Updated: Jan 6, 2021
The rain sounds like a drum line on the roof, as Splitter our shuttle driver pulls up to our cabin. It is 7:30 in the morning, 39 degrees and temps are dropping and we are hopping back on trail. I turn to Missy and repeat a saying you will hear a lot as a long distance hiker, embrace the suck. The thick fog looks like something out of The Mist as we pull up at Gooch Gap.
As we step out and thank Splitter, I noticed a group of hikers gathered around. They all look wet and cold, however they are walking towards a large fire like a group of zombies, or a moth to a flame. This is a fire we decide to investigate before hitting the trail 30 feet away from us.
It is hard to believe, but there is cowboy coffee and donuts warming next to the fire; and we meet the infamous Odie, the hiker yearbook Odie. This crazy thru-hiker, now a staple on the Appalachian Trail as a hiker support system and all around amazing human being, is serving piping hot cowboy coffee. Because by 1pm the temperature is going to be 19 degrees, yes you read that correctly. The temperatures are falling all morning and into the afternoon. Odie to the rescue, who brought firewood, coffee, and donuts. The perfect trail magic to get hikers spirits up. Trail magic, if you are not familiar, is when a person helps out a hiker. This could be something like Odie is doing, or giving a ride into town, or anything in between, like handing out cold beverages on a road crossing.
After coffee and a 2nd breakfast of donuts for me, we hit the trail. The rain is stopping,
mostly because it is getting too cold for rain and some flurries start falling. But I will take snow on trail any day, it is much easier to stay dry in snow than rain. As we hike in what is getting to be a windy, cold-ass day, it is still easy to see the beauty out here. We are staying pretty warm as we hike, but it is too cold for breaks; we just need to keep walking. Looking back it is almost funny thinking about us eating snacks and lunch as we hike. I am sure it was comical for others to watch also. After just a few miles we see the sign for Woody Gap, it seems the cold is making us hike faster, I guess there is at least one benefit. We will at least be at lower elevation and maybe gain a degree or two once we hit the gap.
After just a 5 mile hike we are approaching the gap and see something that resembles a small party tent. Within seconds we were invited in, and we ran into trail magic. Twice in one day, hot damn. Enjoy it in the beginning because trail magic is hard to find down the trail. This was an ADAM bus, owned by the 12 tribes group, with homemade tea and soup they were giving away for free. As good as the tea and soup were, and it was amazing; the best part was the propane tank heater with 2 round heaters attached. I am not sure if I can tell you what a true miracle feels like, but the heat coming from
these heaters must be close. My hands went from ice cold to numb and tingly to hot damn I can feel them again in a matter of a couple minutes. After a couple servings of soup and tea we were about ready to hit the trail again.
Then it happened! What we would later call the incident. A fellow thru-hiker told Missy her puffy coat was on fire. We smiled at first, then the horrible smell hit us, and it was true. Missy was enjoying the heat a little too much, got too close to it as she was warming up her butt. Yes that is correct she started her butt on fire! You cannot make this stuff up. The aftermath left a big burned hole in her brand new navy Patagonia puffy, a puffy we had bought just 3 days ago.
The guy I was sitting next to, trail name Hammerhead, was nice about it and said if that is the worst thing that happens to you today you are having an excellent day. The trail magic people had black tenacious tape so they covered the hole to waterproof it. It worked great, No Worries though as she is wearing this coat still today.
Hiking a long distance trail has a way of changing you in some way. For some hikers a lot and for other a little. But no one finishes a long distance hike the same person. You are stripped down to the bare essentials, and live a simple life for months on end. For this reason you take on a new you, which comes with a new name, a trail name. Your trail name is given to you by other hikers normally based on a personality trait or something that happens on the trail. Well, Missy will be properly dubbed HotBuns after telling this story to another hiker.
After the coat repair we crossed the road to continue hiking and use the privy. As we crossed the road, Missy (HotBuns) got recognized as Traveling Outside The Baatz (TOTB). This was a little strange for us. This sweet lady ran up and asked if we were Traveling Outside The Baatz, I didn’t see that coming. She watches us on YouTube and was giving out trail magic at another location that we will not see for a week yet. How awesome is that, we are like Z-list celebrities.
As we continued the temperature hovered right around 20 degrees, at this point we were just happy to be hiking up a steep incline. This got the blood flowing so we could keep warm. The feeling quickly returned to our fingers and toes as we climbed.
Throughout the day the cold collected on the trees and ground making the trail look like a winter wonderland. Every climb was nice and warm and when we hit the top, the climb down was cold again so we had to add all our layers back on. At about the 12 mile mark we were hiking onto Lance Creek campground to call it a day. This campground was packed, we hiked in almost a ½ mile to find a spot for our tent. After all for the first time ever we had to find some level ground for a tent. We threw our packs down and relaxed for a bit.
Rampage, another hiker came over to say hello. She was hiking the first 300-ish miles of the A.T. before flying over to California to thru-hike the PCT. If successful, Rampage was about to become the first triple crowner with type 1 diabetes. Completing all 3 of the main long distance trails in the U.S. (the AT, PCT, and CDT). This is the same Rampage that gave Missy her trail name of HotBuns after reliving the story to her.
So I know how crazy this must sound as seasoned hikers, before starting the A.T. we had about 1500 miles under our belts, yet we have never set up a tent. Pause so you can laugh and then keep reading. So we got our tent out and laid down the ground sheet, threw the tent out and walked through the setup. After all setting up a tent is pretty straight forward, normally the learning curve on hammocks is a lot harder. However, like the rest of our hike so far it was going to get very windy tonight with some heavy rain. So I walked over to the large group of hikers and proceeded to ask who wants to inspect my tent setup and get a good laugh. This is where we met one of our favorite hikers on trail, Grizz, who volunteered to inspect our tent and get a good laugh.
Grizz gave us 2 thumbs up, but did move a couple guy lines to assist with the night's heavy rain. I am not going to lie, even for this Minnesota boy it was a cold night. We unpacked and got the inside of the tent ready fast. Our quilts called our names, however just over the horizon we could see the communal fire blazing in the wind. So we decided to make a couple hot cocoa’s and head over.
If I could properly describe this feeling I would. But the best I can do is say when our bodies started to absorb the heat from the fire, it felt like settling into your favorite chair with book in hand, mixed in with getting a treatment in the spa at the same time. Yes I know how crazy that sounds, but it was true. The simple things in life.
The thought of food made Missy, HotBuns, want to gag so she didn't eat much. Her nerves were getting better each day, but today was only a step in the right direct. Eating is one of the most important things on the trail, yet in the early days also the hardest. We got back to our tent and crawled inside. We got into the down filled goodness of our quilts, and looked back at our journey and talked about the day. For almost 5 minutes we laughed like children about Missy's burning coat. We talked about playing an episode of our favorite podcast, and then it hit us. This right here, pillow talk and time together is all we were missing. The tent is going to be our safe haven. Almost every day moving forward we missed the comfort of the hammocks, yet we knew the tent is going to save our hike.
Ok, so reality did set in a little. We woke up every few hours to adjust, for the first time ever we had sore pressure points from sleeping on the ground, well, sleeping on thin air pads on the ground. The tent was not as warm as our hammocks, but our quilts would not be outdone and kept us warm. We carry high end hammock quilts that kept us nice and warm. The overnight low was going to be 11 degrees.
The morning birds woke us up, to me there is no better way to wake up then with the sounds of nature. Now I get this every morning. We got to relax in the tent for a little bit before packing up, giving us more time for jokes and shenanigans. When it came time for breakfast HotBuns was having none of this. For this is the day everyone talks about in the beginning, Blood Mountain. Which past thru-hikers say is properly named. Georgia has been tough since the start, now we are approaching what is considered the toughest climb in the state. HotBuns stomach is a wreck. With a very small supper the night before and no breakfast at all, HotBuns is going to tackle this crazy climb.