A lesson learned and a wild night on the mountain

Days 8 – 9 Unicoi Gap – Dicks Creek Gap (Hiawassee) Mile 69.5 since Springer Mountain

After the unplanned stop in Helen to dry out, I resumed Saturday morning with Sam at Unicoi Gap. The very nature of a “gap” is that it tends to be low, so our opening hike was a trudge up Rocky Mountain in the rain, from an elevation of about 2900 feet to 4000 feet over the course of about a mile and a quarter. “Trudge” is a very appropriate word to use for these climbs, at least it is for me. The severity of the incline necessitates stops every 50 to a 100 yards to allow my heart-rate to come down again before trudging on. I’m aware that many of the climbs ahead will be much more severe, so I hope that this early practice will stand me in good stead.

Once we had peaked Rocky Mountain, the climb down was just as steep, and this presents it’s own issues. Suddenly, all the muscles that were used to climb up are superseded by those used to climb down; everything gets a work out.

The trail was getting fairly muddy from the continuous rain, so I was especially careful in my foot and pole placement, with a few slides keeping me alert. So it was something of a surprise to me that, when I was on perfectly level ground, strolling along as if it were a day in the park, I slipped, stumbled and neatly pirouetted onto my fairly ample backside. Fortunately, the only thing hurt was my dignity, as I floundered in the bush, unable to move because my backpack was caught up. Sam came to my rescue and untangled me. It showed how careful you need to be at all times when walking on some of these treacherous surfaces.

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Movin’ on Up

Days 5-7 3/26/2014 – 3/28/2014 Woody Gap (Suches, GA) to Unicoi Gap (Helen, GA)

Back into civilization and in a position to post at last.

It has been a blast for the past three days and, of course, all plans have changed on the fly. The original plan had been to hike only about 8 miles to Blood Mountain shelter, right at the top of this beautiful mountain. We’ve been incredibly lucky with the weather thus far and are offered spectacular views from pretty much every vantage point. This one was likely to be the best and so it proved. I’m using an iPhone and, while this video is adequate to share some of my adventure, it does no sort of justice to how fabulous it looked when I was there.

Sadly for me, shortly after I shot that video, I dropped my iPhone and cracked the glass, though it still seems to be working; I hope it lasts, as there seems to be no way I can get it fixed on the Trail.

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The best laid plans of mice and men

Days 2 – 4 3/23/2014 – 3/25/2014 Springer Mountain Shelter – Woody Gap (Suches, GA)

You know when you make great plans of how you think things are going to go and then, when reality unfolds, they all turn to mush? Yes, well that’s exactly what happened to me the past couple of days.

I had this great idea of taking pictures on the way, all the while using my solar charger to keep my phone and iPad buzzing along effortlessly. I would be blogging most nights, adding selected pics and videos like a latter day Alan Whicker (only my Brit friends over about 50 will get this reference). I suppose the clue should have been in the name SOLAR charger, direct sunlight being something of a prerequisite. As we’ve been hiking up and down mountains, winding through heavily wooded forests, that hasn’t happened so much and my phone has barely held sufficient charge for the odd call to my ever-suffering and never-complaining wife.

However, I’ve now pitched up at the Wolf Pen Gap Country Store, in Suches and have access to wifi and unlimited electrical supply. The first thing I have noticed from this trip is how inter-connected we all are and everybody rushed to charge their phones and check their email.

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Day 1 – 3/22/2014 Springer Mountain Approach Trail – Amicalola Falls to Springer Mountain Shelter

Diane and I had stayed the previous night at Dahlonega and this morning headed straight for Amicalola Falls State Park. We were both a little lost in our own thoughts and, after breakfast, headed over to the bottom of the Falls to register and weigh my pack. Diane had sent a bunch of dehydrated food to the hotel, so my backpack weighed in at a hefty 41lbs. However, I met several people today who were sporting what looked to be a junior refrigerator on their backs, so my 41lbs didn’t seem so bad.

We took a couple of pics and Diane drove me to the start of the approach trail. Saying goodbye was a little tearful on both sides, as the enormity seemed to hit us both at the same time. Eventually, I headed off and was on my way.

I have prepared well as far as possible, but nothing in Florida was able to prepare me for the first upward hike. I grimaced as I headed up and got to the top of that little section breathing heavily, but found that I recovered fairly well during the flatter section. Then, heading down, you are made aware that the only purpose of heading down is to head up once more in about five minutes.

Nonetheless, following several heart bursting climbs, after about three and a half to four hours, I got to the top. The last half mile was the worst, making me stop to recover every hundred or so yards. Then, there I was, after all that effort, at the start of the Appalachian Trail. The attached cheesey video is more reflective of my delight at being at the top than anything else. I would have hated to have been the guy who quit the Trail with minus miles.

My aim for that first day was get to the Springer Mountain shelter, only about .2 of a mile into the actual Trail, so, after the obligatory photos and the aforementioned video, I moved onto the Appalachian Trail itself for the first time.

Well, I intended to move onto the Trail, but walked straight into a low hanging branch and felt a huge crack, probably intensified by my newly shorn head. Luckily, no harm was done and, apart from the obvious embarrassment, I moved on.

There were plenty of rocks on the way down, so I spent most of the time looking at the ground, which wasn’t desperately helpful as I blew straight past the sign to my intended destination. After about a half mile I realized my error and had to retrace my steps back up the mountain. Smart, huh?
Anyway, I eventually got there and settled in for some food and my first night in the woods. I’ve drawn some water from a creek, filtered and drunk it to no obvious ill effects, so here’s hoping for a quiet night and another great day tomorrow.

Separation

This is really it, on the plane, with the rather symbolic separation of Diane and me, as we are located in seats on the plane one row apart.  It seems appropriate somehow as we ease into this 6 month separation and I’m glad she is coming to Atlanta and beyond with me, delaying the final farewell for a day.  She has been nervous all week as the day has approached and now is keeping as brave a face as possible under the circumstances.

Temporary separation has rarely, if ever, been an issue in my life.  My separations until now have been permanent, willfully walking out on two marriages, never to return.  This is different, though, as I will be coming back joyfully to this marriage in six months time, though I’m sure Diane and I have two different perspectives on the time apart.  I’m going off to have my, probably, last great adventure, while she is the one left behind to keep the house running, preparing me food and looking after her folks.  I’m certainly going to miss her; indeed, home sickness is probably a greater fear for me than bears or injury.  However, I’m not letting the impending distance between us get in the way of embracing this journey to its fullest extent.  I’m ready for the rubber to hit the road or, in this case, the trail.

I had to leave my pepper spray behind in the car, though Diane will mail it to me in about a week or so.  However, irony of ironies, when we went through security, Diane’s bag must have alerted the security team to something and they found her own, smaller pepper spray in her bag.  Naturally, they confiscated it.

Since I had my head shaved, I’ve really felt a calm fall over me, with a quietness of spirit I didn’t know I possessed.  I have talked about this peripherally for years, researched AND talked fervently about it for the past three months and, now that I’m about to walk into the woods for the first time in my life, the talking has to stop and the research is done.  It’s now going to be a case of putting my research into action and simply planting one foot in front of the other 5,000,000 times, which is apparently the number of steps that it takes to complete the Trail.

Tomorrow, I’ll send my first pictures from the Trail itself, so follow along with me and let the fun begin……

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Full head of hairI’ve been something of a silver fox for many years now, with the luxurious grey mane being probably my best feature.  So it may seem rather incongruous of me that today I followed through on my plan to dispense with this mass of grey hair for the duration of my hike.  My lovely wife wasLosing it terribly nervous about the prospect and, to be fair, I was a little uneasy.  However, we went to “His Place,” a great, traditional men’s barber in Ellenton, where Wendell, the proprietor, worked his magic.

The vast majority of my hair was history within seconds, while Wendell, gradually and Baldyefficiently, shaved closer and closer to my skin until I was as bald as a baby’s backside.  Don’t blink as you watch the time lapse video, as you’ll miss the first 95% of the hair in the first two seconds.

I recognize that I now look like an escaped convict, but I’m sure I’ll appreciate it a few weeks from now when the weather starts warming up and nothing nasty can find a home underneath my hat.

By the way, please check the new page on this site.  It is the Last 2,000 Miles and is one I had intended to leave a few weeks, though events have now overtaken me.

 

Food, Glorious Food

As something of a trencherman myself, the rather unappetizing pile of processed rubbish currently sitting on my dining table ready to be packed, has made me a little glum about my food prospects on this trip.  However, my wife slipped neatly into gear last night and made a whole load of lentil soup, then dehydrated it overnight.  I was somewhat dubious when I saw this crispy concoction this morning, yet took some on a hike in Myakka River State Park this afternoon.

I was actually going to try out my tent in conditions other than my living room, so I took some food along to try to get a taste of the whole experience.  I also carried a pack of over 30lbs.  Let me tell you, the first few steps were something of an eye popper, yet I soon got used to it.

Diane has been fairly scathing about the packets of ramen noodles, the Mac n’ Cheese and particularly the Cheddar Potato Soup Mix, which even looks fairly vile from the picture on the packet.  She has drawn my attention to the high salt, fat and sugar content of most of this stuff and today proved to be not only the guardian of my health, but also my personal chef on the trail.  The soup was delicious and I’m only posting now so that you can see my reaction on film when I tasted it. As they say down here, “You can’t fake fresh.”