What a difference a day
Although neither Jim nor
I slept well last night, we woke with new energy and hope – it was sunny!!!
Today just had to be better than yesterday.
And it was. I don’t know
if it was the sun, regulating my fluids and electrolytes better, the second of
double long runs (which are usually more comfortable for me than the first long
run), or what, but I felt strong all day until next to the last mile going up
the steep switchbacks of Wildcat Mountain just before Hogpen Gap.
Steve met us at our
camper and Jim drove us back to Woody Gap to begin today’s leg of the AT over to
Hogpen Gap. Woody Gap seems to always be very windy; I think they should re-name
it Windy Gap! Today was no exception. Steve and I needed our windbreakers on for
about a mile until we warmed up, then short sleeves and shorts were sufficient
for the remainder of the day. Blairsville was supposed to get to 65 degrees, but
I doubt it reached 60 anywhere we were today.
The sun was brighter than
I thought; even though I had sunscreen with me, I didn't put it on and ended up
with both arms sunburned by afternoon.
We started at 3,150 feet and ended at 3,450 feet. In between, we
climbed five named mountains: Big Cedar, Blood (the high point at almost
4,500 feet), Levelland, Cowrock, and Wildcat, plus numerous ups and downs
On the AT elevation profile, the 1,300 foot gain up Blood
Mountain looks formidable. I haven't done that part of the Trail for about seven
years. The Trail has been re-routed from the Slaughter Gap intersection in the
past year. Although it seemed longer to Steve and me, it was an easy grade up
and we were at the rocky top faster than I expected.
At 4,461 feet, Blood Mountain is the highest point on the AT
in Georgia. Several large rock outcrops afford great views of the surrounding
mountains in all directions. The shelter at the top is also constructed of
rocks, and looks like it'd be a chilly place to sleep even in May!
We played leapfrog for several miles with a tall,
fast-hiking man before reaching the summit of Blood Mountain. I figured as
slowly as I go uphill, he'd catch us on the climb. He did, right below the
summit. We talked with him for a while at the top.
His name is Tim Matthews and he currently hails from
Ohio, where Steve and I both grew up. Tim was hiking the nine miles from Woody
Gap to Blood and back. Even with us running some, his pace wasn't much slower
than ours. Turns out he's a marathoner and climber as well as a hiker. With
those skills, Steve and I suggested he get into trail and/or ultra running. Tim
does have a friend who does ultras. I predict there will be another ultra runner
amongst us before long!
The descent from Blood Mountain seemed more than the advertised
1,300 feet. Steve went on ahead here for the first time so he could use the
bathroom and phone at Neel's Gap, 2.4 miles below. Steve loves to bomb down
rocky trails. I imagine he was getting frustrated by my slow, methodical passage
down such trails. It took me probably ten minutes longer to negotiate that
descent than Steve. I was glad I had my trekking pole with me today.
The footing was rockier
than yesterday. Again we underestimated the time it would take at my snail’s
pace to reach our destination. We were out for 6:30 with a 20-minute break at
the outfitter’s store at Neel’s Gap, a popular stop for thru-hikers. Since we
started about 9:15 AM, we got done before 4 PM so we could have a more relaxing
I signed the register at
Neel’s Gap and asked the employee waiting on us about how many thru-hikers were
in the Class of ’05. He said about one thousand had registered so far, a little
more than last year but considerably fewer than the peak in 2000. He expects
more in a few weeks as college students join the fun. Steve and I saw many more
folks out hiking today, but none were thru-hikers that we know of.
Yesterday, we couldn’t
see more than a couple hundred feet from the Trail most of the time. Today, the
views were virtually endless, off into the layers of blue ridges many miles from
our vantage points. We had many interesting “creeping spring” sightings today,
especially from Blood Mountain and Wolf Laurel Top.
David Brill used this
term in his book, “As Far As the Eye Can
See.” It refers to the way you can see
spring advance up the mountainsides, with leafy greens at the lower elevations
and bare brown trees farther above. You can see the line of demarcation clearly
now. According to Brill, naturalists claim that the line ascends at a rate of
six feet per day, or three inches every hour. Cool.
I didn’t realize I would
have so many views in early May in Georgia, but the trees above about 3,000 feet
are still leafless. That’s fine with me. There is plenty of green on the forest
floor at the higher elevations, but I can see more vistas without leaves on the
trees. That is good news because as I get higher and higher in the next couple
weeks, I’ll be able to view valleys and mountain ranges that will be obscured
when I get to Virginia and points north. Thru-hikers get tired of the “long
green tunnel” because it is less interesting than spectacular vistas.
Today Steve and I saw
several hillsides covered in beautiful white, pink, and pink/white
large-flowered trilliums in different stages of bloom. They made me smile. The
largest collection of these lovely flowers is in a wildlife management area in
northern Virginia; I hope they are still in bloom when I reach that area of the
We met Jim and Cody about three miles from Hogpen Gap,
our end point for the day. A couple minutes earlier, a man approached us and
asked if we were Sue and Steve. I was immediately fearful something bad had
happened to Jim, and this person was sent to tell me. But he just said Jim and
Cody were right behind him. Whew!
We got back to the truck before 4 PM. It was nice to ride
home cleaner and drier today! We said our goodbyes to Steve at the camper, and
had a nice, long evening to relax.
Thanks so much for running with me, Steve. It was great
to see you again and share the first 37 miles of my journey with you!
As discouraged as I was
on the first day of this run, today I’m more optimistic. Today was truly FUN.