Category Archives: Georgia


The Fontana Hilton

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

We arrive at Fontana Lake around 11:30 in the morning. We not only have the rest of the day for rest and relaxation, but we also have something that few hikers, whether they are through-hikers or section-hikers, have at their disposal: a car.


Spoon stands outside the Fontana Hilton

There is a separate restroom building with flush toilets and a single shower stall located a couple hundred steps from the shelter. We avail ourselves of the showers, put all wet clothes out to dry, and get fresh, clean clothes on.

There are sights to see here. There is a visitor’s center at the dam, about a quarter mile away, and a second restroom/shower room facility. It is a great deal cleaner than the one by the hiker’s shelter.


The Fontana Hilton

The shelter has a large sign on the side pronouncing itself the “Fontana Hilton.” And indeed, compared to some shelters, it is a Hilton. But alas, ultimately, it is still a shelter.

We get in the car and drive back to the NOC for a sit-down, restaurant lunch. Ahh… it’s something like cheating. Since I’m not a tomato eater and neither is Teen Daughter, we slide the tomato pieces off our salads. Teen Daughter has an idea, let’s ask for a little container and take the tomatoes back with us to give to Spoon.

As people gather for the evening at the Fontana Hilton, a party atmosphere arises. Teen daughter tells me that two hikes are up at the picnic area and that they have caught two catfish with their bare hands. The story sounds, uh, fishy. But upon going to the picnic area, sure enough, there are two sizable catfish, waiting to be cleaned and fried. A fire has been started and the work commences.

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Hikers at the Fontana Hilton

Waiting for the fish fry, a bearded man with a trail name self-assigned and way too complicated to remember, strikes up conversation with me. I don’t remember his trail name, but to me he is Conversant. Conversant is a man of many opinions. He also is the one I heard of earlier who is hiking with his eight year old son. While speaking with Conversant, the fish has finished frying and Teen Daughter offers me a piece. I decline. She has some and declares it delicious. Then I hear the rest of the story. It seems while at the marina, the two young men who caught the fish with their bare hands had actually found the fish in a little holding cage. And indeed, they reached in and caught the fish with their bare hands. Now I think of them as Pilfer and Swipe.

And finally at the shelter, Teen Daughter presents Spoon with a to-go cup of diced tomatoes. He looks at it and consumes them gladly. And then pronounces that Teen Daughter’s trail name from hence forward shall be Tomato.


The Ridgerunner

In a previous post I mentioned an encounter with The Ridgerunner, Georgia’s Appalachian Trail liaison, concierge, and good-will ambassador. I noted that after the brief encounter I thought of a variety of questions I would like to have asked, but the moment had passed.

In accordance with true serendipity, The Ridgerunner, a.k.a. Karunamiel, left a comment on this blog and I availed myself of the opportunity to ask the questions I should have asked on the trail.

She has graciously responded and here is our email interview:

The Ridgerunner, also known as Karunamiel

The Ridgerunner, also known as Karunamiel

Many of us see the dream of spending time on the trail as elusive, difficult, and far away. Job and family responsibilities make time available for such things difficult to set aside. It would seem you have a dream job: paid to hike the Appalachian Trail. What is the reality, is it indeed a dream job?

Dream job? Yes! Absolutely! I get paid to do something that I love doing, that I’d be doing somewhat anyway. After my thru-hike I couldn’t see myself in a desk job. I floundered for about a year, then landed this job. It doesn’t pay much, but then, I don’t need much.

Dream life? No, not really. I don’t have a life apart from the Trail. I’m divorced; my children are grown and non-communicative. Hence, I don’t have a family life. I live with my mother, and we get along, but we’re not close. On my days off, I have a few things in town that I do, but mostly the time is spent resting my feet, and getting ready for the next week.

How much time do you spend on the trail? Are you able to briefly describe your schedule?

I am responsible for a little over 100 miles of trail, consisting of the A.T. in Georgia, the approach Trail, and a handful of side trails, maintained by the GATC (Georgia Appalachian Trail Club, my employer). I work a 4-week schedule that covers all of my territory. I made up the schedule myself, and am able to change it if the situation requires it. Week 1: Bly Gap – Chattahoochee Gap, and out on the Jacks Knob Trail (One of my side trails). Week 2: Chattahoochee Gap – Jarrard Gap, plus the Blood Mountain side trails, and the Lake Winfield Scott side trails. Week 3: Jarrard Gap – Nimblewill Gap on the Approach Trail. Week 4: The rest of the Approach Trail, the Hike Inn Trail, the Dockery Lake Trail, and the Rocky Mountain connector trail. I have a free day this week; if nothing comes along to fill it, I go up to Blood Mountain and caretake for the day.

My work week goes nonstop from Thursday morning to Monday afternoon, then I go home and write my report.

How did you become The Ridgerunner? It would seem this is not the type of job you see advertised in the classifieds.

The deeper answer to that question is: I followed God the best I knew how, and this is where it took me. The answer you more likely expect is: I was at the annual business meeting of the GATC in 2007 when the former ridgerunner announced his retirement. I nudged my buddy and said, “Gee, I’d sure like to have that job”. She said, “Let’s see who you have to talk to”. And that was pretty much all she wrote. I talked to the appropriate people, went through the formalities of submitting an application, and here I am! For those who don’t have inside connections, there is a ridgerunner application on the ATC website,, that covers the entire Trail. It comes out in the fall.

What is your overall Appalachian Trail experience?

I’ve thru-hiked the entire Trail twice, once in sections (1986 – 2004), and once in one season (2006). I’ve been a member of the GATC since 1989, and hiked extensively in Georgia, as well.

Is it difficult to stay adequately in touch with family and friends when you are away for a considerable amount of time?

In a word, yes. I’m on Facebook, but mostly read what others have been doing. I’m not much of a talker when I’m off the Trail. I try to respond to emails whenever I get them, which isn’t much.

What is a typical day like on the trail? Do you set time or mileage goals? Are you very routine about how you hike, or do you take each and every day differently?

A typical day on the Trail. I start at the shelter, pack up, clean up, and go. I’ve been putting together a list of landmarks 1/10 mile apart, to make maintenance reporting easier, so I count my paces while I’m hiking. It occupies my mind. I look out for wildflowers (my thing) and maintenance problems (my job). Whenever I see a hiker I speak to them, sometimes for quite some time. It’s my job to find out how long they’re on the trail for, the rest of the conversation is being friendly, and to satisfy my interests. If I gave you my 20-words-or-less job description, you may remember that part of that is “walking information desk”. I give hikers the latest word on water sources and upcoming terrain.

Have you made lasting friendships from the trail?

From the Trail, yes. I’ve met a few people from my long-distance hikes that I keep up with. From ridgerunning, not yet. I meet a lot of people, but mostly I don’t ever see them again.
When I do, though, it’s a real treat.

Are there any particular people or incidents that stand out as funny, dramatic, or memorable?

My first bear sighting of the year: I was hiking on the Approach Trail, counting (see above), when I hear a noise. I look up, and there’s a bear bounding away from me. Typical. The next thing I see is, out of the corner of my eye, two brown blobs shooting up a nearby tree. Bear cubs. Then I look up at the trail ahead of me and there’s this small round bear face above the underbrush, looking at me. Mama bear. I sighed, looked around to determined the best course of action, and bushwhacked around her. When I got back onto the trail, she and the cubs were gone.

How much do you carry in your pack? Can you generally describe what you, as a seasoned long-distance hiker, carry? Do you keep your pack to a certain weight?

I carry everything I need for a 5-day backpacking trip, just like any hiker, plus a small handsaw, a first-aid kit, and a Forest Service radio. “Everything I need” consists of bedding (in the summer, my fleece liner and a silk “blanket”), food (Mountain House, oatmeal, and gorp), water, and camp clothes. My pack weighs around 27 pounds with food and water.

Do you have any advice to beginners and novices?

For wannabe thru-hikers, take it slow starting out. Your body isn’t accustomed to the rigor of hiking long miles every day, and if you push it too hard, too fast, you could injure yourself and not be able to complete your hike. I recommend taking it easy until Damascus, VA. After that the terrain gets a lot easier.

How did you obtain your trail name? Does it have a specific meaning?

I gave myself my trail name. Foreign language is my hobby. “Karuna” and “miel” are foreign words. “Karuna” means “compassion” in Sanskrit, and “miel” means “honey” in both Spanish and French. I thought they sounded pretty together. It actually had its beginning when I opened an email account. I wanted something I didn’t have to put a number behind in order to make it unique.

When we crossed paths on the trail your last words were ‘God bless you,’ the same as your closings in email. Would you like to comment on the nature of your relationship with God?

God is the only sure thing in my life, and all that I live for. I get lonely, a lot, on the trail, and God fills that emptiness. God is the foundation of my life, and like building foundations hard to see (and talk about) but absolutely essential. When I sign the registers, I include a symbol that looks like “the square root of a fish”. The “square root” symbol is a general “radical”, and the fish is an ancient symbol for Christianity. I am a radical follower of Christ; I believe it when he says, “seek first the kingdom of God and all your needs will be fulfilled”. And “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, … and he will direct your paths”. I am absolutely sure of one thing: that God loves me unconditionally, and all I do is in response to that.


Posted by on August 18, 2009 in Appalachian Trail, Blog Post, Georgia, Hiking


The Georgia A.T. in a week — Epilogue

In the fall of 2008 I decided the time had come to finally challenge the Appalachian Trail. After careful study and six months of training, I determined that it was feasible to walk all of the Georgia miles of the A.T. in a week, including the approach trail from Amicalola Falls and the exit miles in North Carolina, 90 miles in all. And that is precisely what I did.

If you are reading this, please know that I posted the various descriptions of my hike as a chronology. To read about this eventful week in order, you must go to the first (oldest) post and read forward. Or you can just skip around and enjoy the pictures. Either way, I hope you’ll share in the joy this adventure has brought me and perhaps leave a comment or two.

G N Bassett

Deep Gap, North Carolina, my last view of the trail — until next time...

Deep Gap, North Carolina, my last view of the trail — until next time...

1: Ready, Set, Go…

2: From Amicalola Falls to Springer Mountain

3: Atop Springer Mountain

4: Springer Mountain to Hawk Mountain

5: Hawk Mountain to Gooch Gap

6: Gooch Gap and the Ridgerunner

7: Gooch Gap to Jarrard Gap

8: Jarrard Gap to Neel’s Gap

9: Walasi-Yi

10: Neel’s Gap to Blue Mountain Shelter

11: Blue Mountain Shelter   

12: Blue Mountain Shelter to Deep Gap

13: Deep Gap Shelter

14: Deep Gap GA to Muskrat Creek NC

15: Deep Gap, North Carolina


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Deep Gap GA to Muskrat Creek NC

Friday, May 1, 2009
Start: Deep Gap Shelter, Georgia AT
Finish: Muskrat Creek Shelter, North Carolina AT

It is twelve miles from Deep Gap to the North Carolina border. Today I will reach my goal. In the last three days I’ve covered 47 miles over some of the toughest terrain in the eastern United States and I’m ready to tackle another fifteen today.

I’m both excited and a little let down. I feel that I need to savor every precious mile today, for it’s difficult to know when I might be back.

It is 6:30 a.m. and I’m in my tent listening to the rain. Through the night several heavy showers have fallen, but I stay comfortably dry. I pack and change clothes and dig out my rain gear before I exit the tent. When properly done, I’m completely ready to go when I emerge from the tent. The tent is my only possession not yet secured. It will strap to the bottom exterior of my pack and not get the interior contents wet.

Shouldering the pack, I take one last look around and give a casual salute to all the folks still down for the night. I’m off. It’s 7:00 a.m.

Dicks Creek Gap at U.S. 76, in the rain

Dicks Creek Gap at U.S. 76, in the rain

The rain is light as I descend the three miles to Dicks Creek Gap. I think of the foursome that left for Dicks Creek Gap to camp plus Bow & Arrow Guy and wonder how they’re doing as I pass. Reaching Highway 76, the rain starts to come down more heavily.

It is still strange to hustle across wide asphalt with a full pack, having grown accustomed to being in the mountains and away from civilization. Crossing the road I duck under a forest service sign and watch the traffic go by for a few moments before putting up my rain hood and starting up the hill, moving deep into the mountain again.

This is the second day this week that I’ve walked alone from start to finish. At one point I pass the couple from Atlanta that I’ve been leapfrogging these last couple of days. They hadn’t stayed at the shelter the night before; they seem to prefer being on their own, away from people.

The miles pass and I’m undaunted by the strenuous steep climbs and the rocky descents. During long ascents I find myself speaking to the mountains.

“You cannot defeat me,” I inform them. I feel as though I’m always grinning, I add, “There is nothing you can do to keep me from your summit.”

Over Buzzard Knob and down to Plumorchard Gap, I pass by the trail to the Plumorchard shelter. Over As Knob and down through Blue Ridge Gap, I start the final gentle 3 mile ascent to Bly Gap and the state line.

My spirits are high, the rain has stopped, and I thoroughly enjoy the time alone and away from city noises and distractions. The day seems deeply spiritual.

At the NC/GA border

At the NC/GA border

Rounding a gentle bend, I come across a tree where a wooden sign has been affixed, “NC/GA.” I’m there.

I drop my pack and realize I’m grinning broadly. The goal that seemed so distant seven days ago is here. This one, humble sign is the prize I have been seeking and now it is mine. So I take pictures!

It’s a perfect spot for contemplation and I’m certain thousands have rested in this very spot, savoring the accomplishment.

North Carolina/Georgia Border

North Carolina/Georgia Border

I evaluate my situation. Having reached my goal, my only task left is to find my way off the mountain and go home. It is six miles to Forest Service Road 71, where I have arranged to be picked up. It is three miles to the Muskrat Creek Shelter.

Throughout my hike I’ve studied section profiles to know where and how many climbs lay ahead. However, I have not bothered to bring the North Carolina map. I didn’t want to carry the extra weight and I know from memory that there is a shelter midway to the takeout point.

Just ahead is Bly Gap and I find the Atlanta couple there taking a late lunch. They seem as happy as I am to be in North Carolina and just a night’s sleep away from home. They offer to walk the 300 yards back to the state line to take my picture, but I decline. At this point all my progress is forward, never backward.

The couple shares their North Carolina map with me. Unfortunately, the mountains aren’t done with me yet, for there are three steep climbs between me and Muskrat Creek Shelter. I find I am not psychologically prepared for the strenuous afternoon.

“Hey, I thought I was done with this?”

But I keep grinning. Steep or not, mountains cannot defeat me.

Sometime around 5:00 I reach Muskrat Creek Shelter. I am close to the end of my quest and I’m a little melancholy. The week has been a powerful experience and all that is left of the walking is about a two hour hike tomorrow morning, and most of that downhill.

People: Atlanta couple


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Deep Gap Shelter

Thursday, April 30, 2009, evening
Blue Mountain Shelter, Georgia AT

Some of the most memorable experiences aren’t on the trail, but rather around the shelters. It’s a strange dynamic, people who have never seen each other instantly have something in common—the trail. And though they have this one thing is common, sometimes little else is common. My evening at the Deep Gap Shelter is a case in point.

Talkers on the porch at Deep Gap Shelter, Georgia A.T.

Talkers on the porch at Deep Gap Shelter, Georgia A.T.

I arrive shortly after Keith and Dave, who have already sacked out for a nap on the shelter floor. A foursome of two couples are sitting around the picnic table, an open fire to their right upon which they are preparing a meal. Two more couples will arrive this evening, as well as Bow and Arrow Guy. Sitting on the porch is Cessna Man and his old buddy.

The foursome at the picnic table are two men and two women. There’s Rasta-lox Guy with all the hair. He’s the one cooking. Please understand it’s very unusual to see people cooking over an open fire. Even more, it appears Rasta-Lox Guy is cooking on an iron skillet. Who could possibly carry an iron skillet? I’m sure I just saw it wrong.

Then there’s Tattoo Guy and Tattoo Gal. Any place there is skin exposed, it’s decorated. I can’t quite tell about Rasta-Lox Guy’s female friend. Is she with him? Is she a girlfriend, wife, sister? Later I heard that she had just started tagging along, so I’m thinking the relationship is fresh and uncertain.

Deep Gap Panorama

Deep Gap Panorama

After dinner the four pack up and take off for Dicks Creek Gap to camp. Dicks Creek Gap is on highway 76 which leads into town. They plan on going into Hiawasee in the morning and want to be close.

On the porch sitting on the bench are two older guys. As the first starts talking, I realize that he is the world’s foremost authority on everything. He proves his expertise on such topics as GPS, aviation, camping and lawn maintenance. I’m amazed at the depth of his knowledge, it seems impossible to appreciate its breadth and scope.

At some point he mentions that he used to work for Cessna in Wichita. Jumping forward in time to later in the evening, I asked if he has worked at Cessna recently, perhaps he might know someone I know there? No, he worked there in the early 70s.

And yet he spoke as though it was yesterday. I’m starting to get the picture.

Yet another couple shows up. They worked together at the Cleveland Museum of Art, though neither one are from Ohio. Apparently the lure of the trail and promise of adventure overcame their need to work and bada-boom-bada-bing, here they are thru-hiking. He has packed a dulcimer with him and offers to play. Everyone is eager, so we’re treated to a short concert.

And then Bow & Arrow Guy shows up looking for Jeremiah. Apparently Jeremiah and Rasta-Lox Guy are one in the same. I’d love to know how they got separated by several miles? Was it the girl? Was it B&A Guy’s incessant giggle at the end of every statement? We inform him that Jeremiah and Company have gone to Dicks Creek Gap to camp so B&A guy says thanks and takes off. I look at the time. It’s 7:00 p.m. and he’s just set out on a three mile walk with only an hour of daylight left. Well, good luck. I don’t try to stop him.


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Blue Mountain Shelter to Deep Gap

Thursday, April 30, 2009
Start: Blue Mountain Shelter, Georgia AT
Finish: Deep Gap Shelter, Georgia AT

As is my habit, I awaken at the first gray light of dawn. Inside my tent I pack my sleeping bag and other items into my pack, leaving items for lunch on top along with my water bladder. Exiting the tent, I see Keith in his sleeping bag on the ground in the middle of the camp.

Keith and Dave are section hiking the trail three days at a time and to keep things light, they take no tent, intending to sleep in shelters along the way. In the night the abundance of scurrying mice checking every pocket and pack for crumbs has driven Keith to sleep outside.

Keith and Dave and I have struck up a rapport and since they are going the same direction and attempting to do the same distance, we decide to spend the day hiking together. We say good-byes to the others; it’s been a friendly group of older hikers at this shelter.

As we reach the end of the short shelter trail where it intersects the A.T. we run into Bo, Curly, and Apparichian.

“What time did you get here last night?”

“We didn’t get here last night, we got up at 5:00 and we’re just getting here.”

I can’t tell if they’re playing with me or if they really did start hiking at 5:00 a.m. from Deep Gap and are just getting here. Isn’t it dark then?

I salute them farewell and the three of us are off for a day’s hike. It’s 7:00 a.m.

The trail moves slightly uphill for a half a mile to the peak of Blue Mountain before descending a thousand feet to Unicoi Gap. Highway 75/17 runs through the gap and we stop for a short breather before we take on the first real challenge of the day: a one thousand foot climb in a mile and a half to the top of Rocky Mountain.

On the way up we pass a couple doing a week-long hike, attempting to cover a distance similar to the distance I’m covering. They are from Atlanta and are hiking from Springer Mountain, having accessed it via route 42 and a two mile hike, and going to Deep Gap, North Carolina where Forest Service road 71 provides egress back to the real world. I have started from Amicalola Falls, adding a few more miles.

At the top Keith, Dave and I stop and enjoy the total lack of scenery as we are well enshrouded within the clouds. Once again, I’m drenched with perspiration, even though the morning is cool. Next is a mile and a quarter descent of 800 feet to Indian Grave Gap. And then the big climb of the day, a two and a half mile ascent of 1300 feet to the top of Tray Mountain.

As we break on the top of Tray Mountain, the Atlanta Couple we passed earlier catch up, greet, and go.

The afternoon’s walk is a series of saw tooth climbs and descents. In a section of trail known as the Swag of the Blue Ridge, we come across a young man sitting and resting. He has a homemade (or trail made?) bow and arrow. His hair is wild, curly, and red. He says he’s carrying a laptop computer.

So this is the guy who had been at Hawk Mountain a night or two before I arrived there, and left the unneeded laptop computer carrying case? I thought the story of someone carrying a laptop somewhat suspect at the time, but here he is.

He tells us he’s prepared to hunt squirrels and insists on demonstrating. He giggles at the end of every sentence. As he brings up the bow and arrow into shooting position, my adrenaline kicks up a notch and I’m prepared to duck, run, attack, or do whatever is necessary.

B&A Guy just shoots lamely into the distance and the three of us acknowledge his mastery of woodsmanship before saying quick good-byes.

He bids us good-bye and giggles.

By Sassafras Gap I’m starting to fall off the pace. I let Keith and Dave go on and I take the last climb to the top of Kelly Knob slowly. I slide down the back side of the hill (metaphorically speaking) the last mile to Deep Gap. It has been another exceptional day; I’ve covered 15.3 miles according to the map.


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Blue Mountain Shelter   

Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Blue Mountain Shelter, Georgia AT

Once again I enter a shelter area with barely an hour of daylight left. There are 5 men around a fire ring which is conspicuously absent of fire, talking. Walking up toward the shelter, they greet me and I greet them back.

“Where are you coming from?”

“I started at Neel’s Gap this morning. I’ve hiked 18 miles today.”

“Wow, the real deal,” said with awe devoid of sarcasm.

I may have blushed, “No, not really.”

Blue Mountain Shelter at dusk

Blue Mountain Shelter at dusk

They continued with their conversation while I dropped my pack and sat on the edge of the shelter floor, legs hanging over the side. I remember their conversation. The thin one was saying something about a book he’s been reading. It was something about there is a little bit of god in all of us and we’re on this journey to find ourselves and the god within. Blah blah blah.

It is absolutely all I can do to keep from jumping in and laying down some heavy doctrine, but I decide that might be overstepping my bounds as I’ve just barely arrived, I don’t know any of these men, and I have no clue as to what has been said to this point. So I just listened.

One or two took mild exception and pointed out how this Zen philosophy is not new and is far from orthodox Christianity (my paraphrase, not actual words spoken.)

The conversation breaks and introductions start. There is Keith, Dave, Croc, Thin Zen Guy, and one more I can’t quite remember. Since it is fresh on my mind, I tell of the bear encounter and how I don’t recommend it to people who dislike feeling vulnerable. Within 15 minutes all five had hung their entire packs on the bear cables which are present at all the Georgia shelters.

Croc has been moving slowly north and says he got his name because he got blisters so bad he switched to hiking in his crocs until he could get to Neel’s Gap and buy a new pair of shoes. Keith and Dave are friends from way back, and Keith is practically a neighbor of mine in Jacksonville, living just a few miles to the southwest. Thin Zen Guy seems a little gullible, but friendly in a naïve sort of way. And darned if I can remember the other fellow. My memory must be failing me.

I make dinner and strike the tent as dusk approaches. Tomorrow is another day and I’d like to be up early to make some miles.

To my surprise, David from Greensboro walks into the camp about 30 minutes after I arrived. We had both started from Neel’s Gap and had passed each other a couple of times. He arrived at Low Gap while I was there and he must have contemplated going on, as I had.

“Did you see the bear?”

“No, where?”

I explained where I had seen the animal, but David just shrugged. Amazing how the bear could be so obvious to one hiker, and unseen by the next. But it proved me wrong on one point: I thought I had been the last hiker on the mountain again, but I wasn’t.

People: Croc, Thin Zen Guy, Keith & Dave, David


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