Day 4: Gooch Gap to Woody Gap

Date:      Tuesday – 22 April 2014
Start:
      Gooch Gap Shelter                      15.8 miles                    Today:            5.2 miles Finish:   Woody Gap                                  21.0 miles                    Total AT:     21.0 miles

Deciding to only hike 5.2 miles today was the perfect excuse to sleep in. I didn’t even bother setting an alarm. By the time I woke up, just after 8:30am, Rob Steady was long gone.

I packed up my tent, went up to the shelter to make breakfast, and was shocked to find it empty. I guess Bear Grylls took Danny’s advice and got an early start after all. I was genuinely not expecting that.

Catherine joined me at one point, and I almost made a comment to her about Mr. Grylls’ likelihood of finishing a thru-hike (low) and how shocked I was that he’d left before 9am (very), but thought better of it. It’s too early in the day for negativity, and I’m certainly in no position to throw stones.

That turned out to be an exceptionally good decision as Bear was most emphatically not gone. He’d just decided to sleep upstairs, where he was completely hidden from view. I was sitting at the picnic table eating a Lara Bar and trying to decide if I wanted to heat some water for oatmeal when suddenly his head popped up over the edge of the shelter and scared me badly enough that I shouted and dropped my breakfast.

At 9:50am I shouldered my pack and set off.

At 9:51am I felt raindrops and returned to the picnic table, where I put on my raincoat and my rain pants, double-checked my dry bags, and wrestled my pack cover on before bravely heading back out into the coming storm.

At 9:59am the rain stopped, and I had to strip everything back off before I died from heat exhaustion.

I don’t know what I was thinking. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. I have hiked in the rain before. A light drizzle does not warrant a full rain suit. That way lies only sweat-soaked clothes and misery.

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I did keep the pack cover on just in case, which of course guaranteed no rain for the rest of the day.

The clouds stuck around, though.

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I took a Twix break at Gooch Gap, where USFS 42 crosses the trail. While I was sitting on a log, a guy drove up in a pickup truck and came over to say hi. He introduced himself as Papa Smurf which, as trail names go, is reasonably accurate if you overlook the missing hat.

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Papa Smurf told me he was heading up to Gooch Mountain Shelter to leave a note for a young woman he’d rescued after she sprained her ankle badly on the first day of her thru-hike. He and his wife took her in for two weeks while she recovered, and they’d just put her back on the trail yesterday.

Now that? Is some serious trail magic.

He offered to give me a ride to the Hiker Hostel from Woody Gap if I could get there by 2pm, so I crammed the rest of my chocolate bar into my mouth and tried to shuffle a little faster. Joan and Catherine blew past me maybe fifteen minutes later. Papa Smurf had made them a similar offer, and they were not going to miss out on that ride.

I trudged and checked my watch and trudged and checked my watch and trudged and checked my watch and, despite my best effort, didn’t roll into Woody Gap until 2:30pm.

Noooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!

Such is the fate of the slow hiker. I had just psyched myself up for either hitching a ride or hanging around until 5pm for the Hiker Hostel shuttle when I spotted Joan and Catherine sitting under the cover of the Woody Gap sign near the restroom. Ha! Not too late after all.

While we were waiting, six cars pulled into the parking area. I’m not the most observant person in the world, so I just registered a bunch of grey vehicles, but Joan poked me and pointed out they were all identical brand new Porsches.

Huh. That’s… probably not a coincidence.

Some of the drivers had gotten out and were milling around, so I casually wandered over and waited for someone to make eye contact so I could start asking questions. It turns out they were all test driving an as-yet-unreleased model and, sadly, were legally prohibited from offering rides to hopeful hikers.

Papa Smurf showed up before I had a chance to ask how I could get in on this sweet test-driving gig, but I did get one gentleman’s business card and blog address so hope is not yet lost. I’m certain I would make a fantastic test driver. My driving record is spotless, and nobody ever needs to know that’s only because I’ve spent fewer than 200 days behind the wheel in the last decade.

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On the way the Hiker Hostel, Papa Smurf stopped a few times for photo ops. This grave is right in the middle of an intersection.

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Joan, Catherine and I got lucky at the hostel and managed to snag their last three open bunks. They took the private queen room upstairs, while I ended up on a futon in the basement. It was so nice to be done hiking by mid-afternoon. We made arrangements to slack pack the next day, pooled our clothes to do laundry, and ordered vegetarian pizza for dinner. While waiting for that to arrive, I raided the hiker box for extra snacks and came away with six Oreos, three packets of chicken ramen and a bag of BBQ corn nuts.

I also had an interesting chat with another hiker named Sam. He runs a towing company in Florida and came up to hike the length of Georgia, but halfway through his first day his knee gave out. I made the mistake of asking him about his most unusual or interesting towing stories. Maybe he’d had to pull a car out of a swamp and an alligator was inside? Or maybe he’d gotten a call from someone who’d driven into a Best Buy or something?

That led to a unbelievably racist monologue about how Haitians were the worst drivers, just the worst, white people would never drive that badly.

I stopped talking to Sam after that.

Fortunately there were plenty of other conversational targets on the premises. The hostel was hosting a three-day ultra marathon that would begin tomorrow, and several members of the Dahlonega Ultra Marathon Association were spending the night. There’s a 1km dirt trail on the property, and these people were going to run around it. Over and over again. All day and all night. For three days. For fun.

That’s simultaneously inspirational and horrifying.

Over the next three days, whenever the trail started to drag me down, I’d just think about how much easier hiking is compared to ultrarunning and suddenly nothing would hurt quite so much.

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