Day 6

Sasafras Gap camping to Dick’s Creek Gap (Hiawassee, GA) – 6.3 miles

Near-o!

I was totally excited to get into town for my first rest break.  I was really just beat by the heat or whatever the day before.  Unfortunately my energy had not really recovered, and I also developed a bit of a hacking cough with yellow green phlegm.  Also, apparently the chafing that had started to develop on my bum #hikerproblems apparently bled through to my sleeping pad.  Gross.  It was time to get to town.

It was hard to keep going at times and the miles seemed really long.  Finally things started to warm up and I started picking up a little pace.  I got down to the road around noon after leaving closer to 9 than 8:30, late for me.  I got a hitch fairly quickly with Jose, who was up from SC installing carpets.  Checked into the Holiday Inn which is a nice deal on points (15,000)- they have a hot tub and heated indoor pool, and all you can eat breakfast!  There was a couple inquiring about a room when I checked in so I decided to offer the other bed to them in exchange for dinner or a few bucks.  They had more energy than I and were immediately off to “the highest point in Georgia”- I took a shower and headed across the road to the AYCE buffet, which was highly mediocre.  I really forced myself to eat and drink sweet tea, which luckily was not TOO sweet.  Took a nap after as I was still feeling low energy.  The rest of the afternoon I slowly perked up like a wilting flower just watered.  Will head out for Mexican soon with the couple, temporarily dubbed “The Hitched Hikers” (this is their honeymoon).

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Day 5

Blue Mountain shelter to Sassafras Gap campsite (12.8 miles)

So apparently I was on crack or yerba mate or whatever when I made up this schedule of where I thought I’d be, in order to coordinate mail drops.  The schedule for today I’d made had me hiking ALL of Blue Mountain (luckily I’d gone past that plan and started from the summit), then Rocky Mountain (a steep up and down) and Trey Mountain (another steep up and down), then some squiggly terrain that didn’t look too bad, another mountain, and a smallish mountain, to get to Hiawassee.  I actually felt pretty good though, making really nice time down Blue, up and down Rocky, and then up Trey, from about 8:30-1:30.  Then just after the summit of Trey I totally sagged.  I took a bit of a lunch break but was feeling sort of weak, no pain or anything, but just slow.  The terrain flattened out a bit and I made some miles but by 3p I was feeling pretty beat again.  I managed to get roaming reception on my phone with the last of battery and called the hotel to change my reservation for tomorrow.   I think the sun was also just beating on me through the trees, mostly oaks and beeches without foliage yet.  I finally got out my visor.

I made it another hour to the “Swag of the Blue Ridge”- which although it looks like a mostly harmless squiggly line on the elevation chart in my guidebook, actually is a more tough up and down and up and down trudge.  I sat down at the little campsite there and took some time for a protein bar and to air my feet out, and talk to the two guys camped there that were doing a section hike.  They said a campsite was a mile ahead “all downhill” with a water source close by.  Actually, said campsite was pretty much uphill except the last 5-10 minutes, really brutal for me.  Coral stopped by when I was there and wanted to head on PAST the Hiawassee hitch, to a campsite around mile 70, where she was hoping to meet up with Chelsea (sp?), a PCT thru hiker who was hoping to do the AT in under 100 days.  I had passed Chelsea the day before at Hogsback Gap and hadn’t seen her since, not even at the campsite, so was dubious to whether or not they would meet.  Anyway, I was set- I was just beat.  I went to bed pretty early and it was a mostly comfortable night, though at maybe 3-4 am the wind picked up, and the temperature dropped 10-20 degrees I think.  Still not as cold as at Bull’s Gap.

Day 4

WhoooooooshWHAP!  WHAP WHAP WHAP!

I thought the tent was going to fall over even with me in it.

It was really really really windy at Bull Gap.  It also got quite cold.  I was worried about Longcloud who was sleeping in just a plastic emergency shelter and 45F sleeping bag, but there wasn’t much I could do, I only had a tiny 1 person tent myself, and I was wearing all my clothes to stay warm.  He said he didn’t sleep much, and that at 7am it was 32F…I guess it was even colder before.  Well, when it’s cold, the best solution is to get moving.  Again I played leapfrog with the German lady as well as seeing some other guys I’d met previous days.  At some point I passed them though.  Really was feeling good energy that day.  A bunch of hill types and I was just powering up them, not as fatigued as I usually get.

The question for me that day was where I would stop.  There was a really cool place called Enota Mountain Lodge or Resort or Something which was an organic farm with work for stay.  I heard they had a trout pond where you could catch your dinner, and even a waterfall!  However, it wasn’t 100% clear how to get there from the trail, and my phone using Sprint towers via Ting wasn’t getting much reception in the backcountry.  I decided to go as far as I felt I was able.

The day went on and I was still doing pretty good.  I took a longish break at Hogsback Gap to get water from a meh source.  Also had my new standby meal, salami with “nutella” (Dark Chocolate Almond + Sea Salt, courtesy of Barefoot + Chocolate- thanks guys!)  That stuff revved me up I guess since I just powered on through the afternoon.  I got a little tired on a ridge as I was getting closer to Blue Mountain and stopped for some plantain chips and the chocolate spread.  A few minutes later Coral marched on up the trail.  She was from Victoria BC and had been training in the mountains up there and really was a powerhouse, she left an hour or two after me apparently.  I felt a boost in having someone to talk to even though I had also really enjoyed hiking solo so far to be able to hike at a pace comfortable for me.  There was a campsite a mile or so beneath the summit of Blue Mountain that I probably would have stopped at if it was just me, but she pointed out there was no water source there, so we trudged on the mile up all sorts of rocks to Blue Mountain.  It was a pretty nice shelter though and I even managed to snag a spot in the shelter.  I already liked sleeping in the shelters as I think it’s marginally warmer there (this one sure was, it had a tarp rigged up in front) and more importantly it saves time in the morning.  I don’t have to worry about drying out a wet tent or even packing a dry one.

Day 3

Gooch Mountain shelter to Bull Gap campsite (17 miles)

Today was a big day.  I was hoping to get to near Neels Gap, though I was behind on my “schedule” due to only hiking about 4 miles the first day because of rain.  In order to get to Neels Gap, I’d have to get over Blood Mountain, which was supposed to be pretty steep up and down.  Additionally, there was a 6 mile or so area including the mountain where one was required to have a bear canister to camp.  So, one had to decide at Justus Creek campsite (around mile 25) what they were going to do.

I felt pretty good all day though.  I played leapfrog with the German lady from Munster who was quite frankly a total badass (I think her pack was bigger than she was).  It was a Saturday and that meant trail magic!  There was a guy named Dr. Pepper who I ran into on the trail before Woody Gap who handed me a ziplock of candy.  I realized later that there was a pamphlet inside with one of those creepy handwritten, zeroxed life stories about a conversion to faith.  Well, being in the South, it’s not so surprising.

Then at Woody Gap proper “The Bus” was set up- a group of people from the “Twelve Tribes” sect that I have only vague ideas of their religion.  It seems to me that basically they all take on these names that are a cross of Old Testament names with something out of a L Ron Hubbard novel, drink yerba mate like there’s no tomorrow, and have a hard on for hooking up thru hikers.  They have a series of hostels throughout the trail.  Anyway, yeah.  Definitely not the worst religion I’ve heard of.  They hooked me up with mate juice, some veggie chili, and probably the most delicious energy bar I ever had.  I asked what was in it and they said “uh, you know, kale, some stuff, carob chips”.  I think probably, there was a ton of yerba mate, since that stuff powered me up Blood Mountain later like it was nada.

I took a longish lunch break at Justus Creek and decided to head on and conquer the mountain.  A guy named Longcloud joined me for part of the break and I gave him most of the candy from Dr. Pepper, which I didn’t like. We walked together for a bit but as he seemed quite speedy and at ease I encouraged him to go on ahead.  Before I knew it I was at the top of the mountain!  It wasn’t easy, but definitely did not seem as steep as it sounded from the guide.  The summit was packed with day hikers.  Going down was a little tricky for me as I feel I need to be careful to avoid slipping, and it hurts my knees a little.  There were all these kids, and even a guy in his 60s who were just blazing downhill though.

I got to the Mountain Crossings center around 4:30 and popped in to buy a little alcohol fuel for cooking (didn’t get to stop on the way to Springer) a Smartwater bottle (the nozzle can be used to backflush my water filter and also I needed a “clean” water bottle) and also a temporary fuel bottle- a sweet iced tea.  This came to $6 and change.

It was a mile up to the Bull Gap campground, fairly steep.  I headed up with Longcloud and we were a little worried as we only saw orange blazes, instead of white ones.  A guy assured us we were on the right trail but he seemed a little off.  Longcloud stopped to pee and I headed on ahead.  I ended up stopping maybe 2 tenths of a mile on for him to catch up- it really seemed longer than the mile it was supposed to be.  After about 10 minutes though we finally reached the campsite.  It was a long day and after making some food most people hit the sack.

Day 2

Stover Creek Shelter to Gooch Mountain Shelter (13 miles)

Today was a good day.  I thought there would be rain in the AM but it never surfaced.  Last night was a pretty big storm, lots of thunder and even some lightning, but I was nice and dry at the shelter.  Would’ve got up earlier but I thought it was still raining from the rain dripping down off trees on the roof.

Otherwise mostly smooth sailing today.  About a mile out of the shelter I saw some crawdad looking thing on the trail.  I was too lazy to take a picture, was mildly confused about what it could be, and could only think, “LOBSTER STICKS TO MAGNET!!!”  APPARENTLY, that critter was a scorpion. Whoa.  It was only about 2.5 inches long.  I passed some people from the Stover Creek shelter off and on all day, but they mostly were not at Gooch.  The few that were got there a bit later than me.

I saw Martin again who was in good spirits.  Martin walked into Stover Creek shelter yesterday in jeans and a windbreaker that were completely soaked.  He looked like he was in rough shape then but he decided to head on despite the rain.  I guess he had things figured out at some point and made camp.  Oddly enough when I ran into him (when it was NOT raining) he had on his Frogg Toggs poncho.

The rest of the day was pretty chill.  Apparently I passed over Sassafras mountain without knowing what it was.  I was a little slow going up Justus mountain but that was short.  Ended up for the night at Gooch Mountain shelter, hilarious ridgerunner here named Lord Gooch.  Nice talks with interesting people, including an older German lady thru hiking by herself.