Home and Back

February 29th, 2012 by rlarue

Tuesday: February 7 through Tuesday, February 22 Because I expected some pain (muscles, feet, back, etc.) related to hiking, as I went through the early days of my hike; I wasn’t necessarily surprised that I was actually experiencing some. My concern was mostly focused upon whether the back pain represented possible irreversible damage. At that point I felt I needed to get home to Maine; and get some solid medical advice. Most noteworthy in this effort were people who came to my immediate assistance.

I had met Mike and Brenda at breakfast my “slack” day when I stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn Express in Hiawassee. We happened to meet again on Tuesday morning and after chatting a few minutes, they found out that I planned to head to Atlanta and fly back to Maine. I found out that they lived a bit south of the Atlanta airport, and were willing to take me to the airport on their way back home. Needless to say, such kindness and good fortune was just what I needed! Within 15 minutes, we were on our way…and by 10:30 p.m. I was being met by my best friend “Matty G” at the Portland, ME Jetport!

The next two weeks went very fast! I was able to schedule two visits with my Primary Care Physician, for Osteopathic Manipulation. Additionally, I met with a second Physician for his opinion (including digital X-ray scans). With a better understanding of my back issues, the reassurance that I was not doing permanent damage to my back, and how to best manage any issues in the future; my focus turned to getting back to the Trail.

After a couple more days I was able to make arrangements (leaving on Sunday, February 19) to drive Gail’s car to to NC from Quincy, MA. Sunday, February 19th I took the Downeaster train from Wells, ME to Boston’s North Station. There, I was met by Gail’s friend, who took me to Quincy, MA and gave me the key to her car and directions to I-93. The drive itself was uneventful, with an overnight stay near Baltimore-Washington International Airport in a Microtel; the final destination being Carolina Beach, NC. I was met by Gail who set-me-up at another Microtel for the night; and, gave me some additional funds to cover my out-of-pocket expenses and a bus ticket to Greenville, SC. The next morning Gail drove me to the bus depot in Wilmington, NC and I spent nine hours traveling to Greenville, SC.

I had arranged to stay in Easley, SC (west of Greenville on routes 123/76) on Tuesday night. However, having arrived at 8:00 pm, I chose to take a taxi the 11 miles (instead of hitching) to the Jamison Inn. On Wednesday morning I began hitching towards Dick’s Creek Gap (87.7 miles). I avoided hitching in towns, as in some municipalities this is illegal. I got my first ride a few miles west of Easley and this brought me to the east side of Clemson, SC. I walked through Clemson and about three miles west where I got a ride from a Clemson University’s free shuttle service bus to west Seneca, SC. After walking a few more miles west I got a third ride to Route 76, north of Westminster, SC. And, a half-mile north of that ride, I got my forth ride which took me into Clayton, NC. Between the generosity of these four rides and nearly 20 miles of road walking… I was ready to stop for the day. As I was within 100 yards of a Days Inn, I negotiated a night there and rested for the next day!

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Back Pain

February 21st, 2012 by rlarue

Monday, February 6: Sometime in the middle of the night I woke to the sounds of drizzle. It seems a cloud decided to “park” itself over Tray Mountain; resulting in a cool and damp morning. The only item of mine that actually got wet was my food bag; suspended from one of the several steel cable, provided for just this purpose. The bag is waterproof, and everything inside was undisturbed. I fairly quickly got my things together, and was off hiking by 8:00 am.

Though the trail was damp, it wasn’t long before the clouds drifted on… I re-walked the 1.7 miles to Steeltrap Gap; stopped to take a picture (not that I expect to ever forget my mistake on the day before); continuing on toward Sassafras Gap (4.7 miles) and Addis Gap (5.6 miles). It was in Addis Gap that three young men: George Dunn, Billy Taylor and I, spent the night nearly 40 years earlier, in a small shelter on a rainy night (the shelter is no longer there). Little did we know how much our time together, early in our hiking, would later facilitate our individual efforts to complete the AT in 1972. For me, it was our friendship and collective support that sustained my own hike through much of the five months… even when we were no longer hiking together!

At 7.4 miles I arrived at the side trail (.3 miles) to Deep Gap Shelter (12:00 noon). I briefly thought about staying there…but with each mile my back was causing more discomfort. For several days, including my “slack” day, I had been sensing that my back was out of alignment. I am relatively prone to my sacrum “slipping-out”; and, if it stays out of alignment, the muscles will spasm and cause both low back discomfort and some nerve impingement. So, all I really wanted to do was get to Dicks Creek Gap!

From Deep Gap I had just another 3.6 miles to hike. This included a small gain in elevation, before dropping down from 3888 ft. to an elevation of 2675 ft. As soon as I arrived in the gap (2:00 pm), I was able to catch-a-ride from a nice man who was headed back into Hiawassee, GA. I was dropped-off at the Post Office and immediately headed-back to Daniel’s Steak House for a late lunch… The food was great, but by the time I checked-in at the Holiday Inn Express, my stomach was as upset as my back was in pain!

I rested for a while, and then began to consider my options. As I wasn’t exactly sure what to do, I went ahead and washed my dirty clothes in the bathtub, then cleaned- up myself. A quick stop to the hotel’s dryer ensured that I was all set in terms of my clothing. I also aired-out my sleeping bag as it had been very slightly damp from the night before, when I stuffed it into it’s stuff sack and tied it to my pack frame. I left the hotel and walked over to the IGA. There I purchased a ready-made sandwich and a couple of snacks. Eating the sandwich and snacks made me feel better, and shortly before 9:00 pm I was in bed asleep. 11 miles for the day; 69.6 on the AT

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It Is What It Is…

February 21st, 2012 by rlarue

Sunday, February 5: I was up at 7:00 a.m., packed, and eating breakfast by 7:30. Bill was at the hotel promptly at 8:30 to take me to Unico Gap. In addition to fulfilling this request on my behalf, he also transported me to both IGA and RiteAid to locate a few ounces of denatured alcohol, for my cook stove (I checked with Aimee, my daughter; the stove is actually her’s… The stove will work with Isopropyl Alcohol…the higher the percent of alcohol the better. I purchased 91 percent). In the gap, we each took a picture of the other… and I was on my way!

The climb out of the gap was graded by “slabbing” the slope or with switchbacks. I felt good going up first one small mountain and then on to Tray Mountain. This part of the Appalachian Trail traverses ridges in what is called the Tray Mountain Wilderness, part of the Chattahoochee National Forest. A short hike north from the summit of Tray Mountain is a .2 mile side trail to Tray Mountain Shelter. After consulting my trail information, I decided take a short break and then continue on 7.4 miles to the next shelter (I’d hiked 5.7 miles at this point). After the break, I began hiking north, taking a short break in Steeltrap Gap (1.7 miles). At that point I somehow got turned-around, and proceeded to unintentionally walk right back up to the Tray Mountain Shelter (side trail)!

Needless to say, this is not what I intended to do. However, at this point (having just finished 3.4 miles) I decided Tray Mountain Shelter “really wanted me to say there” so that’s just what I decided to do. Not so ironic, it’s actually pretty easy to go the “wrong way” on the AT, as the white blazes do not indicate travel north or south. And, when you are hiking back the way you came…it really does look different. But, inevitably, you feel stupid! Note: From this point on, when I stop, I lay one of my hiking poles on the ground pointing the direction I’m to continue hiking.

Tray Mountain Shelter is a nice “lean-to” style shelter, with great views and an excellent “piped” spring (the water exits a concrete fixture through a pipe) delivering excellent water! Not long after arriving, Peter, a young man and his dog (from the local area), stopped by the shelter on a training hike (in preparation of an AT thru-hike beginning later this spring). Peter was very cordial, offering me any assistance, should I chose to stop by Hiawassee from Dick’s Creek Gap. Shortly after Peter left, I ended-up enjoying a nice dinner and a beautiful clear night with a nearly full moon. In the cool of the evening, lights from the distant valley, seemed to sparkle and shimmer. Before falling asleep I left a couple of messages for my mother, on the occasion of her 89th birthday! 5.7 plus 3.4 miles for the day; 58.6 miles on the AT.

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Slack day…

February 12th, 2012 by rlarue

Saturday, February 4: There was lots to do, and some decisions to make. After a great breakfast at the Holiday Inn Express, I gathered my things and headed-off to the Hiwassee Post Office.

Whether it be small towns or larger communities, the US Post Office has served as an essential link for hikers and their families. In 1972 a significant lifeline to my family were the many Post Offices along the AT! After arriving in a town, I’d call my parents “collect” and let them know how I was and how the hike was going… Then, I’d tell them the next town I expected to use, to resupply. To that town’s Post Office, my parents would send (among other things) a postal money order. Now it is even easier… I only need to have a debit card to get up to $50.00 cash, plus collect, send or forward mail. Today, the US Postal Service does everything our “founding fathers” intended: to secure “freedom of speech” regardless of where you might live, here in the United States. Unfortunately, our government believes this this cost to be too high. What irony that we all enjoy this freedom…and yet some put a price on it, that is deemed too much. Fortunately, for those of us who truly depend on the US Mail as a lifeline (paychecks, retirement checks, disability checks, money orders or cash via debit transactions), the Post Offices along the AT and elsewhere, continue to exist, regardless of location!

After mailing-back-home, those items I believed to be excessive, I headed to the local Radio Shack, to determine if they could help me with my cell phone issues. At the Hiawassee Radio Shack I was greeted by both a customer representative and the store’s manager and owner: Mr. Ashley Eller. It was decided that my cell phone was something that would best be worked-out with Verizon. So after determining that the Verizon store (still in Hiawassee, some six miles away) was open, Mr. Eller drove me to the store. There, he waited as the Verizon representatives took care of my cell phone needs, and then Ashley promptly dropped me back to where I started, at his own store! Yes, another “trail angel.” Later, I had lunch at Daniel’s Steak House, enjoying for a second time, the salad bar. I made my way back to the hotel, and spent the balance of this “slack day” resting, and writing more on my blog. I was also able to get a few more things done on the hotel’s guest computer.

Before dinnertime, I made my way to the local IGA, Dill’s Food Center, and picked-up a few more food items for my hike. The balance of my evening I stepped out the side door of the hotel and used my stove to cook dinner. I also gave Bill a call, asking if he’d mind returning me to Unico Gap the next morning? He agreed to meet me at 8:30 a.m. Before I went to sleep, my pack was all set, and I felt pretty good. The only thing really bothering me was my back. 0 miles, 52.9 on the AT.

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On to Hiawassee, GA

February 12th, 2012 by rlarue

Friday, February 3: I left Low Gap shelter at 9:00 a.m. Not feeling as well as I’d wished, I nonetheless maintained a steady pace, arriving at Blue Mountain shelter about 1:00 p.m. (7.3 miles). After a half-hour break, I departed for Unicoi Gap, another 2.4 miles. This last piece included a small climb (.9 miles) with the balance downhill. However between my stomach upset and the sometimes slippery nature of the trail; I was happy to see the road below. Shortly before I reached the gap I caught a glimpse of a man (Bill) headed the same way.

In the gap I had an opportunity to meet Bill, a gentleman in his 70s. We chatted long enough for me to determine that “Roots” had completed the Appalachian Trail, over a period of two years in 2009! As he was headed home to Hiawassee, GA, I was grateful that he was willing to bring me into town as well. Though I had plenty of food, I needed to figure-out what was wrong with my cell phone (no service since Blood Mountain), pick-up some more fuel, and get-over what was seeming more-and-more like a bout of stomach flue… Though we first checked a well-known “hiker motel” it was still closed (between seasons). Therefore, the next best place to stay (value and price) was the Holiday Inn Express.

Before Bill would let me go, he gave me his telephone number, in the event I needed a ride back to the gap. For thru-hikers, Bill is what we affectionately call: a “trail angel.” He’ll tell you that he’s just “giving back” to other hikers, what people did for him when he was on the trail. However, his value to the hiker community is much more than that; as he is a genuine and caring individual!

Once I was checked-in to the hotel, I immediately began to organize my time between taking a shower, sorting out my dirty clothes, and whittling away at the weight of my pack. The shower was wonderful and because I always try to maintain one set of clean/dry clothes, I was able to be clean and also look clean! Then it was off to the in-house laundry where I washed the dirty clothes, and worked on my hiking notes. Once back in the room I created a small “pile” of items I would mail home on Saturday.

After checking at the hotel’s front desk, I proceeded to Daniel’s Steak House (their recommendation) for some dinner. Daniel’s has a full-service menu, plus a buffet (dinner, salad, or both). I chose the salad bar, as my “system” was due for some vegetables and greens! The choice was a good one, as my stomach seemed to settle-down. However, my back was becoming more of a problem… Fortunately, I slept fine. 9.7 miles for the day; 52.9 miles on the AT.

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