For months, I looked forward to a 6 day Appalachian Trail hike through Georgia and into North Carolina. I planned, packed, studied maps, repacked and reviewed until the day we drove 12 hours to the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. My husband, daughter and dogs planned to complete 105 miles during the week on the trail and I was beyond excited to begin!
We spent a full day driving to Georgia, checking into a cute little cabin at the Enota Mountain Retreat near Hiawassee. The cabin included a little kitchen area, a bathroom with shower, a king sized bed and a fold out sofa that butted up against the bed. Our backpacks and dogs took up whatever little space remained in the cottage. It was absolutely perfect for a good night’s sleep and a place to stash our suitcase of clean clothes while we hiked.
During our drive to Georgia, I prattled on about the trail, mileage goals, food and such. After about 4 hours, my husband interjected that he had invited his best friend to join us and that Brad would be arriving from Colorado via Florida about an hour after we were to check in. My husband assured me that a lodge room had been booked by our friend and that all would be awesome. Brad is an amazing cook and he was bringing fresh fish for a great kick off meal, so we were looking forward to his arrival.
After our meal, Brad announced that he was going to set up his tent “somewhere” and would meet us at 6 am for breakfast. (I thought he had a room in the lodge?) At 5 am, our cabin door flew open, the dogs began barking and a soaking wet Brad swept into the room.
“My tent leaked and everything is wet. I’m going to hang up my stuff in here. We won’t be able to backpack today”.
I was not very pleased, but what choice did I have? We unloaded the week’s worth of food from our packs and my husband removed the tent from his. Out of stubbornness, I kept my pack filled with my sleeping bag and gear. I might not be sleeping outside that night, but, dammit, I was going to pretend that I was!
I quickly changed our hiking plan, shortening our first day so that we had start and end points at parking areas. We spent 2 hours driving to set up the hike: 45 minutes to drop off one car at the end spot and another 75 minutes to the trailhead near Springer Mountain. The driving time for pre and post hiking eliminated 2 hours of hiking, cutting day one’s hiking mileage from 16.7 to 12.3. We piled into the end car at Cooper Gap and took the long road back to our starting spot. We returned to Enota well after dark and I was hungry and very cranky.
After our meal, I reviewed the plan for the next day. We would meet at 6 am, eat a fast breakfast and then drive to Cooper Gap, picking up where we left off. Brad decided that he would sleep in his sleeping bag in the back of his rental SUV, parked beside the cabin. You can imagine my surprise when at 4 am, a sopping wet Brad flew into our cottage. Deja vu? Was this Ground Hog Day? He stood dripping from head to toe, leaving a puddle on the floor that was quickly spreading under the beds. Excited conversation quickly ensued:
“Why are you so wet?”, I asked.
“Because I just ran 5 miles in the rain, while wearing my crocs.”
“Why were you 5 miles away? Weren’t you sleeping in your vehicle beside the cabin? Last night I checked and the SUV was there when I climbed into bed,” I stated as I scratched my head.
“Well, about that. I got to thinking and decided to drive to this spot that I saw the other day. But when I tried pulling off the road to park, I ended up in a ditch. We are not going to be able to hike until I get my car towed, and I don’t have any cell service.”
We sent Brad to the resort office where he was certain to get cell reception. After a great deal of yelling at my chagrined husband, we hopped into our Suburban and drove into Hiawassee, seeking a hot breakfast. A fabulous meal calmed my anger and I was ready to hit the road. I wanted to pick up the lost 4.4 miles from the previous day, and knew that we could hike in the dark if necessary.
We returned to the cabin and I was relieved to see that Brad was back with his car.
“What is that in his hand? It kind of looks like a car bumper,” I asked my husband.
Indeed it was a car bumper; the bumper off his rental car.
“Hey guys. Um, we can’t backpack and do an overnight because I need to be here in the morning to meet the garage dude who will fix the bumper that kind of fell off in the ditch.”
I silently walked away, grabbed my map and recalculated the hike mileage … again. With the lateness of the morning and the long drive to Cooper Gap, I knew we couldn’t possibly make up for the previous day. Heck, we wouldn’t even be able to complete the planned mileage for that day.
Our second day hike commenced and within a very short time frame, the rain returned. We trekked the entire day through mud puddles and downpours. This was a good thing, as it gave me an excuse to keep up my hood and not enter into conversation with my husband or his best buddy/ lifelong pal.
At one point, my daughter bent over to pick up an item laying on the trail.
“Hey, Uncle B! Did you lose your earbuds?”
“Oh, yes I did. Also, I can’t find my wallet. Did you happen to see it on the trail?” <insert hand-to-forehead smack here>
We ended day 2 at Woody Gap, 8.4 miles behind the plan. When I awoke on day 3, I had a silent conversation with myself. No matter what, I was going to enjoy the hike. There couldn’t be any more challenges, could there?
“Hi guys,” Brad said over a breakfast of granola bars.
“Hey, listen, I still haven’t found my wallet, so I need to cancel all of my credit cards. I am going to go up to the resort office and start making the calls. Wanna make today another day hike?”
Oddly enough, I laughed and replied, “Sure, why not?”
All thoughts of hitting our end goal had disappeared. We hiked in the rain for the third day in a row and returned to our little rental cabin once again. After a dinner of trail food, we made our plans for the remainder of the week.
Our daughter opted to stay behind, per our original plans. She was going to explore the area for a few days and pick us up at Deep Gap, mile 85, our new final destination. Brad decided not to continue the Georgia hike. He found his wallet (but not his debit card) and was itching to move on to his next adventure.
We awoke to no one running through the cabin door. Brad had silently departed at some point in the night. The morning was overcast as Mo dropped us off at the trailhead. After a short time, the sun rose high in the sky. We enjoyed its warmth and its rays highlighting the mountain laurel and shrubs that lined the trail. We stopped on the summit of Tray Mountain and it was lovely to have a view. The previous days were so cloudy, we could only see walls of gray. We took photos and began laughing about the craziness of the first part of our journey. Only Brad can cause such silly happenings during a well planned adventure.
As I bent to pick up my backpack I spied a shiny object shimmering in the sunlight. A penny, head side up. Huh. I snatched it up, and put it into my backpack for luck on our hike. As we walked north, I pondered the mysterious penny and why it was on the trail. My mind once again went to the mishaps of the week and I realized that, although aggravating, we were safe, we completed our hike through Georgia, we were dry at night as we slept, and most importantly, we were together. It was a lucky hike after all.