Howdy y'all! Macon here, so fresh & so clean, and comfy cozy am I here in Hiawassee. It's been quite an adventure, but as I realized yesterday at mile 15 in the down pouring rain with a smile, it is an adventure that I am seeking. Let me summarize the past few days:
Tuesday we drove over, Zeke the basset hound in tow (but don't tell Cole we let him ride in her Suburu) and met up with Monica & her dad. We quickly divvied up the food and set out for Springer Mountain. After the last goodbyes & photos, we officially began our hike. Luckily it was a gorgeous day and we completed nine miles, even after a late 3pm start. We set up camp on a mountain between Hightower Gap & Horse Gap. So far so good! Tents erected properly, bear bag hung, peanut butter nutella beef jerky sandwiches for dinner.. we were rocking!
Wednesday we rose with the sun and packed up pretty efficiently if you ask me. We hiked up and down mountains - it felt like the real hiking had begun. When we came to a stream we soaked our feet and met some other guys hiking. One guy kept talking about washing his hair so Monica & I named him Shampoo, although I'm not sure if that stuck.. After making it down to Woody Gap & intentions to hike another 5 miles to Jarrord Gap, Monica mentioned her knee was bothering her and put on a brace. After the steep one mile climb up Big Cedar Mountain (with an amazing view!) Monica came to the devastating realization that she could not go any further with her knee. She called her dad and made arrangements for him to pick her up in the morning. Luckily, we were only one mile from a major road.
Thursday morning I said a sad farewell to Monica and pushed onward, as I had a good ten miles to get to Neels Gap, out of bear country. Apparently, it is illegal to camp with out a bear canister in certain sections. I'm pretty terrified of bears as is, so if any spots require a special canister, I'm fine to pass on through. After a misty hike over Blood Mountain, which was amazing & gorgeous, I made it down to Neels around 2pm. I quickly devoured two hot dogs & a Coca Cola and let one of the staff members inspect my bag to see if he could help lighten my load. I was both pleased & annoyed with the results - pleased because he confirmed that I was pretty well packed and annoyed that it had taken so much time. He informed me that unless I was willing to hike another 8 miles or so, I would be back in bear country and would be best off camping out back of the outfitters. I made a small stink about it - I like hiking until dusk, but agreed that I did not want the bears to eat my food (or me!). Staying at Neels ended up being really fun. A group from the University of Maryland Outing Club camped near me as did a few other hikers. Many hikers opted to stay in the hostel, which cost $15 and included dinner & breakfast. Pirate, the old hiker who ran the hostel, invited me to have dinner with them since they had too much, which was a nice treat. After dinner, the guys who brought a guitar & ukulele jammed out with the guy who brought his wooden pipe/flute device - quite an interesting jam session. I made it back to the campsite pretty early but didn't sleep well due to the loud rain all night.
Friday I got up and headed out early - I wanted to make up for the past two short ten mile days so I could still meet Mom in Hiawassee on Saturday. I met up with a group of guys and we trudged up Wildcat Mountain and had lunch in the fog & mist at the summit. Most of the people I'd met at Neels stopped at Low Gap for the night around 3pm. I stopped for water and met a really nice Boy Scout group from Birmingham who offered me some of their filtered water and I told them about my thru-hiking plans. Despite the temptation to call it a day after ten miles, I continued onwards. I'd heard the next five miles were easy and I wanted to get as close to Unicoi Gap as I could. The heavens split open around 4 and I just started laughing and thought, this is the adventure I came here for! and happily skipped along in my soaking wet gear. I was headed for Blue Mountain Shelter but met a nice guy from Atlanta who was camping out with some buddies for a guys weekend and they invited me to share the campsite. I impressed myself and also an older couple camping nearby with how quickly I set up my tent in the pouring rain. The older guy, Trogg, helped me tie my bear bag with theirs, as there weren't too many limb options around. The rain let up & I changed into my one set of dry long underwear and fell sound asleep.
Around 5am this morning, another heavy storm rolled in and the loud rain, thunder & lightening woke me up. Thank goodness it did, because the winds knocked one corner of my tent off the stake and it collapsed on me, with rain pouring outside. I found my headlight and pair of crocs and got out to fix my tent. Despite my efforts to fall back asleep, I decided to get up, only to be faced with the cruel reality that I had to put my cold wet hiking clothes back on. I packed up and hiked about three miles down to Unicoi Gap where there is a small parking lot. Mom drove over with a small daypack for me and trail magic for other hikers. She let people dump trash in a trash bag, and offered water, apples, snickers, and rides into town. I took the necessities & enough food & water for the day, and set out to cover 16 more miles to Dick's Creek Gap, which is where many people hitch hike into Hiawassee - the first real "resupply" town. Today was a challenge, I must admit. Two long mile days back to back haven't been good on my feet & joints, but I feel strong and the good kind of exhausted when you know you've worked hard. It feels a little weird and unworthy this early on to be staying in a hotel all clean with Mom, but I am not at a point to turn down any luxury.
Overall, I can honestly say that I LOVE being on the trail. I took a workshop from the AT guru, Warren Doyle, last May and he said if that after the first week you are smiling and thinking, "this isn't as bad as I thought" then you are on the right track - and I'm happy to say I think I'm on the right track. I love the community that I've met and am excited to get to know them better. I love the long stretches of hiking alone where I sing to myself (some top hits from my playlist: "she's got it, yeah baby she's got it" - when I'm marching right along, "way down yonder on the Chattahoochee" - since although I'm on the AT, I'm in the Chattahoochee National Forest). I also love meditating while hiking, where I challenge myself for small spurts of time to not let a thought enter my head, and to just be totally present. I love moving through the mountains and looking out over the stunning vistas. I love breathing in the fresh, fresh air. I love that my daily schedule revolves around sunlight and water sources. I also really love being active all day. I definitely have some refining to do in my hiking style, but so far, I'm happy to say that I'm off to a really great start! Thanks for reading!