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Appalachian Trail Hike 2002 - Part I of V
by Rey Grammo

Why would anyone want to walk over 2,000 miles from one end of the country to the other? It isn't an easy question to answer, and of course to most people this would sound like a crazy idea. For many years this was a fantasy of mine, which I am happy to say, was realized with the help of many, many people. I believe my first thought of doing this hike came about during the time I was leading the boy scouts from Sterling on various hikes. It so happened that they were taking a hike on the Appalachian Trail and I was unable to go with them for the full hike due to a previous commitment. It was with great difficulty that I had to turn back as they entered the trail and see them head off into the woods. I was determined that someday I would be hiking this trail. The other incident that convinced me that some day I would hike the trail was when we were visiting my wife's sister, Sue and her husband Chicky in New Hampshire and he led a hike up Mt. Manodnock. From this moment on I was definitely hooked. I read everything I could about the trail as well as joining the Appalachian Trail Conference. I obtained a large map of the Appalachian Trail and framed and hung it in our family room where it hung for many years.

Although I had retired in 1994 from the State Department, I continued to work part time until early 2002. During the last year of my working, I was preparing myself for the hike. I walked a lot, worked out in the gym for the last three months before my departure, and began collecting those supplies that I needed. Considerable planning was required to decide what food to take, how much and where my drop points would be. I acquired a workbook that gave many good hints as to what was and was not needed as well as how I should plan my food drops at the various locations along the way. During this time, I traveled to New Jersey where I picked up over $300.00 worth of equipment at Campmore. Some of the items purchased were clothing such as shorts, shirts, underwear, and socks. I purchased a headlamp, food bag, stuff bags, a one-person tent, walking sticks, and other items I felt I needed. I really had no idea what I really needed to purchase, having never hiked or camped for this length of time. I could only rely on what I read in the manuals and booklets that I had read and what other hikers were telling me. I read many hiker journals and put all the information together to determine what I thought I would need. Did I select the right equipment? Only time and many miles will tell.

As my time is drawing closer, I am becoming more and more apprehensive and wondered if I really was prepared for such a journey. Of course by this time I had told so many people about what I planned to do that there was no way I could back out. I at least had to start the journey and if I had to, I could always quit the adventure and return home. I didn't like the word quit, but this would be a final option if necessary.

The time finally arrived for Amy and Mike to take me to Georgia where I would begin my journey. It was a good trip and after checking into the motel and having a good meal we did a dry run to Amicalola Falls State Park. We thought at the time, that there would be no problem finding the trailhead so we went back to the motel for an early night in preparation for a very long day the next day. And so, my venture begins:

3/14 - Thursday - Day 1 - 2.5 miles - (Mile Marker 2.5) We woke up to a beautiful day and I was soon ready to head off to the Springer Mountain trailhead. However, when we tried locating the road leading to the parking lot which was supposedly 0.9 miles from the summit of Springer Mountain, we couldn't locate it. Consequently, after several attempts, we decided I should get out where the trail crossed over the road and continue from there. I was just a bit embarrassed immediately upon departing on the trail. It seems that I was starting out in the wrong direction. Fortunately, I immediately met some hikers who were on their way up the mountain and once getting turned around, I was then on my way for sure. I guess this unnerved Mike and Amy just a little to think that I hadn't even begun my hike and I was already heading in the wrong direction. After a few of their remarks and their final instruction to "now walk home, Dad", I was on my way. I hiked about 3.5 miles to the summit where I met my first two through hikers. Kali and Pippi were from Charlottesville and I knew I would most likely cross paths with them several times over the next several weeks. Little did I realize at this time that almost everyone I met would introduce themselves as a through hiker because they all truly believed they would hike the entire trail as I intended doing. There was a small monument indicating the top of Springer Mountain. After signing the logbook at the summit, (3,782 feet) I officially began my hike of the Appalachian Trail. Since it was rather late, I only hiked as far as Stover Creek Shelter (alt. 2,870). There was a good water supply at this site. Excitement filled the air with everyone just beginning the hike. Since the shelter was full, I set up my tent for the first time and was tucked in early with visions of what the following day would be like. Every day would be a new experience and I was anxious for it to begin.

3/15 - Friday - Day 2 - 5.1 miles - (Mile Marker 7.6) I was up at 6:30 and off at 7:15. It will take a little while to get myself organized and know where everything is in my pack, when to fill my water bottle, (best to do this at night before bed) as well as what and when to eat meals. It will also take time to get into a routine when arriving at the nights destination such as locating the water supply and filtering the water for dinner as well as filling the morning water bottles, when to cook the meal, deciding whether to set up the tent or sleep in the shelter. I took a side trip to Long Creek Falls (2,740). Although this would have been a good place to take a dip with several cascades and a pool at the bottom, it was a bit too cold for that. Today's hike included a couple of pretty tough hills. I reached Hawk Mt. Shelter (3,260) early and considered continuing on, but it was another 8.5 miles to the next shelter. Since rain was in the forecast, I decided I didn't want to get soaked and didn't think I would make it to the next shelter before dark so I decided to stop for the day. Since I got in early, I had lots of time to kill and rest. We ended up having a total of 17 people and one dog at the shelter tonight. Since this is the beginning of the hike, I fully expect that we will have lots of people at the shelters most nights until we get further on into the hike. It is interesting to note that along this stretch of the trail the Army Rangers from nearby Camp Frank D. Merrill practice their maneuvers. They try and track the hikers without the hikers knowing they are there. Either I am not very observant, or they are really good at what they are doing. I didn't see or hear a one if in fact they were actually out there.

3/16 - Saturday - Day 3 - 8.5 miles - (Mile Marker 16.1) I had a rough night in the shelter with all those people, lots of snoring and talking. Today I got an early start and headed for Gooch Gap Shelter (2,930) at mile marker 16.1 where I planned to spend the night. I hiked up Justus Mountain at 3,224 feet prior to getting to my final destination of the day. In between there were lots of ups and downs. I found the hike tough today. I guess I am not in the shape I thought I was, as all the mountains/hills seem tough at this point. I had a steep 0.2-mile climb to get to the shelter. I will hit the sack early tonight. Although the hike was tough today, the scenery was great. This is my third day on the trail and I have only done 16.1 miles. However, I am doing the short mileage as suggested until I get my hiking legs and feel I am in shape to do longer miles. This serves a couple of purposes, one that you don't blow yourself out and come up with an injury and secondly, so you don't get overtired and discouraged with the hike before you have an opportunity to get in shape.

3/17 - Sunday - Day 4 - 9.2 miles - (Mile Marker 25.3) I was up and out for an early start. It has been overcast for most of the day today and I had very little opportunity to view the scenery. I still don't have my hiking legs and felt I just couldn't get to the next shelter so decided to camp out at Jarrard Gap (3,460) by a small stream of water. During the days hike, I hiked down to Gooch Gap at 2,784 feet and then up over Ramrock Mountain, and then on to Big Cedar Mountain At 3,737 feet and Granny Top Mountain and finally Burnett Field Mountain. I managed to get my tent set up and dinner prepared and eaten and was ready for bed before the rain came. I do not have an appetite yet. Experienced hikers say that it takes a while for the fat to burn off your body before you feel like eating. I can say that this is true. I hiked most of today in the fog and mist. The schedule I had originally made was unrealistic as I had scheduled long days in the beginning with shorter days later. It is totally opposite and I am totally off the schedule I had made myself.

3/18 - Monday - Day 5 - 5.4 miles - (Mile Marker 30.7) Although it would be a short day today with my destination only 5.4 miles away, I still got an early start. I had heard so much about Blood Mountain (4,461), which is the highest peak on the trail in Georgia and was apprehensive about the climb. As always, other hikers were on the trail and I still wasn't hiking alone although I did camp out alone last night. The summit of Blood Mountain came up much quicker than I had anticipated and the hike wasn't nearly as bad as I had expected. Am I beginning to get my hiking legs? On top of Blood Mountain is a shelter that isn't recommended for use as there is no water source near by and it is inhabited by many creatures, big and small. I didn't need convincing not to stay even though the weather was pretty miserable. I was looking forward to my first rest stop in Neels Gap (alt. 3,125 feet). Neels Gap has an outfitter right on the trail along with a bunkhouse for hikers and a small store for resupplying. I shared the bunkhouse with 14 other co-ed hikers. Had my pack adjusted and got help in checking over my pack for unneeded items. I was able to reduce my pack weight a little and send some items home. We were shuttled into Blairsville, Georgia for an evening buffet at the Cookie Jar. Needless to say, my appetite seemed to return for this as I ate my moneys worth at the buffet. It was a good time getting acquainted with other hikers, most that have the intention of hiking the full distance. I wonder how many will make it? At this point, I began wondering if I would make it myself. Every mountain I came upon looked almost impossible to climb. Every downed tree that came anywhere close to the trail looked like a chair to me. I found I wasted a lot of time resting on each climb. However, at this point I didn't care since it got me up and over each one and although I had made myself an unofficial time to finish the trail, I was under no pressure to keep a solid schedule.

3/19 - Tuesday - Day 6 - 10.6 miles - (Mile Marker 41.3) I was not anxious to leave Neels Gap where snacks, etc. were available, but it was time to move on. Another early start to what would be a long day. This was the farthest distance I have walked so far. Even though it was only 10.6 miles, it had some good altitude changes along the way. My highest point today was 3,840 at Cowrock Mountain. It was up and down until I finally reached Low Gap Shelter at 3,040 feet where I planned to spend the night. I encountered my first "trail angels" today. A couple and their dog were sitting in their car at Hogpen Gap and as I approached, they opened the back of their wagon and had drinks and fruit for me. These folks are known as "trail angels" because of their kindness in sharing their treats with you. Quite often they are folks who have hiked the Appalachian Trail at some time or other. It was a nice surprise and most welcome. We have eight other hikers staying at the shelter tonight. I felt good today and my legs are beginning to feel much stronger as well as my breathing. Although it continues to be an effort to get up and over these mountains, I find that they are becoming less and less intimidating. Today I hiked over Levelland Mountain (3,942), Cowrock Mountain (3,842) and Poor Mountain.

3/20 - Wednesday - Day 7 - 7.2 miles - (Mile Marker 48.5) I woke up this morning to a rainy day. I arrived at Blue Mountain Shelter at about 12:30. Fortunately, there was one spot left in the shelter. This is a shelter built for seven and we ended up having 15 people in it due to the bad weather. On the trail, there is always room for one more. Needless to say we were very crowded, but the camaraderie of all the hikers in the same situation was just great. Everyone is in a good mood because everyone was suffering the same way. We were wet, cold and our bones hurt. But it all felt good, especially once you were settled into your sleeping bag. It continued raining until about 5:30, stopped for a while and then started again during the night and continued most of the night. Today's walk was the easiest that I have encountered so far even though I started at 3,050 feet and continued climbing to 3,500 feet at Chattahoochee Gap and finally to Blue Mountain Shelter at 3,970 feet. Of course in between all this you are ascending into gaps. When gaps are mentioned, you can bet that they are at the lower altitudes and that you will soon be going back up. I understand tomorrow is a tough one. Tougher than I have already had? We shall see. I have now been on the trail one full week

3/21- Thursday - Day 8 - 12.2 miles - (Mile Marker 60.7) This has been my longest day so far. First thing this morning as I was crossing Unicoi Gap there were bags of double hamburgers that were still warm and left by a trail angel. When you don't actually see the person who left the goodies, you call it "trail magic". After the wet day and night last night, this was an especially welcome site and even though it was morning, the hamburgers tasted great. We suspect they were left by one of the hikers (Oakie) who decided the shelter was too crowded last night and continued on into town for a dry place to sleep in a soft bed and get a good meal. I would catch up to him later today and asked him, but he denied it with a glint in his eye. The hamburgers helped me get up over Rocky Mountain at 4,017 feet and then on to Tray Mountain at 4,430 feet. I am camping at Sassafras Gap (3,560 feet) with Oakie, Dharma, and three other hikers. It is quite windy and supposed to get quite cold as in the mid 20's tonight. I have my winter gear on so it shouldn't be a problem.

3/22 - Friday - Day 9 - 6.1 miles - (Mile Marker 66.8) What a horrendous night. It got very cold, in the mid 20's, and we had extremely high winds as expected. Although the mileage was short, I hiked over Kelly Knob at 4,276 feet and then on to Powell Mountain at 3,850. I finally arrived at the Blueberry Patch at about noon. It was a beautiful day for hiking and there actually was some sun. The Blueberry Patch is a hostel run by Gary and Lennie Poteat. For an overnight stay with bunk you get a shower, laundry service, breakfast, and a shuttle back to the trail all for $17.00. We got a ride into town and I picked up a food drop at the post office and then ate at an all you can eat buffet. Since my appetite is still not where it should be, I have more food than I need and will probably leave some of it in the hiker box for anyone else who may want it. In the hostel are Oakie, Run-away, Zippy, Sweet Pea, Monkey, and OK Man. Hiker boxes are found at each of the town locations where we stay. You can find all sorts of things that hikers feel they don't need any longer. You have to be careful and not pick up things that you really don't need regardless of how nice they look. Weight, weight, weight is always on your mind. Your pack is quite heavy when first starting out after a resupply. Another point I should make is that usually when you go into town, they are located at low altitudes. This is where you pick up your resupply and then you have to hike with full load back up the mountain the first day out. Everyone is quite happy just before going into town for resupply because their packs are usually quite light. Of course the anticipation of a good meal is also a good reason for happiness. The ideal planning is to plan your days on the trail with the exact number of meals you will need and that your last night on the trail coincides with your last meal in your pack. This hasn't worked for me yet as I am afraid that I will miscalculate and end up with nothing to eat on my last night, so I usually have at least one meal left over.

3/23 - Saturday - Day 10 - 8.8 miles - (Mile Marker 75.6) Wow! We had a great breakfast of pancakes, blueberry sauce, sausage, juice, biscuits and coffee before departing the hostel to continue our hike. You could have all you wanted. It is always tough starting out on a full stomach, but it was well worth it. Actually I didn't get back on the trail until about 10 a.m. I decided to stop for the night when I saw where others had camped and there was water. Actually, had I continued on up the next hill, I would have been at the old gnarled tree, which is the Georgia-North Carolina border and a terrific view. However, I didn't plan very well and ended up camping in Georgia for one more night. It looks as though I will be camping alone. I was all set up when Run-away yelled down saying he was camping at the top of the hill in N.C. I didn't have the energy to reset up my tent so stayed where I was. I would pass this sight tomorrow. It was a nice campsite by the small stream and rather nice to be alone for a change and not sharing a shelter with several other hikers. However, I missed a photo opportunity to have my photo taken by the tree as I was crossing the border. This tree is a much-photographed tree and is often seen in many of your hiking magazines.

3/24 - Sunday - Day 11 - 8.7 miles - (Mile Marker 84.3) I was out of camp by 7:10, after a quiet but chilly night. I immediately climbed a small hill and at the top I saw the old gnarled tree that lets you know you are unofficially leaving your first state, the state of Georgia and entering North Carolina. The official marker would be at mile marker 88.1 with an indistinctive mark on a tree. I liked the gnarled tree and think that should have been the official crossing, but guess it wasn't in the right place. What a great feeling to have completed my first state even though it is less than 100 miles from where I started. I had a hard climb up to Beech Gap at 4,460 feet. Once I reached the summit, I decided to check to see if my cell phone would work at this high elevation and to my great relief, it did. I had a great time talking to several folks from the trail. Although I was really rubbing it in that I was on this wonderful adventure, and they were not, I let them know that I called just to share my experience with them. Talking with all these folks and receiving their well wishes was a great inspiration and played a major part in my continuing on. The remainder of the hike today was rather easy and I arrived at Standing Indian Shelter (4,760) at about 1 p.m. There was one other person at the shelter and he tented out. I was the only one in the shelter. In other words, I had the mice and critters all to myself. This guy was a school teacher from Chicago. He had intended hiking for three days, but found that he had left part of his stove at home so had to abort his hike. His pack must have weighed 60 pounds. I shared my stove with him and in return he gave me some fuel as well as four energy bars. I am beginning to learn that you never refuse to accept food that someone wants to give you unless you really feel you don't want the extra weight. If it is going to be too heavy, you take it and eat more during the day. A portion of today's trail was named Chunky Gal Trail. As the story goes, an old Cherokee fable about a very "healthy" Native American princess was repeatedly ridiculed by her more beautiful and slender younger sister, to the point she fled into the woods and thus……Chunky Gal Trail.

3/25 - Monday - Day 12 - 14.4 miles - (Mile Marker 97.7) As I had anticipated, the mice ran rampant during the night. Someone early on had given me an excellent pointer about leaving every zipper or flap on your backpack open so the mice have a free rein on your pack during the night. This allows them to wander around without biting a hole in your pack. You should never leave any type of food in your pack that would entice the mice to your pack. Most shelters provide nails to hang your packs and string from the top of the shelter to hang your food bag. Since I spent the night alone in the shelter, it was easier for me to get my things together and get on the trail early at 6:50. In other words, I didn't have to tip toe around so as not to wake a fellow hiker. Most hikers are ready to get up early and get an early start, but there are some of the younger ones who prefer to sleep in and then make up time during the day along the trail. Even though they sleep in, I usually see them passing me by sometime or other during the day. Oh, to be young again. I had an immediate climb for a mile and one half to the top of Standing Indian Mountain at an altitude of 5,498. This is the first time the trail has gone above the 5000-foot mark. Although it was pretty steep climbing, it was gradual and not too difficult. I reached Carter Gap Shelter at 10:45 after hiking only 7.6 miles. Since it was so early and I was feeling good, I decided to push on a few more miles. The day was great and it turned out to be a great hike. I keep feeling stronger every day. From Standing Indian Mountain I descended down to Betty Creek Gap at 4,320. As noted before, I always hate it when you are headed down hill as you know very well you will soon be going right back up again. And this came to pass. Just before I would arrive at Big Spring Shelter (4,940) which I had decided to make my destination for the day, I came upon Albert Mountain (5,220). As my guidebook says, it is infamous among the not-yet-in-shape thru-hikers. It has a 0.2 mile rock scramble, which appears to go straight up at times. This was by far the hardest climb I have had up to this point. Since it came at the end of the day after I had been hiking for several miles, I wasn't sure I was going to make it up and over. At this point, I knew I still wasn't totally in shape. On the hike today I went through what was called the bear sanctuary. This is identified by signs on the trees. It was a narrow path bordered by rhododendron bushes and many times looking like a tunnel. It must be absolutely beautiful when they are in bloom. While on this narrow path, I kept wondering exactly what I would do should I meet a bear coming the other direction. The bushes were so thick it would have been difficult leaving the path. As it was, I did not see a bear and if I had, I am convinced the bear would have turned and gone the other way much faster than I could have. I would have been more than happy to give him the right of way if I could have. It looks as though I will be alone in the shelter once again. It appears that I am right in between two large groups of hikers. It is kind of strange knowing that there are so many people on the trail but yet there is no one sharing your shelter.

3/26 Tuesday - Day 13 - 9.1 miles - (Mile Marker 106.8) Once again, since I was alone in the shelter last night, I was able to get up and be on my way early. It began raining about 2 a.m. but did let up by the time I was out of the shelter at 7:15. The first part of the hike today was fairly easy. I made it to the Rock Gap Shelter (3,760) about 9:30. I had only hiked 5.3 miles and this was way too early to stop. Although it was overcast, I found this type of weather great for hiking so continued on hopefully to the next shelter. However, regardless of my intentions, it began to rain. Not just rain, but buckets of rain and it kept coming down and down. Consequently, I got totally drenched and decided for morale I needed a real bed, bath and clean cloths. When I reached Winding Stair Gap at US 64, I decided I would hitch a ride into Franklin, N.C. that was some 10 miles away. After waiting in the rain for a short time, I got a ride and was dropped off at Barber's Motel and by 1 p.m. I was in the bathtub taking a hot bath. After a long soothing bath, I went across the street to the laundromat and next door there was a place to eat. At this point, I had no idea where I was or how I would get back to the trail the following morning. I asked at the store across the way and they suggested I check my handbook as other hikers had mentioned that the local hiking club would help fellow hikers get back to the trail. In checking my book I found that Jack Coriell of the Nantahala Hiking Club gives rides back to the trail for a small fee that is given to their club. I called him and set up a time. He advised that he would pick me up at 9 a.m. the next day along with another hiker who had called him. What a relief. I could now relax. I called Domino's Pizza and ordered a large pizza. I ate the whole thing. It appears that I now have my appetite. Hopefully I wouldn't regret eating the whole pizza. I could hardly wait to get into that nice soft bed, the first I had felt since getting on the trail. Although I had TV, I wasn't much interested. I organized my freshly laundered clothing, set my sleeping bag and shoes in a place where they would hopefully dry, turned up the heat and then was ready for an early night. I am hoping that by taking a day off, I will get myself back on a schedule where other people will be sharing the shelter with me. Although I enjoyed the peace and quiet of a shelter to myself, it is nice meeting other hikers and talking over the days hike with them. Most importantly, today I passed the 100 mile mark in my hike.

3/27 - Wednesday - Day 14 - 15.8 miles - (Mile Marker 122.6) Mr. Coriell picked me up right on schedule without the other hiker who decided to take a few days off to recuperate from foot problems. I was dropped off at the trailhead at 9:45. I graciously paid him $10 for the ride. Although he said that was more than enough, it was well worth it to me to get the ride and it will go to a good cause helping to support the Nantahala Hiking Club. As usual, the initial hike out of town was a tough one. Up and down some pretty steep climbs until I finally reached Wayah Bald (5,340). At the summit is an observation tower with a great view. There is a road that leads up from another angle and it is always something when you hike so hard to get to the top of a mountain and when you get there you see tourists in their fresh, clean cloths, etc. There were some folks from Norway at the summit and after talking a while with them I asked them to take my photo. After a rest, I continued on with every intention of stopping along the way and finally at 3:45 had to make the decision whether or not I was stopping at a campsite or pushing on. I didn't care much for the campsite here so decided even though it was late and I had about 5 more miles to go, that I would continue on. Soon after I headed out I came upon a mother boar and several (couldn't count them all) small babies. When I say babies, they were still as large as a large dog or maybe a bit bigger. I'm glad I saw them down the hill. I'm sure if I had come between the mother and the babies, I would have been in some serious trouble. I really put the speed on, as I didn't want to be hiking after dark. I arrived at the Cold springs Shelter (4,920) at 6 p.m. It was beginning to get cold and I had great difficulty preparing dinner and getting ready for bed before dark while at the same time trying to stay warm. There was one place left in the shelter so I lucked out again. Later on, three more people showed up. This was my longest day yet and I was extremely tired, not just from the long mileage, but from the stress of wondering if I would make it to the shelter before dark. I guess I got my wish by getting back on a schedule with the hikers again. Although I have a good head light (worn on the head), I have this fear about hiking after dark. On a bright night, some of the younger folks actually did hike by moonlight. I have enough trouble picking up my feet during the day and am sure without ample light I would be on the ground in no time. I use two adjustable hiking poles (like ski poles, but adjustable) for balance. It took a little getting used to, but I find them extremely useful. Some people like just one pole, but most hikers prefer two as I do.

3/28 - Thursday - Day 15 - 11.5 miles - (Mile Marker 134.1) After a very cold night at Cold Spring Shelter, I headed down to Tellico Gap at 3,850 feet. Once at the bottom, I would immediately start climbing for the next 1.2 miles to an altitude of 4,630 arriving at Wesser Bald very tired and winded. At the top of Wesser Bald, I had my first sighting of Fontana Dam from the lookout tower. My immediate goal was to reach Fontana Dam by Easter Sunday. I have been advised that this is some of the toughest terrain on the trail for the next couple days. I guess I will soon find out. I have started getting sore at the bottom of my foot. These things always worry you, as some people have already had to get off the trail due to injuries. I arrived at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) (1,750) which is a recreation site primarily for kayakers and whitewater rafting. Many other hikers were here just hanging out. Many of them used this place as a mail drop point and they were reorganizing their packs and then moved on later in the day. Since it was early in the season, many of the facilities weren't open and those that were, were on limited, and shortened hours. Fortunately, I made it to the River's End Restaurant just before closing and ordered a large hamburger deluxe with fries and several diet cokes. I was able to get a bunk in one of the cabins at the hostel, sharing with three other folks, actually, three women. One was a fellow hiker, Misty Mountain, and the other two were there for some kayaking. I bought a platypus to carry water in when camping. Mine had begun leaking. The store was very limited in supplies, but fortunately, I had enough food to last until I reached Fontana Dam where I would pick up my next mail drop.

3/29 - Friday - Day 16 - 7 miles - (Mile Marker 141) After a fair nights sleep, I was off at 6:50 ready to begin the long hike back up the mountain to 4,330 feet. I didn't find it as tough as many had warned it would be. Since the weather didn't look all that great, I decided my schedule would allow a shorter day today as long as I went a bit further the next. I elected to stop at Sassafras Gap Shelter where I set up in the shelter. Several of the other hikers decided to trek on to the top of Cheoah Bald (5,062) so they could see the sunrise the following morning. Even though many hikers went on, the shelter was full with seven of us and a couple other tenters in the tenting area. There are lots of gnats, but they should go away after darkness sets in and it gets a bit colder. Met a hiker named Mike and his dog Charlie today and they are sharing the shelter with us. We had some beautiful views along the way today.

3/30 - Saturday - Day 17 - 15.2 miles - (Mile Marker 156.2) What a horrific night. It thundered and lightened most of the night. Couldn't help thinking about the people who decided to head up to the bald last night. Since I headed out early, I covered the first 1.2 miles to the top of Cheoah Bald before everyone was up and gone. They did say that it was a very scary night with lightening all around them and they were actually afraid of being struck. It rained for the first part of the hike today and continued overcast all day. I made it to Brown Fork Gap Shelter (3,700) at 1 pm. and decided to continue on to make the next day hike shorter. It rained constantly the whole day until I finally reached Cable Gap Shelter (2,880) where I would stay for the night. There was a family of three section hikers (the Hanson family from Tuxedo, N.Y.) and a couple other thru hikers. One of the hikers was Jay Walker. It seemed at first that they really didn't want to make room for me in the shelter, but as wet as I was, I was determined that I would find a spot somewhere. Finally, they rearranged their comfortable set up and let me in. Actually after talking with them for a while, they turned out to be very nice folks and even gave me their address and telephone number and invited me to call them when I arrived in New York, outside New York City and they would put me up for the night. I will make that decision when I get up there. Since there was no privacy in the shelter, I had to go into the small privy and change into some dry cloths. Since I would be arriving at Fontana tomorrow, I could put all my wet cloths in a bag and hike in my dry sleeping cloths. It felt great getting the wet clothes off and into some dry sleeping cloths and finally into the sleeping bag. I am truly looking forward to my first zero day in Fontana tomorrow.

3/31 - Sunday - Day 18 - Easter Sunday - 5.5 miles - (Mile Marker 161.7) After a night of constant rain, I thought I would be hiking in rain all day long. However, although it sprinkled some and was overcast all morning, I made it to Fontana about 11 a.m. without getting drenched again. The trail was quite muddy and slippery. The last mile or so was quite a steep decline, going from an altitude of 3,500 feet to 1,820 feet into Fontana. Since it was so overcast, the scenery wasn't very good today. I am beginning to notice a few flowers and the trees are beginning to sprout some buds. I arrived at Fontana Marina and found that the shuttle to Fontana Village did not operate on Sundays or Mondays. I called the Hiker Inn, where I would be staying for the night and next day, and fortunately they had two people on duty. They offered to send one of them to pick me up. There are several other hikers staying here, some of which I hadn't seen in several days. After a nice hot bath I went to brunch. It was OK, but I think I got the end of it as it was dried out. However, it was food and I stuffed myself anyway. I took a walk down to the store after brunch and saw several of the other hikers who were staying at the bunkhouse located near the store. I elected the luxury of the Inn for privacy and having TV and private bath, etc. The season hadn't begun here either so there was very little in the store. Fortunately, I had a food drop here so I will spend tomorrow getting things organized once again as well as washing clothes and just simply having a day of rest. I can't believe I have been on the trail for 18 days now. I called home and talked with most of my family. This gave me a real lift.

4/1 - Monday - Day 19 - Zero Day - Even though this is a zero day, I awoke at 6 a.m. and couldn't go back to sleep. So, I got up and had a big breakfast. It was just total relaxation today. I did my laundry, picked up my drop box, did some sorting and sent a package home of things I no longer needed and one package on to Hot Springs where I would have another drop box pickup. Since this was opening day for baseball, I was able to watch a couple games. It is a beautiful day, and believe it or not, I am bored and feel like I am wasting my time by not hiking. I'm not sure I would have stayed all day if it hadn't been that I had to pick up my drop box and get that organized. One of the hikers was very sick with diarrhea and just laying down on the hard floor when I went down to the store. After talking a while with him, I asked if he would like a lomotil pill. At this point, he was ready to take anything. I don't usually like to give out my medicine, but he was desperate for something and I thought if it would help, then good. Fortunately for me, I have been in good health. I have had some stomach problems, but nothing that Tums hasn't taken care of. Overall, I didn't find Fontana a great place to stop as very little was open. However, I believe the day off was a good thing and something I am sure I will be looking forward to as I continue on with this journey. This is truly a summer tourist location that will become very active later in the season.

4/2 - Tuesday - Day 20 - 11.3 miles - (Mile Marker 174.1) I was up early this morning and after a huge buffet breakfast, I was ready to head out once again. I was picked up at 9 a.m. and dropped off at the location where I was picked up on Sunday. I had 1.1 miles to hike to get to the Fontana Dam Shelter at 480 feet, often times called the Fontana Hilton. After seeing it, I can understand why. It sits on a beautiful point overlooking the river. It is large with several bunk spaces and a nice place to cook your meals. Those who stayed there last night said that someone came by with some food and beer that was shared with the hikers. Oh well. We had been advised all along that there would be a possibility that our packs would be searched before we could cross the Fontana Dam. Also we were told that a ranger would be on the other side of the dam to brief us on what we could expect in the Smokies. However, the only folks I saw were some workers on the dam and I was able to get across the dam without a problem and I didn't see any rangers on the other side. After crossing the dam, I wasn't sure exactly where the trail was, as it wasn't very well marked. I continued on, using my instinct, which I am happy to say, was correct this time. I finally came to a sign leading me off into the woods and on my way into the Smoky Mountains. It was tough going up the mountain from 480 feet to 4570 feet. I arrived at Mollies Ridge Shelter (4570) late and consequently had a late dinner. I always hate getting into camp late and having a late dinner, as it is so difficult getting things put away properly and getting organized for bed. I'm sure I will have other days of getting in late, so I may as well get used to it. As I crossed the Fontana Dam, I was entering the Great Smoky Mountains. One of the requirements before entering the park is to self-register which I did at the Fontana Hilton. This is mandatory and there is a $125 fine if found without the registration form showing on your pack. No one has ever heard of anyone actually getting fined, but that is the rule so I did as I was told. The Smoky Mountain National Park is the second most-visited national park in the U.S. We are advised that we can expect to see lots of section hikers along the way because of the popularity of this park. I am now in Tennessee. Actually the park borders North Carolina and Tennessee much of the way. I am advised that you can stand in one state and pee in the other. In fact, I may have already done this. It is said that 400-600 bears reside in the park. It will be absolutely necessary to hang your food bag on bear-bag systems that are provided at most shelters in the Smokies. These are strong cables extending from one pole to another with several pulleys where you can hook your bag on and pulley it out of bear reach.

4/3 - Wednesday - Day 21 - 11.7 miles - (Mile Marker 185.8) It didn't rain last night as we thought it was going to. I got up in the middle of the night as usual to do my thing and there was a deer standing there watching me. This is bear country and of course you can imagine my first thought at seeing this deer. It was just wandering around the shelter knowing, I suppose, that food would be left around when we all left in the morning. There was a deer at the shelter this morning as we awoke also; probably the same one. The shelters have a grill fence that covers the front with a door to enter and leave from. This is protection against the bear that are supposed to be so prevalent in the Smokies. The doors could use a little 3 in 1 oil as they squeak every time someone uses it. Consequently, in the middle of the night when people are going out to do their thing, you are awakened by the noise. This is my second day in the Smokies and I have yet to sight a bear. The weather was good at the time of departure at 7:15 from the camp. However, it wasn't long before the clouds came in and it got quite cold. The highest point today was at 5,527 feet at Thunderhead. Once again, rhododendron bushes were all over the summit. I reached Derrick Knob Shelter at 4,880 feet where I will settle in for the night. It is cold and rainy tonight and it looks as though we are going to have a full shelter with several other hikers and campers as well. I am so glad to be in the shelter and staying dry. The grouse are making their thump, thump, thump sounds that you can hear all day long as you are hiking. It sounds a bit like a generator running. I am advised that this is mating season for the grouse and that is why they make this noise.

4/4 - Thursday - Day 22 - 7.2 miles - (Mile Marker 193.0) It was very, very cold last night. I heard it was 30 degrees, but I am sure it was much colder than that. The frost was very heavy and stayed on the trees until 10:30 or so. It was a very pretty and a fairly easy walk. I decided I would shelter at Double Spring Gap Shelter (5,505 feet) and make it a short day. I did this because I wanted to be able to spend more time tomorrow at Clingmans Dome. It was a great day for hiking and it seems that everyone has the same idea about stopping at this shelter, as it is very full with about 12 other tents set up. Because we are so close to a tourist attraction, there tends to be more section hikers on the trail. Many of the tenters tonight were section hikers. Actually, section hikers make reservations for the shelters and only so many thru hikers are supposed to stay in the shelters if there are section hikers there. However, it seems that no one pays much attention to this. I had a great time talking with all the hikers before hitting the sleeping bag early. It looks like it is going to be another cold night.

4/5 - Friday - Day 23 - 13.8 miles - (Mile Marker 206.8) Got another early start at 6:45 today as it was going to be a long day. I wanted to reach Clingmans Dome before all the tourists arrived and with the early start, I was able to do so. Clingmans Dome at 6,643 feet is the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. There is a ramp that leads up to the top of the tower and from there you are able to see maybe 30 miles on a good, clear day. Before the pollution in the area, it is reported that you could see 100 miles on a clear day. It was a clear day and the view was just great. I made a few calls from the top and once again was revitalized by hearing familiar voices. Only one other tourist had arrived and some of the hikers were coming in who had stayed at the shelter last night. I hung around for a bit and then headed on to Indian Gap and then to Newfound Gap at 5,045 feet. At Indian Gap I ran into some tourists, one lady from Spain who gave me an orange and another couple who gave me a bag of Gorp. As I have said before, I have learned to turn down nothing. At Newfound Gap, the tourists were swarming all over the place. There was a great view with a few short hiking paths around and a huge parking lot. In other words, people would drive up in their cars, where it took us several hours to reach by foot. I had some very interesting chats with folks and very interesting comments such as; "what makes you want to do a stupid thing like that", what a wonderful thing you are doing, I always wanted to do that", etc., etc. At this point, many of the hikers decide that they wanted some time off and would hitch a ride into Gatlinburg, Tennessee which is about 14 miles away. Hitching a ride in isn't so difficult, but coming out may be more difficult. I didn't hang around too long as I was anxious to get on the trail again and away from the tourists. I had decided I did not need or want to go in to Gatlinburg so I continued on to Icewater Spring Shelter at 5,920 feet. It was another tough hike out of the gap and I was happy to arrive at the shelter. It is a great shelter that looks as though it had recently been renovated. The opening faced the east so the wind wasn't too bad. I am so glad I elected not to go into Gatlinburg. There are several thru hikers here tonight along with six weekend hikers. At least we are not over crowded tonight. I passed by the 200 mile marker today. Slowly I continue to make progress. There were some young folks at the shelter tonight. The leaders of the group of week-enders offered to share their dinner with me. However, as hard as it was for me to decline, I couldn't accept since they weren't able to offer the other thru hikers any because they didn't have enough for everyone. They were from Kentucky and they said they take a few kids out every year on an outing.

4/6 - Saturday - Day 24 - 12.6 miles - (Mile Marker 219.4) I got a late start this morning as the weekend hikers gave me coffee and some ham. I decided to take it this time and was grateful for the coffee. Coffee tastes so much better over an open fire. I finally got out of camp at 7:45 and started another long day. The trail today carries you through a spectacular section that sometimes goes above the 6,000 foot mark and sometimes you are walking in the clouds. There were great views from both sides of the trail. At this point, you are never quite sure if you are in Tennessee or North Carolina as the trail follows very closely on the border of both states. The trail often acts as the border. As I came to Charlie's Bunion, I had to decide if I wanted to take the blue-blaze and see the bunion or stay on the regular trail. A blue-blaze is an alternative trail that usually takes you to a place of interest. I won't be taking all the blue-blazes, but I elected to take the blue-blaze trail this time. Charlie's Bunion (alt. 5,375) is an exposed rocky knob with a very narrow footpath in places. It offered great views but was quite scary at some points as the drop-off was very steep. Our manual instructs us to be very careful as people have been hurt here and I can believe it. If the weather had been bad, I would not have attempted it. After the bunion, I continued walking the crest, seeing some of the best scenery I have had the opportunity to see so far. Even though I got a late start and had rather long mileage, I still arrived at Tricorner Knob Shelter (5,920) early. Arriving early allowed me the opportunity to relax before going for my water and getting ready for dinner. First things you usually do when arriving at camp is find the water supply and filter enough water for your dinner, drinking and what you want to take the following day. This prevents you from getting a late start in the morning. Because it begins getting cold when the sun goes down, it is best to take care of these things as soon as you get into camp. Then you can take your boots off and relax. There are nine of us at the shelter tonight but still not all that crowded.

4/7 - Sunday - Day 25 - 14.8 miles - (Mile Marker 234.2) It was another cold night but not as cold as it has been. I got up and out at 7:00 and made it to the first shelter by 10:45. I had fully intended staying here, but the weather is just perfect and the last shelter in the park is Davenport Gap Shelter (alt. 1,980) and only another 7.1 miles, so I thought I would "Just Do It". The hike has been relatively easy today and you can definitely tell you are coming down out of the Smokies. Although it was fairly long mileage today, I decided to take a side trip to Mount Cammerer (about one mile round trip). There is a fire tower made of stone and timber that was rebuilt in 1994. The CCC built the original tower in 1939. It is one of only two such towers left in the East. After returning to the trail, it was mostly downhill to the shelter, but very rocky. There are 11 of us in the shelter. Everyone is very excited about breakfast tomorrow morning at Mountain Momma's. This is our last night in the Smokies. Also, I was reminded that we had to set our clocks ahead, which I would have forgotten. Because of this, I didn't actually get to bed until 8 p.m. versus the 7 p.m. that I usually crash. I probably won't be able to start as early any longer as it won't be light until later. I have seen lots of scat (animal poop) along the trail but haven't seen a lot of wild life. Not sure what type of animal left this scat. Those that know, say some is bear and some is fox. The bear scat looks like little charcoal briquettes. If that is true, then there are lots of bear around. Unfortunately, I have not seen a bear. I am wondering if it is too early in the year for them to make an appearance. Some of the hikers started a fire in the fireplace and while it is a nice effect, I'm not sure that it is any warmer. Most of the huts in the Smokies have stone fireplaces in them. However, if the wind is blowing the wrong way, you really don't need a fire and all the smoke that often goes with it. I haven't said much about the bathroom facilities on the trail. They are pretty primitive when there is a place at all. So far, a shovel is provided and you go off into the woods to dig a hole so you can do your business. I find this very uncomfortable and awkward because you have to go far enough away for privacy and often it is on a hill. I will leave the rest up to your imagination.

4/8 - Monday - Day 26 - 10.5 miles - (Mile Marker 244.7) With the time change, I didn't get started until 7:45 this morning. Since it was less than one mile to Mountain Momma's, I wasn't in any great rush except I knew I would get a real breakfast when I got there. Once reaching Davenport Gap, I hitched a ride to Mountain Momma's where I had a nice omelet, and several cups of coffee. It wasn't the greatest, but at this point, everything was tasting pretty good. I purchased a few supplies to hold me over and treated myself to an ice cream cone. I got myself and my pack reorganized and was back on the trail by noon. I got a ride from someone who was hanging around the restaurant. While at Mountain Momma's, a guy shows up with a dog that he had befriended on the trail. The dog was obviously hungry and had a bad eye. It seems that some of the girls had seen what they believe to be this very dog back at NOC or mile marker 134 and he looked hungry and lost. They fed the dog and thought nothing more of it. Well, these guys said the dog was following them and they brought him to Mountain Momma. Fortunately he had a collar with the owners name and number. The owner was called and was ecstatic over her lost dog being found. It seems she lives at the beginning of the trail some 235 miles away in Georgia. Needless to say, our little hiker family was quite happy over this happy ending. The trail today has been a long hard climb out of the gap from 1,980 feet to 4,263 in less than three miles. I met Reina from Australia on the trail today and Wicked from Atlanta. Got in to Groundhog Creek Shelter (2,900) at 4:45. I finally met "Stray Cat" whose name I have seen for several days in the logbooks. Also, was surprised to catch up with Runaway whom I hadn't seen since Fontana. Ranger has been reunited with his dog Maggie after having him kenneled while he hiked through the Smokies. Dogs are not allowed in the park. Also, Rainbird and his dog Lucy were at the shelter. Falcon is at the shelter as well. Met Iron Man and Spiz for the first time. I was lucky to get the last spot in the shelter. I guess I am a little slower than everyone else so consequently everyone else gets into camp earlier and that is why I always feel lucky to get a spot in the shelter. During the hike today we passed over Snowbird Mountain at 4,263 feet. This mountain is unique for its hum. What looks like a "Spaceship" on the summit is an FAA homing transmitter. The summit had been totally devastated by bulldozing it clean for the transmitter site. I did see my first snake today as well.

4/9 - Tuesday - Day 27 - 13.1 miles - (Mile Marker 257.8) It started raining during the night and continued raining for the first four hours of hiking today. Then, it was off and on again sprinkles. Around 4:30 the sun came out. It was a steady climb from our shelter until we reached the summit of Max Patch at 4,629 feet. It wasn't the greatest day for climbing a mountain, as it was very wet and windy. However, I was still able to catch some very good views. Max Patch is a high, grassy bald with magnificent views in all directions. It is said to be the site of an old homestead and logging camp. Early inhabitants cleared the mountaintop to graze sheep and cattle. The summit has also been used as a landing strip for small planes. There is controlled burning and mowing to maintain the bald appearance. From the summit you are able to view the Smokies to the south and Mt. Mitchell (at 6,684 feet) the highest peak east of the Mississippi. Once reaching the summit, the trail began going back down again. It was a very pleasant hike to Roaring Fork Shelter, similar to walking through the rain forest. Since it was early, and Walnut Mountain Shelter (alt. 4,260) was a short 1.8 miles further, I continued on. This part of the hike was a little tougher as we went from an altitude of 3,530 at Roaring Spring Shelter down to 3,175 feet and then in .7 miles went back up to 4,260 feet. Falcon, Spiz and I will share the shelter tonight along with Rainbird and his dog Lucy who showed up later. We are all looking forward to arriving in Hot Springs tomorrow.

4/10 - Wednesday - Day 28 - 13.1 miles - (Mile Marker 270.9) Another night of raining most of the night but other than being foggy, it was a beautiful day for hiking. We started off with quite a steep climb to reach the summit of Bluff Mountain (alt. 4,686). After reaching the summit, the trail was pretty much down to Hot Springs (alt. 1,325). I arrived in Hot Springs about 1:30 and checked in at "Elmer's" Sunnybank Inn. This is a white Victorian style house from the 1800's and is registered as a historical site. It has several bedrooms, a music room with several different instruments, a library and large dining room where everyone sits at a long table. There are several antiques in the house. I'm not sure what the capacity of the house is, but there were 16 hikers at dinner. It was great meeting new hikers and seeing some of the old hikers that I have been crossing paths with. Breakfast and dinner are provided at a reasonable price if you wish to eat there. I decided to sign up for dinner, and breakfast the following day. Since it was going to be a zero day for me, I could sleep in for a while before breakfast. They specialize in organic food and it was delicious. Hot Springs is a small town with the trail passing directly through the center of town. I picked up my packages from the post office and now have to decide what I want to send home or on to my next stop. I got my laundry done and then went to the local pub for a beer. I would have gotten a gin and tonic, but they only sell beer in this county. I have had this strong urge for a gin and tonic for a long time now but guess I will just have to wait. The beer tasted good anyway. Since I had arrived so early, I spent a rather relaxing day taking care of chores so I would be free to check out the library and The Bluff Mountain Outfitters as well as the rest of the town tomorrow. The outfitter store has an internet for use by the hikers if they wish, however is seems to be busy most of the time. I will do my e-mail tomorrow at the library. I will be sharing a room tonight with Dr. Bug and Stud a husband and wife team from Columbia, S.C. who I have been hiking off and on with.

4/11 - Thursday - Day 29 - Zero Day - (Mile Marker 270.9) I had a nice relaxing day off today. It is very hot down here in the valley so I bought a summer hiking shirt at the outfitter store as well as an Esbit stove, which uses Esbit tablets. It is a little more expensive to use than other stoves, but much lighter. My Peak I stove was quite heavy and since I only boil water, I decided I would try a lighter stove. Even though I had a food drop, I purchased some different food and sent some ahead to Erwin where I will be stopping next. I didn't sign up for dinner for today and ate across the street at the Sky Mountain Diner. The fajita I had was just great. If I had been hungrier, I would have ordered another one, it was that good. I will eat there again in the morning so I can get an early start. I made it to the library and answered all the e-mails I received. It was nice to hear from everyone. I sent my drop box on ahead and a box home. I had hoped to take advantage of the Hot Springs Spa at the northern end of town. However, time simply ran out on me. The spa offers baths and massages. These springs have attracted people since the late 1700s. During World War I, a detention center/prison was constructed on the spot to hold German prisoners of war. The prisoners enjoyed the springs so much that many stayed in the area after the war. Literature claims that the springs could bring "vigor to a wasted frame". My frame was getting wasted quite fast and I could have used some invigoration. Everyone that did the hot tub routine raved about it.

4/12 - Friday - Day 30 - 19.6 miles - (Mile Marker 290.5) As usual, it is tough getting going after a great stop in Hot Springs but, you cannot afford to get too comfortable in any one location before moving on. I was so close to reaching my first 20 mile day today, but didn't quite make it. It was a very hard climb out of Hot Springs. Once the initial climb was made, the hike wasn't too bad for several miles. However, after reaching the first shelter, (Spring Mountain Shelter, alt. 3,300) I was feeling so good that I decided to continue on as far as possible. The next shelter was another 8.6 miles and although it would be a long day, I felt I could make it. I did make it, but felt so exhausted that I stated to anyone interested that I would not do that again until I reach Virginia where the trail was supposed to get easier. There were three weekend hikers already at the Little Laurel Shelter, alt. (3,620) with lots of other campers outside. I elected to stay in the shelter as it is supposed to rain again tonight. Supposedly bobcats frequent this area, but fortunately, I didn't get to see one.

4/13 -Saturday - Day 31 - 12.6 miles - (Mile Marker 303.1) I had an immediate 1.3 miles uphill climb, reaching an altitude of 4,780 feet on Camp Creek Bald. It was a very tough climb but once reaching the summit, the hike was much easier. I stopped at Jerry Cabin Shelter for a rest and lunch. It did rain last night and this morning was a bit drizzly. I arrived at Flint Mountain Shelter (3,570) at 3:30 with plenty of time to relax before settling in. I was the first to arrive but knew that other hikers would be showing up shortly. I have passed another 100 miles on the trail and am feeling good about my progress. I passed by the final resting place of William and David Shelton, who lived in Madison Country, N.C. but enlisted in the Union army during the Civil War. While returning to a family gathering during the war, the uncle and nephew were ambushed and killed by a nearby Confederate force. These are just some of the anecdotes that are told along the trail. The hike ended today with a steep decline to the Flint Mt. Shelter. Of course tomorrow I can expect to hike back up again. Such is life on the AT.

4/14 - Sunday - Day 32 - Hiked 15 miles - (Mile Marker 318.1) The day was nice, but extremely tough hiking. Starting off at 3,570 feet, I went up and down until finally reaching Hogback Ridge Shelter at 4,255 feet. If you elected to use the privy here, it was facing out to a beautiful view. It is early and the weather is good, so I continued on to Low Gap where I decided to stop and set up camp. When you stop along the way in between shelters like I have done a few times, you are usually camping alone. This is not all bad some times as long as you aren't hiking alone for several days. As we get further into the hike I anticipate this very thing to happen; i.e. hiking and camping alone. The weather today remained good until about 6:30. Fortunately, I had already settled in and had eaten my dinner before the rain started falling. Along the way today I stopped and made several cell phone calls, which is always a moral booster. I also had some trail magic along the way today. As I came down to US 23 at Sam's Gap, someone had kindly left some oranges and four 12 packs of soda along the trail. What a great treat that was. The oranges were just great. I had planned on asking Grace to send me some small bottles of gin so I could have my drink the next time I have a drop box pickup. Maybe Erwin will be kind to me and I can get a drink there. It was one month ago today that I started out from Springer. Wow!!

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