Before I start detailing our hiking week, let me tell you how much we appreciate you for following us along our journey. We are definitely reading all your comments, but it is proving difficult to reply to all of them in a timely manner. The way things have been going, we have taken a couple of nights off-trail here or there in a hotel or hostel, and that is the best time for us to write replies. Please keep sending your thoughts and encouragements here and on our YouTube channel— we are reading them, and they inspire us to progress up the trail.
Speaking of time in town, our days 9-10 were spent in Hiawassee, Ga. We stayed at the Budget Inn there and had a very relaxing time. As you may see in our videos, the second of those nights was as much for avoiding nearly single-digit temperatures as it was resting and recouperting. While there, we treated ourselves to the AYCE buffet at Daniel’s Steak House, which was superb! We gorged ourselves on the Southern fare of Salisbury steak, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and lima beans. It was fantastic.
One of the things we were most looking forward to on this trip was meeting people. I have to report that we have made some really wonderful friends. Before our trip into Hiawassee last week, we had been bumping into a guy about my age from Winnepeg named Travis. With the thought of saving money in mind, we decided to double-up on the hotel room last week. We have continued to hike “together” this week, and are once again next-door neighbors. We both agree that we’ve been placed in each other’s paths for a reason. He and I are alike in many ways, not the least of which is that we are not early risers. He is a patient soul and has been quite an encourager for Gavin as well. I believe that he is one friend from the trail that I will hope to visit in the years to come.
I also mentioned Rick, from PA, in one my videos. We met Rick at Neel Gap and spent a couple of days staying and hiking with him. He actually got off-trail an extra day to visit some family friends in the early part of the week, but he caught back up with us on Day 14 just before we arrived at the Long Branch Shelter. He, too, has been quite a friend to Gavin, and we’ve been blessed to have him along on this journey. Though he stayed here last night, he hit the trail again this morning, but I’m sure we’ll meet up with him again in the next week or so.
When we left Hiawassee on Wednesday, we hiked nine miles to Bly Gap campsite. This was a really cool place to stay. We had a ridgeline wrapping up and around us, and there was a piped spring right in the campsite. I cannot overstate how wonderful it is to have a water source right in the campsite rather than 01-0.2 mile away. Travis and Gavin started a fire and we were joined by Father Time and Gator. We were also later joined by a young lady (I can’t remember her name) who started four days after us. She just finished at UNC and is hoping to complete the trail by the end of July so she can get to med-school orientation on August 1. We had a good time getting to know one another.
Day 12 was onward 7.7-miles to Standing Indian Shelter. We had a really pretty day for hiking this day and saw several views. One thing that was particularly neat that day was a bird that perched on a log long enough to be photographed. So far, wildlife has been scarce, but I did hear an owl one night, which was really cool.
When you seen the Day 13 video, please forgive me for its shortness in length. It rained on us most of the day so I didn’t take much video and there were no views to photograph. We did summit Standing Indian Mtn. which was no small feat at 5,435’. Thankfully, much of the rest of the way was downhill to Carter Gap Shelter. Our temperature was in the low-30’s starting out, but thankfully our gear kept us warm and mostly dry. When we got to the shelter, there was room enough for Gavin to squeeze in, but it got crowded pretty quickly as other hikers arrived. I was able to get a small break in the rain to pitch my tent, and I slept mostly in the dry. The water source for this shelter was a muddy slog a few tenths of a mile downhill, but thanks to the suggestion of another hiker, we set our pots down outside the shelter to catch rainwater dripping off the roof. We accumulated more than enough water that way to do us for the night and the morning.
Our final long day of hiking this week was Saturday, a trek of 8.7 miles to Long Branch Shelter. This was hands-down the nicest, newest shelter we have stayed at. It was bi-level and could probably sleep 16-20 folks, but we only had around ten or so. We all had room to spread out, and we slept well, even though it rained quite a bit on the tin roof overnight. We also reconnected with Kevin and MJ, now Sunkist, whom we met early on along the trail.
Sunday morning we had a short hike to Rock Gap, where we caught a shuttle with Travis to Franklin, NC, where we’ve spent the past two nights. In addition to resupplying our food, it is really nice to spend a day or so resting and letting our muscles heal. There is great comfort in being stuck in a hotel room with only a few items other than eating on the to-do list.
One of the important to-do items for today was to get Gavin some new shoes. Though he started with a new pair of Altra Lone Peak 4’s, we quickly found out that there was not nearly enough “shoe” in them to protect him from all the rocks and roots we have been traversing. As a consequence, his calf muscles had to work overtime to absorb all the shock from his hiking which has lead to him having foot pain. That discomfort, in turn, has caused his hiking pace to slow substantially, especially late in the day. We spent about two hours with Rob from Outdoor 76, an AT Shoe Legend, who helped Gavin get a different pair of shoes that will hopefully see him many comfortable miles up the trail. We are both appreciative of the time Rob took carefully measuring Gavin’s feet, asking lots of questions, while going through several “trial” pairs of shoes before Gavin could settle on just the right ones. Please be prayerful that these are indeed the right shoes for Gavin.
My pains have been mostly in my knees, but not while hiking. I am an active sleeper, starting on one side, then to the other, and then on my back. When I’m on my sides, I keep my legs bent, but when I get on my back I straighten them out. That is when I get a searing pain down the outside of my left (and sometimes right) knee. I think it is the IT band, but whatever it is, I wish it would stop. I think it is because I am restricted in how much I can move my legs around in my mummy sleeping bag. Last night in bed, I experimented with different ways I might sleep in such a compact space with the hope of alleviating the problem. I also wonder if letting just a little air out of my sleeping pad might be helpful. I will report in next week with my progress. In the meantime, I’ll keep doing Vitamin-I (ibuprofen) at night with the hope of getting a more restful sleep.
The highlight of the week was hitting the 100-mile mark atop Albert Mtn. on Saturday. At 5,250’, the climb up Albert Mtn. was a rock-scramble that was near vertical at times. I had a slightly easier time of it than Gavin because of my longer legs, but it was a tough but fun climb for both of us. Unfortunately, the weather was uncooperative and we had no views for our efforts. Gavin climbed the tower, but he only went higher into the clouds, still seeing nothing. At least we were able to use our little tripod to take a picture together at the top.
In the coming week, we’ll wind up at the Nantahala Outdoor Center near Bryson City, NC. Beth and I have been there before on a rafting trip, but I don’t think the boys were with us yet. Another highlight will be the Wayah Bald tower at mile 119.5. There is a stone tower there, and according to the weather I’ve seen, we should get some views. I’m really looking forward to that.
As always, thanks for joining us on this journey. Please leave us words of encouragement in the space below. Even though we don’t reply daily, we’re reading your comments, and they are very meaningful to us. If you have time, please check out our YouTube channel which is linked in the menu above. I’ve uploaded several videos while in town the past two days, and they will come out every day or two. God Bless, and remember to keep taking the Next Step.