Tuesday–March 30, 2021
Location–Springer Mountain, then on to Len Foote Hike Inn
I forgot to set my alarm. Barry rousts me at seven–coffee and breakfast ready. He finally manages to get me on trail by eight.
From Three Forks I’ve got a pretty much steady climb, 1,800-feet of up to reach the summit of Springer Mountain. So, no problem lingering a while to take in the surrounding grandeur–the virgin stand of hemlock along Stover Creek. I wrote about this cathedral-like grove of old sentinels in my first book, Ten Million Steps. Indeed, it is a special place.
I’m meeting a steady stream of AT northbounders now, close to 50 by the time I reach the southern AT terminus. They’re all radiating shiny-smiley faces. Most have new gear, packs, clothing. Some are sporting crazy whacky-dazzle neon shades of green, blue, even pink–shoes included. I get a puzzled look from most. I wish each one well.
And y’all are probably puzzled too. Your likely question, “How did you get on the AT and why are you hiking it backwards to Springer?” Fair question! Here’s the deal: I could have hiked the Benton MacKaye Trail all the way to its southern terminus at Springer Mountain, there to have picked up the AT to head north. However, the Benton MacKaye Trail crosses the AT some four miles north of Springer. So, why hike that distance twice? By jumping on the AT near Three Forks–when I reach Springer today, I will already have hiked over four miles of the AT! When Barry carries me back to Three Forks, I’ll just head north on the AT from there. Make sense?
Barry’s driven up and around and is waiting for me at Cross Trails parking (a mile below Springer summit), the AT passing straight through. Here, also waiting, is dear friend, Goldilocks. She’s come all the way over from Alabama, bringing well wishes and to hike the mile with me–to Springer summit. Twenty-some years ago the first quarter-mile or so of the AT was rerouted, moved from the ridge line to just below. I helped with that work. It turned out great–smooth grass-lined tread. That’s all gone now. The relentless Vibram army has pounded it completely down to nothing but roots, rocks, and boulders. In fact, the entire mile of trail from the parking lot is now total roots, rocks, and boulders. Very sad, what’s happened. But hey, I’ve helped beat it down too!
The Benton MacKaye Trail comes in and ends/begins on the AT a short distance from the summit of Springer. By turning and hiking it a couple-hundred yards, it’s possible to pay regards to Mr. MacKaye–by visiting the bronze memorial that’s been affixed to a large boulder there. I take great pride in showing this to Barry and Goldilocks, as I was involved in getting the memorial placed here. That was back in 1997, 24 years ago.
On the summit, we linger by the bronze AT plaque. Nearby is the first AT white blaze. A number of soon-to-be AT thru-hikers are here, filled with great energy and much excitement. Ahh, this is indeed another very special place. Over the years, many a life began changing for the better–right here!
As Barry and Goldilocks turn to return to Cross Trails parking, I pass on across the summit of Springer and begin my descent along the approach trail. I’m headed for the Len Foote Hike Inn, beyond Nimblewill Gap, some four-miles distant.
The Hike Inn Trail breaks off after a short climb up the flanks of Frosty Mountain, then it’s a gentle (boulder-free) hike on down to the Hike Inn. Barry is already here when I arrive at three.
Fond memories of this place. I was one of the first to be hired when the Inn opened more than two decades ago. I was their maintenance guy, worked here for six months. Lots of start-up problems. I tried to hold everything together. Does my heart good to see the place kept up, fresh, clean, just the least bit of wear.
Evening, I’m asked to say a few words, tell about my experiences on the trail to a group of young folks from Cornerstone Prep Academy, Acworth, GA
(IMPACT Team: Georgia Outdoors)
Front Row: Reilly, Lily, Kathy, Nimblewill, Caleb, Jenny; Aaliyah kneeling down front.
Middle Row: Danica, Millie, Autumn, Brooks, Isaac, David
Back Row: Campbell, Zan, Owen
The Hike Inn is noted for the grand tradition–good old-fashioned southern hospitality.
Thanks, Eric (GM), Matt (Assist. GM), and Gail (Assist.)…
Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction
can be the biggest step of your life.
Monday–March 29, 2021
We actually stayed at the Campground, Skeena Creek Mill, five different nights. In relation to the trail, the place could not have been more strategically located. From the campground to the Toccoa River suspension bridge is little more than four miles.
So, Barry is able to get me back on trail early, shortly after seven. This will make for a short hiking day. Even though I’ve a fair amount of climbing to do, I should make it to Three Forks early afternoon.
The Toccoa River suspension bridge is all I remember it to be, an amazing architectural work. It’s aged a bit, 20 years since I crossed it last, so it’s older too. With the roaring Toccoa this morning, it’s really impressive. Barry hikes to the bridge with me, to get the obligatory photo ops.
From the river, the old gitney quickly gets up to normal operating temperature, what with the climb back to the ridge, strenuous but pleasant. After 400 miles now, my legs have pretty much come back under me, probably about as good as they’re going to get at age 82. Anyway, I’m certainly pleased (say blessed).
The hike today is typical southern Appalachians, ridge to gap to ridge, then to be repeated over and over again. This morning it’s up from the river to Tom Dicks Mountain. Then to Bryson Gap, then from No Name Mountain to No Name Gap, with the final climb and descent to Three Forks.
The morning starts out cold, mid thirties. So, hands in my pockets to begin with–through numerous green tunnels (rhododendron and laurel hells).
The morning passes quickly and I soon hear the roar of Long Creek Falls. Recent record rains have saturated the mountainsides and every little rivulet is running hard and fast, especially the larger streams–Long Creek is really running. Quite impressive!
Today I complete another segment of this odyssey, my trek o’er the eastern extent of the Benton MacKaye Trail. For, here at Long Creek Falls I reach the Appalachian Trail (AT). And arriving the AT, here comes the beginning of this years army of northbound thru-hikers, loaded down with their enormously heavy backpacks.
I reach Three Forks a little before two where Barry is patiently waiting. Short time, he has camp set–a lovely campsite right next the road, complete with fire ring. I get a warning fire going and we settle in for the evening.
George Owen, my friend from Rocky Top, now Blairsville, stops by and we get caught up on goings on since last we met–over 20 years ago.
A very pleasant and rewarding day…
Carry as little as possible,
but choose that little with care.
Sunday–March 28, 2021
Location–Toccoa Suspension Bridge Parking
Two problems today. Well, not really problems, just that the day’s not working out as planned. Turns out, today will be another zero-mile day.
First, an early morning look at the radar tells the story, pretty much what we’d expected to see (but were hoping NOT). A dense, organized line of thunderstorms headed right for us, likely to arrive, looks of it, within the next three hours. I’ll not be able to get my hike in before or after this storm wall comes slamming through. Not enough time either end. Out in these wicked electric storms? No place to be.
Second, my new phone still isn’t up to speed; it’s not right. It’s critical I have my Atlas Guides, my maps for the Benton MacKaye and Appalachian Trails, they need to be totally reliable. They’re not. So, another trip back to Blue Ridge today, back to the Verizon store there. Thankfully, they’re open limited hours, starting at noon.
We arrive Blue Ridge early; time for breakfast at Waffle House. Eggs, toast, hash browns–around. And a pot of coffee. Enjoying that coffee, in comes one of the racing teams from yesterday–Chad Tidd; Andy Hull; Jeff Nixon;
Lupe Luna (all from Mt Airy NC); Mike Lawson (team/crew leader)-Claudville, VA; and Jason Willard- Pilot Mountain, NC–(pictured in that order).
Mid morning the storm front arrives. Heavy rain. Outside in it? No place to be. When I’m into a long trek, I really don’t like down days. Throws everything off. However, the decision to sit this one out–right decision.
And Verizon? Today at twelve, open right on the dot. “Welcome to Verizon,” a genuinely happy smile from Emmanuel! A call to webmaster, Nathan, and my app problem is solved (wasn’t a phone problem, rather, an app installation problem). Thanks, Emmanuel, I’m all set now!
Earlier, Barry saw their sign out at the highway, “Blue Ridge Mountain Bar-B-Que – We’re Smokin’ the Good Stuff.” Well, guess we could have passed the place on by. Best idea, though–head in. And we did. Another right decision today! Great place you got here, Andy; you “…Smokin’ the Good Stuff!”
Short time, we’re right back to the campground at Skeena Creek Mill–for our fourth night. Kind folks, Gabriel and Lori, they’ve made us feel right at home. Thanks for your kindness folks, you’ve made our stay most pleasant!
If I’m out in it, I’ll go.
But I’m not going out in it!