This morning, I gave Big Jim a huge thank you for saving my bacon last night. As is usually the case, I had to get up in the middle of the night to use the facilities. When I stepped out of my tent, I couldn’t see a thing so I reached up to wipe my glasses and realized I wasn’t wearing them. We were in the middle of a cloud and I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face! So I turned my headlamp on high and, watching my feet and what I thought was the correct trail, made my way to the privy. But upon exiting the privy, I quickly became disoriented regarding which trail to follow.

Appalachian Trail

Trail Views

Big Jim is somewhat of a media celebrity. He is on a crusade called “Big Jim’s Walk” to raise awareness about addiction recovery and actually started his hike about a month ago from Panama City, FL. Somehow fate would put him in the campsite next to mine. You see, Big Jim is one of those characters who seems larger than life. His stature, his story, his faith, his personality, and his voice all seem to exceed the norm. Luckily for me, he also has a big snore. So I followed the sound back to my tent and thanked him for the assistance this morning. That elicited a great big laugh from him and a “No problem, brother!”

Note: In my journals, from time to time, I will be using terms or jargon that are commonly used by A.T. thru-hikers. If you come across a term with which you are unfamiliar, please refer to the link “A.T. Thru-Hike Glossary”at http://www.dennisonthego.com/at-thru-hike.

Appalachian Trail

Stover Creek Shelter

My weather app indicated that it was supposed to start raining today around noon, so I was out of camp at first light to try and reach my destination and set up shelter before the storm. The trail from the top of Springer Mt. was very rocky, but, within less than a mile, it became smooth and level. After 1.8 miles, I took a breakfast break at Stover Creek Shelter, and enjoyed the company of a half dozen hikers that had stayed there last night.

Appalachian Trail

Rhododendron Trail

If you ever want to experience an easy day hike on the A.T. that is absolutely beautiful, park at Big Stamp Gap on USFS 42 at mile marker 1.0 and walk to Long Creek Falls (mile marker 5.2) and back. The trail meanders beside a stream through a forest of old growth pines and rhododendron. If you can catch it while the rhododendron are blooming, it would be stunning. It reminded me of the trails I walked as a child with my family at Grandview State Park in WV. I finally had to tell myself, “Just put the camera in your pocket and walk, or you are never going to get to the campsite!”

Appalachian Trail

Long Creek Falls

Many A.T. thru-hikers become so focused on completing the trail that they consider any mile that is not an A.T. mile as a wasted mile. Admittedly, the A.T. boasts many of the most awesome natural attractions in the Eastern U. S., but so many more are just a short distance from the trail. So today, despite the pending rain, I took the short “blue blaze” to Long Creek Falls and it was worth every step there and back.

Tonight, I’m spending the night at the Hawk Mountain Campsite at mile marker 7.4. Located along a one-half mile trail, it has 30 graded campsites (disbursed about every 75 feet), a couple of privies, several bear boxes (so you don’t have to hang your food), and a nice spring at the end of the trail. Unfortunately, there is no cell service here. Upon arrival around 11:45, I grabbed two liters of water from the spring and set up my tent. At 12:30 it started to rain, and it is expected to do so until morning.

You might be wondering why I have hiked so few miles in the past couple of days. These low miles are quite intentional. Every former thru-hiker I have talked to, or who’s journal I have read, has offered the same advice. “Keep the miles low for the first week or so while your body gets used to the trail. This will help to prevent injuries further down the trail.” I intend to heed that advice.

A quick note about the crowd situation. While I’m actually hiking, I pass (or more likely, I get passed by) other hikers about once each hour. So most of the time I’m enjoying the solitude of the trail while being comforted by the fact that there are others nearby if I need help. At the end of the day, however, all of those hikers congregate at the available camping areas. Last night, on Springer Mt., there were a half-dozen sleeping in the shelter with 25 or so sleeping in tents. I was one of the first to arrive at the Hawk Mountain Campsite and I am camping in one of the first sites, at site #4. With my tent buttoned up, I have a clear view of feet on the trail and have seen at least 20 pairs of wet shoes and four very muddy dog feet go by so far.

There has been a steady downpour for the past six hours and the temperature is in the mid 50’s, but I’m dry and warm. Supper was delicious and I’ve spent a little time tweaking my gear. I’m looking forward to sleeping well to the sound of the rain pelting the roof of my tent.