“The cold never bothered me anyway.” – Elsa, Frozen
I awoke at Rich Cove Gap to brutally cold temperatures…mid-20s with winds gusting at about 20-25 mph. The good news is that my Western Mountaineering Alpinlite 20 degree sleeping bag + Sea to Summit Thermo-Lite Liner form a cocoon that keeps me warm at night. The bad news is that if I’m ever going to make it to Maine, I have to be willing to depart the cocoon and take on the elements.
After getting dressed inside my tent, I stepped out to find an inch of snow on the ground, howling winds, and freezing temps. Job 1 was to relieve myself in the snow by a nearby tree. (TMI Alert). I took my gloves off causing my cold hands to get the kind of cold where they start hurting. Trembling, I unzipped my fly and reached in. To my dismay, there was nothing there. Felt around…nothing. It seems the body part I was looking for had recessed into my body cavity and was lodged in a defensive position somewhere behind my gall bladder. I was not a happy camper. Shaking all over, I sang a couple of Mountain Dew ditties to coax him out…and then spelled “AT 2016″ in the fresh coat of snow. Only I ran out before I got to 6, which left the impression of a 3rd Century hiker.
I packed up camp as quickly as possible, knowing the best way to warm up is to hike. The snowy scenery was gorgeous, but I was focused on not falling, and trying to get the pain out of my hands by squeezing the trekking poles and wiggling my fingers. I was so focused, in fact, that I missed the iconic sign marking my crossing of the border into North Carolina. 1 down, 13 to go! As I climbed Bly Gap, the snow deepened and would run 1″-4” deep for the next several hours. At the top of the Gap, I stopped, out of breath, hands hurting, wind blowing…and decided this was easily the low point of the first 10 days. I celebrated this low point by gobbling down brown sugar cinnamon sawdust (aka, a pop tart)…which instantly stuck to and dried out my mouth. I reached back for my water bottle and discovered it was frozen…thus creating an all-new low point. (Lesson learned: put at least 1 liter of water in the tent with you on cold nights. Just don’t confuse it with the other bottle.)
So with sawdust stuck to my tongue and cheeks and snot running unabated down over my mustache, I decided to…hike! You just keep walking. You suck it up and remind yourself that things will get better…and they did. By the time I reached Standing Indian Shelter, the sun had come out and my hands had warmed up. I met two Aussies while squeezing water. They live in a desert and had never seen or been in snow before that morning. Looking over at me, they also saw their first American snotstache.
I continued hiking and passed Once a Day, who I had met a few days earlier. She is from The Netherlands. She fell several times on each of her first few days on the trail. A fellow hiker told her that if she must fall, she should try to do so only once a day…and the name stuck.
The afternoon was slightly warmer and manageable…high 30s. After a fairly exhausting 13.7 mile day (longest so far), I pulled into the Beech Gap tenting area (mile 90.7). One thing I’ve learned about myself on the trail: If I interact with a lot of people during the day, I tend to like the solitude of a remote mountain top at night. However, if I’ve had minimal human contact during the day, then I kind of like being around others at night…at a tenting area or near a shelter.
This would turn out to be an enjoyable night with several interesting hikers. Introductions…
- Maine Mike – older guy, from Maine (duh), told lots of interesting stories about hiking in Maine.
- Night Whisperer – so named because he talks in his sleep. From Connecticut. Handed out mini-Reece’s peanut butter cups to arriving hikers. Built a great fire that night and the following morning!
- Bert – young guy from LA. Near-term goal is to get drunk in Franklin. Bummed a highly coveted (for smokers) cigarette off Maine Mike, and then another…behavior which eventually will earn him a trail name.
- Maia – pastry maker; 120 lb young woman carrying a 40+ lb pack…not good. From Colorado, now lives in Indiana. After the trail plans to move to Poland where her mom is from. Hadn’t slept in 3 nights because of the cold. I lent her my sleeping bag liner for the night…no worries, I didn’t come with it.
- Sir Fob W. Pot – older dude, reeks of manure. Misses his wife. Handed out Girl Scout cookies around the fire, courtesy of the Crum family. Big hit!
After sharing war stories around the campfire, we retired around 9 p.m., aka hiker midnight. The bonding around the campfire drowned out the brutally cold morning we had all endured.
BTW, here’s the final Georgia AT tale of the tape:
Toughest climb – out of Unicoi gap (due to slope, heat, and heel blisters)
Toughest descent – off of Blood Mountain
Falls – 0
Wildlife seen – 1 squirrel, 1 salamander, ~ dozen birds, including 2 owls, 0 bears
BMs in the Woods – 1 (@ newly named Quesalupa Gap)
Weight gain/loss- Unknown
Finally, a contest…by comment on this blog or on Facebook or on Trailjournals, guess when Fob will see his first bear. Be specific…a shelter or mountain or gap or town (unlikely) or mile marker…not “Virginia”. Yes, there will be a prize. Entry deadline is this Sunday night, 3/27.
I wish I could write more…but baby, it’s cold outside.
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