With heady dreams and lots of support, Rusty drove Linda aka Putt-Putt, and I, Reggie aka TNT Java, to the beginning of our AT journey on Saturday, March 10th. It was a gorgeous blue sky day, a bit chilly, but perfect hiking weather. At the corner of the parking lot a Trail Angel had set up with a cooler full of cokes, hot dogs, and candy bars with hikers congregated enjoying it all. After lots of hugs and well wishes, we set off up the trail toward Dick's Creek Gap with nothing but little ole' Tray Mountain in between. At 4:30pm we had made it to the old Cheese Factory site where lots of hikers were setting up. We stopped here and thought about setting up but decided to push on toward Tray Mtn shelter. We arrived right at dusk and were greeted by others already tented as the shelter was full. There were several hammocks hung here and there between the trees and even a tarp or two. Putt-Putt found the right tree for our bear line while I filtered water. Soon, we had eaten and were snug in our tents with darkness enveloped all around, a pitch black night and bright stars above.
Next morning, we took off toward Dick's Gap with Kelly Knob in between....ouch! By noon, I could tell I was starting to get a hot spot again on my two small toes on the right foot. It had happened on our last trip. To prevent a blister, I stopped to treat it with moleskin and duct tape. With lunch at Addis Gap, we tackled Kelly Knob. Oh my...that hurt! On the other side, we hiked on with Putt-Putt really starting to struggle with her pack weight. Finally, at 5:30pm, I arrived at the Gap to face the 'man in the red truck'. A sign posted a ways back in the woods warned about a fella that lurks here trying to get folks in his truck...then halfway to Hiawassee he drops the bomb that they need to pay up a big amount or else. I let him know right away, I had a ride, and prayed the shuttle from Haven Inn would show up! Thank goodness, it did within 10 minutes. Then I just needed Putt-Putt to arrive...she did in about 20 minutes. We arrived at the Haven Inn (not the Hilton ah 'em)[If my girls could see me now!]. Putt-Putt had a serious problem with the pack weight hurting her hips and was very concerned about her mother dealing with her step-fathers' recent medical issue. By the next morning, she had decided she just could not continue. I have to say, she doggedly worked through every issue beforehand with such determination and persistence. Putt-Putt my hat is off to you for trying so hard to make your dream happen!
With a heavy heart, and after shedding a few tears, TNT Java got on the shuttle bus back to Dick's Creek Gap without her partner. It seemed appropriate that the skies began to drip as well. The van was packed and as soon as it stopped and the door was opened, we poured out and began pulling packs out and getting geared up. Then we disappeared in the woods like ants scampering in the grass.The younger folks left me in the dust and I knew with the sad mood I was in, and with the rain, I would not make it to the campsite I originally intended for that day. I hiked 4.5 miles to Plum Orchard Shelter to find it was again full, but that was okay. I set up my tent, filtered water, and got all arranged right before it down poured. I slept like a baby despite the owls hooting and the coyotes howling! The tent was wet and messy with grime the next morning. Yuck.
I took off intending to make it to last least Muskrat Shelter (not a great name??). The mist left by the rain swirled all around and through the woods making it a little eerie, but I wasn't fearful, just adjusting to being completely alone. Strangely, it was peaceful. Passing Bly Gap made me very happy because I was leaving Georgia! A milestone- yes! By
2:30pm the day had turned beautiful (and re-doing my moleskin/duck taped toes again), I was at Muskrat Shelter but knew that I had to push further after refilling on water. A good ole' Alabama man by the trail name Sipsey shared his already filtered water. Another man there was panning for something in the creek and he came over to show me a little baggie full of tiny rubies he had gleaned that day! I passed Whiteoak Stamp, Chunky Gal Trail, Wateroak Gap and, finally, descended the rocky Deep Gap trail. It was 5:20pm and I had to climb a little more to make it to Standing Indian Shelter. Almost to the shelter, I spied a lady I had seen before camped down by the creek and I decided it was a good spot for me, as well. Her trail name was Two Dogs- she had 2 dogs. It was a beautiful little place with gurgling water to keep me company (she was not inclined to talk). I had done a little more than 12 miles and was exhausted. Again, I slept good, but owls were busy hooting all night.
The next day, I took off about 9:20am intending to get to Carter Gap Shelter. I leap-frogged that day with Nitro Joe from California. Some gorgeous sights from Standing Indian! Nitro Joe complimented me and said I was a great hiker..that made me feel good. At one point, I knew he was somewhere behind me but I had to go...well, you know..nature was calling. I found a spot and hurriedly tried to get 'er done, but I rose up to find him standing a ways up the trail with his back turned. What a gentlemen! He even came down to help me get my pack back on. He then suggested to me we might share a room at the hotel in Franklin. Well, what could I say? He had seen just about all there was so I said we just might. In the end, I stopped after 11+ miles at Betty Creek Gap and he went on up to Bearpen Gap after reminding me to look for him at the hotel. I found that Two Dogs was again at the same spot. And again, not wanting to be friendly. Betty Creek Gap is a misnomer...there is no creek to be found. It was a puddle full of leaves. I worked really hard to get 2 litres of water and was happy to get it.
I was afraid I wouldn't get to Winding Stair Gap til after 5:30pm and wasn't sure if the shuttle would be there. So when I checked to see if I had a signal and found I did, I called Rusty to ask him to get one arranged. Then I headed for Big Spring Shelter, less than a mile away. I needed water.
When I arrived at the shelter, it was empty, but there was a colorful comforter there, along with a pillow case with things in it. I thought it strange, but headed on down to get water behind the shelter. I was there a good ten minutes before putting my pack back on and walking up past the shelter. Then, I got the surprise that changed everything- a man walked out of the woods and I immediately had a bad feeling. He was over 6 foot, wearing a bright orange cotton shirt with green nylon pants. He walked quickly toward me as I moved back toward the trail and says:
'I saw you using your phone back there, let me use it.'.
'No, I replied. 'I have to get down the trail' and kept going towards it.
He continued towards me and said 'You need a man to help you carry that pack'.
I turned back, held up my hiking stick, and said 'You stay the hell away from me.'
'You'll be a lot friendlier at the next shelter', he yelled at me and laughed.
By now, I was almost running. He kept following at a distance for just a bit, but I kept on. After about 2 miles, my legs were like jello and I was shaking all over. I continued for 3.5 miles to Glassmine Gap and stopped to treat my toes. When another young man suddenly appeared on the trail, I almost screamed, but he went by so fast, I held it together while he vanished up the trail.
All the way up the next mountain and around the ridges, I knew I had a decision to make. Could I continue on the trail by myself? When I found myself passing by the parking spot for the Wasilak Poplar, I stopped realizing that Standing Indian Campground was nearby. Suddenly, a group of young people showed up and I felt such relief, I almost cried. The thirtyish man in charge asked me if I needed help and I said I did. I explained what had happened and he let me use his phone to call Rusty. I found out he was actually on his way there to pick me up (instead of arranging a shuttle!). This group stayed with me until Rusty got there...a little over an hour later.
After eating dinner and talking with Rusty, I knew it was absolute truth time. Would I be comfortable by myself on the trail again? It had been good. 99% of the people are fine. You have to be careful because you are in an environment where you are exposed to the elements, but there is such a challenge that you enjoy it. But then there are people like this man who ruin it for women like me who just want to get out there and do it. It makes me angry that a woman can't just feel free to do what most men would think nothing of choosing to do!
In the end, I knew I would be afraid. For someone like me that is a hard thing to say. I am fiercely independent -too much some would say. But I am not foolish. If I continued on, I felt that I would probably fall in with someone, man or woman, but until then I would be alone. Being alone made me a target. I had to make a hard choice and decided that for now, I will have to wait. One day, I will try once again to fulfill this dream.
Thank you friends and family for your encouragement and support. I hope I have not let any of you down, but rather inspire you do go after your own dreams.