Times and Travels: AT hike conclusion

I will remind readers that this hike took place in 2004. I am revisiting it in order to have in mind the good and the not so good as I prepare to finish more sections of the fascinating AT this year. 

Day 5

There was wind. It was chilly. We stayed in the tent till almost 9 wondering whether it would rain again. There wasn’t much to do except start walking and find out. I knew I didn’t want to climb the infamous Albert Mountain, so was planning on the bypass trail. Esther’s knee was hurting, even before the weight of her pack was added. We knew we would be crossing several forest service roads and felt that if a ride out came our way, we would take it.

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As you sit safe at home reading this, you can’t really grasp what it’s like to feel hurt, uncertain and fairly helpless and then come upon a scene like this. God bless men with trucks.

We started at 11 am and had a good two hours of nice flat and down stretches. The sun came out, there were flowers everywhere and fresh bear scat on the trail (just to keep things real). While eating lunch at Betty Creek, we heard a truck in the distance,beeping as it backed up. However, it must have been on another trail, and farther than we could run to to catch it. On we went to Mooney Gap with Lorraine and Kenton leading the way, as we were now quite a bit slower.

As we approached the next road, there were Lorraine and Kenton talking with a whole crew of men from the Nantahala Hiking Club. They had been working on the trail (putting in an elevator at Albert Mountain, they said. Giving CPR to a blackbird, they said.) and were about to head back to Franklin. They were concerned about Esther and happy to pack us into the back of one of their trucks and take us back to town.

It was a little surreal, two hours later, to be back at the Microtel taking a shower instead of on the trail in jeopardy of hurting ourselves. I thanked the Lord for taking care of us. We will live to see another day, maybe even hike again. We took Kenton’s car which she left at the motel and drove to Wayah Crest to retrieve my Aztek. Found a Thai restaurant! Back at the motel, went to bed on a real mattress!

Day 6

Things I learned:

  • In early May take gloves and warm jacket and hat
  • Take a good rain suit and cover for my pack
  • Go lighter still – it can be done
  • Take treats and morning coffee – you need them and they don’t weigh that much

Hiking can be pleasant and the scenery beautiful but the most amazing thing is finding yourself dependent upon God, and pretty much out of control of your own welfare. I felt the experience was as much an exercise of faith, discipline and persistence as it was for our muscles. That has become a big reason why I love hiking in remote places.

Esther and I had a great day checking out Franklin, visiting the outfitter’s store and a book place. We ate lunch at a creekside cafe with robins singing over our heads and the brook singing underneath our balcony – very Appalachian. We found a great park to lounge around in and read our books. Succumbing to the mundane, we had pizza for supper and relaxed watching a thrilling episode of Extreme Home Makeover on TV.

Day 7

I had breakfast (that’s me, always), Esther didn’t (usual for her) and then we got ourselves packed up and into the Aztek for the rendezvous with Lorraine and Kenton. We parked where the trail crossed the main highway at Winding Stair Gap. Esther’s knee wouldn’t let her go very far up the trail but I intended to meet the girls, identifying flowers along the way with my new book. I only got a short way up the trail to discover Lorraine and Kenton sitting, eating morning snack and thinking they were still a couple miles from the meeting point.

They were in good shape but also content with cutting the hike a little shorter than originally planned. We whisked them back to the motel for a quick shower (for which we were not charged, even though it was past checkout time, yay!) We had a celebratory meal at the renowned “Fat Buddy’s Barbecue”. It was a place worth another visit and even Esther (vegetarian) found some good stuff there. Lorraine didn’t mind heading home right away so we left about 3 pm and had a safe trip home to Florida. There are many other details I could have written but, basically, that’s the story (morning glory).

Does this story make you want to go hiking, or not? Are you curious about any element of the story?

 

Times and Travels: Hiking the AT cont.

Four hikers set out in the rain. Bonding misery takes place.

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Esther, goofing around at a dry, warm lunch stop (just trying to keep mom alive).

 

Day 3

Did I mention that the temp dropped? 38 degrees F.! Most everyone has hats, gloves, sweaters and warm stuff on and I am thinking sadly of the clothing I decided to leave home. Jerry and Shelley, Gingerbear and Mercury , the newlyweds and others who shared the shelter with us, all got themselves fed and headed out. We draped our wet things on our packs and, wearing all our dry things, headed for Bly Gap. We reached it around lunch time and had just taken a few bites when it started to rain, again. We put our wet clothes back on in order to save our dry ones, and quickly got going for the next shelter.

The next four hours had three long climbs, in wind that nearly blew us over, and very little environmental shelter. It was easier to stay warm if I kept moving but when the only choice was to move up, I was hardly going fast enough to be considered in motion. Esther was ahead of me singing “the hills are alive with the sound of… blah, blah”.  I was thinking it was good the hills were alive, since I was almost dead.  But her singing kept me going. I think she was afraid I would sit down and succumb to hypothermia.

We got to Muskrat Creek Shelter about 4 pm. I played Elijah (from the Bible story) and made some wet wood burn – truly a miracle which amazed everyone.  Electing to go without mice this time, Esther set up the tent for us. We crawled into our sacks feeling almost too cold to sleep.

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She, whose fingers still worked, set up the tent with this wonderful attitude.

Day 4

Ice on the picnic table! I am so glad we slept in the tent last night. It was warmer and less drafty than the shelter, but that is still not saying it was warm. I slept in fetal position all night. My fingers were so cold I could hardly get the damp tent folded up and packed. Esther made breakfast. At least it was a clear and sunny morning.

On the trail by 9 am. By 10 am we were stopping to take off layers of clothes – how quickly things changed. Lunch at Deep Gap and we were finally warm! It was so beautiful there.

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Hiking long ridges is absolutely the BEST!

This was our longest day, hiking 12 miles, but it was mostly flat or downhill with only gradual climbs. Esther started to feel some twinges in her knee on the downhill stretches and we had to consider what we would do if it got worse for her.

We made Carter Gap at 6:30 and we had the shelter all to ourselves! Esther and I scouted out the nearby spring and, never one to forego cleanliness, Esther decided to wash her hair (not easy in a freezing mountain spring, coming out of a hole in the ground, brrr).

My legs and feet were sore and I felt generally awful. We had been warned that there were bear around with no fear of humans, and that a pack had been torn apart, so I hung a bear rope all by myself and prepared to string our food packs up. Esther set up the tent again. We ate supper and talked with Dave from Australia who wandered in. To sleep around 9 pm.

to be continued

Times and Travels: Hiking the AT

I have tried for days now to find my journal of the first AT hike – I’m coming up with nothing, although I know I’ve seen it somewhere. But I have the record of the second hike from 2004.

Finding people to hike with can be a bit of a problem. Someone has to be able to get time off and really want to do this. That narrows down the prospective pool of hikers. I found three women online who were interested in planning with me and we corresponded for a couple months before our hike. One of them hurt her ankle right before the hike and couldn’t go. 

Day 1

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Our packs look a little overwhelming, but we need it all, probably.

A good start from my daughter’s house in Tampa. Just enough clouds to make easy driving. We met Lorraine for the first time in person. She was nice and talked easily so we got to know each other pretty well.  I forgot all my vitamins and pills at Esther’s so we stopped at a grocery store to replace it all (plus a cake server, don’t ask…). Other than that we only stopped once for breakfast in Gainesville, and once for gas in Tifton, getting into Franklin N.C. about 4:30 pm. Another of our hiking buddies, Elyse, and her husband were waiting at the motel. The last member, Kenton, came a few minutes later.

We decided to do the car drop at our end point, Wayah Gap. What a beautiful drive up in the mountains! We had a real dinner (maybe our last for a while) and then went back to the motel to go through our gear one final time. Our packs still look too heavy.

 

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Hopefully not our last meal, but perhaps our last GOOD meal for a while.

Day 2

I am up first and out to the lobby to journal. There are big storm clouds out there and 70% chance of rain. Are we being stupid?

I barely survived the ride to Dick’s Creek crammed in Elyse’s small Blazer (actually I was stuck to the ceiling). Dick’s Creek. Who is Dick? I want to know. We took parting pictures and got on the trail by 10 am.

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Kenton, Lorraine, Elyse, me and Esther. This is a hike, not a fashion show. 

We had only a few sprinkles for the first two hours, which was kind of cool and pleasant. Then it started to pour, which was nothing but cold and unpleasant. We put garbage bags over our packs and that worked fairly well. But our ponchos only kept part of our bodies dry. By the time we reached Plum Orchard Gap we were soaked head to foot, either with rain or sweat, it didn’t much matter which.

We crowded into a trail shelter with 10 other wet, smelly people at about 1 pm. This left a lot of afternoon and evening to sit and do… yes, what? Dry off? Hardly. The temperature started dropping so we huddled in our sleeping bags after supper and listened to mice for the next eight hours. May I never have to repeat a night like this. Saw my first “bear bag” cables.

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Esther in her deluxe upper shelf (where most of the mice were). This was before five other hikers joined her. My cold, wet finger on the lens, sorry.

 

 

Times and Travels: Revisiting the AT

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Countless stunning views on the trail

Last night when I should have been sleeping I was instead thinking about how I would get back to my car after hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail. This is a step beyond getting time to do it, or finding a suitable section to hike. I am in the commitment stage.

It has been a long time since my first hike in 2002, with four high school girls. We were all newbies.

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Seriously, we were blessed to have made it out alive.

And thirteen years since my last hike in2004 (when we could have died in freezing rain).

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The lady with the crutches backed out (for obvious reasons). 39 degrees, brrrr. Seriously, we were blessed to have made it out alive.

It takes longer than that for a dream to die however, and countless times I have gotten the maps out, looked at the pictures and considered possible hiking companions. I finally have hopes of getting back on the trail, possibly for this year’s birthday treat in April. The excitement is building.

Hiking the AT is kind of like birthing a baby. It’s an arduous process, but if you wait long enough you forget the horrible parts and remember the joy. I want to re-visit those times, all of them, and make sure I remember the ones that are crucial to health and safety.

One of my reasons for wanting to hike now is to see what damage the last thirteen years have done to my body. Another dream of mine, hiking down into the Grand Canyon, is scheduled for this fall and I need to know if I can do it. Since I have reasons for being in North Carolina these days (daughter Julie’s new home), some trips on the AT will be good conditioning and a test of my stamina. A friend has offered a place to stay in Franklin, NC and there are several sections near there that I’ve not done. It feels good to have a fun challenge and a goal on my list.

I didn’t have a blog back then and I’ve never published a good account of all we saw and did on those hikes. I’m going to do it now as a way of remembering. The 2017 A to Z Challenge is coming up in April too so I have a lot of writing to do in the days ahead.  Hiking and writing, two of my favorite things, should make this a fun spring. Just sayin’…

A to Z Challenge: T for The Trail

At Springer Mountain after four days on the trail.
At Springer Mountain after four days on the trail.

Back in the spring of 2002, I was desperately trying to think of something exciting to do – an adventure for myself and my teen age daughters. We also had an Italian exchange student  living with us and she was graduating from high school. I just couldn’t see letting her go off to Cancun for the senior trip and needed something to dull the pain of being denied. So, I thought, let’s go on a hike.  Let’s see if the Appalachian Trail is as great a place as they say in all those books…  Surely if some 80 year old woman can thru hike in her tennis shoes with only a drawstring bag of supplies, we can survive a week on the trail.

Hiking newbies, we bought/borrowed backpacks and gear.  We decided who would carry which supplies.  I researched our options and hired a trail expert to transport us to our starting point. It was a lovely day and we were getting a nice, early start. My only reservation as I hoisted was helped into my backpack was “wow, this thing is really kind of weighty. I thought it was only 40 lbs?”.  Yeah, well, we were pretty exhausted by the end of that day’s walking.

The AT teaches you to hate going downhill.  It has some lovely flat stretches on high ridges just to keep morale up but mostly it is going down only to go up again.  Every descent  brings to mind all the wasted effort put into climbing the last hill.  But after all, these are mountains.  I distinctly remember as we were climbing one very steep series of steps carved into the rock, one of the girls was ready to quit.  I was already maxed out on motivational talk so we just did a nice long rest after each step. No need to rush, we only have to do 10 miles of this today…

Each time we made camp it was a major victory. You have to do some thinking before you pick your spot. Where is it safe? Is there a good place to hang your food so bears don’t get it?  Bears!  Is there a place with no bears? Is there water?

Water is very precious when you are hiking and you can only carry so much of it. Water is heavy.  Finding a stream or spring was always a relief and we learned not to pass them by without filtering enough to fill our jars. One experience with dehydration was enough for me. I was weak to the point of not being able to keep my balance, which is not a good characteristic to have on a mountain.  I submitted happily to being trucked to that night’s camping spot by rangers.  They set up the tent and put me in it for a recovery sleep.  Hours later I woke to the sounds of the girls arriving.

We made it.  From our starting point back down to the parking lot at Amicalola Falls. We gratefully fell into the car and went to a motel to wash off five days of grime and weariness. Although it may sound a bit like a bad experience, it wasn’t. I don’t think any of us will forget our time hiking, and I and the youngest daughter have even gone back for more

 

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