Day 2 – March 9 2017 – 10.3 miles Springer campsite to Horse Gap
We woke with the sun, ate a quick breakfast and got on trail. With temperatures in the high 60s and clear skies we couldn’t ask for better hiking weather.
A few minutes into our hike we met our first Forest spirit. Forest spirit is a term my brother and I coined for someone who had some undefinable otherworldly quality to them. Similar to what the Irish call fairies, minus the whole curses and mischief aspect.
Ironically enough, the first Forest Spirit we met was named Forest. He was an African American guy with dreads in his early twenties. He was carrying with him a travel guitar and Indian drums. He had thru-hiked the previous year and this year he was going to a few places on the trail just to hang out and play music. He seemed so at ease in the woods, I’m not convinced he ever left them.
At around five miles into the day we took a short side trail to Long Creek Falls.
Long Creek Falls was about 15 feet tall and, more importantly, had a pool of cold water at the bottom. We decided to take a break and soak our feet for a while.
We later found out that there was a Native American petroglyph hidden in that area. An image of a Native American holding up a decapitated head was put there to ward off any Spaniards Conquistadors in the area. It was pretty cool that we were in a place that had been left relatively unchanged since that time period.
Not long after we left Lone Creek Falls we saw a woman in her late 50s say something to the guy in front of us. Then she walked up to Jon and asked “Are you Dan?”. “No” he said and pointed to me “But he is”. She looked relieved and excited ”Oh we found you!” she said.
Her name was Martha and she was hiking with her friends Patty and another woman. Patty, who is originally from New Jersey, somehow saw the article about us. She in turn showed it to Martha. Martha had a tradition of picking a few thru-hikers each year to follow online. We happened to get on the list. She was able to determine our general location, park somewhere north of us, and hike south to meet us.
We chatted for a while and then my brother and I headed north. While the ladies headed south to Lone Creek Falls, their final destination for the day. The idea that someone would drive an hour or two to the trail-head, then go on a several mile hike just to meet up with us was mind-blowing. Meeting those woman gave us such a jolt of energy that the next few miles flew by effortlessly.
Towards the end of the day the sun started to affect us. Temps rose into the 70s, and without any leaves on the trees to provide shade, we started to get a sunburn. When we got to the base of Sassafras Mountain we decided to call it a day. We had hiked 10.3 miles and we are getting a little low on water. We decided to climb Sassafras Mountain in the coolness of the morning rather than hike 4.4 miles in the heat if the afternoon. There was no point in dehydrating ourselves at the end of the day.
We set up camp in a gap, or small valley, between two mountains. To our east the ground sloped down hundreds of feet to the flat-lands below. To our west there was a twisting dirt road that had a small turn off about 20 feet away from us.
As we are cooking dinner several hikers passed by. Two of them were Tyler and Logan the brothers from the hiker hostel. Another was a middle-aged woman from Rhode Island. She was completely out of water and had the biggest pack I’ve ever seen. It’s weight had to be a minimum of 80 pounds. There was so much extra stuff tied on to the pack that it went from above her head to below her knees. Her forward progress could be measured in feet per hour instead of miles. She was in really bad shape. We tried to give her some of our water and to convince her to camp with us. There was a thunderstorm predicted to come through in the night and it was a long way over several mountains to the next water. She refused both suggestions and kept going. I felt terrible, but what could I do? I couldn’t physically keep her from going. It was the first and only time on the trail that I thought someone might be hiking themselves to death.
I found out later from another hiker that the outfitter she went to convinced her she needed basically one of everything from the store. If that’s true, they deserve a terrible fate.
I had a hard time falling asleep. It seemed every time I was about to nod off, a car would drive by. Eventually one of those cars pulled into the turn off and parked. Soon some muffled sounds could be heard coming from the vehicle. Unbeknownst to us, we had camped at lovers lane.
Soon they decided their unbridled passion could no longer be contained by the engineering of Chevrolet, and brought their copulation al fresco. It was a this point I considered shouting words of encouragement and my brother considered doing a slow clap. We both thought better of it though. Who knows what kind of affair we were witnessing. We were in the backwoods of Georgia after all.
They eventually drove off, blithely unaware of the trauma they had just inflicted on some thru-hikers 20 feet away.
I was laying in my hammock and my eyes were blinking in a staccato fashion. I can only guess that it was a side effect from the effort my mind was doing to rid itself of what it just experienced. Suddenly I heard the wind screaming through the trees far below. A few seconds later my hammock was almost 45 degrees horizontal and one corner of my rain tarp was flapping furiously. The predicted thunderstorm had arrived.
The wind, which came from the east, accelerated over the flat lands before slamming into the mountains. The gaps between the mountains acted like a funnel. Consolidating a lot of the wind in one place. Right where we were camped.
Thankfully the wind came before the rain and I was able to hop out of my hammock to survey the damage without getting soaked. The ultra light tent stakes I was using were no match for the wind. One pulled out completely and the others were threatening to follow suit. Luckily I found some heavy rocks nearby and placed them on top of the stakes. I got back undercover just in time.
Lightning was clearly hitting the top of Sassafras Mountain and the rain was intense. At one point I was holding onto the edge of my rain tarp to help strengthen it against the wind. The material my rain tarp was made out of is called cuben fiber, and it originally was made for the sails of racing sailboats, but I wasn’t taking any chances.
As I lay there watching the outlines of lightning streak across the sky and listening to the water pouring down, my thoughts turned to that poor woman from Rhode Island with the huge pack. I hoped she was undercover and not camped in a spot prone to lightning strikes.