Day Six – Tuesday, March 11: Hiawassee, GA, Zero Day

Note: Just found out I can’t upload pics from my Sony while it’s charging.

Today I discovered exactly what backpackers do when they’re not backpacking – they resourcefully resupply and eat a ton of food.

I woke up, for no reason other than habit, at 6:00. Savage wanted me to check if breakfast was being served. Sure enough, it was. We ate heartily and I went back to sleep.

I awoke again at around 10:00 to start my day. Brandon, now Doc, (like from Back to the Future – he thought we looked like time travelers with all our neat gear) left at noon. Nice guy, I hope he’ll one day be able to take a long hike.

I guess the best way to describe my day is to follow the receipt trail from one store to the next. Here we go…

I started off at the Dollar General in desperate need of temporary camp shoes. I settled on a pair of cheap sandals. Hearing that the only outfitters in town had closed, I stopped by the ammo/bait shop and bought a new pair of socks.

 

Cool label. But not cool enough to warrant a purchase.
 
I dropped by the hotel and met with Savage and Kool to head towards the post office. I mailed about 3 pounds of gear home and Savage arranged to have a delayed package shipped to Frankin, NC, our next planned town stop.

While waiting outside the post office, we ran into two thru-hikers from Austrailia who informed us that there was a small backpacking store located near the hiker-friendly Budget Inn. What a lifesaver! I was seriously concerned about my feet, particularly hoping for a decent shoe store. I ended up buying Superfeet inserts. And having tried them out around the hotel this evening, I think I’ve delayed the need to purchase new boots.

I also upgraded to the larger Sawyer filter, holding on to my Sawter mini as a back up. I bought a dry bag for my toiletries and other assorted odds and ends (compression straps, blister cream).

We left the outfitter and headed to Blimpie for lunch. I ate half a foot long and promptly took a nap. An hour or so later, I woke up and made calls to family and friends.

The three of us then went to Ingles for a food resupply. We only needed three days worth of food as we’re going to make a quick stop back in Hiawassee when we hit Dick’s Creek Gap in a few days. At that point, we’ll resupply for three additional days to take us to Franklin, NC.

Already having enough carbs left over from last week, I went with the protein basics – beef jerky, salmon packets, granola and almonds. I also bought more fresh kale. I think it’s awesome for backpacking – it lasts 2 to 3 days in a Zip-lock bag and can be added to just about anything.

 

Getting my kale ready.
 
I then stopped by the Discount Pharmacy and bought athletic tape and a $2 mystery grab bag – hilarity ensued. Savage got earrings and Kool-Aid won himself a shell necklace. All was not lost – a roll of quality toilet paper was included (as was an Easter bunny party favor, now packed deep in my bag, just waiting).

And then dinner at the AYCE. This was the first meal I’ve had since starting this hike where I ate considerably more than I would normally eat without feeling over-full. I was stuffed, sure, but it felt good, like my body was already putting the food to good use.

After dinner, we headed back to the hotel room to ready ourselves for the week ahead. I booked a room for this coming Sunday in Franklin, NC, hoping our mail drops would be waiting for us when we arrived.

I’m now downstairs in the lobby of the hotel, typing away. Savage and Kool-Aid are passed out. I need to join them as the next few days bring some of the toughest hikes on the AT in GA.

I should briefly mention an encounter I had today with Ms. Janet, an AT legend. She pulled up in front of our hotel to get coordinates for her GPS. Ms. Janet dedicates her free time to helping thru-hikers as best she can all throughout the North Ga mountains. She was trying to figure out how best to get to Addis Gap near Tray Mountain to help out in the emergency extraction of a hiker.

I helped her figure out her new Garmin and, as she cranked up her conversion van, she asked if I had a trail name. I told her that folks had been calling me “Dad” (or “Cool Dad” when I was in a good mood). She smiled and confirmed that Cool Dad fit best.

It’s official. I’m in a club that hands out nicknames and a de-facto leader of this club gave my nickname the okay. I know how this must sound – pretty dorky and ridiculous, right? When I sat at home for years reading AT journals like mine, I always rolled my eyes at the trail name business. But I’ll be honest, it was kinda cool to know that, for as long as I do this thing and maybe longer, I’ll be known as Cool Dad (or just Dad in a pinch).

Breakfast: one biscuit with canned country gravy, 6 strips of paper-thin bacon, two cups O.J., two cups coffee.

Lunch: 6-inch Blimpie Best with double meat.

Dinner: Oh geez. Three porkchops (two deep-fried, one baked), one cup of gravy, plate full of raw broccoli and raw sliced green peppers, dinner roll, two serving of strawberry shortcake.

Money:

Dollar General (camp shoes, plus a phone charger for Savage): $13.00

Ammo Shop (really should pay more attention names): $11.95

Post Office: $13.45

Outfitters (at Budget Inn): $164.65

Blimpie:

Ingles (for food resupply): $67.15

Hiawassee Discount Pharmacy: $3.34

Daniel’s AYCE: $8.95

Note: I know I’m spending much more on gear than I expected. I’m okay with it – it’s only the result of trial and error. After this week, I’m not expecting any substantive purchases until I buy boots. I’m learning.

Day Five – Monday, March 14: Bag’s Creek Gap to Unicoi Gap, 17.0 miles, 52.9 total AT miles

After that amazing night camping on the saddle between two mountains at Bag’s Creek, the four of us got off to a fairly early start. 

We initially started the day envisioning a 12 to 14 mile day figuring it’d be easy to wake up tomorrow morning with a 3 to 5 mile hike into Unicoi Gap where we’d take a shuttle or hitchhike into Hiawassee, GA for a day off.

Today’s elevation profile called for everything, as did the weather report. While we were packing up, I mentioned the increasing chance of rain to Kool-Aid (official spelling). He shrugged his shoulders – bad weather has kinda become par for the course for us.

The four of us set off from Bag’s Creek at different times. Rarely do I, or anyone else I’ve met, hike with other people. It’s more like you hike between other people and expect to meet them at water sources or shelters.

I left first but was quickly passed by my comrades. I was purposely taking it slow due to the hot spots on my feet. It’s as if the soles of my boots are too thin for the jagged terrain. I’m not getting friction blisters, as is often the case – I’m getting what feels like impact blisters. They were forming on the points of my sole (the fleshy part behind my big toe) that made the most contact with rocky steps up or down.

I started the day on the summit of Cowrock Mountain. The view was amazing. It really put the North Georgia mountains into perspective – while they’re not as high or jagged as those I’ve become accustomed to in the Pacific Northwest, it was neat to witness this one point on the Earth where foothills became mountains, like some sort of landscaped crescendo.
 

Just awesome. I hung out on the summit for a good 15 minutes.
 

Today was all about moving. I hiked under the constant threat of rain. Thankfully, after the initial ascent of Cowrock, the elevation profile leveled off a bit. Not much, but just enough to put my headphones on and power through.

I ran into a few folks along the way, passing them and getting passed, but it was becoming increasing apparent that I was lagging a little behind my hiking buddies.

I’ve noticed this one thing about myself that I’ve come to rely upon while backpacking – sometimes, I can be a stubborn jackass. Today, it worked to my benefit. At some point early on in today’s hike, I decided I was going to make it to Unicoi. Damn the weather, damn my feet, I was making it to the road crossing at Unicoi no matter what.

The way I saw it, my gear was wet. I was down to one pair of hiking socks, having completely burned up a pair on a hot rock the night prior (Note: Hot rocks can both dry and destroy gear). I had nothing left in my food bag aside from pasta and couscous. If I wasn’t going to make it to town until Tuesday, I wanted to be sure that, when I woke up, I was as close as possible to that road crossing.

I put my head down and powered on for the next 10 or so miles, arriving at Red Clay Gap at 2:30. As I crested the ridge, I saw my three buddies having a quick snack, already readying themselves to move on. And by this time, the weather was getting dark again and the winds were picking up.

I think the one thing I’ve learned the quickest about backpacking is how to dress. For example, rain pants are hot. Sure they’re effective in a downpour, but for a brief shower, they’re severe overkill. The forecast wasn’t calling for anything severe, I left my Prana quick-dry pants in shorts-mode and strapped gaiters to my feet.

Sure enough, the 1.6 mile hike from Red Clay to Blue Mountain was all uphill and consistently rainy. It felt great to finally figure something out. The gaiters kept my feet dry and my rain jacket wicked the rain onto my quick-dry shorts – never enough to saturate them (and risk chafing), but just enough to keep them manageably damp. It was refreshing. I could now hike in the rain comfortably.
 

Cool Dad working it.
 

Having again relegated myself to the caboose in our hiking train, I approached the Blue Mountain Shelter knowing full well all three hiking buddies were somewhere ahead of me. As I passed a water source and made my approach, I noticed someone had conspicuously tied a bandana to the sign indicating the shelter trail veered left. I recognized the bandana from camp the night before. Smart move, guys.

I pulled into Blue Mountain wet but determined. Kool-Aid was making instant potatoes and Savage eating candy. I set my pack down long enough to to stuff the last remaining instant oatmeals into my pocket to eat as I pressed on. Out of necessity, I’ve come to rely upon eating instant oatmeal straight from the packet as a great energy source.

 

The jagged, mossy way up.
 
The sky was getting darker and it was getting wetter, but I truly didn’t care. I told my buddies that, after getting fresh water, I was pressing on towards Unicoi, only 2.4 miles away. Their strong affirmations only led me to suspect we were all on the same page from the beginning.

The problem was that those 2.4 miles were all downhill. It was a tough descent on my bruised feet. And I noticed that my right knee was starting to hurt a little. Again – trekking poles, folks. If you use them correctly, they’re lifesavers.

We emerged from the woods and rolled into Unicoi Gap at 6:30 and set about trying to find a place to camp. There really weren’t any good options – aside from backtracking a few hundred yards and camping on the trail itself.

Good use of tax dollars.

We were all in a pretty sad state. While we had already booked a room for Tuesday, Kool proposed getting a room for tonight as well. I was in instant agreement.

We called a shuttle and found ourselves at the Holiday Inn Express in Hiawassee in less than 30 minutes. The four of us gorged ourselves the AYCE (all you can eat) buffet next door before heading off to bed. I’m really looking forward to having tomorrow off. There’s a lot I need to buy in town. I’m exhausted.

Breakfast: bag of beef jerky, ramen noodles (I ate them raw)

Lunch: 2 bags of beef jerky, my remaining bacon bits, the last of my granola (about one cup).

Dinner: 2 chicken thighs, pile of raw broccoli and raw sliced green peppers, one roll, about one cup of brown gravy, two servings of strawberry shortcake.

Money: $10 shuttle to Hiawassee, $8.95 plus $3 tip buffet. Don’t know the hotel price as we’re staying two nights.