Around 4PM, I began my climb out of Dick’s Creek Gap toward the top of Powell Mountain, fully stocked on snacks again (and sporting a brand new pair of Leki pokes), but all alone. After 3.5 miles, I stopped at Deep Gap Shelter to check it out. It was one of those shelters designed like an outdoor theater, with a wide stage on the front. I took off my shoes to let them air out and started on my snacks. I was listening to the new audiobook I had downloaded on Mama’s laptop at the Unicoi Lodge: Cory Doctorow’s For the Win. I wasn’t exactly expecting a YA novel, but I was getting into it a bit, just on the basis of the unusually multicurtural characters. Actually, I can’t remember another time I’ve read any other novel not largely focused on American characters. Oh, I remember one: Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. I’m getting off-track. So, yeah, I sat there on the bench on the front of the shelter for the brighter part of the afternoon before I finally decided to get going.
During our 45-minute meeting on the side of the road, as action-packed as it was, my parents had a few moments to spare a word or two about the cottages they’d been in the past two nights (and in which I would spend that night). They sounded nice, but I was a hiking fool. I looked and smelled like I needed a shower, but I felt rested and energized and ready to hike my greasy head across another 13 mile stretch. The range of elevations would be only 1300 feet, with the change spread out over the whole day, and I was ready for an easy day. (Compare this with the multiple 2500 foot elevation changes of the previous day.) In fact, it would be even easier than it looked: the terrain was downright pleasant.
I wanted to do another magic this year, and we had one all set up to go the weekend in April before I left for Europe, but unfortunately, with it going to be miserable squeezing in the preparations for it with all the other stuff that was going on then, plus someone who wanted to come having to cancel, plus the weather going sour, that plan was dropped. And then, because my European vacation was such a scheduling nightmare for my center director at work, I couldn’t get permission to go to Trail Days in Damascus, VA. Maybe next year! However, I was guaranteed to get Memorial Day off work, because it was a holiday, so I decided it was my last chance of the season. I asked Dangerpants, of whom I am unendingly jealous because she got to go to Trail Days, to ask the hikers there about where on the trail most of this year’s hikers were. Most of the people she spoke to had either hiked as far as Erwin, TN or Damascus. Even though I was personally as far as the Shenandoahs last year (and so my instinct had been to set up magic on the bank of the Tye River south of Waynesboro, VA), I realized there were quite a number of people who didn’t leave Springer until April, and that we could save a lot of gas money by just going a trail-week up from Damascus to the Mt. Rogers Visitor Center in Marion, VA.
It took me the better part if a month to get through New Hampshire, because there is no doubt that it was the most grueling section of trail I hiked, not necessarily because the trail was the hardest trail I hiked(it was the second hardest), but because it was the hardest trail Copper hiked. I will not deny that the Whites are a major challenges when stacked up against any section of trail further South: as high as the Smokeys, as rapid in elevation change as southern New York, as rocky (at times) as Pennsylvania, the worst weather in the world (in some places), and as little chance to truly prepare for this challenge as for hiking the trail in the first place. On the other hand, I can’t deny that when they are good, they are absolutely flabbergastingly amazingly mind-bogglingly thought-stoppingly astounding—the highest highs and the lowest lows. I have no idea how anyone ever decides to do the trail Southbound, to attempt Maine and the Whites on fresh legs, and worse, to “eat dessert first” and end with the rather uninteresting-in-comparison Georgia terrain. Rollercoasters have to start with the best and end with the least, but if we had our druthers, would we not choose to do it in reverse?
But I can’t say that all of this assessment is retrospect. The few Southbounders and previous hikers freely talked about how amazing—and how difficult—the Whites would be, and by the time I rolled into Hanover, I was practically gushing over with excitement at how close I was. Less than a week from that moment, I knew I’d already be on Moosilauke, and bagging my first 4000-footer in the Whites. And I knew my pace would be slowing dramatically.
But I also knew it’d been days since my last shower, and that I would be in this town for two more days at least. Might as well take the time to mentally prepare myself for the challenges ahead. Eat some good hot food. Do some slackpacking. Drink a beer. Or two. Or three. Maybe hang out with Six and Dangerpants, whom I knew had gotten there ahead of me. In some sense, I guessed that I had never truly hiked before, even after some 1400 miles, based on what people were saying. That one can’t really say “I’m a long-distance hiker” and be taken seriously until the Whites are behind them, but I hadn’t really internalized it. The excitement was forefront. Now that I’ve done it, I can say: I know that I know that I know that it’s true.
I wasn’t the only one crossing that bridge into New Hampshire at that particular time and place, but I can’t pin down for certain who it was. It might have been High Tide and Blockade Runner again. Or it may have been random non-hiker strangers. Either way, they were nice enough to take our picture.
Dangerpants and I have been planning for the last few weeks to go up to north Georgia and do some magic for some of this year’s crop of hikers, and it turned out this past Sunday was the best day for both of us.
Leading up to it, I had a crazy week preparing, while also helping with planning my sister’s new bunk bed and doing a phone interview and working. On Friday, I went out and bought $150 of groceries and supplies, baked some brownies, and made a list of things to pack, but didn’t get the opportunity to pack them. What with getting my blogging hours in Friday night, I ended up only getting two hours of sleep before I had to get up for work. Then, after work, I had to get to Atlanta to catch the performance of Broadway’s Once at the Fox with my sister’s boyfriend Jimmy. With the MARTA trip both ways, I didn’t make it back until nearly midnight, which, with the time change, gave me six hours of sleep. I’d got most of my blogging done on the train, but I still had a few minutes left, so I finished it out and got five hours before I got up at the crack of dawn. I got enough coffee and cereal in me to wake up, then started gathering and loading things into the car. By the time I got everything together (including tracking down and replacing batteries in a hidden mattress pump) and got Copper in the car, it was almost 9am.
Dangerpants also got up at the crack of dawn, and she had prepared better, managing to make it to the trail on time (about 9am). Since I wasn’t there, she went into Hiawassee to check for calls from me. I was under the misapprehension that I hadn’t specified an exact time of arrival (just intending to arrive as early as I could manage) and so, of course, I didn’t call, thinking she wouldn’t be there yet either. (I also thought she’d be coming from Auburn, which is much farther than where she actually started from.)
When I arrived at the trailhead at Dick’s Creek Gap around 10:30am and started to unload, she got out and walked over, seeming very miffed. Oops. Not a good way to start. Anyway, not too many hikers had come by, so we unloaded our goods and set up, and it turns out she had been quite as creative in her shopping as I tried to be, and there wasn’t any real duplication of items. All the bases were covered for a good hiker feed.
Even before we’d finished laying out our wares, hikers started showing up. Here’s who partook of our offerings, in order of appearance: Continue reading
Setting up a hammock over mud not only got my mosquito net tent dirty, it made it uniquely tricky to climb out of it in the morning. Routine for this style of camping is trying to find places to step that aren’t on your own gear, and standing hunched over due to the height restrictions imposed by the rainfly. However, you sort of come to count on the ground being there for you. I started the the morning by plopping down onto my butt without warning. Continue reading
It’s fitting that the Vermont border is at the top of a hill. It was only 2.5 miles from camp to Vermont, but it seemed like more, partly because of the excitement of entering a new, higher state, widely held to be one of the most beautiful on the trail, but also partly because halfway up, I found someone I hadn’t seen in about 3 months…going south. If you knew him, or remember things I wrote half a year ago, you’d realize who I must be speaking of instantly, but since it’s unreasonable to expect that of anyone who wasn’t there, I’ll remind you.
Since the trail came out onto Depot St. in Dalton just feet away from a hardware store (L.P. Adams) which was known to provide alcohol/oz. to hikers, I thought I’d try to see if they had any propane canisters, since my cans were feeling a bit light. Of course they didn’t have it.
So I headed down Depot St. until I arrived at some promising-looking town food. A chain of businesses was built right into an old, old depot, one of which looked to have some good beer and pub grub (Mill Town Tavern). I tied Copper to a bench out front and filled his bowl with water, then claimed the window seat just inside so I could watch him and my backpack while I ate and charged my phone. I was finished with my meal by the time I saw the two from the shelter arrive, having had a number of issues getting to town. I believe I was leaving by the time they decided to grab some lunch there too. Continue reading
Despite the lateness of the hour, we still had plenty of light left, and once we finally hit the trail, we moved fast. I didn’t expect to go very far, just perhaps to Brassie Brook Shelter. Copper was just a week out from being unable to stand up on his own, after all. When we stopped in at Brassie Brook Shelter, there was plenty of daylight and energy left, so I decided to move on after a snack, especially when one other fast-moving Nobo I hadn’t met (well, obviously, seeing as how I’d fallen behind by a week) stopped in for a moment and decided he’d move on. Even though I left slightly before him and basically moved as quickly as I could to reach the top of Bear Mountain, he passed me moving twice as fast somewhere on the steep rocky slopes. I redoubled my speed and chased him to the top, where we stopped next to an enormous rock pile in the shape of a frustum. Years and years ago, when it was still a complete pyramid, it looked like this: Continue reading
Since this is primarily a trail blog and the (more than a) week I spent in Boston while Copper recovered is a distinctly non-hiking activity, I’m not going to give a day-by-day breakdown of my activities. Indeed, half the time I spent there, I sat around Vicki’s house doing very little (although I must say, that being able to do so for a change was wonderful).
Here’s a sort of highlight reel (in no particular order): Continue reading