500 Down, 1700 to go.

October 18, 2017

Only about another 1700 miles to go

 It was several years ago—probably about six years ago—that Hazen Dempster (aka “Gadget”) commented to me that he wanted to hike all of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. That comment lodged in my brain, and bounced around for a while.

          As my 55th birthday approached, wanting some kind of a challenge to take on in light of that “milestone” (hey, I rode 100 miles on my bike on my 50th birthday, so I needed to do something around 55), I decided to try and thru-hike the Georgia section of the Trail. Look back to entries from 2012 to see how that turned out—not so good.

          I eventually was able to finish the Georgia section, and once that was done, thought, “Why not North Carolina?” I chewed off the first 20 or so miles on my own, invoking the wrath of Gadget, so we set a week to finish North Carolina—which we did in 2013.

          Succeeding states and sections fell beneath our feet—the Smokies in 2014 (where we picked up Fitz Wickham (“Sawmill”) and Chad Sartamalaccia (“Pippin”), then we jumped ahead to the Roan Highlands in 2015, walked from Tennessee into Virginia in 2016 (where James Norongolo, aka “Splash” became a part of what we were now calling the “Lost Mountain Boys.”) 

          For the record, we were neither lost, nor from the mountains, nor were or are we boys, but it seemed to fit.

          Along the way, I’d managed to nibble away about another 50 miles from a gap that we created when we jumped ahead in 2015. Yes, I felt the ire of the rest of the gang, so this year we decided to tackle the gap we had between the northern border of the Smokies and Indian Grave Gap outside Erwin, TN.

          It was a challenging itinerary, forcing us to take on average about 15 miles per day over some fairly challenging terrain. The first day called for a 19-mile day; we told ourselves we’d done days that far and long before, and since we’d arranged for the first eight miles to be essentially a day hike (carrying very little), we thought we could handle it.

          We were wrong.

          The climb out of Erwin Tennessee was more than a challenge; it was a killer. Add the heat of the time to the mix, and we were withering by lunchtime, spreading out along the trail. As evening started moving in, we realized we would not make out planned stop for the night—we pulled up about three miles short and camped.

          Telling ourselves we’d make the miles up the next day, we were later breaking camp than we wanted, and difficult climb followed by treacherous descent followed by tough climbs and equally hard descents wore us down. Sawmill strained a knee, and it became obvious we were not making the planned stop for the night. Fortunately, we’d met a brother and sister who offered to give us a ride into Hot Springs, NC if needed, and we took them up on it.

          We regrouped, taking a zero day in town, admitting that our planned itinerary was too ambitious given our (ahem) advanced ages and fitness levels, and the heat and dry conditions (water was really scarce at points) worked against us, as well. Sawmill got a rental car and drove home, the remainders were shuttled to where we’d pulled out on Sunday, and started hiking. When we reached the spot we’d planned to spend Sunday night, we realized we would have all made it in the dark, if we’d ever gotten there. AT vista 9.28.17

          We plodded on, meeting and chatting with South-bound through-hikers, and making the best time we could. It was hot, climbs were difficult, I won’t mention the times we walked off-trail or thought we had, but I will mention the fact that more and more people told us about the scarcity of water. We managed.

          Fifteen miles north of Hot Springs, NC, Pippin pulled out, to be able to get home to sick babies, and prepare for his grandfather’s funeral, and to try and let his ankle that he had rolled too many times to heal. He had covered the trail into Hot Springs before, so it was not a problem.

          The dregs of us pushed on, for the better part of that Thursday, camped near the top of Rich Mountain, and made our way into Hot Springs in time for lunch on Friday.

          Tired, sweaty, footsore, bedraggled, and no doubt smelly, I had closed a gap, and Gadget was about 35 miles away from having closed one. Chuck & Hazen 9.29.17

          As we sit outside Bluff Mountain Outfitters, we have hiked close to 510 miles of the AT together. Only another 1700 to go. At this stage of the game, we’ll be about 77 when we finish the Trail!

          You get to know a guy fairly well when you walk 500 miles with him. I can’t think of another hiking partner I could trust more!

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In October of 2012, I headed out from Springer Mountain, GA, with the intent of hiking all of the Appalachian Trial in Georgia. There are 78.5 miles of the Trail in the state, and Springer Mountain is the southern terminus of the trail. Parking about .9 miles from the end, I walked (with friends) south to the end of the trial, which is marked by a brass plaque (I’m REALLY glad I’m not the one who chose the short straw and had to lug that huge chunk of metal up the mountain!), took a few pictures, then headed back down the mountain, north to the state line between Georgia and North Carolina.

As I wrote last Fall, I was sidelined on the fifth day by blisters that started the first day, and by Wednesday were simply crippling. In November, 2012, I went back and checked off another section of the Trail, picking up where I left off. But since then, the final 8+ miles have been nagging at me.

So I decided it was time to put it to rest.

Last Friday, March 22, I rolled out of bed, bot dressed, and drove north two hours to Dick’s Creek Gap. When I arrived around 8:00, it was grey and cold, about 35 degrees. I shouldered a day pack with some water and a little food (and some emergency supplies—once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout!), and stepped onto the Trail.

I passed a couple of thru-hikers as I made my way north, and saw some folks camped along the Trail, not yet out of their tents. I felt good, was equipped appropriately, and was confident.

About three miles in, I felt a bit of a hot spot on one foot, and stopped to apply a little tape so I would not get a blister (I was wearing relatively new boots, and had not yet been off-road with them.) I motored on.

I reached the marker that points out the state line in a little under four hours, stopping to take a few pictures,Chuck at GA-NC line and chat with a thru-hiker whom I’d passed but caught up when I stopped. “Bones” (his trail name) took the picture for me.

I reshouldered my pack, and headed back to my car. As I headed south, I encountered more and more people; some thru-hiking, some college students from Maryland on spring break, some folks out for just a couple of days. Some of the thru hikers were better prepared than others, I might add.

I did fine until I hit about the 13.5 mile mark of the day, and realized I was getting tired. Confident that I was equipped to spend the night on the Trail if need be, but even more confident in myself (“I’m not built for comfort, I’m not build for speed. I’m built for power and endurance,” I kept saying to myself.)

In retrospect, I did not drink enough (I had plenty of water), nor did I eat enough (I came home with food uneaten); I think I simply was running out of gas. I made the return hike in about the same time as it took me to reach the state line, despite flagging energy and stopping (to rest?) to talk to thru hikers. I reached my car (the ChuckWagon, my 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe), shed the pack and jacket, switched from boots to my Crocks, and headed for home.

I was BEAT. I stopped after about an hour and bought some VitaminWater, and it was all I could do to get out of the ChuckWagon, go in the store, and get back in the ChuckWagon and head back towards home. I pulled in the garage right at 12 hours after I’d left it.

Saturday and Sunday, I was dragging, and everything from my hips to my toes was sore. Here I am 6 days after reaching my goal, and while the soreness has gone, I was aware when on my bike this morning that I am still a little sluggish.

It really did seem like a good idea at the time. While I was in that last section, about the last three miles of the day’s walking, I was really questioning my wisdom. But when I awoke Saturday morning, in my own bed, with my wife, and coffee ready to brew, warm and dry on a cold rainy day, I was glad I’d not spent the night on the Trail.

But here’s the thing; having bagged Georgia, I’m now thinking—seriously—about North Carolina.

It seems like a good idea now . . .