I left the Appalachian Trail on May 2, 2009 and today, September 4, I return.
I begin my hike at Deep Gap, North Carolina, approximately 6 miles north of the Georgia/North Carolina border. From Jacksonville, Florida to Deep Gap is an eight hour drive and I want to get some hiking done today, so I leave at 4:00 a.m. and hope to arrive by noon. The trip is uneventful and by the time I arrive, I feel fidgety and ready to go.
Turning off U.S. 64 onto Forest Service Rd. 71, the drive to the trailhead is longer than I remember. Perhaps it’s the anticipation that makes it seem like a long trip to the trailhead. Finally arriving, I park my car among 4 others that are parked there. I see no one, which will become all too common during this hike. It takes about 30 minutes to get my gear together, the car secured, the pack on my back, and moving along the trail.
The day is warm and sunny, perfect. The first waypoint is the Standing Indian Shelter which is barely a mile from where I leave my auto. I find that I constantly am looking for the next feature and I measure my progress by checking them off as I pass by them. Along the way I encounter a lone hiker. We stop and talk briefly. He is local to the area and is enjoying a day hike. Though I didn’t know it at the time, that would be the only other person I would see the rest of the day.
I reach Standing Indian shelter and it is devoid of life. I take a few pictures and note that the shelter looks old, but serviceable. Nothing special about it, but I’m sure it’s a welcome stopping point to thru-hikers in the spring.
The rest of the climb to the top of Standing Indian Mountain seems easy. Is it because I have fresh legs? The climb is roughly one thousand feet over two and a quarter miles, a nice steady uphill.
There are few panoramic views; the trees are in full-leaf. I walk steadily and cover the eight miles to Carter Gap in 4 hours. Approaching the shelter, I am appaled at its condition. It is by a wide margin the worst shelter I have encountered on the trail. In my opinion it is uninhabitable. So I guess I’ll pitch the tent? I walk around and the area seems like it could easily hold fifty to one hundred hikers. But eerily, there is no one here. On the other side of the trail I look and in the distance is a second shelter. Amused, I realize it is the replacement for the one that is falling down. Well, it’s comforting to know someone is in fact taking care of the trail here. I choose to stay in the shelter. Why set up a tent when there is no one to complain about my snoring?
I check the time and it’s 4:30 p.m. It is too soon to quit hiking, but the next shelter is 7 miles away at Big Spring Gap. Averaging two miles per hour gets me there after dark. I’m edgy and want to go on, but I fear I’ll be biting off too much for a first day of hiking, and I don’t want to make camp after dark. So I stay here.
In the spring when I was hiking, each and every shelter attracted multiple people. It seems an odd contrast to September; the place is empty and lonely. This evening is exceptionally quiet, no one around, the trail empty of other hikers. There is no view of the mountians, so I sit and enjoy the enclosure of the woods as darkness slowly arrives.
This shelter has bear cables and I avail myself of their use and hang my food from them. Darkness has fallen and I lay down in the sleeping bag and listen to the sounds of the dark woods as I slowly fall asleep.