The Great 8: Days 1-5

Day 1 – 7ish miles

My alarm woke me at 0430 from a frantic dream full of whispered plans and adrenaline pumping anxiety. Not a good way to start your day, but nothing to do but tell my subconscious brain to take a chill pill. I had already packed the night before so after giving my kitties extra nubbins, me and my Dad head out into the inky pre-dawn.

My Dad was riding up to Mountain Crossings at Neels Gap with me so as to drive my truck back the 3.5 hours to Columbus. He got to nap for awhile until Atlanta traffic made me stop suddenly and swiftly.

We got to the gap and took a few pictures. My Dad even tagged a blaze so now he’s an AT hiker! I said goodbye and headed up and up and up the Appalachian trail towards Blood Mountain.

Finally! I was back on trail. And of course it was raining. But this, I didn’t mind so much. The canopy of leaves kept most of the water off my head, the breeze was cooling, and the foggy mist made everything seem like a dream. The car wash of shrubbery soaking my legs brought me back to earth though. But even that didn’t last long.

Soon I was up in the stinky Rhododendrons and the musty carpet of fallen foliage. I was happy for this smell, because it meant I wasn’t at work. I wasn’t toiling uselessly to uphold a system that doesn’t seem to care. I wasn’t trying to do my job helping people who in the end didn’t want help. I wasn’t watching people die from something that could have been prevented. I wasn’t being gaslit for my experience and knowledge. I wasn’t yelling at grown ass adults to keep their C-collar on (do you want to be paralyzed?) or traumatizing someone’s granny with straight caths. And definitely wasn’t holding in my pee for 12 hours. Welp that little “verbal vomit” came outta nowhere. Keeping it in.

I stopped about a mile in to inhale a Cliff bar and really take it the fact that I would be walking out in them hills for the next month and half. It still doesn’t feel quite real.

I knew what would really suck would be falling and hurting myself on the first day so I took the Freeman trail to bypass going over Blood Mountain. On a good dry day the trail on this mountain is precarious. I know because I’ve already been up and down it three times. I think it cut off a mile or so of the AT, but I’m not out here to “crush miles” or even walk every step of the AT or BMT. This isn’t that kind of trip.

I also didn’t bring my Canon, so I won’t be getting all the “artistic shots” and videos. I brought my phone and a little gimbal camera. And depending on how I feel afterwards may or may not fashion the footage into a video. This isn’t that kind of trip.

I got to Lance Creek pretty early around 1430. I could’ve pushed farther, but I factored this stop in when planning. I knew I’d be tired from driving and would want to end early. I set up my tent in the rain and laid out for a nap. It was a pretty good nap. I woke up, filtered some water, and ate some food. No one has come by, so I’ve got the place to myself. Another benefit of the rain: keeping the crowd down.

Today I am deeply grateful that I have the opportunity, means, and ability to walk this trail.

Day 2 – 8.2 miles

The day started out misty as the rain plopped down on my tent. I actually slept pretty well which is a first. I don’t usually sleep very well in the backcountry, always on alert for sticks breaking or I just can’t get comfortable.

I packed a wet and dirty tent (never fun) and made my way towards Preachers rock. The rain was mild so I didn’t get too wet and the mist curled through the trees creating a moody dreamy vibe. I spent the first part morning in a contemplative mood. There weren’t any views but there was pit toilet at Woody Gap that was well recieved. There was also cell signal so I conducted my very important business (posting on IG).

I scrambled up Ramrock mountain to get my very first real view on the trail. I sat there munching on cheese and met two day hikers, one of whom used to work at Memorial in Savannah. The very place I’d just left! A weird coincidence.

I continued on to Gooch Mountain Shelter (the Goooooch!) As I got closer the rain grew heavier and I actually started to get drenched. Out of nowhere I started laughing because this is exactly what I needed. I didn’t even stop to put on my jacket. I just moved through the pines and cedar laughing like a loon and letting the rain wash away my sweat.

By the time I actually made it to the shelter I was soaked, but happy. There was a couple from Atlanta that I chatted at. I say “at” because I don’t think I let them get a word in edgewise. Apparently two days by myself turns me chatty. Another couple of people showed up, one of whom is a Starbucks shift supervisor (my old job that I was recently contemplating wasn’t so bad). Another coincidence. I don’t know what those are about, maybe nothing; but this trip does feel a little serendipitous.

I’m made a corner in the shelter, so hopefully my stuff will dry out a little. Ha! Such wishful thinking.

We looked through the log book and some previous tenants of the shelter used it to keep score on a game of Rummy. Someone named Wizard had their own scoring system that seemed to consist of symbols, a robot, and of course a penis. This prompted a discussion on what the dick to currency conversion rate would be. The only person who had the necessary equipment to comment on this did not know. I don’t think he ever had to do the math. I guess we’ll never know.

Today I am deeply grateful for all the pretty spider webs with rain droplets on them.

Day 3 – 7.7 miles

I didn’t sleep very well. I never do in shelters. The floor is so unforgiving, even with an air mattress. The arm I’m laying on will go numb and then I have to flip which wakes me and everyone else up. But it’s the price you pay to stay dry.

The day started out misty but warm. The humidity is ramping up. I spent most the morning mindlessly thinking about life and things. Eventually that’ll stop (I hope) when I get tired of my own thoughts. I already have a separate post planned that goes more in depth on why I’m doing this. Because why not? There isn’t much to do but walk and think and breathe.

There were a lot of ups and downs. Everytime I made it to a gap, I knew there was a slog of a climb coming up. But I’m glad of it, because it gives me a real good work out.

I hustled it to Hawk Mt Shelter because despite the sun trying to peak out the weather report said rain was coming. This puts me 0.7 miles short of my goal for today. I don’t mind it. Gotta use these shelters while I can. The BMT doesn’t really have shelters. I think there are two. So its all tenting all the time.

There was a couple of people there at the shelter. One fella who was an former dentist from New Jersey was hauling one of those old fashioned external framed packs and he also had very strong opinions on Chanterelles.

I fell asleep (kinda) to the thrum of rain on the metal roof and the rifle fire in the distance. The Rangers were out doing night exercises? It reminded me of home.

Today I am deeply grateful for the little patches of sunlight in the afternoon.

Day 4 – 14.4 miles

Whooooweee what a day. It started out the usual. I could see a sunrise though the trees, but the clouds soon obscured all the color. I took off first and encountered a cranky hunter (I think?) a little up the trail. The reason I think he was a hunter is that he carried a hand gun and was wearing camo. He also didn’t follow the unwritten code of the trail to nod/say hello/grunt at passersby. Just dead eyed stared at me. Very creepy.

I beat tracks to Long Creek Falls where the noseeums ate me alive. But I was going to eat my Cliff bar by a pretty waterfall! After that it was a steady climb up to the Stover Creek Shelter. Incidently this is where I first received my trail name Compass back in 2018. All I did was help a dude back to the trail. My trail name story isn’t very interesting.

Following that stop it was more climbing and passing a bunch of day hikers. I tried to move to the side so they wouldn’t smell me. But I could certainly smell them! So fresh and like clean laundry! I’d forgotten how bad you can smell.

As I climbed Springer Mountain the wind and rain came rolling in so I skipped saying hi to the AT monument at the top. There really isn’t a great view on a good day let alone when it’s raining. The start of the BMT is 0.3 before Springer’s summit and it winds back down the other side of the mountain. It’s kind of unassuming a little sign, here’s the start. The BMT looks pretty much exactly like the AT just slightly more rugged. It crosses the AT a couple of times and even merges with it for awhile before splitting west.

There was a melodramatic view at Owen’s Overlook. I sat there for awhile letting the wind and mist buffer my face while I ate some cheese. The spot I had planned to camp didn’t look very appealing so I continued on. And on. And on. I just kept walking. The rain occasionally gusted through and the wind kept knocking more water on me. Finally i made it back to Three Forks where the mosquitos were awake and in business. I threw up a damp tent, dragged my dirty pack in along with a bunch of forest detritus, and snickered at the mosquitos flailing against the mesh.

Even though I managed 14.4 miles I didn’t feel all that hungry. Munching on M&Ms I rolled out my feet which were very unhappy. Changed into my jam-jams and now I’m writing this blog post.

Its funny, it still doesn’t feel real to me that I’m out here. Its like my brain is in limbo and waiting to see if this experience is going to last. My body remembers and is handling the changes oddly well, but my mind seems to have some trouble letting go.

I noticed that checking my social media is a bit distracting and made me feel icky. I was sitting on top of a mountain, originally checking my texts, and somehow ended up scrolling for about 10 minutes with no memory of what I looked at. It was like a I was hypnotized and felt like a betrayal to the trail experience. I wonder if I’ve gotten so used to social media approval that its absence makes real life seem unreal? Either way, it would seem this forced break with the internet is going to have some benefits.

Today I am deeply grateful for the emotional view at Owen’s Overlook.

Day 5 – 10ish miles

I slept well in the mosquito palace, despite having some intense dreams. Of course it started raining heavily as soon as I set off, drenching my clothes in minutes despite all the rain gear.

I waded past Long Creek Falls again and finally set off on the BMT as it heads west away from the AT. The rain was pulling a Forrest Gump. It came from above, sideways, and even below. The trail transformed into a slick clay slipn’slide and at some points (always uphill) was an acutal creek. It was really hard to be mindful and grateful when you are cold and wet. Also when everything you’ve got has been wet for days.

At some point, in a river of mud, I started internally yelling at myself for not being strong enough. I should be bad ass boss babe-ing this, no whiney complaints! You’ll dry off at some point, stop being such a pussy! I came upon an unnamed Bald (literally just listed as Bald on the waypoint). The driving rain eased up and the wind calmed. Another, kinder thought drifted through my mind, why can’t you ask for help?

I stood at that grassy bald underneath a slate gray sky and realized the rain was offering help, I just had to ask for it. Could I bluster my way through and tough it out Amazon style? Probably. Did I want to? Nope. And thats fine too. Luckily there was signal up there and I was able to get in touch with a derby friend who lived near(ish)by. AT was going to pick me up at the Toccoa River and let me stay with her overnight! I just had to get there.

The wind picked back up, but thankfully the precipitation was merely a drizzle. As I was descending one of the many PUDS I heard some odd stomping behind me. Thinking it was another hiker with a serious pace, I turned around to let them by, only to be scared shitless by a bedraggled Army dude in full gear and rifle come right up on me. He said Excuse me ma’am and ran down the hill. I was left wondering what that was all about…and ma’am?

On the other side of another mountain I saw either the same Army dude or another sad one coming towards me this time. I was hoping I wasn’t walking through some military training exercises…but why use a public hiking trail?

The wind burst through the trees on Wildcat Ridge and even knocked a heavy limb down right next to me. I took this as sign that getting off trail was the right decision. I hurried along the sodden trail and finally reached the swinging bridge at Toccoa River, which was frankly kind of terrifying. After that I met with AT, who drove me to her apartment. I ate some delicious pizza and took a glorious shower! We sat on her soft carpets and talked about life and STUFF and looked at all the pretty lights that she has (disco ball and galaxy light=win).

And now I get to sleep on a soft warm DRY bed. It was truly serendipitous that I found signal when I did and she answered my text so quickly. The universe gave me break.

Today I am truly and deeply grateful to have friends who are there when I need help.

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