March 13. Stopped raining! We still had to pack up wet tents and gear, but at least the rain had stopped! We hiked until about 1 PM and the sun had come out enough to stop for lunch and spread the tents out in the trees just off the trail. We hiked some tough hills today and stopped at 3 to set up camp and dry our gear on top of Tray Mountain. Someone said that the way Ryan and I had our stuff all hanging around we were starting to look like an "Occupy" protest. In a few hours we were all dry. Dinner was nice, I had cold mashed potatoes since I am trying to go without a stove for the rest of the trip. Ryan was cooking with his alcohol burning stove on the cliff when the bottle of alcohol, his fuel, started rolling towards the ledge. Fortunately, it stopped before disappearing. Unfortunately, a little later Ryan's pot holder in his stove setup also made the same escape attempt and succeed in disappearing off the rock. Ryan may also be going stoveless for awhile until we find a new pot holder... There was a nice sunset and as I write this I have the vestibule open on my tent and I am looking down at the city lights below. A great 9 mile day!
March 14. What a sunrise! The guide book said that Tray Mountain had a great view of the sunrise and it sure did! We packed up camp and had breakfast on the rock looking out over the mountains and the valleys full of the morning fog, pretty amazing start to a day! The day turned out to be a hot one, up to 80 degrees while we were trudging up some pretty steep mountains. We made an 11 mile hike to the highway that leads to Hiawassee, GA and gave a call to our friends Jim and Maggie, we met them at the state park a few days ago before we started hiking. Jim made his way over to pick us up. He drove us to the local laundry facility, which happens to be closed on Sunday's and Wednesday's, random, I know, very unfortunate for 3 sweaty hikers, and maybe even worse for Jim! We then headed to a town just over the North Carolina state border to a coin operated laundry facility. Funny, it only took us a few minutes to get to North Carolina by car, but when we are back on the trail the same trek will take us most of a day! First thing at the coin laundry we all visited the rest room and changed out of our sweaty clothes and into running shorts and our rain jackets, the rest of the clothes were going in the wash. As the clothes were relieved of their stench we went through our resupply food boxes and set up our meals for the next 6 days. Two hours later Jim was still waiting patiently and when we finished we headed back to town for dinner at a Habitat for Humanity fund raiser. We had great burgers and a beer, it was fantastic! We headed back to Jim and Maggie's house on the lake for showers, sitting out on the back patio, some great pie for dessert, and a few hours of great conversation. We all got to sleep on something much softer than a sleeping pad and it was much appreciated! Jim and Maggie really are Trail Angels!
March 15. Woke up in a warm, comfortable house, a nice change! Jim and Maggie made us a great home made breakfast, much better than trail food! Maggie took us to the post office and I shipped a 5 pound package home. I sent home my Croc's, they weigh almost 1 pound and Brian and I have a new idea for 1 ounce camp shoes. I sent home a fleece, my second t-shirt, my sleeping socks, all clothes I don't think I'll need. I also sent home my cooking stove and pot set, I'm going to try to go cookless for the rest of the trip. I cut the Trail Companion guide book in thirds and sent the future sections home to be mailed in a food drop later. I dropped more weight by cutting my camp towel in half, it used to weigh 2 ounces, it now only weighs 1! I even cut out all the unnecessary pages in the Tiffany & Co. yearly planner that Amy gave me for the hike! My dry weight on the pack went down a bit, but with a 6 day food supply I'm still way over 40 lbs and not happy about it, but we'll keep working on dropping weight!
After the post office Maggie dropped us off at the Blueberry Patch Hiker Hostel. Brian's new tent was to be delivered via UPS here so we just needed to wait. The hostel was not open yet for the year but Gary, the owner, said we were more than welcome to stay and hang around for the day with the donkeys and goats. We mentioned that if Gary needed any help around the place to let us know and in no time we were all helping Gary haul fire wood from a farm house down the road to his place. We moved 3 huge truck loads and headed into town for the local hiker favorite, Daniel's Buffet. When we walked in we saw our hiking friends from Michigan, Heading Out and Tagging Along, in a booth enjoying the buffet! We sat down and visited the buffet line several times and left completely stuffed! As we finished lunch the clouds started sprinkling rain, which was a slight problem because we had all left all of our belongings out on the patio at the hostel to dry in the sun. We raced back just in time to get them inside before they got too wet. When the rain passed by we headed back to get the final load of wood and stacked it at the hostel. Brian's tent was delivered to the hostel at 7:30 PM making it too late to get back on the trail and Gary graciously offered to let us be the first hikers of the season to stay at the Blueberry Hostel! We had the whole place to ourselves and it was nice to be sleeping on beds again!
March 16. We woke up nice, dry, and comfortable at the Blueberry Patch and I actually questioned my sanity today. After spending two nights in civilization why in the world would I want to head back out on the trail. Around 9:30 we had Gary drive us back to the trail head and drop us off. We really appreciated everything Gary did for us and we know it is just another day in life for this man who lives to give help to others, thanks Gary! As we made our way to the trail we stumbled upon some "trail magic" in the form of chips, salsa, and a beer. Sure it was 10 AM, but we opened the beer, split it in three cups, said cheers to a good day of hiking and gulped it down, fantastic! We started out climbing and by 1 PM we were ready for a break and lunch. We sat down with several other hikers and had a nice relaxing break before getting back on the trail. I'm not sure if it was the day off that we took, or the 15 pounds of food we picked up in town but by the afternoon I was beat. We were dead tired trudging along until around mile 9 we found the Georgia/North Carolina state line! Finally! One state down, 13 to go! We walked another tenth of a mile and set up camp, mission accomplished for the day! After eating dinner I was hanging the bear bags for the night when I could hear the winds howling over the mountains across the valley. It sounded like a freight train. Sitting there I could see the rows of trees below us start shaking violently and soon enough we were hit with a blast of cold air. A few seconds later sprinkles started and then I poured down rain. We all grabbed our gear and ran for the shelter of our tents. It poured for maybe 5 minutes and then it was calm. It was an incredible experience and it gave way to a spectacular fire red sunset that covered the entire sky. When the last of the sun finally faded we were looking down on the city lights in the valley below. It was a tough day and I was exhausted, but at least I remembered again why I'm out on the trail, and I wouldn't trade it for the world!