Trail Magic for the 2014 AT Early Hikers

Dangerpants and I have been planning for the last few weeks to go up to north Georgia and do some magic for some of this year’s crop of hikers, and it turned out this past Sunday was the best day for both of us.
Leading up to it, I had a crazy week preparing, while also helping with planning my sister’s new bunk bed and doing a phone interview and working. On Friday, I went out and bought $150 of groceries and supplies, baked some brownies, and made a list of things to pack, but didn’t get the opportunity to pack them. What with getting my blogging hours in Friday night, I ended up only getting two hours of sleep before I had to get up for work. Then, after work, I had to get to Atlanta to catch the performance of Broadway’s Once at the Fox with my sister’s boyfriend Jimmy. With the MARTA trip both ways, I didn’t make it back until nearly midnight, which, with the time change, gave me six hours of sleep. I’d got most of my blogging done on the train, but I still had a few minutes left, so I finished it out and got five hours before I got up at the crack of dawn. I got enough coffee and cereal in me to wake up, then started gathering and loading things into the car. By the time I got everything together (including tracking down and replacing batteries in a hidden mattress pump) and got Copper in the car, it was almost 9am.
Dangerpants also got up at the crack of dawn, and she had prepared better, managing to make it to the trail on time (about 9am). Since I wasn’t there, she went into Hiawassee to check for calls from me. I was under the misapprehension that I hadn’t specified an exact time of arrival (just intending to arrive as early as I could manage) and so, of course, I didn’t call, thinking she wouldn’t be there yet either. (I also thought she’d be coming from Auburn, which is much farther than where she actually started from.)
When I arrived at the trailhead at Dick’s Creek Gap around 10:30am and started to unload, she got out and walked over, seeming very miffed. Oops. Not a good way to start. Anyway, not too many hikers had come by, so we unloaded our goods and set up, and it turns out she had been quite as creative in her shopping as I tried to be, and there wasn’t any real duplication of items. All the bases were covered for a good hiker feed.
Even before we’d finished laying out our wares, hikers started showing up. Here’s who partook of our offerings, in order of appearance:

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There was also one more kid who stopped long enough to drink a beer, out for a short section after doing a several day photo shoot for Granola. I didn’t manage to get his picture.
At one point, Bob, the guy who has just opened the Top of Georgia Hostel a half-mile down the road from Dick’s Creek came to introduce himself and his hostel to whoever was around, but it turned out everyone already knew about it, despite it not yet being in AWOL’s guide.
Sometime around the arrival of Ramble, David Macnair finally showed up with his games, but none of the hikers were interested in playing. Between the departure of Redbeard and Toast and the arrival of Class Act, there was a stretch where no one came, and we squeezed most of a round of 3-man Blokus.
Later, Justin, who’d hitched to town for a package, returned and decided to hang out with us for the rest of the afternoon. We all grabbed beers and went to play a few rounds of Hanabi. (Macnair: “[Justin] walked all the way from Springer to play Hanabi with us.”)

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We finally finished a game the third time we played, and by then the sun was showing signs of thinking about starting to set, so we started preparing for night: collecting firewood.
While we were doing that, a couple more hikers showed up, so I went down to cook them sausages and insist they finish off the salad while the others continued with the firewood. After that, I went to set up my four-man tent (aided by Brandon) and inflate my mattress. Finally, with that done, it was time to get the fire going. So everyone was eventually relocated up to the fire pit area (where the hikers made their own suppers, choosing to lighten their loads rather than ours—fair enough).
We sat by a roaring fire (thanks to David’s diligent stoking) for several hours after sunset, talking about everything and nothing: food, legos, education, movies, games, fire dynamics, English grammar, and long comfortable silences.
Eventually, we used up the wood, and we were all yawny anyway. Tanner and Brad had set up tents nearby and were planning to join us for breakfast. Justin eventually decided to cowboy camp in the gap as well. I went to my tent and Dangerpants to her Subaru. Copper followed me and as soon as he entered the tent, walked right up onto the mattress and laid down in the middle as if to say “Welp, I found my spot…I hope you can find some room on the floor!” I pushed him over and crawled between the blankets to start writing this post.
Macnair eventually came in and threw his pad down next to me and swaddled himself in his twenty degree bag. He was probably asleep by the time I finished writing most of the above.
When I posted my time for the evening and set my alarm, setting the phone aside, I was pretty cold. It was a chilly night Sunday night in Dick’s Creek Gap, and the wind was whipping through, bending in the tent walls.
I put my dress socks on and found my flaphat (non-fur shapka) too, but I still couldn’t wrap the blankets around myself enough to get warm with Copper laying on them. Eventually, I manhandled him off the blankets, and tucked him up underneath with me, and gave his own pillow next to me so I could cuddle with him. He didn’t seem to mind being under the covers, and I got warm almost instantly then.
In the morning, I woke up from sunlight before my alarm went off, and just canceled it and decided I wasn’t in such a hurry to get up. I pulled up the blanket that had fallen off, pulled Copper closer, and got another twenty minutes of sleep. Then Macnair said that we should really get breakfast started because the hikers who had stayed with us probably wanted to get on the trail pretty soon. So I threw my shoes on and headed out to greet the day, now with greasy bed-hair and wild-stache like a regular hiker. The others were definitely up. Macnair followed me out, and left the tent open so Copper could get up when he decided he felt like it.
The other hikers were definitely already up and getting themselves together, though presumably had slept later than usual because they stayed up so late with us. Austin (Lo Jack) had turned up again as well, but hit the trail before we got any cooking donw. I handed Macnair my Jet Boil to boil water for coffee and I cleaned the pan to start cooking the remaining Cajun Andouille sausages for inclusion in breakfast burritos. As soon as I had them cooked Snorlax showed up and grabbed one and threw it on a bun. I used Dangerpants keychain knife to smash up the remaining two, and stirred them in with the eggs and cheese. The first few hikers to arrive that morning got to share three burritos among them, leaving a bit left for my own breakfast. I believe it was Queen who said it was the best she’d ever had, and I’m perfectly willing to accept that as a compliment even it was coming from a hungry hiker.

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Next, I started making pancakes, though I neglected to bring syrup. It was no problem though: buttermilk pancakes are wonderful even without syrup, and we had no shortage of hikers that morning who were willing to eat a syrup-less pancake. I ate one myself once the morning rush subsided a bit, while I packed up and tore down my tent.

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It seemed like we got even more traffic this morning than the one before, which was good because it greatly reduced the amount of cleanup we had to do. We cleaned and packed slowly throughout the morning, between serving and entertaining the hikers. Dangerpants had the good sense to load up all the chairs before they even started coming that morning, to encourage them to get on the trail quicker and get those of us who no longer have the option of walking all day instead of working on the road sooner. By 11:45, we were the only ones left and we managed to get the last of the food and utensils, etc. loaded up. I gave Dangerpants a quick hug goodbye so she could return home, while Macnair agreed to follow me to Woody Gap where the hikers had informed us that Fresh Ground had set up his Leap Frog Cafe yet again.
It was an hour drive, and I kept having phone trouble. First, the alarm went off, and caused maps to lock up, which locked the whole phone up, so that I couldn’t even silence the alarm without hard rebooting it. We pulled over a moment while it was booting, then headed back down the road. I managed to read the next direction off before it rebooted itself of its own accord. By the time I got it back on again, cell service had vanished, so we turned off up the steep road to Brasstown Bald visitor’s center to get high enough for reception. Finally, I loaded the route and it stuck for the rest of the trip. The trip included a crazy curvy hairpin climb over Wolf Pen Gap, which was a lot of fun. After that, I stopped for gas at the only gas station in the county (apparently) and filled up with exorbitantly priced gas from a pump that almost wouldn’t work (and a wonderful country store full of hikers, including one carrying an “AT Passport”—something they’re selling at Mountain Crossings this year), before we finally could conclude the last four minutes of our journey.
Fresh Ground was there as promised, so we unloaded a bunch of food and carried it to him. I nearly knocked over a pot of boiling water before I could even finish greeting him. I am the soul of grace. But, of course, it’s impossible to compete with Fresh Ground on the niceness front. After finding places for all our excess (which was immediately snatched up by the crowd of hikers he was entertaining), he offered us hot dogs (we accepted), coffee, and some of the oranges we’d just given him. (“I just had to do that.”) He said if he couldn’t give it all away by the end of the day, he’d leave it at the Hiker Hostel. I asked if I’d be able to get a shower at said hostel, and he gave us six bucks for me and Macnair both to get one. How do you compete with a guy like that?
So, Macnair and I parted ways and headed back towards Atlanta. Then, I turned around on the side of the road and went back to Woody Gap to get my cooler. Finally, I managed to make it down the hill to the Hiker Hostel, which I had never seen before, since I have never stayed in any of Georgia’s hiker hostels. I wish that I could have: it was beautiful. I wish I’d had time to take pictures of it. Anyway, for (Fresh Ground’s) three bucks, I got a towel and shampoo for the shower, and did all my dressing and preening for work right there in the bathroom. When I emerged, Shannon (one of the owners) commented that I had completely transformed. I’d walked in looking (and somewhat smelling) like a hiker, and come out looking like a tutor.
A bit over an hour later, I arrived back home, dropped off Copper and his food, changed shoes, and left for work. I spent the first six hours of Monday giving food to hikers, and the last six at work. I was tired, but my mood was unusually high. What a weekend!
We’ve set some tentative plans to do this again further north sometime in May (after Trail Days). And I hear my mom and Renea are going to do it sometime in April as well, and I may participate if it fits my schedule. As always anyone who reads this should feel free to come then too. Also, I have three extra tickets for the Banff Mountain Film Festival at the Ferst Center on Monday, Mar. 17. They’re free for friends who read this blog. Speaking of which, now back to your regularly scheduled thru-hike tale…

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