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AT 2017: Day 2, Devil's Kitchen to Jarrard Gap

Why don't we do it in the road

Hike with Gravity

This was a day of improvisation, which I am quickly learning is an important skill to have when hiking long distances.

It began slowly. I soon regretted that I had chosen to take my time waking up and getting on the trail.

Date
Weather Sunny and warm, high reaching near 80
Trail Conditions Drying out after yesterday's heavy rain
Today's Miles 11.9 miles
Trip Miles 26.4 miles

My plan for today seemed sensible. After a long hike yesterday, I didn't see a need to push hard today.

So I ate a leisurely breakfast and made sure my gear was dry and in good shape.

Unfortunately, I also wasted a few minutes trying to find the small stuff sack I carry my tent stakes in. Oddly, I had put it away for safe keeping last evening in the stuff sack for my water filter.

That was a good reminder to put items in logical places.

Once I got on the trail the hiking started out easy. The weather was sunny, warm and beautiful. I cruised along at a good pace.

Just after passing the side trail to Gooch Mountain Shelter I met a couple of trail volunteers. I only talked briefly to one before she continued on, and I didn't get her name.

The other volunteer was Smokestack. He's another of the many committed volunteers who help to make the Appalachian Trail safe and enjoyable for everyone.

Smokestack told me there are about 300 members of the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club (GATC), with at least half of them actively involved in maintenance and other club responsibilities.

GATC maintains all 78.2 miles of the AT in the state, and from what I've seen so far, they do a fantastic job.

It must be a difficult job too, considering how many hikers leave from Springer Mountain each year to hike north.

After Smokestack and I continued on our separate ways, I resumed hiking briskly on easy trail.

When the trail turned to the southern side of Gooch Mountain I noticed many wildflowers, like these Rue Anemone Bloodroot, were also benefiting from the bright and warming sunlight.

Don't tell my wife about what happened next. She's always reminding me to watch where I step so that I don't fall and break something.

I stepped awkwardly on a rock with my right foot, twisting it in a bad angle. Immediately, daggers of pain shot from my ankle to my toes. The pain also radiated up my leg.

"Now you've done it," I said, or words to that effect.

Fortunately, after only a few moments of agony the pain began to subside. As I began walking, I decided that I probably didn't break anything.

After continuing for about 10 minutes I found a rock at the side of the trail, so I decided to sit down to eat a snack and rest my ankle.

As I was sitting there a hiker approached. He said his name was Beans, as in Cocoa Beans. He's from Hershey, Pa.

Beans said he was an x-ray technician. On a thru-hike attempt last year he had broken a leg, so he was something of an expert on hiker injuries.

He asked me where it hurt. When I described the location, which by this time was hurting much less, he said it didn't sound like it was broken. I agreed it was probably just a minor, high ankle sprain. It was good to get a second opinion.

Beans also told me about the weather forecast for tomorrow, and it didn't sound good. Severe thunderstorms were expected to come through by mid-morning.

Now I was regretting not getting an earlier start. Had I left camp sooner, I thought, I might have had enough time to get over Blood Mountain tonight, rather than tomorrow as planned.

I began to calculate in my head the distance to Neel Gap, which is on the other side of Blood Mountain, and the available sunlight.

A sore right ankle and an increasingly sore left knee weren't going to help me pick up my speed. Furthermore, there was a rumor of trail magic just ahead at Woody Gap, which I wasn't about to pass up. So the odds of getting over Blood Mountain today before dark were doubtful.

I set a time goal for reaching Jarrard Gap and pressed on, stopping for only a momentary view on Ramrock Mountain.

When I reached Woody Gap I saw a sign that confirmed the trail magic rumor was true.

Four ladies, two from Indiana and two from Georgia, were there serving beans and franks, fresh fruit and candy.

They also had special cookies for any hiker who had served in the military.

If you've never heard of trail magic before, that's it, kind and generous people providing unsolicited support for thru-hikers.

After that tasty and much appreciated break in the day I resumed hiking. It was getting past 1 p.m. by now.

Right after Woody Gap the trail entered Blood Mountain Wilderness Area and began a short but steep climb.

About a mile from the gap was The Pulpit, a rock ledge with a nice view. Again, I only stayed a moment before continuing on, with my mind still on tomorrow's approaching storm. .

For a couple miles before reaching Lance Creek I hiked with Wizard, Foxy and James (no trail name yet). They also had in mind to get over Blood Mountain before dark. Being younger and somewhat faster than me, it was obvious their chances of doing that were greater than mine.

It was already after 4:30 p.m. and it was 7.4 miles from where we were to reach Neel Gap. On fresh legs that would maybe be possible to do, but I knew then that it wasn't for me.

My original plan was to get to Jarrard Gap, so it wasn't a problem to stick with that.

I should say, it wasn't a problem as long as I could solve two problems.

The first was that the water was questionable. One source said it was three-tenths of a mile from the gap. The other said an unreliable spring was only 100 feet away. I didn't want to spend a lot of time hunting and carrying water.

The second problem had to do with camping spots. From March 1 to June 1, the Forest Service requires that campers between Jarrard Gap and Neel Gap have a bear canister.

I'm certain bears can't read a calendar, so I know the regulation doesn't have anything to do with the number of bears in the area.

The Forest Service presumes most hikers don't want to carry a bear canister, so the regulation Is used to control over-use of campsites during the thru-hiker bubble.

With less than a mile to go before reaching Jarrard Gap I saw two hikers, Donqui (as in Don Quixote) and Q-Tip, setting up camp. They too were concerned about tomorrow's forecast, and they said they planned to get up early in order to try to beat the worst of the weather.

I said that was my plan too, but because I had less than a liter of water with me I needed to get down to Jarrard Gap to find some.

About a tenth of a mile before the gap I found a small spring by the side of the trail. That was a solution to problem number one.

I collected and filtered two liters, which when added to what I had would be enough water to cook dinner and get me over Blood Mountain tomorrow.

When I reached the gap I found flat camping spots, but they were all inside the bear-canister-required zone.

I looked around for flat ground outside the gap, but found none.

Then I spied a gate with a "road closed" sign. Looking down the road I saw where it leveled out. That's where I pitched my tent.

Now I had solved both of today's problems.

My next concern was getting over Blood Mountain in the morning without being struck by lightning.

I also needed to be alert tonight to any bears in search of hikers without bear canisters.

Why don't we do it in the road
Why don't we do it in the road
Why don't we do it in the road
Why don't we do it in the road
No one will be watching us

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