“Solvitur ambulando.” It is solved by walking.
A busy 2-lane mountain highway is no place for a homeless dog, but between Friday and Sunday I encountered him three times: once dodging cars on the road, once on the trail Saturday while hiking with my friend and once on a narrow gravel road that led out of the cabin where I stayed. He appeared to be a terrier. It’s not the first time I’ve seen a stray on vacation but this time, like other times, I always wonder: Who’s the owner? If he’s homeless, is he getting food and water? In this case, he was skittish so no one could get close enough to give food or check for a tag.
As for the purpose of this trip: a roughly 11-mile hike, south to the north along the Appalachian Trail, between two gaps. My friend Dora met me at Neel’s Gap, which would be our hiking destination; the cabin where I stayed was in walking distance of Neel’s so we took her car around to Woody Gap.
Before the hike, I made two investments that proved to be good ones: hiking poles, which I’d never used before, and new boots which allowed me to remain blister-free and relatively comfortable. The old ones were too tight. The poles enabled better balance on the uphills and the straights, and took pressure off the knees going down. (Kudos to the person who invented hiking poles.)
It was a picture-perfect day with the temps reaching a high of 70-something degrees.
An early climb is called Preacher’s Rock. Magnificent views. Knowing the distance we had, though, we didn’t dawdle. Roughly two hours into the hike, we stopped on a large rock for lunch.
The longest and toughest climb of the day was the famed Blood Mountain, the highest on the Georgia section of the trail. The south-to-north ascent is easier than the reverse route, and the top rewards with expansive views of nearly 360 degrees. It’s the most popular mountain on the Georgia A.T.
By the time we topped Blood, we only had about two miles to the finish, so we snacked some more and took photos along with the other “tourists.” There’s an old stone shelter on top, along with a privy, which can seem like a bathroom at the Ritz when you’re accustomed to the alternative.
Because we saw more people on and around Blood Mountain, compared to the first part of the hike, we noticed more variations in dress. One woman looked like she had just come from the grocery store, dressed in a blouse and slacks and carrying a plastic sack. Another appeared almost ready for a night on the town. She wore a fancy scarf and sandals. To each his own and all that, but I wanted to ask these people: Do you know you’re in the middle of the woods climbing a mountain?
Then there was the other extreme. Did you know there are people who RUN mountain trails? If I wore a hat, it’d be off to them. It appeared all they had with them was a Camel Back, sipping water through the tube so they didn’t have to stop.
Dora and I encountered about four such people, all men. I could have sworn one of them was Matt Kirk who, incidentally, just set an A.T. unsupported record of 58 days, 9 hours. That means he alone was responsible for all his resupplies of food and other provisions. He never even rode in a vehicle. Imagine running/hiking 37 miles a day for 58 days and some change. In a row.
When we finished our 11-mile (11.3!) adventure at Neel’s Gap, we hung out on the stone porch of Mountain Outfitters, where I’d seen the stray dog the first time.
Dora had packed homemade cookies, a real treat.
Until the next adventure, I dream of the loud silence of the woods and the rustle of the leaves and cold mountain water, the infinite rocks and roots, and the sense of humility that comes from being but a speck among towering trees, the oldest in the land.