Thursday, November 29, 2012

Trail beard!

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 And, our friend made a gif of the published photos:

Monday, November 12, 2012

AT Day 187 (final day!) Hawk Mountain shelter to Amicolola Falls!

November 12, 2012
Miles: 17
Total: 2014

Well friends, today was it!  We finished with our adventure!

We had stayed the night in Hawk Mountain Shelter, a mere 8 miles from the southern terminus of this wonderful American natural/cultural/geological/ historical asset, the Appalachian Trail!  We woke up full of excitement for the day around 4:45, but unfortunately we heard rain drops on the roof.  This generally means that we are not getting up early to hike, as we only can handle one over drawback to hiking at a time (hiking in the dark, fine, but hiking in the dark while raining: no! Hiking in the dark below 20: double no!).  So we got up at a more reasonable hour and realized that it was barely raining and perhaps was just super heavy condensation from low clouds rolling in.  Still not the beautiful weather we had put an order in for SIX MONTHS ago, but what can you do.

The shelter happens to be very close to an Army training facility and there was ranger training going on while we were there the night before.  Rangers literally walking through the campsite.  Shannon ended up in a cordon of them on her way to the privy!  In her pink rain jacket, she sort of ruined their color scheme.  We also had a helicopter fly directly over the shelter, what looked from our view to be about 10 feet above the trees.  We told ourselves it was part of the celebration for us finishing the trail!

There was one other person in the shelter and it was her first day on the trail, which we though was really funny.  Her name was Scout and she was with her dog Jasmine who was very entertaining.  She would follow us whenever we left the shelter at night and look over us as we laid back down to make sure we were OK.  Very cute.

We took a side trail .1 to this pretty sight, Long Creek Falls - worth it!
Anyways!  We finally got ourselves in gear and got hiking, as we wanted to spend some time at the summit and our friend Chicken Feathers was planning on meeting us in Amicolola State park around 3PM.  The hiking was very pleasant for the first 8 miles and we made really good time.  As I mentioned before, the weather could have been better but it wasn't cold at least and it was sort of a misty/sprinkling kind of mix for the first half of the day.  We were pushing it in high gear and were quite excited, so it felt like it took so much longer than usual!  The state park itself is really well maintained with smooth wide trails and lots of rhododendrons along the sides.  Quite gorgeous, and I can imagine it being a very nice place to start (but I'm sure if a hiker didn't have their "trail legs" yet it could be a little challenging - that kind of goes for the whole state of Georgia).  We started to come to signs with countdowns towards the end:

Well, finally we came to the parking lot a mile north of the summit - there was a kiosk with some history of the trail and some nice quotations.  I really liked this one:
"Remote for detachment, narrow for chosen company, winding for leisure, lonely for contemplation, it beckons not  merely north and south, but upward to the body, mind and soul of man"
Myron Avery

Southern Terminus of the AT, woot!
Our excitement just seemed to build with every step until we came to THIS:

Just look at those hiking machines!

Almost kissing - we must have made the photographer uncomfortable because they missed it :P
Another engraving marking the trail
Because of the weather there weren't a lot of people out despite it being a holiday (Veteran's Day), so the feeling of this summit didn't have the community spirit that our summit on Katahdin had where many people were finishing up on the same day.  Because of the hurricane that came through, most hikers who were north of the Smoky Mountains got held up and I believe we were the only people finishing our hike on this day.  BUT, we were not going to just sign the book and call it a day!  Jamie had carried a bottle of champagne 31 miles for this and we were determined to enjoy it, damn it!  So we ended up setting up the fly and footprint of our tent about 15 feet away and had a little party for two atop the mountain!

Exited hikers!  Our "style" of thru-hike is known as a "Flip Flop" because we started in the middle and hiked  both directions, and I happened upon this bottle of champagne.  Perfect, I know!
Springer Mountain, party for two?

After squeezing and savoring every moment out of the experience, we looked at the time and realized we had to get going.  We broke down the tent and realized that the mist had turned to actual rain and that we'd made it to the top before it really started.  We donned our rain gear and proceeded to walk the 9 miles of the approach trail to the Amicolola State park visitors center.  Now this trail isn't actually part of the AT - we were done with the AT!  But given the fact we were done and the weather, this was probably the longest 9 miles ever.  

The park and falls were quite beautiful when we finally got down, but it was so misty we couldn't really see the whole scope of them.  It is quite huge it turns out!  But we weren't really interested in seeing anything at that point (terrible, I know, but after 2100+ miles of views you sort of start taking them for granted), we were just pretty pumped to be done!  We made our way to the visitors center through the main park (we kept getting excited because there are many parking lots between the base of the falls ans the visitors center and visibility was low - "We're there!"..."Nope, another parking area...").  There Chicken Feathers was waiting and a very friendly park ranger congratulated us and gave us free ice creams and forms to fill out to register ourselves as thru-hikers.
Chicken Feathers, Whip-poor-way Lionkiller, and Jukebox Lionkiller at the end of the AT approach trail
We were soggy and a little chilly but we'd made it!  The final day of our trip done!  Only one thing left to do:
Shannon throwing away her hiking clothes of 2100+ miles
As with any major phase of life, when it ends abruptly the feelings and emotions that you think that you should feel don't often come right away and catch up with you randomly some time soon after and that is the case now.  We haven't had a chance yet to stop moving because we're sort of taking the long long way back up to Massachusetts (Atlanta to Charlotte to DC to Maryland to DC to New Hampshire to Massachusetts, WHEW!), so I suspect once we take a breather we'll really feel "done".  And as you may remember we missed the Smoky Mountains!  It feels sort of like a forgotten assignment on an otherwise perfect grade.  So we're thinking of coming back to do them and line it up so we can make it to Trail Days right afterwards - that would make it a 100% completion within a full calendar year since we started mid-May.  

Saturday, November 10, 2012

AT Day 185 Blue Mountain Shelter to Neels Gap Hostel

November 10
Miles ~19
We made some great time today.  12 miles in less than 4 hours.   To be truthful we were rushing for our promised bowl of chili.  The support crew for the runners told us they would leave us some chili and so we were rushing for that.    Most of their crew bailed after the first day.  30 miles a day is very hard.  The final 3 all ran past us during the day.  In fact we got to be helpful-one of the men was having shoe problems and consequentially some foot problems. We gave him ibuprofen and let him borrow a croc until he got to the road crossing and his new shoes.    We felt very accomplished.  Happy to give back to the group that was feeding us. 
Tonight, our penultimate night on the trail, we are staying at a hostel in Neels gap run by a man, Pirate, who's been doing this for 22 years.  Today was so beautiful so there were tons of section hikers and because Neels Gap has a store/outfitters and hostel it was so crowded when we came through.   We pushed it out to get here early enough so that we could relax.   We arrived around 2:30 and it's been lovely to sit around.    We're going to try and get out early tomorrow again because we have to do 24 miles tomorrow.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

AT Day 184 Cowart Gap to Blue Mountain Shelter

November 8
Miles ~ 20
Total 2063
Days left on the trail: 3
Miles to Springer: 50.5

So crazy that we are almost done.  We walked 2000 miles already.  Insane.  Absolutely insane.
Today was one of our best weather days in a long time.   A mere half-hour into walking we took off our rain gear and it stayed off for the rest of the day. Beautiful hiking with a few mountain views but lots of ups and downs. 
As we got to the end of our day, we crossed a road and stopped to chat with these three people sitting at the back of a pick-up truck.   (We've been talking to everyone out today-it's very fun. They all congratulate us.)   These people at the truck are the support team for a group of people trying to do all of Georgia in three days.  Crazy!  We chatted with them for awhile and before we parted ways they gave us 7 hard-boiled eggs and some bread!  Also, they might leave us some food at the road crossing tomorrow.  They were all really friendly and we enjoyed our break to chat with them.  It fired us up as we were walking the last 2.4 miles.   We didn't get to see the group of runners but we think they'll pass us sometime tomorrow.  Can't wait!
As for us, we are getting anxious about finishing-simultaneously wanting this to be over and not at all.  Thankfully, we'll have to come back out to finish the Smokies but even though that allows us to prolong our Appalachian experience, our thru-hike is coming to end.   We had our last prepared trail dinner.   We crossed our last state line. We changed the batteries on our headlamps for the last time.  However,  a hiker we met on the trail cautioned me "you can't count your hike until it's done.". And I agree with that.  We still have 50 miles to go.  And what a wonderful 50 miles it will be.

Great Sign 
The support team for the runners and our trail magic team! 
Tenting at Blue Mountain Shelter 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

AT Day 181 - Wayah Bald to Franklin

November 6
Miles 10

I knew exactly what the sound was when I heard it but I was holding out hope.  I nudged jamie and asked him if it was him.  Praying that he had moved and hit the tent.  When he mumbled 'No' I took a deep breath, reached my hand up and poked the roof of the tent.  2 inches of snow came tumbling down.  Last night we went to be with clear skies and this morning-snow.  I'll re-post the picture of the tent last night so you can fully understand how shocked we were.  Anyway,  we instantly changed our plans.  Instead of the intended 20, we cut it down and 10 and made a plan with Starfish and Sherpa to split a hotel room in Franklin.  
That decided we, chatted about how the hunting dogs came into the shelter and woke everyone up at 4am.  Infact, they were still wandering around when we left in the morning.  The poor things were freezing and starving.  One ate a bag of instant potatoes it dug up from somewhere.  One followed us up to a fire tower and then sat down on the one snow free patch if could find and curled up shivering.   Starfish was smarter than we were and she checked it's multiple collars (2 GPS and 1 normal) for a phone number.  She called the owner and about 15 minutes later we saw a truck riding up the road.
A road that, let me tell you, followed the AT for about 3 miles.  If we had known that we would have walked on it as it was snow free.  Unlike that snow-laden trail we were walking on.   Never have we regretted not having a map until today.   We wanted to know the shortest route to town and a map would have helped us with that.
Alac and Alas, we made it to the road and after a half-hour of trying to get a ride a couple turned around and drove us into Franklin. They turned around!  Turns out, they are 2002 thru-hikers.  Homeless and Unemployed.  That's their names-not adjectives describing them.  Although in 2002, that's what they were.  Intentionally. They sold their house and quit their jobs and hiked the trail.  The intended to go back to work and buy a new house but it just never happened.  When we met them, they were on their way to visit their daughter and grandchildren who live in the next town over.   It was really sweet of them to backtrack 10 miles to get us to town.
And now, here we are. Warm and toasty.  Full up with Mexican food, margaritas and beer and waiting to see who our president will be.   We're hoping for Obama.
A Walker perhaps? 
Hitching into town 

Homeless and Unemployed

Snowy walkway
Early morning snow
Clear and beautiful night

Monday, November 5, 2012

Day 180 Camping near Rufus Morgan to Wayah Shelter

November 5th
Miles ~14
Total 1993

Did we say something about walking 20 miles today?  Right.  So that clearly didn't happen. Today was a super hard walk. We started in the middle of a huge climb up to 5000 feet and then we dropped back down just to climb up again.  It really felt like we were walking uphill all day.  Unbelievable.  We were so exhausted that we decided to stop at this shelter but it was great that we did because our friends Starfish and Sherpa are here too and it's always nice to camp with friends. 
So, last night at our camp spot we could hear dogs barking all through the night.  We could still here them today and so we assumed they were out with hunters. But then we realize we weren't really clear how hunting with dogs works.  Do the dogs take down the bear? That seemed ridiculous. Do the dogs herd the bear back to their owner?  Seems difficult.  We were speculating up a storm when, lo and behold, a hunter came down the trail looking intently at a screen attached to a walkie-talkie looking device with a huge antenna.   Desperately needing an answer to our question, we asked him if he had time to explain this to us.    We started the conversation by asking him if he was running dogs.   His first question to us was "Did you hear them? Are they barking?" Apparently his GPS had a momentary lapse and while he knew he was in the right direction he wanted to be sure. 
He explained that they dogs track the bear and he tracks the dogs via the GPS.  They all GPS collar so he can find them.  It updates every 30 seconds so he can see if the dogs are running, walking or lounging around.      He told us his dogs were running all night (we could have told him that too) and that he's pretty close to them now.   He runs mostly Walkers and Ports.  We have no idea what those are, but will look up the breeds as soon as we can. 
Anyway, it was fascinating to talk to him.  He runs with his dad and brother so between the three of them they can get three bear in a year.  He said they already got one.  It was about 200lbs but that it had so much fat on it's back-about 4 inches he said-that it was easy for the dogs.   He said the bear was too fat to even run.  Funny image. 
We were happy to run into him and get our questions answered and we were happy he wanted a break from the climb up that he was willing to talk to us.
P.s. Election Day tomorrow! 

view from some firetower on a mountain that I can't remember the name to
Tenting at Wayah Bald Shelter

Sunday, November 4, 2012

AT Day 179 Brown Fork to camping after Rufus morgan shelter

November 4

Brown Fork Gap Shelter to Camping after Rufus Morgan shelter
Miles: 18
Total:1978 (135 to go)

We just realized that we are no longer counting miles up, but rather like a countdown.  It really is getting to that point!
We overslept today, but I think we needed the sleep and we only had about 17 miles to go.  Our feet were really sore after our encounter with winter-come-early, but they were feeling much better this morning. 
There was a surprising amount of climbs today, a reminder that even though we are near the end and trail hardened, the trail still has some challenges in store for us.
We found a great lunch spot on a small bald on top of Cheoah mountain, and the weather really cooperated with us despite the reports calling for rain.
Later in the day we came to the Nantahala Outdoor Center where we had a mail drop waiting.  We got in about 10 minutes after closing, but they were nice enough to let us in to grab it.  We also sort of lucked out because most of the establishments in the complex are just closing up for the season (we were the last customers in the general store).  We contemplated renting a cabin with Starfish and Sherpa, but it was a little more expensive than we expected and they didn't have a TV, so we decided to invest that money into the restaurant there on the river!  Jamie had a one pound burger and Shannon had a mixed chili and rice dish called a "Sherpa", which we all were tickled by because that was our friend's trailname.  He had to order it too, of course. 
The four of us then continued hiking in the dark using our super-duper headlamps.  We only had a mile to go, but eventually we realized we'd been hiking way longer than a typical mile and that, while our bellies were full and it was uphill, we were still maintaining a decent pace (it is amazing how accurate we have become at judging the speed of our pace).  We eventually realized that we had passed through an open area a good while back that looked suspiciously like a shelter site, but since we didn't see any sign we kept walking.  Anyways, Sherpa and Starfish weren't feeling 100% so they took the first open piece of ground and we kept on for another half mile or so.  We were in the middle of a huge climb, so we agreed that we may need to go on to the next shelter four or so miles on, but luckily it didn't come to that.
Tomorrow is a 20 miler so it is off to sleep for us.  Day light savings time, by the way, is no good for hikers!

View from Cheoah Bald. LOOK! No snow! 
Trail Magic!  What a great wine name! 
Water source! 
a strange structure around a fire ring

Saturday, November 3, 2012

AT Day 178 Standing Bear Farm to Brown Fork Gap

Miles: 11
Total: 1967
Miles to go :153
November 3

We stayed at Standing Bear farm hostel last night, which was such a nice respite from the previous few days' trails, and it was so nice to sleep in a warm and toasty bed.  But alas, we had many miles to travel today, so we pulled ourselves out of bed to tackle the day.  We had decided the previous day as we slogged our soggy shoes through slush that we would certainly not attempt to hike through the Smokey Mountains, that we are not prepared for the conditions and that we would take the lessons learned from our friends who had to be rescued.  We had a big conference with seven other hikers in the dining cabin last night and luckily some other stranded hikers in Hot Springs had organized a shuttle to Fontana Dam, 70 miles away and out of the Smokies (and according to all reports, blissfully snow free).  So after a windy two hour ride, we found ourselves safe and sound and out of the danger zone with our friends Sherpa and Starfish.
We arrived at Fontana Dam at around 1 and started making our way up to the second shelter on, about 11 miles in.  It was SO NICE to be walking on dry ground in dry shoes and in dry socks. We were relishing the slippery leaves under our feet and how wonderfully un-snow-like they were.  We saw in total about one square meter of snow the whole day.
Finally we made it to the Brown Fork Gap Shelter and Sherpa and Starfish soon followed.  We had the place to ourselves and we slept oh so comfortably.  Skipping the Smokies = great decision.

Chillin' in the kitchen 
Brown Fork Gap Hostel 

Standing Bear Farm 
Kitchen at Standing Bear