Day 10

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Last night was very cold. I don’t think I was alone in waking up a good few times freezing cold judging by the noise coming from the tents spread out around the shelter. I kept waking up with aching hips and knees and had to keep putting more layers on. I maxed out by putting everything except my waterproofs on and was still cold. Somebody even woke me up as mine was one of the last tents left standing the following morning and the guy was concerned that I was the old guy called spot.  According to my watch the temperature was close to zero. I later found out that some guys even had ice on their tents.

After a slow start I clocked up another 16.2 miles and I am proud to say that I have smashed the 100 miles mark. I spent some of the morning walking with an Austrian guy called Martin. I introduced him to my new super food – jelly beans and we walked and chatted for an hour or so.

North Carolina is a temperate rainforest and it certainly felt like it. There were a lot of tree roots on trail and the vegetation was a lot more green. It was almost like walking through the kind of places I’d imagine my gramp would have walked when he was in Burma.

I passed a group of guys who were setting up at Betty Creek Gap. They offered me some liquid refreshment in the form of Moonshine. Which from what I understand is fermented ethanol. Pretty strong stuff and hit the spot.

The last stretch of the day involved me waking with a guy a called Lumberjack. He has just finished his studies in ecology / forestry and was an interesting chap. The guys he was walking with were also really nice. A guy who’s trail name was Grizz-el (cross between grizzly bear and gazelle due to his stature and prowess on this trail) and a girl named Dancing Feather. Grizzle is from Tennessee and has a great accent. Really countrified.

We scaled Albert Mountain which involved some technical climbing and scrambling.  I swear I heard something big crash through the undergrowth at the start of the approach.

Most of the assent involved almost a shear drop to my right and a mossy cliff face to my left. Awesome.

There was a disused fire tower at the top of Albert and the panoramic views were spectacular. I hope the pics I have taken do it justice.

I road into Long Branch shelter at about 7pm and have camped with grizzle and company. I had a darn fine chili for dinner and spent a good couple of hours chewing the fat with my new found friends. It seems that America is much like the UK with the state of the economy and peeps taking the piss on benefit. Grizzle showed me some pics of the guns he owns legally at home and in general it was a darn fine night.

Just 7.3 miles to Franklin and then it’s calorie loading time. I need to send some stuff back home and want to Skype / FaceTime my loved ones, obviously whilst squeezing in a few beers. Can’t wait.

Day 9

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Another night spent in a hostel listening to other people snoring. I can think of somebody that might say that’s justice.

I shared a room with 2 middle aged guys. One of them kept snorting to clear his throat as he talked which, after a while started to grate. The other seemed to excel in letting off farts that lasted approx 20 seconds. Snorter was leaving the trail as he had family problems to sort, whilst windy pants was gonna continue with his 70lb pack. This dude was even carrying an SLR camera along with his kitchen sink.

Breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs and bacon and some form of fresh baked pastries. Both hit the spot and at 8:30 I was back at Dicks Creek Gap.

I clocked up 16.7 miles today and passed the Georgia – North Carolina border. At the border I took a picture of a couple I had been leap frogging and right by the sign that indicated the border it stunk of urine. I’m assuming that once people had passed through they turned and left their mark on Georgia. Sounds pretty gross and I didn’t participate, but Georgia was tough and I can see why people might do such a thing.

I was under the impression that things should get easier in NC but that definitely wasn’t the case. The climbs were hard.

I stopped for lunch at a shelter called Muskrat and had some summer sausage and cheese in a tortilla then decided to push onto the next shelter. I am finally clocking up the 16 mile days I need to finish this thing on time.

When I got to Standing Indian Shelter at mile 86.3 the shelter was rammed so I pitched my trusty tent out the back and got chatting to some old dude called Spot. He has walked the trail a total of 5 times with 2 other failed attempts. He reckons that in a few weeks I will feel even stronger and 20 mile days will be easy. The trick is starting early.

I am getting better at recognising accents and could instantly tell this guy was from New York or Pennsylvania.

I polished off some mac and cheese for tea and had some difficulty hanging my bear bag. I didn’t make it down to the water source until after dark and collecting water was interesting. I we armed with just a head torch and I kept looking over my shoulder for bears. Still haven’t seen one, but then again nobody else I have spoken to has either (apart from the dead cub).

I finished the day by socialising around the camp fire and caught up with some German dude called Marcus that is matching my pace. He looks like a Viking and has a platted beard. He informed me that he only has 3 months to do the trail. Finally I have met someone who has less time than me to do the trail. Everyone else seems to be pitching for 6 months. If I can keep up with the Viking I may stand a good chance.

Day 8

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Woke up cold. These shelters aren’t what they are cracked up to be. I think I would have been warmer in a tent. On the plus side at least I didn’t have to pack down my tent. It took a lot of strength to pull on my damp leggings. But after 2 helpings of oatmeal I was set and had warmed up a notch. The weather was cold but at least no rain.

The guys I stayed with last night – Muzzle and company had set off by the time I left, but one by one I caught them.

I clocked in 11 miles today and called ahead to book in for a stay at a new hiker hostel. They picked me up from the trail and the place was pretty nice.

They do a laundry service and provide scrubs to change into whilst your clothes are being washed. That explained why when I arrived everyone looked like they were in a mental institution or hospital.

We were given a ride into Haiwassee to resupply. A group of us went to an all you can eat grease factory. Nice, but if they could have deep fried the plate we ate off of they would have done.

I met a cool guy called John who helped me with my shopping in a store close by. This dude is carrying 25lb including food and water and is ultra light. He has been clocking up the miles.

After a quick stop in the supermarket I am armed with enough food for the next 3 days out in the wild before hitting a town called Franklin.

We bumped into Sam and Rachael in the supermarket. They got a lift from further south and are about a day behind. Sam said she saw a dead bear cub on the trail today.

John and I shared some of the bill for the shopping and have split out our rations.

We finished the night by playing shithead and I learnt another new card game called bullshit.

John is taking a zero tomorrow, whereas I plan to hike on. It’s meant to get really cold over the next few days, but at least all of my stuff from yesterday is dry now.

 

Day 7

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Woke up in the early hours to heavy rain. Water had leaked into my tent where the inner mesh of my tent had been in contact with the outer fly due to the wind and rain. The foot end of my sleeping bag was also wet as my feet had pushed it onto the tent. Not a good sitch to be in when you have a down sleeping bag as they lose all thermal efficiency when wet. I rectified the problem by putting the foot end of my bag in a large dry bag.

I finally left at about 10:30 and hiked all day in the mist and rain. It was hard. I walked through tunnels of rhododendrons and it was very eery. A bit like gorillas in the mist, but no gorillas in this part of America at least.

I feel like a mountain goat when I’m hiking as you have to constantly step on and around rocks and tree roots. I’m also wearing a bear bell so the description is fitting. Marc said the other day that my trail name should be ‘not a dog’ as he kept turning round to find me hiking behind him and bit a 4 legged friend.

I arrived at Blue Mountain shelter about 2pm after covering just 7 miles. A fire was going and finally there was space. After eating a tortilla with cheese and pepperoni and an energy gel to wash it done I decided to move on. I hadn’t covered the miles I needed to and one woman with three small dogs was doing my head in. She was middle aged and dressed in cammo and her voice went right through me.

I was then invited to join two other guys I had camped next to last night to take a short hike downhill for a couple of miles to then hitch into town. I took them up in the offer but when we reached the road I pushed on.

The last stretch if the day involved climbing 1100 ft before dropping 900, before climbing a further 1000. Hardwork.com!

I arrived at Tray Mountain shelter at 58.6 miles in at about 7pm. That means I covered 15.2 miles today. There was one space left in the shelter and it was occupied by a group I hadn’t met yet. It is pretty tight for space and a couple if the guys are sleeping in hammocks. One guy has been reading Winnie the Pooh to everyone and the banter is pretty good.

Although not sure how much sleep I’ll get in here as 2 of the guys have turned into grizzly bears and are snoring louder than I have ever heard. The guy is even wearing friggin nasal strips and the cabin is still vibrating.

There’s also been a bit of talk about the phantom night hiker. A ghostly figure that apparently walks the trail.

Sleep tight children.

Day 6

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After waking at 6am with the initial signs of a hangover I drank some water and went back to the futon for 30. How great is it to be able to take a shower after 3 days worth of hiking grime.

After eating some pizza for breakfast as a part of a calorie controlled diet and sorting out some washing. We didn’t set off until late as peeps wanted to send unwanted weight ahead. I boxed up some quip and sent ahead some bits and my pack weight has been feeling better today. You soon realise what you really don’t need out here. Peeps have tried to persuade me to drop the bear spray, but I’m prepared to carry it despite not even seeing a whiff of bear. We did come across some fresh bear shit the other day though, so they are about.

I spent most of the day hiking on my own and it has been the first day that I have hiked with the tunes up. It’s amazing how music can push you one through the constant uphill’s. Quite a few of the tunes I was listening to also seemed to have words that were really relevant and appropriate to how the day unravelled.

I walked a total of 10 miles to a shelter called Low Gap. Bad weather had been predicted all day and I was hoping to spend my first night in a shelter. When I arrived I met up with Lanis and a few other friendly faces. The shelter was rammed and a lot of peeps had pitched their tents. I really didn’t want to tent it as it will mean that I will have to deal with putting a tent down tomorrow when the rain is meant to be really bad. Staying in a shelter when the weather is bad is a smart move, but there are a lot of peeps on the trail, although a number have already started dropping off. Hopefully competition for shelters will decrease as time goes by.

Tonight I made an interested combination of chicken ramen noodles, chicken chunks and pepperoni and cheese. Followed by a snickers bar and a coffee. It’s amazing what tastes good out here when you’ve been hiking all day. Ramen noods are super light so are definitely a good choice.

Have made a washing line inside my tent to hang my socks so they can dry out. Feel more organised and efficient around camp and the routine is getting slicker.

Anyway I am 43.2 miles in and have another 10 until I can get a hitch into a town in a place called Hiawassee. It’s gonna be interesting hiking in the pissing rain. We’ll just have to see how it goes tomorrow.

Day 4

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I woke up freezing along with all the other peeps. The temp really dropped in the early hours. Although I was first up at about 6:30 it took me a while to pack down my tent as my hands were useless due to the cold.

Six of us finally set off for Neel gap. I am walking at about 2 miles / hour whilst climbing up and down hills. Although the terrain approaching Blood Mountain (just before NG) was extreme. It took a lot longer than normal. Missionary Steve fell and hurt his ankle, but soldiered on. I have come up with his trail name of Mountain Goat, as he is anything but.

We had some good conversation along the way and Marc – missionary number 2 (the dude with the big beard) really helped set the pace. Although he did spend most of the day farting. I said it is his jet propulsion system and have named him the Trail Rabbit like in greyhound racing.

I was glad to get to Neels Gap and rewarded myself with 2 hot dogs and a snickers ice cream.

I was gonna stay in my tent after grabbing a shower there, but 3 other peeps asked if I wanted to share a cabin. What a result! I shared with a guy called bill and 2 other girls. And a load of other peeps we had met on the trail stayed in the cabin next door. Ours had 2 bear skins hanging in pride of place on the wall. It cost each of us 15 bucks each, which is about a tenner and was complete luxury. We even got some of the peeps to go pick up pizza and beer from a nearby town. It was awesome and everyone seemed to get really pissed really quickly. I showed everyone how to play the card game shit head and they showed me a game called a-hole.

Everyone finally left our cabin at 1am. Quite a late one considering I was planning to hike on the next day. A couple of guys were talking about taking a zero day hence the late one. I was glad when everyone did one and had a great nights sleep on a futon.

 

Day 3

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The following day involved a 7am start followed by a coffee, some nicotine and some apple and cinnamon oats.

We left camp at 9am. I initially walked with PB, but he was struggling and told me to push on. I did indeed and clocked in 13 sweet miles. The hike today has been much harder. I walked up 2 steep climbs and had to deal with a few showers. I found that hiking in waterproof trousers and ones boxers seems to be the best plan. Plenty of fresh air to the back wheels.

I have been testing out my navigation skills. I now know that in the current up and down terrain I’m cover approx. 2 miles. The up hills are bad, but the down hills really take it out of your knees.

It’s like a massive game of leapfrog doing this trail where you keep passing different groups. People stop at different times to snack and rest. I must have passed one group about 5 times today.

I noticed a hot spot on my right foot about half way in today and strapped my toe up with duck tape to prevent any further blister.

For the last 4 miles of today’s stretch I walked with a couple of missionary guys who were good company. We stopped at a place called Woody Gap. The views along this part of the trail are awesome and finally there has been a break in the tree line so we could see where we have been walking. There are few trees with leaves at the moment and there is a lot of beige, browns and greys going on. Can’t wait to see leaves on the trees.

Woody Gap is right next to the road so seems less remote. You can even put your rubbish in trash bins rather than having to bag it up and carry it out as I have been doing previously.

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Tomorrow I have 10 mile hike to a place called Neel Gap. There’s is an outfitters there where they offer a shake down service to help reduce the weight each hiker is packing. I’m thinking about sending things ahead. It has got easier, but the quantity of food I’m carrying has reduced. When I resupply it’s gonna hurt.

Tonight my lower back was aching after carrying my pack all day.  Ibuprofen seems to be very popular. We’ll see what happens tomorrow, but it’s 10 miles hike and the area I’m hiking through has some ingenious bears that are ready to raid people foods even when it’s hanging 15ft in the air. Fingers crossed.

 

 

 

Day 2

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At 06:20 Survivor Dave, my trail ride, picked me up at the hotel along with a retired couple and another guy called Pete. Pete was in his 50′s and a character from the start, he was nursing a hangover after drinking 12 beers and a scotch the night before. He went by the trail name of Dumb Ass, but this was later changed to PB after we realised that it was making other people look round when we called out his name.

We all came to the same conclusion about Survivor Dave in that; he was a know-it-all A-hole. But after an hour drive listening to middle of the road rock music and Dave banging on about the trail he finally dropped us at Springer Mountain.

We left our packs at the foot of the approach trail with a guy who’s trail name was Mountain Squid. Everyone / well at least most peeps have trail names. Mine is Fletchlives in case you hadn’t guessed.

After an hour hike we hit the summit if springer. This is the southern terminus of the trail and the views are great. When we reached the top we met a random couple who were chilling in their hammock. I noticed that the girl had hairy pins. Not a good look, but when you are hiking 2000 miles I suppose I should cut her some slack.

We left them to it and Pete and I walked back to collect our bags before hitting the trail. Mountain Squid had laid on a little trail magic which consisted of cold drinks which were well received.

Finally we hit the trail both quipped with about 45-5bs on our backs. It’s a little like carrying a wardrobe up a really steep hill and it definitely isn’t for the faint hearted.

We walked 8.5 miles through the woods before reaching our first hut. I walked ahead of PB and although I must have been a couple of miles ahead of him.  We both ended up walking straight past the shelter. Luckily enough I realised and quickly did an about turn.  There are these white marks on the trees called blazes and they show where the trail runs, but are sketchy at times.

The shelter was buzzing with a load of new recruits in the boots. Everyone was so excited to have finally started the trail and everyone is on the same page when it comes to geeking out about gear and how much weight they are carrying.

After making some food, collecting and purifying water, putting up my tent and hanging my food so Mr Bear wouldn’t eat it, I crashed at about 9pm. PB didn’t even manage dinner. The others continued into the night making a lot of noise. That didn’t matter though as I was cream crackered.

Day 1

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After finishing work Tuesday and a late night in a very orange hotel, where I was up late refining my kit. I left for the United States the following day. All was seamless until I got the Marta train service north to north springs. Half way there we were evacuated from the train and had to bail. On the way up the stairs to the exit I made my first AT buddy. He was also brandishing a pack and he went by the name of Lanis.

A pickup bus service was organised but it was a complete free for all and carrying a 40lb pack doesn’t exactly make you the most nimble on your feet. We decided to bail and after some careful negotiation we landed a cab. We were both glad to have bumped into each other and Lanis was a Park Ranger in Yellowstone so we had lots to talk about.

After a brief stop off at REI (a US version of Cotswold Outdoors) I was quipped up with gas, bear spray and a spice rack so I could add some much needed flavour to my dins. Then it was on to an AT&T store to get a pre-paid sim. The guy who served me thought my plans to hike the Appalachian Trail were something out of movie. Everyone is very friendly.

I finally stocked up on food and then walked the streets of Atlanta for a while before asking in a bar for a taxi. At 9pm US time / 2pm UK time I finally got to my hotel. I knocked back a beer outside the hotel and then grabbed a couple of sliders from a burger joint across the road. Basically they are mini burgers and hit the spot.

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