This year July 4th weekend fell on a Friday. While all my running friends, and probably every runner in the state of Georgia, were preparing to run the Peachtree Road Race, I saw a three day opportunity to get some back to back running and hiking miles. I figured for the first time in ages I would push past the areas I have ran on the Appalachian Trail before, instead focusing on moving north. Additionally I figured this would be another good opportunity to run and hike with a minimal pack weight, this time for a day or two longer than last trip. I loaded up my running/hiking ultralight kit, packed two full days of food and enough extra food for Thursday night and Sunday afternoon and headed out. In the end I managed to keep the days food allotment to around 2.5 pounds per day at roughly 3000 calories with a good balance of protein and carbohydrates. As I left my house Thursday night my pack weighed just a tad bit over eleven pounds.
I planned to finish work on Thursday and then hop in the car and get the wife to drop me off at Dicks Creek Gap, about seventy miles from the start of the Appalachian trail. From there I would head south three miles to a shelter where I would hike north the following day. My original plan involved a fifteen mile day followed by a twenty one mile day, but as I got out of the car I realized I was not fully over my cold that knocked me out for days previous, I hovered close to eighty percent ok. I decided to ease my mileage a bit and head north for four miles or so to the first shelter available. This would ease six miles off my next days schedule. I grabbed my pack and kissed the wife goodbye and head down the trail. It was eight p.m. and the sun would not set for another hour, but the woods and thick coverage, as well as surrounding mountains, ushered in the darkness sooner than later. I slowly ran the trails with my head lamp and tried to keep my footing solid. At one point as I neared the shelter my ankle rolled a bit too much, leading to a very slight sprain. This injury would plague me later in my trip. I eventually got to the shelter at ten, after five miles in the dark, and luckily nobody was there to wake up. I situated myself and eased into bed. That night I realized that unlike past Julys, the nights were going to be bitterly cold and I did not bring warm enough clothing.
After a freezing fitful night of sleep I awoke early and headed out. As I had modified the miles I planned on doing for the day, I decided a good end goal would be Standing Indian Shelter, a total of 12 trail miles for the day. I ran and hiked and just focused on enjoying the day. Eventually I came to the Georgia/North Carolina border, my first on foot border crossing on the Appalachian Trail! As I headed into Bly Gap I got to talking to some other hikers and they told me they planned to go past Standing Indian shelter and up a side trail to the summit to watch fireworks and sleep under the stars. I said I would see how I felt when I got to the shelter and after a bit of chatting I moved on. Immediately North Carolina forced a good long climb up the ridge line. Of course the good thing with North Carolina ridge line was the fact that once it went up, it did not go down a whole lot. Unlike Georgia, I did not have drastic up and downs. The rest of the day I just ran and hiked, hiking more as the ankle I rolled slightly the night before flared up.
When I got the shelter I decided to climb up to the 5400 foot summit of Standing Indian Mountain and join my new trail friends, Speedo, Grun and Eamon (most people use trail names) who were heading to Fontana damn. The view did not dissapoint and we watched the sunset and feasted on dinner. After the sun went down we watched the myriad fireworks visible in the numerous towns below. It was a very different way to watch fireworks, from high up looking down. After the festivities were over, those of us who decided to brave the cold rolled into our out in the open sleeping bags and talked as we watched the stars over head. The moon was initially out and blocked some of the view, but it was still spectacular. A couple hours later, I awoke to use the restroom. When I returned the moon was gone and the sky was sparkling with billions of start above. I lied there and watched the show for a while and could not help reflecting on how awesome this day turned out and how climbing the extra 1.5 miles plus up to this mountain top was worth the experience. Til next time.
This will be continued in the next post, please check back for updates.