March 3, 2018
Destination: Dick’s Creek Gap (Hiawassee) Today's Miles: 3.60
Start Location: Blue Mountain Shelter Trip Miles: 69
Sometimes it takes a nero (near zero mile day) and some town travel to help reveal the magic of the trail. That certainly proved to be the case today.
The trail is a funny thing. It kind of forces you to let go. Plans constantly require adjustment, so it’s best just to try to be prepared to be safe and let the details work themselves out. I woke up at about 5:30am at Deep Gap Shelter. Right before I fell asleep I heard the guys in the loft above me banging around at a mouse. My fear in shelters is always that a mouse will chew through my sleeping bag, which is down, and ruin its insulating abilities. Fortunately that did not happen. Hopefully those in the loft above me faired ok.
It was a cold 30 degrees in the gap, but the wind had died down so it felt much warmer than the prior morning on Blue Mountain. I snoozed a bit, not wanting to brave the cold outside of my sleeping bag. I knew I needed to get cracking though, as the shuttle run by the Budget Inn where I wanted to stay was supposed to be at Dick’s Creek Gap around 9am. But......a Hungry Cat’s gotta eat! I decided to multitask and started boiling water while repacking my gear. I basically have two sets of clothes - one to hike in and one to sleep in. I hike in pants and sleep in tights. On cold nights I shove my fleece in the bottom of the toe box of my sleeping bag. It keeps my feet warmer and also keeps the fleece warmer for the morning. Some people use down booties, but I find the fleece to be a great multi-purpose alternative. I can nestle my feet in it or just rest them on it. The latter is what I usually do. Anyway, while my water worked up a boil, I did the painfully cold dance of stripping off my pants and then tights outside the shelter, then putting just my pants back on. I like to wear both until right before I get moving to help keep warm. I also stripped off my puffy jacket and packed that. I never hike with it. I deliberately did not filter water. I had a liter and that would be plenty to get me to the gap. My right knee was bugging me so I wanted to minimize weight and extra water would be counterproductive.
My water ready, I poured a cup of coffee and two packs of instant oatmeal. I use a homemade pot cozy to keep my water warm. That way I can pour it into one oatmeal packet, eat that, and then it stays hot for the second packet (or second cup of coffee).
It was time to hit the trail. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take a lazy pace if I wanted to make the 9:15am shuttle and not wait for the 11am shuttle. So, I tried to keep up a decent pace. The trail felt like permafrost, frozen overnight like a hardened clay. I took some photos of the beautiful views, but scampered to the top of Powell Mountain. I had a signal on the mountain so I phoned the Budget Inn to let them know I was coming.
I hiked on in solitude. As I descended into Moreland Gap, I met a day hiker who asked me how bad the climb was. He was headed south. I told him I didn’t know since I was headed north, but that I hoped it wasn’t as bad as the downhill. He probably thought that was weird, but I’m an uphill man in a downhill world - the struggle is real (for my knees)!
Shortly after that I heard the road and made it to Dick’s Creek Gap at 8:53am. I had left camp at 7:15am, so not a bad clip for gimpy cat.
I had called the inn from the mountaintop because the gap is known for not having a cell phone signal. Surprisingly, I was able to get a fleeting signal anyway, and got a few texts off to my wife and a friend, before the ephemerality that so frequently plagues AT&T in the mountains manifested itself in the little red exclamation marks beside my text messages. Oh well - I would touch base once in town.
I sat down, looked at my AT guidebook, and then started charging my phone in my pocket. A hiker came nearby looking at the sign to the gap, and suddenly I hear: “Hungry Cat?” I looked up expecting to see someone from the shelter, or maybe from the day before, but I did not recognize the woman standing in front of me. Now, my wife will tell you this is not unusual and that I have face blindness, but that’s debatable (according to me), and it’s a story for another day (and maybe for someone who looks like you but isn’t actually you). I must have looked puzzled (an expression I have perfected so that it is almost just my face - resting puzzled face) because she then introduced herself as Louise, explained that we hadn’t met, but that she was reading my trail journal and recognized me (the hat stands out I guess). She then said that she didn’t mean to seem like a stalker, but happened to be out hiking for the day and spotted me by chance. I found that comment hilarious. I’m not afraid of stalkers anyway - my BO is so bad at this point, I have natural defenses! But in all seriousness, I was delighted and surprised that someone would recognize me, so I asked her if we could take a picture together and if I could post it. So, for today’s cover photo shoot, meet Louise! Louise, it was awesome meeting you and I wish you the best of luck on your hike! If you hike long enough, you will become a stalker of food! Now maybe Louise will write a journal, and another hiker will read that journal and find Louise, and then another hiker will read that hiker’s journal and find that hiker, and then I’ll end up working with that hiker who is actually Louise’s cousin who falls in love with the other hikers who I never met but then meet later. It would be an AT version of the movie Crash. I digress....
After Louise left I waited around the parking lot and noticed a guy sleeping in a minivan with the engine on. I continued waiting. 9:15 went by, no shuttle. Then, I see a hiker named Zane come across the road. We chatted for a bit. He needed to go into town to try and have his phone fixed. It had gotten wet the day before and stopped working. As we were chatting, the van guy woke up and came outside. He asked us if we had seen anyone else coming down the mountain. Neither of us had. He was waiting for his brother and he was late. His brother is starting a thru hike on April 15 and was out testing gear. I believe Van Guy’s name was Jason. He said he couldn’t wait on his brother much longer as he had to get to Atlanta, but that he would give us a ride into town. I told him I was going to the Budget Inn, at which point he told me that it had a bad reputation and that a lot of folks hang out there and do drugs. That definitely had me concerned as I had not heard this at all. I thanked him for the warning, figuring I would check it out and if it seemed too dodgy just walk down the road to the next place. As we were talking, a van pulled up and a couple of hikers jumped out. The driver Tim was a gregarious guy. I thought he was a shuttle at first, but turns out he was just a nice guy giving people rides to help them out. I guess you could say he was a situational trail angel. Anyway, Tim gave Zane and I a ride into town for free, which was awesome (big thanks Tim!!!) Tim knew the area well and had hiked a lot of the trail. In the south he’s what we call “good people.”
When we got to the Budget Inn, there were hikers in the parking lot and it looked fine! I went in and booked a room, which was ready shortly. My goal for this trip was to clean up, eat up, supply up, and rest up. The hot shower felt incredible! It was really something else. I got some quarters from the front desk for their onsite laundry. There was a hiker box in the lobby full of free items other hikers didn’t want. I grabbed a bag of Idahoan mashed potatoes - score!
I made a shopping list for resupply and walked a quarter mile down the road. I stopped at a few outdoor stores along the way to look for good insoles, but no one had any. As for food, the Huddle House was my pony, so I went there for brunch at about 11am. I had an amazing experience there, but I need to get to bed so I will tell that story of magic tomorrow.
After said magical event, I went to the local Ingles to resupply. I think my food bag will be even heavier than when I started!!! Ugh. I wish I weren’t so hungry all the time! I shouldn’t have hiker hunger yet. I told my wife that and she said “you had hiker hunger before you left.” It’s true.... I went back to the hotel to do laundry and ran into Bear Meat and Cassandra! I love seeing those guys. We chatted and caught up on our trail tales since our divergence a few days prior. I told Cassandra that for whatever reason, because she is an E.R. Nurse, in my head I would always call her “Clooney.” I had seen commercials recently for reruns of ER where George Clooney was really young, so it kind of stuck in my head. Also, the alliteration if Clooney and Cassandra helped me remember her name. She seemed to warm up to the nickname. We’ll see if it becomes her trail name! They were in the “honeymoon suite” and it had its own jacuzzi.... We joked about how maybe that was a “look but don’t use” jacuzzi. There’s just something about hot swirling water in a tub beautifully crafted with holes that recirculate said water. It’s like a Panama City Beach spring break for the bacteria family. They get everywhere.
In the laundry room, someone had left free detergent. More magic! I put in a wash and walked to the rite aid down the street to get some shoe inserts. Doctor Sholls would have to do. I chatted with Bear Meat and another gent whose name I can’t recall. I had seen him in a gas station on my way to the approach trail and told him I recognized him. Small world.... There was a nice patch of green in front of the laundry, so I foraged a bit while we talked and ate some dandelion leaves for vitamin c. I’m used to getting a lot more veggies in my diet. He told me that in a month or two we might find ramps on the trail. That would be amazing.
I finished up laundry, cleaned and organized gear and food, then went to Barney’s Tap Room next door for dinner. I had Barney’s Famous Ruben and potato salad, and a slice of chocolate pie. It was all incredible, and I met Barney as well! I actually had to go back to the restaurant about 45 minutes later when I realized I left my jacket there. They were very sweet about it and the lady there (I think Barney’s wife) said she grew up in Brookhaven when I told her I was from Atlanta.
Tomorrow I will talk about my Huddle House brunch. Hungry Cat needs some sleep! I’m so glad I took today to resuooly ir none of these great things would have happened. I’m grateful for the beautiful weather today, the kindness of strangers, and that the dirty dandelion leaves I ate didn’t upset my stomach. Hungry Cat, out!
Postscript: My Father-in-Law asked if I brought a leather man knife on the trail. Ron, nope! I brought the tiniest Swiss Army knife ever and it is my new best friend! It’s the best ultralight backpacking knife I’ve seen, and it does everything I need for field repairs/tasks for 18 bucks! Comes super sharp too. I posted a picture of it in my photo gallery.