30 March – Low Gap Shelter to Unicoi Gap / Helen Georgia [9.7]

Sure rained last night.                

Woke up early, felt great again and got going.  I’m stopping at Helen, GA for my first Zero day to catch up on- I mean start!- the blog and hopefully, I can keep current day to day from that point on.  Broke down my tent in the cold and wet again at a pretty-well occupied site and took off early.  Chugged away all day- another day I felt very strong.  Hmmm . . .  maybe I’ll be putting up those 15’s and 20’s after all . . . but of course I’m supposed to start out with 8’s for the first two weeks per universal advice. . .          

Got to Unicoi Gap uneventfully, and with some good hours-long stretches of solitude while loving the great outdoors … still very cold for this time of year I’m told but no significant rain today.           

Hitchhiked from Unicoi Gap to the wonderful touristy (Bavarian-themed) town of Helen, GA.           

AGAIN I got a ride on my first try.  But this time was very different.  Oh  . . . yes . . . it . . . was . . . The gentleman who pulled over had a Coast Guard hat on, declared he was a Navy veteran, and had a truck filled with military and survival gear.  And trash.  OK.  Did I mention that I’m in the hills, crags, and hollers of North Nowhere Georgia?  As I’m getting in the truck, he’s talking a mile a minute and never stopped talking even as he was pulling away after dropping me off in Helen, Georgia.           

What did we (he) talk about?:  First, of course, these are the actual Bigfoot Hills.  He’s got photos of footprints right on his camera right now.  Wanna’ see?  Don’t go out there now!  He’s pointing to the woods that I am deliberately hiking in by life design.  Also, a lot of stuff goes on around here . . . be careful.  This was where the first real Gold Rush happened, and some folks practice alchemy here to this day.  I’ve been traveling all over.  I used to do secret stuff in the Navy, wore a black suit all the time– let’s just say that.   Do you have a gun?  (This was one of the few times I spoke; I said ‘I’m a really good shot.’)  They’s a guy who lives in these hills they call Daddy who’s 12 feet tall and he isn’t even Bigfoot.  (By this point, I’m hearing banjo music but his truck radio wasn’t on.)  This whole place is Cherokee.  I’m Cherokee.  Wanna’ go see an Indian Burial site with me right now?  (Geez . . . really got to get to my place for the night instead)  See these rivers?  They ain’t the real rivers . . . I’ll tell you about that sometime.  My mother gave me this truck.  Here, I’m giving you this rock, it has properties . . .          

And on and on . . .                 

As I was getting out, he showed me the pictures of Bigfoot footprints on his camera.  They are real! How ’bout that?!  And all this time I thought he was just plumb crazy. 

I was grateful for the ride and also grateful I didn’t end up as part of some kind of moonlight sacrifice. 

Ladies, maybe don’t hitchhike alone around these parts . . .         

Trust me.

29 March – Neel Gap to Low Gap Shelter [11.5 miles]

Woke up feeling completely different.  Energetically fixed hot coffee, hot oatmeal and a banana for breakfast and couldn’t wait to start hiking and seeing the things and meeting the people and pushing that cold clean air through me hard all the way.  I walked through the, again, famous, Neel Gap arch and blasted away at the hills, mountains and ‘gaps’  from early morning until early afternoon.  It was cold but intermittently sunny and gradually getting warmer and I just felt . . . strong.  Dear Lord, is it true?  Is it possible that the old Kevin Perrin is still in there somewhere, being yanked out of a closet and into the sunlight for a final run at life!  Insert Rocky Theme Song here.  Note that in all this time I haven’t mentioned any feet problems.  So far so good there  . . .  Why did I stop briefly early afternoon?  TRAIL MAGIC!  This was my first experience but at HogPen Gap, a Gap which will live in my dreams, I ran into some bible-study folks who set up Trial Magic.  It was my first Trail Magic and they set the bar very high. 

As we came through the Gap we came upon tables of food, drink, love and encouragement from a bible group that had set up a very generous Trail Magic site for us.[Trail Magic:  The Appalachian Trail Conservancy states: The term “trail magic” was coined by long-distance hikers to describe an unexpected occurrence that lifts a hiker’s spirits and inspires awe or gratitude. “Trail magic” may be as simple as being offered a candy bar by a passing hiker or spotting an elusive species of wildlife]. This was awesome.  I had lemonade, hot soup, pasta salad, and basked in the sunlight with Echo, Coyote and her family, and Nick from the Netherlands.  I thanked them profusely, took some fruit, refilled on water and hit the Trail for Low Gap Shelter.   Continued at a really good pace, often passing people, all the way into Low Gap Shelter. Set up VERY carefully as we were expecting yet another deluge.

28 March – Lance Creek Campsite to Neel Gap [7.3 miles]

Left Lance Creek campsite, crossed ultimately up and over the dreaded Blood Mountain and moved on to the famous Neel Gap site for the night.   Considering the mountain, the biggest for us yet, this was a decent day for me.  My legs are a little better.  What was I whining about all that time?  Anyway, I chugged along and got to Neel Gap.  Forgot to tell you:  all of the Trail so far is up and down Georgia mountains . . .real elevation changes constantly it seems. 

This (Neel Gap) is historically a significant landmark for Thru-Hikers to get to for two main reasons: 

1.)  several facilities are set up to cater to the Thru-Hiker who has just had his first whole week of body shock-and-awe, and 2.) many people quit here as it is on a major road that people can use to bail out of the whole thing:  see ‘The Tree’.

I took advantage of the facilities.  Got a neck massage from physical therapy students set up under a tent, talked to a physical therapist about my quads for a long time (you’ll be good- looks like some good ole’ bilateral overuse pain), poked around the store, resupplied. 

Hung out at a fire that night with about 8 guys who were moving on the next morning.  It was a UN assembly again.  We told jokes, measured dicks, some guys had beer, and we all felt like leaving Neel Gap in the morning and heading North was when the real Appalachian Trail begins!  When does this goddamned thing start? At the fire I was with Sponge-Bob, Echo, Tree-Hugger, Night Walker, Scarecrow, etc . . . you see, some guys are already getting their Trail names.  I don’t have one yet. . . plenty of time for that.  Funny stories behind the names.  (i.e. One of the guys got called a tree hugger in two separate incidents the same day, and by coincidence is an arborist, and so got the name Tree-Hugger.  Perfect!  You should hear him tell the story.  Meeting some really cool guys out here.)

27 March – Woody Gap / Suches, GA to Lance Creek Campsite [3.4 miles]

Well, I’m pressing on.  Took my time getting my lazy fat stupid ass out of Woody Gap and didn’t start hiking until about noon … Still feeling the leg issues.  Not much progress.  Took another real short one and arrived at Lance Creek and decided to set up for the night.  It was a strange site that was crowded and had filled up with a lot of tents as rain was imminent again. . . many of us scrambled to set up and hunker down as night fell. I did have some great conversations with a Field Artillery Captain from the Texas National Guard.  We laughed our asses off trading stories of National Guard misadventures for a long time and could have gone on all night, and both of us wanted to, but suddenly found ourselves standing outside in the cold and dark alone laughing loudly while all the tents around us were trying to sleep.  This guy’s hiking partner is a Boy Scout Leader who has four boys who all achieved Eagle Scout.  What the? 

26 March -Hawk Mountain Campsite to Woody Gap / Suches, GA [4.1 miles]

Did a very short one today to take a shot at leg, quad, and whole body healing, etc. by staying in a hostel at the other end.  . .. beautiful streams and rivers are to be found everywhere by the way.   The four miles went quick and I’m getting to finally, and with great satisfaction, settle into the long hours of solitude that are starting to be the norm during the trekking legs  . . . (For the first couple of days I was meeting people constantly and it’s starting to thin out a little bit.  It’s fun though:  I’ve met people from the Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, Finland, many US States, and the population ‘on the Trail’ seems to be about  50% international and about 30% female.  And yes, the ‘internationals’ have all flown directly to Georgia for this purpose of the AT!)  Anyway, I like the long hours ofsolitude and am glad I’m getting them.   I got to a road and hitchhiked to the hostel and got a ride on my first try despite my gigantic dirty wet backpack.   My review of Wolf Pen Gap hostel:  Overall, it looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since the Bronze Age.   And the toilet looks like it lost a serious battle with a shit-gun.      Got a few resupply food items, ate a pizza, took a shower, and slept a lot.  Leg pain still making me unsure as to whether I have injured muscle or just severely overworked muscle.  Hope it’s ‘healable’.

25 March – Black Gap to Hawk Mountain Campsite

Came up and over Springer Mountain and stopped at the top to see the even more iconic plaques at the peak of Springer Mountain (the historic and real start point of the venture- I’ll explain when I get back!)   Sustained ice rain began shortly after I left Springer.   But, though my legs/quads were on fire, I marionetted onwards.  Drinking tons of water.   With rain coming late afternoon I bailed out into Hawk Mountain campsite versus Shelter.  Got a good spot, set up in time for the rain and was in the sleeping bag as it got dark when the torrents began.  Hellfire storm, with protracted lightning flashes, thunder, sudden hail, and, I kid you not- machine gun fire.  So, as I’m laying there, another hiker walked by and saw my light on in my tent and asked over if the machine gun fire worried me.  Nope. ” Why, do you know what it is?”  Yep.  “What?”  It is U.S. Army Ranger School, Mountaineering Phase, in progress this fine evening.  You see, 35 years ago, to this month, I was myself a student at this very school, training in this very stretch of the Chatahootchee National Forest,  and they still train right here and you just heard a Raid in progress.   The kid was amazed, and stood outside my tent asking me all about it for awhile.  We had a good laugh and he ambled on.  Fitful night of sleep due to the cold (still haven’t caved in to getting a ‘puffy’ jacket) and my legs adjusting. In the morning as I went downhill to get water for the day’s hike, I passed this same guy’s tent and we talked in the morning light for awhile.  His name is Nate and he is an Outward Bound Instructor for the Everglades portion.  Of course I pumped him all about that course and what he does there -it was fascinating, and he wanted to know more about my Army training,  and we talked all about the AT as well.   Then I was off . . . 

Day of / Day 1. 24 March 2019

Woke up groggy, spent all morning fussing with my ‘stuff’ and finally marched proudly to the start point by mid-late morning.  AT Thru-hiking Headquarters!  I got a nice little briefing from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy orientation Guide, got registered for the hike, had my pack weighed (42-pounds [heavier than the average by about 9 pounds]), and then it was time for the iconic picture of me standing under the start point stone arch.  Yes!  This is it!  While the Guide was taking my picture, a small crowd was gathered and it surfaced, explained by the Guide, what I was about to do.   At the moment, there were no other Thru-Hikers kicking off, so I was the occasion.   Some astonished gasps.  What?  Right from here- all the way to Maine?!  And you’re starting right this second?   More hoots of encouragement, a fat happy round of polite golf applause, and then I strode off down the trail, giving a brave little salute to the crowd.   

Thirty yards later, something didn’t feel right and I realized I had left my trekking poles at the registration station.  Jesus H. Christ.  I spun around and started walking back and immediately found myself swimming against a current of people on this narrow trail.  I was, to my horror, fighting through the very crowd of people who had sent me off! (They had started their little individual day-hikes right after I left and were right behind me).   “Hey, where are you going?  Maine is that way!”  “Are you tired already?”  “Don’t give up yet!”        

Ahem.  Ummm…  Errr….     So, I got my trekking poles, walked back through the stone arch, and proceeded. Within a mile, I was walking up the stairs that zig-zag vertically to the top of Amicalola Falls, the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi. There are 604 of these steps. Did I mention the 42 pound pack? Did I mention that my training plan for the 6 weeks prior to this venture was to eat great meals, eat as much ice-cream as possible, not exercise, watch movies and sleep with a hot blonde every night? No? Well, when I got to the top, my quads were blasted and I was barely functioning as a human, let-alone a rugged Thru-Hiker. I believed I had a tear in my right quad, and for the next many miles I concocted ways to spin the story more eloquently to the folks at home about why I failed. I talked myself out of stopping at a tent site a mere 2.2 miles from the stone arch and limped on like a shopping cart with a bad wheel to Black Gap shelter, about 6 miles from the start. I was absolutely certain that after the night’s sleep I would not be able to proceed. I met a nice German couple at this shelter who informed me that I could have stayed in a shelter the night before instead of under that picnic bench; the shelter was near the picnic area, was fully enclosed, and was reserved specifically for Thru-Hikers who showed up the night before. They had themselves stayed there and said it was quite comfortable. I massaged my quads all night and kept getting up to piss, having pounded water for 7 straight hours. And it was cold.
    

So.
    

Here is a picture of me under the stone arch.  (Note that I’m not holding trekking poles.)

Day Before: 23 March 2019

I planned the trip to commence on the day I received a 6-month coin (Chip) from my Gloucester Early Bird Meeting of AA (great people and a great daily morning meeting) and Keith presented me with this 6-month coin as an accomplishment.  During his presentation to me in front of a crowd of about 60 people, he noted that “Kevin’s had a pretty adventurous life and I thought nothing Kevin could do would surprise me at this point, but whenever he quit drinking …”  Everybody laughed heartily.    

 Memory was at the meeting as well and drove me directly to the airport from the meeting.  It was a tough goodbye, especially because of how amazing of a woman she is and all the support she’s given me since I met her.  Even more amazing, she’s attempting to indulge this bucket-list effort of mine.  Most of my family, and all sane people, are telling her to move on, but, hey- she’s giving it a shot. I love that gal.  

Flight to Atlanta.  Uber to an REI to get a fuel canister for my backpacking stove, Uber to get to the famous Amicalola Falls State Park, Georgia– start point for the Appalachian Trail.  (AT).  I looked around a little bit at the State Park and finally settled on sleeping under a picnic bench within sight of the start point.  I slept on cement and froze.  Didn’t sleep much.