BMT Debrief

Things to change

Rain Protection – The ponchos we packed did very close to nothing on this trip.  The one I carried was a high-end model, but had not been put to a real-life test.  It had been acquired pre-owned as a gift, and had only ever been used as a backup tarp in actual rain.  In a real downpour while being worn, I found it to pass water through as if not there.  Jason’s poncho was a cheap PVC kid’s poncho that was way too small.  We had several of these in our camping/scouting gear bins, and I might have grabbed the wrong one, or he has really grown this much since we last took the thing out.  Bad prep.  Now I am leaning toward a Packa – expensive!.  Or a windbreaker + pack cover + possibly a homemade skirt.  Or Wind breaker + more holistic approach to keeping contents of backpack dry.  I.e. a pack liner of some kind. The windbreaker can pull double duty as a windbreaker / shell layer in the cold as well.  Or a cheaper, newer poncho + pack cover/liner, and expect to replace it every season or so.


  • Lunches – As dry and hard and smoked and cured as salamis and cheeses can get, it still has a finite shelf life.   For any trip like this longer than one week I should go back to Spam Singles, and “Ultralight Joe’s” Moose Goo for lunches.  The Pemmican 2.0 (recipe post to follow, someday) batch I tested before the hike actually held up quite well and is a potential long-shelf-life food, but it is very labor intensive.  I did not have time to make enough for this trip.
  • Pinole – The trendy aboriginal powerbar made from toasted corn meal, sugar, and chia seeds is tricky.  With more sugar it could be tasty and more treat-like.  The texture is intolerable if you mix it wrong – it needs to be a paste on par with raw cookie dough.  If mixed too runny it becomes revolting.  Alternately, try adding chia seeds to Moose Goo for whatever magical powers they might have, in a stabler albeit heavier platform.
  • Instant Mashed Sweet Potatoes – Stay away from this vile gruel.  Prepared in the field with tepid canteen water and mosquito eggs does NOT  compare to the test batch prepared with milk and butter, air conditioning and cable TV.   We dubbed it “baby vomit” on day 1.  Stick with plain or butter flavored potatoes.  The plain variety can be doctored with sugar, raisins, cinnamon, for a cream-of-wheat-esque breakfast, or kept savory (olive oil, tabasco) for a dinner side, or hobo-pot main dish.  This stuff weighs NOTHING and thus is perfect for backpacking.
  • Dried Fruit – YES!  A last minute add and so cheap and easy.  Wedge up the bulk cider apples, add some lemon juice, dehydrate.  Even simpler: canned peaches.  Stay away from canned pears – they become sugary sticky when dehydrated.

Pens – It never dawned on me that I would run out of ink.  But at least one backup is necessary, especially if there is a certain type of pen you like to write or draw with.  Throw it in a bounce- or resupply box to cut clutter and grams.  My first real “trail magic” was stumbling across a decent pen lying in the middle of the trail as I was pondering running out of ink, on day 7.  Not a great drawing pen, but good enough to write with.  It lasted me the rest of the hike.

Camera – Bring a real one, in a belt holster.  As amazing as smartphones are, the camera still sucks in relative terms.  Compared to even inexpensive digital point & shoots today, the iPhone camera has bad low-light performance and does not handle high contrast situations well at all.  I think I would even bring for my heavy old Canon G9. (“heavy”, “old” are relative terms if you lived through the film age.)   It might make me more conscious or deliberate about taking photos.

Learn some songs – Memorize your favorite full album.  TV themes.  Anything.  Often I found myself bored and wishing I had a better repertoire of things memorized to recite out loud.  I am reminded of an interview with triple-crown hiker Hawkeye, who would spend his hiking time memorizing epic poems, to then dramatically perform dramatically around the campfire for the other hikers. (What other hikers?)

Pipe – I know it’s adding potentially superfluous weight – a lot less than the 1 lb. Katadyn Hiker Pro pump filter I used to carry.  But I found myself wishing I had a section of PVC pipe on several occasions.  A 1/2″ x 16″ piece would do the trick, to route the thin seep or trickle that makes up many high mountain springs in to a sort of faucet that you can fill your water bottle or mug from.  I might need to contrive a dual purpose for this tool, to justify it.

Sit Pad – a simple 1’x2′ or 2’x2′ of blue foam.  Although the platypus tailbone pillow worked pretty well for this, as I discovered on the next to last day.

Roses – Stop and smell them.  See applicable posts re shorter hike-days and more breaks, more sketching or drawing, and shared human experience.  Doing it this way was certainly a challenge, gained me bragging rights, sub-10% body fat, and 6-pack-ish abs.  But that is not quite the same kind of navel gazing I had hoped to have time for, given a 3-week hermitage in the woods.  I have to keep telling myself that the miles are the roses, and they smell great!



BMT Day 21 – Springer Mountain

Friday, August 9,  2013
StartBryson Gap   |  Finish: Springer Mountain   |  Miles: 11.6  |  Total: 286.8


We meet again, AT…

This was my earliest day to get on the trail, at 7:45 am.  Must be champing at the bit *.  Again, this was all very familiar ground, and I seemed to cover it in no time!  The closer I got to Springer, the more people I began to see.  Several tents and early morning sunrise hikers around Long Creek Falls (where I camped next to the waterfall on my Amicalola to Neels Gap solo a few years ago).  Several trucks were parked at Three Forks.  As I was getting water at Three Forks, a few feet off trail, three hiker dudes with full packs passed me going the other way, but I did not get a chance to talk to them.  Probably AT guys.


The Overlook

Just after Big Stamp Gap I talked to a day hiker who was looking for wild blueberries.  He remarked about how green they were at this time of summer, considering the amount of rain we’ve had.  About five minutes later a stiff cold wind blew in, the sky darkened, and it began to pour.

I was able to shuffle my electronics on to their ziplocks without too much exposure, but by the time I pulled my poncho out and got my pack back on, there seemed to be little point in donning it.  I walked on in the rain  with my poncho in my hand.  The drops were huge and cold!  But sure enough, the rain lasted less than ten minutes and the sun was beaming through the trees once again

I stopped at the overlook, The last of the rest stops before Springer.  I was sure I had bypassed this on my last BMT hike, but it seemed so familiar that I must have done it before.  Good distant view – one of maybe four on the BMT.



Thirty minutes later I was at the end.  This point on the trail is about as anti-climactic as it can get.  There is no sign announcing “Southern Terminus” – although there did appear to be a post for it.   The BMT simply dead-ends into (or branches from, depending on your travel direction) the Appalachian Trail, and that’s it.  There is a bronze Benton Mackaye memorial plaque a few yards from the trail intersection.

After some selfies, I hiked to the privy, and then to the shelter, never having checked that out.  It’s a good shelter, large, with several camp site clearings as well.   I’m sure this place can get crowded in March and April.  Two hikers from Florida  (it’s always Florida or Nashville…) were there with their dogs.  They offered me their food – they had lugged way too much of it up the mountain, and told how grateful they were that their dog’s paw was injured so that they could get a shuttle ride down the next day rather than hike back the 9 miles to their car!


This is where the next one starts….

Next stop Springer Mountain summit itself, to sign the register, take some more photos.  I chatted with a couple from Dunwoody (suburban Atlanta) who were out for a 4.5 mile AT/BMT loop.  They whipped out their 1-inch thick “50 Hikes” book to show me the route.  They offered me a ride to Amicalola if I had not found one by the time they finished.

By the time I got to the Springer parking lot .9 miles from the summit, it was 2:30.  1:15 was my official hike finish time.  There was a group of young people, mid-late 20’s, just finishing up a short day hike.  I chatted them up saying I was “trying to find a ride” down to Amicalola (see how I didn’t ask directly?)  They were not hikers so I did not know if they would be attuned to the “it’s all good” vibe of hikers helping hikers.  Fortunately they were very much attuned to the “it’s all good” vibe in general, and one of the couples gave me a ride.

There is no way they were old enough to have been in to NIN when it originally came out, but the CD the girl pulled out of the player was Pretty Hate Machine (1989).  Even if they were over 30, they would have been in grade school when this came out.  I guess that’s like me going through a Yes phase in high school, or discovering The Clash well after Rock the Casbah.  The next CD she put in was Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” – also one of my favorite albums.  They talked about having seen them live at Bonnaroo – and the whole vibe I mentioned earlier started to fall in to place.  They were Bonnarites!  The four friends were originally from Tampa, but had dispersed to Tennessee and Georgia looking for work in construction.  This couple had landed in Nashville (see?) and were driving through Atlanta to see friends etc. on their way, presumably, back to Florida.  Then they played Pretty Lights, to underscore that I’m old and out of touch.  Not bad, though.

They dropped me off at my car.  By now it was 4:30.  With no GPS we ended up taking a long way out of the woods.  They decided to stay and check out the falls, and I headed home.   With a stop in Dawsonville for a steak and potato.  It was probably 7:45 when I arrived back at home.  Somehow I did not get to sleep till 2AM that night.


BMT Day 20 – Bryson Gap

Friday, August 9,  2013
StartPayne Gap   |  Finish: Bryson Gap   |  Miles: 14.7  |  Total: 275.2



Not much to say.  Good day, good hike, good weather.  Bumped in to a day hiker Michael  just before lunch.  Bryson Gap is pleasant.  There is a narrow side trail to another couple of camp sites by a creek – they feel like “rooms” in the woods, where the site on the trail feels like a “hallway”


Crossing Highway 60 near Suches, I looked for the boxed spring that I could NOT find in 2011… and there it was.  Not hard to find at all.  How does that work?  (Remind myself to mention this spring to Rock – it’s in the guide I was using in 2011, but not in Rock’s guide.  Also some additional camp sites between Toccoa bridge and Bryson gap.  To make up for all the whining when I couldn’t find a suitable camp site or water, Peels Gap to Unicoi Gap, haha)

Today featured the crossing of the Toccoa River on the suspension bridge.  A very aesthetically pleasing feat of engineering in the middle of the wilderness – heavy timber and steel cable.  Also a nice river.  I did not feel the need to document this in photos, though.  I got plenty of pictures of them in 2011, I thought to myself.  And it’s cloudy.  Or, my presence of mind is slipping.


I’m on a bridge!

I’m exhausted.  Moderate climbs feel like mountains.   My hunger is finally catching up with the calories burned.  I’ll be very close to out of food after tonight, so I almost have to get that ride from Springer.  On a long hike with town resupplies, such as the AT, this would be the time you simply ramp up the amount of groceries you buy.  On a planned trip like this it’s hard to guess when the appetite will kick in.  On all my past hikes, even my 1 week long one, I packed almost 2x too much food.  This time I cut it close.  Some items I threw out after the first few days, when it became apparent that they were superfluous – the pinole and the instant mashed sweet potatoes.  We dubbed the sweet potatoes “baby vomit” right off the bat. Plain potatoes would have been just fine, more versatile, and I sure could use the calories and carbs now.  I say carbs because I have been catching the occasional whiff of ammonia from myself today, which I think means I am in ketosis.

I can tell I’ve lost weight by the waistband of my shorts, the way my face looks in my photos, and the fact that I can feel my tailbone when I sit down.  At lunch I sat on a semi-inflated Platypus – very comfortable – wish I’d thought of that earlier.  Dinner was one of the best most memorable – a mashup of a full serving of my homemade paleo chili, over a full serving of Ramen noodles.

BMT Day 19 – Payne Gap

Thursday, August 8,  2013
StartFalls Branch Falls   |  Finish: Payne Gap   |  Miles: 14.4  |  Total: 260.5

zzday19_IMG_322211:40 AM – Iron Bridge Cafe, Blue Ridge, GA.  – Since I last stopped by here to chat with the owner about leaving a resupply box, the ownership has changed yet again.  In fact, it appears the ownership has changed while I was on the trail – 2 weeks ago according to the new owners.

5 hours of hiking left today.  So far it’s dry but cloudy and “rainy” or threatening.  Was up and out by 8:50 again – not wanting to get here before they opened, by too much.  I had forgotten that they are also a breakfast place.

zzday19_IMG_3240Talked to a guy in a big off-road F-250 (or Ram 2500?) with winch bumper, who is familiar with the BMT and a hiker & mountain biker himself.  He gave me his number in case I needed a ride from Springer down to Amicalola.  Nice offer which I may just take him up on.  Although, as he pointed out, it should not be too hard to find someone on top of Springer on a Saturday afternoon, to give me a ride.

Spent nearly two hours at Iron Bridge, letting my phone charge up, eating breakfast – their famous Grits Bowl with eggs & bacon – drinking coffee and journaling.  Needing to hit the trail but enjoying the break.  It may rain this evening, and I would rather be under a tarp than walking when it does.  I did receive an envelope with my last map and some nice notes from home.

2:15 PM – Garland Gap  –  Spending a few moments taking advantage of one of those “serene” moment mentioned before.  Peaceful and breezy.  Also to record that I just suffered my first real “wild animal attack” – about 45 minutes ago I was stung by yellowjackets in about 8 places simultaneously.  It could well be that it was only 4 or 5 of them, and several were “double taps”.  One on each of my calves, then on the backs of my knees.  One on my left shoulder, one on my sclap, then two more on my abdomen as I was removing my backpack to get to my first aid kit several minutes later.  That one musty have been tangled in the folds of my shirt or belt and found flesh as I was taking it off.zzday19_IMG_3249

At first I thought the one on my shoulder was a spider, because I am constantly walking through spider webs.  As soon as I saw it was a yellow jacket, and that it was stinging me, I felt the two on my legs.  I tried not to flail about, but kept walking briskly while trying to flick them off.  Seems like every time I thought I got rid of one, another would appear somewhere else.  Anyway, I finally got away from them and took some benadryl.  The swelling seems to have gone down, but the nature of these stings is that it constantly feels like there is one on you, stinging.



It says Tipton with a P on both the map and in the guide book.

Around 4 PM I run in to NOBO hiker #3 – Joshua (no trail name – didn’t get a last name but pretty sure this is he) from Nashville.  He said he was hiking the BMT/AT loop.  His backpack was tiny! – I don’t know how he carried any food or a sleeping bag.  My food bag alone would have taken up 2/3 of his backpack.  So I reckon he must be a real ultralighter.  I’m only “lightweight” at 25-28 lbs fully loaded with food and water.  I mistook him for a day hiker at first, when I saw his pack.


Overall a good day, except for the stings.  I spent too much time at Aska Rd., but it was a good recharge of both me and my electronics.  My shin bothered me off and on, but not too bad.  Weather turned out nice – it never did rain properly, only a couple of short sprinkles mid afternoon.  I rolled in to camp at 6:10 PM, after 6:20 of actual hike time.  I have taken to writing that down on my day-plan pad, just out of curiousity.  That comes to 2.3 mph.  Yesterday averaged to 2.18 mph and I felt like I was dragging.  Day before was 2.3 and felt good.  That was when I started writing it down.

The frogs started going crazy as soon as the sun went down.  It has been thundering nearby for the past 45 minutes, but it sounds like it has moved on without raining on me.  I rated this camp site – Payne Gap – as creepy and uninviting, on the last hike.  It’s not great or scenic, but feels familiar this time around.  The water source that was a muddy smudge which I did not even recognize as the “spring” they must have been talking about the last time, was actually flowing today, so I did not have to go as far for water.

Tomorrow’s target is Bryson Gap.  I passed through that site having camped on Wildcat Ridge about 1 mile away, so I will get to try something different.

BMT Day 18 – Falls Branch Falls

Wednesday, August 7,  2013
StartHudson Gap   |  Finish: Falls Branch Falls   |  Miles: 17.0  |  Total: 246.1

It rained all night, and was pouring when I awoke.  Being on a relatively hard surface, everything got plenty of splatter from the rain, even though it was all tucked away under the hammock.  Packing up in the rain is a pain in the ass, and so I was on the trail by 8:50.  It was still raining but I went with no poncho since the canopy is so dense.  I know – the same amount of water gets through in the end.  But the drops are bigger and farther apart.   (Side note – I had a brief spell of the inner ear spinning this morning while snoozing. This Benign Positional Paroxysmal Vertigo plagued me for a week just a few months ago, but went away on its own.)

It took me one hour to get to the road walk.  Then two miles on pavement before turning back in to the woods to cross through the Sisson resort.  A dense cluster of cabins with the BMT winding through the back yards.  It started pouring hard, a poncho-worthy burst, but it was short lived.

The Indian Creek Shelter is the only shelter on the BMT outside the Smokies, of 2 total, and the only one with a shelter log that I was able to find.  This makes it an obligatory stop, and so I had lunch there for the second time.  I was able to find the shelter logs for Golden and Oreo.  More on that later.

While I was sitting in the shelter eating, a family of deer crossed the creek and wandered through the campsite.  Two does and about 6 babies.

Hiker Trash!

Hiker Trash!

The rest of the day was a trudge.  Beautiful section, but I am tired.  Yesterday my shin (splint?) felt fine and only showed itself on the last mile or two of downhill.  Today it started with the first step.  Even though the weather cleared up in the afternoon, and the section from the end of Weaver Creek Road to here was very pretty, it was also very painful.  The camp site at Falls Branch is nice.  Close to civilization & car access, a popular drive-up waterfall site, but have not seen any humans this evening.

While I would love to push to get home by Saturday night and have Sunday off, I think the wiser thing will be to follow the schedule as-is: 14, 14, 11, 8 to Amicalola.  The “trail magic” will be if I can hitch a ride from Springer on Saturday afternoon.


Mileage math and other mental gymnastics

Golden: Indian Creek Shelter on 7/16 to Shuckstack on 7/30 (rounding to 20 MIle RS on 7/29) = 141.6 mi / 13 days = 10.89 MPD

Oreo: Indian Creek on 7/13 to CS 63 on 7/25 = 184.1 mi / 13 days = 14.16 MPD

Me: 7/29 – 8/7 = 15.6 MPD  //  7/26 – 8/7 = 15.8 MPD over the same stretches.  I know, it’s not a contest, just playing with numbers.


IMG_3082On the subject of getting in to town:  Golden said it was “so easy” to hitch in to town.  They went to the NOC for a resupply & relax (maybe even an overnight) no problem.  “Don’t be afraid to stick out your thumb” around here, everybody is very hiker-firendly.  Yeah right.  Said the attractive 20-something female in running shorts.  Try it when you look like an unshaven middle aged hobo.

Penn (Jillete, on his podcast or in his book) related that back in the 70s when he would hitch hike, the best thing to do was to team up one guy wiuth one girl.  The guy would help the girl feel safe, and the girl would help the guy get rides.  The “young couple” front always made for an easy hitch.  It has a certain sex appeal, and the driver does not have to feel like a creep picking up a lone female.



Tuesday, August 6,  2013
StartBear Branch   |  Finish: Hudson Gap   |  Miles: 17.0  |  Total: 229.1

My alarm goes off as usual at 6:00 AM. And as usual I lie there listening to the sounds and snoozing, and thinking about the coming day. I know the first half of the day will be through some of the most scenic woods of the GA section – the Cohutta Wilderness – followed by a long downhill ridge run, ending in a creepy inhospitable woods that I am not really looking forward to camping in. All from my 2011 memory. Then somehow I fall back to sleep and do not wake up till nearly 8. I end up taking extra long getting ready – spending a lot of time prepping my feet. Two cups of actual hot coffee – by now I am in no danger or fear of running out of fuel. Hit the trail shortly before 10.

My feet feel fine today. Back to normal. They still hurt after a 16 mile day, but only in the normal way, not like I am courting injury. The day is somewhat drab – a dull heavy light which I assume is an overcast sky above the green ceiling. Nonetheless I am in much higher spirits, due to my feet. It starts to rain a couple of times. I even unpack my poncho, but never put it on. Both times it is short lived and very light.

During lunch break, sitting on my pack in the middle of the trail, in a particularly dense section of woods, I start hearing noises approaching down the trail. At first I think it must be hikers, but then I catch a glimpse of brown hide and ears, and think horses. Then I realized it is a group of wild boars. I stand up, clear my throat, and announce myself. The leader looks in my direction, then hightails it out, followed by the others. It turns out to be a rather large herd.

Making the turn east at Fowler Mountain, the woods that I described as creepy and inhospitable seem lovely this time around. Cathedral-like, somehow. It’s amazing how one’s state of mind can at a given time affect your perception.

When I reach the spring at Hatley Gap I load up with water for camp. The camp site at the Gap is quite nice, and not even listed in the guide. A picturesque grassy clearing with a fire ring, marked by a wooden sign. Yet it is still a mile or two short of my goal for the day. McKinney Gap, when I arrive, proves to be too overgrown for camping, so I push on to Hudson Gap. It is at the intersection of a FSR and the trail. I am hanging across what looks like a vehicle turn-around, also outfitted with a rudimentary fire ring. Not picturesque, but it works. Great cell reception here too – am able to call home.

18 miles tomorrow, to Falls Branch, one of my favorite camp sites on the 2011 hike.


BMT Day 16 – Bear Branch

Monday, August 5,  2013
StartThunder 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.

zzday16_IMG_3175The descent from Licklog Trail To Double Springs is insanely steep.  Comparable to Devil’s Staircase on the AT.

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.zzday16_IMG_3178

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.


Hot spot – getting worse

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”.


BMT Day 15 – Thunder Rock

Sunday, August 4,  2013
StartReliance, TN  |  Finish: Thunder Rock Campgrounds  |  Miles: 17.4  |  Total: 195.0

Last glimpse of Reliance camp ground.  Buh-bye!

Last glimpse of Reliance camp ground. Buh-bye!

I was ready to go at 8, but decided to have some breakfast – eggs, coffee – so I didn’t hit the trail till 8:45 or so.  The first leg to Lost Creek campground was nice, along a “wild & scenic” creek with cascades (why no pictures?? I don’t know… 😦 ).  At one point there was a huge tree that had fallen.  The crown was across the trail, and because the trail was on an embankment, it was very difficult to navigate.  Had to climb down the embankment, then actually climb the tree, limb by limb, such that you came out on the other side.

IMG_3158There were some boring spells – the obligatory 1.3 miles on the overgrown FSR … knee deep clover & weeds on a hard gravel base, with no path through.  Lunch at Piney Flats Branch, a scenic bottom.  Then climbed through another burn zone.

Mid afternoon I discovered cell service on top of Dry Pond Lead.  The first since Newton Bald in the Smokies, 10 days ago (wow! 10 days! – no wonder I’m so melancholy… ) .  I spent an hour there texting Aimee and Jason –  a HUGE spirit lifter!! – , checking weather (chance of scattered thunder storms beginning Tuesday), etc.  Then an easy 2 hour descent to Thunder Rock.

Double Blaze.  What does it mean??

Double Blaze. What does it mean??

Thunder Rock closes the loop on my 2011 hike.  I am an official “300 miler”.  Now to make it a “Through”!

I started getting what may be a shin splint on my right shin.  But it’s on the outside of the bone – I always thought actual shin splints were on the inside, so it may just be a cramped muscle.  Very painful, though.  The sides of my forefoot, big toe side, are getting hot spots now.

Looking at the coming week, I could be home by Saturday, but definitely by Sunday.

This camp site (Thunder Rock) is much louder than I recalled, due to the truck traffic on Highway 64, and the engine braking for the turns.  This would make the third time I have passed through here, and the second time camping.  My 2011 BMT section ended here, and in the fall or 2012 I stayed here on the way to KY on a motorcycle trip.

Typical foot prep

Typical foot prep

The cicadas here sound like sirens.  Camp is very uncrowded.  Met a retired couple from Florida who is planning to through the Continental Divide Trail on mountain bikes, and are here testing out all their new gear.  Literally – their camp site is littered with packaging like it’s Christmas morning!  This week they are whitewater kayaking, and next week a bug-eating wilderness survival course.  Interesting.  And very nice.


My feet really hurt.

BMT Day 14 – Reliance

Saturday, August 3,  2013
StartCoker Creek  |  Finish: Reliance, TN  |  Miles: 11.1  |  Total: 177.6

Today was short and sweet.  I gave myself an extra hour this morning.  It was “only ” to be a 10.6 mile day, with resupply and a store at the end.  So I left camp shortly before 9 AM.  The trail was pretty good all day.  Ever since Unicoi Gap, and the John Muir Trail, it has been a good balance of challenging, scenic, and not overgrown.  The one thing that baffled me is how the “wild and scenic” Hiwassee River, though the same size on the map, goes from a stagnant creek above the power station to a huge wide strong & fast river downstream of it.  The trail bypasses the bend where the powerstation is (contrary to the map) so I did not get to see what happens.  I’ll have to google it later.*

The last 4 miles were mostly flat, which can be rough on the feet.  I think that, except for hard climbing, too much of any one terrain is hard on the feet.  The John Muir Trail follows the river at almost water level, followed by a 1 mile road walk in to Reliance.  It’s a Saturday, so this tiny town is PACKED with river tourists.

I picked up my resupply box at Webb Brothers Float Service, replaced the lunches with store bought stuff – Vienna sausage, granola, Payday bars.  Going through my resupply box, I realized one map was missing!  I have hiked this section before – the home stretch from Blue Ridge / Aska Road to Springer or Amicalola –  but would hate to have to rely on my memory.  Also, it might be considered reckless.  Or at least nerve racking.  I gotta have my maps.

My phone has been dead since last night, so I decided to stay in Reliance with the chance that I could find a way to charge it (success!) and call Aimee (fail! – no signal)  I bought a camp site for a rip-off rate of $32 (weekend minimum rate BS).  So I will be surrounded by kayak dude-bros and family weekend campers.  You have your Subaru-neoprene-and-Yuengling crowd, and your pickup truck and Bud Light crowd.  Both contingents are playing cornhole.

Aside – Cornhole?  It seems like such a “traditional” game that must have been around for ever.  Yet it’s seemingly brand new, and it’s everywhere.  I am not buying the Wikipedia assertion that it’s been around since the 14th century, was played by native Americans, etc.  I’ve been to a few church picnics, backyard barbecues and 4ths of Julies, from Texas to Tennessee over the past 40 years (granted, not a lot of tailgating…) , and have not seen or heard of this until the 21st century.


I have been sitting on the deck at Hiwassee River outfitter, pirating electricity from their landscape lighting outlet, and journaling.  My charge cord is frayed and on it’s last leg, too.  Not sure what to do about the maps.  Or about getting the info to Aimee.  The map is probably on my office floor.   She could mail it to me at Iron Bridge.

24 hours ago I was fantacizing that I could wash my clothes in a sink, take a shower, call home, etc.  Little did I know the “bath house” is disgusting – Turkish prison disgusting.  The camp site is screaming babies and whimpering dogs.  Maybe I should have kept hiking.



* The river does in fact simply get wider.

Note to self: Salami & cheese only good for about 1 week, then it starts to turn.  I kind of figured this, but wanted to test the limit. And was being lazy in my prep.  Should have mixed up my lunches a bit more.  Moose Goo and tortillas would have been a good choice.  The sample batch of pemmican that I made actually kept in the hot trunk of my car for the full 3 weeks, even though it has cheese in it as well.  I waited till the last minute to try the pemmican, so did not have enough time to make a decent sized batch, in the end.  I’ll post the recipe later.

BMT Day 13 – Coker Creek

Friday, August 2,  2013
StartBrookshire Creek  |  Finish: Coker Creek  |  Miles: 24.6  |  Total: 166.5

8/3/13 actual – So I’m a day behind in journaling, trying to catch up.  I was too beat yesterday.

Woke up Friday morning to that Jazz bird (see below).  I need to look up what it is – whenever I am woken up by birdsong at sunrise in the woods, it’s this bird.

I had been kicking around the idea of a 25 mile day to be closer to Reliance and possibly cut a day to Thunder Rock.  Based on camping at sites designated as camp sites per the guide, there was no real way to cut a day out of a 4 day stretch by distributing the extra miles evenly across 3.  Doing the math I realized a 25 mile day would exhaust all available daylight or at least stretch it to the limit.  So I decided to stick to my original plan, a series of reasonable 13-and-change days to Thunder Rock by Monday.  Smelling the roses and all that.

Started walking at ~8:00.  Just short of Sled Runner Gap, the horse tracks I had been following petered out, but I never did see a camp site or catch up to them.  It’s possible that the litter trail was a few days older than I thought.  Do horses leave less of an imprint if they are walked?  That could be how they “disappeared”, and then they could have gone left at Sled Runner where I went right.


Toe box relace

Sled Runner Gap was the beginning of a long ridge run.  The first 2 miles were crazy overgrown again – my knees are all slashed up – but suddenly the trail entered a new maintenance district or state line, and the trail was bushhogged or weed-wacked 4′ wide all the way to Moss Gap.  The blazes here were new and white.  Zigging down to Sandy Gap I started hearing heavy machinery.  It sounded like bulldozers and chainsaws.  It kept getting closer, but never quite came in to view..  I even saw a new dirt road with fresh bulldozer tracks parallel to the trail just below me.  When I got to Sandy Gap, they had extended the FSR beyond tha gap – on the map it dead ended at the gap.

Sandy Gap – The half way point of the entire hike!!

At Sandy Gap I did some work on my feet to address a new pinkie toe blister – lance,, abnd-aid, duct-tape, and relaced my shoes to loosen up the toe box.  My feet are spreading and it’s starting to get crowded in there, even though I moved up to a size Wide before this trip.  By then it was almost lunch time, so I did that too.  Longer break than I anticipated, only 2 1/2 legs in to the day.  Was also starting to get low on water.


View along Sixmile Gap

Contued along the ridge line, with some occasional vistas, over Cantrell Top (still no water) to Tate Gap.  Finally found water .2 miles east of Tate Gap,  I only gave myself the walking ration of 1 liter, since I was close enough to Peel Gap – the destination for the day, which was listed as having water.  When I got to Peel Gap, it was on an overgrown ridge/saddle, with no obvious water or camp sites.  Rather, plenty of flat spots for camping, but all overgrown to knee height or higher.  I figured this was as good as stealth camping, and I could always do that further up the trail, and nearer to an obvious water source.  So I kept walking to look for water first, then a camp site.

I made it all the way to Unicoi Gap and still did not find water.  The described water source at Unicoi Gap turned out to be a thin trickle along the side of a well-used gravelroad.  I couldnt tell if it was a drainage ditch or a dry “creek” – the deepest spot was still only 1/4″ deep.  I passed.  In hindsight maybe should have tried to salvage some water from this, somehow.

The next water source and camping option listed was 8 1/2 miles away.  It was 4:40 PM.  At 2 mph it would be sunset if I made it.  And a 25+ mile day after all.  I decided to go for it, with the option to stealth camp if necessary.  I put my head down, and power hiked 8+ miles into the setting sun.  This section of trail could not have been more perfect for a speed hike – mostly flat, groomed, no overgrowth.  The first 4-5 miles section was a dirt bike trail.  I never did see any bikes, but I could smell exhaust two-stroke fumes.  Very pretty woods.

I made it to Coker Creek camp site at 8:06.  The site is at the dead end of a FS road, on a decent sized river or creek.  Some locals were prospecting in the river, some others setting up a camp with a small teardrop trailer.  The prospecters, a father and adult son, shared their “secret” natural spring with me, on top of which they had pitched their camp.   Several more locals showed up during the night. but it was pretty quiet.

My feet were so sore I had trouble falling asleep.


This Wood Thrush is the closest thing I can find to the song of the Jazz Bird I mentioned.  It is still not quite right.  The one I always hear seems to be more melodic, slower, more deliberate notes, with 4 phrases that repeat, and without the trill at the end of each phrase.  I call it Jazz Bird because each bird or song is a slight variation on a similar melody.  It is possible I am hearing two birds singing to or over each other.  It’s also possible that the high pitched trill on the video is lost in the ambient noise or distance of the woods, in the real-life scenario.