Saturday, June 20, 2015


I've been mulling over this last trip of ours, trying to figure out just how to express my feelings about it.  Usually, finding those words is not a difficult task for me but this time they're being a bit elusive.  Our trip began as all our others:  making the long, boring drive from Tampa, FL to our base of Hiawassee, GA where we were to spend the night before our section hike from Winding Stair Gap, NC to Fontana Dam, NC was set to begin.  Upon our arrival, our evening was spent as all the others had been, going through our packs one last time, organizing and re-checking everything to make sure no essential item had been forgotten.  Other than being tired from driving 520 miles, our excitement and energy levels were pretty were the nerves.  There honestly is no way to "prepare" for such a know what lies ahead on the trail because each time gives you something challenges to conquer.  But that's half the fun of it....not knowing and just living in the moments as they present themselves to you.

Scott checking his pack one last time.

Once we were confident that our packs were ready for the trip, we took one last shower and then hit the sack, hoping to get a good night's sleep.


We arrived at our transport's house full of energy and ready to get our section hike started!  Let me just say that Joyce and Sally are truly two of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.  We've used their shuttle service for all but the first section hike and will miss them tremendously once we reach the point where their service will end.  They take great care of your car while your gone, offering peace of mind that leaving it in some random parking lot for days can't do.  Anyway....we quickly loaded up and headed out with Sally behind the wheel.  I'm not sure, but I think the trip took about an hour but it wasn't long until we found ourselves at the parking lot of Winding Stair Gap, NC....the spot where we'd ended our section hike last year.  Sally was gracious enough to catch a photo of us before we loaded up our packs and headed out:

Once we got our packs all situated, we crossed the road ( with what seems to be the norm wherever the AT crosses a paved road, this was in a curve with limited sight) and headed off into the woods.  I have to say that for once, the AT took mercy on us and didn't send us straight up the mountain within the first couple of minutes of our hike.  Don't get me wrong!  There was some elevation but it was gradual....the trail was going easy on us (remember...."easy" is a relative term when talking about the AT).  We knocked out the first mile or so in what, for us, was record time.

As the hours ticked off the clock, I have to be honest and say that big elevation changed or not, that 35lb pack I had on my back began to feel heavy.  Those typical trail aches and pains began to set it, as expected.  While there really isn't any way to predict what the trail will give you, it's pretty much a given that those packs will begin to feel like they weigh 100lbs and all of your large muscle groups will "feel the burn" at one time or another.  Such is life on the trail.  It hurts.  But what it gives you in return more than makes up for what it takes from you.  It wasn't long before we had a glimpse of our first view:

Almost from the start of our hike, we'd been playing hopscotch with a group of Scouts and their two adult leaders.  Of course, their youth and never-ending energy sent them scooting far ahead of us but we all enjoyed our brief encounters.  We opted to stop at the summit of Siler Bald (elev. 5140 ft) for lunch.  Because it was pretty much in full sun, we chose a shady spot on the downside of the bald to drop our packs and didn't walk up the steep hill to take in the view from the top of the bald.  Still, it was a beautiful spot in spite of the bugs.  Oh yeah....this was our first experience with large numbers of bugs of any kind.  We were bombarded by gnats, large and small, and other little no-see-ums.  Nothing that a little bug spray couldn't ward off sufficiently.

Looking back across Siler Bald

Great spot for lunch!
I never grow tired of all the beauty that surrounds me on the AT.

Now....after all the comments about how glad I was that the trail had decided to go easy on us, we ended our day with having to conquer a 1200 foot elevation change in a bit less than 2 miles.  That might not sound like much, but when compacted into two long climbs of almost 600ft each, it kicks your backside up on side and down the other.  It's at times like this....when you've walked 6 or 7 miles and that pack now seems to weigh 120lbs....that the trail just seems to go on and on and on.....and on.  At one point, we actually thought we'd missed our stop for the night, which almost solicited rounds of tears from exhaustion from a couple of us....but instead we decided that all there was to do was keep on keeping on.  Turns out, once we took a moment to pull out the pages from the guide book and re-orient ourselves, we realized we hadn't made such an error and our lagging spirits were lifted once again.

There were quiet rounds of cheers when our stop for the night finally came into view.  We really had begun to wonder if the meadow at Wine Spring was ever going to magically unfold in front of us.  By most standards, what we found wouldn't really classify as a meadow but it was our home for the night.

We had a great spot for our campfire that night!

Found a nice spot for our tents!

Time for our favorite part of the day:  relaxing with some coffee!!!


Sunrise over camp!

We awakened bright and early to the songs of the birds.  Can't really think of a better way to be gotten out of bed.  Morning always starts with our bodies stiff and aching from the miles we pounded out the day before but once out of the tent, that stiffness slowly wears off and we find that we feel surprisingly good.  Thank goodness we don't have to endure the pain of sore muscles.  My best guess is that we walk it out each day so that lactic acid has no time to settle in.  Have I said what a good thing that is???  We followed our usual morning routine and found ourselves ready to hit the trail again by 9am.  Taking those first few steps with those heavy packs always proves to be a mind over matter game.  Eventually the muscles warm up and forward progress continues.  We were looking forward to what was promising to be our first breathtaking views of the hike:  the stone tower at Wayah Bald.

In typical AT fashion, what goes down must come up and this morning was no different.  As we approached Wayah Bald, the trail took a sharp turn to the left and followed a paved road leading to the stone tower.  It should be noted at this point that there are trash cans if you need to dump any trash.  We took advantage of this cause every ounce of weight counts!  As we neared the top of the paved road, the old stone tower slowly came into view:

To say that our view from the tower was breathtaking is almost an understatement:

Some quick facts about the tower..

Of course, we had to take advantage of this opportunity for a quick selfie! 

Scott and me!

Yes....I do make quite the fashion statement while on the A.T. and look every bit of my 52 years and then some!

After pausing for a much-needed break, we knew it was time for us to load up and head out once again.  As I stood there, the cool breeze brushing my face, I closed my eyes for a moment and let the feeling wash over me.  Every step you take on the A.T. is one you earn.  There is no "easy" button up there.  But in the end, for me at least, what it gives me is far greater than what it takes.  It's why I keep going back.

This is where our story takes a sudden turn for the worse.  At some point along the way, Scott injured a muscle in the back of his leg and the pain grew worse the further we went.  We stopped at Licklog Gap for lunch and a big dose of Advil, hoping that the combination of the two would ease his pain and allow him to continue.

Licklog Gap

We had a lunch companion!

I'd say our break lasted roughly an hour and then we figured we'd better get a move on.  Unfortunately, the break did not accomplish what we'd hoped and Scott's pain continued to worsen.  We hadn't gone far before he finally realized that he could not go on and we were forced to call it.  The next road we would come upon was in Burningtown Gap, NC, located a little over a mile from where we made the decision to get off the trail at the next possible location.  Debbie took some extra weight out of Scott's pack and we managed to make that last mile.  We ended our hike 1.4 miles from what would have been our stop for the night....Cold Spring Shelter.  I called our shuttle service and explained the situation and Joyce quickly agreed to come pick us up.  She told us to stay put so we found a shady place to unload our gear and wait.  As we sat in silence, Debbie did her best to be the "ray of sunshine" as she called it but the disappointment was palpable and words were few.  Calling an end to our hike was the only option because the health of anyone in our group always comes first.  There was no way Scott could have continued climbing those mountains, mile after mile.  We all knew that and we all agreed it was what we had to do.  Be that as it may, I think having the 8 days we'd planned come to such a sudden end after only a day and a half was something we all had a hard time accepting. least it was hard for me to accept anyway.  I can't speak for Debbie but I'm certain Scott was feeling the same way I was if not worse.  But...some things just are.  This was one of them.

We spent the next day casually driving around the Dahlonega area before returning to Tampa on Thursday.  As we drove out of town, all I could think about was how wrong it felt to me to not still be out there on the trail....making our way to the NOC for the night...picking up that re-supply box...and seeing Fontana Dam come into view at the end of the hike.  I don't know if one can grieve for a place....if human emotions can be put onto a non-human entity....but for a lack of a better word, it felt like I was grieving over the abrupt end to something I'd been so looking forward to...not knowing if the chance to come back and try again would present itself this year or if it will be another year before I set foot on the trail again.  There is no anger.  There is no blame.  There's just a kind of empty place where those memories should be.  Still...all was not lost.  We did spend a day and a half out on the trail....laughing, sweating, swearing and swatting bugs....all of the things that make our trips together so special.  So, I will hold onto those few memories until I can get back....hopefully it won't be too long before we can.  I always say that when I return from the A.T. that I leave a little piece of myself behind...this time I can feel that more than ever before....but I'm so very grateful for the time we did have and as we drove away from those mountains I love so much, it was not, "Goodbye," was, "Until we meet again...."

Happy Hiking Everyone!