Today was a day of improvisation, which I am quickly learning is an important skill to have when hiking long distances.
The day began slowly. I quickly regretted taking my time to wake up and get on the trail. I wanted back my wasted time a few hours later when I realized I needed more daylight at the end of the day.
|Date||Wednesday, April 5, 2017|
|Weather||Sunny and warm, high reaching near 80|
|Trail Conditions||Drying out after yesterday's heavy rain|
My plan for the day seemed sensible. I hiked 14.5 miles yesterday, which was a lot for my first day. I thought it was wise to not push so hard today.
I ate a leisurely breakfast and made sure my gear was dry and in good shape before I began to pack.
Unfortunately, more time was lost when I couldn't find a small stuff sack I used for my tent stakes. Oddly, I had put it away for safekeeping last evening in a stuff sack for my water filter.
I try to be organized in camp, but this was a good reminder to put items in logical places.
I wasn't finished packing until nearly 9 a.m. There was no good reason for that and I resolved to do better.
Once I was finally back on the trail, the hiking started out easy. There were no steep climbs at first. The weather was sunny, warm, and beautiful. I cruised along at a good pace.
After I passed a side trail to Gooch Mountain Shelter, I met a couple of trail volunteers. I only talked briefly to one before she continued on, and I didn't get her name.
The other volunteer stopped to chat and he told me his name was Smokestack. He was another of the many committed volunteers who help to make the Appalachian Trail safe and enjoyable for everyone.
Smokestack told me the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club (GATC) has about 300 members, with at least half of them actively involved in trail maintenance and other club responsibilities.
GATC maintains all 78.2 miles of the AT in the state. From what I've seen so far, they do a fantastic job. The trail and shelters have been in perfect condition. Considering how many hikers start from Georgia in the spring, that says a lot.
After Smokestack and I ended our conversation, I resumed hiking briskly. I hoped to make up some of the time I lost from my slow start.
When the trail turned to the southern side of Gooch Mountain, I noticed many wildflowers. Some were bloodroot, which were thriving in the bright and warming sunlight. (I originally misidentified these as rue anemone.)
The bloodroot plant gets its name from the red juice that flows from its stem below the ground. Native Americans were known to use the juice when they wanted to add red coloring to baskets, clothing, and war paint.
My wife is always reminding me to watch where I step. She worries I will fall and break a bone. And to be honest, I do too. For that reason, I shouldn't admit to what happened next.
I stepped awkwardly on a rock with my right foot. It twisted at a bad angle, which immediately sent daggers of pain shooting from my ankle to my toes. The pain also radiated up my leg.
"Now you've done it," I said to myself, or words to that effect.
After only a few moments of agony, the pain began to subside a little. When I tried to walk a few steps it remained painful, but I decided I probably didn't break anything.
I limped ahead for about 10 minutes until I found a rock at the side of the trail. I decided to sit there to eat a snack and rest my ankle.
A hiker approached me while I sat on the rock. He told me his trail name was Beans, as in Cocoa Beans. The reason for that was obvious as soon as he added he was from Hershey, Pennsylvania.
I told Beans about how I sprained my ankle and was only a little worried about it. He said he was an x-ray technician, and he broke a leg on a thru-hike attempt last year.
I figured this made him something of an expert on hiker injuries, which was just what I needed at that moment.
Beans asked me where the pain was in my leg. I described how it shot up my leg and was now located just above my ankle. By this time it wasn't hurting as much.
He said told me it didn't sound like my leg was broken, and I agreed. I was already thinking it was probably a minor high ankle sprain. I was grateful for a second opinion, nonetheless.
Beans also told me about the weather forecast for tomorrow. It didn't sound promising. Severe thunderstorms were expected to come through by mid-morning.
This is when I started to regret my slow start this morning. After Beans left, I calculated the distance remaining to Neel Gap, which is on the other side of Blood Mountain. Then I compared how long that might take me to get there with the daylight remaining for today.
If I left camp sooner this morning, I realized, there might have been enough time to make the climb over Blood Mountain tonight. Now there didn't seem to be a chance for that.
I was also now walking slower than before. Along with a sore right ankle, I was starting to get some pain in my left knee. There wasn't much chance I was going to pick up my pace.
There was another factor to weigh in how fast I could go, though this wasn't one to complain about. I heard a rumor trail magic was just ahead at Woody Gap. I wasn't about to pass that up.
It was becoming clear I was not going to make the climb over Blood Mountain today before dark.
I figured the best I could do today was get to Jarrard Gap before dark, so I set a time goal in my head and pressed forward.
There was an open view from a ledge on Ramrock Mountain. I stayed there for just a minute because I didn't want to miss the rumored trail magic.
A sign posted on the trail just before Woody Gap confirmed the rumor. I wasn't too late.
I was greeted by four ladies. Two were from Indiana and two were from Georgia. They were serving beans and franks, fresh fruit, and candy. They also had special cookies made for hikers who had served in the military.
If you've never heard of trail magic before, that's what it is. Simply put, kind and generous people provide unsolicited support for thru-hikers.
After a tasty and much-appreciated break, I began hiking again. So far today, I had only walked six miles, and the time was already past 1:30 p.m.
Though Jarrard Gap was now less than six miles away, I knew the next part of the trail would be more difficult, with some steep climbs coming up.
The first steep climb came right after I left Woody Gap, though this one was short. The trail entered Blood Mountain Wilderness, then went up 500 feet in 1.2 miles.
About a mile from the gap was Preacher's Rock, a rock ledge with a nice view. Again, I only stayed a moment before continuing on. My mind was still on tomorrow's approaching storm.
Still, I was there long enough to notice smoke rising a couple of miles away in the valley. This was a disturbing sight, considering the number of terrible wildfires that hit parts of the southeast U.S. last fall.
When I stopped for some water on the descent after that climb, I met three hikers, Wizard, Foxy, and James (no trail name yet). I hiked with them for a mile or so before getting to Lance Creek.
They told me they intended to hike over Blood Mountain today and hoped to get to Neel Gap before dark. All three were younger and somewhat faster than me, so they could possibly do it.
Neel Gap was more than seven miles from Lance Creek, and I had already hiked this section once before. I knew from that and the time goal I set earlier today, I wouldn't be able to go that far before dark.
I definitely didn't want to hike down from Blood Mountain in the dark, especially when factoring in my sprained ankle.
My original plan to stop at Jarrard Gap was now confirmed. I just had to solve two problems.
The first was about water. I wasn't sure there was any to be found before the gap. One source said a stream could be found three-tenths of a mile near the gap, though it wasn't easy to find. Another said an unreliable spring was only 100 feet away.
My second problem had to do with camping at the gap. The U.S. Forest Service requires campers to have a bear canister if they stop overnight between Jarrard Gap and Neel Gap from March 1 to June 1. I needed to find a place to camp that wasn't violating this regulation.
I'm certain bears can't read a calendar, so the regulation probably has little to do with the number of bears in the area. The bear canister requirement was probably set to discourage the over-use of campsites during the thru-hiker bubble.
I was less than a mile to go before reaching Jarrard Gap when I met two hikers, Donqui (as in Don Quixote) and Q-Tip. They were setting up camp a few yards from the trail.
Donqui and Q-Tip told me they were also concerned about tomorrow's forecast. They planned to get up early and try to beat the worst of the weather.
I agree that was a good plan, but with less than a liter of water with me, I needed to find some before I could stop for the night.
That problem was solved about a tenth of a mile before the gap. A small spring next to the trail provided plenty of water. I just needed to scoop it from a small puddle.
I collected and filtered two liters, which would be enough to cook dinner and get me over Blood Mountain tomorrow morning.
When I reached the gap, I started looking for a flat spot to camp. There were some nice spaces nearby, but I decided they were past where bear canisters were required.
I backtracked to find flat ground before the sign for the gap but found none.
Then I spied a gate with a "road closed" sign. The road was bumpy at first but leveled out a couple hundred yards past the sign. That's where I pitched my tent.
Maybe the Forest Service would say it was within the regulated area, but at this point, I was willing to take the risk. It seemed unlikely a ranger would be walking by after dark, and I planned to pack up early tomorrow.
As an added precaution, I hung my food before crawling into my tent.
Most of today's problems were now solved. There was still the matter of my sprained ankle and sore knee, but I was mostly concerned about getting over Blood Mountain in the morning without being struck by lightning.
Of course, I also needed to remain alert for bears in search of hikers without bear canisters. They're more likely to enforce the regulation than a ranger.
Why don't we do it in the road
Why don't we do it in the road
Why don't we do it in the road
Why don't we do it in the road
No one will be watching us
"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.