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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Blood Mountain and Beyond…

February 5th, 2012 by rlarue

Wednesday, February 1: I was dropped-off by a “hiker shuttle” at Woody Gap around 8:30 a.m. It is important to note that the availability of hiker-support services afford all kinds of hikers the opportunity to have access to food, warm showers, clean bedding, laundry, Internet, etc. The Hiker Hostel (www.hikerhostel.com) is owned and operated by a couple who are both AT thru hikers. They decided to build a home and a hostel, in the near shadows of the mountains. I was able to drop-in for the night and leave the next morning; having (among other things) written my last blog (I only have the ability to update this blog when I have internet access). Additionally, I was able to wash and dry my limited clothes; re-charge my IPad, cell phone, and camera; and, enjoy an excellent breakfast.

The hike into Blood Mountain had me at the summit by 1:30 p.m. I took only short breaks as most of the morning it lightly-sprinkled. Just before reaching Slaughter Creek Trail the rain intensified, and continued throughout the balance of the hike. Blood Mountain is home to a stone shelter, originally constructed in 1934. A recent $50,000 renovation of this historic shelter has made for a more secure and attractive building! “Dropping” down the “northern side” of the mountain was made more difficult with the rain and large slabs of rock. However, this section would have been much more challenging if it was snowing instead! Unlike in New England where cairns mark the trail above the tree-line, here in the southern Appalachians the white blazes are often painted only on the rocks and/or rock surfaces above the tree-line. These blazes would be invisible to the hiker with only an inch of snow. My arrival to Mountain Crossings (an Outfitter and bunkhouse) in Neel Gap at 2:40 p.m. was a real relief! Soaked, I stepped inside the store, completed some necessary food and equipment purchases, and was again able to dry off and spend the night indoors. Food and good company were shared, and by the next morning the rain was gone. 10.5 miles

Thursday, February 2: I left Neel Gap at 8:00 a.m. The last thing I did was to “tuck” my fleece vest up under my sleeping bag, so it would be easily accessible if I became too cool. The hike, though busy with some ups and downs, afforded time to watch the air clear and the views sharpen. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice my vest had fallen free from my pack until I took my first longer break in Tesnatee Gap at about 11:30 a.m. For a hiker, this is not a happy outcome… We carefully anticipate the clothing we’ll need; and, losing something like a vest, puts, you at some risk.

Back in 1972 there was a shelter right off the road in Tesnatee Gap. Though convenient for hikers, it was also convenient for anyone else who might be driving by; and, I suspect that there were more than a few parties that utilized this shelter as well. In any case the shelter once there, no longer exists, Headed north out of Tesnatee Gap is a climb to Hogpen Gap. Then the trail meanders over several miles of ridges and mountains before reaching Low Gap. Though relatively uneventful, I enjoyed meeting a couple of guys out on an overnight at the top of Sheep Rock Top, prior to heading down to the gap by 3:00 p.m. Before too long I had company… A 20-year-old from the Atlanta area who’s trail name is “Stargazer”. A bright and outgoing young man, he helped make the evening go quickly. We had our dinners, chatting all the time, and were ready for nighttime and in our sleeping bags by 6:00 p.m. 11.5 miles

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Three Days on the Trail (one doesn’t count)…

February 1st, 2012 by rlarue

Sunday, January 29: Travelled to Amicalola State Park with my friends Bernie and Ruth Goldfine, and their three boys: Jake, Will, and Tyler. We began at the top of the falls (1:30 p.m.) and for my first 45 minutes hiking on the “approach trail” I had the pleasure of their company. The sun was shining, and though there was some wind gusts, overall we had a blast! After the Goldfine’s departure, I proceeded to complete the 7.5 miles to Springer Mountain the southern terminus of the AT ( by 5:30 p.m.). I managed to take a couple time delay photos before walking my first .2 miles on the Appalachian Trail. Just off the AT at .2 miles is a shelter and camping area. On the way to the shelter I was greeted by Jeff, a section hiker headed to Fontana Dam, NC. Dinner, and bed rest was a welcome experience… The sky that was crystal clear: the moon, less than half-full, cast distinct shadows; and, even the stars that create the sword of Orion were clearly visible.

Monday, January 30: With a thermometer reading of 30 degrees Fahrenheit, I was pleased to find my water did not freeze (protected by my pack). I packed-up and chatted briefly with Jeff while munching on some gorp. I departed for Hawk Mountain shelter at 10:00 a.m. I made steady progress, averaging approximately two miles per hour. Throughout the hike, the temperature rose to about 55 degrees. I arrived at Hawk Mountain shelter at 1:50 p.m (7.9 miles) and decided that I would remain there rather than going further, as the next shelter was 7.4 miles. I also felt that getting some more rest and an earlier start, the next day, would be a good idea. By 5:00 p.m. there were five others (including Jeff) at the site; all tenting except for me. I slept reasonably well and the temperature this night remained above freezing.

Tuesday, January 31: I was up at about 7:15 a.m.; and, packed-up and on my way north by 8:30 a.m. (I’d like to be on the trail by 8:00 this time of year). Taking regular breaks, I arrived at Gooch shelter (7.9 miles) at I:00 p.m. During the morning I saw two deer, but unfortunately the sun was behind them so taking a photo was not an option. At Gooch, I decided to eat a dinner meal and rest a bit; then hike on… My “dinner” break lasted an hour, so by 2:00 p.m. I was on my way again. The afternoon walk allowed me to stretch my mind and body a bit. There were some wonderful views, and the trail had less up and down. I covered an additional five miles by 5:00 p.m.; giving me a total for the day of 13.1 miles (21.2 miles on the AT). Wednesday there is a 60 percent chance of rain… Blood Mountain (Georgia’s tallest mountain) is slated for Wednesday.

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