Orignally posted on allwomanalltrails blog. You can find the link here
Day 3: January 5th, Saturday- Hiking 7.6 miles to Gooch Mountain Shelter
I woke up around 7AM. It had started to get light out and I had finally got a good night of sleep on trail. I began to quietly pack up my stuff. Shortly after everyone else was awake too. Once I had everything packed away, I climbed down the ladder with my pack to eat my breakfast (pop tarts and peanut butter). I decided to hold off on getting water even though I only had about 1 liter. I brushed my teeth and headed to use the privy. I saw a hammock and tent set up behind the shelter (the latecomers).
As I walked up to the privy, I was surprised a woman was already in their using it to change her clothes. This must have been the voice I heard. Once she was done, we talked about how she and her brother, who was going back to college, were just out to do an overnight. She told me they had started at the Falls yesterday and trekked the 16ish miles to Hawk Mountain. I was impressed. I shared what I was doing and said I’d see her out on trail.
After using the privy, I walked back up to the shelter. I realized my feet were freezing because I had to put on wet shoes with dry socks. I knew I needed to get moving in order to warm up. No one else was ready and I decided to say my final goodbyes to Bootflap and Big guy, who were headed back to stay the night at Stover Creek Campsite. I told Richard and Jim I’d see them at the next shelter.
I headed back on trail and realized I still wouldn’t be in the sun for a little as it was on the other side of the mountain. I stopped to grab water and only filled one water bottle and forgot to fill the other. Soon after I descended the mountain to enter the first gap, Hightower, this was when I was greeted by the powerful winds that meet you crossing every gap. At this point, I was concerned and watchful of any dead trees or limbs as I walked up the mountain. As soon as I climbed to the top and reached the other side of the mountain, I was welcomed by the warmth of the sun and the retreat of the roaring wind.
Stopping and taking photos, the brother and sister passed me at lightning speed. I soon followed in their footsteps only to watch them disappear from sight.
I passed a couple who later I found out were finishing their thru-hike and another gentleman out hiking Southbound. Once climbing another mountain and escaping the winds, I decided to take a break alongside the trail in the sun. Shortly after, George (the retired vet, hiking with his two friends) walked up and asked if he could take a break in that spot too. Of course, I had said yes. He too wanted to enjoy the calm winds and warm sun. He was waiting for Brian and his other friend to come up. I had shared what my plan was, where I had stayed so far, how a mouse bit a hole in my sleeping bag, work, school, how I didn’t think I had enough water, the usual. He shared they were hiking all of Georgia and being picked up at Standing Indian, where I wanted to end but my shuttle driver told me the road was closed. It closed January 3rd but they planned to walk down a bit for road access, which I didn’t know about. They were headed to camp at Gooch too. The other guys walked up and sat down to take a break as well. This is when I found out Brian worked at Rei (where I had gotten my new sleeping bag) and mentioned I was going to return it. Brian told me you’re only supposed to return things you aren’t happy with. Well, Brian if you happen to read this, I did not return the sleeping bag but had my mom sew the hole.
Starting to get cold, I told the guys I’d see them again soon. Eventually, George and his friend caught up with me and we walked together for a couple of miles. At one point after just crossing a gap, I smelled gasoline. I paused and about 20 Jeep Wranglers paraded up the road, parked, and started to get out of their cars with loose dogs and kids. It was an unexpected sight but it was Saturday.
I had been short on water all morning and we finally got to a creek crossing. I crossed the creek using a log and hunching down placing my trekking poles in the water for balance. The guys hiked on knowing I needed to grab water. I chugged a whole bottle, which was a terrible idea because my stomach felt so full going up the next climb. I refilled both bottles and now hiking alone decided to put on some music to help boost morale to the shelter.
Walking up to the shelter, I could see there was a ton of people. The shelter looked pretty full, there was a fire burning, hammocks set up, and I looked for tenting spots. I asked one of the many people hanging out around the picnic table where the tent sites were and headed in that direction. I picked what I thought was a flat site in the sun. I was going to tent today for the first time on this trip. I set up my tent, which seemed to take forever. It was a bit windy and I wanted to make sure my tent wasn’t going to go anywhere. George and his friends set up on the next tenting site over from me. I gathered my food bag, took out my braids, brushed out my hair, put on my beanie and down jacket, and headed to socialize and warm up by the fire.
Once I picked what looked like the best spot around the fire, the smoke started to blow right in my direction… The guy seated on the side said, “Smoke follows beauty” a saying I was not familiar with. I moved to sit next to the guy, which was on a slanted log and made feel like I was going to tumble over at any second. Uncomfortable, I went and sat in the smoky spot. The one guy offered me his seat pad and I told him I had my own by my tent. Eventually, I got mine.
Another guy joined the fire saying the same thing, “Smoke follows beauty.” Seriously, I’m no beauty after backpacking three days in the woods without a shower. I found out its a saying used to say yeah it sucks the smoke is blowing in your direction but at least your pretty. The two guys were friends from the area (weekend backpackers) one was a nurse (trail name: nurse) and the other used to be a massage therapist. Nurse’s mom was a teacher and asked if I wanted to a job in Georgia.
A young boy still in high school came to hang around the fire and asked me, “why I was hiking the trail?” I shared my story. He also shared that checking the log the previous night, a bear had been spotted. With the number of people at the shelter around 20, there was no way a bear would come and visit.
Nurse’s friend commented how he didn’t think I was the same girl who first walked up because I had looked so different. I told him if he saw me later with glasses, it was still me. He said, “just a smarter verison.”
I said, “I’m not smart now?” The guys were fun to hang around with and provided light, playful conversation. While making dinner, I met a father, daughter (who was a cop), and the young boy, who was just backpacking for the night. I met two other seperate groups of father and son backpacking together. An older gentleman backpacking major miles. Jim and Richard even walked up as I was hanging around the fire. I realized I hadn’t seen George and his friends in a while. I had to put my food away in the bear box anyway and went down to harass them for being anti-social. They said they made and ate dinner and everyone but George was going to come to hang out by the fire. I asked them, what their thoughts were on a female contributing to the fire? I had shared I was at one point the only one sitting there and felt bad not bringing wood over. George said, ” it wasn’t my job. Some people out here would want to take care of me.” It still didn’t stop him from sharing his branch with me. We thought it’d be funny if I walked up with a small branch and laid it on the fire.
At this point I had changed into my glasses and sleep clothes, I walked up with the stick in my hand. I announced, “my contribution to the fire” and received many laughs. I asked all of the guys about bringing wood to the fire. They felt after a couple days I better be contributing to the fire. Mental note: Always bring wood to the fire. Slowly people trickled off to bed, we observed the stars, moving satellites, and talked.
It gets dark around 6 and it was now around 8. I soon retreated to my own tent. This is when I realized I set up my tent on a slant. My sleeping pad kept sliding down against the tent wall. Too lazy to do anything about it, I fell asleep being woken up occasionally by the sound of my tent fly blowing in the wind. Guess I didn’t secure it as well as I thought I did after all.