker – but for whom?

Finally we have the mosquito tree. Yes, it is scary. Perhaps more so because it is alive and has a rather human-looking head.

Mosquito tree

Deep Gap shelter

We make it to our camp destination – Deep Gap Shelter. I meet an interested pair of women. They are smart. They don’t try to do too much. Over the last two weeks, they have been building their daily miles, managing their aches and pains, getting stronger. They have been staying at all the shelters. They are pleased with their progress, even though they understand that they may need to flip up to Katahdin in order to finish the thru hike on time.

Joan and Holly

People are on the trail for all sorts of reasons. Some people believe that walking the trail will bring therapeutic or spiritual benefits. Holly believes this. She is searching or healing and restoration. Without giving away too many details, Holly’s daughter was murdered a few years ago. Family relationships grew increasingly complicated, and now Holly finds herself estranged from some of the people she loves most. To what or to whom can she turn for help? And what about this hole in her heart? Can peace be found in the solitude of the trail? I hope so.

  • May 10
  • Miles hiked today: 13
  • Total AT miles: 66
  • Most embarrassing moment: failed Spanish exam

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