Shelters

The shelters on the trail are pretty cool.  They are generally three sided structures with a wooden floor well off of the ground.  I know I have taken a picture with my good camera, but unfortunately do not have one on my phone to share.  Each shelter is rated to a certain number of hikers and they are first come, first served.  Generally I would prefer to be in my tent, but occasionally the shelters can be a good thing.  To be honest, I thought being on the trail at the tail end of the season, that they would be less than full on most nights, but so far almost every night, wherever I have ended up, there has been at least 20 people.  It is a very busy trail.

Each shelter has a shelter log book which hikers can sign, or write a paragraph or share a story.  Some of them can be very entertaining, but I am speaking only from my experience of reading pictures of them posted online as, absent the log at the top of Springer Mountain, I have not touched a shelter log book.  The main reason I have not is that I do not wish to get Norovirus, which goes around the trail community every year.  About two weeks ago it was rampant down here where I am at right now, so I am attempting to be very careful so as not to contract the dreaded virus.  Since I have been on the trail I have not been keeping up with it so much, so not sure if it is still going on, or if it has passed.  In any event, later on in my hike I will sign the log books and share some of the funny items from the books.  But for now, safety first.

So a couple of days ago, Croc, Rock Steady and I are trying to get to Low Gap Shelter for the night.  The weather report was ugly and the temperature was only going to go lower.  At one point sleet was in the forecast.  So here we are, old guys hiking along and keeping what we think is a pretty good pace.  It was a good pace.  But throughout the day we were being passed by the younger hikers.  The ones that just power up the uphills as if there was little to no resistance.  I was even passed by a guy in his mid to upper 20’s wearing sandals and a full pack.  I don’ think he had broken a sweat yet.  Sandals.  Are you kidding me?

So the young, vibrant kids, sleep in, take their time in the morning, get there (wherever there is) quicker than we do and when they get there have more energy and stamina than us.  It hardly seems fair to be honest, but it is what it is.

Until we roll into camp. Low Gap Shelter in this case.  In the rain.  And the shelter is full.  Of the young kids who slept in.  Powered past us as if we were standing still.  Got to the shelter before the rain started (and could have setup a tent in the dry weather) and claimed their spot.  Leaving us old, tired folks to setup our tents.  In the rain.  And mud.  While exhausted.

It is not fair.  If they had to deal with what we had to deal with, they would not make it.  I am certain of that.

-Samaritan

Day 6, 7 and 8

I have access to a computer at the hotel we are at and at the moment no one is waiting.  So I will try to type fast and see if I can bring everyone up to date. Pretty sure I am covering 5/4 through 5/6, but I lost a day in here somewhere and was surprised yesterday was Friday.

We stayed at Neel Gap a couple nights ago at a place called Mountain Crossings.  It is full outfitter and it has a hiker hostel.  It was pretty decent all in all.  Mighty Mouse made it to the hostel that night, but he was beat.  He had a hard time trying to keep up with us.  In his week on the trail he learned a lot about hiking and camping, and perhaps about how painfully unprepared he was physically, mentally and with gear choices.  His sleeping bag was rated at 50 degrees.  No wonder he was freezing.  He made a great judgment call the morning of the fourth and decided to end his thru hike attempt for now and he went home.  I really think that if he spends sometime researching, acquiring the right equipment and getting into shape he might actually be able to complete the trail at a future date.  So Mighty Mouse if you ever see this, congrats!  You did more than a lot of people ever would even try and I think you learned a ton of good stuff for future use!  Hope to see  you down the trail.

This morning (the fourth) I had a decision to make.  Do I stay here (Mountain Crossings …. with nothing to do) another night and take a zero or push on (and try to take a zero at a town where there are some services).  The weather report was for rain and then cold.  I did not feel I had enough cold weather gear to successfully get through that, so I bought another lower base layer to hike in and a pack cover to ensure my gear stays dry and hiked on.  The day was beautiful until the end when it rained the last hour, hour and a half or so.  That was not terrible, but we had to setup in the rain (sucks) and I found out my tent is on its final legs as it leaked.  I have had this tent for about six years and it has served me well, but time for a new one.  Today (the sixth) I ordered a Zpacks Duplex which will be mailed to me to a place I will be one week from today.  Looking forward to my new super super light weight tent.  (swapping these out will save me about two pounds).

We spent the night at Low Gap Shelter, in the rain.  At one point Croc, Rock Steady (Debra) and I were each in our own separate tents texting each other about what to do the next day as it was going to continue to be cold and rainy.  The rain on the tents was too loud to talk amongst ourselves in the tents.   We decided the best thing to do would be to hike 10 miles to Unicoi Gap and get a ride into town to dry out, do laundry and maybe take a zero (a day of no hiking, giving the body a chance to heal and rest).  Seriously hiking in the cool and rain is no big deal.  It is only a problem when you stop to rest or have to setup in the rain with wet gear.

We got to Unicoi Gap to the best thing ever, trail magic times ten!  (Trail Magic is where people, sometimes past thru hikers, or simply just people who like hikers, setup shop and offer hikers coming by food and drink).  They had hot dogs, sausage, bacon, chips, soda and beer and coffee!  It was the most amazing thing.  I had three hot dogs, a couple of beers and a coffee.  And they were offering more!  It was cold and windy, so this was a very nice treat and is the first of potentially many trail magic moments.

After that a ride to Helen, GA and we spent the night at the Baymont Inn.  Unfortunately, while here we lost Rock Steady.  Her knee was giving her trouble on the fifth and by this morning was very swollen.  She will not be able to continue.  I fully expected to lose Croc here too then, and he was even thinking about possibly going to Ireland to hike, but I think he it going to continue on with me and a guy I call Milwaukee, since that is where he is from.  His trail name however, is Crooner.  He was singing Danke Schoen yesterday and Rock Steady was amazed he knew the song as he is in his early to mid 20’s I think.  He admitted to knowing the song only because he heard it on Ferris Buehler’s Day Off.  We all got a kick out of that.

If anyone is ever in Helen, GA I would fully recommend the Baymont.  They have been great.  We were even able to use their hose to hose down our tents which were full of mud and set them up in the back to let them dry out.  I also would recommend Big Daddy’s restaurant and tavern.  Watched the Cleveland game last night and had an excellent dinner of salmon, baked potato (loaded, of course) and cilantro slaw.  Going to go back there tonight and have one of their pizzas, I think, as I was salivating over that last night as well, or maybe their tacos.  Everything looked amazing.

It was good to take a day off today and let my legs rest, repair and recover.  The next zero is planned one week from today in Franklin, NC.  Tomorrow we have a 5.7 mile day planned, which does not sound like much, but it is basically straight uphill, then down some, then up more than the first up.  Up up up.  Welcome to Georgia.

Hope all is well with everyone.

-Samaritan

PS – I apologize for not including a ton of pictures on the blog.  It is a rather clunky process to get them in these posts.  Much easier to post them on Facebook.  Feel free to send me a facebook friend request, if you are not already, and you will get to see more pics.

Day 4 and 5

Mountain Crossings

Day 4 and 5.

In scouts when doing an extended outing with a group day 3, 4 or 5 were always the challenge for the group. If there were going to be issues, that is when they would crop up.

Going individually is not much different. By day 3 the body starts to rebel. You are sore and physically tired. This was part of the reason day 3 was so short for me. When you are physically tired and sore it begins to work on your emotions as well. When you have the physical and emotional going negative it is real hard to keep a positive mental framework. Bigfoot, in his video on youtube about the five most surprising things he found out about the AT, mentioned people quitting at Neel Gap. After applying the 3-5 day analysis it is not that surprising that that many quit here. (I am at Neel Gap tonight).

And yes, I have had my own challenges the last three days, but knowing it was coming certainly helped the mindset and I have been through this before. The best feeling is being in hiking shape. The worst is getting in hiking shape. Ah well, it is what I signed up for.

Not a ton to note about the last couple of days. I did see an awesome owl as I was going to get water two days ago. I did not have my camera with, unfortunately. He (or she, I really have no clue) and I had a mutual staring contest until I decided to move and he decided to fly away.

Let me tell you a bit about the people I have been hiking with. Croc, who I wrote about the other day and his hiking partner, Debra. They are married. To different people. Debra likes hiking and her husband suggested that she hike with Croc because he knew he was not going to go hiking. Croc is a preacher and they have known each other since high school. I lied the other day, he did not thru hike, but did section hike the AT. They are great hiking partners. They are out here for 30 days, so I could be with them through the worst of getting into hiking shape. He is a fountain of knowledge and I am trying to soak up what I can.

My trail name is settled, Samaritan. If you have not read Day 2 and 3, you missed the story. Croc named me, and after consideration, I accepted it. Not Good Samaritan…seems too long, nor GS, but just Samaritan.

I wish I had some type of Dictaphone device. I come up with all sorts of really witty or profound things while hiking but then they are gone when I sit here to type to the blog. And sorry about jumping around on topics. Editing on this thing is ridiculous, so you get it in the order it happens in my mind.

Final thoughts tonight. I spend most of the time looking at the trail and my feet. It would be so easy to trip and fall as there are rocks and roots everywhere. Hiking over this terrain makes a cracked sidewalk look like a freeway. The ground and granite looks the same here as it does in Isle Royale, New Mexico or the Rockies. This afternoon it was hot and the dirt even smelled like New Mexico. The trails are similar but the people, flora and fauna, and wildlife are different. So far great people on this trail. And great views.

Last thought. Update on Mighty Mouse. Ran into him last night and he did not know who I was. I think that is an indication of how much trouble he was in the other morning. He decided to do the trail and did no (or very little) research and does not have an outdoor background. We (Croc and I) are worried for him. We hope he decides to go home. We really do not want to read about him in a few weeks…

Day 2 and 3

Day 2 began being enveloped in the clouds. It rained slightly overnight, but more of the moisture was from the 100% humidity than anything else. Perfect hiking weather. The trek down from Springer to the parking lot was straightforward. However, due to the humidity and my ability to sweat, I could not see much as my glasses fogged up, so at the parking lot I switched to contacts. I also used my umbrella for the first time, and absent getting it to ride just right, I like it. I am sure those adjustments will happen in time and I’ll know just how to strap it on.

The goal today was Hawk Mountain Campsite, 7.2 miles. I left at 9(ish) and was there by 12:30. That seemed ridiculously early to stop for the day, but my legs were beat. Uphills kill me. I can do flat and down just fine. So I decided to rest for an hour and a half and then made dinner. After cleanup I thought I was good for a few more miles and headed onward.

I was going to stay at Horse Gap, but the next day’s early morning weather report was ugly, so instead I decided to push on to Cooper Gap where I had water. I had no intention of getting up and hiking in a thunderstorm, although plenty did. There was about a dozen folks at Cooper Gap and the early night was uneventful.

Day 3 began with waking up about 6:30 with a huge roar through the trees. Then the rain began. I knew we were in for it so I rolled over, put in the ear plugs and went back to sleep. Woke up a couple times and finally at 10:30 decided it was time to see what was going on. Sounded like maybe it was over. I got up, went across the road to gather my bear bag and was amazed that everyone else was gone save for a couple of us. When I got back, I went to talk to another guy who was up and I immediately noticed he was slurring his words and shivering. He is something like 72, never has been hiking and is doing a thru. That information was gathered later. From what I was able to get out of him at the time, he stayed on the mountain overnight wrapped in his poncho. When he got to Cooper Gap at 9 am he huddled down under his poncho trying to stay dry. He was attempting to set up his tent when I got to him but did not know how. He was soaking and shivering uncontrollably which actually is good. It is when you stop shivering that things get serious.

In the next hour we got his tent set up, got him into some dry clothing and I made him a cup of warm coffee. At that point another hiker, trail name Croc, showed up. He is a thru hiker from a few years ago and knew Mighty Mouse, the hypothermic hiker. He said they would stick around and make sure he was okay. Before I started packing up for my day we made sure he was in his sleeping bag. Unfortunately, he did not have a hat with him so I gave him my Rab beanie, which I have never used and only weighs like something under an ounce. Why couldn’t he have needed something heavier? I’ll pick up a replacement at Neels Gap. Croc suggested the trail name Good Samaritan. Certainly could be a lot worse.

From that point I hiked to Gooch Gap Shelter and decided that was enough for the day. From a physical standpoint day 3 or 4 is the worst of it. Perhaps for me this time it will be day 3. If so it only gets better from here. Tomorrow about 8 miles. Hopefully.

Now on day 4. I have parts written in my head already, but running out of power so it won’t be up for a couple of days. Forgive the editing as well please. Leslie feel free to edit these. I am sure there are misspellings, formatting issues, and other stuff. Once I have a keyboard it will be easier.

Scott

Observations of a First Day Thru Hiker

1. No matter how long you’ve dreamed of thru hiking the Appalachian Trail, leaving your spouse to begin the trail is overwhelming…and not in a good way.
2. Georgia is humid.
3. Georgia is hilly. Georgia is hard. It is nothing like Bong State Park in Wisconsin which is really flat. I do not have any uphill gear…yet.
4. In 30 days, maybe less, I will look back and wonder what the hell I was thinking when I typed out number 3.
5. Make sure you keep looking for the blazes. If you zone out and realize you have not seen one in a while, it can kind of freak you out, even if you know you’re on the right trail.
6. When the Gluteus Maximus is primarily used for sitting, walking up hills is painful.
7. The Approach Trail is gorgeous. Reminds me a lot of The Ice Age Trail around Lapham Peak. Some different greenery, but otherwise very similar. Whoever said it was nothing special needs to examine what lens they are looking at life through.
8. Tesla is very good hiking music.
9. The Georgia ridgerunners are very nice and very dedicated. So far everyone I have met is awesome.
10. The simple act of sitting by a stream and filling up water bottles can be very relaxing and satisfying.
Day 1 in the books. So far I have accomplished .2 miles of the Appalachian Trail. More to come…..
Scott