Brent and I stayed at the Amicalola Lodge last night. It's really quite a nice place. Our drive down from Raleigh was a little more exciting than we'd planned. Brent's car had an electrical fire and we ended up on the side of the road for a while. He got a tow to a garage owned by "Dink & Sons" outside of Commerce, GA. They knew their stuff and were able to fix the problem in about an hour and we were back on our way. What should have been a 7 hour drive took 11, but we were grateful to have arrived last night at all.
Our day started with breakfast buffet at the lodge. We hit the approach trail by 9:45 and were on our way. We immediately bumped into Peddler and Packman from VA. Packman oversees a section of the trail in Shenandoah. We later met John and Tony. Tony is headed to Maine & John up to Fontana.
We stayed at Stover Creek Shelter. We set up our tent next to the creek and turned in early after socializing with Peddler and Packman a while. There were 2 other men at the shelter, but they'd already turned in by the time we arrived at 4pm. The total number of people in camped in and around the shelter (including us) was 10.
We didn't see much cast off gear today, just an inflatable mattress at the Black Gap Shelter where we stopped for a nice leisurely 1 hour lunch. From the stories we'd heard, we were expecting to see everything from baseball bats to ice axes.
My pack weighed 32 pounds with 2 quarts of water and 4 days food. Once Brent leaves me, I'll be taking on an additional 3.5 pounds whenI take back my tent. I'm still very happy with that. I didn't see many other thru- hikers signed in at the Visitor's Center under 40 pounds, and most seemed to have 45-50 pounds. Roughly 120 thru-hikers had signed in at the Visitor's Center already. We were so excited to be at Springer Mountain, we both forgot to even look at the register there. Neither Black Gap nor Stover Creek Shelters even had registers.
Overall, a good hiking day. A little twinge now and then in the knees, but things felt good overall. The approach trail wasn't nearly as bad as we'd heard and expected, but it was still a good workout.
We plaed at Hawk Mountain Shelter and I finally signed-in to a shelter register. Pooombah from the AT-L had been there the day before. While heating up lunch and reading the register, 6 army Rangers walked by with a quick hello and tip of their hats.
The climb up out of Hightower Gap was just the beginning of a long afternoon. My knees were pretty unhappy today and I've already staarted wearing my knee brace and popping Vitamin Is. Brent even loaned me his walking stick so I could two-stick it on the downhills.
Signs of spring are definitely here. We spotted some isolated patches of bloodroot on the way up Sassafras Mtn and again on Justus Mtn. I bet by tomorrow there will be an even bigger variety of flowers. You can see buds coming up right on the trail. One more day of this kind of weather will probably cause a lot of them to bloom.
[Thanks to Dave and Michele DeCroix for the black bean enchiladas. They were great - send more!!]
The terrain wasn't as rough as yesterday (thank goodness) and my knees were doing pretty well until the last two miles. Pedaler & Packman were with us the last few miles, but went on a little to another campsite. I found out today that Pedaler biked across America a year or so ago to help prepare for the trail!
We met Kojac today coming out of Woody Gap. He's southbound from the Blueberry Patch trying to meet thru-hikers and getting a little interview with them on tape. Of course, his tape recorder died when he went to put my info on tape. So much for fame! He hadn't had much luck yet meeting thru-hikers from the AT-L. He missed Curious George, Gypsy, & Poombah.
We noticed some areas next to the trail today where it looked like some wild hogs had been rooting around. Some of these areas of upturned soil were 8' across.
Shortly after starting out we met Patty and Jason from Jacksonville, Fl. Patty has decided her trail name will be "Newleaf." They're a mother and son team.
After all I'd heard about Blood Mtn, I'd expected to be crawling on my hands and knees by the time I reached the top. It wasn't as bad as I'd expected I'm happy to say. the trail is nicely switch-backed and I had a more difficult time descending the other side to Neel's Gap. The trail looked more like a little creek in some parts and there were some tricky rock patches. Again, my knees were not happy at all.
Walasi Yi was a zoo. Wet gear and bodies everywhere with what seemed to be a small number of showers, bathrooms, and washer/dryers. We opted to try for a cabin at Goose Creek, and I'm really glad we did. We got a free shuttle and now have our own little cabin with a bathroom, kithcenette, a bed, and to make it perfect - A FIREPLACE! We're 3 happy, dry, and warm little campers tonight.
A great hiking day. Despite not leaving until noon, I got in 7+ miles before finding a nice campsite. I was in need of water and would have had to have done a pretty long side trip, but two separate couples who were out for dayhikes donated some refills, so Micah and I are making a dry camp.
It was a sunny day with a brisk cold wind and temperatures in the 40s. Tonight's supposed to go down in the teens and I'm sure the wind will make it feel much colder.
Bumped into John and Tony again. They were headed for some camping by Whitley Gap Shelter. I had met a large group of boyscouts who were also headed for that shelter, so I opted to push on.
My legs felt good today, in spite of the extra weight of my tent now that Brent's gone. I even packed a gallon of water with me for the last mile or two. I bought a second knee brace at Walasi-Yi and Brent left me his walking stick, so now I've got two of those as well. Whatever it was that quieted my knees, I'll take it.
Oh yeah, I met Animal Crackers this morning at Walasi-Yi. She's from Connecticut and it looks like she's hiking with two other guys.