I slept wonderfully in the hotel, and woke up promptly at 7AM. By 9:30 we had eaten breakfast, packed up and were hitchhiking back to the trail. We were picked up by a guy in an old Jeep who squeezed us in between his fishing rod and a pile of bullets, and for the 5 mile ride we discussed the hunting season.
The trail meandered through Cherry Log, a small town/community where we did quite a lot of walking on roads marveling at the houses that people lived in out there.
The trail went right through people’s back yards, and sometimes it was obvious that they knew the trail existed on their property. At one spot, there was a tiny library with several books in it, but one caught my attention. The title was “A Long Walk to Water.” I wondered if someone was messing with us.
We climbed up and up into the mountains along a combination of roads and trails until we finally left civilization. I felt great. My hips didn’t hurt, my shoulder didn’t hurt, and my feet were feeling rejuvenated. The climbs were tough, but my legs are getting stronger.
The views from the ridges were particularly beautiful as the sun was setting. We were thankful to be hiking the trail in late fall because it seemed like earlier in the season it would have been overgrown, particularly with poison ivy, which once in a while we saw with its leaves still on.
Unfortunately I tripped over a stick which caught on my gaiter (which I wear to keep stuff from getting into my shoes, like rocks and pine needles). Now it has a huge hole in it, but luckily we brought a needle and thread, so John is sewing it back together again.
Tomorrow it’s supposed to rain. We’re mentally preparing for snow at higher elevations.
11/18 20.2 miles
We spent the whole day anticipating the rain. The clouds were ominous and occasionally we got a tiny hint of a drizzle. Given that it was a Saturday (as we finally figured out), we actually saw some people enjoying the trail.
We crossed another long distance trail called the Pinhoti Trail, at its northern terminus and stopped to pay our respects.
We crossed a dirt road where a lady was driving past, and she stopped and rolled down her window. “Are you hiking the Benton?” She asked. We nodded. “It’s supposed to rain later today.” She pointed out.
“We were expecting snow at higher elevations” I responded.
She paused, thinking for a moment. “No, it’s not cold enough. But if anywhere in Georgia is going to get snow, it’s here!” She proclaimed.
It was still quite warm, mostly in the high 50’s. We both had tired legs. No longer fresh from our town stop. I was dragging up the hills.
We entered into Big Frog Wilderness, and our goal was to get up and over Big Frog Mountain, which sits above 4000ft. We wanted to get below 3000ft to give ourselves the best chance to not get snowed on too badly.
Most of the way up Big Frog, we found a barely legible sign that suggested that we had entered Tennessee.
The leaves were crunching under foot– so loudly that we for the most part have been unable to talk to each other without stopping or shouting. It has made for somewhat boring days. There has not been much of interest on the trail, and on top of that, we have not been able to talk much either. As my feet ached and my legs burned, I quietly wondered what it was about thru-hiking that I enjoyed.
As we ascended Big Frog, we climbed into the fog, high up along a ridge line with no views. It was still quite beautiful.
Just past the summit we ran into two ladies who were setting up camp. We must have looked quite strange walking up on them. It was windy and in the high 40’s and John was wearing a t-shirt and held an umbrella in one hand. We stopped to say hello and to try to trade information. They had little information to offer. “It’s supposed to snow tonight” one of them said.
“Are you TRYING to get snowed on?” Asked John. They looked confused.
“We’re planning to try to camp at lower elevation in hopes of avoiding the snow.” I offered.
“This is about as high up as you can get” John continued.
They seemed set on their poorly selected camp spot and we continued on, hopeful to find something more sheltered, and at much lower elevation.
It took us another 4 or 5 miles to find something. By then we were closer to 2000ft and the temperature had gone up by more than 10 degrees. We were practically sweating. We set up camp and were thankful to finally take our shoes off and lay down. The rain/snow still hadn’t started.
At about 9 or 9:30pm the rain started. It absolutely poured with a lot of wind to go along with it. John and I sat up in the tent with our headlamps pointed at the walls of the tent watching the walls cave in on us under the wind pressure. I’m not sure when the rain let up, but we wound up falling asleep in fetal positions in order to avoid being battered by the walls of the tent with the wind.
I slept terribly. Between the storm and my aches and pains, and the temperature dropping after the storm passed, I just didn’t sleep much. I thought about the girls up on the ridge several thousand feet higher than us, and much more exposed, and wondered how they faired.
11/19 19.3 miles
When the alarm went off I groaned. I could have slept for another century. It was cold too, and hard for me to convince myself to crawl out of my sleeping bag. I was grateful that we didn’t get snow, and even more grateful that it hadn’t even rained on us while we were hiking.
Once we finally got moving, I warmed up. Unfortunately John failed to sleep with his camera at night, and the mechanism that opens and closes the camera lens stopped working, possibly due to freezing temperatures. All day he’s been bummed about that. His camera may now be nothing more than a brick.
We walked down to the Ocoee River, past a hydraulic dam, and climbed up from there.
The guide book marked there being water at a trail junction, and we were planning on getting water there. We got to the intersection and there was no water. We looked at the map. It showed a stream maybe a mile down the side trail and down at least 1000 ft or more. There was no way I was going all the way down there for water. John and I each had about a third of a liter left, and the next water source was in 5 miles.
“Let’s just suffer through it with the water we have” I suggested.
John was really annoyed, but agreed.
Since it was so cold out, we didn’t actually drink much and the 5 miles went by quickly.
The trail then crossed a section that had not seen a trail maintainer in years. Even though a lot of the vegetation had died back since summer, the trail was very over grown and there were blowdowns every few feet. I kept plowing ahead, and John occasionally tried to clear some branches off the trail.
At one point I was stomping through leaves when I heard John shout out from somewhere behind me:
I spun around knowing that that could only mean that he was barely OK, and saw him upside down head downhill fallen off the trail on a steep incline. He had fallen off the trail with a branch he was trying to throw down. I had to giggle after making sure he was in fact OK, as he looked like an upside down turtle.
We finally hit some trail that was much more clear and walked briskly downhill towards a stream that we wanted to camp by. It’s supposed to be cold tonight and the good news is that we’re camped at about 1000ft in elevation. The bad news is that we’re in a stream valley, which could mean colder temperatures, but we had little choice about that.
11/20 15.6 miles
We woke up to a ton of condensation on everything. We slept in two sleeping bags each, and the top ones were pretty wet. The condensation on the very edges of the tent had frozen. It was definitely the coldest morning yet. We put on all our layers, packed up and got moving. We had about 5 or 6 miles to hike in order to reach Reliance Fly and Tackle, the location of our first mail drop, and we were eager to also have a meal there.
The trail was fairly flat and followed the creek up to where it flowed into the Hiwassee River, which we crossed on a bridge. From there we walked the road to the Fly and Tackle where we were pleasantly surprised by how inexpensive their half pound “tackle burger” was. We promptly ordered two and sat down.
“Did you guys camp out last night?” a guy hanging out there asked us. We nodded. “My thermometer read 22 degrees about half an hour ago” he added.
We sat down to wait for our food.
There were a couple of old guys hanging out at the table next to ours.
“I’m going to make a 15 pound turkey for me and the dogs” one guy said to the other.
“You know they make turkey hot dogs these days, I’m sure your dogs would be happy with that”
“Nope, they’re picky eaters, they want the real thing!”
I chuckled listening in on their conversation.
The lady who took our order also let us use her phone in order to call ahead about a potential trail closure. I also used the opportunity to leave a voicemail on my mother’s phone telling her I was alive and well.
We also picked up a package we had mailed to ourselves, which was behind the counter. In it were two boxes of Tim Tam’s, an Australian cookie that is not only delicious and full of calories, but also is the cookie used for the “Tim Tam Slam”. The Tim Tam Slam is when you take a Tim Tam cookie, and use it as a straw to drink hot chocolate, and then as the chocolate in the cookie starts melting and you can barely hold onto it anymore, you drop the whole thing in your mouth. I had also mailed myself a couple of packets of hot chocolate for this purpose, and the lady at the front of the store happily made me some hot water. I decided to share the Tim Tam Slam with her, and she was thrilled. She went to write down the name of the cookies so she could show her grandson, when John and I decided to give her the second box of cookies since there was no way we were going to go through them all. She thanked us profusely, but really she was doing us a favor by taking some of the weight off our hands. We definitely had too much food.
We spent another hour chatting with her and the other guys at the store.
Then it occurred to me. It’s because of moments like these that we thru-hike. On long distance hikes, you wind up in places in the middle of nowhere that you never would have found otherwise, and you meet the nicest people.
A couple of the gentleman had a contraption that converted old records into either CDs, tapes or MP3 files on a USB drive. They had a note book completely full of songs, and they were going through their old record collection and putting them onto a USB drive. They had been working on this project for 5 years, and they only had 2 songs left.
We also found out that the lady at the front and her husband (one of the gentlemen with the record player) were in their 80’s and their son owned the place. They told us about how they had honeymooned on a canoe in the Ten Thousand Islands area of the Florida Everglades back many decades ago, and John and I recalled how we had done a similar but much shorter trip just earlier this year.
It was hard to leave the Fly and Tackle shop in Reliance, but there were miles to be hiked.
Soon after we hit the trail again, we made a wrong turn. We probably hiked a quarter of a mile in the wrong direction before we figured out that we had missed the trail. Then, just an hour or two later, we again went the wrong way. We hadn’t made a wrong turn since we started, but today we were making mistakes left and right.
The trail followed the river, which was laden with amazing rocks, and very steep on either side. The trail was very narrow, and sometimes it felt like we were going to plummet down the mountain, but I tried not to look down too often. It got dark before we completed our mileage for the day, and we were nervous about losing the trail in the dark, or having to go across sketchy sections in the dark. Luckily, we only had to walk a short distance once we actually needed our headlamps.
When we got to the campsite we were planning on staying at, we saw a light up ahead. We soon found out that it was another hiker! A southbound Benton MacKaye hiker named Ben, the first other thru-hiker we’ve met. We traded stories and notes about the trail while we ate our diner and slowly we got too cold to hang out and retreated into our tent for the night.