June 5th, Tuesday:
8:30 pm I off to Georgia on my long awaited Appalachian trail journey.
My plan, this year, is to backpack 270 miles From Springer Mountain, GA to Hot Springs, NC. I will accomplish this by hiking
5 days a week (Wednesday through Sunday) and drive back to Louisville on Sundays. This will go on for 4 weeks or 20 days of
hiking. I know that sounds a little strange but I am obligated to be back home on Mondays and Tuesdays. Things were going
smoothly until I came upon mile marker 90 on I-75, near Richmond, Kentucky. It seems that night time is the right time to
lay girders for an overpass. It took me an hour to go 7 miles. I was heading to Dick’s Creek gap near Hiawassee, GA.
I am to stay the night in a little cabin in the yard of the person who will shuttle me to Springer Mountain in the morning.
When I arrive at 3:30am…yes am, the door to the cabin is unlocked and the light left on as arranged. I go to sleep right
away and wake up thinking I had slept late only to find out it is 6:30am.
June 6th, Wednesday: AT miles hiked 14.9
I eat some breakfast I brought with me
and prepare for departure. My first leg will have me backpacking back to this spot at 66.6 AT miles. My ride is provided by
an AT shuttle person who will go unnamed at their request. All along the route I am given interesting tidbits about the area.
We drive to a parking area at the .9 mile mark of the trail. We exchange pleasantries at 11:30am and I head to the summit
of Springer Mountain. It is hot here in Georgia but my excitement and anticipation helps me climb like a mountain goat. I
get to the top and sign the register hidden in a rock with an AT plaque embedded into it. I have my picture taken by another
hiker and I am off. At the parking lot I had run into a school teacher named Steven from Colorado whom I will be hiking with
for the next couple of days. He plans to hike to Damascus, VA in just 5 weeks. He hiked the White Mountains section of the
trail last year and I have no doubts that he will make it. Shortly into the hike I am treated by a virgin stand
of Hemlock trees. It is truly a wonderful sight to behold. These giants were fortunate to have been protected from logging.
I stop for lunch at Hawk Mountain and meet for the first time Kurt and his daughter Claire. I will run into them later
on down the trail. I am half way through the day and already in pain. I have developed a rash on my thighs and it is causing
me to plant my feet in an awkward fashion. You guessed it…that has caused blisters to form on my feet. I would later
learn about a fantastic product called BodyGlide. If I walk too many miles in Georgia I am convinced that I will have one
leg longer than the other. As for now I’ll have to suffer through the day. I run into a SOBO (Southbound) thru-hiker
named Blue Skies from Denmark. She started at Harper’s Ferry and will go back there after reaching Springer Mountain
to head Northbound to Maine. I am also treated to a 5 feet long Black Racer lying across the trail. He got a little upset
when I fished him off the trail with my hiking pole.
Did I mention it was hot? Well, it was also dry. I ran out of water about 3 miles from my destination that evening…
Gooch Mountain Shelter. When I got to Justus creek I loaded up and drank a liter right off the bat. With sore feet, chapped
thighs and a belly full of water I stumbled into the shelter at 7:30pm. I was so tired I could not eat.
At the shelter a young boy was playing an electric Cello which his dad had been carrying so he would not miss practicing.
I went to sleep almost immediately. I’m going to need a good night’s sleep for I am headed to Neel’s Gap
On top of taking the abuse from the trail I was probably shot 10 to 15 times today. You see the Army Rangers practice
their sniping skills on AT hikers. I never knew when it happened. Yep, I did my part to help train the best of the best.
June 7th, Thursday: AT miles hiked 15.6
OK, by this time I realized that I should have planned a shorter trip for my first leg of the trip. Between the rash and
my battered and bruised feet I was miserable. The thing that got me started today was the promise of the Hiker Hostel at Neel’s
Gap. The Walasi-Yi Center is the only building the Appalachian Trail actually goes through. It also held the promise of Frozen
Pizza and soft drinks. The big challenge of the day was Blood Mountain. A very long and sometimes very steep climb. It breaks
a lot of hikers in Georgia. Time was running out on another very hot and humid day in Northern Georgia. Two days of hiking
in the 90's. I caught up to Steven the teacher at the Blue Blaze trail to Woods Hole Shelter. I was out of water and it said
in the guide book that the shelter was .4 miles away down the hill. I told Steven that I probably would not make it to Neel’s
Gap by 6pm when the store there closed. I trudged down the hill disappointed by the extra .8 mile that I would have to walk
to get to Neel’s Gap. Much to my surprise that after 200 yds there was the spring. Maybe I could salvage this day after
all. I filled my hydro bag and scooped up about 5 cups of cold spring water and poured it over my head. In pain I worked very
hard to make good time up Blood Mountain. When I reached the top I did have to slow down a bit to take in the magnificent
views. Looking at my watch I now had 1 hour to hike 2.4 miles down the steep side of the mountain. If you have ever had a
boot full of blisters then you know how bad that can be. It was a shining moment when I stepped into the store with 1 minute
to spare. My feet however had paid a high price. I rewarded myself with 3 Diet Cokes and 2 single slice frozen pizzas. The
owner was closing shop and gave me the 4 sausage dogs that were rolling on the cooker. I split those with Steve. I cut one
up and put it on the pizza and the other I used the next morning to supplement my breakfast.
Steven was already there and was very surprised to see me. He and I would be the only ones staying in the Hostel. They
had a TV with a VCR and we decided to watch Casino with De Niro and Pesci. I think Pesci would have loved to see my feet that
evening. He was one sick puppy in that movie. The highlight was the shower and the laundry, Oh and the non trail food. Man
I need to get a life.
June 8th, Friday: AT miles hiked 10.6
I went to the store to get some consultation and supplies for my feet. I also bought a couple of AT T-Shirts. Steven was
planning a 20 mile day so I knew that was the last time I would see him. I was planning a more sane 10.6 miler. I finally
had a stick of BodyGlide to help my rash and proper treatment for blisters. Mole Skin, 2nd Skin, and athletic tape.
For the record it took 20 minutes to bandage them up each morning. Today was not only shorter...but there was no "Blood Mountain"
on the horizon. After a climb out of Neel’s Gap there was actually a few miles of ridgetop to walk. Wildcat Mountain
was a short but steep climb. Once on top I saw a "Crusty" couple on top. I went down into Hog Pen Gap and took the side trail
to the water source for lunch. As I came out into the Gap I saw that couple sitting at the trailhead going back into the woods.
There was also about 50 motorcycles that were attending a British Motorcycle Rally. I have never seen that many Triumph bikes
together at one time. Bikers by the way are very friendly people. I talked to quite a few of them mostly from Florida.. One
boy who was confined to a wheelchair was riding in a sidecar and seemed to be having a great adventure. As I bid farewell
to the bikers and started to get back on the trail. The "Crusty" couple addressed me. They said they thought I had gone up
out of the gap and I told them I stopped for water. Fishing I asked "You hiking the trail? "You bet" he answered. "How far
you going?" I asked. "All the way" he replied. They had a blue tarp...no canteen...and very cheap tennis shoes on. "How far
you going?" he asked. I lied and said "Unicoi Gap". I didn’t want to share my plans for fear of being followed. I picked
up my pace quite a bit and looked over my shoulder more times than I wish to admit. I got to Low Gap Shelter and was happy
to see a family tenting there. I set up my sleep system and ate. I then prepared for bed. About that time a thunderstorm arrived.
Thirty seconds later two ladies came into the shelter soaking wet. I helped them get settled in and I asked them. Did you
see a "Crusty" looking couple at Hog Pen. They laughed and said he had freaked them out as well and that they were glad to
have someone else in the shelter. They set their 2 person tent up inside the shelter as it rained through most of the night.
Maybe this will cool things down a bit.
June 9th, Saturday: AT miles hiked 14.9
As I lay in my sleeping bag last night I contemplated cutting this week’s trip short at Unicoi Gap. I rationalized
coming back a weekend in the fall to make up 15 this week and 15 next week. I left the shelter postponing that decision to
see how things went first.
Another two good sized mountains waited for me today...Blue and Tray. The temperature had cooled that morning as a result
of the rain. I ran into a couple of SOBO’s who had hiked from Pennsylvania. I believed it too. Their bodies were lean
and their faces bearded and weathered. They knew of Blue Skies from Denmark and had failed in their quest to catch up to her.
They advised me that the Sarasota R.O.T.C. had a group hiking ahead of me.
On Blue mountain I saw a bear cub running away from me up the trail. I was hoping it was running towards its mother. I
started singing as not to surprise her. As I started down Blue Mountain I ran into some guys section hiking who were from
Birmingham, Alabama. They advised me in Unicoi Gap that the ROTC had a support trailer feeding their group. I saw a "YOGI"
opportunity ahead of me. As I climbed down the mountain I could still see the white trailer being towed behind a truck. I
reached the Gap and went into my routine. I hung my damp clothes in the sun and sat down to eat some cheese crackers. The
R.O.T.C. guy said "How’s it going?" I said "Well, to tell you the truth...I’m a little disappointed. I thought
this trailer was an Ice Cream truck". He said "I don’t have any ice cream...but would you like a couple of cheeseburgers".
BOO BOO lunch is served. He also gave my some Coca Cola. Things were looking up.
The R.O.T.C. support team left and people were coming into the parking lot right and left. I was ready to try another YOGI
victim. A nice local guy who was pulling two Triumph bikes to go to the afore mentioned Biker rally had broken down in the
gap. I suspect a hose has busted. I saw he had a cooler full of those things you can’t get in the woods...soft drinks.
I pulled out a dollar bill and approached him holding up the dollar bill. I said "Excuse me...someone told me there was a
coke machine here...do you know where it is at?" He said "there isn’t any machine here but I’ll give you a coke.
Yes I know...shameless. We talked for about 30 minutes and a 2nd soft drink materialized. He then offered me a
beer. I politely declined. I still had Tray mountain to climb.
I made my way up Tray and enjoyed a meal of Tuna mixed with mayonnaise and pickle relish packets in a tortilla wrap and
two packets of Lipton’s Tomato Soup. A fine meal indeed. Two guys were in the camping area there very busy collecting
firewood. They were not aware that the entire state of Georgia had a campfire ban. It was my first cool night in Georgia and
I had not compromised my goal of 66 miles the first week. It was a satisfying day.
June, 10th, Sunday: AT miles hiked 10.6
Woke up feeling great. My feet did not hurt as badly as they had. I was heading home today for two days. I missed my family.
It was 10.6 miles to Dick’s Creek Gap. I passed an older couple that I suspect I will run into next week. They were
hiking to Winding Stairs and at my pace with 2 days off the trail I should meet up with them again. I cruised into Dick’s
Creek Gap parking lot. I was parked 3 miles away at my shuttles home. I could not get any cell reception so I stuck out
my thumb. A nice lady who was waiting for her husband and who had thru hiked a few years back offered me a ride. I was very
happy to see my car again. It has always been a welcome home symbol whenever I have gone hiking.
I showered up and arranged for my shuttle to pick me up Wednesday June 13th at the Nantahala Outdoor Center
and bring me back to the Gap to start my next leg.
It took me three hours to drive through Cherokee, NC...Great Smokys...and Pidgeon Forge, TN. It was a big mistake to take
that route on a Sunday.
8:30pm and back in Louisville. My feet need a rest.