Monday, August 5, 2013
Start: Thunder Rock | Finish: Bear Branch | Miles: 17.1 | Total: 212.1
2:45 PM – Lunch break at Double Springs Gap, the TN/GA state line. The climb over Big Frog is pretty much just as I remembered it, in reverse. Except the summit seems nicer and less overgrown. Was it a different time of year in 2011? The valleys and coves coming up from Thunder Rock seemed more scenic. I was hot and tired and pushing to finish, no breaks or brakes, last time. Must have taken a wrong turn in 2011 because the long grueling FSR road walk did not exist this time. But I think I see what I did.
Just as last time, several animals heard but not seen. A bear-like rustling in the thicket at virtually the same spot as the cub on the dead stump in 2011. Also heard a snort and a gallop. Strangest of all however, when I was getting water at one of the double springs just now, I heard a sound that could be described as a “smattering of applause” … or someone running away across large bubble wrap. My best guess is a hoofed animal running across the flat loose shoal-like rocks downstream from the spring. Still no visual.
My feet are killing me. Especially with this descent. The steepest part is over. Most of the afternoon is graded on OLRs & FSRs. More later. Long day.
8:41 PM – The last few miles seemed to take for ever. For a while there I thought I was lost – the trail looks NOTHING like it does on the map. The map shows a straight due-south line from Spanish Oak Gap to Jack’s River Trail. But the real trail begins to meander and wind, with a panic-inducing lack of blazes. I started to think I had accidentally derailed on to a side trail – hopefully the one to Dally Gap. This section was a blank in my memory of 2011. Eventually I emerged on to Jacks River Trail. It looked suddenly familiar again, for about 100 yards. Then the stretch from JRT to Bear Branch (or Peter Cove?) seemed completely foreign again. I suppose your mind can play tricks on you, especially if sore and tired.
After I put the journal down at lunch break, I observed how serene and peaceful Double Spings Gap is. Just silence and some bird sounds and far off wind. I sat there a few moments being regretful that I had not allowed more moments like this on an adventure such as this. Seems like I am always needing to be hitting the trail hard. The only time I don’t feel pressed for time/miles ratio is on “town days” and those are filled with more of the same chaos I distract myself with at home. So, lesson perhaps learned. Fewer miles, more time to simply “be”.
But because it is a through-hike, it is also outcome based. It’s not just getting out in nature to gaze at your navel. On a level, it is ultimately being able to attach your name to the list of people who have done this one certain thing. I am hoping that there is a sense of something positive that comes with that, and elation or some kind of high, or badge. Because right now my feet really hurt and I’m homesick. This last stretch is starting to feel like a death march. I’ve done it all before. But I’m too close to quit. I am close enough to where I should be able to say I’ve got this thing licked.
The other lesson learned perhaps, is that experiences are meant to be shared. That is the human experience. To share something like this, to form that emotional bond with someone via the shared experience, that is humanity. Who knew. This solo vagabonding is just pissing in the wind.
When I finish this hike, I guess I can also hang my hat on the fact that I did it on a very tight and inflexible schedule. Really I have no flexibility – the one extra day (Day 4) just added a huge mileage day to my odometer, and made me need additional huge mile days to get that day back – which I inadvertently did even after I decided to take it easier instead. Getting off trail (truly, like in to a town) has proven much more difficult or expensive than anticipated. Ideally a trip of this mileage I should have blocked out a month – an unrealistic proposition. That would give me a few few days off – two would be enough – and let me do shorter days and relax more, rather than having to push for miles all the time.
Having said that though, normally on short hikes it is pushing the miles in to the high teens that I enjoy. Now my feet hurt and I have no flexibility to let them get better as I would if I had an open ended window such as on an AT bid.
It’s ironic that I now think of 15 miles as a “short day”.