Day 6: mile 42.6 | Low Gap Shelter
Today was a ROUGH day. We didn't leave until 12:30pm after checking out of the cabins and saying some goodbyes. Michelin had to go home today because of a very swollen knee. It was really sad and we plan to call him every single day until he gets better and can come back to the trail. Kenji (E-Dog) went home with a nice trail angel today as well to rest his paws.
Dragon had wanted us to aim for Whitley Gap campsites and we set out to do so. She left before me with Whisperer but I quickly caught up to her. She said she was in pain and just going to take it slow. Cell service was not super good. I caught up to Whisperer and not long after 'Racha and Ohm caught us, too. We hiked together for a while. Whisperer, 'Racha, and Ohm decided they were going to push to Low Gap Shelter instead of Whitley Gap. It seemed logical to me: Whitley Gap Shelter was 1.5 miles off trail and Low Gap was only 4 total miles further.... I wanted to stay dry and knew that it would rain during the night so I wanted to get to a shelter to make it easy on myself.
After trying to contact Dragon with no response I kept walking. When we got to Whitley Gap Shelter's Blue Blaze trail, I wrote Dragon a note and stuck it to the sign with a bandaid (I ran out of tape...). The four of us moved on.
We hiked a lot! 4 peaks in 11.1 miles!
It stayed sunny for most of the day while we hiked! For the first time since day 1! The last peak we hiked felt like it would never end. It had 3 false peaks and we were exhausted. The sun started going down on the other side and we had to pull out our headlamps.
We made it to camp at 7pm. Whisperer and I got the last two spots in the shelter while Ohm and 'Racha set up their tents. We quickly gathered water, made dinner and set up our beds as quietly as possible.
I walked a ways away from the shelter and called my mom. I was really homesick. Possibly from exhaustion, possibly from being out of my comfort zone, or maybe just missing my parents. The cell service was crappy but I, thankfully, got through. At the beginning, my support system has been so important.
I was so hungry that I swear that was the best ramen I have ever had... The shelter was rowdy with some young high school students staying there. They were up talking loudly until at least 9pm (hiker midnight).
The girls in the shelter got up around 5am. Very loudly, with white headlamp lights on (it is courteous to use red headlamp lights at camp so that you don't disturb other hikers), they accidentally spilled water on my down sleeping bag, and when they finally left they left behind all of their trash for the mice.
The experience was frustrating to say the least. I understand that they were young and that they weren't thru-hikers. But, y'all, if you're staying in a shelter pleaseeeee try to be courteous to other hikers!
Day 7: mile 42.6 | Blue Mountain Shelter
We left earlier, finally, at around 9am. Whisperer and I hit about 2.5 miles per hour for the majority of the day. Until the last 1.6 miles we were cruising! We made it to Blue Mountain Shelter by noon, earlier than expected but after the day before we felt like small miles was a good idea. We ate lunch with Ohm, 'Racha, Hott Dogg (formerly Snuggles), Pioneer, Turbo, and some other friendly faces. Ohm and 'Racha moved on to Unicoi Gap to get E-Dog back! Turbo, Hott Dogg, and Pioneer went on the 'the Cheese Factory' campsite (there was apparently no cheese).
The view from the shelter was beautiful!
The sun stayed out until we headed to bed. We had to hang our bear bags for the first time, there weren't any bear boxes.
Whisperer and I hung out and had two dinners. We taped up our blisters. I ran out of Leuko Tape, which is what I usually use for blisters, so I tried duct tape. It didn't work, for the record.
We finally had good cell service for a while. So I caught up with some family and friends back home. I got nervous late in the afternoon when I still hadn't heard from Dragon. But she finally got in contact with me late in the afternoon. She let me know that she made it to Tesnate Gap, where she camped with Maverick and Buck '99 safely. She had to get a shuttle into Hiawassee from there because of a hurt ankle. She stayed there and took some zeroes. I felt so bad, but so glad she was safe!
The nights continued to get colder and my uninsulated sleeping pad continued to feel less and less comfortable. I realized that I needed to get an insulated sleeping pad in order to stay safely warm through the rest of spring. Since I had good enough service, I ordered the insulated version of my sleeping pad (supposedly a 4.4R value) to Hiawassee.
We looked up lodging in Hiawassee and thought we found a great deal at the Holiday Inn express. I called and confirmed that they were offering $104.99 for 2 nights total. That would make it $52 a night... a good deal when split amongst two people! The woman at the hotel confirmed the price and I confirmed twice that was the total, all I would pay for two nights. It seemed like a good deal... more on this later.
Craving a beer and a burger, I went to bed early. At 3am Whisperer woke me up, frantic. He shined his headlamp (on the red I might add...) up on my pack. On my hip belt pockets were two mice trying eat through my mesh pocket! They just stared at me! I jumped up quickly and shook them off my pack, realizing that I had forgotten to take some empty granola bar wrappers out of the pockets. They left a small hole but nothing major. We settled back into our sleeping bags and not 5 minutes later I felt a small animal run across my head. The mouse was back for its revenge... luckily it did no more damage. Soon after, the rain was back...
Day 8: Mile 58 | Tray Mountain Shelter
Another day of rain ensued. We woke up early and we're out of camp by 7am. We hiked Tray Mountain, one of the harder summits in GA. It was very cool. Although our morale was a bit low, we hiked hard. We finally got views from the top of Tray in the wind:
We climbed through a lot of Rhododendron bushes and some crazy windy stretches of trail. Even with the wind and the rain, it was a beautiful day.
We got to camp early again. Planning a big day for tomorrow we stopped at the Tray Mountain Shelter. We got food and water and changed into dry clothes.
It was a chilly night and I bundled in my sleeping bag early. Exhausted, I fell asleep for 3 hours after lunch and slept for the first time really since day 1. Once I woke up I read a bit and hung out with Whisperer. We went to bed early and the temperature dropped down to 36F.
Day 9: Mile 70 | The Holiday Inn Express at Hiawassee
We hiked 11 miles to Dicks Creek Gap. The gap felt never ending. We left at 6:45am and made it to the gap by noon. We wanted to head into Hiawassee for a zero. After two 11 mile days in our first week we deserved it. Not wanting to pay for a shuttle we started our first hitch hiking effort! Tip: if you yell 'I'm cute' enough times at cars, someone will stop for you! Hahahah all jokes aside, we held out our thumbs for about 45 minutes while the rain finally slowed down. A nice guy who attempted a thru-hike last year stopped and picked Whisperer and I up! His trail name was 'Earl Grizzly' because he always carried Earl Grey. He was as nice as can be and hitched us to the closest Hardee's in Hiawassee! We finally got our burger:
It was delicious going down, but I definitely regretted it later. I don't really eat fast food so it went right through me... anyway...
We went over to the Holiday Inn Express next door, where Dragon had gotten a room, to check in. We arrived and there was no one at the desk so we rang the bell that was there. A man came over to help us. He printed out our check in bill and placed it on the counter for us to sign. I looked at it and realized that they were charging us $99 for the first night and $104.99 for the second night. In the AWOL guise it said $79 a night, on the phone I was told $109.99 total. I was frustrated and didn't know what to do so Whisperer and I stepped outside to call our money controllers at home.
Our other options were the Budget Inn, which we heard mixed reviews about, or Top of Georgia which was further out of town, but did have a shuttle. I had my heart set on getting an ice bath in while in town because my legs were very swollen and my feet hurt. I knew that it would make me feel better and would reduce some of my bruising. We decided to bite the bullet and take the room.
We checked, showered, and got our town clothes on. Whisperer went to Ingles and got us some snacks, chocolate milk (need it every time we go to town), and some beer. We hung out with Dragon and just chatted until hiker midnight (9pm). We stayed up a little bit later and finally got some good rest. I slept the night for the first time since the Blood Mountain Cabins.
I sort of felt nauseous, I had since I started the trail but it kept getting worse... more on this later.... and I was completely exhausted. But so glad to be in a bed, warm, and clean.
Day 10: Mile 70 | Holiday Inn Express at Hiawassee
The next morning we rose early. Whisperer headed to breakfast while I put the laundry in and took an ice bath.
I filled the tub with about an once of ice (about 12 hotel ice buckets) and then filled it to the top with cold water. Thankfully, my room was right next to the ice machine. I put a show on Netflix on on my phone and sat in the ice bath for 8 minutes. DEEP BREATHING AND DISTRACTION IS KEY. Seriously it makes it so much better. I got out after 8 minutes, red legged, and rested in bed for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes I got back in the bath for 5 more minutes. At first the results weren't dramatic. I was less stiff, less swollen, and refreshed but not miraculously better. But over the next couple of days I noticed my muscles and joints felt much better over time, my bruises almost disappeared within 24 hours, my stiffness dissipated, and I felt refreshed. Ice baths are totally worth it if you can get one!!
After my ice bath I headed down to breakfast. I was not thrilled, but if you aren't picky it's free and it wasn't that bad. The key component of the free breakfast: free milk and yogurt, stocked and available all day! If you need a chocolate milk, get a free one!
After breakfast Whisperer headed to the local 'outfitter' (we found that they were just souvenir shops with fuel canisters...and they both opened late...) while I went to resupply (Get my food and toiletries for the next week) at Dollar General and Ingles. Dragon got a shuttle to slack pack (hike with just a day pack to make up miles) Blood Mountain, which we missed due to foot problems in the beginning.
At dollar general I found a major value: biofreeze single packets 10 for $4!! Smart water for $1. Hating Gummy Bears for 50 cents less than the grocery store. Okay not super big savings, but it adds up y'all. Most things were better prices than the grocery store but obviously they did not have fresh things but I definitely saved some money. After getting my dry, shelf stable foods I went to Ingles and got spinach, pita, Fresh Ground peanut butter (SO GOOD), and some toiletries.
I headed back to the hotel and took a long nap. I FaceTimed my counselor for the first time since being out here. If you have a counselor that is willing to do this that you have a rapport with, take them up on it! This counseling session helped me so much.
Eventually after my appointment, Whisperer and I headed over to Daniel's, the local buffet. It was only $8.95 for all you can eat. In theory, perfect for a thru-hiker. I personally wasn't in love, but it was a cheap meal. Again, if you're not picky you can make this work. Most hikers I met loved it. In the future I think I'll stick to a rotisserie chicken and bagged salad from the grocery store.
We headed back to the room, packed up our packs, prepared our food bags, took one last long shower, and went to bed.