This is my original Appalachian Trail journal from 2001 (Edited for grammar).
It includes additions that were written sixteen years later (in 2017). These are in italics.
Saturday, April 14, 2001
unnamed campsite to Low Gap Shelter
Today’s Miles: 8.6
Trip Miles: 49.9
Last night was crystal clear and breezy. The sound of the wind funneling through the gaps and valleys lulled me to sleep. I woke to a pristine morning and sunrise.
Today I noticed a lot more wildlife hopping around the woods than when I first started. There were squirrels, chipmunks, and even a brief glimpse of some white tailed deer, hightailing it away from me. I’m also seeing some tiny purple and white wildflowers popping up along the trails, and there were great views all day long.
I met a day hiker named Matthew at Wolf Laurel Top. He was just relaxing up there, taking in the great vista and admiring the turkey vultures soaring in the air. He reclined on his back and said that sometimes he leaves his job early in the day and goes up to the trail to get away from it all.
I hiked all day again in flip-flops! I began to develop blisters between my toes, so I even walked barefoot for about two miles. It felt liberating.
I think I ought to go back to the boots tomorrow, especially if it rains like it’s supposed to. I must have been quite a sight… barefoot, boots strapped to my pack, and flip-flops dangling in my right hand! I passed Norm going up a mountain when I was barefoot, and he called me “Mucho Macho.” That’s cooler than Duct Tape! So it goes.
This evening at the shelter there’s Mike, Norm, Flykitty, Mark, and Slowpoke. Slowpoke hitchhiked to the trail from Oklahoma! We have a pretty good campfire going now, so I’m going to go soak it in.
This was the first day of my trip where the weather was actually dry and pleasant. Looking back over my old guidebook, it says that I walked through a place called Testnatee Gap. It calls this the “probable place where John Muir crossed the mountains on his famous thousand-mile walk to the sea.” Reading this now, I realize I had no idea who John Muir was at the time I hiked through here.
Mark built the campfire this evening. He was one of those people that would constantly be playing with and adjusting the fire, and some folks joked that we ought to call him “Stoker.” Later up the trail I began to see the name “Stoker” in the shelter register logs, so I believe that the name stuck. It wasn’t long before he’d be weeks ahead of me, and I think he went on to complete a successful thru hike.
Virtually every shelter along the trail had a notebook where people could sign in and leave their name, thoughts, drawings, or just about anything. They were an integral part of the trail’s social system, as I’d follow behind countless people who’s names and notes I’d see in the registers day after day. Sometimes you’d physically catch up with people on the trail that you’d never met before, but feel like you’ve known them for a long time.
I mention that “Slowpoke” was at this shelter tonight. As opposed to those of us who came from mostly middle-class lives in the cities, Slowpoke was one of the more vagrant types that seemed to linger along the trail. He was harmless and it wasn’t unpleasant to be in his company, but he hiked in blue jeans and had a ragged, toothless look about him that could put you on guard.
Sunday, April 15, 2001
Low Gap Shelter to Blue Mountain Shelter
Today’s Miles: 7.2
Trip Miles: 57.1
We all left our baskets out last night, but the Easter Bunny apparently doesn’t come to Low Gap Shelter. No candy for us! The campfire last night was awesome. There’s nothing in the world like gathering around its warm glow in the dark woods in the middle of nowhere, talking and laughing with a group that shares a common dream – Katahdin.
In the morning we heard a rhythmic hammering coming from the woods.
Somebody said “Is that a woodpecker?”
“That’s one serious woodpecker!”
Ha! These woodpeckers along the AT sure do mean business.
It wasn’t long after I began hiking today when it started to rain. It would rain for five minutes, stop, rain for five minutes, and then stop again. I’d repeatedly have to stop walking, remove my pack, and put on or remove my rain gear. Finally it began steadily pouring with occasional thunder and lightning until I made it to this shelter. The storm was pretty cool.
I wore my boots with the newly-rigged insoles. I think I’m still getting too much rubbing in the heels, but it’s hard to tell with my wounds. I wore two pairs of socks. I may cave in when I get to Hiawassee and get a new pair of boots.
I saw today that my feet got sunburned, and you can see where the straps on my flip-flops went over them. My arms and neck are burned too, so I’m feeling cold here at the shelter. The wind is blowing hard, but this view should make for an excellent sunrise tomorrow.
I’m with So Slow and Roman tonight at the shelter. It’s all just fun – talking about maildrops, hostels, places to eat, other hikers, the weather, camping spots, terrain, and all kinds of nonsense. These mountains and backcountry are not ceasing to amaze me. I’ve never even seen anything like this first-hand, let alone living among it in such a pure way.
Well, just a shout out back home to everybody wishing for a Happy Easter! Hoping my feet hold up.
Oh, and I forgot to mention, it seems from the register that four “gals” had a bit of a slumber party here last night! I guess I got here too late…ha!
Shortly after the thunderstorm calmed down was when I first met “So Slow,” an older female hiker. She was stopped along the trail.
She didn’t relish the storm one bit, and if I recall correctly, she stated that she hunkered down off the trail for a short time to wait out the lightning. Maybe I was in an area where the lightning had less intensity at the time, or maybe I was just young and naive of the danger at 20 years old.
It was during this storm that I passed a side trail leading up to the summit of a mountain called Brasstown Bald, the highest peak in all of Georgia. I remember thinking that it must be neat up there, but out of the question to consider going up the trail in the middle of a storm. In retrospect it’s unfortunate that I didn’t have the opportunity to take advantage of “bagging a state high point” when I was so close to it.
I’d purchased some “Superfeet” insoles at Neels Gap, hoping that they would cure the woes of my boots. This was not to be the case. I had a spare pair of socks, and today realized that if I just layered both of my socks over my feet that the added thickness would effectively make my feet larger, and my boots would therefore fit better. This method would gradually begin to ease my foot troubles. Finally.
“Roman” at the shelter would later take on the trail name of “Famino!”
Monday, April 16, 2001
Blue Mountain Shelter to Tray Mountain Shelter
Today’s Miles: 7.7
Trip Miles: 64.8
It began innocently enough last night. As soon as the last person quit stirring, the noise came from the shelf above me. It was a scratching, ripping sound.
The mice were out.
I tried to ignore them, but then something fell on my arm. I shined my light on the fallen object – candy bar wrapper. Moist. I tossed it away, and groggily tried to go to sleep.
Ten minutes later, something larger fell with a soft thud on the wood next to me. I had enough, and turned on my light on again. This time it was a cigarette box that had fell. I stood up and pointed my light at the shelf to investigate. I came face to face with the terrible, nasty, varmint, no more than a foot from my face. I looked into his beady little eyes. They stared right back at me.
Actually, I thought the little guy was kind of cute. He ran off into the inky black darkness, not to be seen again. I would have used the flash on my camera to get a picture of him if it wasn’t for the others peacefully sleeping near me.
The sunrise was wonderful. I didn’t even have to get out of my sleeping bag to see it. It had been a cold and windy night. We found some candy bar wrappers and other presents in our boots. Apparently the mice decided to store them there for us.
Yesterday’s cold front (That brought the rain and thunderstorm) blew right through the mountains overnight. Today was absolutely gorgeous – literally not a single cloud in the great big blue sky. The climb up Rocky Mountain out of Unicoi Gap was quite demanding. I didn’t pause to catch my breath even once the whole way up the climb. That’s one thousand feet, ladies and gentlemen! Soon I’ll be a lean, mean, mountain climbing machine.
I had the “Chariots of Fire” theme going in my head. I celebrated on top of the mountain for a few minutes, raising my stick to the sky and the noon sun. Then decided that I also had to pee on Rocky Mountain.
A bright colored bluebird fluttered across my path near Indian Grave Gap. The name of that place reminds me… I heard that a thru-hiker named “The Kid” (Who I met briefly at Neel’s Gap) found an arrowhead back on Blood Mountain. That’s pretty cool! I saw a few hawks and caterpillars in addition to the bluebird.
The view from Tray Mountain is awesome! I think I could see the Great Smoky Mountains far off on the northern horizon. With this clear weather I think I’ll go back up there to the summit from the shelter for sunset, and to do some star-gazing. There’s a magnificent spot to view the sunrise here, too.
So far it looks like I’ll be all alone in the shelter tonight, but it’s not even six o’clock yet. If nobody else shows up, maybe I’ll try to get a photo of one of those nasty little mice!
Among the small various acts of vandalism here in the shelter, somebody carved the initials “P.C.” into the wall. I know a PC, but he’s at Penn State College right now. At least, he’s supposed to be, if he’s not carving his initials in shelters in the Georgia mountains. He plays a lot of golf, a sport that I enjoy myself. Of course, he’d regularly beat me by about thirty strokes! I’m sure he’ll be out playing a lot this summer, while I’m doing my crazy bouncing up the Appalachian Mountains. Hey buddy, play a round for me, would ya?
I’m now writing from back up on top of Tray Mountain. Words already can’t do justice to what I’m experiencing up here, just as a small Kodak disposable camera doesn’t do any justice to what I’m seeing. I’m finding that it’s nearly impossible to write about every event that happens over the course of a day – every little notion that has me smiling from ear to ear as I continue on this extraordinary trail. Many small things I even forget by the end of the day.
The view is about three hundred degrees around, if you stand on the tallest rock. My camera’s range only covers about twenty to thirty degrees of that! There still isn’t a cloud in the sky – a wide, gaping vastness of blue. The wind is blowing a bit strong, but intermittently. Soon all the stars will be shining brightly. Ah! And I climbed up here!
It’s about quarter of eight o’clock. Most of America is watching Wheel of Fortune and Simpsons reruns. Actually, I wouldn’t mind a good episode of The Simpsons… but anyway, I love it out here!
Soon the stars will be out all around me. I may just be high enough to reach up and touch them! I can see Blood Mountain and Neel’s Gap to the southwest – where I hiked from. I can see where I’m headed, and I can see the summit and firetower of Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia. I bypassed a side trail that led up there yesterday because of a thunderstorm. A local said that it’s possible to even see Atlanta from here on a very clear day. I think I can barely see its faint lights out on the distant horizon, but I can’t be certain.
The previous night at Blue Mountain Shelter was the coldest I’d experienced in all of the southern Appalachians. It felt absolutely frigid that morning, primarily because of the wind.
I think inside that shelter was the first time I’d seen a real live mouse in my entire life.
Unicoi Gap (Before the climb up Rocky Mountain), has a paved state highway that crosses the AT. From there you can get to get to the town of Helen, Georgia, a common resupply stop. It’s also possible to reach Hiawassee from there, but that town is more commonly accessed 16 miles farther up the trail.
My friend PC (Peter Casey) saw this original entry posted on trailjournals.com and did, in fact, play a round of golf that summer in my honor. He said he shot one of his worst scores that day of the entire season!
I worked as a golf caddie for my first real job when I was fourteen years old. It was fun to get out there and play golf through my late teens, but I basically stopped playing in my twenties.
Tuesday, April 17, 2001
Tray Mountain Shelter to Deep Gap Shelter
Today’s Miles: 7.1
Trip Miles: 71.9
The temperature was thirty-one degrees when I woke up this morning! My water bottles oddly weren’t frozen, though. It’s been windy and blustery all day, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any warmer. Some of these wind gusts must be at least forty miles per hour. There were occasional snow flurries too. It sure is cold! Writing with gloves on is kind of tricky.
The crew tonight at the shelter is Shepherd of the Hills, Tenderheart, Ansini, Mom, and So Slow. Some others are tented outside. We were uncontrollably laughing in the shelter for fifteen minutes about seemingly nothing! These little fits of laughter I’m getting out here are quite fun.
I’m looking forward to going into Hiawassee tomorrow. I could have easily made it there tonight (And be sleeping in a warm motel right now) but I thought I’d spend an extra night in the woods and bounce in and out of town tomorrow. There’s an all-you-can-eat restaurant there. I hope they’re open for lunch!
A lot went through my mind today about things to look forward to at home when I’m done. I’ll be twenty-one! The first Lord of the Rings movie is coming out in December. Maybe Bruce Springsteen will even have a new studio album out! I ought to have a much clearer head about things too after this experience, not that it wasn’t clear already! That’s up for debate. We’ll see.
So as of today I’ve finally experienced some truly cold stuff. It’s shaping up to be even colder, and just as windy tonight. I’m glad I have my toasty sleeping bag! It’s purple too, not that you needed to know that. Very, very purple. Oh well. Now if it was pink, that would be an issue.
It looks like I’ll be in North Carolina in two days. That will be cause for celebration! I’m beginning to come to terms with how long this trail is. When planning my hike, I was like “Oh, getting to North Carolina, that isn’t too much!” It really isn’t, in the scheme of things, but it feels like I’ve come quite far already. I will have hiked the length of the Appalachian Trail in the state of Georgia!
The weather put me in a kind of pensive, drifting mood while I was walking today. I’ve experienced some of every kind of weather already in my hike – rain, thunderstorms, fog, overcast, sunny, clear and beautiful, a bit of snow flurries – it’s like a quick kind of climate overture. Well I had better turn in, my purple sleeping bag is calling me.
If you’ve ever been in the forest on a windy day, then you know what I experienced through here. The trees creaked and groaned relentlessly, and sometimes I heard branches come down. The constant noise may be unnerving at first, but eventually it becomes the simple background and lends itself to contemplation.
I averaged only about seven miles a day through this section. As a 20-year-old young man, it wasn’t lost upon me that I was keeping pace with a number of older ladies, including one that was dubbed “So Slow.” After chewing up my feet and blowing out my knees so quickly in the beginning, I deliberately adopted more of a “take it easy” and “smell the roses” attitude.
Wednesday, April 18, 2001
Deep Gap Shelter to Plumorchard Gap Shelter
Today’s Miles: 7.8
Trip Miles: 79.7
My admirable and widely beloved eighth grade English teacher, the one and only Miss Quigg, had given my class the assignment to memorize a few poems from a pre-assigned selection to recite. Virtually everybody chose “Dust of Snow” as one of the poems, because it’s so short! I’m sure Miss Quigg wouldn’t be happy about my atrocious grammar in these journal entries. I left my five-million page verb notebook at home.
I awoke to another frigidly cold morning, and a dusting of snow in the forest. My water bottle had some shards of ice in it. I was up and moving early, as I wanted to have plenty of time at my disposal in town today.
When I got to the road crossing it was empty of traffic, save for one big truck that blew by. Trucks are pretty loud! The town of Hiawassee, where I had my maildrop, was eleven miles to the left, so I did what any hiker in my situation would do. I fixed myself up to look as presentable as possible, and stuck out my thumb.
It was maybe a little less than half an hour before somebody stopped. The guy actually drove past me initially and then turned around and returned in the opposite direction to get me. His name was Arthur, with his wife Dorothy (I think), and what appeared to be one of their children or grandchildren. I think they picked me up because it was so cold, driving me and another hiker (Bushwhacker) all the way into town. They even stopped to ask for directions to the post office for me.
My mom sent me a little care package in addition to the food I had sent myself, which made my day. An elderly gentleman approached me in the foyer of the post office while I was sorting out my things.
“I bet you must be a hiker.” he said.
“What gave you that idea? My backpack, poor excuse for facial hair, and my oh so pleasant aroma?”
I didn’t really say that. I simply replied “Yes sir!”
“Well I surely couldn’t do it. You’re going all the way?”
“That’s the plan.”
“Well here’s a little something I wrote”, he said, handing me a flyer he had gotten from his PO Box, “Good luck to you.”
“Thank-you.” I found myself with a pamphlet in my hand about a mission to the moon to find God. Hmmmm!
Next on the list of things to do in town was to hit the AYCE buffet for lunch. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, pot roast, carrots… oh yeah. I had a very pleasant time in my restaurant booth, with my backpack sitting in the seat across from me. I went into the bathroom before I left to fill up my water bottles, and cleaned myself up a bit… just like I imagine the homeless people do. I guess I am sort of homeless… and jobless too for that matter.
It’s a neat feeling to stroll down the main street in town, being totally free.
I needed to go three miles up the road to the outfitter before I could hitch back to the trail, so I was walking down the street with my thumb out. A cop drove straight past me, not even slowing down. You’ve gotta love these hiker towns.
A couple in a pick-up truck eventually gave me a ride the rest of the way. I must say, riding in that truck, with my pack and hiking stick at my side, with the Georgia countryside flying by in the middle of the week in Spring… it was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve done in a while – better than any roller coaster at Dorney Park, tenfold. I felt like a traveling and wandering Jack Kerouac, or Alexander Supertramp or something.
I only got two pairs of sock liners at the outfitter. I’m really trying to avoid getting new boots. The guy that worked there at the outfitter was terribly friendly, giving me a lift back up to the trailhead. He said that he gets to see a lot of thru-hikers while working in Hiawassee – a lot that make it to Maine and a lot that don’t. Is that supposed to mean there’s a chance that I won’t make it? Ha! Pessimists! He did the trail in ’95, under the name Fly’s Open.
The weather had warmed up by evening and made for some great hiking by the time I was back up to the trail, regardless of the weight of six days of food on my back, and a ton in my belly. I saw a hiker coming up behind me when I stopped at Bull Gap to check the map (How I love checking the map!).
“No way. Is that Kristie and Willow?”
“Is that Duct Tape?”
“Kristie and Willow!”
(Willow is Kristie’s dog)
She’s the Kristie that helped me with my feet, who I had left behind at Goose Creek with JM. We had a very unexpected and pleasant reunion, and I found out that she’s meeting JM on Saturday, up the trail at Rock Gap. Will I make it that far in time to rendezvous with them? She moved on ahead up the trail toward the state line when I stopped for the night at the shelter.
North Carolina tomorrow! I’ve had that James Taylor song, “Carolina In My Mind,” in my head all evening. My brother played it for me on the drive down here. I’m trying to think of a ceremonial thing to do when I cross each state line. Tenderheart suggested that I should get naked and spike my backpack on the ground like a football player. Hmmm. I don’t know about that! Any other ideas?
I had my mail drop at the post office in Hiawassee. When I was in Pennsylvania prior to the hike I addressed a box to myself at General Delivery, Hiawassee, GA 30546. Items addressed to General Delivery are held at the post office to be picked up in person. I had a number of pre-arranged post offices along the trail that I planned to stop at – if not for a box of pre-packed food, then for maps, or as a waypoint where family and friends could send me something (A letter, maybe?) if they liked.
I also carried a pre-paid phone card to enable me to call long-distance via a 1-800 number. Cell phones still weren’t prevalent in 2001, so this was the most practical (And most common) way for hikers to stay in touch with home. Pay phones were still commonly found everywhere, and calling cards worked on private land-lines, too.
Internet access still required a physically connected desktop computer, but at least the more modern connections were beyond the age of dial-up.
I got cash through ATM machines.
While feeling nostalgic of the times, it’s also worth mentioning that soda machines still had cans of Coke for fifty cents or less, especially south of the Mason-Dixon line. The plastic 20-ounce bottles weren’t prevalent yet.
Ah, the good ol’ days.