In years past, I spent a considerable amount of time pouring over hikers’ journals over at trailjournals.com. Before the days of TheTrek, Instagram, vlogging on YouTube, etc., people kept some pretty detailed accounts on trailjournals.com of their daily lives on the trail. Many still do, but it has tapered off now that the majority of those who choose to keep such an account are satisfied with merely putting up a picture and a few lines of text on Instagram or Facebook each day. And that’s okay. It’s their hike. The vlogs on YouTube can be quite detailed and elaborate and there is something to be said for actually seeing through their lens what they might be going through for brief moments. It’s often a great way to get an idea of what to expect for an upcoming hike.
Even on trailjournals.com you have to do a bit of digging to find the gems. The journal where a hiker spent a considerable amount of time and thought keeping a daily account of what they did, what they encountered, how they felt, people they met and so on. The journal that makes you feel like your being pulled into the journey, like you did the day’s hike right alongside the author. Many were very inspirational and I found myself living vicariously through them. So, when it came time for Deep Woods and I to head to Georgia and begin knocking off the trail in sections, I thought I would keep a journal myself. Needless to say, I couldn’t manage even one day. I soon realized how much work it truly was. You hike all day up one mountain after another and you’re cold, wet and tired. When you finally stop for the day all you can think about is getting setup, collecting and filtering water, eating dinner and getting some sleep. Who could possibly have the energy, much less desire, to write a detailed journal entry after all of that? As much as I wanted, I wasn’t up to the task. Thank goodness there are those who were and still are. I appreciate it immensely! As much as I enjoy following peoples’ Instagram and Facebook posts or watching their vlogs, it seems as though we’re losing something special now that fewer people are keeping detailed written journals.
Not that anyone would care besides myself but I’ve been pretty diligent about documenting each trip shortly after we finish. Regardless, its just not the same. Little details quickly slip away. Even special moments that you may not recall until weeks or even years later. Or possibly never. And unfortunately, I kept no written account whatsoever of the hikes from Amicalola Falls State Park in GA up to Standing Bear Farm Hostel in TN. I’ve always regretted that. A LOT! Many special things, special to me anyway, happened on those hikes. Especially 2014, the year we set off in Georgia.
One day recently, Deep Woods stopped by my office and said he ran across something he had saved on his phone. A very brief account of nearly every day we spent on the trail from Amicalola Falls to the NOC in NC! I was blown away and asked for his permission to put it up here. Bare in mind that his comments come to you almost entirely unedited so cut the guy some slack! Not that mine are any better. In turn, his brief notes rattled some faint memories of my own to the surface. I’ll insert my thoughts and recollections on each day as well. It’s long so feel free to bail now if you like. I would be surprised if you’ve made it this far! I’ll also reach into the “Way Back Machine” and throw in a pic or two from each of those days. Keep in mind, this will be nothing like those fantastic journals I spoke of above. None of my posts have ever approached anything remotely close to those but they are indeed something to look back on. Oh, and FWIW, the pics for each trip that made up the hikes from Amicalola Falls to Standing Bear have been up here all along. Just no thoughts to accompany them. So a big shout out goes to Deep Woods for pulling a rabbit out of his butt and passing it along!
Day One: Approach Trail – Amicalola Falls SP, GA to tentsite at Stover Creek Shelter – 11.6 mi
Deep Woods – “First day. Weather was good. Overcast and, for the most part, not so windy. We started at Amicalola Falls. This was the hardest trail yet. We hiked 11.6 mi. I met Mountain Slug and Crazy Horse. The waterfall was really cool.”
Bulldog – We used A Walk in the Woods Shuttles out of Gatlinburg to get to Amicalola Falls, the intention being to hike all the way back to Newfound Gap in the Smokies. As I’ll mention later, it didn’t quite work out that way. Did the traditional pack weigh-in, signed the register, snapped a couple of pics under the famous archway and hit the trail. The day was indeed overcast and a light drizzle fell on the way up to the summit and first white blaze on Springer Mountain. I started the hike WAY overweight. Like 220 lbs! Ridiculous. I was in no shape to be crunching out miles. Deep Woods ran regularly prior to the hike and was in great physical condition. Not long after we made the arduous climb up the stairs to the top of the waterfall (absolute beautiful waterfall), he was gone and I wouldn’t see him again until the end of the day. We each encountered someone at the summit who was willing to take our pictures at the first white blaze and plaque.
Moving on north, it was pretty much all downhill to the shelter. One thing of note – I ran across some folks loading up their vehicles after doing trail magic. I believe it was at Big Stamp Gap, USFS 42, just one mile past the summit! I couldn’t believe it. They saw me coming and said that all they had left was half of a bag of Oreo cookies. Without hesitating, I said “I’ll take ’em!” In the remaining 1.8 miles to Stover Creek Shelter I managed to knock off all but one of those Oreos. I saved the last one. I would eat it as soon as I came face-to-face with Deep Woods at the shelter. Just for spite…for running off and leaving me in his dust. Nevermind the fact that it was my own fault for being so fat and slow!
We wrapped up the day by having a dinner of freeze dried whatever while watching three ladies grill and eat ribeyes and asparagus. Seriously.
Day Two: Gooch Mountain Shelter – 12.9 mi
Deep Woods – “Best day yet. 70 degrees and sunny. I hiked most of the day in shorts. We pretty much stayed together all day. It was a good day and just enjoyed a nice pace. It is supposed to rain tomorrow. I hope we didn’t make a mistake by not pushing on in good weather. We were both ready to stop. We started at 9 AM and got to Gooch Shelter at 5:45 PM. Going to bed now, 8 PM. We came across some trail magic by the Georgia Adventurer’s Group. We played leap frog all day with three very nice ladies. Met an Australian thru hiker. Came across an old, nasty blonde woman.”
Bulldog – It was definitely a beautiful day and there were some really nice stretches of trail. The three ladies Deep Woods was referring to were the ones eating ribeye the night before. One of the group was starting her thru hike and her two friends were seeing her off in style.
The old, nasty blonde was more than likely younger than us but she was so filthy it was hard to tell. We ran across her late in the day sitting in the dirt, right next to the trail. Concerned that she might be having a medical issue, we asked if she was ok. She looked up and with a grin on her muddy face said “Oh yeah. Just resting.” We moved on, reaching the shelter a couple of hours later. With a good chance of rain moving in and a long day planned for tomorrow, we opted to stay in the shelter. Seeing there was room for just three more, Deep Woods rushed in and snatched up the spot against the wall. That left one spot for yours truly and one remaining right next to me. Deep Woods made sure to point out that the filthy lady could show up any minute and cozy up next to me. Fortunately, she never showed up, though I do hope all was well with her.
Day Three: Neels Gap US 19 – Mountain Crossings / Blood Mountain Cabins – 15.6 mi
Deep Woods – “Extremely hard hike today. We did 16 miles. Brett’s (Bulldog’s) knee is really slowing him down. The downhill hike is the worst. It was overcast all day. It was around 50 degrees for the high. The wind was blowing 20 mph or so. I went ahead from Blood Mountain Shelter to Mountain Crossings. They are filled up. I want to go to some cabins a 1/4 mile down the road. We will see what Brett wants to do. I see him coming down the trail now. More to come.
Ok, we decided to stay in a cabin about 1/4 mile down the road. The people running this place are washing our dirty stuff…for free!!! Very cool place. We had pizza for dinner, shower and real beds. A great reward for 16 hard Blood Mountain miles.”
Bulldog – The trail wasn’t so bad up to about Lance Creek, approx 9 mi in for the day, but the climb up to Blood Mountain Shelter absolutely kicked my butt. My right knee started giving me fits on the way up. We re-united at the shelter, took some pics and moved on. Much of the descent to Neels Gap was CRAZY hard on my knee and I was moving at a snail’s pace. As we approached the gap, Deep Woods moved on up to see if he could score a couple of spots in the hostel at Mountain Crossings. Sitting at a picnic table just outside the hostel was none other than trail legend Baltimore Jack. He was wearing a dirty “wife-beater” shirt and had a large, bloody bandage on one arm. Deep Woods approached him and politely asked if there were any beds left. Meaning no disrespect to the deceased but Baltimore was a complete condescending ass with his response. “What, are you stupid?”, he quipped. “See if they have some cabins down the road.” He then quickly turned his complete attention to a pretty young girl who approached and asked where she could get water. “Oh yeah! Right over here. Come with me, I’ll show you.” So much for first impressions!
When we checked in at Blood Mountain Cabins, the owner told us to bring him our laundry and he would take care of it. We grabbed a couple of frozen pizzas, sodas and ice cream and moved on to our cabin. Deep Woods returned later to pick up our laundry and the owner informed him that one of us had left a can of snuff in a pocket. So, he had to clean that mess up. Deep Woods told him it was me of course, which is true. However, the owner said he also had to clean a bunch of sunflower seeds out of the machine as well. Those were Deep Woods but I think he blamed that on me as well. To make matters worse, when we checked out the next morning, they failed to include the cost of all of the food and drinks we had gotten the night before and we didn’t discover it until later. Deep Woods informed them of the error once we got back home and said we would make things right. They graciously said not to worry about it. I’m surprise they didn’t demand we pay for a new dryer!
Day Four: Campsite at Low Gap Shelter – 11.5 mi
Deep Woods – “Rained all day and was very windy. It is 58 degrees. I did 11.5 miles in marathon speed. 5.25 hours. Low Gap shelter is full and we are going to setup our tents when Brett gets here. I don’t want to setup in case he wants to move on. We got a late start due to the rain. It is 6:47 and I am in the tent done for the evening.”
Bulldog – Getting our drop box and sorting things out contributed to the late start. We also blew some time poking around in the store. This was probably the crappiest day weather-wise we’ve had in the 560 miles we’ve done together. And it really wasn’t that bad. Just one of those dark, dreary days with non-stop drizzle that makes you want to pitch your tent and do nothing until it clears. There was absolutely no view from Wolf Laurel Top. We were socked in fog. But we hiked on. Deep Woods flew up the trail while I kept up a steady turtle pace behind.
Low Gap lived up to its name. The shelter is situated in a low, soggy depression and fog hung in the surrounding trees. With my bum knee and a sour attitude brought on by the dreary weather, I pitched my tent and called it a day.
Day Five: Campsite just North of Unicoi Gap – 10 mi
Deep Woods – “Today was a beautiful day. I hiked most of the day with short sleeves. I came across a dead bear on the trail. It was a small one. We did about 10 miles today and stopped short of getting to Tray Mountain due to Brett’s knee. I made the decision to stop. He is hurting and we are going to see in the morning how he feels. At times today the trail was very rocky. This was not good for the knee. I will not let him hurt himself even if we have to stop. We had a great talk over a good camp fire.”
Bulldog – We stumbled across the bear right after leaving Low Gap Shelter. It was a cub lying smack dab in the middle of the trail and appeared to be very emaciated. Sad. Going back and looking at the elevation profile, it appeared as though this shouldn’t have been a particularly difficult day. I don’t have too many recollections of the day other than my right knee had gotten bad enough that I was now limping. Shortly after GA 75 at Unicoi Gap, Deep Woods stopped, turned around and watched me hobble up the trail. At that point he was ready to call for a shuttle rather than move on. After some discussion, he said we would make camp there and see how I felt in the morning. He got a fire going while I parked my pathetic butt on a rock and watched. It turned out to be a beautiful night and after a dose of “Vitamin I”, I slept like a baby.
Day Six: Dicks Creek Gap / US 76 – Blueberry Patch Hostel – 16.7 mi
Deep Woods – “We kind of slept in this morning. We got started around 10am. Brett assured me he was ok to go. He did great. We did 16.7 miles today. Brett called Blueberry Patch and got us in for the night and the people are so nice. We got a shower and they are doing our clothes. I got to Dicks Creek at 6:45pm. What a big day. Last night I was going to pull the plug on our adventure…worried about Brett’s knee. Brett was amazing today. The weather was also great. 49 degrees was the high for the day but it seemed much warmer hiking. I hiked with just a tee shirt for a good portion of the day. We passed a couple that today was their anniversary. They did offer us a ride to town if they were there at the end of the day. He also said he would get up the next morning and take us back to the trail. So far all the people we have met have been very nice except Baltimore Jack. He was at Mountain Crossings and was not friendly to me at all.”
Bulldog – First of all, Deep Woods is being WAY too generous when he says I did great. What he meant to say is that I whined a bit less. Stopping early and giving my knee some additional rest the day before and wrapping the knee well before setting off this day did wonders. Not 100% but we still put in a good bit of miles with a crazy amount of climbing before finally reaching Dicks Creek Gap. Over the course of the day we would top Rocky Mountain, Tray Mountain and Kelly Knob. A tough stretch. Shortly after passing the “Swag of the Blue Ridge”, we ran into Wild Turkey and her dog Cormmick for the first time. Over the course of the next couple of days we would hike quite a bit with her and a group she had fallen in with. They were awesome!
It was getting late in the day so Deep Woods quickly moved on down to the gap to make sure our ride to the Blueberry Patch didn’t bail on us. I joined up with him shortly after. Here we met the owner of the hostel, Gary Poteat, and his son Shane. They had thru hiked the trail together in 1991. Gary and his wife, Lenny, later opened the hostel. Gary and Shane drove us back to their place, got us settled into the bunkhouse and took our nasty clothes to be washed. Three younger thru hikers spent the night as well. They were cool and we would cross paths with them a few times over the the remainder of the hike.
Day Seven: Campsite near Chunky Gal Trail – 12.6 mi
Deep Woods – “What a day!!! First off, Blueberry Patch was the best place. We had a heated bunkhouse with a kitchen. I took a really long shower to get the crap off from 2 hard days of hiking. Then a good nights sleep. Our day started off with a super breakfast of blueberry pancakes, eggs, hash browns, sausage and home-made biscuits. We got our mail drop. Gary drove us back to the trail. They are super nice people. Then the day was sunny, light wind, and about 68 degrees. We hiked separate all day today. We did about 12.5 miles or so. I was getting worried about Brett because it was getting late and he was not here yet. He did get here and I was so happy to see him. His knee is doing better but still has some foot pain. We got started around 10:30am and finally got settled at 8:30pm. Long day but beautiful. We did cross over from Georgia to North Carolina. Things out here could not be better today. Just after dark we heard some kind of animals, most likely coyotes.”
Bulldog – The Blueberry Patch was a much loved institution to AT hikers. Their pancakes with home-grown blueberries were amazing. We were very privileged to have had the opportunity to experience Gary and Lenny’s hospitality, especially considering they shut down after the 2014 season. I don’t think they ever re-opened. What a loss to the AT community.
It was an incredible day weather-wise and we passed the milestone of crossing over into NC. The only marker indicating the border is a small sign with “NC/GA” bolted to a tree. It would be easy to miss if you had your head down while barreling up the trail. Fortunately we both caught it and were hiking with someone who snapped our pics. Passed the famous, gnarly “Bly Gap Tree” and stopped short of Standing Indian Mountain for the day at Whiteoak Stamp/Chunky Gal Trail.
Day Eight: Campsite at Betty Creek Gap – 15.4 mi
Deep Woods – “Perfect weather. Light wind and sunny all day. Blue bird sky. Brett and I did 15.4 miles today. There were two big views today, Standing Indian Mountain and a great view from a rock shooting out from the top of a ridge after Carter Gap Shelter. We decided to eat at Carter Gap Shelter and try to go a mile or two. We did 4 miles in an hour and 45 minutes and made it to Betty Creek Gap. Brett did amazing today. We ate lunch on Standing Indian Mountain. We have 12.4 miles tomorrow to get to Franklin North Carolina. Today the trails were not so rocky for the most part.”
Bulldog – The climb up Standing Indian was a butt kicker and I nearly missed the side trail to the overlook. If it wasn’t for the fact that a few people had dropped their packs at the trail junction, I would have walked right on by. Since Deep Woods was moving at much faster clip, I was now worried that he may have missed it. Fortunately, that was not the case. Wild Turkey and her crew were at the overlook as well and we all took a long break to soak up some sun.
We flew down Standing Indian through Beech Gap and on to Coleman Gap. After lunch at Carter Gap Shelter, we quickly made our way over one more stiff hump and on down to Betty Creek Gap where I promptly fell face down in the dirt, completely exhausted. Wild Turkey’s crew was already there sitting around a fire. They all laughed and laughed. Tents up and dinner out of the way, we headed off to bed. For whatever reason, I was struggling to get my crap together for the night. I kept leaving things outside my tent and rather than going out once, grabbing everything and heading back in, I sat inside, zipping, unzipping and zipping back up. This went on for several minutes. Zzzip. Zzzip. Zzzip. Zzzip. Over and over. Finally, one of the guys sitting at the fire yells out “Damn Dude! How many zippers does that thing have?” Once again, they all just laughed and laughed. That’s ok. I’m sure my snoring kept some of them up all night.
Day Nine: Winding Stair Gap / US 64 – Sapphire Inn, Franklin, NC – 15.4 mi
Deep Woods – “Ron Haven. Today was another beautiful day. Temp was mid 70’s sunny with some high big white clouds. The trail was not too rocky overall though did have some hard rock crossings. At one point the trail was about 16″ wide and rock straight up on the left and about a 500′ drop straight down on the right. Then we got to the rock climb to the tower at Albert Mountain. It has to be one of the hardest climbs yet. We were hiking on and off with a great bunch of people. We got to Winding Star Gap and called Ron Haven for a ride to Franklin North Carolina. We stayed in the Sapphire Inn he owns. He is a really nice guy and his wife was with him. We had Mexican dinner and went to Dollar General for a few things. I slept great.”
Bulldog – We all headed out of Betty Creek Gap and started our way up Albert Mountain. It’s a hand-over-hand boulder fest for a good stretch. Deep Woods was leading Keagan (one of Wild Turkey’s crew) up while I followed closely behind. I suppose Deep Woods figured I had fallen way off the pace, especially considering how fat and slow I was, and I could hear him say to Keagan “Boy, I bet this is killing Bulldog”. I yelled back “You know, I’m right back here and can hear you!” What a butt head!
We made it to the fire tower at the top, dropped our packs and enjoyed the view. AWESOME! Perfect weather. I don’t think it could have gotten much better. There was only one major bump left in the trail to Winding Stair Gap. The Turkey Crew flew on ahead, followed shortly by us. Not sure where they ended up staying. Ron Haven and his wife picked Deep Woods and I up and he talked and talked on the way to the Sapphire. His stories about his time spent as a professional wrestler were especially entertaining. At one point he mentioned that this day was their wedding anniversary. The guy’s out picking up dirty hikers on his anniversary and she was along for the ride! Who does that? I don’t know what we would have done without him. He owns the Sapphire and one other motel in Franklin and this was the busy season so we lucked out when we got the very last room available. He did mention that they hadn’t let that room out earlier because the toilet wasn’t working but assured us someone would come by and fix it. We figured he would send a handyman over to take care of it. A short time later, Ron shows up at our door and takes care of it himself. Again, on his wedding anniversary. Amazing.
Day Ten: Campsite near Burningtown Gap – 14.6 mi
Deep Woods – “We started out this morning with a big breakfast at McDonalds. We met A-Firm this morning waiting on the shuttle. Siler Bald was very cool. Brett and I walked up a half mile or so to the top. It was unbelievable. I am glad we did. Took some images with the phone to text home soon. We stopped to eat at Wayah Gap at 1:00pm. The trail was mostly up all day. We met back up with the Austrian in town this morning and back at Siler Bald and his trail name is The Alpine Pirate. We met up with Grunt at Wayah Bald Lookout. We hiked 14.6 miles today. Weather was great again. Great views all day. Hopefully we got some great images.”
Bulldog – To start with, I’ve never seen anyone in my life eat faster than Deep Woods. Just once, I wanted to see if I could beat him. We got the same breakfast at McDonald’s and I started eating first. I crammed food in my mouth as fast as I could and he still beat me. Whatever. A-Firm was a hiker I had been following on trailjournals.com. Grunt was one of the three we stayed with at The Blueberry Patch.
Ron drove us back to the trailhead and before stopping he said “Now, for you purists, I’ll drop you off on the right…where you got picked up. That does mean you’ll have to run across the highway. The rest of you will be dropped off on the other side of the highway so you don’t risk being run over by an eighteen wheeler.” Well, I wasn’t about to let some speeding trucks stand in my way of hiking every single inch of the AT so I got out where we left off. Big baby Deep Woods stayed in the bus until Ron got turned around and dropped everyone else off on the other side. I had to run for my life to get across but at least now, one of these days when we’re old and grey and standing at the sign on Katahdin, I can look at Deep Woods and say “You know, you still have to go down to Winding Stair Gap and run across that highway.” Good luck doing that using a walker!
It was a long climb up to Siler Bald and once there, a stiff climb up the side trail to actually make the summit but it was more than worth it. Spent a bit of time there enjoying the view and talking to other hikers. Moving on, we knocked out a bit of down followed by more up, finally bringing us to the stone tower on Wayah Bald. Very cool, awesome view and we hit it in excellent weather. Lunch out of the way, we hiked on, losing a bit more than a 1,000 ft in elevation at our destination for the day, Burningtown Gap. I went to stake out my tent only to discover I had no stakes! I had left them in the room back in Franklin. Deep Woods mentioned that he had four extra stakes. I needed at least five to pitch the tent I was using. Just when I was about to look for a stick to use, Deep Woods says “Look. I found one on the ground!” The good Lord provides just what you need!
Day Eleven: US 19 – Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) – 12.9 mi
Bulldog – The weather turned over during the night and it looked as if the skies would open up on us at any moment. We packed up quickly and got moving. About three miles in for the day we came to Rocky Bald. On a clear day you could probably see for miles. All we could see were ominous clouds moving in on us. Rather than serve ourselves up as lightening rods, we moved on. We quickly made our way down to Telico Gap and then up to the tower on Wesser Bald. Despite the nasty looking skies, we couldn’t resist running up the tower to see if we could catch a glimpse of the Smoky Mountains. Grey clouds obscured most of the park. We headed back down, put on the packs and were just about to set off when up walks Grunt. With a big smile on his face, he says “What a wonderful day the Lord has given us!” We tell him that you can just make out the Smoky Mountains from the top of the tower and hike on. No sooner than we started moving, the skies opened and rain fell in sheets. At least now we were under some cover but we had just sent Grunt to the top of a tower out in the open!
We made the long descent through the forest, finally reaching the NOC early in the afternoon. By this point the rain had let up and there must have been fifty or more thru hikers milling about. Fortunately Grunt didn’t fall victim to a bolt of lightning and showed up a bit later. There were no bunks available at the hostel, however they did offer us a cabin down the road. We accepted and hopped in the back of a pickup with a group of half a dozen or so thru hikers and their cases of beer. A wild ride ensued and we thought we might be killed at any moment. We did make it to the cabin and it was the most disgusting place I had ever seen. The water coming out of the faucet was brown. The shower had stuff growing in it. I wore my Frogg Toggs to bed, fearing I might catch something! But it was warm. The temperature had taken a plunge and a snow storm was predicted for that night and the next day. Cheoah Bald, 3,300 feet above the NOC, was on tap for the next day so that was looking as though it would be chilly hike!
I talked to Loonie that evening and she informed me that her father had just passed away. Going any further was out of the question. I had to get back home to be there for her. We got a shuttle to take us back to Deep Woods’ car the following day. Our driver chose to go south of the Smokies and back up the west side of the park to Gatlinburg. This meant doing the winding drive along “The Dragon’s Tail” Neither of us had done that before. Interesting to say the least!
Had we continued on, we would have crossed Cheoah in some really nasty weather. And its likely we would have had some crappy weather the rest of the way to Newfound Gap. We did the section from the NOC to Newfound Gap the following year, 2015, and had fantastic weather the entire trip. It was absolutely beautiful. So there ya go. Maybe one of these days a wealth of recollections from that hike and the circuitous route through the rest of the Smokies to Standing Bear Farm will come flooding back and I’ll get them down here. We’ll see. In the meantime, stay tuned. Deep Woods and I are about to return to the trail again very soon!
More to come…