“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.” – Stephen Wright
As I broke camp on Rocky Mountain, two hikers came by with their dog and stopped for a rest. The older bearded guy, Relic Hunter, was straight out of Deliverance…and I mean that as a compliment. He completed half a thru hike several years ago. While on the trail in Virginia, a bear grabbed a hold of his backpack which was leaning next to a tree by his tent. He got out, changed underwear, and followed the bear at a distance. It eventually dropped the foodless pack and moved on. Today the pack, with 3 bear claw punctures, hangs in his garage.
The younger, thin guy, Loud Owl, looked pretty tired and worn out. I asked him where the trail name came from and he explained that “owls can get pretty loud.” Fair enough. I reciprocated and told him about a time my offspring defiled a trail and that made him smile. I also learned that he was about out of food. So I gave him my relatively heavy bag of trail mix. His face lit up like a Christmas tree and he said, “thanks, Fob.” It seemed like a good and decent thing to do, but I had some other motives: 1) I’ve learned out here that I never crave trail mix…especially the sweet, messy kind. I was just carrying it up and down mountains; and 2) Reducing weight whenever possible is always a good thing. It was a Win-Win for me and young Loud Owl.
Later, I came across Driftwood who is hiking with her 20 year old special needs son, Wildwood. He doesn’t speak, but can communicate with basic sign language. I spent some time with them at Neels Gap and observed how good and caring and patient she is with him. It was good to see them and I find them very inspirational. I really want to see them finish this hike.
I descended Rocky Mountain and then began the long climb up Tray Mountain, the 7th tallest in Georgia. On the way up, I squeezed water out of a stream while a nearby brother and sister ginger team, straight from Hogwarts, washed their hair. It just never occurred to me to wash my hair in a Georgia stream in March. Next, I stopped for a break and met a French-speaking Canadian from Quebec with the trail name Diguidou!, which is slang for “everything’s good”. Neither of us spoke the other’s language, but I wanted to impress him and make him feel at home…so I said the only French words I know…”Oui, Oui, omelette du frommage” which means, “Yes, yes, cheese omelette.” He looked at me, understandably puzzled, and decided break time was over. I probably set U.S.-Canadian relations back by 20 years, and for that I’m truly sorry.
At mile 60.9, I stopped and had a candy bar at Young Lick Knob which is followed by a dip at mile 62.2 called Swag of the Blue Ridge. I’m guessing the Native Americans who named these parts had a pretty wild party that night. At Addis Gap, I hung out with Castaway, a sailor who I met on the trail on Day 1. He’s trying to make it to Virginia in the time he has off from work.
After a final climb over Kelly Knob, I descended into Deep Gap Knob and set up camp near the shelter there. There were around 25 tents set up in the vicinity, and some lively dinner conversation around the picnic table. Most hikers were in their early to mid 20s, and the topic that evening was student loan debt and how to avoid paying it. Options ranged from “just vote for Bernie Sanders” to “just don’t pay it…education is not like a house they can foreclose on…once you have it you have it.” A ginger, with remarkably vibrant hair, suggested college was a complete waste of money. I had thoughts on these subjects, like one should only borrow money if one has the intent and ability to pay it off eventually. But I kept those thoughts to myself and instead focused on keeping my fettuccine Alfredo down. It wasn’t the time and place for a lecture from an old conservative guy sitting on a log with salt formations in his Spanish Moss-looking beard.
Later, I noticed 2 German guys sitting off by themselves so I went and talked to them about trail names and my time stationed at Spandahlem Air Base. Even later, I struck up a conversation with an impressive young man from Jackson, MS, who turned out to be The Beaver…the son of a friend of a friend who I had been asked to track down. I only wish Diguidou from Quebec had been there to see that I had tracked a beaver in the wilderness.
I woke up highly motivated at 6am, because I needed to hike 3.6 miles to catch the 9am shuttle into Hiawassee for some time off. I packed up everything in the dark and departed at 6:45am while everyone else was still in their tents. I got a chance to use my headlamp for the first hour, and enjoyed hiking in the dark. Just gotta watch the steep ledges. About a half mile from the pickup point at Dicks Creek Gap, I went by a trail maintainer who was blowing leaves off the trail. I knew these folks removed trees and limbs, but it never occurred to me they used leaf blowers to keep the trail clear. I thanked him.
I arrived at the Budget Inn and signed up for 2 nights, in order to get a full zero day on Saturday, give my heels some time to heal, and to hopefully get to church services on Sunday. It’s not a race and I plan to enjoy these trail towns while I’m here. While waiting for my room to get ready, I met Pat and Meagan, a mother-daughter thru-hiking team from Vermont. Meagan graduated from Dartmouth, taught English for awhile, and is getting married in October. It was her birthday, and we were all craving coffee, so I took them for some coffee and conversation at the nearby Dairy Queen. They filled me in on the Green and White mountains I’ll face up north. Fun, random fact: the Asian guy who made our coffee was the first non-Caucasian person I had seen in a week.
Once my room was ready, I took a long hot bath followed by a long hot shower, did some laundry, and then headed straight for Daniel’s All-You-Can-Eat Steakhouse! It was so, so very good! I had a salad, bread, potatoes, fried chicken, fried fish, fried shrimp, pees, Mac n Cheese, baked beans, strawberry dessert, 2 waters, 2 diet cokes, a tall glass of chocolate milk, and a cup of coffee. Did I mention it was really good? Maybe I won’t lose weight after all!
As I walked back to the hotel, I re-supplied at a Dollar General and then headed back to the Budget Inn. Several 20-something hikers were gathered around a campfire next to the Inn drinking, smoking and sharing hiking war stories. I stopped by for a few minutes to chat, then headed off to bed…actually a sleeping bag on top of the bed. It was good to be in civilization.
Saturday…my first Zero Day! My goals were to eat, rest, take a nap, prepare my backpack, and call my wife and father. I was able to get all that in. I had a foot-long Italian BMT sub at Subway for brunch, and was joined by a traveling soccer team from Francis Marion University out of Florence, SC. I finished off the day with a Quesalupa combo and a beefy 5-layer burrito for dessert. Glad I got a single room.
It was a great zero day and I love Hiawassee. But I’m anxious to get back on the trail tomorrow and get some more miles in.
Everything is going well. In fact…Diguidou!
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