Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Pamola's Quest - The Pushes (1 - 3)

The Pushes of the Quest

Here is a general summary of the first three of nine Pushes I completed in Phase I. A Push is the part of the trail between major resupplies.  A new Push starts when you head out with your pack heavy and the trail most likely a climb out of a gap or town.  

Push 1: The Push to Neels Gap and Walasi-Yi Hostel

During this first Push, our spirits were high along with our excitement of starting the Quest.  The Push was 31.4 miles and it took us four days.  

Day 1 - 5.2 AT miles (9.7 total) - Long Creek Falls camp
Day 2 - 9.2 miles - Devils Kitchen camp
Day 3 - 9.8 miles - Lance Creek camp
Day 4 - 7.2 miles - Neels Gap - Walasi-Yi Hostel

Sunrise at the Len Foote Hike Inn on Day 1

The Quest started out on a pretty nice day.  After an awesome breakfast at the Len Foote Hike Inn, we headed out on the Inn trail that led to the Approach Trail, which led to Springer Mountain.  Our excitement to start the journey moved us along at a pleasant pace.  One of the guests, Debbie, hiked along with us to the summit.  We arrived at the summit and marked the true start of the Quest.

The first day, we kept moving along from each of the potential camping spots I had picked from the guide and my research.  We wanted to start slow and not risk any overuse injuries.  We eventually camped at a established spot near Long Creek Falls.  The falls were wonderful and added a nice cooling background noise to our camp.  We later heard an interesting story about the Cherokee cutting off the head of a European explorer and throwing it from the top of the falls to prevent any more of the white devils from traveling beyond that point. 

Long Creek Falls.  We camped near here on Day 1

On this first Push, I had a bit of Matrix Withdrawal.  Our Sprint phones didn't get a lot of signal out in that part of GA, so we were basically disconnected for long stretches of time.  We had to get used to not being able to reach out to our kids whenever we wanted to.  We finally had some good signal at Woody Gap and I just sat at the picnic table for quite a while, checking email and texting the kids.  I needed a Matrix fix.  As we continued on through our other Pushes, I became used to being disconnected from the Matrix, but I sure did enjoy those times when I would come out of airplane mode and see bars.

As we took it easy, doing easy 9 mile days, we started seeing other hikers, but for the first two nights, we camped alone. On day three we stopped at the Gooch Mountain Shelter for breakfast and met a few other hikers that we would see for a while.  One interesting "hiker" was a clearly very homeless guy who had a cat with him.  His name was 90 because when he started his pack weighed 90 lbs.  We never saw him (or his cool cat) after that morning.

Devil's Kitchen Campsite - Day 2

90's companion, Ben

Day two was our first taste of rainy weather.  It was also the day we found out that the wind loves to shoot through the gaps up in those mountains.  We had planned to have lunch at Cooper Gap and the rain and wind were fierce.  We had to set up my tarp, just so we could be somewhat dry during lunch.  

A wet lunch at Coopers Gap - Day 2

Foggy morning north of Gooch Gap on Day 3

On day four, we were still a little behind the shelter stayers, so we were up and out early for a short day into Neels Gap to finish the Push.  We arrived early and got the first two bunks in the hostel.  We had to do some shower/hand wash and used the wind driving through the gap to dry our clothes using our bear bag line as a clothesline.  

One of our few views on this Push. Big Cedar Mountain.

Blood Mountain Shelter

Drying clothes at Neels Gap
As the Hostel filled up, we started to learn the names of the other hikers we had seen out on the trail.  There was Maggie, Eileen, Kristina, Brad, Barb (who we met the night before at camp), Kasey, Emily, Sterling, Dave and Soul Keeper.  The women had us guys outnumbered in the Hostel.  It was good to see that.  

We resupplied at Mountain Crossings, ate some pizza and prepared to start our next Push in the morning.  

Push 2: The Push to Dicks Creek Gap and Top of Georgia Hostel

There was a heavy rain the night before staring this Push and we were happy to spend the night indoors.  A very drippy, foggy morning greeted us as we headed out to start this next Push.  We would start to bump our mileage up a bit as we started to get used to the daily grind.  This Push would be 37.9 miles and would again take us four days.

The famous Boot Tree at Mountain Crossings (Neels Gap)
Day 5 - 11.5 miles - Low Gap Shelter
Day 6 - 11.1 miles - Rocky Mountain camp
Day 7 - 11.7 miles - Deep Gap Shelter
Day 8 - 3.6 miles - Dicks Creek Gap - Top of Georgia Hostel

On this Push, we started trying out camping near the shelters.  We also had an awesome camp up on the top of a mountain.  That was, until the wind started whipping across the mountain top a few hours after sunset.  

On the first night, we mentioned that today was our 29th anniversary. When one of the hikers, Jose, heard this he offered us a Yuengling that he had packed in.  I broke out the small bottle of Ouzo I had brought along, that Shauni had given us.  We shared all around enjoying the well wishes heaped upon us.  

The second day was a pretty challenging one for me.  We headed out into a rain filled day, which actually turned into two distinct days.  As we headed up Blue Mountain, I got quite soaked, even through my rain jacket.  We stopped at the shelter at the top of the mountain and the wind was relentless.  I tried to keep warm as we ate lunch, but had to get moving again to generate some heat.  

As we headed down the mountain, the rain stopped and the sun came out, but the time we got down to Unicoi Gap, my clothes were nearly dry and I was much warmer.  I sat in the sun at the gap and dried out my wet stuff.  There was a hiker hanging out there, Smiley, who had some water and a case of beer.  I enjoyed a nice semi-warm beer.  It was perfect.  

That night we slept on the top of Rocky Mountain with Brad, Eileen and Maggie. We didn't hike the same speed as them, but we were starting to go the same daily distance.  Trail names were starting to be generated.  Brad was most likely becoming Honeybuns, Eileen, Cheesie and Maggie, Nymeria.  I had also been given a name to add to my long list of trail names.  Half-Crocked.  This referenced my cut up Crocs that I was wearing in camp.  


LoGear, Cheesie, Honey Buns and Nymeria

Calm sunset on Rocky Mountain before the wind arrived.

On the third night, we staged ourselves only a short distance from the the gap that would end this Push.  I had some good conversation with a family that came into the shelter area for the night. 

The next morning we headed out for the short walk to the Gap.  We arrived at Dicks Creek Gap early and the Hostel van whisked us away the .5 mile to the Hostel.  We got the last two beds in the main area as some weather was forecasted to arrive and everyone was scampering to get under cover.  We checked in, showered, and handed over our nasty clothes to be laundered.  We put on our scrubs and took the van into town for some town food and resupply.

We all ended up at a Mexican Restaurant and sat with some other hikers. Cool Breeze treated us all.  It was a wonderful gesture.  We would continue to see Cool Breeze along the way, but always in town, never on the trail. It was fun anticipating the next time we would see him.  

The Hostel was pretty awesome and was very crowded that night.  Barb (Now Life), came in along with another hiker Bruno (Later, Osprey-G) a nice older Italian guy who was fun to talk to.  We enjoyed some good conversation with all the other hikers and were ready to start our next Push.  We would be done with Georgia in only a few miles.  

Push 3: The Push to Winding Stair Gap and Franklin, NC

This Push was another four days covering 40.2 miles.  During this Push, we finished Georgia, endured some more weather and met a poor coon hound that I called Lucy.

Day 9 - 11.8 miles - Muskrat Creek Shelter
Day 10 - 12.5 miles - Carter Gap Shelter
Day 11 - 12.1 miles - Rock Gap Shelter
Day 12 - 3.8 miles - Winding Stair Gap - Franklin, NC

A lot of the hikers were going to hang out at the Hostel and wait out the forecasted weather, but we had a state to finish and headed out on time to climb out of the gap.  We were almost at the border before we felt the first rain drops and they never got worse than a sprinkle until just before getting to the shelter.  

Evidence of last year's wildfires, north of Dicks Creek Gap
Nine miles into the first day's hike we crossed the border into North Carolina.  LoGear, Life and I hung out there for a while and then continued on.  LoGear decided to sleep in the shelter.  Nicole and her husky, Leo were also there and LoGear didn't mind snuggling up with Leo at night.  I didn't have my sleeping pad, so I started learning the procedure of putting up my tarp and hammock in the rain.  It works quite well to put up the tarp first, then work under it to do the rest, staying mostly dry.

One state down, many more to go.

EarthTone, Life and LoGear entering North Carolina
On day two, after a day of mostly walking in the drippy forest, we arrived at the shelter for the night.  LoGear had been pretty far ahead of me and when I came into camp, I see an old coonhound sitting outside the shelter with LoGear's rain jacket on her.  The dog had radio collars on and appeared a bit unhappy.  LoGear fussed over her all evening, sharing her food bag and worrying about her being abandoned.  They even called the vet that was listed on the dog's collar, but the didn't really seem to give a shit.  I had read about these dogs in several trail journals and I have developed a theory that the owners know exactly where their dog is and just leave them there knowing the hikers will feed her.  It saves on the cost of dog food.

After a cold night, I had a great time getting my food bad down as the knot around the stick had pretty much froze to the stick. As we hiked along the next day, I came upon LoGear standing and looking out over a view.  She was crying.  Totally upset about the lonely (or smart) coonhound we had left behind at the shelter.  I had started to call the dog Lucy in my mind and named that day's journal entry Tears for Lucy.  I even created a little song in my head as I hiked along, but it soon faded from my memory after the day was done.  
Tears for Lucy

Our third day of the Push got us close to our next day's destination again. We were now trying to plan our Pushes to have a nearo day on the last day before resupply.  It would get us into town or wherever early enough to get all of our chores done (laundry, shower, resupply) and also give us some time to rest a bit.  Doing these nearos let us go for a pretty long time before finally taking a zero day.   

On that day, we reached the 100 mile mark of the hike and marked it by climbing up Albert Mountain and taking a long lunch under the fire tower.  It was a very challenging climb, but the view made it totally worth it.  

Almost there. Climbing up Albert Mountain

100 miles done (well, 99.8 for this year)

We had rain at the end of the day again and after setting up on the hillside near the shelter, I just ended up eating a cold supper in my hammock.  It was just easier to do that with the slope, rain and being tired.  The camp had quite a few hikers show up, so I just slept with my food bag that night.  There were a lot of people and a couple of dogs, so I wasn't worried about any bears coming into camp.  

Our last short day of this Push took us to Winding Stair Gap. There were a few of us hanging out there and after about 45 minutes, Ron Haven pulls up with his tourist bus and takes us into Franklin, NC for free.  Of course we had already planned to stay at his Budget Inn and got a pretty decent room where we could rest, launder our clothes and get clean again.  

We went out and had a nice lunch, then headed to the Lazy Hiker Brewery for a couple of beers, then to the local Ingles to resupply.  Back at the room we relaxed and got everything ready for the next day.  We were still not ready for a zero yet. 

Very good beer here

One sad note at the end of this Push was learning that Life had to get off trail.  She had a family emergency and needed to get back to Northern VA.  We started missing her and her super amount of energy immediately.  

Coming up next: The Push to Fontana Dam and then the Smokys and beyond.

EarthTone and LoGear

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