Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Hi everyone! Well, it's been a while so there is much to tell. After getting back on the trail from Hiawasee, my hiking buddy and I pushed it across the Georgia / North Carolina border. We pressed on to the Muskrat Creek shelter which is 4580 feet high. It was evening by then and getting cold after the rain. I had my second go at throwing my bear-line over a convenient branch. Er-hmm.
 Ok, the first time I did this was at a place called Lance Creek, where a tree tried to eat my line. The tree providing the branch I was aiming at also had a thin-ish secondary trunk growing parallel to the main trunk, and of course, these are what my line went sailing merrily between, and wedged. Nothing would dislodge the line and climbing wasn't realistically an option. I wasn't about to loose my bear-line (how would I hang my food away from hungry bears?) so I got hold of a small fallen tree and used its trunk as a lever between the two trunks. This forced the trunks apart and down dropped the line. After that I was careful to keep my tries away from the trunk.

The next time, at Muskrat Creek, where there are no bear-line cables, I got the end of my line wedged again, in a fork of the tree. (!) The thing is, the line was not caught tight, I knew it was loose, but was it moving, at all, in the slightest? Oh no. So I had to climb the tree. My buddy gave me a hand-up and up I went in true Hillcrest tarzan fashion. And yes, the line end was just sitting there loosely. Since I was up there, I threw it over the desired branch and then decended, whereupon I roundly vloeked the tree in Afrikaans (I told it its mother was a hamster, its father smelled of elderberries and then called it a "lightening" (bliksem)), which impressed my shelter companions no end. They asked what language that was, and when I told them, one asked me if I had heard of "Die Antword".  Much choking from me. Funny, this "Die Antword" thing keeps cropping up, to my great amusement.

Anyway, that night at Muskrat Creek was cold, and my sleeping bag didn't cut it. Apart from my legs twitching from the stiffness and strain, I was kept awake by a cold clamminess. At some time in the early morning I was woken from a sleep by a sudden bout of shivering in my belly area. A short version of the hypothermia shakes. Not good.
The next day my hiking buddy got up and going early - he was cold too - as he was walking long days in order to try and finish before August 22 or so, when he had to get back to college, so it was goodbye to him. I did 12.5 miles that day with a slightly warmer night and then walked 12.2 miles down to Rock gap with some new chums from the Muskrat Creek shelter. They had left their cars at Rock Gap as they were section hiking the trail and were going to skip ahead to the Smoky Mountains section. They offered me a lift into Franklin NC, and I took the ride as I wanted to buy a new sleeping bag and a new sleeping pad. I managed to get good deals on both at the Three Eagles Outfitters and now have a vastly superior pad and a sleeping bag which will keep me comfortable at - 6 Celsius. I LOVE my new sleeping bag. As it gives instant toastiness on a cold evening. I struggled to find a motel in Franklin because there was a "Gym Show" on in town and everywhere was full. Eventually a desk lady gave me the name of a motel a little out of town and even let me use the phone to call them and reserve a room. My buddy generously drove me out to it and dropped me off. It cost $54 for the night (ouch) but I was able to get clean again and sleep in a bed. One thing about the Trail, is the never-ending contention with dirt, and the near permanent state of sweatyness, smellyness and grime that one lives in. This is just part of life on the Trail but it is very nice to get clean and have clean clothes every once in a while.

The next day (Sunday 13 May) it was raining solidly. The weather report on tv said this would continue for the next 2 days. I checked out and was about to start hitching back into Franklin to get re-supplied, when the man running the motel offered me a lift into town. This was the first of 2 amazing lifts I was blessed with that day. I bought what I needed, including a new wrist watch, ate lunch at good old Burger King, and tramped off in the rain to the highway to start hitching. I stood there for a short bit, wondering just how hard it would be to get back to Rock Gap, as it is a bit out of the way and off the highway. I decided to ask God for a lift but even as I was just beginning to pray my request, ie " Lord, please could you..." I saw a car pulling over. It was a plumber called Eric who went miles out of his way and refused any payment for this. We talked about a lot of things especially South Africa, and he was most taken to have met a South African. He told me about trouble he was having with his wrists hurting when he worked (we had got to talking about our jobs) and so when we eventually found Rock Gap, I offered to pray for him. It was a God moment and it was a real blessing to bless him back by praying for him, his family and his wrists. I walked off from Rock Gap in the rain on a high. And almost immediately ran into some "trail magic", the first of 2 that day. This took the form of a pretty, intelligent and friendly young woman who was out there in the rain looking at Trilliums. These are a beautiful flowering plant which grown widely in the Southern Appalachians and have a really interesting and pretty 3 petaled flower. We talked Trillium and botany for a little and then I pushed on.
 Later on there were bananas.
Someone had left them and cake in a plastic bag hanging from a tree, for hikers.

I made 7.9 miles through rainy forest to Siler Bald Shelter where I found 3 other wet hikers. Later a 4th who was pushing long days and miles, came in. My new sleeping bag and mat had me smiling my way to sleep. The next day I walked with him and we covered 17.4 miles to Wesser Bald Shelter, where He pushed on, heading down to Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). and I stopped for the night. It was crowded and one guy nearly snored his head (and ours) off. However, it was here that I met Beeman. He is a 59 year old man from Nevis, one of the islands of St Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean. He is formerly from Kent where he learned to keep bees because his father farmed apples and pears. As a beekeeper he joined the VSO and was sent to Nevis where he was offered a civil service post in his beekeeping (and generally useful) capacity and so he left the VSO and has been a resident ever since. Upon being made redundant earlier this year he decided to walk the AT, and there he was.

Next day we all headed in to the NOC, lured on as we descended by the smell of cooking wafting up from the gorge below. NOC is beautiful if pricey, though the Rivers End restaurant does great food at quite reasonable prices. So only a half day that day and a half day the next, ending at Sassafras |Gap Shelter. We had now formed a loose group of hiking buddies, including Beeman, Mickey, Vince, Josh and Jonathan, and we pushed 15.2 miles that next day. We were keen to get to Fontana Dam on the 18th and resupply before entering the Smokey Mountains which are high and have lots of bears and wild boar and turkeys etc. There are hot showers at the "Fontana Hilton" (shelter) and we all made it into the town for food, resupply (expensive),  and a bit of fun. Despite there being a Nissan "V car" convention that weekend (much revving and posturing) we all had a great time with a really fun evening over supper, before heading back to the shelter.

We had a late-ish  start the next day as we all made a kind of breakfast at the visitor center at the dam wall, but which only opened at 9. We also filled in our hiking permits, which are free but which everyone has to carry in the Smokey Mountains National Park. One copy in the box and one on us at all times. They also don't want people camping (bears) but rather to use the shelters which are plentiful and well provided with space and bear-cables.
We walked across the dam wall and up into the Smokeys. I was steep going, but not as much of a thriller as I feared it might have been. Actually a very good day covering 13.8 miles.
And I saw my first bear ass.
Up till then I have not actually seen any bears but have just missed them seemingly. One evening a few days into my hike a lady I was then hiking with came in some 40 min behind  me and said that a bear had fallen out of a tree almost next to her. It must have heard her coming and climbed a tree and then had the branch break just as she walked by. She ran one was and the bear the other. On the day I got into Hiawasee, as I was heading down to the road, I got about 20 min ahead of my hiking buddy who then had a bear cross the trail right in front of him. It looked at him and then moved on.
So my encounter was nothing so spectacular. I saw the rear of a small bear running away as I walked up.
The Smokeys are high, but once up in them the going is relatively easy. We walked 16.4 miles the next day and the next, came over Clingman's Dome, at 6643 feet the highest point on the trail.
And then descended from Newfound Gap by hitched ride, to Gatlinburg, TN. Which is something to see for crazy kitch but a welcome rest.
Here I have taken my fist "zero day" (no miles) as I have been tired and my feet needed a rest. Those downhills especially and all the extra weight make them hurt. I have shared a room with some friends from the trail and had some good fun with them (introduced them to Juluka) and Mickey and Vince who headed out back to the Trail this afternoon. It has rained so all in all this rest day was a good call.

Tomorrow the plan is to head out earlyish and hitch back up tp Newfound Gap, back to the trail.

I think about the peoples and family back in London and SA a lot and talking of life there with my trail buddies brings a lot back.
Lots of love guys.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Well hello everyone! I am at a little town in northern Georgia called Hiawasee. I arrived in Atlanta on Wed 2nd without too much fuss. Got through customs quickly and without hitch, phoned "Survivor Dave", my shuttle guy, bought a ticket to North Springs, Atlanta on the MARTA train service and got out of the terminal and on to the platform. The first thing I noticed was how HOT it was! I mean it was hot and humid, like Durban after a hot summer's day! "Oh oh!" And then I realsied that it would be a lot cooler up in the mountains, and it has been.

"Survivor Dave" (SD) picked me up at North Springs and took me to my hotel: the la Quinta Inn. Not bad actually. I got to make my own breakfast including waffles which I poured and cooked myself. I was still frazzled and jangly after the previous few days, but slept ok. Those last three or four days in London were very stressful, what with packing up my life of the last fourteen years and moving out of my home for the last twelve. It was a crazy, flat-out time, sorting and packing at a frenetic pace. Very stressful without being obviously so, primarily because I was too busy to pay any attention to it - probably a good thing. On Tuesday, the day before I left I put a meal of chicken and chips into the oven to cook and after remembering to turn the oven off when they were cooked, completely neglected to eat them. No time! It was a major shake up and together with a lack of sleep (sleep patterns totally shot) and some very stressful and upsetting events on a personal level, it meant that by the time I arrived in Atlanta I was in a kind of free-fall of dislocation and frazzledness. Still, the excitement and novelty of a new city and country did a lot to make up for this.
The next day SD offered to take me to do some shopping as he was free. Despite feeling rotten with flu he drove me around to but a new phone, food and a rain cover. Very helpful and generous man. Oh yes, those of you who know how I have held on to my old phone will laugh: I now have a (semi) modern phone with blue-tooth capability etc AND a kindle. It took the AT to get me into the 21st century....

Final packing on the 3rd May after the shopping and discovered Waffle House. Great diner-style waffle shop who do great deals in all kinds of food , not just waffles. I had a really good omlette for lunch and treated myself to the (3)pork chops with hash brown and salad for supper. Slept better.

4 May, Star Wars Day, I was picked up at 6:30am and we drove out to Springer Mountain. SD dropped me off at the car park, after which I hiked 1 mile up to the summit and the start of the trail. Signed the register, took pics etc and then started the trail - back 1 mile down the way I had come, in the rain. It dried up during the day and I met plenty of really great, friendly folks. I walked some 16.5 miles that day to Gooch Mountain shelter. A long stretch, but I'm glad I did as it is a lovely shelter and I met some of the good people I have spent the last few days with. The weather dried up and the next night was a spent at Lance Creek after a shorter, "relaxing" day, only about 8 miles or so. This may not sound like much, but the AT is punishing and I was carrying at least 50 pounds, which is heavy! On the 6th I made it to Neels Gap where I stayed at the hostel and had my bg given a "shakedown". Some heavy stuff I don't need I left for whoever wants it in the hiker bin in the hostel and some stuff I will probably need or do not want to throw away, I posted to my friend Guy, in Leesburg VA. When I get there I'll decide what to do with it.

With a much lighter pack it has been much easier going, though with food it's still somewhere around 40 pounds. Still it's lighter and I'm getting stronger. I have had some short days and yesterday pushed 15 miles to Tray Mountain shelter. We've had rain and sunshine and the top of Tray is very pretty with amazing views. So is Blood Mountain which I topped just before descending to Neels Gap.

Today I was going to stop at the Deep Gap shelter but me at chap from Tennassee (sp?) who was moving fast (although he was and is limping now) and planning on getting to Dicks Creek gap where one can hitch or arrange a shuttle via phone, into Hiawasee. I was inspired and besides it was wet and misty and I felt like sleeping in a dry bed. I had planned to head into Hiawasee tomorrow, but am here today instead! Just had a  great cheeseburger and fries, and am doing laundry. Tomorrow I'll re-supply with food, buy another and better self-inflating mattress (the other had it's outer skin tear away from the inner cushioning so now the foot end balloons up while the rest doesn't have enough air to make a good cushion. Cheap and nasty.) and other bits and pieces and the back onto the trail. Sharing a room with my new chum - we went halves, so not too pricey $ 22.50 each.

Weather has cleared -loving the sunshine! - so it's all good.