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Return to Springer Mountain

Not as hot today and good thoughts may have willed the clouds in. Unexpected springs added to good hydration today.

I was surprised how much I was saddened by the idea of finishing the BMT. I have another trail waiting for me, and yet I felt like I was walking to the guillotine as I finished it. I felt like I was carrying a horcrux for part of the day (sorry only HP fans will get that reference…there isn’t a better way to describe my feeling). And yet, when I walked upon the Benton MacKaye Memorial on the top of Springer Mtn, I was elated–not at finishing the trail, but that the trail ended with a plaque honoring my hero.

I realize that my mini hike means so much more to me than the miles. In two weeks, my friends can report little news, yet I survived a tornado, saw antiques in the home of a TN fisherman, had 6 inches of ice fall on me, slept in a ruin, drank with TN mountain construction workers, scared away a bear while on the phone, saw wild pigs, became confident and speedy in tarp and hammock set up, learned to not be afraid of fording rushing rivers…not bad for a little hike! What a great warm-up to the AT!

Benton: your trail may be little traveled, but it suitably honors you, even if it is not as scenic as the trail you dreamed up. Understated, humble, and complicated–these words describe both you and your trail. What a special feeling it was to read your biography as I hiked your trail. I wish more people knew of your name and work, but perhaps, like the BMT, it is best you and your ideas are found by those who go way out of their way to seek it/you.

Of private land, roadwalks, and fried catfish

So, it was cool having a shelter last night, but there aren’t any privys for a long time between Indian Rock Shelter and public land. Sorry to the private landowner whose forest I had to “use.” It’s funny that I did so much roadwalking on the CDT, and yet never had this problem before. I guess there weren’t as many cars on the roads I walked, so it wasn’t as big of a problem.

Ran into Cool Breeze, another Triple Crowner, and he played some jazz penny flute for me. What a hoot that guy is!

Also saw Mellow Yellow, who thru-hiked the AT last year, on the roadwalk. Man, I should’ve grabbed some water before that roadwalk—maybe at the waterfall. It was hot and the restauraunt wasn’t as near to the trail as I thought.

Had a great fried catfish with hushpuppies lunch on the river at Toccoa Riverside. Fantastic food and reasonably priced. They were cool with me hanging out there for 2 hours, reading Benton’s biography, charging my phone, and drinking tons of water. Their thermometer read 90 degrees!!!

Made my reservation for Hiker Hostel–I’ll finish the day after tomorrow and get picked up the next morning. So much interwebbing to do before I leave for the AT.

Very hot up and down, and again, I made my miles with the help of Lady Gaga, caffeine, and an unexpected spring along the trail.

Set up hammock in a nice spot at Payne Gap (not spelled like Thomas Paine). There were crazy loud coyotes and owls howling and hooting until midnight, but was a nice spot.

Spotted my first hikers!

Ran into Bama and 65 (who was on the PCT the same year as me!) an noon near the Pinhoti Trail junction. It was great chatting with them, until I realized I had 20 miles to do in the next 7-8 hours.Busted it to the shelter and had it all to myself! Pleasant roadwalks through beautiful Georgia hill country. I felt like I was in the South as shown in “Gone With the Wind”–rolling hills with (not big plantations) but nice farmhouses.

What it means to wake up refreshed

Woke up, walked the 100 feet to the last BMT blaze I had seen, looked at it, and then knew where to go. I committed to the trail, not knowing if it was the BMT or not, but doing as Benton said: “To walk. To see. To see what you see.” I knew I was out there to hike, to see the woods, and not necessarily to walk the trail, so I thought, “Even if I’m lost, it’s ok. This is about the experience.”

Turned out that I was on trail. Made it to Thunderrock Campground, charged phones, cooked a lunch, would’ve taken a shower but took one yesterday. As I was leaving, a family invited me over for a sandwich and sodas—score!

The blazing to Big Frog was pretty bad. The blazes are little wooden diamonds that are foolishly placed on trees of 1″ diameter at breast height, hiding between thicker Rhododendron. Using an old CDT trick, I used my Sharpie to mark some signs. Maybe someone else will be spared my confusion.

Finding peace with getting lost. Kind of.

Webb Bro’s store didn’t open until 9, so I had to northbound the BMT around then to get my package. I had an awkward interaction at the store involving getting 2 packs of hot cocoa from Inza (sp?), the lady at the store. It ended up being her private stash, not the store’s, and I felt weird. I tried to pay her for it, but I’m not sure how it worked out.

I had a hard time leaving since everyone wanted me to stay the night or chat. Apparently, it was chicken wing night. Time was at a stand still, but I finally pushed hard through the heat, only to have a NYer who owns a summer home there make a comment about another earthquake in Japan. Since half my family is in Japan, I was freaking out, but didn’t have cell reception.

I was hot and very thirsty all day and had way, way too much food from the package. I could’ve made it to Springer without the Webb Bro’s store package. Oh well.

I entered Little Frog Wilderness at the sign, and was unclear where the BMT went. I crossed a ridge that was poorly maintained–well, recently maintained overgrown blackberry bushes. I followed an old logging road to the Kimsey Mtn Highway and saw a hiker kiosk that said “Deep Gap.” Yet, it was unclear where the BMT was. I thought I was at the “Deep Gap” section of the BMT, but didn’t know whether to roadwalk the highway east or west. As it was getting dark, I gave up, walked back to the wilderness up the logging road, set up camp. I was so depressed that I didn’t cook.

I ended up getting cell reception and by talking with my parents and friends, had my spirits lifted. I knew I’d figure it out. Hilariously, as I lie in my hammock chatting on the phone, I heard a bear off in the bushes. I made noise and scared it off, but it lead to a sleepless, exhausting, frustrating night.

Getting lost is still a bummer

After 5 miles of hiking, I realized it was only 10 to town! Got excited, caffeinated, and dehydrated

Coker Creek, FS 228 was a confusing intersection southbound. I crossed the bridge and saw trail 153 and started heading up, only to realize it led to the falls. I backtracked and walked the road past the picnic area for a bit until I found it. Later, I got lost at Towee Creek picnic area. The BMT goes right across the delapidated road/court/dead end—it DOES NOT go to Towee Creek picnic area. Do not walk past the bathrooms, even though there’s a poorly put blaze around there. The trail does end up paralleling that road that follows the Hiwassee river downstream, though. Pushed hard and got tired. Busted the last 5 miles–nice and flat–and saw floaters on the huge Hiwassee river.

When I pulled into Reliance, TN, the Webb Brothers store, where my package was, was not open. I continued to the Hiwassee Outfitter, which seemed abandoned except for 3 people hanging out. I was treated to dinnner and beers and campfire with the locals. It felt a bit like study abroad—kindness to drink, smoke, and eat undercooked meet. I felt a bit guilty since I have so much more than them (I must have been wearing $700 worth of Patagucci), but they gave me so much. I almost couldn’t understand it.

A construction worker, Tim, let me sleep in his camper while he slept somewhere else. Reliance, TN was an experience in generosity that I felt so overwhelmed by that it was almost sketchy, and I felt guilty it sketched me.

Tornados and ice

Apparently, there was a tornado last night in the TN/NC border area. Yikes! I’m glad I was inside for that. The power and sattelite TV kept flashing in and out.

It was cold and wet when I left. There was snow on the ground and large shards of rime fell from the trees. 6 inches long and an inch wide, the ice lined the tree tops and fell in big chunks on me.

I crossed some knee deep fords. The gnarliest was Brookshire Creek, where the crossing is right before a waterfall. All the rainfall last night swelled the creeks. I ended up crossing on a fallen live tree with a dbh (diameter at breast height) of like 3 inches. I kept thinking the entire time that I’m high up, above a roaring creek, crossing a very thin tree, that is slippery and wet. It ended up working out, though. Yay climbing for teaching me stuff about not being scared.

Little water today in the afternoon, especially since I didn’t want to go off trail. After 7 miles without water, I was about to resign myself to camping without water until I found a spring. The night ended with a beautiful sunset, a flowing spring box, and a beautiful night sleeping away from the wind inside an old abandoned two story building. Two trees were growing between the walls and I had a perfect place to set up my hammock. Full AT&T reception bars just added to the greatness

Unexpected trail magic and shelter from a storm

Got to the Fish Hatchery at Tellico and was expecting to have to walk a mile or two to get my package from Keith according to the map.

When I got there, I followed the sign up to the fish, only to realize it is only 250 feet off the BMT! How smart to send a package there instead of trying to hitch to the far away, spread out Tellico Plains!

I waited at the office of the fish hatchery for almost an hour with no Keith–and was freaking out. I had plenty of food, but wanted my package. Also, I was watching a very severe storm crawl into the hills north of me.

Keith showed up in his green truck (future note: he says “If the green truck isn’t here, I’m not there.”), and immediately offered to let me stay the night at his house. I couldn’t resist, and had a fantastic time. Keith knew tons about the history of the TN mountains and the natural environment around me. I felt so lucky to have run into such a nice, friendly, generous person. That’s trail magic–all the cool people you meet along the trail who teach you things.

Hot/cold, ford/sunburn

Nice hot day. Despite the leafless trees, I manageed to get suburnt, even with sun screen. I even saw a snake sunning itself and a tick!

Successfully forded the feared Slickrock Creek with little problem, though again, it was thigh deep. I think I’m getting more confident about fords. Lots of ups and downs today, which was difficult in the heat.

The trail is harder to follow as its intersections aren’t well marked. Always a delight when I get to a marked intersection only to find I’m where I need to be.

By myself into the complete unknown

Took a nice hot shower in Fontana Dam Hilton and even dried my hair with a hair dryer! I felt a bit hoboish, but I didn’t want to be walking around with frozen hair.

Hung around Fontana til 1. Was going to hitch to 20 mile, but it’s a bit indirect from the Hilton, so figured I’d call the shuttle into town, and then hitch from there. I ended up asking the shuttle driver if he’d go all the way to Twenty Mile Ranger station…and I asked nicely, and am a girl hiking alone…so he did!!!

He was a Recreation and Tourism major in college, and sadly, had not heard of Benton MacKaye.

The roadwalk to Deal’s Gap was a wide shoulder and I felt super safe. Got to Deal’s and it was culture shock. Biker bar, leather, greasey food (I ate it–but felt gross doing so).

The roadwalk up to the BMT was thinnly shouldered after that. I didn’t know exactly where the trail restarted. I found the trail behind a pile of 10 completely filled garbage bags. “Oh Benton, this is no way to honor you!” I said aloud. For those wondering–the trail starts right at the TN/NC border–keep going up southbounders!

Nice flat forest service road for a while, until the trail got burnt and followed flagging. Not bad compared to the CDT.

The trail reached a highway right by a dam, and then went downhill along a handrail lined path. (I wasn’t sure if the path was the BMT or not, but it ended up being so). The trail crosses the Highway 129 bridge and I saw lots of boaters and kayakers out–made me think of my friend Erin. Then, it was unclear where the trail went, and I kept walking up the road past the Cheowah dam until I checked my map again and realized that the trail starts right after the northern part of the bridge. I used a Sharpie to write in “BMT Southbound” on a sign–hope that helps other southbounders!