BMT miles: 3.3
(Total miles 12.3)
We got to the Amacalola Visitor’s Center with the help of our friend Francisco who gave us a ride from Asheville stopping along the way to mail some resupply packages and fuel up with fast food from various notorious fast food chains. We were especially impressed with the quality of American engineering of Francisco’s Ford pickup truck which had a cup holder in the front seat which could accommodate a two liter bottle of soda.
Seven years ago we came to the same spot to start our Appalachian Trail thru-hike. I remembered our shuttle driver, “Survivor Dave,” picking our packs up from the back of his van and asking us, “So, you’re going to carry these heavy packs all the way to Maine?”
Today we quickly snapped some silly photos at the famous arch, and continued on up to Amacalola Falls. Francisco followed us up to the falls and snapped some pictures before bidding us farewell and heading back.
We continued on up the approach trail towards Springer Mountain, the beginning of both the Appalachian Trail and the Benton MacKaye Trail. The approach trail adds about 9 miles to the length of either trail but seems worth it for the beautiful falls at the beginning.
The trail was crowded until we left the falls, and then it died down. We ran into one lady who stopped and asked us if we were headed to the Hike Inn.
“No, we’re hiking the Benton MacKaye Trail,” I replied. “we’re from Asheville, and we’re hiking back home”
“Oh, I’m doing a 10 mile loop” she replied, and proceeded to explain exactly how.
“So where are you headed today?” She asked.
“Somewhere past Springer Mountain, I guess ” I replied.
“Wait, you’re camping outside tonight!?” She proclaimed
“Um, yes,….” I answered.
“It’s going to be 34 degrees tonight!”
“We’ll be fine” I said.
“Uhh, ok, have fun guys” she said, giving us a sideways glance. She started heading away from us.
“I guess she missed the part where I said we were walking home” I said to John , smiling.
We hit Springer Mountain just as the sun was setting between the mountains, and again, it was so weird to be back to the start of the Appalachian Trail. Seven years ago I had no idea there was another trail that started here.
A few hundred feet further, past the AT shelter, we found where the BMT diverged, and found a commemorative plaque.
I thought about how odd it was that the Benton MacKaye Trail started here. According to the plaque, Benton MacKaye had thought of this as a route for the Appalachian Trail, but all I could remember from my history of the AT was that he had envisioned the trail actually starting at Mount Mitchell and finishing on Mount Washington. I guess he must have had many more ideas that I had no clue about.
Darkness started falling, and I let my eyes adjust. Soon I needed to take out my headlamp. Stupidly, I had jerry rigged an old headlamp that had a small piece of plastic fall off of it where the batteries were being held in, and my repair totally wasn’t working. It just kept turning off and on and off again. We’ll need a new headlamp once we get to town. No way we’re dealing with this.
We finally set up camp at one of the many intersections of the AT and the BMT, and ate some mashed potatoes in the tent before settling in for the night.
I slept pretty terribly- my shoulder hurt most of the night and it was much warmer than I had anticipated so I kept shedding layers and kicking off my extra sleeping bag. John wound up putting the warmer of his two sleeping bags back in his backpack in the middle of the night.
11/14 17.1 miles
We had set the alarm on John’s watch for 6:30am, and it turned out that was the perfect time to wake up. It was just light enough to start packing up the tent without needing a headlamp. We got going and the trail intersected the Appalachian Trail a number of times. The Benton Mackaye Trail is slightly longer than the Appalachian Trail around here, so the mileage on the signs along the AT pointing to Springer Mountain really confused me.
The trail passed along Long Creek where there were many spur trails to waterfalls, which John enjoyed taking pictures of using a new setup he’s trying out with his trekking pole as a tripod.
The trail seemed very easy for most of the day. Gentle ups and downs, but nothing too strenuous, and for the most part not too many rocks and roots. We passed over Toccoa River Bridge, which somehow was an attraction because we passed several groups of people hanging out and walking around that area.
After about 15 miles of hiking, I was pretty tired. I’m definitely not in “thru-hiker shape” and my legs started shaking a bit on the downhill. Just as I was starting to complain about how much downhill there was, we hit a road, and the trail headed straight up a mountain from there. My legs were definitely tired on the uphill too. I couldn’t win. I dragged my feet up the mountain moaning and groaning a bit, and finally we decided to stop hiking at about 17 miles into our day. I knew I could have hiked further, but we’re not in a rush, so what’s the point? It’s good to be out hiking again without a planned destination for each day.
Before we shut our eyes, we looked at the databook and found out that there was a 4 mile road walk towards the end of tomorrow’s day of hiking and we had little option but to complete it at the end of what would now be a 21 mile day. That’s because there’s no camping along the road. So much for unplanned hiking!
11/15 21 miles
The day did not go as planned. The 21 mile day wasn’t exactly planned to begin with, but neither was the difficulty of the first 17 miles of it. The trail itself was well maintained and easy to follow, but it went up and down about a million little hills, sometimes quite steeply.
The layer of dead leaves and acorns added to the challenge, especially on the downhills where we sometimes felt like we were going to slide right off the mountain.
It turns out that John not only eats twice as much as a normal person, he also drinks twice as much too. I figured we could make do with about a liter of water for every 5 miles of hiking, but John managed to guzzle about 5 liters in the first 10 miles of the day. I started to wonder if there was something wrong with him. Water sources were a bit more tricky today than they were yesterday, with unreliable sources being quite a haul off of the trail.
Finally we found a good water source a mile uphill from a road crossing and we sat down to drink and collect more water. As we packed up I noticed that my pole was missing, and we both started to panic. We each were carrying one pole and we needed both of them in order to set up our tent. I also really had to go to the bathroom, and I told John I was going to go further up the hill to dig a hole. John told me he was going to run down the mountain to the road crossing to check for my pole there.
After I finished pooping and filling in my hole, I slid back down the hill to where the water source was and checked one more time for my pole, and found it! It was camouflaged in with the dead leaves. I shouted down the hill to John with no answer. I knew I had to run after him since I had no idea how far back he would go, not knowing that the pole was vin my hand.
I ran maybe a quarter mile downhill shouting the whole way until I heard John answer. He was headed back up. He had just done two extra miles looking for my stupid pole.
We groaned and headed back to where we had dropped our packs and took a break.
The trail didn’t get any easier, and eventually we made it to the top of a mountain with a fire tower, but we were not able to climb it.
We made it to the road at about 4:15pm and started our road walk. Along the way we hit a general store that claimed to have a diner. I got very excited and ran over to it in hopes of having a meal. It was closed. The sign on the door said “starting this week, closed on Wednesdays”. I looked at my watch. It was Wednesday. What were the chances? (Shush.. I know… about one in seven).
A few minutes later, we hit another restaurant, and we could tell by the number of cars parked outside that it was definitely open. We rushed in and asked if we could eat there, and where we should stow our backpacks. They let us bring them to our table, and we sat down and ate a burger and a chicken sandwich with French fries. Of course it was delicious.
By the time we left, the sun was just setting. We had about 3 more miles of road walking before the trail headed into the woods. We took out our headlamps, trying to stay visible to oncoming cars, and power walked with renewed energy down the road.
Finally, in darkness we found where the trail veered into the woods, and we staggered the remaining half a mile to find a place to camp for the night. Just as we crawled into the tent, a light rain started. We were thankful to be dry, well fed, and ready to sleep.
Again I slept terribly. My shoulder ached all night and I couldn’t get comfortable.
11/16 8.3 miles
We got up and packed up the tent. I headed in the directly of what I thought was the trail while John took a picture of the falls we were camped next to.
The trail that I was on was clearly labeled with the white diamond of the Benton MacKaye Trail, but we I was headed downhill when I knew we were supposed to be headed uphill. I turned around when I saw the road that we had walked on the day before, and started heading back towards John. I soon saw him coming down at me.
“We’re going the wrong way” I told him
“I figured” he replied.
We headed back up the hill back to where we started for the day, and found a very confusing intersection. Basically, there was no way we could have not made that mistake, and also south-bounders would make a similarly dumb mistake. A alternate (blue blaze on the map) was also labeled with white diamonds as the BMT, and so the trail had us going in circles.
We found the trail going up the mountain finally and I spent the next 20 minutes contemplating what the trail maintainers must have been thinking when they blazed that section.
The temperature dropped as we climbed more than 1000 ft towards the top of Rocky Mountain. From there we slowly descended into a valley of old roads and there was a stream to cross with a few rocks that I thought maybe I could hop across. John didn’t bother, and just waded in, but I put one foot on a somewhat slippery rock and the lunged toward another as both my feet slipped out from under me and I went toppling into the water. I heard a snicker from John, and it would have just been funny had I not had to catch myself using my arms, and my stupid frozen shoulder throbbed in pain.
I dragged myself out of the stream pathetically and marched onward. Soon we were walking on gravel roads leading to the intersection of US Hwy 76, where we hitch-hiked into Blue Ridge and got into a hotel and headed over to an all you an eat Chinese Food restaurant. After eating ourselves into a coma, we headed over to the Food Lion to buy more supplies (we’ve learned never to shop on an empty stomach).
Our next stop is Reliance, and we hope to be there in about 4 days. Not sure if there will be internet signal there, but if there is, I’ll be checking in from there!