I awoke at 5 and tried to spot Hale-Bopp on the eastern horizon, but had no luck. I think the comet was obscured by trees.
We were on the trail by 7:15, my earliest day yet. We startled a grouse within the first few miles. It was a beautiful morning that turned into a gorgeous day. After passing the Low Gap Shelter, the trail was a real joy. It looked like it had been an old road. I even met two runners who were out for a 15 mile run in the mountains. Needless to say, I was VERY impressed.
From Chattahoochee Gap to the Blue Mountain Shelter, the trail was much more strenuous and extremely rocky and narrow at some points. I thought I'd been having a great day with my legs and feet, but at this point I started getting a pain in my right shin and was forced to call it quits for the day when I reached Blue Mountain Shelter at noon.
Meant 2 Be, a 23yr old from Ohio, was taking a layover at the shelter. Stringer, from Manhattan, NY, stopped by briefly for lunch. Later on, Jaded and Chameleon showed up, then Animal Cracker and Tenderfoot, Puget Pounder (formerly John from Seattle) and Never Ready (formerly Tony of Atlanta), and finally New Leaf and Goat (the mother and son team) straggled in. Two other hikers also showed up, so there's a total of 12 of us in the shelter or tenting nearby.
I hit the shelter by 11:15 and decided to do some laundry today, of both me and my clothes. They're calling for rain tomorrow and Wednesday, so I wanted to take advantage of today's sunshine for drying things out.
The views from this shelter and the 360-degree view from the top of Tray Mtn were spectacular. Definitely the best so far. I was hoping for a nice sunset but the heavy cloud cover has already rolled in.
Jaded, Chameleon, 180-degrees, Puget Pounder, and Never Ready are here. I think some of the others that were at Blue Mtn last night decided to head into Helen when they hit the road crossing at Unicoi Gap. Some new faces - Hops, Dancin' Fool from Maine, Smokin' Joe from Mass, Rip, and a few others. There are at least 13 of us here so far. Never Ready's wife even showed up to spend the night with him.
Today I started taking Ibuprofen every two hours while I was hiking and it really seemed to help ease the pain in my knees and right shin. I don't intend to keep taking the pills at this rate, but maybe for a week or so until my body adjusts some more.
Not only did I hike 11 miles today, but I also did my first hitchike too. I needed to get to Blueberry Patch to get my maildrop package. Within 10 minutes I had a ride for Micah and me in the back of a pickup truck.
The Blueberry Patch is an organic farm in Hiawassee, GA. Gary Poteat and his wife have a bunkhouse set up just for thru-hikers and offer showers, laundry, and a famous blueberry pancake breakfast for its guests. Unfortunately, I couldn't stay there since dogs aren't allowed, but they were nice enough to hold a maildrop package for me, refill my fuel bottle, and allow Micah and me to hang out with some of the other hikers. There were a lot of familiar faces there - Stringer, Animal Cracker, Hops, and Trip. I also met Mala, who used to work for MountainSmith and he promised me he'd take a look at my pack to make sure it's fitted correctly.
Gary's son, Shane, was visiting from Knoxville, TN where he's a fireman. He was nice enough to offer to shuttle me back to the trail. So, by about 3:30 I reached my little tentsite and set up for another dry camp. Micah and I are both beat, but it was a full day and we got a lot done.
It's supposed to rain tonigh and all day tomorrow but I don't care because by this time tomorrow, I should be in North Carolina!
I had a hard time getting up this morning and though I was just being lazy because of the fact it was raining. I toyed with the idea of taking the day off, but I really wanted to make the 38 miles to Wallace Gap and Rainbow Springs Campground by Saturday. Never Ready's wife is meeting him there and he offered me a ride into Franklin for a real dinner with them and Puget Pounder.
I didn't get started until 9 and I was hoping things would feel better once I got going. They didn't. Even the slightest uphill was a struggle and I felt like everything was uphill. I had hoped to make it 10+ miles to Muskrat Creek Shelter today, but I soon knew there was no hope of that. I cut back my goal to 8.4 miles to Bly Gap, but by the time I struggled through my first 5 miles today, I knew I had to stop. I found a tentsite with some nearby water and called it quits.
I really shouldn't be too surprised. I've been going for 9 days straight without a day off and my legs are tired. I made some tea, ate some soup, and rested for a while. I was hoping I'd have a little energy after that, but I'm sore now too.
Anyway, I guess I'll just have to celebrate my crossing my first state line some time tomorrow. I'm also facing a pretty steep climb up Sharp Top tomorrow, so maybe it's good I rest up.
I met an older gentleman by the name of Briar today. He spotted me breaking camp this a.m. and stopped to see if I'd made it through the night alright. I later passed him on the trail and we chatted a moment. He told me his strategy for takling hills was to go 50 steps and take a rest. A short while later when I was really feeling drained on a long climb, I caught myself counting my steps. :^)
I'm hoping to take a day off this weekend. I heard Rainbow Springs has some cabins and it'd really make my week to be able to get one for a night. A hot shower, a dry place to sleep, and a bed sound like heaven to me right now.
The fog and mist persisted until about 11am when I hit Muskrat Creek Shelter. Finally the sun broke through and Micah and I soaked up some rays and dried out a little. I met Wahoo and Cowboy there. Cowboy's from Chapel Hill and works at PyeWacket part-time as a bartender. His full time job is teaching mentally disabled adults.
Just as we were getting ready to leave, Spaz, Stumble, and one other girl showed up. Meant 2 Be was also there writing in his journal as always. Pedlar and Pacman are now 2 days ahead of me.
Soon after leaving the shelter I came upon Mala. He was resting on the side of the trail and offered to fit my pack. He spent about a half an hour with me and make some major adjustments. It does feel a lot better.
Mala's an interesting character. He's 5'6" with a salt and pepper big bushy beard and he weeards a brown suede hat to cover his bald head. He's 48, is studying creative writing at Eastern Tennessee, and this is ths sixth year he's spent extended amounts of time on the trail. He thru-hiked once and now goes back out to just enjoy himself.
We're camped on a grassy knoll on the very top of Standing Indian Mtn in the state of North Carolina. Puget Pounder, Never Ready, Mala, and an overnight hiker named Bill are here. We're at 5400'+ of elevation and the view is outstanding. We had a great sunset, to my left right now I can see the Hale-Bopp comet, to my right I've got a bright 3/4 moon, and Bill has started a campfire for us all after much work on his part.
Crossing the state line today was a pretty good feeling. The old twisted oak at Bly Gap was a very welcome sight. I'd seen it so often in pictures, but it wa a stunning presence in person.
I heard a male grouse drumming his wings as I was coming down Sharp Top. It's like the sound of distant tom-toms beaten slowly at first and then in an ever-increasing rhythm until it's like a drum roll. He was definitely trying to attract some female attention.
I set off again and encountered several blowdowns on the trail between Beech Gap and the Carter Gap Shelter. None of them were impassable, but they sure did make you scramble. I stopped for a brief lunch at the shelter and was just about to head out as Puget Pounder and Never Ready pulled in. We spoke briefly and then I headed on out.
Roughly an hour later I spotted a big hulking figure on the trail up ahead tottering from side to side. It was Briar, and it looked like he was hurting pretty badly. I called out to him and hurried to his side. His right knee was wrapped in an ace bandage and he was using two walking sticks almost as crutches.
I finally convinced him to sit down on a nearby log for a few minutes while we talked. He had indeed twisted his knee badly the day before and rather than taking a day off, he had decided to hike. He was now at a point where he was in a great deal of pain and progressing very slowly with each step being an effort.
I offered him one of my knee braces, but he repeatedly refulsed to take it. I kept telling him that if I were hurt, I would want someone to help me out the best they could. I finally just took the brace off and stuffed it in a pocket of his pack. Briar was so upset and tired at this point that he began to sob. The pain was just exhausting and he was so emotional about my concern.
I decided to try and figure out how to get him off the trail. I pulled out my map and we discussed a few options. I knew there was a campsite at Betty Creek with a forest service road nearby. I figured if I could get him there and set up a camp for him, I would be able to get help and get him out. It was only about a mile further up the trail.
I left Briar sitting on that log and started for Betty Creek. I figured I could drop my pack there and then come back and get his pack and help him down too. I reached the campsites pretty quickly, but wanted to verify the water source before I went back for Briar. I also knew that his pride had been hurt by his display of emotion and I wanted to give him time to collect himself and make some progress on his own if possible. It was a couple of minutes to the creek and by the time I got back to where I dropped my pack, Puget Pounder and Never Ready had arrived with Briar in tow.
We all sat and rested a while and discussed our options. Briar put on my knee brace and professed that it felt much better. He refused to allow us to set up a camp for him and then he just up and hoised his pack again and set off down the trail at a ridiculously unbalanced stumble. We all just looked at each other and Briar called back tous over his shoulder, "I ain't a scared a no mountain!"
What else could we do? We just followed him. Puget Pounder and Never Ready literally stole his sleeping bag and tent off his pack since he continually refused any help. Other than that, we just followed behind him at a snail's pace as he teetered on up the trail.
It was really a treacherous section of trail as we approached Albert Mtn. The trail runs along an extremely steep slope and there were numerous blowdowns and rocky outcroppings to navigate. I kept expecting Briar to just stumble and fall over the edge.
Mala had joined our little procession back at Betty Creek. He now pressed on past us to find a blue blaze trail that would skirt the infamously rugged final ascent of Albert Mtn. We finally reached the side trail and Mala was sitting there waiting. He immediately jumped up, grabbed Briar's elbow, and started leading him onto the side trail. Briar made some feeble protests about blue-blazing off the AT, but he finally went along.
Puget, Never Ready,and I were to continue on the AT and reconnect with Briar and Mala at the top of Albert. Ahead of us by the steepest section of trail we had yet faced. The last two tenths of a mile were more like climbing than hiking. On two separate occasions I had to take Micah's pack off him and toss it up overhead in order for him to climb the rocks. If it weren't for our concern for Briar, it would have been kinda fun. It was like a jungle gym section of trail and it was short enough not to make you completely miserable.
At the top of Albert we waited. We climbed the fire tower, took some pictures, ate some snacks - still no Mala and Briar. Finally, Mala came up the trail from the North. He was dripping in sweat. Briar had just about collapsed on the trail from the pain and Mala had to shoulder both packs up the trail. He had been able to make it to a clearing by a forest service road, and that's where Briar stayed.
We took off down the trail once again. Puget Pounder, Never Ready, and Mala took the side trail to go to Briar and set up his camp. I headed on to the Big Spring shelter .6 miles downhill to go and get water.
The shelter was deserted. I filled my water bag at the spring and headed back up the mountain carrying a few gallons of water. Just as I reached the side trail, I met Mala, Puget and Never Ready. They gave me the directions to Briar's campsite and then headed on down to the shelter.
I found Briar sitting forlornly in the middle of a big open meadow all by himself. His tent was set up and his gear was strewn all about him so he could reach everything. I filled his water bottles, transferred the remaining water to his waterbag, and checked on his food supplies.
He was pretty depressed and finally admitted that he had to come off the trail. When I left him, I could see the tears in his eyes as he wished me the best of luck on my hike.
When your body is singing, the trail is a wonderful place to dance. When you are hurt, it can be a dangerous place to linger. You can't fight the trail, you can only be lucky enough to flow along in her currents.
This morning started very early up at Big Spring Shelter. I woke up at 6 and was on the trail by 6:30. Last night's sleep was the best I'd had so far - I didn't have to get up to pee a singe time all night!
Mala passed me within 20 minutes on the trail. He was racing down the mountain to get an EMS crew sent up to evacuate Briar. It was a 6 mile hike to Wallace Gap.
I waited at the gap for Puget Pounder and Never Ready. I preferred to do the 1 mile roadwalk to Rainbow Springs with them. We started off in what we thought was the correct direction and didn't get further than a few hundred feet before a huge boat of a car pulled over to talk to us. It was Night Stalker behind the wheel - a fellow Puget Pounder had talked to on the internet a few times. He informed us that we were headed in the wrong direction and then offered to give us all a ride.
We arrived at the campground, checked into some cabins, and I immediately ordered an oven-baked 12" pepperoni pizza! We sat outside and talked with some fellow hikers until our cabins were ready. The sun was shining, it was worm out, the company was good, and the pizza pie was awesome, even if it was only 9:30am.
Dancing Fool is here doing a rest day to help his heel mend. He has the biggest, deepest, nastiest blister I've ever seen covering his heel, and it was getting infected. He's from Maine, is 18, on limited funds, and has to be off the trail by August 15th to return to school, so he was really trying to cover some miles early on. I also met Buzzard and BDC (Bacon Double Cheeseburger). Buzzard's another guy who never backpacked before hitting the AT and he seems to be doing fine.
Briar was discharged from the hospital and told to not walk for the next 4 days, then he's going to have to decide what to do. He's from Indiana, so he's a long way from home. Puget Pounder and Never Ready picked him up at the hospital and brought him back here. He'll be staying in one of the cabins for a few days.