The mountains are calling and I must go. – John Muir
I don’t know how this hike will end, but the beginning was fantastic! A fellow sojourner, Maureen, arranged for Lil Jan and me to spend 2 nights in a cabin not far from Springer Mountain. The cabin belongs to her friend, and our new friend, Arlin…thank you, sir! Turns out Arlin is the father of Terry Chapman, who we know from our FL Bible Camp days. Small world. The cabin was right on the Toccoa River and a perfect place to be.
On Friday, we headed to Amicalola Falls State Park with Maureen and Arlin, and met up with a bunch of family…my Dad, sister Ellen, her hubby Vin, her daughter Lizzie, Jan’s sister Carol, her hubby Scott, and Vin’s brother Tim. We hiked up the Falls (killer steps!), ate at the lodge, and checked out the visitors center. I also registered for my hike…I’m hiker #564 to start the trail this year. That night Janet carbo loaded me up with chili and pasta. I slept surprisingly well, even though I was a tad anxious.
Saturday morning we all rendezvoused at the Springer Mountain parking lot. That was no small feat as the 6 mile Forest Road 42 leading to the parking lot was gravel and full of potholes. Thankfully we were in a Honda Fit. ? We then headed up the .9 miles to the Springer Mountain summit and southern terminus of the AT. We took some photos, I signed the logbook and then I took the first of what I hope will be about 5 million steps. Back down at the parking lot we circled up and Vin led us in prayer. I then hugged everyone, kissed my wife, and almost cried. So many emotions were going through my head. I can’t express how cool it was having all those folks there. Or the texts and Facebook posts from all over…even high school friends that I haven’t seen in 30+ years! I have truly felt the love and support and encouragement. I carry a piece of each of you with me. If you want that piece back, see my son Jason…he does prosthetics!
About 100 yards down the trail I sensed a guy on my tail. I turned and asked him if he was going to Maine. He said yes so I gave him a fist pump and we’ve been hiking buddies ever since. His name is Matt and he recently graduated from UNC-Wilmington. Loves jazz music and reminds me a lot of Luke Larsen, for those who know him. He decided to take a year off before starting law school. He’s a competitive rifle and pistol shooter which I thought might come in handy hunting wolverines but he’s not packin. He has a slightly faster motor than me on the up hills…probably because hes’s not 50 and chunky.
Our first day of hiking was beautiful and unseasonably warm. I stopped at the Stover Creek Shelter privy to relieve myself because apparently the thousands of trees in every direction weren’t good enough for me. We met several other hikers there and later at the Hawks Mountain shelter. We learned that a woman had to medically evacuated from there because she spilled boiling water on her leg while cooking. Sorry to hear that. Matt and I ended up camping on the top of the first hill north of Hightower Gap. I had beef stew and peanut butter and crackers for supper. We hung our bear bags, built a fire, and set up camp. It had been a near perfect 8.9 mile day 1 and I dozed off to sleep about 9pm.
The heavy rain and wind gusts started about midnight. I was kind of excited about it because I wanted to test everything out early on the hike. I stayed warm and dry in my UL Flycreek 2 tent. Matt didn’t fair so well in his hammock and tarp. In fact he got soaked. I felt bad for him but he bounced back pretty quickly.
I got up at 7:30, packed up in the rain, and ate the pop tart that had been sitting in the bottom of my food bag for the past 2 months of training hikes. It was basically brown sugar cinnamon sawdust. Sassafras Mountain, at 3347 feet, was my first butt kicker. It’s not as difficult as what lies ahead, but it’s difficult because your lungs and legs are still getting acclimated to these altitudes. The moderate rain didn’t help. My glasses were fogging up so I took them off…causing my vision to fog up.
Our luck improved around noon as the sun came out and we had lunch and got water at the beautiful Justus Creek. Later we paid a visit to Gooch Gap shelter and talked to several hikers. One guy was a 50 year old pastor from Belleville IL (where we used to live) who has a son who spent 2 years at Harding University where Kyle and Jason go/went. A short time later, at Gooch Gap, we got our first trail magic!!! A former thru hiker, Sticks, is spending his Spring break making hot dogs for hikers. He asked if I wanted one. That answer will always…ALWAYS, be yes! Pretty cool, selfless thing to do on your week off. I ate it in 2 bites.
We finished our 10.1 mile day atop Ramrock Mountain. It’s the 2 of us and 2 young ladies from Indiana University. Don’t worry honey we’re only sharing a bear bag line as they didn’t have one. It’s been a good day…the only downside being Matt’s soaking hammock (which eventually dried out) and a couple blisters on my heels which I treated tonight. And I miss Lil Jan. Supper tonight was 2 packages of Ramen noodles (beef and chicken) with a packet of tobasco sauce. I haven’t pooped in 2 days so I’m hoping that will stir the pot. (If that’s TMI for you, you’re reading the wrong blog!)
Very grateful to be here, and grateful for the folks cheering me on. Looking forward to tackling Blood Mountain tomorrow and possibly getting to Neels Gap, where we may stay the night to shower and re-supply.
God is good all the time.
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