AT 2017: Day 6, Tray Mountain to Dick’s Creek Gap

A band of angels coming after me

Neal and Paul

If you only think about the Appalachian Trail as a footpath that runs from Georgia to Maine you are not fully understanding the trail. For you see, it is not just a place to walk a long distance. It is a community.

In many cases, the community members are strangers to each other, yet they all share a common interest in the hiking experience.

For some, that interest comes not just in hiking, but in making the experience better for other hikers.

DateSaturday, April 8, 2017
WeatherMostly sunny, warm
Trail ConditionsDry
Today's Miles11.3
Trip Miles69.3

Today as I hiked to Dick’s Creek Gap and my first opportunity to go into a town for rest and resupply, I had many opportunities to see the trail’s community at work.

Descending Tray Mountain

I left Tray Mountain around 9:30 a.m. At first the trail going down the mountain was steep, but soon it leveled out into an easier grade.


One of the first people I met on the trail was Rooster. He is a ridgerunner.

Ridgerunners are employees of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy or a partner club. Their job is to hike a certain section of the trail to provide assistance and monitor trail problems.

Rooster told me that a lot of effort is put into the first 30 miles of the trail. That’s where inexperienced hikers first run into problems and where overcrowded conditions are most likely to exist.

Mountain Squid, whom I met on my first day, and Smokestack, whom I met on day 2, are volunteers with similar missions.

Rooster helps to take care of the remaining trail in Georgia. Among his duties are to check on the welfare of hikers, report problems to authorities, and clean up messes uncaring hikers leave behind.

They talk to hikers to find out about problems up the trail. When I talked to him he already knew about an abandoned tent I had passed about a mile earlier.

For part of my morning I hiked with Neal and Paul, two hikers who didn’t have trail names yet.

Neal said he saw a bear cub this morning, and said he tried to make sure the cub’s mother wasn’t behind him.

Sign to Dick's Creek Gap

Most of the day’s hiking went fast, perhaps because I was anxious to get to Dick’s Creek Gap so that I could get to Hiawassee, Ga. as early as possible. I had made a reservation at the Holiday Inn Express, so a shower and town food were awaiting me.

Eventually I reached a viewpoint where I could see the road down in the distant gap. What I didn’t realize, though, was I still had about two miles to go to reach it. Those two miles were the slowest of the day.

Dick's Creek Gap

When I finally did arrive at Dick’s Creek Gap I found trail magic waiting for me.


Tippytoes, a former thru-hiker, had soft drinks and other treats there in the back of his van.

I asked a hiker the best way to get to Hiawassee. He said hitchhiking was easy, so I stuck out my thumb.

Just then, a pickup truck pulled up. A hiker climbed out of the back and four kids ran out of the truck’s cab. The kids each had bunch of bananas and proceeded to pass them out to anyone they could find, hiker or not.

The driver of the pickup got out too, and after talking to the hiker walked over to me.

He said his name was Rainman and had done a lot of the trail as a section hiker.

Rainman asked me where I was headed, and when I said I was going to Hiawassee he apologized, saying he would be willing to take me, but he was headed in the other direction.

"No problem," I said. "I'm sure I can hitchhike a ride."

The kids got back in Rainman's truck and they left. I turned back tot the road to put out my thumb.

Less than two minutes later, Rainman's truck returned to the parking area. He rolled down the window and shouted, "Is there anyone here needing a ride to Hiawassee? Is there a Gravity here?"

Yes, this kind man had taken time out again to help a hiker. The kids seemed to happily go along, and at one point on the ride into town asked me how I got my trail name.

Rainman and kids

As he dropped me off at the Holiday Inn Express and we said our goodbyes I learned Rainman works for a web development firm, and in fact, has employees who work in the same content management system I work in.

At the hotel I quickly showered, then cleaned up my gear. The hotel did not have laundry facilities, so I washed my clothes in the bathroom sink. They dry quickly, so this was no problem.

Then it was time for dinner. Next door to the hotel is Daniel's Steakhouse, for which the name sounds fancier than it really is. The restaurant is, in fact, an all-you-can-eat. In hiker terms, this is known as an AYCE, or more succinctly, heaven.

Miss Janet's van

Walking to the restaurant I immediately recognized a van in the parking lot. It's famous up and down the trail.

With Miss Janet

The van belongs to Janet Hensley, though most people know of her more affectionately as Miss Janet.

I had met her several years ago, though I cannot remember exactly when or where.

Back then Miss Janet opened her house to hikers and began shuttling them around her hometown of Erwin, Tenn. Before long her van could be seen up and down the entire length of the trail, as she extended her reach to help more hikers.

You might say she has become an archangel among trail angels.

During dinner I had an opportunity to talk to Miss Janet and her dinner companion, a hiker named Critter.

Miss Janet asked me about my hike, and as I described it, how I had been averaging around 12 miles a day and had not taken any zero days, a worried and disapproving look appeared on her face.

"You need to slow down," she said. "Throw away your spreadsheet."

"How did you know I had a spreadsheet to schedule my hike?" I asked.

She just looked at me and smiled knowingly.

Miss Janet cautioned me about starting out with too many miles, with not enough time to relax and enjoy the hike.

"Yes, but..."

She would have none of my excuses.

It was a wonderful conversation, and further proof of her care for hikers and knowledge of the trail.

As I left the restaurant, though, I had an internal argument with myself.

"She's right. You need to slow down."

"But she doesn't know me. She doesn't know how well I'm prepared."

"You can burn out without even knowing it's happening until it's happened."

"I'm feeling great. I'm not over-doing it."

This argument went on in my head for the rest of the night.


I still had things to do, though, including a short walk down to Ingles, a large grocery store, where I bought a few dinner and snack items.

Trail food

Back at the hotel I sorted out the food. It's remarkable how much a hiker eats and how much of that food would be considered junk food under non-hiking circumstances.

As I went to bed, I was still unable to shake Miss Janet's words from my head.

"You're going too fast."

She was right, I decided. I just didn't know how I could stick to my goals and slow down.

Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home

I looked over Jordan and what did I see
Coming for to carry me home
A band of angels coming after me
Coming for to carry me home


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.