One state down, thirteen to go!
A little over halfway through today's section, I crossed into North Carolina.
I expected something more dramatic than the 6x12 inch mildewed-green wooden sign
shown here, tacked to a tree at the side of the Trail.
Oh, well, it shows I'm making progress!
I wanted to share my first milestone with someone. Alas, I'd seen only
one hiker (a woman about my age, thru-hiking to Maine) in the last three hours,
and I wouldn't see anyone else for another two hours, so I checked my cell phone
and voila! I had a signal.
So I called Jim. He was surprised to get a call from me three hours after I'd
started my run, but happy to share my good news. He was at a store in Clayton,
GA, in transit with the camper from Moccasin Creek State Park to Standing Indian
campground in the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. It was simply
good timing for a phone call, because we don't have cell service within ten
miles of our new campsite.
Today was a downer compared to yesterday. I wondered how long I'd feel so good!
I used Gene Thibeault's quote yesterday because I knew the day was coming soon
that I would need a break.
Last night I was so wound up that I couldn't sleep. I was tired when I got
up, before I even hit the Trail. Still, the first few miles were fine - much
more uphill today than yesterday, but the Trail was fairly smooth until
the last two miles and I was cruising along on the downhills. I could tell it
was more of a struggle uphill, though. I started to feel the accumulated fatigue
of running up and down mountains for five straight days, more elevation change
than I've ever done even in a 100-miler.
THE NUMBERS GAME
I'm not too obsessed with numbers on this trek. I'm most interested in
mileage each day and total miles completed. It's fun to see the miles add up,
and certain "mileposts" will be significant: 100 miles, 500 miles, 1,000 miles,
halfway, 1,000 to go, and so on.
I'll record the time each day, but the only reasons I need to be conscious of
pace are to give Jim good guestimates each day of when to pick me up and
so I'll be sure Cody and I have adequate supplies. There are no mile markers out
here, so I can only guess what my pace is up and down. I don't want to
compulsively try to figure any of that out. I'm not even using the chrono
features of my watch!
But what I'd really love to know is how much elevation gain and loss I'm
doing each day. We don't have a GPS unit and we don't want to buy one. From what
we've read, it doesn't sound like they're all that accurate anyway. Our ATC maps
and books have pretty detailed information about elevations at various points,
but they don't give totals for each section. With the constant ups and downs
between the points that are listed, it's impossible to come up with an accurate
elevation change. And I just don't have the time each day to do even rough math
from the profiles.
All I know is, I've never done this much up and down in five days before!
WHERE AM I???
From reading hikers' journals, it sounds nearly impossible to get "lost" on
the AT. The only place I've heard about hikers having trouble following the 2x6"
white blazes is through some towns.
Nevertheless, today I had my first question about whether I was on the Trail
or not. And I got a bonus mile finding out. (I will not count "bonus miles" in
my cumulative AT mileage on each journal entry; those numbers are official AT
distances on the Trail. I'll only count extra mileage in my running log.)
It didn't take me long to hike up Little Bald Knob from Dick's Creek, my
starting point. The Trail was obvious, so I wasn't really looking for the
blazes. My goal was to stay ahead of four male thru-hikers who got out of a
Hiawassee Inn van at the gap. Even with packs on, I figured they'd catch me
before the top, but they didn't.
Running down the other side of Little Bald Knob to Cowart Gap, it dawned on
me that I hadn't seen any blazes for a loooong time. I slowed down and really
looked hard for them, in both directions. When I was most of the way down, I
decided to backtrack until I saw a blaze. Damned if I didn't have to go all the
way back up until I saw a blaze in the southbound direction!
Returning down to the gap, I looked more closely for blazes and didn't see
one until I was all the way down - over 1/2 mile between blazes. In my mind, the
fact that there weren't any side trails doesn't matter. I think there should have been
some "confidence" markers there. Farther on in this northernmost section of the
AT in Georgia, some of the blazes were a mile apart.
Maybe I'm super-sensitive on the subject of course markings because of some
negative experiences I've had in ultra races that were not well marked. Maybe I'm just a weenie. I don't
think so. If I know a course isn't going to be marked well, I'll memorize where
I'm going or take a map.
I assumed today's section would be a no-brainer.
The rest of the Trail in Georgia was very well marked, and as soon as I got to
the North Carolina section maintained by the Nantahala Hiking Club, it was again
well marked. I took notes with me re: gap and shelter mileages and locations of
springs, but that was all.
Today I learned that I need to pay close attention to the markers on this trek
and take more notes about the "course."
got far enough to travel to Maine without unnecessary bonus mileage.
End of rant. I shouldn't criticize the Georgia AT Club, because their 75-mile
section of Trail was well maintained otherwise. There was no litter, there were
only a few blow downs, and they've done a great job with water dams and other
erosion-control devices. Hats off to those volunteers! I appreciate all their
[Addendum after the adventure run: I'm impressed with how well
the Appalachian Trail IS marked, especially after running parts of the
Colorado Trail and Continental Divide Trail! This section was an
anomaly, except for New Hampshire. That state is definitely in need of
some cans of white paint!! Fortunately, by the time I got up there I had
a lot more AT-savvy.]
HIGHER MOUNTAINS AHEAD
Running the ridges not only gives me great views on either side, it also lets
me see where I've been and where I'm going. The Trail has arced around enough to
allow this each day so far. What I suddenly noticed today on my left and up
ahead was that the mountains were noticeably taller than where I've been.
Uh, oh! I know I'm climbing higher and higher each day, but actually seeing
it is different than looking on the maps.
Today I started at 2,675 feet and ended at 4,341 feet, a net gain of 1,666
feet. The high point was about 4,800 feet on the unnamed mountain above Deep
Gap. The Trail was relatively smooth until the last two miles.
There's a daily pattern: since roads are built through the gaps
between mountains, and I'm starting and finishing each day's run where there is
road access, the pattern is an uphill each morning when I start and a downhill
run at the end. Of course, in between there are numerous other ups and downs.
It's not like I get up high and just stay there all day! The AT is a
constant roller coaster.
I encountered my first steep inclines today without benefit of switchbacks
shortly after crossing into North Carolina. After the famous twisted tree at Bly
Gap (below), the Trail began a 1,000-foot
ascent up Sharp Top and Courthouse Bald, with a cooling reprieve through a dense
rhododendron tunnel between the two crests.
Cody and I both appreciated the refrigerator-like temperatures through about
twenty of those tunnels today. They would be even more amazing when the flowers
are in bloom. We were above the leaf line most of the day, which was sunny and
in the 50s-60s - another perfect weather day! Even at those low temps, however,
the sun is hot.
I saw numerous spring flowers again today. New ones in the NC section were
bloodroot, which was blooming at home in VA a month ago, cream-colored trilliums
near Sassafras Gap, white wood anemones, white bell-like cut-leaf toothworts,
and large patches of yellow trout lilies near Wateroak Gap.
My wildflower book says the ancient Romans used the trout lilies as a
treatment for blisters and corns. Sounds handy for thru-hikers! Fortunately, I
haven't had any blisters.
WHERE ARE THE BEARS??
I stayed very alert for bears today, since some of my Atlanta friends have
encountered them in the northern GA section. Alas, no bears. In fact, there
hasn't been much wildlife at all. We're thinking that in these vast national
forests in north GA and NC deer, bears, and other critters have no need to be
near the AT. We see deer all the time at home where we run, but it's usually in
protected parks with no hunting. Maybe two-legged creatures in this wilderness
mean bad news and the deer and bears stay well off-trail. Cody's presence
doesn't deter the deer in Roanoke, so I don't think that's a factor.
SWITCHBACKS? WHAT ARE THOSE?
My wheels came off during the steep ascent I mentioned earlier. I usually
don't have any problems with my quads and I can zip down long grades (if they
are smooth enough) with no quad pain. My hamstrings and calves are more likely
to get sore than my quadriceps. But I pulled a muscle just above my knee on the
inner thigh on this climb and it hurt up and down the remaining mountains (about
seven more miles, plus bonus miles at the end of the run).
I read later in the AT book that switchbacks aren't put there for the
convenience of hikers, but to prevent erosion of the Trail. Even though this
trail went mostly straight up the mountain, it wasn't badly eroded. Therefore,
the trail-builders saw no need for switchbacks.
The rest of run wasn't as much fun for me. It wore on me mentally, and by the
end I was more than ready to be done. Unfortunately, rule #3 came into play:
adaptability and flexibility.
Jim wasn't at Deep Gap.
MORE BONUS MILES
Cody and I found some shade to rest and waited. I was concerned that Jim had
truck problems. I wasn't sure where we were camped since he was going to compare
two public campgrounds with the national forest one. I'd already taken 25 more
minutes than my estimate (6:25 today). I decided to wait until a certain time,
then start walking down the six-mile forest service road to Hwy. 64. In
retrospect, I should have started down the road right away and saved Jim some
Isn't hindsight great??
After a 40-minute wait at Deep Gap, I saw Tater, then Jim, hiking up the dirt
road. We were both real glad to see each other. The problem was a locked gate
two miles down the road. I wasn't happy to have to keep going another two miles,
but there was no other choice. Jim hurt his ankle running in to meet me
yesterday. He wasn't thrilled to have to hike four miles on his sore ankle today, but he did what
he had to do. Our cell phones didn't work in that area so we couldn't
communicate with each other.
Crewing isn't any easier than running the Trail! But then, no one told us
this was gonna be easy. My total bonus miles today? Three.
I'm pretty well wiped out tonight. I've accomplished a lot in the last five
days, and I need to let my quad heal, so tomorrow will be an off day to catch up
on sleep, rest, and plan the next week's runs. I'll write a retrospective
tomorrow of some of the things I've learned so far, and share some comments from