I was supposed to stop at Double Hogpen Gap for lunch but overshot it due to my pace timing being off. It was a nice spot, and open field that used to be a homestead when this area was a logging community (19th century through 1920’s). But I did not feel like backtracking. The rest of the morning was unremarkable. Well, I did see a bear…on Bear Den Mountain. Called him Spot. He was lumbering along uphill from me and did not see me. Shortly after that I crossed an area where all the leaves had been “stirred up”. Then, while going through a thicket of head-high blackberry brambles (no visibility) I’m pretty sure I heard Spot’s life partner … Russel… making noise off to my left. But I did not get a visual. This is when you start talking to yourself loudly, and singing campfire songs. Make yourself sound like NOT a pot of honey or bowl of porridge. But after that…unremarkable. Old growth hardwoods on the approach to Fowler Mountain were nice, but from the up-side of Fowler Mountain it’s been two hours of nothing but shoulder-high undergrowth and brambles. Right up to Double Hogpen Gap and the open field. Now it’s back in to some just-normal woods. Hopefully some variety soon.
Wow. Glad I didn’t wonder out loud about rain. No sooner did I leave my lunch spot – again an intersection of ancient logging roads, but overgrown with actual grass at least, to make for a passable “clearing in the woods” – then the next mile or so turned in to this magical elfin forest. The trail meandered through gnarled roods, ferns, moss covered rocks, crisscrossing creeks and under rhododendron tunnels. After that it opened up in to a much nicer adult-sized forest, with large spaced-out hardwoods and fern undergrowth. Then I crossed a Forest Service road, and dropped in to the Jacks River watershed on the South Fork trail. Jason and I hiked in this area last summer, so it had a familiar feel. Many of the trails in this area are old reclaimed railroad beds, dismantled in the 1930’s when logging ceased and it became a protected wilderness. These trails, though sometimes steep, are smooth, straight, and even, and look as if they are tunneled through the trees. The terrain consists of deep dark cool valleys with tall old trees lots of moss and ferns, and always the gurgle of a stream nearby which leads to the Jacks River. Think Forest Moon Endor, Lite.
When I arrived at my planned camping spot, I had completed 15 miles by 3:30, but did not feel like stopping. I decided to press on to the next site, 4 miles along. Again it is one of those perfect spots – wide spaced old trees with mossy feet, no undergrowth, and Bear Branch Creek just yonder. Hoping the creek’s namesake stays on Bear Den Mountain 18 miles behind me.
My current thoughts are, if I can enjoy a 19 mile day today, surely I can conquer 17 back to my car tomorrow. Originally I had planned for a night on the down side of on Big Frog Mountain and a short 6 mile day Saturday. Now it looks like lunch on Big Frog, Dinner at Ocoee Wildwater Pub & Grub, and sleep in my bed.
I have developed another “system” on this trip, which has been working quite well. when planning for the next day, I consult the guide book, and write out a list of all the points along the way. Next to each one are three columns: Mileage, Camp, and Water. Then I circle one that has water near mile 6 for “Refill”, mile 9 or 10 for “Lunch” and mile 15 for “Camp”. It also helps to know the next nearest one for each planned stop, in case the guide’s suggestions don’t pan out, or if I miss it. Both of which have been the case. I keep this piece of paper in my pocket with my map, to consult throughout the day. It has helped to plan against the water snafus encountered on the first two days.
My 90 minute system may need to be revised, as I have been clocking 25 minute miles or better, consistently. The math is not as neat as 3 miles/90 minutes, so I will have to work out another mnemonic. But the approach works well. It prevents the over-long mid-day push to near exhaustion, the too-long recovery leisure lunch, whose lateness in the day spoils dinner’s appetite…. If you stick to it and take the breaks, an hour or so for lunch feels right, and I can still get to camp fairly early for leisure, with a full 15 mile day behind me. Or use the late afternoon for flex time if more hiking miles are needed.
[ Edit to add: I considered/tried 100 minute / 4 mile legs, but in the end decided to stick to 90 minutes and simply end up with 17~18 mile days instead. ]
On the subject of the sandals: While I may or may not have strained my achilles climbing Browley Mountain back on day 3, I think it is the backstrap on the sandals that have exacerbated the pain. Even the slightest touch from that strap is very painful on climbs. I have relieved it some by loosening the strap, but that causes other issues… more blister-causing movement in the footbed, more debris getting in, and the looser toe now snagging on things. The adjustability of the heel strap was one of the selling points of the sandals – it lets you position your foot in the footbed, relative to the arch, the toe strap, etc. For now I will be going back to my Merrills on the next hike. Although if I could find some knee-high buckskin moccasins with an acceptable sole, I would love to try that. My legs are aslash with bramble cuts, pocked with bug bites, and my socks are covered with burrs and ticks. (Does the permethrin kill them? Or do they just get tangles up in the sock fuzz?) I hate hiking in long pants, and I despise gaiters. If I go with lace-up buckskin mocs, then I would definitely need a loin cloth & perhaps a pirate shirt. Or Utilikilt, if they make one out of a quick-dry material.
Also, my next dog will be named Achilles.