Monday, May 27, 2013

Battle Plans and Hiking the AT

"No battle plan survives contact with the enemy" General Von Moltke 
Our battle plan was a nice section hike starting at Amicalola Falls State Park in GA and going up to Fontana Dam in NC.  Our contact with the enemy was an errant root that Lisa stepped on awkwardly, twisting her ankle.

All had been going great up until that point.  Yes, I was quite tuckered out by the time we reached Springer Mountain from the long side, but we were going good and making decent time for the first day of the hike.  That root just hung out there below that rock step, waiting for some hiker that was cruising along to hit it at the wrong angle.  Lisa was its victim.  Our hike (battle plan) changed after that.

Let's start at the beginning of the trip.  It was filled with excitement even before we set foot upon trail.

We got up nice and early on Saturday morning, the 18th of May and headed towards Damascus, VA around 0800.  The trip was nice and uneventful and we arrived at Trail Days just as the parade was about to start.  They had the main street blocked off and we turned down a side street and found parking pretty quick.  We came out to Laurel St and the parade was starting right in front of us.  It was a few jeeps and golf carts and an ambulance with its lights on.  I didn't feel like standing right there as I wanted to explore the town, so we started walking along with the front of the parade.  We walked a couple blocks and crossed the creek.  As we were standing outside the Dollar General, the cop at the intersection got all panicky and jumped into his car and sped down towards the back of the parade.  Evidently, someone had used their car to plow into a bunch of hikers in the parade.  

Here is a video of one of the Life Flights coming in.



We continued to walk around and headed towards tent city.  As we walked by, a few life flights came in to take out the more seriously injured.  The different stories of what had happened were rampant.  We headed back to the trail and vendors row and I bought a Stick Pic for my trekking pole.  As we headed back towards our car, we had to detour onto the creeper trail twice and circle way around to get back on that side of the creek and to our car.  

Baby pony at Trail Days
 We headed out around 4 or 5 and headed to Bristol, VA where we had reservations at the Motel 6.  We went to Ruby Tuesdays for dinner and went to bed.   

The mountains are calling
Fontana Dam and Lake
Smoky Mountains
At the Arch
The Falls, 175 steps done, 425 to go.
Blue Blazing
Taking a short break
The next morning was a little more traveling to Fontana Dam in NC.  We got there around 1300 and checked out the visitor center.  The rest of the day was spent wandering around, taking pictures and staying out of the pouring rain when it would come down.  At first we were going to hang near the Fontana Hilton Shelter, but couldn't find any good trees, then we changed that to maybe putting up the little tent we had brought, but the pads were cement and in the midst of a pounding rain, we thought that that might not be the best idea.  After a while we decided that sleeping in the truck might be just fine.  It would rain, the whole area would fog up and then it would clear up again for a bit and then start all over.  After a while we decided to go over to Fontana Village and check that place out.  
Signing the ledger on Springer

Ice and a soft bed
We drove over and made our way to the General Store.  There were two hikers sitting outside eating, but the store looked dark and closed.  It was about 10 of 5 pm.  We looked at the door and started walking away.  The hikers said the store was open, but the power was off.  Sure enough the door was open and we went inside and bought a 12 pack to help pass the time.  Lisa offered the hikers a beer and we carefully drank them out of our water bottles.  We talked a while and offered them a ride over to the shelter.  We loaded up their gear and headed back to the Dam.  After dropping them off we hung out in the parking lot and eventually hit the sack in the back.

We slept decently, but I don't think it rained any more that night. The next morning we were off to Amicalola Falls.

Dave picked us up about an hour early.  We had just gotten ready.  We got to the park around 10 and started our hike.  

The falls were awesome and the steps were no big deal.  My daily walks up over 100 steps at work had prepared me for this part.  We were up at the top before we knew it and were on our way into the woods.  

We passed a few hikers and three passed us.  We stopped for snacks and eventually lunch.  All was going as planned.

After we topped Frosty Mountain, we crossed a road and I let Lisa go ahead as I checked the guide and drank some water.  Within about 200 yards, she yells out Bear!.  I quickly ran to her trying to get my camera out.  I thought it would be long gone when I got up there, but it had ran about 100 yards down the hillside and stopped.  I got a good view of its silhouette, but knew a picture attempt wouldn't be very successful.  We had been hiking less than three hours and had already seen a bear.  Some people go months before seeing one, and usually it is just a quick glimpse of its rear end as it runs off.  We were totally fired up after that sighting. 

We continued on the last few miles and started up Springer Mountain.  I had passed up a fairly easy to reach, well flowing creek and had elected to get water at the next shelter, Black Gap, which the guide said was only .1 mile from the trail.  It wasn't .1 and it was all downhill to get there.  Coming back up kicked my ass a bit, but I needed the water.  The day had grown warm and I was sweating very nicely.  We started up the mountain and I fell pretty far behind Lisa.  She had to wait on me a couple  times as I would hike for a bit and stop for a bit.  I knew we were getting close, but that last half of a mile seemed to take forever.  

Before too long, we could see that we were near the top.  I got a quick shout from Lisa as she saw the first white blaze.  We had finished the approach trail.  8.8 miles of trail that technically doesn't "count".  Just try telling my heaving lungs and sore feet that those mile don't count.  Every step counts on this hike.  We are Section Hikers and all that we walk counts to us.  We still keep track of the official AT miles, but I also keep track of all the extra miles we walk.  Blue Blazes, Road walks, everything.

We took some pictures up on the mountain and signed the ledger with our trail names of EarthTone and LoGear.  I drank a lot of water and ate some more snacks and was feeling much better after my dehydrated climb up the mountain.  You appreciate it much more when you climb the whole mountain, not just .9 mile of it.  

We started down the other side of the mountain.  It was all pretty much downhill from here to our scheduled stop at Stover Creek Shelter.  After about a half mile, Lisa was walking ahead and was moving fast.  The trail was much rockier on this side and the going was careful at times.  

Lisa stepped down from a rock step and hit a root sideways.  Her ankle twisted with the weight of her pack.  She let out a shout and sat down.  Contact with the enemy had occurred.

We assessed the situation.  I had a brace in my pack since I had twisted my ankle about six weeks ago and thought I may need the support at some time during the hike even after all that time.  We put the brace on and she downed some Ibuprofen (called Vitamin I out here).  We sat awhile and then tried to go on.  It was slow, but before too long we were at the parking lot at Big Stamp Gap.  Lisa thought she could go on, so we continued down the trail.  We got to a creek and she decided to soak her ankle in the creek, since we had no ice out here.  We had gone about .6 of a mile from the parking lot.  

Her ankle didn't look too good.  It was swollen of course and I could tell she was in pain.  I said we needed to go back to the parking lot and figure out what to do.  I didn't want to get further away from possible help but hiking on.  Lisa was upset, but I assured her that all was ok.  This plan may have all gone to shit, but we were not done hiking just yet.  We had to regroup and figure out what our options were.

Now, I'm an experienced troubleshooter, having been doing it for 30 years in the Coast Guard as an Electronics Technician.  That is what we do, troubleshoot.  Also, our many Adventure Races have trained us to make quick decisions to get over, under, around or through any obstacle that is put in our path.  I went into Adventure Racing (AR) Troubleshooting mode.  

When I looked back, I know there were other options that we should have looked at, but I felt vulnerable   My bride was hurting and I had to get her somewhere where I had more control.  I didn't like being so far away from our vehicle and I think I based my decisions on wanting to get back into control.  

We got back to the parking lot and were getting ready to settle in there for as long as we had to.  Of course, there was no cell service at the parking lot, but I was able to walk up the road and leave a message with Dave our shuttler.  I came back and just then a SUV pulled into the lot.  We talked with the four people in the truck and before long William was making calls to his Ranger buddies, Linda was offering us sandwiches and Coke, Lawson  was telling us about his  trail experiences and Toddy was point out interesting flowers in the area.  

They offered us a ride to a hotel in Blue Ridge and we accepted.  We needed to get some ice on that ankle.  I finally got in touch with Dave and started making arrangements to get back to our car.  I knew it would be expensive, but I had to take care of my bride.

The ride out was long, but interesting.  These four knew their wildflowers.  As we edged along, they would call for Lawson to slow down or actually stop and back up to see some rare beauty that they had spotted.  That forest road seemed to go on forever.

Some time after 9 pm we arrived at the hotel and checked in.  I called Dave and finalized our arrangements to get back to Fontana Dam.  We should have slept on that plan and looked at it with the fresh light of morning, but I was still in AR mode and I lived with my decision.

We also started making other plans.  There were over 2000 miles of AT.  We didn't have to hike here if we didn't want to.  We could give Lisa's ankle some rest and try it out somewhere else along the trail.  

The adventure wasn't over just yet.  Stay tuned to see how it continued...


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