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.

A quick note about this hostel. The s in hotel is all the difference, as I am now in a room with wooden bunks with no mattress and 12 human roommates of both sexes, plus two canine roommates. Reality is Animal House!

I left off the last post with my first night to come and I must say that I was nervous. Not particularly nervous of spending the night in a tent, though that proved to have its own challenges, but more that I knew that, prior to first light, I’d definitely need to make use of the facilities in this place, better known as the privy. It is a very unattractive wooden structure, elevated for obvious reasons, with the added indignation of having to throw a bunch of wood chips down after you have completed your business. This is apparently to reduce the odor, though I can attest from bitter personal experience that it isn’t working in the least. Anyway, I knew I’d need to go and, right on the dot of 5am, after a sleepless night of expectation, I got the call, so to speak. I donned my clothes, put on my head lamp and set off like a miner in the pits. It was so dark that, without the head lamp, I’d have been unable to see a yard in front of my face. God knows what I’d have done if my lamp picked up a pair of eyes staring back at me, but I followed the trail and got this fear out of my mind. Nothing to it really; you even see the odd fellow also out for his early morning constitution.

The tent has quickly become my home from home and I’ve consistently been unable to find a level camping spot on which to pitch said tent. The importance of a level surface soon became apparent when my sleeping pad (set up to prevent my sleeping bag coming into contact with the floor of the tent). Unfortunately, this skates around at will, piling me and my bag into the most downhill part of the tent. It was so frustrating and I have had very little sleep in the first three nights due to my nocturnal meanderings on my tent floor.

Sleep was further interrupted in Hawk Mountain Shelter two nights ago when the army decided that night time was a good time to send their Ospreys to zoom and hover over us pretty much most of the nights. One of our fellow hikers, Grizzly Bear from Maine, told us that when he first hiked the trail 15 years ago, a bunch of soldiers were rope-lined from these planes right into a camp. I think if I’d been there at the time, my trip to the privy would have been brought forward a few hours.

It’s funny how you slip quickly into the necessary routine of shelters. Everybody has their own method but, for me, that means getting to camp after a day’s hiking and trying, unsuccessfully so far as I’m one of the stragglers, to find a good camping spot. Putting up the tent itself, inflating the air pad and attaching each to the other. Then the fun begins, as I try to put the combined “bed” into the tent. After wrestling with myself for five minutes, I’m sweating profusely and start discarding clothes until I’m sufficiently frozen to continue.

I then heave the entire pack into the tent and head off to the shelter itself, where everybody gathers to cook and eat. I often locate the water source at this point and head (always downhill) to filter and replenish my supply. The cooking is a team affair, with everybody handing round bits for others lacking them. I know I’m burning a lot of calories right now, yet I don’t think I’m particularly over-eating yet; that is likely to change shortly, as we tackle Blood Mountain tomorrow at 4,500 feet.

Two of the three nights there has been a campfire and this really bonds the hikers, with most of us staring intently at the flames and commenting intermittently. However, a wonderful thing happened last night at Gooch Mountain shelter, when one of “our” hikers hadn’t appeared at the shelter (even I’d been there for about two hours). He is a very sweet Korean-American gentleman, rightly proud of his heritage, yet very much an American. He’d already told us that he was pre-diabetic and taking medication, yet he was carrying about 60 lbs of gear. When I passed him he was taking long stops and taking copious intakes of breath. Two of the youngsters mentioned that they were going to track back and find him and they were immediately joined by another 7 or 8 guys and gals. Forty minutes later, they appeared, each carrying a bit of Bill’s kit, followed 50 yards behind by Bill, to a rousing round of applause. Bill chose to leave the trail this morning, but I’m sure he will have been buoyed by this spontaneous act of kindness by these terrific young people.

The hiking has been tiring and I’ve been taught an important lesson by one of my fellow hikers. He said that you should approach doing a thru-hike like a whole load of 3 and 4 day hikes, interspersed by a town visit and a shower and bed for the night. If you look at it this way, it makes it much more feasible, as you have back to back to back adventures adding up to the whole thing.I feel that I’m finding my hiking legs and I’m certainly keeping up with the hikers of my age group, so I’m very positive about the experience thus far.  The scenery is breathtaking and I’ll certainly aim to add some pics going forward now that I have more access to power for my iPhone.

On to Katahdin!


7 thoughts on “The best laid plans of mice and men”

  1. So exciting to follow your journey/dream. I am incredibly proud of you and a little envious. It sounds like you are enjoying it and embracing every moment. This is truly living. Cherish it Steve!

  2. Looks like you’re having remarkable weather, you can actually see things! Take it easy and avoid those big miles in the beginning, they can be killers. You’re probably near Mountain Crossing by now. Take some time there and rest up. Enjoy.

    Dennis, K1

    1. Dennis,
      Yes the weather has been terrific until today. I’m sticking to about ten mile days right now, so won’t overdo it. Right now, I feel a million dollars and am having the time of my life.
      All the best,

  3. Take care in those forest loos – make sure you look down first !
    Sounds like your already enjoying the experience , so looks like it was good decision to make the trip.

    1. Steve,
      Trust me, looking down in the forest loos is the LAST thing I want to do. This is particularly so when you are about the tenth person down the path.
      Having a blast and feeling strong.

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