Monday, March 9, 2009

walking in the woods

friday evening i left atlanta and stopped at the walmart in dawsonville.
i got
a pound of roasted salted almonds
10oz beef jerky
16 imitation nutrigrain bars
12 hershey bars (with almonds)
a pound of skittles
some 55 gallons trash bags
a bic lighter
some AA batteries

i went back to the parking lot and divvied each the food into bags. 4 bags of each.
i stuffed my sleeping bag, pad, rain gear, and socks into my day pack, along with 3/4 of the food.
the fanny pack got 2 water bottles, 1/4 of the food, and my notepad, pen, chapstick, and lighter.

i drove to amicalola falls state park.
the plan was to hike to NC and back. 170 miles round trip. 4 days.

i slept in the van, and awoke to my alarm at 5:45. a few minutes more of sleep, then final preparations and water bottle filling at the ranger station.
6:14am and i'm off for the 8.5 mile climb to springer.
only the first 20 minutes require the headlamp.
arriving at springer mountain at 8:55am i find that there is now a "caretaker," Fred, who camps there, 10 days on, 4 days off. a talkative dude who hastens to strike up a conversation in the dense fog and mist.
i tell him that in 10-15 times being on top of springer i've only seen the view twice.
he details his schedule and inquires about my plans. i'm just out for 4 days, i say, but i'll be back.

over the next several miles i intersect the benton mackaye trail, and i contemplate this may's adventure ( )
i manage to stay above 3mph even through the roller coaster of hightower gap, horse gap, cooper gap and another unnamed one.
these are the steepest most unforgiving on the AT in GA. they also coincide with a longish stretch without water...i forgot.
nearing gooch gap i scoop some water from a spring, and guzzle the goodness.

at 3:04pm i pop out at woody gap. my pace is strong, and without any stops i've managed to cover 28.5 miles in under 9 hours. considerably above 3mph, even with the 20 lbs on my back. i am pleased.
soon the back of my knee starts to talk to me. i ask him to quiet down and forge ahead. i sit for 1 minute at preacher rock. the view is too nice to pass without a pause. even in just 60 seconds the tendon in the knee tightens. i ease it out and work towards blood mountain. throughout the day i pass many who are just starting their personal journey of a THRU HIKE. just before jarrard gap i pass a couple with an aussie accent who are working hard. they ask me about the distance to a gap i've never heard of....i tell them there is a good camping spot less than a mile ahead and wish them luck. it interests me to see the different attitudes and style in these thru hikers every year.
i always judge them in my mind, "yep, she'll make it..." or, "no, not him." who knows if i am ever right?

at the base of blood mountain i get the almost obligatory question from a guy with a pack.
if anyone wonders what sport has sold itself best as the toughest, let there be no doubt. whenever i am moving well on the trail or roads, and someone gets personal and asks how far i am going, the most common follow up question is......"wow, so are you a TRIATHLETE?"
i chuckle and answer no, no, just a runner, jogger, hiker, as the case may be.

throughout the day i eat 3 nutrigrains, 3 hersheys, a handful of skittles, almonds, and jerky. probably 2000 calories. way less than i usually eat when i'm sedentary, but this hikng stuff keeps me busy. the hours fly by and i feel like i've only just begun to walk.

i am pleased to arrive at the summit of the second highest mountain georgia (and 38 miles) only a few minutes before sundown. i turn on my cell phone and check in with my family. my knee is hurting, but i don't mention it. they worry enough already. dad has some suggestions on training for the barkley, and is keenly interested in how the hike is going. i tell him i'll continue into the night and see how things go.

down the mountain towards neels gap the sun disapears and the nearly full moon emerges. significant pain, i bring out the phone again and voice my concern to dad's ears. he says that if it doesn't improve i shouldn't hesitate to call him for a ride tomorrow. i limp a little pathetically down to the road crossing.

the walisi-yi center at neels gap is an outfitters that doubles as a party scene for the month of march. there are at least 100 thru-hikers around, and a band has come up the mountain to play some cover songs for the aspiring adventurers. I contemplate marching on into the night, towards my goal of 42.5 miles per day, but i can't find the reason. i need to push myself, but a serious injury from too much pushing is not justified this close to the main event. i stop at 40, then lay out my pad and sleeping bag, and crawl in. i doze for several hours while the band and revelers use the night to their advantage. around midnight i actually fall asleep. the sky is clear and the moon bright. i awake and roll over every 45 minutes or so, when the hip gets sore.

i assume i will wake up early but am surprised when i wake up to real daylight. the clocks moved forward while i dreamt, but it's already 8am!
i quickly pack and look up trail and down.
with my knee talking so loudly i am hesitant to continue. surely i won't be able to maintain the pace, and i have to be back tuesday evening no matter what. i decide to turn around. better safe than sorry with the knee in this shape.

i go around blood mountain on the freeman trail, which is heinously rocky, and no quicker a route than the AT over the mountain. its endearing quality the the AT lacks here is plentiful rivulets of water. i drink and hydrate.

at bird gap i pass the campers who recognize me from the evening before. they have a happy camp. soon thereafter a runner passes me heading the opposite direction, i think to ask him what "endurance run" name is printed on his t-shirt, but he is gone before i muster the words.

my knee talks louder and louder, and my enthusiasm wanes. i think about hitch-hiking from woody gap back to amicalola, but know that that in itself would take all day, i'd have to find a ride to dahlonega, then to dawsonville, then to mean feat. i figure i'll just go 20 today and then 20 tomorrow and be back to the van. i don't like to sit down when i'm hiking...relentless forward motion is the name of the game, but i am tired and wimpy. i sit on a rock for a minute. along comes a woman runner, going my way. she spritely jumps over me and drops down the hill. i get up and think about all the times i have flown by this point, enjoying speed. i trudge on. a while later, as i cross a creek, i look back and see our resident internet fiend, and ultrarunner/poster extraordinaire, christian. he says, "there you are!" and runs on by.

i contemplate asking him for a ride to dahlonega, but think i should tough this out. I use him as a carrot and pick up my pace on this uphill, not losing much ground...but i am working for it. soon he calls back, "hey carl, if your knee is hurt, do you want a ride?"
"that's really enticing, i wish you hadn't asked," i reply. then, "let me think about it, i'll let you know in 3 miles when we're back at the road crossing."

the trail flattens out and his run spanks my walk. i know i can keep going, but my pace is slow, and i don't look forward to hiking until 2am to get back on a hurt knee, or stopping short and just doing 20 today...i decide that since christian lives in atlanta i can just give him my pack (with my overnight gear) and finish the hike with only my fanny pack.
this has several strong points:
1) i will finish 40 miles today, because without my gear i must make it all the way to the van.
2) i lose 12+ lbs of gear, decreasing the strain on my tendon
3) my legs still get the benefit of 80 miles in two days, with 20,000+' of gain and loss.
when i arrive at the road christian introduces me to devon and victor, the other two runners, and tells me, "sure," he can hold onto my bag. it turns out that he works about a mile from my friend's apartment in atlanta, so retrieving it later this week shouldn't be a problem.

ok, life is better. now instead of 40 miles, i have 29 to go. and no heavy pack. and the weather is fine. life is good. enjoy it and soak in the training benefit!

cruising south from woody gap i collect some water and spend 30 seconds wiping the cold wet all over my head and neck. ah, that feels good on this hot spring? afternoon.
still, 29 miles is 29 miles, and it's already noon. after gooch gap i remove my shoes and soak my knee in a cold creek. it is feeling better without the extra weight on it. two college students hike past, and one inquires after my new balance 152's. he says he wore the same shoes in his first marathon recently, but he is incredulous that i wear them on the trails. i tell him yes, they are magnificent trail shoes, and i have run 100 miles in them. he says he'll do his first ultra at the peachtree city 8 hour in may. i commend him on his well roundedness, since here he is out on the trails, preparing for an 8 hour race on a track!

now i return to the roller coaster of cooper, horse, hightower, and unnamed gaps. man these are tough! the sun hits my neck and i think about applying the tiny sunscreen tube i brought....but i procrasinate and end up never doing it (today my redneck proves it). i begin to tire, but arriving at three forks i can almost smell the barn. 12.5 miles to go and it is cooling off. i remember to eat and drink, but really i am burning mostly fat at this pace. my 200 lb frame surely is burning at least 6000 calories/day out here, and i'm only taking in 2000.

i reach springer mountain a few minutes before sunset. and there is a hopeful thru hiker sitting there alone with the beautiful scenery. I inquire about his plans, and he tells me he plans to hike both the AT and PCT this year. the first half of the AT now, then out west to do the whole PCT with his girlfriend, and then back to finish the AT. I take a picture for him with the sunset and the terminus plaque, and wish him the best of luck. what an adventure he is setting out on!

i pass a couple more hikers making their way to the springer mountain shelter, and then the sun sets and i am alone on the trail. i keep the headlamp in the fanny pack for an hour, enjoying the night vision. i pick up my pace, realizing i have a shot at finishing this return trip in the same time the outward bound trip took. i take off my shirt and glide through the woods in the slightly cool night breeze. it is freakin great! green eyes are startled by me 40 feet ahead, and the fox or bobcat scurries off.

the last 2 miles are more steeply downhill and a little more technical, so i give in and turn on the headlamp around 9pm. i won't quite do the return in the 13:01 it took me to go out.
my feet hurt for the last few miles, but aside from that i wouldn't mind going on. i still limp slightly from the knee tendon, but long ago stopped thinking about it. finally i am on the gravel road down the mountain. i turn on my cell phone (while i am up high and have coverage) to tell my parents i am safe.

at 9:28pm i walk up to the ranger station and put a dollar bill in the coke machine. although the sign says the drinks are sixty cents....i get a mr. pibb and 70 cents in return!
i walk over to the car and say, "thank you," to no one in particular.

what a weekend, how fun to walk!

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