Three Keys

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One last post before I return to the trail after Thanksgiving.

So far three keys to successfully hiking the Appalachian Trail have jumped to mind after 400 miles.  They are fitness, field craft and luck. These are in addition to the discourse in Zack Davis’s excellent book http://appalachiantrials.com/.  Yes, Zack, I made my lists.  Thank you for that.

When I left the trail at Davenport Gap (Standing Bear Farm) and shuttled to Hot Springs to meet my wife, my body was pretty well beaten up.  In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, all hikers are required to sleep in shelters. Stealth camping in between is forbidden largely due to the high volume of hikers.  In addition, the wild hogs and bears which have learned that backpacks are analogous to picnic baskets would significantly complicate stealth camping.  The hogs are aggressive and unafraid of humans.  As a consequence, night hiking i strongly discouraged.

The distance between shelters dictates the distances you have to hike each day.  Most often, I would reach a shelter around two or three in the afternoon, too early to stop hiking – especially after it turned cold.  Having to make the next shelter before dark meant bearing down, digging in order to produce the physical effort needed to “git ‘er done.”

Ironically, it seemed like the second shelter was always five to eight miles away – up hill (both ways)…

Before the Smokies, I was physically in good shape thanks to the ample number of camping sites between shelters.  I’d hike until it was about to get dark, then stop and pitch my tent.  Georgia features gentle, well-maintained trails.  The trail becomes significantly more eroded on the north side of Standing Indian Mountain and onward in North Carolina.  The Nantahala Wilderness is steep.  Some would say “brutal”- just sayin’. 

Word about the obvious, any time a section of trail has been tagged with a name, be aware that you may feel some discomfort.  The Rollercoaster and Jacobs Ladder are memorable at the moment.  The former because it was 90 degrees and I had 21 miles to make.  The latter because it’s steep and came at the end of a long day.  I am already dreading the words associated with “notch,” even if they are a 1,000 miles away.

After Nantahala and the Smokies, defined by multiple 15 – 18 mile days, my left knee was getting sore and my right (severed in 2008) Achilles tendon and calf muscle were very sore.  I was developing pain (neuroma) in my left foot as well.  I was overdue for a couple of zeros, or an aptly timed break for Thanksgiving. 

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, as the saying goes.  I definitely got lucky with the timing of the Thanksgiving holiday. 

What I learned from the first 400 miles is that fitness is a double edged sword for me.  While being especially fit (strength and cardio) enabled comfortable hiking and significantly diminished the psychological impact of steep terrain and long miles, it also enabled me to overdo it a bit. 

Observing others on the trail who were less fit engendered an appreciation for its intrinsic value.  There are hikers who “suffer” through steep stretches, the weight of their packs, and long days because they are not as fit as they could be.  My distinct impression is that hiking yourself into shape is an option with higher risk than preparing in advance.  The sweat in the gym paid off.

Knowing the little tricks of the trade can be invaluable.  Whether we learned them from our family, Scouting, military service or by other means, knowing what to do and how to do it also mitigates psychological stress.  Whether dipping water out of a shallow source with a plastic bag, keeping your water inside your jacket and using narrow mouth water bottles on freezing days, or placing your tent footprint under your sleeping pad to block floor drafts on shelter sleeping platforms, every little trick of the trade counts. 

There are a million tricks of the trade, and I don’t purport to know them all.  But knowing how to use light weight layers to stay warm and dry, to make field expedient gear repairs, to maintain personal hygiene, first aid, to stretching, to bring the right equipment, to properly adjust and carry your pack, to pitch and strike a tent in the rain, to sleep comfortably, to build a fire when it’s wet, to read the weather, and to anticipate challenges contribute a lot to eventual success and psychological balance.

BTW, my pack weighs 30 lbs. with five days worth of food.  I’m dumping the Kindle, and some small items that might equal a pound.  I’m adding a Jet Boil with a smaller fuel cartridge, warmer clothing and snowshoes, and a third auxiliary battery which will up the weight a bit.  A light weight four-season tent will be purchased and added when I return to the trail after the December holidays, though the plan will be to try and camp at shelter sites through the winter.

The rest of it is luck.  I tripped on a rock at one campsite and did a face plant in the dirt.  If it had been a rock upon which I landed, the outcome could have been more than a humorous non-event.  My weather has been exceptionally clement.  Of the 36 days of my hike so far, only five have been defined by rain, or snow.  I happened to be zeroing in Hiawassee during a sixth. Yes!  My bear encounters have been benign as nearly all of them are, and so it goes.

My hike will resume on or about Dec. 1 for the 226 mile trek from Standing Bear Farm to Damascus, VA.  I’m expecting to take 15 – 17 days with no zeros and three town (nero – near zero miles) days for resupply, shower, laundry and a beer.  After that, it’s home for the Christmas and New Year holidays with a prompt return to the woods thereafter.

The magic ratio rules the day

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Numbers tend to govern our lives, even deep in the woods while hiking the Appalachian Trail.  Obviously there was too much time on my hands, or I wouldn’t have started thinking about them.

The most apparent use of the numbers 2 x 6 is the White Blaze.  Two inches by six inches, there’s no navigation without them.  The white blazes are the central focus of every day.  Gotta have ’em and have to find them.

Unfortunately, it seems to be universal that there aren’t enough of them.  The blazing is very inconsistent throughout the trail.  I can’t tell you how many times I and others have spent trying to figure out directional changes or if we were on the correct route when another trail overlaps with the AT.  Let’s not talk about twilight, night or certain sun angles.  Is there a white pain shortage?

Blazing is the responsibility of volunteer trail supervisors – folks who accept responsibility for routine maintenance of specific sections of the trail.  Unlike thru hikers, they are familiar with their territory.  They don’t arrive clueless, tired, hungry, thirsty, with the sun in their eyes, or in the dark of night. 

Once my thru hike is over, I’m scheduled to become a trail supervisor in Shenandoah National Park.  Trust me, I’ll walk my trail section both directions, at all hours of the day and night and try to put myself in the shoes of unfamiliar hikers trying to find their way.

The two by six magic ratio also applies to shelter space.  That’s about what you get in a crowded shelter.  Measure your inflated air mattress.  It’s close.

Someone asked me about my daily routine. It is dominated by 2 x 6.  Beyond white blaze navigation and sleeping space, a space two feet by six feet is the area upon which I concentrate while walking. 

On the AT, people rave about the views.  They are the exception.  Most of the time is spend head down, surveilling a moving chunk of trail two feet wide and about six feet long.  The primary objective is to avoid falling or injury.

There’s a lot to look for depending on the time of year.  Consider rocks – loose and otherwise, slippery exposed roots, leaf litter, holes, snakes, giant piles of bear scat, terrapins, steps, blow downs, ice, mud, and other hazards.  Hikers see the AT in rolling 2 x 6 chunks whether they want to or not.

In describing my day, I don’t know whether to start in the morning or evening.  Each time of day is a bookend and a logical beginning or an end.  Weather and the amount of daylight are big schedule drivers, making this time of year roughly equivalent to hiking in early March.

Normally my first wake up is at 0430.  Naturally, it’s too cold and too early to get up.  I usually doze until 0530 or 0600.  Definitely by six I’m up and moving.  First thing I pack my gear – tent, sleeping bag, air mattress etc.  The last item in the pack is my down jacket.

I have both a system and a fixed routine that never varies.  If you’re familiar with Six Sigma, you’ll automatically understand why.  Consistently repeating a strict routine and having a highly organized system for packing prevents mistakes like leaving stuff behind.  The added benefit is that gear is organized in order of priority of use and grouped by type.  For example Rain pants, jacket, hat, and pack cover are in the middle outside pocket where I can get at them RIGHT NOW if need be..  Gaiters are in one side pocket.  The opposite one has water and three light weight clothing items to be added as layers when I stop or get cold.  I also made a water holster out of a net bag.

I’ve given up cooking hot breakfast coffee, cocoa, grits or oatmeal.  When it’s very cold, I need to get moving to generate heat.  Consequently I chuck three or four granola bars, Cliff bars, snickers, Builder Bars or their equivalent into a side pouch and get moving by 0700 which recently has been first nautical twilight. 

This I borrowed from my Army days.  I normally walk 20 – 40 minutes before stopping to adjust what I’m wearing, eat, drink and settle in for the day.  By then I am warmed up, know what to wear for the day (generally much less than most would think), and have a feel for the trail.  This also is when I double check my trail guide to confirm my hiking plan for the day.

As the day unfolds, I tend to snack around 10, 2 and 4 (remember the old Dr. Pepper commercials?).  I stop to take photos whenever the opportunity presents itself, and sometimes will spend 20 minutes on a sunny lunch.  Otherwise I’m motoring along. 

Almost from the outset, I could average 12 miles per day.  More recently that’s been upped to between 15 and 18.  I’ve done a few 20s, but really have not needed them and don’t plan to make them a habit due to the cumulative wear and tear they seem to generate on my body.

I try to reach my camp – stealth site or shelter – by 5 p.m.  That gives me an hour to settle in and eat.  Can’t wait for the days to lengthen so I can actually hike much later or earlier if desired.

First thing I get water and figure out how to hang my food and throw the rope if necessary.  Then, I dawn my light weight layers and down clothing to conserve heat. Following that step, I set up my tent and bedding so the down has a chance to loft.  I cook – the usual:  Generally Mountain House dehydrated meals, Knorr pasta sides, or Ramen noodles.  I normally add spices and make decaffeinated tea or coffee.  After I’m done eating, I put everything away and hang my food bag with my cooking pot and trash bag inside.  

While eating, I study my Awol Guide and plan the next day paying particular attention to the location of water sources, the trail profile and alternate places to camp depending where I am between 2 and 3 p.m.

Then it’s time for bed.  The night I slept at Tri Corner Knob shelter in GSMMP, I reached the shelter around 4:45 p.m., got water and followed my routine.  By the time dinner was done, it was pitch dark.  I slid into my sleeping bag and checked my watch:  it was 6:15! 

“Whoa!”  I thought.  I quietly enjoyed listening to the wind and woods for a couple of hours before breaking out my iPod nano which I use mostly to listen to pod casts or vintage radio dramas at night.  I generally sleep hard for about four hours, then cat nap until around 0430 when the daily routine begins all over again.

Exciting.  Not really.  It’s all about ratios, time and daylight over and over again. 

The fun comes from what you serendipitously see, hear and find, and from the people with whom you can share your experience.

 

Gizmos, Gadgets and Acquired Knowledge

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When you’re hiking day in and day out, your mind sometimes drifts to the whimsical.  Other times it’s strictly focused on not tripping, the next drinkable water or whether or not you can make the next shelter before dark.  Unfortunately, there’s much more of the later. 

The all too familiar scenario became: 3 p.m.  Dark at six.  Six to eight miles to go.  All up hill. 😦 

Along the way, I had an idea.  Water weighs a pound per pint. In round numbers, that means two liters weigh slightly more than four lbs.  That’s a lot.  Fortunately, I learned to carry only a single liter when I got word that the water was good up ahead.

Still, I have a challenge for all my scientist friends at Georgia Tech.  What you geniuses need to invent is dehydrated water.  You know, open the bottle and just add air.  Air has the essential ingredients –  hydrogen and oxygen.  Certainly, someone could figure it out.  Sure would help a bunch of tired hikers!  Every hiker to whom I mentioned was certain that the scientist who invents dehydrated water would be canonized for sainthood!!!

As for the rest of the gizmos and gadgets, there’s good news and bad.  First, I used everything I brought in my pack from sewing kit to the Kindle.  Obviously, not everything in the first aid kit was used, but parts of it were.  The Kindle didn’t get used enough, so it’s stays home, as much because of the cold weather’s effect on batteries as anything else.

Lithium batteries are terrible in cold weather.  No way around that.  Even when kept in my front pocket, my phone/camera power level would dive from 100 percent to zero after a couple of minutes of exposure on cold days.  (It was in airplane mode.)  The same goes for spare storage batteries.

The best I could do was store the phone close to my body and the spare batteries deep within my clothing bag.  At night I put the phone and/or iPod under one armpit after diving into my sleeping bag, and the storage batteries under the other.  Once everything warmed, I could recharge or listen to the media stored within.

Cold is for lovers.  Everything wants to get in bed with you – that is your water bottles, your fuel canister, your electronic devices, extra batteries and your sweaty clothes.  I’ve never felt so loved in my life!

My Salomon GoreTex boots froze on a couple of nights because I had no room for them in my extra skinny light weight sleeping bag.  It wasn’t a big deal.  So long as I had dry socks, my feet were never cold, even in frozen boots.

Sweaty clothes.  Only once did I have to whip off a soaking shirt and replace it at the end of the day.  The polyprop shirts I had wicked dry in a very short time after I stopped hiking.  Usually I just covered my base layer with a couple of loose wind shirts I carry for layers.  Over them, snuggled my down puffy as needed.

I often hiked in a pair of compression tights that I use for running and cross country skiing.  They don’t hold water at all.  Best of all, they provide excellent support for leg muscles and joints.  At the end of the day, slipping my rain pants over them did the trick.  No problem wearing the whole giddy-up to bed.

In an earlier blog, I nominated the ziplock freezer bag to replace the Swiss Army knife as the universal tool.  Subsequently, Tenacious Tape gave its zippered brethren a run for their money. 

Somehow, a mouse got into my pack and ate a hole in the baffle between the lower and upper compartments enroute to building a nest.  My sleeping bag developed a hole on the inside.  Wondered why my tent was full of feathers in the mornings…  A three-seam corner in my tent leaked.  The stuff sack for my tent got a small rip. 

Tenacious Tape (and a little silicon sealer) to the rescue. By NOC I had used nearly a whole role of tape.  I bought two new ones from the outfitter at NOC just to play it safe.  Ladies and gentlemen, this stuff works.  It’s specially formulated to STICK to the light weight nylon used in our equipment.  Keep the AMEX card, I wouldn’t leave home without Tenacious Tape. 

Duct tape.  What’s that?

David “Awol” Miller’s guide is the gold standard.  It’s highly accurate, though not perfect.  I carried the AntiGravity Gear strip maps as a supplement.  Gave up on them quickly. 

The universal challenge with the AWOL Guide is reading the trail profile.  On days the trail looks easy, it’s hard in reality and visa versa.  A lot has to do, not with the trail incline angle, but the surface condition of the trail bed – how rocky, number of steps and boulders, roots, etc.  Just don’t be lulled into a false sense.

A lot of the trail infrastructure listed in the Awol Guide pops up during hiking season; then disappears by the end of April.  That was a tough one to learn.  Shuttlers, hiker rates, and other conveniences haven’t been there in some cases.  Also be advised that those listed in the Guide pay to be there.  (I asked.)  Nothing wrong with that, but caveat emptor. 

Saw evidence of a lot of bear bag hanging disasters in the form of ghostly and mossy derelict food bags tangled way up high. Alternatively, there’s ample evidence of cut ropes decorating prime hanging trees like nylon tinsel.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.  So far, so good.  Just hang your food, please.

Speaking of food, since I’m cooking exclusively in ziplock bags, I switched my stove from a Pocket Rocket to the small Jet Boil Sol.  It’s incredibly more efficient at boiling water which is all I do.

Lastly, I tented most nights near shelters.  My tent was warmer and easier to keep my “stuff” organized and safe.  Unfortunately, at a shelter in the Smokies, three meals disappeared after I hung my food bag on the bear line.  At the same shelter someone rifled my pack when I was outside cooking and took three twenty dollar bills from deep within. Lesson learned.  I’ve since acquired a wallet that hangs around my neck.  $hit happens. 

On blogging and future plans

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AT blogs seem to be divisible into two fundamental categories. The travelog and the essay.

The travelog blogs appear to try and chronicle in as much detail each day more or less as the hiker progresses. In 2013 there were several outstanding writers of this genre. My favorite was Linda (Karma) Daly’s blog at http://thumperwalk.com.

The essayists pick topics and explore them. A lot of the travelog detail makes it into these stories, just not in chronological order. Clever Girl was, in my view, handsdown best in this class at http://trailkit.blogspot.com

My blog is a collection of essays. Either my imagination is a failure, or I’m too boring to write a travelog. I’ve spent 36 days hiking the Appalachian Trail since 10:08 a.m. Sept. 24. That’s enough to know that most of the days are pretty much alike. The first time something happens, it’s special. After that it becomes pretty mundane. I can’t make writing about hiking in the rain interesting more than once – if that – unless it turns into an adventure of sorts.

I’m telling you this because I have some readers who may be expecting a travelog. For instance, someone wrote to me correcting my mileage to date. It’s 400.8. What I said in my last blog was that I was writing from Hot Springs, NC. Due to the essay format, I did not say I hiked there. In reality, I got a shuttle from Davenport Gap where I’d stayed at Standing Bear Farm, to Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn in Hot Springs. Hence the missing miles.

I needed the shuttle because my wife was scheduled to pick up me, along with two other hikers who needed to get to the D.C. area, in 36 hours. With sore tendons from having to hike long days to reach certain shelters in the Smokies, I was in no condition to hike 38 miles that quickly. Moreover I was a day behind schedule thanks to the storm that dictated my side trip to Gatlinburg. So, I got a ride and took a zero in a great hiker town to make up the difference.

When I return to the tail, I’ll spend another night at Sanding Bear and start hiking the next morning from Davenport Gap. No way I’m going to miss Max Patch! I’ll also get another night at Elmer’s when I reach Hot Springs. That’s a bonus.

The plan for the hiking through the winter is simple. Since I’m solo, I am acutely aware that I need to be careful of the weather. My wife and I will be paying acute attention to 10-day forecasts with the intention of being off the trail during storms. The accuracy of 10-day forecasting means I’ll be hiking on average from three to seven days out of every 10.

In addition, from this point on, I’ll be trucking my full winter kit complete with snowshoes, microspikes, mittens, balaclava, including down jacket, pants and booties to supplement my sleeping bag. Everything is in dry sacks. The down garments are double bagged.

My winter goal is to reach by the end of March, Waynesboro, VA where I started on Sept. 24. If this is a stormy winter, that may not happen. If not, I’ll dive into the first 2014 hiker bubble that comes along in the spring.

I did hear that there are two men and one woman, each hiking solo, ahead of me. I hope to meet them before the winter is out.

So, family, friends and random readers, that’s the plan. More to come on gizmos and gadgets, the 2:3 ratio, the cost of trips to town, and more.

Home for Thanksgiving.

The Smokies are in the books. Yes! Grand total mileage: 400.8.

The park is a special place. The shelters have unique character – complete with fireplaces. The terrain is as awesome as the unpredictable weather.

Our national parks are not only national treasures, but a patrimony to be passed to generations yet to come. They need lots of TLC.

As I neared the GSMNP northern border, two rangers on weekend patrol stopped to chat when the noticed my Potomac Appalachian Trail Club patch. They related that the original trail design didn’t account for erosion control. Moreover the AT suffered neglect until congress acted just a few years ago.

Since, the volunteer organizations have been playing catch up, trying to repair nature’s damage. The sections of the Appalachian Trail near urban areas enjoy and abundance of volunteers while those in remote locations suffer.

Each year the Appalachian Trail Conservancy helps GSMNP by organizing volunteers from around the nation to work in the park. Their work in the Clingmans Dome area was impressive. Much, much more is needed. I’ll return as one of these volunteers in the future.

Meanwhile, after finding micro spikes for my boots, but incredibly no mittens at the Gatlinburg outfitter, the icy trails and snowy slush vanished as obstacles.

It also was old home week in a sense. I ran into around a dozen southbounders I previously met on my Shenandoah hike. It was fantastic to see their success. One of the pics includes a few of them at a hostel. breakfast.

Best of all, I ran into another bear on my last day. This time, no surprises.

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I Don’t Smoke, but the Smokies Smoked Me!

The reputation of the weather in Great Smoky Mountain National Park isn’t the best. It boasts something like 40 clear days per year. I got three of them. What a treat.

Even as I was hiking on Sunday across Fontana Dam, the southern trail head of the Appalachian Trail in the park, a kindly sheriff’s deputy stopped to ask if I knew that freezing rain or snow was expected Tuesday. Thanks, I replied. I did.

When I started my hike from Springer Mountain, Georgia, I knew iffy weather was likely. I planned accordingly for inclement weather including freezing rain and snow. In fact, the first day was a 17 degree start with brisk wind.

Researching the weather patterns before I left home, I realized anything was possible, but low temps in the mid-teens were the most likely. My gear was chosen accordingly. I have several layers, Pollyprop light weight and two pair of fleece gloves. I also have two ear bands and a knit hat. I left heavier versions of the aforementioned and mittens home. More on mittens later.

The sleeping bag is comfortable to 20. Add the lightweight down jacket, long johns and dry socks and the mid-teens are a practical possibility. Due to bulk and weight. I determined not to carry down pants or booties which would bring the system to single digits. That was a mistake.

Tuesday started pleasant enough. After a night alone at the Siler’s Bald shelter, I hit the trail at 7:30 with a royal blue rain cover on my red pack. Nice patriotic combo, I thought.

The sky was clouding to the west contrasted with a brilliant sunrise in the east. I hoped for snow over rain. It’s much easier to handle.

The wind began to howl around 9 a.m. As pellets of freezing rain spit from the west a half hour later. It reminded me of winter hikes in Colorado. I put on my rain/wind pants and jacket, opened the pit zips to manage the heat build up because I was climbing to the Clingman’s Dome observation tower. At 6,643 ft, it’s the highest point west of the Mississippi. Great place to be in a storm.

So far, so good. Temps in the 20s. Everything manageable. Snow accumulation around two inches. Not bad. I nailed the planning, or so I thought.

I made six more miles to New Found Gap, the road to Gatlinburg. When in strode across the highway, park rangers and county sheriff’s deputies were closing the highway. The pavement was glazing.

That should have been a warning to me that temps were dropping like the New Year’s ball in Times Square.

Instead, my mind was on the three vertical miles to Ice Water Spring that I had to make in 90 minutes. So, up and onward I pushed. Weather be damned. All I had to do was get to the shelter and all would be well.

During the final three mile climb, my fleece gloves began to freeze in spite of the tremendous amount of body heat I was generating. My fingers went numb. I cursed myself for not bringing water resistant mittens. So much for the average weather.

On the way up I met harbingers warning me to turn back. Ironically, among them were Magnet and her band of party animals from the flash mob in Shenandoah National Park! Smart decision folks.

Flash forward. The snow was drifting a foot deep or more by the time the ironically named Ice Water Spring Shelter came into view. The roots and rocks along the trail were glazed with ice. Worst yet, the temp was falling faster than Congressional popularity ratings.

My phone was frozen. No pics. Sorry.

Once under cover, my fingers were so stiff that I could barely manage buttoning my dry shirt. My Deuter pack lacks the buckle tabs needed so gloved hands can unloosen them. I do not recommend Deuter packs for this reason.

Realizing that the temperature could drop to survival levels, I layered up my clothing and covered my sleeping bag with the rain fly of my tent to cut the wind and harbor precious heat.

In the shelter were three young southbounders whose clothes were wet. Some wore cotton. One erected his tent for added warmth. Smart. They stayed awake all night just to survive. Lucky them.

I cat napped, but my sleep system was at the edge. At 7 a.m., the temp in the shelter was 5 degrees. Outside the ice crystals danced on the knife edge of the wind. We survived the night. Lucky us.

The southbounders planned to escape to Gatlinburg to dry out and warm up. I attempted to march on, but crashed on the icy trail twice within 20 min. It was Gatlinburg for me too.

The trail needed a day to thaw, not to mention another grossly low overnight temp was in the forecast. Discretion is the better part of valor.

So, here I sit in a hiker-friendly motel. My fingers are still numb. I bought some micro spikes in case the trail bed remains icy. Laundry is done. Plans to make Hit Springs have been revised.

Now it is time for a much earned beer. Cheers. Tomorrow we hike on. code>
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Mountain Micro Climates

Today’s lesson class is about unpredictable mountain weather. Before we begin, let’s look at the good news.

My zero in Hiawassee rebalanced my body. My left knee had been slightly sore. Now it’s fine. I also injected some healthy food and Starbucks! into my tank. Bring it on.

The day kicked off with trail magic. That’s when someone does something altruistic for you for no reason. Some one left free Gatorade at the trail head. Since the air was a chilly 40 degrees, it tasted like it was fresh from the fridge.

Big milestone today. I crossed the Georgia / North Carolina border about 1 p.m. One state down. Two if you count West Virginia. The border demarcation is Inauspicious. Had I not looked up when I did, I might have missed it.

About 1/10th of a mile further is a famous storm twisted oak a photo of which everyone takes. My only regret is that no one was around to take a photo of me reclining on it.

Now to today’s lesson.

As I left my motel room and it’s WIFI connection, I checked the Atlanta TV weather and all my weather apps. Everything said clear and sunny til Thursday. The big weather front of the previous day had moved on to rain on someone else’s parade.

Wow! I thought here we have fair weather ahead. Through out the morning-long climb up to the border, the skies seemed to be clearing with plenty of sunshine poking through the scattering clouds. The temp climbed to near 60 which is warm if you’re pulling pack full of a week’s food up hill.

Once I reached the top of Bly Gap with its view of the horizon, I noticed ominous dark clouds on the horizon. WTF! It’s supposed to be clear. Sorry Charlie. I remembered that mountains can create their own micro climates, and thus their own weather.

The black clouds rolling up from the next range over moved like a thundering stampede in my direction. The temp dropped 20 degrees in seconds while the wind gusts jumped in force. Fortunately I’d seen this phenomenon before in Colorado. I just didn’t think it occurred at 4,600 ft.

I scrambled to get on my rain gear and my pack’s rain cover. In less than five minutes we transitioned from a mild pleasant sunny day to a raging hail storm spraying pea-size hail horizontally like machine gun bullets from the west.

I through off my pack and took cover behind a convenient and rather large oak. I fished my iPhone out of my pocket to record a little combat footage. I’ll put it up the next time I have a high speed connection.

Once the microburst passed, another followed along with waves of high wind. As the temps fluctuated wildly, I pressed on to the three miles to the Muskrat Creek shelter where I am now tenting along with two southbounders.

As usually happens, with darkness the weather calmed. Amen!!! We will see what the morrow brings.

What a weather day. Class dismissed.

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Close Bear Encounter of the Wrong Kind

So I pull into camp at Carter Gap, NC really early – 3:30. Great opportunity to dry and air out my gear. I’ll pitch my tent set up my bear rope and eat early. Nice night for some rest.

I got everything together just before four. I boiled some water, zipped open a dehydrated meal and dumped in the water. It took all of ten seconds.

While the meal rehydrated, I walked to my tent to organize some things. That’s when I heard a throaty snort just off my left shoulder. Not 15 feet away stood a medium size bear looking at me. Obviously, there was no macho reason to ask him who he was looking at. It was me ’cause no one else was there.

I stood up and yelled, “Hey!” He just kept looking from the surveillance position he’d taken up in the rhododendron shadows. I walked the 30 feet back to the shelter where my food was and made some BiG noise.

I even chunked some rocks in bear buddy’s direction. I thought he was gone.

After another 20 minutes passed, I walked back to my tent. Like the Star-Spangled Banner, he was still there lurking in the shadows plain as day.

I removed the rubber tip from one of my trekking poles, exposing its sharp business end as I returned to the shelter area to I hang my food. Then and there I decided that if he wasn’t afraid of me, then the opposite construct was probably appropriate.

Flight or fight had kicked in. Like so many of my ancestors who obviously made the right choice (or I wouldn’t be here), I decided to get the hell out if there.

It took another 20 minutes to pack up with old Yogi or Booboo waiting for his chance. I was moving just before 5 p.m.

The Appalachian Trail Guide I use noted a stealth camping site about 3 1/2 miles north. I beat feet and made the site before six with the last 30 min. hiking in the dark thanks to very low clouds.

Needless to say, the first thing I did was to find a good tree and hang my food bag very high.

I

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I know you!

So it’s been seven days since I hiked off Springer Mountain, the beginning of the Appalachian Trail.

A week later Dicks Creek Gap offered an excellent opportunity for a much needed day of rest, known in the hiker world as a zero – as in nil mileage. I grabbed a shuttle for the mountain town if Hiawassee and a cheap motel that caters to the hiker trade.

A previous blog post entitled “Stolen Sign Epiphany” chronicled a lunch I enjoyed with two hikers from Tennessee whose trail names are Number 2 and Trooper. Number 2 writes a hilarious blog on http://www.trailjournals.com that has become popular. Her entries let me know that there was a very good chance our paths would cross.

Back to the cheap motel. I’m closing my door on the way to the on-site coin laundry. Hiker clothes get really funky after a week! I mean I hang my socks on a line in my tent to dry out every night. One night they smelled so bad they actually woke me up! Of course I never gave them a second thought. I kicked them out and went back to sleep.

As I closed my door, who should step out of her room but Trooper! “Hey, I know you ” we mutually exclaimed. Her clothes were in the dryer.

But there’s more. Number 2’s blog had attracted the attention of a trail angel couple from Augusta, GA. As we gathered outside waiting for our clothes, talking with the angel family, we established on connections with Georgia Tech and hiking.

This kind family treated us all to an all you can eat dinner. Thank you!

How could a stop for rest get any better than that?

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