Long-Distance Walking, Mountains, USA
Comments 10

Blood Mountain Blues

Perhaps I’d over-romanticised the South, but it had fascinated me for as long as I can remember.

And now I was walking through it…

MAY, 2004

Hasten slowly, Goat…

Day 1, 3:09PM, Justus Creek, GA

A hard-earned afternoon tea break near a sandy-bottomed stream. I’m revising my objectives. I started well, but the afternoon heat and the steep hills it coincided with brought me to my senses. I’m only a mile now from the saner objective of Gooch Mountain Shelter, a respectable 14.7m day… [journal entry]

My journal

I’m starting the Appalachian Trail late in the season, and my emotions are aswirl. The primary urge, however, with 2,000 miles of walking to be done, is the need to haul ass, in the local idiom…

But this pack — this pack is heavy

The ladies in the shelter were emerging when I said goodbye. I farewelled the Iowans through their tent wall — Seth wished me godspeed, etc. Probably never see them again. I passed Lauren‘s dumped pack — Jesus, it looked like a disposal-store piece of crap, and she just left it there outside all night. The shoulder straps were literally just straps, which she’d attempted to pad with foam and about a mile of duct tape…

It was a great morning’s walk, still chilly but sunny and clear-skied, though the sun took a long while to mount the hills and probe down to the pathway. Hardly a person all morning, and the forest was gorgeous…

..still, quiet but for the birdsong. The trail parallelled Long Creek for some time…

..with its soothing, cooling whoosh…

Not so soothing is my hurried lunch at Hawk Mountain Shelter, the site commandeered by a group of marines stretched out in hammocks, a radio squawking painfully into the woods while they barbecue in the fire pit. Thank God I’m not staying here. They’re friendly enough when I tell them where I’m from, fondly recalling Brisbane, Townsville, Rockhampton from manoeuvres years before. “You can just throw your trash in the fire if you like,” they offer. I decline. As I flee, they add, “Say hi to Seamus at the bar at Gettysburg,” (many hundreds of miles north).

“Who should I say said hello?” I ask.

“Just say the marines.”

I later learn there’s a base nearby. And, apparently, certain unplanned-for objective hazards:

Shame about the paucity of orange in my trail wardrobe. Plenty along the path, though:

After I left the marines, the terrain got a lot hillier:

I lost a bit of steam, and the sun was burning more fiercely. I ate a lot of energy bars today, probably five or six, plus crackers, peanut butter and cheese, chocolate. But something in those Clif or Power Bars (or perhaps the explosive combination) had a powerful flatulent effect. I’m surprised the squirrels weren’t dropping out of the trees…

A long day, the first of many dozens of long days, ends at Gooch Mountain,

dedicated to a young hiker who died and whose family financed this ecologically designed shelter… Basically, my problem today was too much food — a real heavy bag, around 10 days’ worth, I reckon — and too much water…

Got going at 7:15am, absolutely splendid forest all the way to Gooch Gap, then a gentle climb with great views to Woody Gap…

..where a paved road meets the trail. There I met two chubby female hikers from Alabama, one of whom had a friend in Brisbane — did I know her? (Of course not).

Talked briefly with a lone, middle-aged day-hiker as I entered Blood Mountain Wilderness:

He reminded me [yet again] that Baxter State Park (Katahdin) closed late-October…

The crushing pack weight, the crushing heat, an impossibly distant finish-line: pangs of self-doubt. Why, oh why didn’t I come over a month earlier? (I was desperately working and saving, that’s why). And I had no idea sweet, sunny Georgia’s miles were so hard. All day I’m either climbing or descending — Big Cedar Mountain, Granny Top Mountain, Burnett Field Mountain — through woods jumping with chipmunks and squirrels, into shady rhododendron glades, and along ridges ablaze with flame azaleas, the path bordered with sprays of wildflowers.

Blood Mountain, last climb of the day:

Howard SF, Wikipedia Commons

How could anyone resist such a welcoming name? It comes from — well, I’ll let the sign tell it:

“Townhouses”?!

It’s hot and I’m tired. Refilling at a stream below waterless Blood — highest point on the Georgia A.T. —  a father-son pair tells me about the bear that used to bunk down inside the cabin on top. “Made itself right at home,” they say.

“Well, it’s gonna have to move over if it’s still there.”

The climb is much hotter and harder than it should be with what feels like an extra hiker riding on my back. At last, on the wooded summit, the airless, bearless, dusty old Depression-era cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corps…

..which I render habitable with some primitive housekeeping (a mangy broom-head hanging on a nail). The evening chill descends; on goes the fleece, the beanie, and the kettle. Watching the sunset from the rocks, a hot bowl of hiker mush in my lap: satisfaction, relief, numbing exhaustion — and something else? Nah, just the tingling thrill as I watch them soften, glow, and dissipate into the dusk — the Appalachians:

I’m woken from cinematic dreams, much too early, by the pitter-patter of furry feet on the wooden floor that is my bed. For hours I’m harassed by a rodent making ever-bolder incursions; I pull my food bags closer, lash out with feet, hands, slap the floor. Just when I’m almost back in my dreams, craving unconsciousness, they’re back: tiny footpads across the foot of my sleeping bag. I hurl epithets, I hurl clothes, at last I reach for my camera and squeeze the shutter…

The flash illuminates…a skunk:

Lucky my aim was off…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

Next post: A last-minute flight to remote Tasmania

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10 Comments

  1. Good write up. I don’t own any bright colours in regards to my hiking gear, so I’d be a little nervous seeing a sign like that on a tree! Great adventure that would be hard to top I would think.

    Nice touch with the ‘heroes’ on the side! Quite shocking to see Iggy Pop with his shirt off?! One of my favourite songs is ‘Eid Ma Clack Shaw’ plus there’s nothing wrong with a bit of ‘Blank Generation’ either! Plus Bill Hicks, imagine what he could say about the politics of today if he was still with us… In fact I could be banging on forever about your list!

    • Greg, forgive me, I never saw the second part of your comment till now that SW mentioned it — it was severely truncated on the dashboard…

      Yes, I’ve wondered that about Bill Hicks as well. He was SO SPOT ON in all of his observations back then — all his routines about Bush sound right, and then you realise it was Bush Senior! “Blank Generation” is just a brilliant punk record, but I mainly listen to quieter stuff in my dotage. Bill Callahan has been a favourite since Smog, but that song you mention is beautiful too. As for Iggy – I think that picture is from the infamous peanut-butter gig…I saw him once in Brisbane in 1983 – very druggy. VERY druggy…

  2. Enjoyed the post!

    Yes, I too have just noticed the ‘Heroes and Dubious Role Models’ widget on your sidebar. Oh, Goat, some of these are dubious indeed 😉 I’m not sure I’d like to meet up with any of them these days ‘at the crossroads’, though Robert Johnson may be the most entertaining and musically profound. Have tickets to see Dylan in October – but may have to miss it as I’m now likely to be out on the trail. And how did Bukowski manage to live so long? That’s what I want to know. And why does he look like Compo from ‘Last of the Summer Wine’? And why did Hillaby grow latterly that ridiculous, colonial moustache? Mysteries, mysteries.

    French hunters wear green and orange in the shooting season. When hiking through these hunting areas on my Caminos, however, I abjured the orange. To be honest, I’d rather be shot by accident than pollute the countryside with dayglo.

    An ex-friend of mine used to manage Robyn Hitchcock/Katrina and the Waves in London in their very early days. Whether he went crazy or not as a result it’s hard to know, as he was pretty crazy before.

    Some of the good die young, and some of them don’t, but, sure as hell, Bill Hicks was suicidal.

    Sorry about the rambling and self-indulgent nature of this comment, but I’m feeling weird and strangely light-headed right now, having just lived with my mother-in-law for several months (she’s now installed in a flat in Kendal – see my latest post).

    • SW, so many Qs! I started off just adding some spice to the old sidebar, and then I just couldn’t stop! It was great fun, though very adolescent: I felt like I was hanging posters on my bedroom wall circa 1976! I could have kept going but thought hard about figures that really had a significant and positive effect on the course of my life. Or at least on making me feel there were kindred spirits out there…

      Bill Hicks is one of those people that just seemed doomed to die young. I just feel it was such a waste. And yeah, Bukowski lived like a bum for several decades, it makes no sense at all. Not much of a role model, except in being true to your own possibly-perverted ideals. As for Hillaby, I’m trying to find a shot that does him justice — very difficult. Think I’ll try scanning something. Wish I could find one of him hiking naked…

    • Oh, and Robyn — Robyn is very, very special for me. He’s got me through some dark times. Oddly, I “found” him in Japan, so I still associate him with that place. Never seen him live — or Dylan either. There’s still time, I hope.

  3. Glad to know someone romanticises the South, most people deduct ten points from my IQ as soon as they hear the accent 🙂 love the shot before the skunk, I have not mastered landscape shots yet, just can’t seem to capture a view like I want to- it’s frustrating….

    • Thanks so much. I aim to re-hike the A.T. at least twice more, once North to South, with a good camera this time and a bit of experience in both walking and picture-taking. I really like the southern portion of the Trail, but some of those climbs are killers! Walking from the north, though, they’d be a walk in the park by the time I got down there.

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