Day 18 - 27 March/Wednesday hiked 8.4 miles to Rock Gap Shelter at mile 105.6. Last night (26 March) had no phone signal at Betty Creek Gap campground. It was 36 F degrees this morning, but the clouds cleared and it was a beautiful day for hiking. Tonight there is a phone signal present but it is weak. It may be another day or to before more photos get posted.
Day 17 - 26 March/Tuesday - Back on Trail - Hiked 12.2 miles from Deep Gap mile 85.0 to mile 97.2 at Betty Creek Gap campground. Partially cloudy in the AM. Cold rain and 45 degrees most of the last five hours of hiking. Setup camp in the rain. Z cold and wet night.
24 & 25 March 2019 - Two More Zero Days - Lightning forecast in our mountain ridge area tomorrow means we are delaying hiking until Tuesday AM. Ice, snow, and rain are okay for hiking. We avoid hiking during lightning on mountain ridges if we know it’s likely. Guess we’ll just have to continue resting our legs/knees/feet, eat some more restaurant food and suffer sleeping in warm beds instead of tents until we start our (projected) 12-mile hike on Tuesday morning.
Happy’s AT Notes about Days 6 thru 13:
Friday, March 15 - Day 6
Woke up at Seasons Inn on the Square in Blairsville Georgia. A nice clean room in a mom and pop hotel. Pink carpet with blue painted furniture. The owners were very welcoming. What a nice town full of wonderfully kind people, good food around the square, and two grocery stores within walking distance. We visited both groceries. It rained last night and is still raining throughout the day. We took a lazy day doing laundry which was on hotel property (soap and dryer sheets provided) and catching up on correspondence. The town is trying to become a tourist town and is just the sweetest, cleanest place. The owners of the hotel pointed out their hiker box. Hiker boxes are filled by hikers who have bought too much food or have tired of the food they bought so they put it in a hiker box for other hikers to rifle through and take what they desire. The hiker boxes are also sometimes added to by trail angels. The hiker boxes also contain gear or clothing. Sometimes hikers need zip lock baggies but cannot use the whole box or need toilet paper but don’t care to carry the whole roll, so the extra is added to the hiker box. We grabbed a big box of cheese nips, BBQ chips, oatmeal, a few baggies and a little hiker bag. The nips and chips were gone long before checking out of the hotel. We have learned to check the hiker boxes before restocking our supply. And we have learned to check the hiker boxes almost every time we pass them. There always seems to be something newly added. On the trail, we have been passing mosses and mosses and mosses. There is light green moss, there is dark green moss, there is brown moss, there is bright moss and sometimes it looks as though it is dripping from the logs and downed trees. Thirty-one miles done, 2,161 to go. Lucky is planning the next few days, when to supply and when to take zero days. He is watching the weather. We are so sorry to see so many hikers stuck in such miserable weather out there and feel fortunate to have made it a hotel before the rain. Lucky is doing all the planning because this is his adventure; I, Happy, am along for the ride! Wanted to comment on the shoe tree at Neels Gap. Apparently hikers who give up and leave the trail throw their shoes up in the tree. Or, hikers found their shoes/boots too heavy and bought new shoes at Neels Gap and threw the old shoes up in the tree. Or, hikers found that the shoes/boots caused blisters so those shoes ended up in the tree. However the shoes ended up in the tree, it is all good fun.
Saturday, March 16 - Day 7
Left seasons Inn on the Square and rode a shuttle (Lyft) to Neels Gap. Weighed our packs. Lucky was 34 pounds and Happy was 29.2. Of course, we had to add to that weight! Happy grabbed a block of cheese and Lucky a Big Sur bar (sort of combination granola/oatmeal/chocolate bar). The day was sunny, cold, windy and freezing. As we entered the trail, we passed a dog bowl of water that was frozen. Not a good sign. There were ice crystals pushing up out of the ground on the trail. When we stopped for a break at the peak of a hill, a local day hiker offered trail magic. Lucky ate a bag of baby carrots and was happy to have them. Later that same day, Dave, another day hiker, offered us trail magic of Easter candy. Both Lucky and Happy took two small packages of chocolate eggs. 5.5 miles from Neels gap, we entered Raven Cliff Wilderness and went straight up a monster incline. Eleven plus miles hiked today.
Sunday, March 17 - Day 8
It was dark when we set up camp last night, and we cooked in the dark. We vowed to try to get in camp earlier, so we can do everything in the light. The camp was full of tents with a big campfire. We did not sit around the fire. It was a COLD NIGHT but at least it was not windy or rainy. Happy could not get warm and finally had to put her puffy jacket on inside her sleeping bag. It was a sunny 34° at 8:30 AM when we woke up to Woodpeckers doing their thing. Lucky said he was toasty through the night. But he woke in the middle of the night with the worst yet cramps in one of his inner thighs. Lucky knows how to immediately engage the thigh or calf muscles on the opposite side of the leg for instant relief of the pain (something called autogenic inhibition). We put electrolytes in our water today in an effort to help fend off those hideous leg cramps. Planned a seven plus mile day today. Most other campers were gone before we got out of camp. Back in Neels Gap we sent our bulky thick mittens home and bought new waterproof mitten covers to pull over our wool gloves. Lucky was loving his new mittens. Unfortunately, when we arrived at camp he realized one was missing. We looked through everything. It was gone. Lucky knew that Machinist and his dog Six-Inch (tail is 6-inches long) were behind us so he asked whether he happened to find a mitten on trail. No, he had not. Broke camp in morning and went to the shelter to sign the book (hikers often enter a note about the date they were there and any words of wisdom they care to share and sign their name). It is a good way to keep track of some of the hikers that we met on trail and to receive alerts concerning the trail. Lots of hikers were hanging around the shelter and stuff was all over the table. We were told there was no book to sign so we talked a bit, hit the privy and went on our way. After about one hour of hiking, we ran across Machinist and Six-Inch breaking their camp. Machinist asked if we had gotten the mitten, because it was sitting on the table at the shelter. He saw it late the night before but did not want to wake us. He told the hikers the night before that the mitten belonged to Happy or Lucky, then he hiked on because he does not want Six-Inch to bark and disturb the sleeping hikers. So Happy settled in on a nice log and chatted with Machinist while he broke camp while Lucky hoofed it back to retrieve his mitten. Lucky got the mitten and found there was in-fact a book to sign, signed it for us,and was back in just under one hour round trip. Amazing how fast Lucky is without a pack and without Happy. Lucky hikes much faster than Happy, but Happy’s pace allows us to enjoy the scenery and sounds much more. We think it is a good tradeoff. Machinist and Six-Inch took off before Lucky returned. It is amazing that we told only one person about the lost mitten, it was that person who saw the mitten, and we just happened to pass him on the trail just before he broke camp, and Machinist remembered to ask if we had gotten the mitten! Lucky is the appropriate trail name! We hiked onward under the bluest, most gorgeous sky. Mountain laurel and rhododendron tunnels again today. It was so quiet, all we heard was the wind and the ringing in our ears. Saw a squirrel today. Lucky saw a small lizard (small, dark salamander) when he picked up a rock the other day. Happy started to get hot spots on her toes, so she stopped to tape those up. Still no blisters out here.
Monday, March 18 - Day 9
Lucky said he was comfortable again last night while Happy froze. Happy says sleeping bags stating they are good down to 15 degrees mean the bag will keep you alive at that temperature in abject misery! Lucky is temporarily wearing a knee brace he bought back at Neels Gap. Going down the mountains is hard on our knees, especially when stairs are involved. Lucky lost a mitten again. We looked everywhere in the tent before getting out. Nothing. The recovered mitten was there, but the other one was gone! Less than 24-hours! It was so cold this morning we put our thinsulate underwear on before getting out of the tent. Of course it wasn’t long before we took the long underwear off while out on the trail. The trail ran hot/cold, wind/no wind, sun/shade, clothes on/clothes off. We were hiking on rock rubble which is a bit more difficult than a clear trail. No wonder, we were hiking up Rock Mountain! Happy told Lucky as approached the top that she was going to put a curse on that mountain. Lucky said don’t do that. Said we should thank the mountain for making us stronger. Lucky likes the saying that if something doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger. Happy confessed it was too late, she had already put a curse on the mountain when she was about 1/4 of the way up, and then several more times the rest of the way up! Happy says it was a HORRIBLE climb. But we did have those beautiful blue skies again with distant mountains showing various shades of blue. Mother Earth is wondrous. Mountain laurel tunnels. If it wasn’t so gorgeous and Lucky wasn’t the best husband, Happy would just buy a picture book about the AT and sit on the sofa at home, drinking coffee and flipping pages. We were sitting, taking a break on the side of a mountain with no one around when a hiker appeared and stated “I’m from Illinois. We don’t have hills like this. We have flat land.” Turns out he is from Champaign, about 45 miles from our home. He spent five years in the Marines and is now studying to be a commercial airline pilot. Later in the day, he explained he had lost the cap to his water bottle so we gave him an extra bottle cap we had (we were saving the extra cap for backwashing our water purification filter). What luck! Lucky found his missing mitten in a place he had put it so it wouldn’t get lost. He found it stuffed down his deep, interior puffy coat pocket! As of today, he has both mittens and between the two of us we have half-a-mind! We found someone’s tent poles along the trail and carted them to the next shelter. It is so cold and someone will be very disappointed when they go to set up their tent. If Happy freezes to death tonight, tell the family she loves them.
Tuesday, March 19 - Day 10
Happy didn’t freeze to death, but almost. She woke up twice shaking. It was so crazy windy, but did finally die down by morning for awhile. The wind picked back up in time to break camp. It was a miserable night but again Lucky said he was fine and had an OK night. We had bought safety pins at Walmart which turned out to be junk for hiking purposes. They were brass, rust proof, and we bought them in Walmart’s decorator section. The heads break off, leaving us with a pointed piece of junk (at least for our hiking usage). We like safety pins so we can hang our gloves or socks or whatever from a paracord line we have strung inside the top of our tent. We usually use baby pins. Happy thought she should explain a little about the trail itself. The best trail is soft, flat, level, slightly moist, and a little bit spongy. It’s easy to walk on. Sometimes the trail is a little too wet and we have to pick our way across roots or rocks to keep our feet dry. Other times, we are scrambling across small rocks for a good way and then there are times when we are working our way over boulders. If we are not scrambling over rocks, it might be a tree root trail that has to be negotiated. Sometimes if a blow down (that’s a tree which has fallen across the trail) is cleared by the trail maintenance crew, they do not remove all the small branches. Then, we must take care not to step on small branch branches that will roll under our feet. Sometimes the rocks are wet and moss-covered. Two days ago, we stopped on the trail where it crossed a parking lot beside a highway. There were folks from the Top of Georgia hostel. They were shuttling people to their hostel. We made reservations to be at their hostel tonight, so we had to hustle to arrive before 7 o’clock or we would not be able to have a pizza. If we were not arriving by seven, we were to call and find out how to get in. We saw that we might not make it by seven so we called the hostel. During the call, we learned they would put a pizza in the freezer for us and we could bake it when we arrived. We each had a supreme pizza to ourselves. The hostel was 1/2 mile from the trail so we walked to it. It was a nice hostel. There was a refrigerator, stove, kitchen sink, and one restroom with a shower. We were fortunate to get bunks in a room that had only four bunks. The main bunkroom had more bunks and was a bit noisy since that is where the kitchen was located. Hikers were cooking all kind of things since many had shuttled to/from town and brought back all sorts of food. The hiker box was overflowing. We showered and got to know our roommates. One was Cody Wilson (25 yr old) so Happy named him Castaway (after Mr. Wilson, the soccer ball in the Castaway movie). He has a masters degree in air quality. Castaway told himself he would take it easy on the trail, but he got mixed up with some go-getters who were doing 20-mile days. He hurt his ankle and had been at the hostel two days resting. The other roommate was a retired Jacksonville, Florida police officer and SWAT team member. His trail name was G-man. Stories were swapped until we all crashed and had a restful WARM night’s sleep.
Wednesday, March 20 - Day 11
The hostel provided cold cereal, oatmeal packets, and coffee. We resupplied from the hostel’s limited selection pantry and printed our Smoky Mountain National Park thru-hiker passes. Happy lost a sock. Checked the hiker box and Happy collected a back warmer! Didn’t know there was such a thing. It is like a huge toe warmer. SCORE! Caught a 9 AM shuttle back to the trail and began our hike under a sunny blue sky beneath huge evergreens standing tall. There was a quiet, slight breeze with birds chirping. The rocks have begun to change. We now have more white rock which we think might be marble or granite. All the rocks were brownish or gray before. Passed loads of thorny rose canes which might be climbers or ramblers. Lots of greenish ferns seem to have survived the winter and their fronds are laying flat on the ground. Have not seen the new fern, coiled leaves growth yet. We stripped down to shorts and short sleeves today. Lots of green, shiny holly trees. Since about March 18th, we have seen tiny purple violets along the trail. We came across a mountain laurel forest that had something happen to it. The trees appeared dead with little or no leaves on the main part of the tree. We suspect it burned as we see hints of black on the trunks. But the laurels have fresh new growth coming from the base of the trunks. Entered the Southern Nantahala Wilderness of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Not sure if we are seeing Canadian hemlock or not, but we see bright green little trees which are very similar to a hemlock, if it is not a hemlock. Beautiful trees. Entered North Carolina, state number 2. The rhododendrons have more flower buds but none have opened into colorful flowers yet. Many small tree leaf buds are fat and green, and appear about ready to unfurl. We think we saw a bear print in the moist soil on the path. We came through a shaded area with a hillside to our right. The hill was strewn with downed tree trunks that were all covered and dripping with green moss. It felt almost prehistoric. It is amazing how quickly the legs and lungs recover upon cresting a difficult hill at altitudes much higher than our Illinois home. It is as if the difficult hill had not even happened. We had a good hike today with no hills requiring a curse. It was a good day for a walk in the woods. Georgia provided bear boxes to put food in or bear cables to hang food so the bears are not attracted to camp. North Carolina provides nothing so far, thus we must hang our own food bags. We tried a new bear bag system today. It was something we bought at Neels Gap to save weight. We sent our old tried and true paracord rope home. The new system is lighter weight but MUCH more of a hassle as the cord easily tangles into a mess. You put a rock in a bag which is attached to the cord and throw it over a tree limb, then attach the food bag and hang it in the air out of reach of any bears. The problem is the rock doesn’t always go where you intended and the cord is then a tangled mess. As soon as we can, we are buying paracord again. Not as cold during the night, but still windy.
Thursday March 21 - Day 12
The night was cold. Happy did not sleep well due to the extreme cold, but never thought she was going to die. No breakfast this morning (usually two packets of oatmeal each). We wanted to get to a shelter area first. We had no warm-up. Went straight up a NC “hill“ (mountain). Georgia was just prep for for the real mountains in North Carolina. Cute little flowering plants along the trail look like thyme. Stopped at Muscrat Creek shelter for a bite to eat. Visited with Otter and Sunshine from Houston. Both quit their jobs to hike the AT. When we continued, we found two types of ground cover making a green carpet under the rhododendrons. It was a stunning site. It is a cold, windy overcast hike; one might say freezing. It appears we might have run into a stand of Quaking Aspen trees. No leaves yet but the trunks were very distinctive. We had light snowflakes flying. The hike was hard, easy, and then a rock scramble. Happy thanked her funky sunglasses for saving her eye from being pierced be a stick. Distant mountains were dark and blue with a hint of red above dark overcast clouds at 2:45 PM. The wind was howling and the tent was being pelted with ice pellets while cooking dinner. Poor Lucky had to go back out in the ice pellets to hang the bear bag with that awful, easily tangled bear rope.
Friday March 22 - Day 13
Woke up to 1/2 inch of ice pellets on the ground. The inside of the rainfly was covered with ice from our overnight breath condensation. Both Lucky and Happy had a cold, miserable, windy night and decided to break camp quickly before the sun melted the condensation and got everything wet. We also decided to backtrack 9/10ths of a mile back down the mountain. When we reached the bottom and the forest road where we planned to hike to a highway, we met Kathryn who had also decided to hike the forest road out. We previously had heard about Kathryn because she was carrying a doll named Creepy Baby. Lucky posted a picture of Creepy Baby. Kathryn quit her job as a grade school counselor to hike the trail. Her husband is an electrician and is driving from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania every few weeks to visit/support her in her thru-hike attempt. So we three walked almost the entire forest road of 5.1 miles before an American Indian offered us a ride. Canadian Hemlock previously covered much of the Eastern US mountains and was known as the eastern redwood until the hemlock woolly adelgid decimated the trees in the Appalachian Mountains. The driver was very nice and said all he would take for the ride was our thanks. Since he drove us 20 miles all the way to Franklin (apparently the opposite direction from his planned destination) we gave him money for gas. Once in Franklin, Kathryn headed for her hotel which was across the street and we headed to Huddle House (also across the street) at 1:30 PM for breakfast. The TV is flashing warnings about high winds in the mountains. It is supposed to get down to 18 degrees with high winds on the mountain. We checked into a hotel within walking distance of many eateries and shopping, including two outfitters. Decided to do our laundry which was about a half mile from our hotel. As we were leaving the hotel, a man from Florida stopped us and two other hikers, opened his trunk and gave us a selection of trail magic. He had a selection of various foods which hikers like to receive on trail. He normally provides the supplies to other trail angels to hand out at various places along the trail, but he was having trouble locating trail angels in the area. We took what we wanted and he put the remainder in the hotel hiker box. Lucky had to shop Goodwill to find shorts to wear while his clothes were in the laundry. He had sent his rain pants home back at Neels Gap so had nothing to wear on his bottom half while the clothes were washing. Lucky talked with the Chinese lady who was working the laundry (describing our recent visits to Beijing, Shanghai, Changsha and elsewhere) and then we headed to a rib and BBQ restaurant for supper. Ran into thru-hikers we know at that restaurant. Wanted to get the dessert which is supposed to be delicious, but just could not eat anymore.
Day 12 - 21 March/Thursday - Ice Pellets... We hiked 7.7 miles to Standing Indian Shelter at mile 85.9 on the AT. While hiking, we experienced a little snow and ice pellets while up on the mountains, and occasional rain down in the valleys. By the time we finished cooking dinner (ramen and chicken-flavored rice, we had already accumulated a half-inch of ice pellets on the ground. It will be another cold night of tenting.
Only one bar of mobile phone service tonight, so there will probably be no photo uploading until a later date.