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.
The reason I hiked further that day is that there have been reports of aggressive bears in the area and a regulation requiring bear canisters has been instituted. I don’t have one of these to store my food, as I use what pretty much everybody else uses, a waterproof bag that I hang from a cable every night to keep the little rascals away. As a consequence, we made the fateful decision to hike on to Neels Gap, where a bunch of stayed in the hiker hostel.
I’d used a hostel the previous evening, in Suches, so expected about the same. Funnily enough, in Suches, I’d got up in the middle of the night, as men of a certain age do, and tripped over the darned dog, that was laying right in my path. Oops.
Well, the hostel was dreadful; indeed, it was warmer outside the hostel “living room” than it was in it. Several of us huddled together to watch Blazing Saddles dressed in more clothes than we’d used to hike that day. Once more, I slept very little, serenaded by one of our roommates snoring that made me realize how tough my wife has it with me in that department.
I even spoke to the owner of the place to see if we could get some more heat and, as we were talking in the dorm, he led me outside to point at the heater – which was no longer there. How he didn’t know the heater no longer existed was something of a mystery to me, so I mentioned that point. All he could say was, “sorry,” then blithely pointed out that the toilet in the hostel no longer worked either. As a consequence, any midnight meanderings would have to be to the public toilet that the proprietor would generously leave open. I was not happy, I can tell you.
I’ve bumped into one or two characters on the trip so far and am currently hiking with a terrific young guy called Sam, who some of us bumped into the other day at Woody Gap, when he had no place to stay, nor means of getting into Suches. It was bitterly cold and Sam’s lips had turned blue. To add insult to injury, he had discovered that his water bladder had burst inside his kitbag and that his sleeping bag was soaked. I told him that there were plenty of room in the hostel in Suches and that a ride was about to come and pick us up. He was very grateful, so clambered on to the back of the pickup, along with two German girls, hiking with their dogs. For some reason, dogs take to me, though I make it very clear that I don’t take to them. Of course, the biggest dog snuggled up to me and let rip a dreadful fart as soon as the truck pulled away. The pong was in my nose for the next ten minutes.
Two New England girls, we heard the next day, came to the same spot a few minutes after we left and had no idea where they could go and, in the increasingly bitter temperatures, they took the only course open to them and slept the night on the floor of the ladies restroom.
I’m sure relationships build up over the trip, though I doubt we’ll see much more of the family of four, comprising mother and father with their 15 and 10 year old daughters. They are home schooling the kids en route and deserve much credit for giving their girls such an adventure. However, when I came upon the guy, about 300 yards in front of his family, his tension was clear. I asked him how his 10 year old was coping. He replied, a touch tersely I thought, that a better question would be how he was coping. I told him that would have been my question had I known him better. He grunted and told me that he’d better head back and help his family. As he passed me, he muttered that perhaps he needed to get more patience. I’ll be interested to see if they make it.
The Bloody Mountain hike had been just over 10 miles and I put in another one the next day of 11.5 miles to Low Gap shelter. This time I encountered Trail Magic for the first time, at Tesnatee Gap. This is what hikers refer to when random acts of kindness come their way. I had been primed by a hiker coming the other way that there was Trail Magic about two miles ahead, so I shared the info with my fellow hikers that day. I must have misunderstood the extent of the magic, as I told my friends that there were burgers to be had, a much-prized item on the trail. However, the reality was a little less exotic, with Cheez-its and doughnuts being high on the menu. That said, it was a wonderful thing to come across so unexpectedly, so I felt it might be a little churlish to have asked where the burgers were.
We had some rain at Low Gap and I recorded yet another epic fail in my attempt to find a level camping site, sliding around in my tent like a giraffe on a skating rink. There was plenty of rain in the night, though I stayed warm and mostly dry, yet packed up in the rain and hiked all day today in steady rain within low cloud. The short video below is the reason why hikers of my ilk seek out a shelter unless they get to stay at a hostel or a hotel. Enjoy!
I should also point out that, with my wife’s help, my culinary skills improved yesterday, with the magnificent pairing of dehydrated pea soup with mash mixed with locatelli cheese. Am I a sophisticate or what?
As I mentioned previously. Today was a wash out for views, but another bracing and challenging hike all the way to Unicoi Gap for a lift into Helen, a rather bizarre “German” town with not a German in sight. However, Sam, a young guy called Jay and I went to get the fabled burger fries and a couple of beers at Monday’s pub. It was bloody marvelous, not least because of the antics of the locals, dancing to everything that the great live band played.
I really wanted to take a couple of photos of a giant, 60-ish Hells Angel, with long, flowing grey locks getting it on with his petite girlfriend, though he may have objected strenuously at the intrusion, particularly when he lifted her off her feet and she locked her legs round him and continued to thrust at his pelvis for all she was worth. That would have been worth the admission money along had he not then gone down on his knees and proposed to her, offering her is rather cruddy hat as a ring alternative. Ain’t love grand!