Monday, March 23, 2015

Day 2: Gooch Mountain Gap

The Benton MacKaye Trail overlaps the
Appalachian Trial for a bit. I think I'm the only
hiker that cared about it, though!
March 9: It rained overnight, but by morning, it had stopped. Except for the occasional drop from the leafless trees, rain was not an issue.

Almost immediately out of the shelter, I crossed paths with the Benton MacKaye Trail. None of the other hikers cared about it, but it had a certain sentimental value for me since when I walked here from Key West, that was the trail I followed. I can't say I particularly liked the trail--I remember quite a bit of road walking and less than ideal trails, but good or bad, it had been a part of my journey. I had followed those white diamonds painted on trees to get me to Springer Mountain and it was there where I finally connected my hike from Key West with my previous hike of the Appalachian Trail. It had been an exciting and thrilling moment for me.

I passed paths with a thru-hiker named Fozzie. I didn't know that was his name at the time--we just crossed paths with not much more than a wave. It wasn't until I walked about a tenth of a mile off trail to view Long Creek Falls that I bumped into him again. We had both stopped to admire the waterfall and started a conversation. I was a little surprised to see him. I didn't stop at this waterfall the last time I hiked the trail and I know most thru-hikers aren't going to walk extra off the trail to do so either. The sign marking the turnoff didn't even say how far off the trail the waterfall was located, but I knew there was a creek nearby and assumed it was probably close.

Long Creek Falls, a short distance off the AT.
So I walked over to it for a photo and lo and behold--there was Fozzie. We started walking together and chatting.  Just in case you wanted to see what he's up to, this is his blog: Jordan Hikes.  =) He had never thru-hiked a trail before, but he did do the first 500 miles of the AT last year in an attempt that failed because he ran out of money. That's a pretty good hunk, and he hadn't visited these side trails on his last trip and didn't want to miss them this time around. I thought it somewhat interesting that so far as I knew, the only two people who may have visited this waterfall were both people who had hiked this section of trail before and both of us had skipped it the first time.

At a road crossing, we found the lid of a toilet seat with the words "shed" and "cemetery"with an arrow pointing off trail. We thought it odd that it would be pointing to a shed, and hikers generally aren't much interested in cemeteries either. We also had no idea how far off trail either was located, but I wasn't in a big rush and figured I'd at least go to the turn in the road and see if I could see anything past it. I did see something not far away, although I couldn't be certain what it was at first. Fozzie followed when I told him it didn't look like it was far.

How can you say no to a sign like this?!
Not only did we find a giant shed--or rather, what I'd normally call a shelter except they probably didn't want to do that because it might confuse hikers who thought it was a "trail shelter." In this case, it was merely a roof with no walls covering a picnic area. Behind it was a small cemetery. And off to the side was what we at first thought was a see-saw, but as it turned out, this see-saw didn't do up and down but rather spun in circles. Fozzie and I got on each end of it and spun each other in circles. To think, probably every other hiker was going to miss this! I found myself really enjoying these off-trail jaunts.

Throughout the morning, we could hear military helicopters flying around and gunshots being fired. We were near some sort of military base so shenanigans were afoot! A lot of training was happening in these mountains.

We stopped for lunch and then headed back down the trail, stopping for another break at Hawk Mountain Shelter. A couple of people were already there including Ridge Runner Tom from Springer Mountain the day before. He told us that a maintenance crew had just replaced three of the legs of the picnic table at the shelter. The old ones were left with a pile of wood--presumably for hikers to burn later. The register was brand, spanking new--also left by the trail crew. By the time I got it, only two other people had signed it: Laugh Track (who I figured couldn't have been more than an hour or so ahead of me) and Ridge Runner Tom who was still right there.

Tom also warned us that there were quite a few people at this shelter and the previous one, and almost everyone was headed to the Gooch Mountain Shelter for the night. It was looking to be quite a large crowd there. My main concern was that I wanted a space in the shelter. It was expected to rain overnight again, and I wanted to be in a shelter whenever it was raining.

I filled up with water and this was where Fozzie and I went our separate ways. Well, technically, we were both going the same way, but we left the shelter at different times and we were now hiking separately.

At Cooper Gap, there was a water tank. An empty water tank, and I was told it's actually called a buffalo tank--a new term for me. It can be attached to the back of a vehicle and driven around, and it was left here for hikers, I assume. I found it a little strange that it was left there at all. This was one of the longer waterless sections of trail so far, but that amounted to maybe six or seven miles. I don't consider that particularly dry!

In any case, the buffalo tank was empty so it wasn't going to help anyone anyhow. There were also two hikers out for a few days along with their dog. We chatted for a few minutes before they headed north and I stopped to sit down for a snack break.

The shed is hiker friendly. It says right on that
sign at the top: "Campers welcome."
I continued onwards, climbing over one of the longest sustained climbs of the trail thus far: Sassafras Mountain. I always joked the last time I hiked the trail that I suspected "Sassafras" was a Native American term meaning, "Big mountain kick white man's butt" or something to that affect.  It seems that everywhere on the trail that has the word Sassafras in the name can be counted on to be exhausting. It was steeper and more difficult than most of the trail had been, but not so bad that I'd complain about it now. It didn't seem particularly memorable at all, which surprised me because I definitely remembered it being more of a struggle last time. I must be in better shape this time around--or have seen much worse so my perspective is a lot different! I'm not really sure. Oh, yeah, I sweated going up it and huff and puffed my way up, but I didn't consider it very hard either.

At Justus Creek 2.3 miles later, a whole bunch of people had set up tents. Honking large tents for the most part. I suspected that they probably weren't thru-hikers given the sheer size of the tents, but this early in the trail, there might be thru-hikers carrying tents that are way too big. It's a tough call.

Two guys sitting by the trail asked if I had seen two other guys with a dog behind me. In fact, yes, I had. At Cooper Gap, by the buffalo tank. Except... they should have been ahead of me and I never passed them on the trail. "You didn't see them?" I asked, somewhat of a dumb question because obviously if they had, they wouldn't be asking me if I had seen them.

I told them where I had seen them--Cooper Gap--and that they had walked north on the AT in the correct direction, but that I never saw them on the trail. I didn't remember any trail intersections where they might have taken a wrong turn, so I was perplexed at what could have happened to them and said as much.

The cemetery behind the shed. I have to admit,
I kind of wanted to camp here. =)
I didn't want to freak out the two guys that their two friends were missing, but basically, that's what it amounted to. There could have been any number of reasons that they had stepped off trail for a bit and I walked right on by completely oblivious. For instance, maybe the dog chased a squirrel off the trail and they followed suit.

But I made certain that they knew I had definitely seen them at Cooper Gap. I thought to myself that if they didn't get down by dark, they should probably call for help. Darkness wasn't more than a couple of hours away, and I felt sure it wasn't something serious. What could have possibly happened in 2.3 miles where no other trails intersected the AT? They must have deliberately stepped off trail for some reason. But I told them everything I could and continued onwards. I hoped they were okay, but it left me with an uneasy feeling. If, in the unlikely chance they had gotten lost, at least they had all sorts of backpacking gear to survive the night and their last known whereabouts could be narrowed down to a mere 2.3 miles.

I arrived at Gooch Mountain Shelter just as the first sprinkle of rain started. The shelter was crowded with people. I worried it was full, but when I asked, they said that there was plenty of room. As it turned out, many of the people at the picnic table in front of the shelter had set up tents around the outside and weren't actually staying in it. Awesome!

I threw my stuff down on the first floor and mostly eavesdropped on the ongoing conversation. I didn't recognize anyone from earlier on the trail--I think everyone from the night before was still behind me. All except Laugh Track, who I learned, can hike crazy fast. Apparently, she had beat me to the shelter by nearly two hours and still felt like going on and had already left again.

Perhaps an hour later, Goosebumps arrived at the shelter. I knew Goosebumps having met her the night before at Springer Mountain, and it was nice to see a familiar face. I didn't feel like I "clicked" with the other hikers at the shelter--probably because they had already formed a group of sorts and I was the new guy.
Holy giant holes!

But I was a little amused at their response when Goosebumps arrived, who--in case you've forgotten--is a cute, young girl with long, wavy hair. When I arrived, the other hikers were cordial and friendly, but not really interested in my story or where I had come from.

When Goosebumps arrived, however, she got a much different reception. The guys started asking her, "What's your name? How far did you come from?" They certainly had a much stronger interest in her than in me! I can't say that I blamed them, but I found the difference in our welcomes more than a little amusing. I'm not even sure if they realized they had done that either. It seemed almost like a subconscious thing in the group. I wondered if I had ever done that myself. Probably. =)

Goosebumps had been hoping to catch up with Laugh Track, but upon learning that Laugh Track had left the shelter hours earlier decided to stop hiking. She was beat and done for the day. She wanted to set up her tent outside of the shelter rather than stay in it which I suspect disappointed the rest of the men, but off she went.

And that was the end of day #2. All-in-all, a very satisfying day. =)

Steps taken today: 35,816
Miles today: 15.6
Total miles: 24.6

Ridge Runner Tom

The buffalo tank at Cooper Gap. The dog I mentioned earlier is even in this photo, although it was the water tank I was trying to record. His two owners--who I hope met up with their other friends okay eventually--are off to the side and not in the photo. (Duh!)

Justus Creek was crawling with all sort of hikers setting up camp.

My home for the night!
Just in case you wanted to see Fozzie and I goofing around on the not-a-see-saw thing. (I'm not sure what it's actually called.)


Unknown said...

I must admit... the "not a see-saw thing" looks like it'd be fun =)

-Only Dreaming

Karolina said...

Laugh Track - her trail name sounds almost like mine. Only it seems she hikes much faster than I do, if she managed to beat you up!

Unknown said...

Awesome day!

Honey Bear Clan said...

I know somewhere in my childhood, I rode on one of those circular things in a playground. Can't remember where. Fun though, without the dangerous possibility of your partner deciding to get off while you're still up in the air, like on a see-saw. Yes, embarrassed to admit that I used to do that to my friend Masami, even after I promised her I wouldn't. I was about 10, after all.

Sue KuKu said...

Thanks for the video of the not-a-see-saw thing.

I know you have certain landmarks you need to hit on certain days but I love that you are taking time to explore other stuff and just having fun!