Although this section contains some of the longest climbs and highest peaks
of the AT in Georgia, I felt better after today's run than any in the previous
Why? Because I could RUN!! There was very little rock-dancing today.
That made such a big difference in how I felt both physically and mentally.
The photo above left shows some of the Trail today. Although all of it wasn't that
smooth, enough of it was that distance-wise I was able to run half or more of
today's section. I doubt I ran more than 40% of the distance yesterday or 35% on
either of the first two
Time-wise, however, I probably ran only about 25% today because of stops for
various reasons (water for Cody, pee break, photo ops, vistas to enjoy, notes to
write) and because I'm so doggone slow going up mountains! I'm also trying to
show some restraint at the beginning of my journey.
One thing I've learned in 25 years of running trails and 13 years of running
ultras is this: if I run or walk up a hill and get too wasted in
the process, I can't run down the other side efficiently. I'd rather have the
energy to boogie downhill than die going up. I also try to ascend hills at a
steady rate that doesn't require stopping to get my heart rate down.
I did this pretty well today. But since the climbs up Rocky (it wasn't),
Tray, Kelly, and Powell mountains were mostly straight and long, it
meant walking up at a snail's pace. However, because the rare "flat"
or undulating spots like the "Swag of the Blue Ridge" and the downhills were so
smooth and runnable today, I was able to descend at a very good pace for me (8½ to 9 minute miles, I'd guess).
In the process, I felt great all day and finally finished before I
estimated I would. Jim and Tater were able to climb about a mile and a half in to see
the end, but Jim was surprised when I called him from four miles out and he was
still at the campground, aiming to pick me up at a later time. (This was one
time we both had good cell reception at the same time.)
I started just before 10 AM (yeah, I know that's late, Horton!) and finished
at 3:45 PM. I don't know and don't care what pace that was. It was a tough
section with all the elevation gain, run mostly from 3,500 feet to 4,430 feet
high (I live and train at 1,000 feet), but I felt like a million bucks all day.
What a feeling!
WHERE DID ALL THE HIKERS GO?
It's a good thing I don't mind running alone all day. I saw exactly ONE other
person on the Trail today besides Jim (and only six yesterday), and she was
going the other direction. I'm glad I had Cody for company. His youthful antics are
cute and he's a good listener.
I was hoping to run into "Bob," an 80-year-old thru-hiker I learned about at
Neel's Gap. The store clerk said he was going slowly and I should catch him in a
day or two. That was two days ago.
He may have been in a shelter when I went by. Many of the shelters in Georgia
are so far off the Trail that you can't see them, and I haven't taken the time
to go down (they always seem to be down, probably to be closer to a spring) to
any of them. Bob was concerned about not having any other folks to hike with. I
can vouch that they just aren't out here in this area right now. The bulk are in
NC, TN, and VA by now, and the students who will be graduating from college and
thru-hiking before settling down in new jobs are still in school a bit
I've enjoyed so many panoramic vistas from the ridge tops in Georgia that I
also by-passed a sign a couple miles from the end of today's section that read,
"Vista." I don't know how far it was, but I wasn't going. It couldn't possibly
have been any better than the gazillion I've already seen right from the Trail!
I'm usually a sucker for such signs on trails or scenic roads like the Blue
Ridge Parkway, but eventually I get OD'd and don't stop at every new overlook. I
know there are plenty more ahead that will be even more awe-inspiring.
THE CHEESE FACTORY AND OTHER TIDBITS
The history of this area fascinates me. There are so many Native American place
names and interesting stories of settlers. For example, the road through Unicoi Gap, today's starting point, was an
Indian trail turned wagon road that was cleared in 1812 by a group of coastal merchants
seeking an inland trade route into the area. "Unicoi" means "white man's way."
Later, I ran past the former location of a remote mountain dairy farm that is
called "The Cheese Factory." It was operated by a transplanted New England
dairy farmer in the early 1800s and was placed literally on top of 4,430 foot
Tray Mountain even though the farmhouse was fifteen miles away and much farther
I also passed Indian Grave Gap, named for a lone Native American that is
buried down a side trail. A two-foot tall rock cairn monument marks his grave.
Rock cairns can be found at various places along the AT from Georgia to Maine,
but most that remain are used to mark the Trail in rocky places, not to mark
graves. We've seen rock cairns in the mountains in the West, also.
As I walked up from Indian Grave Gap toward Tray Mountain through beds
of heart-shaped galax, I came upon a delicate foot-tall rock cairn on the end of
the log, pictured above. Someone had very carefully arranged those rocks. I was
delighted to find a total of ten cairns in the next 200 yards, mostly placed on
large rocks along the side of the Trail.
They made me smile, especially the one that was fully disassembled, all the
flat rock pieces in various sizes lying on a large rock like puzzle pieces. I'd
already placed tiny rocks on a couple of the previous cairns (it's hard to pass
a cairn and not add another rock!). I wasn't sure what the significance of the
disassembled cairn was, but I built a base from several of the larger pieces and
maybe other hikers will add more.
The cairns made my day. I assume they had some symbolic significance
regarding Indian Grave, but it pleased and amused me just to see them lining the
Trail as I walked up. It was like forest fairies built them for the enjoyment of
the hikers. Who knows?
When I reached the summit of Tray Mountain, I was rewarded with another one
of those breath-taking 360-degree views of too many mountains to count. I just
sat on the rocks and enjoyed the vista for a few minutes, happy to be alive and
I took more notes along the Trail today than the last three days combined.
I'll include some of them as time goes on. Although I focus well on the
here-and-now when I'm trail running, today I let my mind wander more because I
didn't have to pay so much attention to my footing.
And guess what usually happens then?? Yep, I fell down. I bloodied a
knee and got all dirty, but I sat there laughing before picking myself up,
brushing myself off, and moving on down the Trail. It's the first time I've
fallen since my birthday run on March 31, some kind of record for me. Jim took a
photo of the damage when I got to the truck, and I'll eventually get it on the
Webshots [now Picasa] photo page. Another "best blood" moment!
Today I was particularly struck by the peace and solitude one can find on the
Appalachian Trail. Much of northern Georgia is protected wilderness within the
Chattahoochee National Forest, so the Trail is mostly devoid of traffic noises,
unsightly residential or business areas, and other sensual distractions. I
haven't even seen any towns from the ridges yet. It should remain mostly like
this until I get to the mid-Atlantic states and more narrow protected corridors.
I wish every day on the Trail could be like today. Heck, I wish every day
could be like today!! Although I'm tired now, several hours later as I put
fingers to keyboard, today was the first day since I started that I wasn't ready
physically or mentally to stop when planned. I wanted to keep on running.
You know what? I feel so good, I think I'll run to North Carolina tomorrow!!