Yesterday, I hiked into North Carolina at mile 76.3 on my adventure on the Appalachian Trail. I only knew I had passed this milestone because of a primitive sign on a tree by the side of the trail. Attached to the tree was an iron pipe with threads on each end. The pipe must have been attached to the tree as a way to store a register of hikers long ago because the tree had grown over the pipe. I looked inside, but there was no register. There are registers in each of the shelters along the trail, and I have stayed in or camped at many of them. I read and contribute to the registers as a way of informing myself and others of things happening on the trail.
Tonight I am staying at a friend’s house near Hayesville, NC. This friend is Darry Wood. I first met him through going to Indian powwows years ago. His daughter, Melissa, attended the School of Science and Math back in 1991-93. Darry met me at Dicks Creek Gap in Georgia three days ago and hiked 13 miles with me to a side trail called the Chunky Gal Trail.
Don’t jump to conclusions about the meaning of Chunky Gal. I have been moving through Cherokee Country. Chunky is the name of an old Cherokee and Creek game similar to bowling. The Chunky Gal trail runs down the ridge of Chunky Gal Mountain that divided two of the major Cherokee settlement areas. This name may have referred to a Cherokee woman who was famous for her skills at the game of Chunky. We took this trail another five or so miles to his home on Buck Creek in the Nantahala National Forest. My surprise along Chunky Gal Trail today was being exposed to ramps. Ramps are a type of wild onion. Darry dug up quite a few and promised to mix them into my scrambled egg breakfast tomorrow morning. Darry and his wife Barbara have fed me, allowed me to take my first shower in a week, and washed my clothes. Tomorrow morning, I hit the trail again by hiking back to where I left the AT and continuing my journey.
My journey has had its ups and downs. The elevation changes in Georgia were extreme. Most days I would climb up and down three or more mountains on my way to my next camping spot. Some of these mountains would gain 1000 feet in altitude in one mile. Then I would go back down again. Sounds boring maybe, but its not. Sometimes I am hiking along an old logging road, other times through a tunnel of rhododendron. Many times I am on a ridge where I can look to my right and left and see layer after layer of spectacular mountains. I have encountered countless springs from which I get my water. The beauty is staggering all around me. But there are times when I have to just slog through. I had to deal with four days of rain in Georgia. I was in the clouds the entire time. All I could see was white all around me. But, each day, I would end up at a shelter where I would either pile in with all the other soggy hikers or pitch my tent. These kind of conditions have led me to make friendships faster than at any time of my life. Many of the hikers have trail names. Papa November, Long Pants, Stallion, Bandito, The Testosterone Train, Trump, Chicken Run to name a few. Others just use their names from their former lives in the citified world. Many hikers will be given a trail name by there fellow hikers that will reference a characteristic or trait that they possess. My trail name is Braid because of the long braid I wear down my back. Hikers are both male and female. Most are between 20 and 30 years of age, but there are a few older hikers like me.
People usually get into camp from 4:00 to 7:00, late in the afternoon or evening. The evening is usually spent securing a safe, dry place to sleep, preparing supper, and socializing. I have enjoyed many campfires where people share stories of their lives. I have pulled out my harmonica on many occasions to offer a song to those gathered around.
At night, the other hikers and I suspend our food bags high off the ground so as not to attract bears. No, I have not seen any bears lately. A more common night time raider is the common mouse and sometimes a raccoon. But so far, so good.
I am mostly eating dehydrated food in my one cooked meal of the day, meals like Jamaican Chicken, Pad Thai, Beef Stroganof. Breakfast usually consists of granola or an energy bar along with coffee. Lunch is on the trail and consists of trail mix, cheese, and more high protein/high calorie bars. I am burning an incredible amount of calories each day, and I am trying my best to replenish my body’s reserves.
My next section of the trail will turn south for a while and take me almost back to Georgia before turning north again. My next crossing with civilization will happen near the old town of Wesser near Bryson City, NC. From there, it is on to Fontana Lake and entry into the Smoky Mountains.
Yes, every day has the same routine: get up, eat breakfast, break camp, hike for a long time, make camp, eat, go to sleep. Then, I start all over again. But each day has variety: new people encountered on the trail, new plants and trees, different weather, different scenery, and different animals. Sometimes I hike with others, sometimes alone. I listen to the sound of my breathing, and I pay attention to where I put my feet. I watch everything that happens around me. It’s not a bad life. If all goes well, it will be my life for the next six months.
I’ll communicate again the next time I have access to a computer.
My best to you,
Braid, AKA Joe Liles