Days 10 – 13 Dicks Creek Gap – Rock Gap (Franklin, GA) – Mile 106.1 since Springer Mountain
It has been a few days since my last post but, frankly, getting any sort of signal in the wilderness is a miracle and posting with videos is well nigh impossible. That said, quite a few miles have passed, so now that I have vaguely usable wifi, I’m going to bring the story up to date.
After my dreadful mistakes the previous day, I was determined to rectify both my eating and drinking input, so I got up fairly early and demolished what the Holiday Inn call their continental breakfast. In my case, this turned out to be two huge scoops of scrambled egg, a biscuit and about 15 rashers of bacon, followed by two slices of toast, plenty of butter and two dollops of strawberry jam. I certainly wasn’t going to let hunger get in the way of my admittedly easy day.
By common consent, the previous day had been tough on all of us and, as the shelters are often awkward distances apart, Plumorchard shelter turned out to be the popular choice, with only a five mile hike.
With my new determination to be a little more sensible with my diet, I even took to time to stop and enjoy a spot of lunch, filming it to reassure my wife that I wasn’t going to fade away, though quite how a 240lb man fades away is a little beyond me.
The only slightly disconcerting thing about this shelter was that there had been a history of copperhead snakes in front of the shelter. However, none were spotted, so I decided to set up my rather swish chair, which was basically an attachment to my sleeping pad, and read through the rest of the afternoon. I had been told by several people that this was an unnecessary thing to take, but it was so darn comfortable that it proved to me yet again the necessity of following the hikers mantra once more of Hike Your Own Hike.
Every time we pitch up at a new shelter, one of the immediate tasks is to head on down to the nearest water source and retrieve water to be filtered, usually from a nice little stream. So, after chillin’ for a while, I gathered the filter and my water bags and took the trail to the stream, only to find Simba, one of the fearless young girls on the trail, happily scrubbing her feet in what can only be described as a bubble bath, totally screwing up access to our water source. We tried to clear most of the bubbles over the next ten minutes, but pretty much every meal that evening had a rather soapy taste, with a faint cheesy odor at the same time. Nice!
The next day was a memorable day for all of us, as we exited Georgia and entered North Carolina, though, had not somebody called my attention to that fact, I might easily have missed the sign. It was simply nailed to a tree, along another escarpment cut into the mountainside. That said, about 8 of us gathered at the tree, a little in awe of what we had already done, albeit we have so much still to do. Mind you, it isn’t every day that you can say you’ve just hiked right out of a state, is it?
Right after the border, North Carolina welcomes hikers with Sharp Top, a hideous seemingly vertical climb to set the heart a-racing, yet the area in this early part of the Carolina’s seemed a little less severe than Georgia. It was a twelve mile day, ending at Standing Indian shelter, though we all got something of a schoolboy laugh out of the deliciously named Chunky Gal Trail that crossed our path. It was another gorgeous evening, though, as the sun dipped behind the mountain, the temperature dropped quickly and those of us tenting retired to our tents while those in the shelter tried to sleep amid the scampering of the mice. Pretty much all shelters have a rodent problem, so I’m very happy to stay in my tent. We even have to raise our food bags from the ground on so called bear cables, though I’m pretty sure that is another way to keep the mice from our dwindling stocks of food.
Re-reading the end of the last paragraph, I’m struck how quickly I’ve become attuned to such necessary accommodations with living in the wilderness, as our lifestyle becomes almost feral in its nature. Of course, the forays into town help, though they often exacerbate the conditions in which we are usually living.
I mention this because I knew that the following day I would have to live out my worst fear – staying at a campsite with no shelter and, consequently, no privy! We had planned to get into Franklin by this Thursday or Friday and, flexibility being a necessary attribute of a hiker, the campsite at Betty Creek Gap was deemed to give us the best chance of achieving this.
I woke at about 5 and knew that the time was close so, at about 6, I took the bull by the horns and grabbed my orange shovel, plus other necessary items, donned my headlamp and left my tent. It was still searingly dark as I headed away from the campsite and back up the trail to find my own little patch of forest beyond any prying eyes, though not so far away as to lose sight of the trail. I moved off the trail and headed about thirty yards further into the woods and found my spot. I must say that, had I not wanted to go prior to this nighttime walk, I would certainly have wanted to go now. I should also mention that digging a hole to bury your waste is probably the antidote to any guy who likes to spend his time “at his business.”
So, it was done and another barrier came down; I even got a smattering of applause from my new friends when I told them later.
Today, we had a series of sensational views, with one unexpected treat on the way up from Betty’s Creek Gap and another after the worst climb so far, up the innocuously named Albert Mountain. However, a further climb at the top of that mountain up a fire lookout tower provided me with my most spectacular view yet. Both of these need to be seen.
The rest of the day was far less painful and I headed for one of the gaps that provide a road into Franklin. Coming to one of these, Rock Gap, I encountered my speedier friends leaning back in chairs and gorging on another bout of Trail Magic. An ex-marine had set up at the gap, with the plan of heading north at Easter and completing his own thru-hike that started last year. Every hiker was getting two hot dogs, with the works, along with cans of coke. It was fan-bloody-tastic and ultimately proved to be the end of my hike for the day, as I took the opportunity to enjoy the moment and got a lift into town from the marine.
Moments like that just amplify the feelings of friendship, kindness and unity that are so apparent here. Everybody wants you to succeed in this task and we are all aware of what it has taken to get even this far. I continue to strengthen every day and am full of ambition and excitement at the prospect of the Great Smoky Mountains in the near future.