Day 1 : Mile 1 | Springer Mountain Shelter
We pulled into the parking lot of Amicalola Falls State Park at just past 8:30am on Sunday, February 18, 2018. It was a lovely day, the skies having just cleared from days of rain, and I was extremely anxious. We walked into the lodge and signed in to get our ‘Leave No Trace’ Commemorative Tags. After signing in, a guy named Bob took us to weigh our packs. After food and water was added I rang in at 40lbs. WAY heavier than I had anticipated. At that point I could have taken out some food. I only had 1L of water full so I couldn’t adjust that. But I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough variety and I wouldn’t eat enough out on trail so I kept it the way it was.
We moved around to the back side of the lodge to get our pictures taken:
After pictures we listened to a ridge runner lecture on ‘The 10 Essentials’. We found Dragon a shuttle to the Springer Mountain Trail Head with a cool shuttler named Duffy. With one last photo and a hug from Mom and Dad I was off.
I started my hike! I just kept thinking, ‘this is really happening?!’ I accidentally took the ‘old approach’ trail and successfully skipped the stairs... only to find out that the stairs were closed the day of my hike anyway. I finished the full 8.8 miles in 4 hours exactly! Those Nike Pro 7" shorts prevented all kinds of chafe that potentially could have occurred! They’re amazing! My hip belt was riding a little bit lower than it should be so I did get mild chafe and bruising from that. I adjusted it at camp that night. After drinking at least 100Fl/Oz of water daily at home usually, I was surprised I made it just fine with 1L. Someone suggested my name should be H2O or H2Go... it didn’t take, too common.
There was a trail angel at the top who had brought up ice cold beer and soda for hikers! My hiking buddy (Dragon) met me at the top of springer (she hiked up from the trail head instead of doing the approach trail). We went and made camp together at Springer Mountain Shelter.
After setting up my tent and sleep stuff we set out to get water for the first time! We followed the well marked trail to stream and filled up, probably too much (ALL) of our water bottles and headed back to camp.
Soon after we made dinner with Yogi, a fellow thru-hiker; Celeste, a weekend hiker; And Hannah, a ridge runner. I had some delicious cous cous with tuna. After dinner Hannah had to leave us but the rest of us hung out by the shelter for a while. Sleeves, another thru-hiker joined us as we tried to start a fire with very damp wood, leaves, and straw. After many attempts and the start of a rain storm, Dragon was able to catch one of the bigger logs and we had a fire! Even in the rain! Hence, her trail name Dragon.
After the rain fire I stored my food bag in the Bear Box (which are at every shelter in Georgia, THANKS GATC) and headed back to my tent.
When I woke up in the morning I realized I had guyed my tent in a slightly crooked way and my rain fly had gotten stuck to two sides of my tent. My down puffy coat, which had been sitting right under the screen on the right side of the tent, was soaked, my sleeping bag was damp... who am I kidding? EVERYTHING was damp. It was humid and a thick fog filled the mountain air that day. And every day following. In reality, I think I only slept 3 hours that night. I also realized that my sleeping pad was uninsulated, which I thought I wanted because I do sleep hot. But I realized the cold ground was making one side of my body freezing while the other side of my body was sweating from my sleeping bag. It was a rough one.
I tried to mop up the water as best I could and I packed up to leave camp...
Day 2: Mile 8.1 | Hawk Mountain Shelter
It rained. It sprinkled. It misted. And there was fog to be had all around. I got to use my handy dandy umbrella and loved it, though! I rigged it onto my pack hands to be hands free while hiking!!
We got a pretty late start due to all of the water in our tents. Dragon and I started off hiking together and made lunch at Stover Creek later in the day. We made hot lunch because it was cold and rainy. Plus it’s a good way to get all the calories you need. At Stover creek we met Chandler and his Dad (we like to call him Camo but he refuses to take it as his trail name), Yogi, Two Weeks, and Whisperer. Yogi gave me a sleeping bag liner her never used and didn’t want to put over my sleeping pad to hopefully regulate the temperature better.
After I finished my lunch. I set out alone, Dragon finishing up her lunch and was not far behind me. I walked the 5 miles to Hawk Mountain Shelter in just over 2 hours and was quite happy with my pace. It was 4pm when I arrived.
I was nervous that Dragon wouldn’t be able to make it all the way to Hawk Mountain Shelter before dark. And with the fog, night hiking was not an option. But she pushed herself and made it there at exactly 6pm, just as dusk set in! I was so proud of her and so excited to see her. At Hawk Mountain Shelter we met Ohm, ‘Racha, E-Dog (an actual dog!), Whisperer, Storage Unit, Weeds (soon to be renamed Michelin), Sandals, and a few others. We all made dinner together under the edge of the shelter roof.
I made myself a Knorr rice side but I was running low on fuel (I accidentally brought a canister that was less than half full, oops) and it didn’t cool all the way through. I knew I needed the calories and did not want to have to pack out that liquidy, heavy mess so I tried really hard to eat it. I forced myself to eat the whole thing. It was awful. I was instantly nauseous. The rice clinged to the sides of my stomach like cement. More on this in a moment...
I decided to sleep in the shelter and try to dry out my tent and my puffy that night. I went up the ladder into the loft after dinner and laid out my sleeping pad and sleeping bag. I put some toilet paper around my bed to keep the mice away (a serious problem in shelters). I hung my tent up to ‘dry’ and draped my puffy over the loft railing. I change into my sleeping clothes and put on my camp shoes. Then I headed down to get water and put away my bear bag.
On my way back from getting water is when Dragon rolled in. I was so excited she made it that I ran over to her (because we weren’t quite a tramily yet, no one knew why o was freaking out about this girl) and everyone in the shelter stared in confusion.
On the trail people typically go to bed soon after dusk. Anywhere from 630-9. 9 is considered ‘hiker midnight’ so the shelter was settling in when Dragon got to camp. I made her dinner while she set up her tent and we hung out in her tent while she ate, so as not to disturb the shelter sleepers.
After dinner I went up to the loft (accidentally waking up E-Dog and everyone else at 730pm) and I went to bed. I probably got about 3 hours of sleep. I wore earplugs and was still lullabied by a loud snorer (Michelin). The bag liner did help my sleeping dilemma a bit. As did the hat made by my Mom (thanks Mom).
Day 3: Mile 15.7 | Gooch Gap Shelter
Another day of rain was upon us. I woke up to a still damp puffy... scratch that... still damp everything. I put on my damp hiking clothes (my pants ripped in the knees after a few good tumbles). Today we would walk just over 7 miles. To me, no problem. To Dragon, hard. This didn’t really occur to me until this night... I got up early and started packing but everyone in the shelter was still sleeping (it was still dark out at 6am) so I got up and brushed my teeth and made some phone calls outside.
I was still very nauseous from the rice the night before. My feet hurt from the plantar fasciitis and I was tired. But I was still in high spirits and ready to hike. Dragon, on the other hand, was really hurting. Her shoes were giving her problems and she was exhausted. I waited for her to pack up camp and we headed out together toward Sassafras Mountain (a tough one). We stopped after a bit at Horse gap to eat lunch. I forced down some hot ramen and freeze dried broccoli. Using up the last of my fuel to try to beat my nausea. I was so hungry. At lunch we met Noah, Will, And Rob who all moved on before me.
Dragon and I split up there, as usual, and I went on to camp. I hiked Sassafras mountain in 43 minutes exactly. It was not nearly as hard as I expected. I caught up to Noah after a bit and we cruised until we hit a big stream. We stopped to take a break. Soon after, I sloshed across the creek (I know, so graceful) and I moved on to camp. I filled my water up at another stream along the way. I made it to camp around 4 pm. I was met with a chorus of ‘Hey!’s at the shelter and saw some familiar faces. Michelin, E-Dog, ‘Racha, Ohm, Will, and Rob. I sat down and ate a snack at the table with everyone and decided to shelter camp again that night. Most people were tenting. The sun began to peek out from the clouds a bit and I hung my tent in the sun to dry. I set up my bed and went back Over to the table to eat my dinner. On my way back over to my bed I slipped on the wet shelter floor and fell face first to the floor. Thankfully I caught myself before almost breaking my nose and I only bruised one thigh a bit. Michelin shouted, ‘Man, we should call you Life Alert!’ Whisperer replied, ‘I thought we’d call her whatever the Morton Salt girl is named, because of the umbrella!’ No one could agree on my trail name.
Later that evening, still unsure if Dragon was going to make it to the shelter or camp out tonight I made a phone call to my Mom for some moral support. Just after telling my Mom that I was nervous Dragon wouldn’t make it, she comes hiking around the bend. I told my Mom I had to go and ran to meet Dragon. Just as Dragon arrives, Fresh Ground (a former thru-hiker) stops us to tell us he’s making us banana pancakes in the morning at Gooch Gap!
I make Dragon dinner as she gets unpacked and goes to get water. People begin dwindling in the shelter and head off to bed in their tents. Soon it’s just Rob, me, and Dragon. I sit with Dragon while she finishes her dinner. Rob got enough service to look up the story of the Morton Salt girl. Turns out she didn’t have a name... he suggested maybe I go by Morton or Morty. We chose Morty. But, somehow, it still didn’t quite fit.
Around 7:30pm an older guy rolls in. Said he had hiked from the approach to this shelter all in one day. He kept his white headlamp light on (a shelter faux pas after dark when people are trying to go to bed). He continued to talk to us. We tried not to make too much conversation. It was late and we were tired. We weren’t even talking to each other! Rob attempted to say hello to the man, the man didn’t want to talk to Rob. We offered for the man to sleep in the loft of the shelter with Rob. The man said he would be the first one up and out in the morning and he needed to sleep downstairs. We told him we were planning on being up around 5 if that made a difference. He still insisted he sleep downstairs where Dragon and I had set up. We politely moved our sleeping g lads over and made room. Even after putting earplugs in and turning off my headlamp he tried to talk to me. He asked about what kind of cell service I had and what I was carrying in my pack. I was annoyed and a bit wary of his questions. But he seemed relatively harmless.
Day 4: mile 17.1-30.1 | Blood Mountain Cabins
In the morning Dragon had a hard time getting up. She was tired and her feet hurt far too badly that day. We talked about getting a shuttle into town or to the Blood Mountain Cabins. The man overheard us and offered to give us a ride. He said his wife was picking him up. I said we would consider it but I didn’t know what everyone would want and I was the only one who was up and packed. He said he’d call his wife anyway. He called, on speaker phone, and reached an automated voicemail. He left a cryptic message about needing to be picked up at Gooch Gap and possibly doing some trail angel stuff for some ‘young girls’. I felt a red flag moment right there. When Rob finished packing he pulled me aside and said, ‘as a parent, I can tell you right now you’d be safer calling a shuttle. I bet you Fresh Ground would know who to call’ I nodded. He was right. I conferred with Dragon about what she wanted to do. She knew she couldn’t make the miles to the next site we were supposed to camp and a thunder storm was coming. We decided to politely decline ‘sketchy man’s offer and hike out to Gooch Gap to try to get a shuttle from Fresh Ground.
Dragon and I left The shelter around 8am. Dragon had to take it slow. Her feet were hurting and she was hobbling. My feet hurt too but I was itching for pancakes. She told me to go on ahead. I got to Fresh Ground’s Leap Frog Cafe about an hour later and he made me a French press coffee and a banana pancake to start. It was the best I’d had to eat in days.
Rob, Will, and Michelin had all arrived before me and we sat and chatted during our breakfast.
Soon Noah appeared along with E-Dog, Ohm, and ‘Racha. I waited with bated breath for Dragon even though everyone said they passed her and she wasn’t far behind. She hobbled in about half an hour after E-dog and family. She was in a lot of pain.
We ate and ate and kept eating. Fresh Ground made us fresh French fries and grilled cheese and hot dogs and pancakes and it was all so satisfying. He gave me a number of a guy who hiked SOBO last year that has a shuttle service. The guy, Suches, came to pick up me, Dragon, and Michelin at Gooch Gap. He drove us to the Blood Mountain Cabins at Neel Gap where we would stay for two nights to heal Dragons feet and wait for Michelin’s new trekking poles to come in.
The cabin was perfect for the three of us and was the same price as a bunk in the hostel since we split it three ways. We hung out tents on the railing to the loft and in the eaves. We got all of our clothes washed. We took showers. Cleaned our camp pots. We got rid of stuff in our packs that we didn’t need.
We went to Mountain Crossings and got Dragon new shoes and insoles. Later that night Suches brought us beer and pizzas for a small fee and we feasted. I slept the whole night for the first time in over a week.
Day 5: Mile 30.1 | Blood Mountain Cabins
We took a zero to let Dragon’s feet rest. We went into Dahlonega with Suches to an outfitter (they didn’t have what we needed), a jerky store, and WalMart.
At WalMart I got 2 yards of fleece to cover my sleeping pad with. It was $7 and, although not as light or compact, way cheaper than buying a sleeping bag liner. I also got more neosporin and some Benadryl. We got macaroni and steaks to make for dinner at the cabin.
When we got back all of our stuff was finally dry. We headed over to Mountain Crossings to get me some new shoes. There we ran into Darwin! I also got a synthetic jacket to replace my down one that had been wet and useless since day one. We picked up packages that my Mom had sent us with food and some clothes.
After that we headed back to the cabin and saw Whisperer! He came over later. He said he saw Ohm and ‘Racha up at the cabin Office. I knew there was sriracha in my food box that I wasn’t sure I wanted to pack so I brought it up to the office and gave it to ‘Racha. She was so excited. Her and Ohm came to our cabin later to take showers and hang out as did Rob. We decided we liked our little tramily (trail family) and we wanted to stick together. Someone called me Morty, and Dragon said, ‘that name just doesn’t fit!’ ‘Racha agreed. Michelin chimed in, ‘I told you! You should be Life Alert!!’ Everyone laughed and agreed. And so, I was dubbed Life Alert by my Tramily. We took a family portrait with my makeshift binder clip phone tripod:
‘Racha, Ohm, E-Dog, and Whisperer all went to bed around dusk. Michelin, Dragon, and I stayed up and made our steak and Mac and cheese. And by we I mean, Michelin did all the work. He is a chef, after all. It was delicious. A great meal for the night before a long day of hiking. Tomorrow we are up early to hike out to Whitley Gap! We meet our tramily in the morning up at Mountain Crossings and we head out.