I woke up around 6:15 to a slightly pinkening sky out of my left tent door. My sunrise alarm bells went off and I felt the urge to rush out of my tent, creepy trail be damned!
But my skepticism and tiredness got the better of me. There looked to be a layer of clouds that were going to dull the colors. I laid back down and considered going back to sleep. My plan for this morning’s “letter to Congress,” as Nobody called his morning bathroom break, was to hike the 0.3 miles to the shelter and use the privy because I didn’t feel like dealing with the privacy and effort of digging a cathole. My stomach, however, had other plans. I dug out my trowel and TP and wandered down the side trail into the rhododendrons. Thankfully there wasn’t a lot of ground cover and the poison ivy was pretty sparse. Rhododendrons, by the way, make for good support systems.
I got back up to camp to find the brothers stirring around. I was about to grab my food bag when Nobody said he might walk out to the bluff. I couldn’t resist the trip with the option of company, so I asked to join him. Today’s top picture is the view we had. There was a low hanging fog bank that looked like a lake running through the valleys between the mountains and the sun rose directly in front of us. So worth the extra time on my morning feet. Here’s Nobody:
Then we all wandered through our morning routines with periods of content silence and the occasional spate of conversation. They are getting off the trail Today, which I’m sad about because they are easy company.
We all left around 8am, with the brothers in front and me trailing behind stopping to text Oakland and take pictures. It feels like it’s going to be hot today based on the quick rise in humidity after sunrise. I put on sunscreen before I left camp in the hopes of preventing a worsening rash. The brothers took the side trail to the shelter to get water, and I continued onward. A little while later, I got passed by turkey and his current gang.
The trail led me eastward, down the mountain with the sun in my face. I very quickly changed into just one long sleeved shirt. I’m really Looking forward to when my skin stops freaking out so I can wear short sleeves again.
Eventually I took a small climb upward with the sound of a woodpecker in the distance. I also saw a black and white warbler flitting about with nesting material in its beak.
The Trail dropped down for a while into a wide forest that had a nice sandy path for about 50 yards. Then came a long climb up the eastern side of the ridge with the sun blazing on the right side of my face. I turned my hat sideways to cover my ear and the right half of my face. DJ jazzy checklist at your service:
The trail had multiple blobs of strange poop in the middle of the path today. I took pictures but maybe I will
spare you the gooeyness. As I sweated my way up the hill, I heard the cackle of a pileated woodpecker far off to my left. I’m so happy I know what they sound like now so I know they’re out there.
The trail went through a somewhat sandy occasionally rocky green corridor surrounded by dry, half-dead saplings and a lot of blowdowns. The sun beat down on the back of neck, so I turned my hat completely backwards to cover my neck. Around 9:45, I Stopped for a phone call with Oakland while I had signal and she ate breakfast.
Then came another short climb. Starting back up again made it more obvious that my left pinky is very squished. I considered re-taping it, but I didn’t think it would do any good. Hopefully a callous will build there soon enough. In the meantime I just need to keep it clean and write off the pain.
Then there was a long gradual downhill that wrapped around to a fern covered sloping hillside. I startled at part of a tree trunk that lay across the trail and looked like a bear for a millisecond. I worked on my town list as I wandered through the repetitive dry forest.
I stopped to check for water sources at “swag of the Blue Ridge,” which is just a midpoint between two mountains. Some idiot stole the sign; probably because it said “swag.” Water today is somewhat terrible and all off-trail except one that is 6 miles away.
I eventually went through a rhododendron tunnel that was mercifully shady and had a smattering of pines mixed in, which made for a slightly softer footing as the trail went through small ups and downs. I went Up a long, Dusty hill that dropped down to another descent that made me feel déjà vu from about an hour ago until I passed a patch of trillium. A swarm of flies startled me as it rose up from yet another pile of scat on the trail. I’m tired today and the sun is wearing me out. The idea of hiking in even hotter temperatures feels oppressive, but I know they’re coming.
I decided to stop for water, which unfortunately involved a steep hike down (picture is of the hike back up). I brought my pack because I was worried about bears. I was both grateful for not having to worry about it and regretted bringing it the whole time I walked down the store trail knowing it would be a hefty hike back up with freshly filled water bottles.
The water source was a beautiful little spring that emerged from the base of a tree trunk in a small ravine. I poured a scoop of water over my head, drank almost a full bottle, and filtered enough to top off both of my bottles.
At the top of the next hill, I heard a sweet little song come from a bird in the trees. I stopped to watch it fly from treetop To treetop. ahen the light was finally right, I realized that it was a scarlet Tanager! My second favorite bird to spot. It actually might be tied with the pileated woodpecker. I can still remember very clearly the first time I saw one in 2017 right after the exhausting climb up Lehigh gap (PA).
At the start of the long climb up to Kelly’s knob, I saw another Tanager. A young woman that i’d seen at the bottom of the hill caught up with me and asked what I was looking at as I stood gawking up at the canopy. Then we chugged up the never-ending hill. She had no poles, which just confuses me, so I asked her about it. she said she thought they were annoying. Craziness but YDY (“you do you”).
I did my usual nonstop tiny stepped assault up the mountain, quickly leaving her behind. I stopped near a partial view and considered eating lunch on a shady rock, but I wasn’t keen on having to continue climbing with a full belly. When i got to the top, I surveyed a potential lunch spot, but it was too sunny for my taste. Unfortunately everything was too sunny and after 3/4 of a mile, I gave up and sat on a log in the sun to eat my wrap. Then I looked at the logbook to see where to get my next mail drop. I’m about a day behind in making that choice, which is stressful for me and for my HQ team. I called my first choice of places to stay, which is about four days up the trail. They didn’t answer. their reviews on guthook are not good for answering when you need to be shuttled away from the trail. I took the ringing phone as a bad sign and decided to re-calculate for a more sure thing that is unfortunately another day down the trail. What this means is a heavier pack with more food, and I have to do a much better job of managing my phone battery. Five days is probably the edge of what my charging brick will cover.
I got up from lunch feeling overheated and tired. There was a gradual downhill to a nice soft flat stretch followed by yet another climb with more varied footing rather than just packed trail, which offers no change in foot angles. I talked very briefly with the young women whose trailname is ranger. When I gave her my name, she said oh I’ve heard of you. Akk. I didn’t ask her what she’d heard. She moved on, and I continued to work on planning while the sun beat down on the back of my neck.
A little while later, I crossed over a trickle of water halfway up a hill and stopped to check to see if that was my next water source. Negative. My actual water source is 2 miles up, so I kept on walking. The trail went up a hill and down a small dip and then back up another short hill…see a pattern? Then came a nice grassy green stretch and then guess who? Another hill!
I came upon a side trail that led to a view, but people on guthook said things about rattlesnakes nesting in the rocks. I’ve seen enough mountains for today, I think I shall pass on the opportunity to run into snakes. Then came the greener section of trail with a nice light breeze, which was a relief until the trail started a long and meandering descent into dicks creek gap.
My knees kept saying “New Hampshire!” And I kept saying, “no! Georgia.” Trying to convince them that this wasn’t so bad. About halfway down there was a short-lived but delightfully gusty breeze came through making me realize how still the air has been most of the day.
I was in a slightly shadier section on the way down to the gap when I heard the familiar clack of polls behind me and turned around to see turkey. Apparently he and his group took a long break at a shelter where the water source was pretty far away. then they had took a break at the view I decided to skip. We both thought we were almost done for the day, but when I checked guthook it said 1.1 more miles. this disappointed turkey as much as me. Then the crazy bastard took off at a jog and disappeared down the trail. My feet hurt just watching him scamper away.
I finally passed the water source I had been considering, but at that point I just needed to be done. Rather than filter water, I dumped a scoop over my head and kept moving. The last part of the descent took me through a thick Rhododendron tunnel next to dicks creeks where I eventually passed this thinking spot.
When I got to the gap, I took a left and walked along the shoulder of a busy two lane highway. My feet were screaming at me and I felt so hot and dusty. I wished in that moment that I had the gumption to hitchhike but I just didn’t want to. I arrived at top of Georgia a tired mess that was looking forward to getting my food box and collapsing onto a bunk.
What I found was a business in shambles that had closed their bunkhouse AS OF TODAY. I found this out after I was ordered to take my pack off outside and take off my shoes. The idea of walking around barefoot was unconscionable. But the woman assured me I only had to step inside the doorway. When I got inside, the man in a kilt running the front area told me the bunkhouse was closed. I thought he was kidding me because he could see how bedraggled I was and maybe it would be fun to fuck with the tired hiker, but he repeatedly assured me he wasn’t.
I asked him about a ride into town and he suggested I go back to the gap and hitchhike. When I firmly said I wasn’t going to do that, he danced around and said “but it’s freee!” I said, “that’s great but I’m not doing that. I will happily pay someone for a ride.” Chad and tortuga were inside sorting out their food and ordering snacks while the exchange occurred. Chad urged me to drink an orange soda and the right decision would become clear to me. I said “I will have a soda as soon as I have a plan.”
I went outside to collect myself and call the budget inn in Hiawassee. Guess what I didn’t have? Cell service! I went inside and asked if I could use their phone because I’d seen two receivers sitting around. They told me to enable WiFi calling on my phone. Guess what didn’t work on my phone? Their WiFi! And guess what I needed to enable WiFi calling? To visit the Verizon website!
I was swirling in a catch-22. I went back outside and asked if anyone’s phone was working. Tortuga kindly let me borrow his phone, which I used to call the budget inn to no avail. The older woman came out at some point and offered to take me into town. I accepted her offer with many thanks but I still didn’t have a guaranteed place to stay. I kept calling the hotel and tried to stay calm, knowing that there were many options and my biggest hurdle – getting to town – had just been solved.
Ranger showed up and received the same rejection I had. She immediately looked up shuttle drivers and tried to find a ride. I felt awkward because I had a ride and the staff were telling people that they weren’t doing town shuttles. She couldn’t reach gene (her intended shuttle) on her phone but my phone finally caught wind of a signal and I managed to get him on his home phone. He told us to wait at the end of the driveway and he’d be there in 15 minutes. I asked for my mail drop, which they thankfully had, but they did NOT have a letter I was supposed to have from Oakland. Letters are apparently hard to manage in GA.
Ranger and I waited at the bottom of the hill in the side of the road until gene pulled up in a white suv. After hearing that we couldn’t reach the hotel, he very kindly called the owner of the budget inn to inquire about rooms, which were indeed available! Two biggest problems: solved. Gene inquired about the state of the hostel and mentioned that he’d been hearing weird stories this year.
Ranger and I paid gene for the ride and got our own rooms at the decrepit but very functional hotel next to several gas stations and a Walgreens. I walked into my musty room with a king sized bed and felt very grateful to be somewhere I didn’t have to leave. I’m taking tomorrow off, so I will having a zero day in the bustling town of Hiawassee where I plan to do as little as possible on my feet. My left pinky toe has developed a full-on blister that I decided to pop, which helped tremendously.
I went about unloading my stuff. Then I spread my tent out onto the lawn to dry it out from the overnight dew and condensation. I spoke to Oakland on the phone and gave her the full story after having sent sporadic texts because of my sporadic phone service. As I wrapped up my tent, I hear my name being called by la bamba. The three trumpeteers were here! And they’re staying in the room next door! I forgot that they’d intended to come here today. They asked me if I wanted to go to Mexican food but when I found out it was a mile walk in one direction, I declined. Instead I walked to Walgreens and dithered over what to cook on my stove. I came away with Mac & cheese, which I apparently cannot resist. However, as I started boiling water, I realized that i need to conserve my fuel until I get to the NOC. I turned off my stove and walked to Dairy Queen where I spent far too long eating and waiting for a to-go order of fries for ranger. It felt like I might never leave, but they eventually called out my number.
Then came a trip back to DQ with the trumpeteers, during which Kevin apologized to me for the other day. I wasn’t sure exactly what he was apologizing for, so I asked him and based on his answer, I’m not sure he really knew either, but it was a decent gesture. One chocolate chip cookie dough blizzard and a few mosquito bites later, and it was time to retire to my room. I called Oakland and “had dinner” with her. Then I fussed over my maildrop plans and finally decided to wing it for two and a half days rather than have dear HQ send a partially filled priority box that would need to arrive in a short turnaround time.
I had a hard time stopping the logistical puzzle work, but I eventually forced myself to put it down. Then I put on a meditation to help me sleep (thank you, British man from Headspace).
Here’s a video from this morning’s sunrise for those of you not on my social media:
Mile 57.8 to 69.2 (11.4)
Total miles: 77.5
Creature feature: the scarlet Tanagers! The occasional chipmunk that scared the poop out of me each time, quarreling Oven birds, and The trunk hopping bird I still haven’t looked up.
Creature feature: the scarlet Tangier’s! The occasional chipmunk that scared the poops out of me each time. Oven birds. The trunk hopping bird I still haven’t looked up