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Tag Archives: Appalachian Trail

Deep Gap Camp to Clyde Smith Shelter

May 12, 2013

After a mostly sleepless night—not what one wants on the A.T.—I awaken to the subtle grayness of morning. I nudge no-longer-a-teen-daughter, “C’mon, let’s get out of here.”

Thirty minutes to pack the tent, stuff the backpacks, and eat, not necessarily in that order, and we’re on our way.

View from Unaka Mountain

View from Unaka Mountain

Did I ever mention that this is a tough and tiring trail? I feel as though I don’t relate that concept often. I need to say it more. Which brings me to a thought I’m certain I’ve relayed before about section hiking. Each and every trip requires getting into shape all over again. This is day two and it starts with a 1,000 foot climb up Unaka Mountain. I’ve climbed 1,000 feet before. Just like anyone who has made their way this far, I’ve climbed as much as 3,000 feet in a stretch. I’ve talked myself into believing that the mile and a half to the top of Unaka will be a breeze and the rest of the day will be just skipping through the woods. I think that for approximately 14 steps. Then reality hits. It’s going to be a long grind to the top.
Cherry Gap Shelter

Cherry Gap Shelter

An hour and a half later, we are rewarded with some of our first grand vistas of the trip. Since yesterday was cloudy and rainy, there were no vistas to enjoy, but today is clearing. And cold. We snap a few photos from the emergency camera and we are on our way.

At the bottom of the hill, some five miles from our stating point, we reach Cherry Gap shelter. Predictably, there is no one there this late in the morning. We stop to take a packs-off break, take a few drinks, and have a late breakfast.

The A.T. north from Cherry Gap

The A.T. north from Cherry Gap

Another three miles and we have made it to Iron Mountain Gap where Tennessee 107 meets North Carolina 226. We gladly sit down for lunch. There is a sizable young woman hiking with her chihuahua. We make small talk while we eat and the dog comes over to sniff around a bit. Eventually she leaves heading north, carrying the dog.

As we are shouldering our packs, the two women who had camped next to us last night arrive. They introduce themselves as Dragonfly and Prairie Dog. Again, we make pleasant small talk for a few minutes before leaving to continue up the trail. It is not long until we pass Dog-carrying Lady. She is moving very slowly and we will not see her again this trip.

The trail undulates across several more miles and we finish at Clyde Smith Shelter, a walk of about 14 miles.

At Clyde Smith, a formidable cast of characters is assembling. We arrive at the shelter and drop our packs, looking for a place to sit. The shelter is built to hold eight, and four individuals have so carefully arranged their belongings so as to preclude anyone else from bedding down there. No problem, we’d rather tent anyway.

Relaxing at Iron Mountain Gap

Relaxing at Iron Mountain Gap

We set up our tent in the large tenting area behind the shelter. For the second time in 24 hours I observe a couple (male and female) set up two tents then proceed to occupy only one. It seems strange behavior to me. Again, I never viewed the A.T. as the place to go to hook up. But I’m so out of touch with this, how would I know?

We return to the shelter and its bar-like counter and start boiling water for the evening meal. Dragonfly and Prairie Dog arrive. We have a pleasant get-to-know-your-fellow-hiker talk.

They are cooking a vegetarian meal. Watching them causes me to realize one more undeniable profound truth about the Appalachian Trail. As an aside, I am always looking for these Undeniable Profound Truths about the A. T. (UPTATATs). The first UPTATAT was a surprise to me. I noticed it early in Georgia: There are no bad looking women on the A.T. I’m not quite sure why that is? Perhaps it’s because of a lack of competition from the city girls? Or perhaps it’s that, plus the relative dearth of females to look at in this male-dominated compulsion. (Although the last couple of years I’m seeing the ratio narrow.)

But to get to the point, the UPTATAT I have just brought into focus in my mind is this: anything someone else is cooking looks good!

There are two single young men talking. Both are through-hiking, but not together. The shorter of the two says he started with his brother.

“Is your brother here?”

“No, he’s up the trail.”

Oh.

Another hiker shows up, and they all greet him by his trail name, Galifianakis, and indeed he looks like the actor of the same name, I’m told.

Tall Guy, Short Guy (whose brother is up the trail), and Galifianakis (I think of him as G-man) are all huddled around the fire.  G-man produces a small container from his pocket which make the other’s eyes light up. Soon, that’s not all that will be lighting up. The conversation turns to buds from all the various states. As I recall there is some kind of competition to see who has smoked the most diverse collection of buds. I no longer remember who won, or from where their favorite bud grew.

The fire is warm and feels good on an ever-cooling evening. I could endure the fire for hours. What I cannot endure is much more of the conversation. The lads all seem like fine fellows, but I am so ashamed of my lack of knowledge and insight as their wisdom begins to flow forth that I must graciously dismiss myself.

The only thing of real interest from the conversation that I can recall was a question I asked of Short Guy.

“So why is your brother up the trail and not hiking with you?”

“He met some chick and they really hit it off. I was just a third wheel.”

Oh, the A.T. as one long hook-up trail. I get it.

From Tall Guy, “You’ll be back hiking with your brother in about 400 miles. That’s how long the average trail romance lasts.”

Ah, the wisdom. I am in awe.

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Deep Gap Camp

May 11, 2013

A humble gravel road borders the A.T. along the Unaka Wilderness

A humble gravel road borders the A.T. along the Unaka Wilderness

There must be a hundred Deep Gaps along the Appalachian Trail. This particular Deep Gap is in northern Tennessee, along the southern edge on the Unaka Mountain Wilderness. The A.T. parallels a small gravel road, across which is a small campground with water not too many steps away. This is where we will spend the night.

I started the day in Erwin where the temperatures were fairly moderate. The day has cooled off and we’ve been rained on a few times. So now I’m wearing three layers on top, but only a pair of shorts below; it’s time to get warm. Interestingly, hiking is usually all you need to do to stay warm. The incessant climbing typically keeps your body temperature up. It’s only when you stop that you realize how cold the temperature might be.

Not so today. Even as we hiked we were feeling the chill. So here we are, calling it a day at Deep Gap and we have two important items on the agenda: get shelter set up in the off-and-on rain, and get into some warm clothes.

After managing to get the tent up and carefully anchored, I go inside and pull on my warm running tights, the one’s I would wear for wintering running up north. I pull on shorts over them and fish the knit cap out of my pack. Oh, to be warm again!

Home sweet home for the night

Home sweet home for the night

When we arrive, there are already two tents in place. Soon another will join us for a total of four tents in the campground for the night. I’m always interested to socialize with other hikers, but no one at this camp seems overly interested in chit-chat. That doesn’t keep me from making my observations.

I never thought of the A.T. as a high-probability place to hook up with other singles. I could be wrong. I am encountering a phenomenon at this camp site that I will encounter again late tomorrow: two tents set up close to each other, but only one is occupied. To our left I hear the unmistakable voice of a young female, but as long as I am here, I will not see her. Her partner, the one with a tent he doesn’t sleep in, is up and about and we actually exchange a few friendly words before he disappears back into her tent. I find none of this shocking, of course, I just wonder why they went to the bother of setting up the second tent? Is it for the sake of appearance? Is it in the hopes that their up-tight parents won’t find out what’s really going on? The thought amuses me.

His last trip out of the tent is to turn his and her hiking boots to a slightly different angle next to the fire he has built.

A pair of not-so-young women whom we saw as we left Uncle Johnny’s this morning are arriving and set up a tent. I think I made eye contact with them, but that’s about all. To give everybody the benefit of the doubt, perhaps we’re just all cold, wet, and tired, which is enough to subdue any camaraderie.

The night is cold, but I’m thankful for the down bag I’m in. I stay acceptably warm. During the night, the sound of an automobile awakens me. For some reason I find this highly disconcerting. I am awake and on high alert, wondering if there is someone high up on this mountain who might be up to no good. I hear a second auto with loud music playing. It stops. The music goes on for several minutes, then both autos leave. There is something unsettling about hiking this far into the mountains, only to share the experience with four-wheelers. I have developed a sense of trust with my fellow hikers. I believe most of the hiking community feels the same trust. But non-hikers in cars in the middle of the night are not a part of the trusted group. One political faction in this country speaks of southerners as “clinging to their guns and religion.” Amen, halleluia. As a second amendment advocate, I now wonder if I should have packed that two and a half pounds of steel and lead? But honestly, I’ve never felt the need and who wants to carry all that extra weight for nothing? But still, I promise myself never to sleep near a road again so long as I hike on the Appalachian Trail.

A cold foggy morning; on to Unaka Mountain

A cold foggy morning; on to Unaka Mountain

In the morning we dress out in full cold-weather rain attire. It’s not my idea of the most fun you can have while hiking, but hey, if you wanted easy, you could have stated home and watched TV!

Oh, and one last comment: I’m thankful that the daughter’s inexpensive camera was more moisture tolerant than mine. I hate relying on someone else’s equipment, but at least I didn’t have to come home without pictures. But from here out the panoramas won’t be as smooth as those from my now-dead Sony.

 

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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, North Carolina

Saturday, May 2, 2009
Start: Muskrat Creek Shelter, North Carolina AT
Finish: Deep Creek, NC

It rained again last night.

The night before when it rained, I stayed dry, but last night the tent was wet when I set it up, and it never dried thoroughly. The inside floor was damp and this morning, I was uncomfortably wet. Once again I pack from the inside of the tent, emerging with nothing left to do but take down the tent in the rain.

Last night I arrived at Muskrat Creek Shelter after a much more vigorous climb than I had expected. I was the second person to arrive. The first was Bob, a man from Buffalo, who was celebrating his first day of official retirement. He had been on the trail for two weeks and was back after a short break in Hiawasee to allow his blisters to heal. He had used his last few vacation days to get a jump on retirement.

I was tired and contemplated sleeping in the shelter, but Buffalo Bob picked up the shelter log book and began reading entries of the various people who had been here before; one thing was certain, this shelter had mice!

I made dinner then set up my tent.

Shortly after I arrived the Atlanta couple came into camp, pitching their tent at a far corner close to the trail. A couple more young men arrived and found a camp site away from the shelter.

I looked at my cell phone which had been off most of the week and found that I had one bar and possibly enough battery for a quick phone call. I called Don.

Don is a friend I previously worked with who now lives in Atlanta. He had agreed to be my ride back to Amicalola Falls. I was looking forward to seeing him again and wanted to confirm the timing. I found my best reception on the top of a nearby rise, a view of a deep valley expanding to three sides. It felt peculiar to be standing on a crest over 4500 feet, just off the Appalachian Trail, making a phone call.

Don answered, “Where are you, buddy?”

“About three miles from the pickup. What time is good for you to be here tomorrow?”

“I can be in the car by 5:30 a.m. and I should be there by 8:00.”

Only a true friend would offer to be in the car by 5:30. “Tell you what, just be here between 9:00 and 10:00 and I think we’ll be perfect.”

Done deal.

It’s now 7:00 a.m. and I’m shouldering my pack in a light rain. I put my hiking poles against the tree and lift my pack as the male half of the Atlanta couple comes to wish me well.

He says they are planning to leave in an hour or so and they have a ride coming around 11:00 to the same pick-up point. I wish him well, then I’m off.

Trail Angels are anonymous and unseen benefactors who leave things useful for hikers. Often times it’s food. I had not seen too much left along the way, so perhaps most of the trail angels are farther north?

Chunky Gal Trail

Chunky Gal Trail

I walk about a half mile before the terrain begins to get a little rugged. It is at that precise moment that I realize I have left my hiking poles leaning against the tree back at Muskrat Creek. For a very brief moment I consider going back for them. I think about the half mile distance times two. Do I want to walk an extra mile today? No, not really. Well, I think to myself, I have just left someone a very nice gift. I hope and pray that someone without poles comes along and adopts mine, and that they are a blessing to them. I now officially release my ownership rights to my poles and I suppose I shall never know what becomes of them. I trust they will be put to good use and find their way far up the trail.

I pass Chunky Gal Trail, a side trail that runs downhill to U.S.64. I have read many explanations about the origin of the name, none of which I’m passing along to you. I prefer to take the name at face value and picture the gal for whom the trail is named.

I arrive at the parking area at the end of Forest Service Road 71 precisely at 9:00. I’ve seen several day hikers pass me going the opposite direction. It’s Saturday and time for weekend recreation. You can tell the day hikers apart from the others. They are the ones unencumbered by bulky packs. Lucky them.

Reunion at the end of the trail

Reunion at the end of the trail

No more than 5 minutes pass when Don and Ronda pull up the gravel road. We have a terrific reunion.

I put my pack in the back of his SUV and take one long, last, lingering look. It has been great. I’ll miss it.

And now back to civilization where the first order of business is eggs and sausage at the Waffle House.

 

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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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