I knew it would happen, but I didn’t think it would happen this soon. As a result of walking alone through the woods for hours at a time, I have contracted a serious case of ear worms. I have over 10,000 songs loaded onto my phone, but I have yet to use my earbuds. Instead, I apparently have hundreds of songs in my head (most of which I haven’t listened to in twenty years or more) that are on random shuffle, and once a song starts playing, it keeps playing in an uncontrollable loop.
For instance, while climbing Blood Mountain, I was stuck on “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Please don’t judge. I am not the least bit fond of that song, and was totally hoping that the quality of the tune selection would improve soon. But at the time, it was out of my control. The next day, things got better when “Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot kicked in to get me to the summit of Wildcat Mountain. But today, things reached a new low when I began to alternate between “Dashing Through the Snow” and “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” After a few hours of that, I was beginning to go mad.
In my defense, I actually did wake up to a winter wonderland. Overnight, it just barely got cold enough for the rain to turn to ice and the ice to turn to snow so that everything was coated with sparkling white stuff. Because of my short stints in Nashville and Birmingham, I have seen snow in recent history (including the 2014 Snowpocalypse), but this is the first time I have been walking through a snow covered woods in years, and it was magnificent! Not everyone here was happy about it, but I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face.
It didn’t hurt my smile that after a short climb out of Low Gap Shelter, the trail was relatively level for the next seven miles. Whenever I met another hiker, and we exchanged greetings, my answer to the question, “How are you doing?”, was always, “Fantastic! Isn’t it beautiful today?” It was easily my most enjoyable section of the trail to date.
After the long decent from Blue Mountain, I arrived at Unicoi Gap to discover trail magic #6. Trail Angels Paul, and his wife Donna and daughter Kristina, had driven all the way from Dunwoody, GA, to set up a canopy welcoming cold hikers. Paul had hiked some sections of the A.T., but had never thru-hiked. They offered hamburgers, brats, hot baked beans, fruit, and fresh water. They even offered to take our trash. I’m not certain that I yet understand the motivation of Trail Angels, but their unconditional kindness is really starting to chip away at my lack of faith in the human race. There really ARE some wonderful people out here!
A lot of people in my “bubble” bailed out at Unicoi Gap, caught in the force field pulling them towards Helen, GA, and beer bratwurst. I felt like the weather was going to allow one more day of hiking before a weather exit would become necessary, so I faced the 800 foot gain altitude payback (GAP) and started the climb to the summit of the aptly named Rocky Mountain, where I was rewarded with a gorgeous, if icy, view. From there, I descended 900 feet to Indian Grave Gap. My original plan was to spend the night at Tray Mountain Shelter at 4,193 feet, but, in light of the weather, I decided it was prudent to settle in at a considerably lower altitude and face Tray Mountain in the morning.
My chosen campsite for the evening is called the Cheese Factory site. A New Englander, taking advantage of cheap Indian land, started a dairy farm here in the mid 1800’s, and reportedly produced award winning cheese here for many years. All that is left now is a nice large flat area ideal for camping. Ideal except for one thing. The campsite is near a dirt forest service road and sometime during the night those ol’ Duke boys decided to spend some time exercising the General Lee. I can assure you that Boss Hawg will never catch them, but they did detract, somewhat, from the wilderness experience.
As a result of the mass exodus to town, there are only five other people camping here with me tonight. They include a young couple going by Rock Hopper and Mandrake, an even younger couple from Quebec that haven’t adopted trail names yet (I just call them Cutest Couple on the Trail), and an Asian fellow that I haven’t met yet. It is going to be a cold one, so I’m now wrapping up in layers of comfy down.