Traveler

I mentioned my friend Jack Dickens who’s currently through-hiking the Appalachian Trail. Wanted to put his mug shot up so that his story becomes more “real.” Hope you’re mildly interested. I won’t judge interest in # of comments or else I’d stop blogging altogether. It is the custom of hikers to take on a trail name and to sign the log books along the way with your assumed name. Jack has taken the moniker “Traveler.” His lovely wife Elaine meets him at various points along the way and sends out his journal entries via e-mails for those interested. I debated for a while about posting these, but am going to. If you’re not interested, so be it. They won’t all be this long because I’m getting us all caught up; this comprises the first 4 e-mails. For the sake of space, I edited out some material (sorry Jack), but tried to keep as much intact as possible. I didn’t change any words however, I wanted that to be his. The pictures are from our trip back in September.

jack-dickens1.jpg

February 6, 2008 – Springer Mountain to Hightower Gap = 8.9 miles
High winds, rain, and tornado warnings this morning delayed my leaving. Elaine dropped me off at Springer after 12:30pm. Hard rain, wind and fog at Springer. I touched the plaque (Southern Terminus of AT) Tried to find the book to sign, but could not find it. So I began my thru-hike. Weather improved later and sun came out. Saw HUGE (200ft) hemlock in a virgin forest area near Stover Creek. Beautiful. No other hikers seen.

Jack
P.S. Have decided to use “Traveler” as my trail name. It feels right.

February 7, 2008 – Hightower Gap to Woody Gap (11.8 miles)
The weather was cold (28 degrees) and windy. I was comfortable with 3 layers on my torso and 2 layers on my arms and legs as long as I kept moving! Gloves/mittens and a cap with ear muffs helped a lot. Today’s hike was longer but a little slower thanks to advice from Bearfoot, a former thru hiker.

This part of the A.T. is basically a hardwood forest. With no leaves on the trees, the view from mountain summits is much better than at any other time of the year. The bad news is that you can usually see the next mountain you have to climb and that can be intimidating. I saw no other hikers. I did see a Dept. of Natural Resources man who was repairing a sign someone had sawed off!! Go figure.

February 8, 2008 – Woody Gap to Neel’s Gap (10.6 Miles)
Temperature was 34 degrees F, but warmed up during the day. Saw about a dozen day hikers near Blood Mountain.

Hiked past Slaughter Creek Campsite where I camped out alone on Halloween night 2006 on the back side of Blood Mountain. Sounds spooky, but it was a quiet night with a beautiful full moon.

I met my first trail character today at the old ranger cabin on Blood Mountain. His name was David (Trail name Privy Monster) and he is studying philosophy and theology in Boston. Says he started at Amicololla Falls visitor Center on 1/26/2008. This means he’s done 36 miles in 14 days and is certainly “hiking his own hike”.

February 9, 2008 – Neel’s Gap to Hog Pen Gap (6.4 miles)
Saw Privy Monster again at Neel’s Gap and got his picture. Lots of day hikers. Temperature was 35 degrees early, but warmed to 55 degrees. Some of the day hikers were in shorts and T-shirts. Winter mountain views were great. Clear blue sky everywhere.

Stopped for a late lunch of Snicker Bar and string cheese at Testatee Gap, then over Wildcat Mountain to my truck.

February 10, 2008 – Hog Pen Gap to Unicoi Gap (13.6 miles)
Temperature 34 degrees with high winds. Some gusts must have been 40-50 MPH at mountain tops. Went thru Chattahoochee Gap where there is a spring which is the source of the Chattahoochee River which supplies water to Atlanta and much of Georgia. Covered lots of rocky ground particularly near Unicoi Gap. Only a few day hikers were out.

February 11, 2008 – Unicoi Gap to Dick’s Creek Gap (16.1 miles)
The morning weather was frigid!!! The temperature was 25 degrees with HIGH winds (30 to 40 MPH). Today was my longest hike and had more mountains to climb than I have previously encountered. It is fair to say I am exhausted tonight and will definitely take a rest day tomorrow. Fortunately the 2 highest mountains were in the early morning hours when my legs were fresh.

I met another hiker today. “Mike” is in his mid-20’s and was struggling with a huge (at least 50 lbs) pack. He said he was just going from 1 shelter to the next (about 7 miles). He had more problems than I could help him within a brief encounter so I wished him well and said “I’ll see you down the trail”.

I’m dong better with climbing now thanks to advice from my hiking friend, Neil Harris. I’m setting an uphill pace (SLOW) which I can maintain without stopping. It seems efficient and I’m happy with it. Thanks, Neil. Elaine is worried that I’m so tired tonight. Keep both of us in your prayers.

February 13, 2008 — Wayah Bald to Winding Stair Gap (10.1 miles)
Morning Temperature 35 degrees with fog and some light rain. Stayed in fog all morning. No views possible. Wore my rain suit to avoid being cold and wet. Met one thru-hiker heading north. His trail name was Dozer. He was young, bearded, and walking fast with a small pack. I think he’ll probably make it.

I saw two white-tail deer through the fog. Tomorrow will complete what I can do between here and Dick’s Creek Gap without staying out overnight. I checked with the Ranger station. The roads I need to access south of here are closed until mid-March. I’m planning to do that section with a 3 or 4 day hike before I enter the Smokies. This section (Rock Gap to Dicks Creek Gap) is the same one I hiked in October of last year with Andy Wells and friends. I’m feeling better now. It’s amazing what a little rest can do for tied legs.

February 14, 2008 – Winding Stair Gap to Rock Gap (3.7 miles)
It was a short day today because the road beyond Rock Gap is closed until mid-March. The temperature was in the high 30’s with a clear sunny sky. No other hikers were seen today.

February 16, 2008 – Wayah Bald to Nantahala River (17.2 miles)
The temperature was 45 degrees in the early morning, but warmed to about 60 degrees during the day. It was partly sunny and a beautiful day for hiking. I met a “trail angel” whose trail name was Apple at Burningtown Gap. He had set up a large tent (heated) to extend hospitality to hikers. He offered cokes, hot dogs, etc. free of charge. He was very interested in my plan to thru-hike.

I reached Tellico Gap by noon and hiked on up to Wesser Bald where I had lunch at an old fire tower. Views were wonderful. Passed Wesser Bald Shelter which is an old log structure and took a photo. The descent to the Nantahala River was very steep in places.

February 18, 2008 – Stecoah Gap to Nantahala River (13.6 miles)
The temperature was 44 degrees this morning with heavy fog. Got cold as I hiked up toward Cheoah Bald. There was a cold north wind blowing, and no view at the top because of the fog. There were lots of new blowdowns (trees) due to last night’s storm. Some looked twisted off about 10-15 feet from the ground (?Twister?).

Stopped for lunch after 1pm. The sun came out and I got some good photos of Nantahala Gorge from there. I was delayed for about 20-30 minutes this afternoon when multiple blowdowns obscured the trail. I finally found it and came on down to the cabin without further delay.

February 20, 2008 – Stecoah Gap to Fontana Dam (15.2 miles)
Hiking north from Stecoah Gap, I found the first 2 miles to be the steepest ascents I’ve had so far. With the temperature 37degrees and a 25-30 MPH wind, it was a tough way to start the day. I encountered 4-5 blowdowns in that stretch of trail and had to bushwhack around them. Getting around these areas on a steep mountain slope was exciting to say the least!!!

Reached Yellow Creek road at about 11Am. Decided to hike on to Cable Gap Shelter where I stopped for lunch and made photos of the log shelter. The wind continued all day. Got some nice photos of the Fontana area from a high point north of Walker Gap. My primary memory of today will be walking up the shady slopes in a high cold wind and then crossing over the mountain into sunlight and still air. Heaven must have moments like that!!

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