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Trip report, Spivey Gap to Hot Springs (WARNING, this is a loong one)

     Well I think I am finally rested up enough from my 6 day trip on the AT 
to post something about it. Last night I got home from doing a hike from 
Spivey Gap south to Hot Springs and had a wonderful time.
     I drove to Hot Springs from Nashville on May 1st and then made my way 
to Wingfoot's house. I parked my car behind his house and then we talked for 
a while about my hike while we waited for my ride to show up. While there I 
met a few thr-hikers who were in town, one of the most memorable was a lady 
called Bare who has been hiking about a third of the time in her boots, 
another third in her Tevas, and the other third barefoot. Neither Wingfoot 
or myself could figure out why someone would want to hike barefooted, but 
hey, hike your own hike. I had arranged for my shuttle with Dan Galagher and 
about 2:00 a nice young lady named Kim showed up to take me to Spivey Gap.
     The weather was wonderful and I was more than ready to start my hike, 
so the ride that only took about an hour seemed to last forever, but the 
scenery was beautiful. We finaly got to our destination and I was off. I 
have to say that I was a bit apprehensive as this was the longest hike I had 
ever made, and my first attempt at solo backpacking, but I felt I was ready. 
I started off and soon realized that I would be going up for a while, but 
the grade wasn't too bad and I was passing and getting to talk to 
thru-hikers so it was enjoyable. I was greatly rewarded for my climb when I 
reached the High Rocks overlook. Perched out on huge, bluish grey, rippled 
rocks I had a view that seemed to go on forever. I quickley got the camera 
out as I knew my hiking partner back home, who will be going on the 
thru-hike with me next year, would want to see this. After a few minutes the 
wind started getting rather chilly and I realized that I neede to get going. 
A short downhill stretch soon changed to more up and it was just getting 
dark when I reached the place I had already decided I wanted to camp. Let me 
say at this point I realized that the guide book for the TN/NC section was 
not 100% trustworthy. The book said that I would find a sign on a tree 
pointing towards a blublazed trail that led to a spring, it also said that 
there were some good campsites there. Well I found the sign, but the good 
campsites and the trail were nonexistent. There was water, but it took a bit 
of bushwhaking to get to it, and while it was obvious from the fire ring 
(and also from the trash unfortunately) that this area had been used for 
camping, I wouldn't have called it good. But I was there, tired, and a bit 
chilly, so I got my water, set up the tent and ate some food. Shortly there 
after I hung up my food bag and settled in for a night of down hill sliding 
     Apparently it wasn't as bad as I had thought however as I managed to 
sleep quite late and didn't start hiking unti almost noon. I planned on 
hiking to Hogback Ridge shelter that day, which was about 10.5 miles from my 
campsite. Not wanting to fight my way back down to the stream at my campsite 
for water I decided to use the spring at the Bald Mt. shelter which was only 
a half mile away. When I got there I met a very discouraged thru-hiker. He 
had been out on the trail for only about a month but had already decided 
that it wasn't what he thought it would be. He had decided to hike to 
Damascus for Trail Days and then drop out. I told him that I hoped when he 
got to trail days it would be like I have heard it is and that lots of past 
thru-hikers would be ther to encourage him and that maybe he would change 
his mind, he didn't seem to think that he would.
     After leaving the shelter I started my climb up to the summit of Big 
Bald. As I neared the top I could see the forrest getting thiner and 
brighter and then suddenly I found my self on a wide open field with an 
overwhelming view. Out came the camera and several pictures were taken, I 
then packed it back up and when I looked up I saw a most amazing sight. I 
was not on the summit of the mountain, ahead of me was a towering almost 
monolithic mountain covered in brown grass. As I got closer I saw several 
hikers standing on the top and quickly decided that I wanted to be where 
they were. I climbed as fast as I could (which wasn't very fast) so that I 
could see what I knew had to be a spectacular view. I wasn't disapointed, I 
could see forever in all directions and it looked like the entire world was 
made up of mist covered mountains. For some reason I didn't want to take any 
pictures here, somehow it seemed that knowing I would have to wait until my 
thru-hike to record this view on something other than my memory would give 
me would give me more than enough reason to get at least this far from 
Springer. Let me tell you though, the wind on top of Big Bald is freezing! 
So it wasn't to long before I was back down into the trees trying to escape 
the wind and the rest of my day was spent traveling up and down as I tried 
to make it to Hogback Ridge. It quickly became apparent that I had not been 
drinking or eating enough thru out the day and I didn't have the strength to 
make it the entire 10 miles. So after about 7 miles of hiking I found a 
great camping spot along a section of old AT that is no longer used. I could 
hear the cars and trucks on US 23 in Sams Gap below, the first road crossing 
I would make.
     I was able to get a fairly early start the next day especialy since I 
was unable to cook my breakfast. My cheap alcohol stove decided that this 
would be the perfect time to break. One of the legs came off which made it 
impossible to sit a pan on the stove, this of course rendered it useless. 
Now I just had to hope that I either had enough cold food to make it, or 
that a kindly thru-hiker would pitty me and let me use their stove. I was 
able to make some great time hiking that day and in no time was at the 
Hogback Ridge shelter about three miles from my campsite. I took a break 
there and talked to a few other hikers that were out for only a few days. We 
were all in admiration of the miles that the thru-hikers were covering and 
wishing that we could do it.
     After leaving the shelter the hiking was pretty uneventful unti I 
reached Devil Fork Gap. Lying in the field that skirts the road there I saw 
a huge red headed and bearded, sunburnt individual who even from several 
hundred yards away was of obvious identity. If you have read the article in 
Outside magazine on the AT you are familier with the person I met, his name 
is Beorn. Beorn is loud, obnoxious, and working on his second thru-hike in 
as many years (of course most of the other hikers I talked to said that this 
was actually his first thru-hike as he spent more time traveling in cars 
than on foot the last time). I should also say that Beorn was very nice and 
entertaining, as were all of the many hikers that I met on this trip. When I 
told him that I would be thru-hiking next year he offered me all the advice 
he could think of, which was probably limited by the fact that his brain was 
preocupied with making it into Erwin TN the next day for a trip to the KFC. 
The article said that Beorn was a great lover of lobster, fried chicken is 
apparently another one of his favorites as everytime the words came out of 
his mouth his alredy red face lit up like a petzl.
     After leaving Beorn I made my way to my days destination, Flint Mt 
shelter which gave me around an 11 mile day, much better than the 2 
previous. When I arrived at the shelter there were six men there, 5 were 
thru-hikers and one was a section hiker. I was slightly surprised to see 
that all but 2 of the men were at least in their 50's and one of them named 
Pirate was on his 6th thru-hike! They were all great guys, giving me all 
sorts of advice on my thru-hike, some more serious than others. As it got 
dark all but me and two other hikers went to sleep, the three of us stayed 
up late talking about the trail and as I began to set up my tent outside the 
shelter (there was space enough inside for me but Pirate is an unbelieveable 
snorer) I found out that one of the other 2 hikers was not staying. He would 
be doing a bit of night hiking as there was a full moon that night. I later 
found out that this is apparently a fairly common way to beat the heat of 
the day, I wasn't ready to try it though.
     I started off the next day with the long climb up to Big Butt Mt. The 
view from the top is wonderful, but this is an area that I had hiked before 
so I decided to skip it this time. Not long after that I was a Jerry Cabin 
eating lunch. This was the first day that it had been really hot and it was 
taking it's toll on the thru-hikers. The shelter quickly filled up with 
hikers wanting to wait out the mid day heat and so I continued on to the 
next shelter about 7 miles south. While there were no really bad ups in this 
section the hiking was still quite slow. The trail seemed to be covered in a 
continuous layer of either rocks, exposed roots, or ankle deep mud, but at 
least much of it was covered on each side by rhododendrons which seem to 
have the ability to cool the air magicly.
     I finaly made it to Little Laural shelter which means I had made about 
13 miles that day and found it to be one of the nicest shelters I had seen. 
The structure itself wasn't much but the area around it was a pine glade 
sprinkled with grass covered open areas that were flat and perfect for a 
tent. That night was magical. I sat and talked with 3 thru-hikers named 
Noodle, Boston, and Sillyphus the Happy. Noodle works at an outfitter and 
was quite happy to bear with my gear head tendencies as we talked tents and 
packs and sleeping bags. Boston had some wonderful tattoo work and we 
discussed how the exposure to the sun might affect them. Sillyphus serenaded 
us on his harmonica with a bit of classical music as we sat around a small 
campfire. The three of them had already decided to sleep under the stars and 
so I had the shelter all to myself. The sounds of the wind, the dying 
campfire and the mice lulled me to sleep, if a moment has ever been perfect 
this was it.
     The next morning as we were all packing up I asked the three hikers how 
long they had been hiking together and was surprised to find out that while 
Sillyphus and Boston had been together for a week or so, Noodle had just met 
them the morning before and to see them you would have thought they were all 
long time friends. I was to later see this again and again, I wonder if any 
sociologists have ever done their thesis on the AT? Anyway I wanted to do 15 
miles that day and so I knew I had to hurry. Knowing there was a gas station 
at Allen Gap that sold cold Cokes gave me all the incentive I needed to move 
fast. I was very disapointed though when I got there and found they were 
closed on Sundays, oh well, so is life. On a high point though there was a 
small dumpster right on the trail south of Allen Gap and so I was able to 
lighten my pack a bit, doesn't sound like much, but it sure lifted my 
spirits! After a long day of hiking I found myself 15 miles from where I 
started setting up my tent on a grassy hill next to a pond and spring. It 
was beautiful, even if there was a road that led right up to it and a couple 
of car campers near by. Besides I was now only 5 miles from Hot Springs and 
there are restaurants there!
    After I got into my sleeping bag I began to question my ability to pick 
campsites though. In the distance I could hear the rumble of a thunderstorm 
and as it turned out it was headed right for me. So there I was, in a tent, 
on top of an exposed hill, and sitting as tight as I could on my sleeping 
pad. Suffice it to say that I was not a happy camper. For 3 hours lightening 
struck all around me and my tent was attacked by wind, rain, and hail, as 
you can imagine I was thrilled to death when it all came to an end. I was so 
happy, not only would I get to live to see another day but my tent might dry 
out a bit before morning. No such luck, around 4:00am another storm hit with 
the same force as the one the night before. I tried waiting it out, but this 
wasn't going to happen. So I packed very quickly and hit the trail to Hot 
Springs. After an hour or so it stopped raining and I was treated to an 
outstanding view from Lover's Leap. The clouds were lifting from the valley 
below but still underneath me, they were thin enough though that they just 
added to the view. It was amazing to say the least, I used atleast 5 
pictures on that one.
     Only slightly less beautiful though was the bacon cheese burger at the 
Smokey Mt. Diner a few hours later in Hot Springs. I had planned on only 
staying in town long enough to get a shower, a meal, and to pick up my car, 
but wound up spending hours talking to Wingfoot and the thru-hikers in town. 
I had hoped that this trip would hold me off unti next year, but I think I 
am more desperate than ever to start my thru hike now... I hope I can wait!

sorry this was so long,
E. George Oeser (aka Needles)