Monday, April 6, 2015

Day 8: German Diversions

Helen, Georgia, had a cute Bavarian theme and
is a popular trail town just 10 miles off the trail.
March 15: The morning was absolutely gorgeous. An occasional stray cloud floated across the sky, but it was the first definitive sunny day since the first day way back on the Approach Trail. It was time to get back to hiking!

But before I did, Amanda and I wanted to check out our adopted home for the night: Helen. It's styled as a Bavarian village celebrating all things German--not unlike Leavenworth (the Washington state version, not the prison outside of Kansas City!) for those of you familiar with that.

When Amanda did some research, we learned the similarities with Leavenworth were even greater than we imagined. Helen had been an old logging town in decline and in the late 1960s, some businessmen noticed the steady stream of cars passing through the town but not stopping in it. They rebuilt the town with the Bavarian slant and the rest, as they say, is history.

So we stopped downtown to walk around and explore for the better part of an hour. A lot of shops were closed but that didn't stop Amanda from looking through windows when she could, perhaps taking the term 'window shopping' much too seriously!

But as all good things must come to an end, so did our explorations. I needed to get back on the trail!

We drove back to Neels Gap. I took some new photos of the area now that the weather was sunny and clear, and went inside to find Fireneck for the photo of him I forgot to get last time I was there.

Amanda and I parted ways. Just before I started the hiking, I was going to check my guidebook to see how far away my next targets were when I realized--it was still in the car! I had been looking at it on the drive up and when I had finished, it slid down the side of the car and under the seat. I couldn't get it out while we were driving and figured I'd pick it up when we came to a stop, but then forgot about it.

I rushed back to the parking lot hoping to catch Amanda before she had left. She was just pulling out and I jumped into the parking to block her escape. =)

Where's the schnitzel?!

She stopped, and I went to the passenger side where I fished under the seat for the runaway guidebook. Whew! Close call!

Then we parted ways again. Amanda drove off, and I started hiking again.

It didn't take long for me to catch up and pass other hikers, but I didn't recognize any of them. This wasn't surprising--I had been off the trail entirely for four full days and everyone I knew was likely far ahead of me. Some of them had probably even quit the trail in my absence. Rumor has it that about 20% of people drop off the trail at Neels Gap where I was starting the day.

A couple of hours into the hike, I found a group of hikers at rest near a viewpoint and stopped to take photos and rest myself. Not everyone had trailnames, and I'm not sure I even got everyone's name. One fellow who seemed to do a lot of the talking I later learned was named Silent Mike, and I asked about the trailname because he actually seemed to do much of the talking. Was it meant as sarcasm? =) Turns out, he's a quiet but fast hiker and tends to sneak up on people when he's walking, startling them when they realize he's right behind them.

Amanda's version of window shopping.

Also in the bunch was Yellow Jacket, a trail name that was allegedly self-evident on a cold day. She wore a bright yellow shirt which I had assumed was the reason for her name, but she told me that no, she really did have a yellow jacket. Then there was Something Tank, a trailname I had partially forgotten by the time I wrote it down in my journal. "Something" was not her trailname, but there was a word there that for the life of me I can't remember. She had her trailname because of her buzzed head.

"Hey! So did I!" I told her, taking off my hat so she could see my head properly.

"I took off 30 inches," she told me.

Wow. Okay, she wins. =) That must have been one of the most dramatic hair cuttings I'd heard of on the trail.

"I took off.... maybe two inches."

The shoe tree at Neels Gap.

We also talked about the weather. I had been curious how the weather had been for them, and they complained bitterly about the rain. Today had been their first dry day on the trail. Some of them had taken a zero day at Neels Gap just to get out of the rain. Yep, it sounded like the four days I had been off the trail were an excellent four days to have missed!

I continued onwards while they continued their rest. I caught up with an older gentleman named Bloodhound who was a Vietnam vet and apparently still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and he told me about some of his kills in Vietnam. It was a little odd. I've met war veterans before, but none of them seemed to want to dwell on the people they had killed--not that I ever really asked about it.

Late in the day I made it to Low Gap Shelter where I was surprised to find only two other people in the shelter. I had thought about cowboy camping tonight since no rain was in the forecast, but since the shelter was so empty, I just threw my stuff into it. Here I met all sorts of new other hikers, including one from Germany--the second hiker I had met from Germany on the trail.

I asked how he had learned about the Appalachian Trail, and apparently there was some sort of documentary about it (in German) that had played in their country and since then, the Appalachian Trail had become a mecca for many Germans. Allegedly, something like a hundred Germans had hiked the trail in one particular year. I have no idea if that's true or not or if that's just an exaggerated story, but there you go. 

He didn't have a trail name as of yet, and I thought about it and suggested, "You know, you could just use Germany as a trail name. I've never heard of anyone ever using the country where they were from as a trailname before."

He thought about it for a moment and said that yes, he could use that. Really?! I got to name a second person on the trail?! Cool! =) So now he's Germany. Assuming it sticks, of course. The name is still new enough that he could decide that he didn't like it and change it again.

I also suggested he maybe he should visit Helen. He might find our American version of a German town amusing. =)

Fireneck I had known online for years, but it wasn't until I reached Neels Gap where we finally met face-to-face for the first time!

A little after sunset, a couple of enterprising hikers started a small campfire which I wandered over to enjoy where we shared more of our war stories. I also told the Cremation of Sam McGee because, you know, that's my thing. =)

An hour or so later, a headlamp pierced through the darkness and another hiker arrived at the shelter. He was a large man--tall and hefty. Looking more like a football player than a hiker, and he asked if there was any room in the shelter. Plenty, we told him--only three of us had set up inside of it and it could fit seven. So he joined the party and threw a couple of heavy cans of food into the fire to warm them.

The rest of us thought that was a little odd. First, you don't see heavy canned foods on the trail very often. (When you do, it's almost certainly a newbie hiker that doesn't know how to pack light,) Second, we were all a little concerned about what the fire might do to the can. Would it explode as the contents heated up, raining down beans and who knows what else on everyone surrounding the fire then drawing in bears over the night?

These cans, fortunately, did not explode. Their ends did bulge outwards, as if ready to explode, but no explosion. After opening one and eating it, he found a plastic liner or something in the food, which seemed to confuse the guy. Was it edible? I guess he didn't realize that same canned foods do have liners, and throwing them into the fire did nothing for that. It wasn't an issue I had thought about either. So he ate around it.

Then it was off to sleep, another day coming to an end.

Steps count: 27,533 steps
Miles for the day: 11.5 miles
Total miles: 52.0 miles

'Twas a beautiful day for a walk!

A bunch of hikers at rest, enjoying the view. Yellow Jacket is the woman on the far left in the yellow shirt (but she has a yellow jacket that she's actually named after!). Silent Mike--who talks quite a bit!--is leaning against the tree on the far right.

I had a close call falling down a cliff, but fortunately, I managed to grab onto this tree to arrest my fall!

Tesnatee Gap. This is a popular area for people to ride motorcycles. They were all over the place and I could hear them from much of the trail!

It wasn't just a clear day--I was practically broiling in the sun!

Definitely not a whole lot of leaves on the trees as of yet!
Not sure what happened to this tree!
The Low Gap Shelter
The shelter campfire.


raylinstephens said...

thank you for this - I shall try to read the others - I just followed a link for your new walk! awesome!
I enjoyed everything you wrote starting with Helen and being thankful you stopped your fall!
hugs & keep walking!

Unknown said...

Sounds like an exciting day! I enjoy the Helen area. It's not very far from me and a nice day trip. You were definitely in "my neck of the woods".

-only dreaming

Honey Bear Clan said...

Was hoping to hear more about Bionic Woman and Huff and Puff. Wonder if they dropped out of if they will reappear in a future post. I'll keep reading... By the way, I really like the way the Captcha on this form makes me pick out pictures of food, instead of having me type words that I can't recognize even without being a robot.

Kristin aka Trekkie Gal said...

The town of Helen reminds me a lot of Frankenmuth, Michigan, another cute, faux German town.