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 Suddenly, all the muscles that were used to climb up are superseded by those used to climb down; everything gets a work out.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.
We were headed for Tray Mountain shelter, which was actually only a 5.5 mile hike, as we’d started late from Helen. By the time we got there, the wind and rain was still whipping around and, if anything, the wind was getting worse. The shelter, as usual, was packed and, though I could have squeezed in, I didn’t really fancy it, so set up my tent in, yippee, a flat spot for the first time. A quick meal was downed and I decided to get to bed early in order to avoid the worst of the cold as things dramatically deteriorated. All through the night the wind drove on, with rain at intervals adding to the mix. The temperature plummeted and, by about 3am, I put on my fleece to help keep warm.
I’d decided to hike 11 miles on Sunday, so wanted an early start and when I crept out of my tent the next morning, the rain that I thought was falling turned out to be snow. There was a fairly light dusting and the tent was covered in ice. This is when I made a terrible mistake.
I wanted to get moving to not only cover the distance but also get warm. As a consequence, I skipped breakfast, and coffee, making do with a protein bar. I carried another bar to help later, though this was grossly inadequate. I’ve also had trouble working out how much water I need and I was soon fairly dehydrated.
The weather warmed and the climbs intensified, so I sent Sam ahead, as I was clearly holding him back. Stupid decision followed stupid decision as I trudged on, not stopping to replenish food or water in order to get the 3pm shuttle into town. By the time I got to the meeting place, I was totally spent and could barely lift my pack onto the bus. I had to pay the driver $5 for the fare but, as he worked for one hostel, he told me that he couldn’t take me the 3/4 mile further to my hotel (treating myself!). Eventually, he agreed to take me, for another $5, in his own truck. This was an interesting vehicle that looked as if it’s interior had been hand painted orange, though I believe it had originally been a garish red. It wasn’t in the best condition, boasting a winning combination of sweat, cigarette smoke and extreme flatulence, along with an assortment of unfinished fast food meals that looked to be past their best. There was literally not one inch of carpet nor floor mat to be seen, so completely was the junk distributed. My new friend spoke not a word and, when I looked at him, he seemed to be a little deficient in the neck department, with a beard that started at his ears and ended around his chest. It was as if his head was attached directly to his shoulders. I could hear the banjos once more, so decided that he wasn’t up for conversation.
Eventually, in my room, I sat motionless for a while and realized how dumb I had been. I conversation with Diane didn’t lessen this impression and I resolved not to repeat the lesson. The all you can eat buffet next door certainly helped restore some equilibrium, so I am now looking forward to the next four days in a tent before landing for another wash and brush up in Franklin, NC. Yes, North Carolina. I’ll be crossing out of Georgia tomorrow morning, having hiked through the state and moving onto the next state is certainly another notch on the belt.
Don’t worry, honey, lesson well and truly learned.