Trials and Tribulations of Trail Transportation

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When I, Mrs. Dirty, was sixteen, I received my driver’s license and the keys to my very own 1970 something Mustang II. It wasn’t shiny and new, but it was transportation! My bestie, BJ, and I drove that little car all over Panama City & Panama City Beach. Transportation provided us with the one thing we craved most: freedom! Of course, within a month of receiving my license, I received a speeding ticket & was in a slight fender bender. I guess I got carried away with the freedom.

As much as I love hiking, getting to and from the trail can sometimes be a challenge. Will your vehicle be safe at the trailhead for days? Weeks? Do you need one vehicle at the starting point and one at your ending point? (It’s for that reason that Mr. Dirty likes hiking loop trails.)

The Appalachian Trail hiking community has pretty much established a solid transportation framework that consists to shuttles – usually run by hostel owners (which means a ride, bed, food, and a shower!). These shuttles can be slightly expensive, thanks to those rising gas prices that I’m not even going to get into! If you came here looking for shuttle information, hold on. I’m getting there!

no fancy sports cars here

no fancy sports cars here

Most trailheads, at least the ones that are the most fun, are found within a maze of forestry service roads (read: dirty, gravel roads that are so washed out that you can’t really see the gravel). The type of vehicle you take (and how you baby it) is as important as having a map to the trail. When you survey the parking lot at the trailhead – especially the trailhead found on one of those long, winding forestry service roads – you don’t see many Mercedes or BMWs. Our outdoor adventures are the main reasons Mr. Dirty drives a truck, and I drive a Subaru (even though my friend Shawn says only hippies drive Subarus…. don’t even get me started on what the boss says about Subies!)

Mr. Dirty and I have had some rather unusual trail transportation trials (I’m sure that simply shocks you, right?). We can never do something the easy way; that would be, well, too easy. Are you ready for the Top 5 Fantastic Failures in Trail Transportation?!

#5: Leave Your Valuables at Home

Mr.B

Mr. B

When you are going to be leaving your vehicle unattended for days or weeks at a time, it makes no sense whatsoever to leave valuable electronics (or wallets, purses, etc.) in the car. On our AT adventure, we prepositioned vehicles at strategic locations along the trail (my Subie at Springer, Hinky Di-Di’s car at Nantahala, and Mr. Dirty’s truck at Fontana). As we were dropping the Subie at Springer, Mr. Dirty’s (autocorrect keeps changing Mr. Dirty to Mr. Society. Ha!!) friend, Mr. B – who we were transporting to Fontana for a section hike through the Smokies – decided to do a “walk around” to make sure the car wasn’t appealing to thieves… for any reason other than it’s an awesome Subie.

Thank God for Mr. B, because Frodo the dirty footed Hobbit had left his iPad, a backpack, and money on the back seat! If the hike would have gone as planned, George (that’s my Subie’s name) would have been sitting at the trailhead for SIXTEEN days. Not everyone who passes through trailhead parking lots are honest people. It is so common for cars to be broken into at trailhead that the Washington Trails Association regularly posts this blog: Keeping Your Car Safe at the Trailhead. Luckily, we had Mr. B along for the ride. George still has all of his Windows, and Frodo still has his iPad (hence the reason this is #5 and not #1).

#4: Shuttles Save Lives!
So. I told you we prepositioned those vehicles strategically along the trail. IF the hike had gone as planned, it would have been fabulous. So much thought and planning went into prepositioning those vehicles. Here is how it was supposed to work: Mr. Dirty would drop us at Fontana then pick up Hinky Di-Di and the Ninja Lumberjack at Nantahala. Together, we would hike the thirty miles from Fontana back to the NOC. The Ninja Lumberjack would shuttle Mr. Dirty back to Fontana to get his truck. Hinky Di-Di & I would continue hiking to George where he was waiting at Springer Mountain. Yeah, right.

We were running slightly behind schedule – which totally freaked out Mr. Dirty. The soldier inside doesn’t like for a schedule to NOT be adhered to. Schedules are made for a reason, right? At around 5am on the third day of hiking, Mr. Dirty scratched on the mosquito netting of my hammock to tell me he was hiking out ahead of us. He wanted to get to the NOC and take a shuttle back to Fontana to get his truck. His goal was to be waiting when we came off the trail at the NOC so that he could hit the highway.

When he reached the NOC, he arranged a shuttle through Jeff Hoch at The Hike Inn. Mr. Dirty has nothing but good stuff to say about Jeff – who, according to Mr. Dirty, knows everyone on the AT and has great stories to share. If you are in need of a shuttle in the Fontana Dam or Nantahala area, give Jeff & Nancy a call at (828-479-3677). Shuttles Save Lives,right? Jeff is probably unaware of the role he played in helping us get Hinky Di-Di off the trail safely!

Oblivious to the day’s drama (if you are unaware of the drama, read Dirty Disappointment), Mr. Dirty sent me a text to inform me that he was at his truck and heading back to Nantahala. According to my little pocket map, we were about two miles to Wright Gap. Luckily, I had purchased the AT Trail1 iPhone app. I highly recommended this app. It has a GPS that shows you where you are on the trail. The mileage wasn’t always correct, and it didn’t always have sufficient signal signal strength to update your location. It WAS only $1. The map on this app showed that there was a road crossing at Wright Gap. This, by the way, wasn’t on my little pocket map (you know, the one that I paid $19.99 for on Amazon).

We were able arrange for Mr. Dirty to meet us at the road crossing in order to get Hinky Di-Di safely off the trail. See? Shuttles Save Lives.

#3: Lead the Way… Don’t LEAVE!

Dirty George after Springer Mt.

Dirty George after Springer Mt.

Our little AT adventure wouldn’t end until we went back to Springer Mountain to rescue a stranded George – the beloved Subie. First, let me say that DRIVING to get George wasn’t part of my plan so it made me a little sad. Mr. Dirty grew up in Washington and is pretty skilled at driving those mountain roads. So skilled that as we drove to the trailhead to get George, I rode with my eyes closed. He was whipping around those twists and flying over those wash outs. Needless to say, I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the way we got to the trail. Problem? Nah, I planned to follow Mr. Dirty home. Right? Wrong.

The drive down the mountain was good for a few minutes; those were the few minutes minutes when I could actually see Mr. Dirty’s dust trail. The dust trail didn’t last long, and before long, nothing looked familiar. Nothing. If you’ve been on the forestry service road to Springer, you know that there is a place in the road where you can turn one of four ways. Yeah, I took the wrong one. Smartly, I figured this out, turned around, and took another way. Yup, it was wrong, too. Mr. Dirty, of course, wasn’t answering his cell phone. When I finally reached Frodo, I was a bit hysterical. The boy’s eventually found me sitting at the crossroads acting like a blubbering fool.

Remember, if you are leading the way… don’t leave the way!!

#2: Battery Blunders, aka We’ll leave a light on for ya’

Summer 2004 - Panther Creek

Summer 2004 – Panther Creek

Summer 2012 - Panther Creek

Summer 2012 – Panther Creek

Over Spring Break, we took Frodo to Panther Creek to do a little hiking. We love Panther Creek, because it is such an amazingly beautiful place. It’s a 3.5 mile hike from the parking lot o one of the most breathtaking waterfalls in the state of Georgia. The hike can be nerve racking in spots and the water is frigid… but is so worth it!

Panther Creek Falls

Mr. Dirty at Panther Creek Falls

Mr. Dirty at Panther Creek Falls

On this particular trip, we drove George. The truck is great, because you can load lots of gear in the bed. My Subaru gets much better gas mileage. Much better. George just happens to be an Outback – which means he has a roomy cargo area. This cargo area is large enough to hold at least four fully loaded 65 liter backpacks (3 of which are from the Osprey family, just saying) and is well lit by an over head dome light. This little dome light has one of those nifty little sliding switches that has three settings: on, off, door. The on and off are pretty self-explanatory, right? Door means that the light only comes on when the door is open. Genius. This is where I like to keep it. This is where it makes sense for it to be. Right?

As we were unloading our gear, one of the fully loaded 65 liter bags (probably the non-Osprey variety) brushed against that little sliding switch, putting it into the ON position. For three days. Upon returning from our wonderfully fabulous hike, the key fob wouldn’t open the door. Whatever could be amiss? Hmmmm, why won’t the car start?

If I haven’t mentioned it yet, Panther Creek is a very popular hiking destination in Georgia. The parking lot was packed! Every parking spot as full, and cars were parked along the side of the road. That is typical or this trailhead. That’s what happens and. The destination is that amazing. It makes it rather difficult when trying to jumpstart a dead battery, unless the car parked in front of you happens to have the driver close by…. which was not the case in our situation, of course.

The Dirty Friend, Frodo, and Mr. Dirty at Panther Creek Falls

The Dirty Friend, Frodo, and Mr. Dirty at Panther Creek Falls

We were lucky to have have two very willing young ladies who were eager to exchange a jumpstart for our parking spot, but we had to first push George backwards out of his resting place. Normally, you would put the car in neutral and push. Right? Have you tried this lately? The stinking thing wouldn’t go into neutral. A quick perusal of the Owner’s Manual led to an answer: there is this little circle cover just North of the gear shift that that you have to remove and insert the Subaru screwdriver (which was, thankfully, in my glove box) in order to put the car in neutral. I’m certain this is some kind of safety feature. Mainly because I once had a friend whose son knocked her car into neutral, and it does through the neighbor’s front door.

We, eventually, pushed George to a position where he could get some juice from another vehicle, and we were on our merry way. A lesson was learned: always check to make sure all lights – both interior and exterior – are turned off before leaving the trailhead!

#1: Who Has the Keys??
Yeah, it’s happened… twice.
Our first key trouble was last summer at Panther Creek (our luck tends to not be so good there). We like to mountain bike as well as hike; therefore, I have a handy dandy bike rack attached to the rear of my Subie. It’s the kind that drops down to allow entrance to the roomie cargo area. As we were unloading our gear, someone – I really can’t remember who – sat the keys on top of the bike rack… which has an open, hollow tube that is about three feet long.

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The keys, of course, slid all the way to the bottom of the tube – inside of the bike rack. It took some scientific genius to use a magnet attached to the end of a hiking pole to retrieve the keys. Grrrrrr.

The second key incident was entirely Mr. Dirty’s fault. Really! Mr. Dirty and Frodo went for an overnight hike with our friend Brat and his son, the Ham Man. They prepositioned vehicles: Brat’s truck at Springer and Mr. Dirty’s truck at Three Forks (at least I think it was Three Forks). They set off hiking north in the rain, because it always rains on the AT. When they made it to where Mr.Dirty’s truck was waiting, he realized that his keys were… in Brat’s truck. Oh, Mr. Dirty, you rock.

Frodo, being an adventurous young lad, volunteered to run – literally – back to Springer to retrieve the keys. Along the Way (for some reason autocorrect insists that Way be capital… I guess it’s the Way it’s done), he met some kind hearted folks who shared some snacks with him. Thanks, kind hearted folks, whoever you were.

Shortly after Frodo took off for Springer, the always persuasive smooth talking Brat used his lawyerly skills to CONvince a young couple who were driving a small Yugo-ish vehicle to drive him to the trailhead. Apparently, and I’m going off hearsay on this, the young woman rode in the hatchback with her large dog so that Brat could have her seat. Yes, he’s that persuasive.

When Frodo finally made it to the parking lot to get the keys, Brat was waiting in the warm, dry cab of the truck for him. Now, every trip we take, Frodo carries a spare key to the vehicles. He doesn’t trust his parents to keep the keys!!

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Down & Dirty from the AT

Just in case my last post was confusing, I suppose should clear the air about something pretty important:

AT @ Fontana Dam

Our hike was FABULOUS… with the exception of that last day.

Mr. Dirty, the Dirty Boy – hereafter known as Frodo, the Hiking Ninja, and I all made it to the Fontana Dam just about sunset. Sleeping in the shelter would have been the simplest sleeping arrangements; however, I wasn’t comfortable with having Hiking Ninja (Frodo’s sweet & courageous girlfriend) sleep in shelter with strange men. All of you strange men out there Sleeping in shelters, pay attention: don’t take it personally. She’s young, New to the hiking world, and someone I want to protect.

Since sleeping in the shelter wasn’t an option (much to the chagrin of Mr. Dirty), we set about hanging our hammocks among some trees along the trail. The hang sites weren’t ideal, but they gave us a much needed respite from the bugs that were circling in hopes of draining our blood and the rain that came later that night.

Hammocks

In the morning, we awoke to a glorious sunrise over the dam. We had several hours to wait for our hiking companions, Hinky Di-Di & Ninja Lumberjack, to make it so we set out exploring the dam-area. At the visitor’s center, I spent some time talking with the volunteer husband and wife team who travel from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, every year to work at the center for two weeks. We met a hiker who rode a greyhound bus for 28 hours just to hike through Smilies. We met a hiker in FULL Russian military uniform, who – even though he was a Russian-American – had never served in the Russian military. Just goes to show, hikers come in every shape, size, and background. So awesome!

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Because we got a late start, we only made it two miles before setting up camp in the pouring rain. Setting up camp in the rain – with fading light – stinks, but it could have been much worse. The beautiful thing about sleeping in hammocks is that your hammock stays dry. When you set your tent up in the rain, the inside gets wet before you get your rain fly put put on. With the hammock, you can put the rain fly up first & everything stays dry. It’s a beautiful thing!

On the way to Cable Gap shelter

The hike to the Cable Gap shelter was pretty uneventful and did very little to prepare us for the climb to Brown Fork shelter. It wasn’t that hike was that difficult – just that it seemed to go on forever. It almost felt like hiking on a treadmill where you really aren’t going anywhere. Mr. Dirty kept saying, “It’s just around the corner.” The mild mannered Hiking Ninja probably felt like pushing him off the side of the mountain. I know that I did!! The view from the summit was an awesome site and a great reward for the long hike.

DSCF5551 summit

The next morning was all up hill, literally. From Brown Forks shelter to Sassafrass shelter, you gain about 1500 feet in elevation in nine miles. It’s not the most killer climb on the Appalachian Trail, but it was gruelling. In the middle of never ending switchbacks, Frodo decided to take a short cut and ended up entangled in a nest of thorns. He learned the hard way to respect the trail and that there are no short cuts!
All of the hard work paid off when we made it to the top of Cheoah Bald. Words can not describe the awesome and amazing sight that waited for us at the top. Even the exhaustion we felt from the climb was not enough to stifle the excitement from the view.

gap kids

As tempting as it was to camp right there on the summit, we hiked another mile to Sassafrass Gap shelter. That mile was perhaps the most joyous mile ever. Everyone was eager to settle into camp and eat. Hiking Ninja actually giggled,”I’m so happy I could jump up and down if my feet didn’t hurt!”

When you are struggling to climb a beast of a mountain, you almost forget to enjoy the views and the company.

The Gang at Cable Gap Shelter

Frodo hiked almost the whole trip in his bare Hobbit feet and never complained about them hurting. I was wowed (Is that a real word? Autocorrect says it is so it must be!) by his strength and tenacity… wonder where he gets that from?!

Frodo's Hobbit Feet feet

This girl… she is amazing.

kaitie smile

It didn’t matter what the trail through at her, she took it with a smile. A blister on her foot? Pssh. That’s nothing. Low on water? Low on food? Freezing cold? Rain? She still smiled.

Hinky Di-Di & Ninja Lumberjack

Hinky Di-Di & Ninja Lumberjack were great hiking partners. It’s great to see married couples enjoying a mutual hobby – especially one that exercises the body! They are new to the hiking world, and their excitement was contagious.

Mr. Dirty has always been my favorite hiking partner. Ten miles feels like two when I hike with him… unless it’s all up hill.

Mr. Dirty Mr. Dirty

I’d walk 2,000 miles – all up hill – as long as he was my partner.

 

Dirty Disappointment

In 2009, Colt McCoy became the winningest quarterback in NCAA history with 45 collegiate wins. That year, Colt led the University of Texas Longhorns to the BCS national championship against the University of Alabama. Can you imagine? The national championship! He had to have been preparing himself for that game since he first held a football!

colt-mccoy-browns

Unfortunately – for Colt & UT fans – he was injured in the FIRST offensive play of the FIRST quarter. He got a taste of the lights, the crowds, the glory… but just a taste. He spent the remainder of the game watching from the sidelines as a freshman quarterback stepped in to fill his shoes.

I don’t know Colt McCoy, personally; however, I can imagine what was going through his head as he went from participant to spectator. Would he have done anything differently? Would Texas have won the game if he weren’t injured? Was his future with the NFL trashed along with his shoulder? The down right suckiness of the situation has stayed with me since watching that game. How do you come back from that kind of disappointment?

Last week, I got a little taste of how it must have felt for Colt McCoy. I’ve been dreaming of hiking the Appalachian Trail for years. It’s always been more of a fantasy than reality until this past Thanksgiving. The weekend before, I made a decision to hike from Fontana to Springer – even if I had to go alone. Over turkey and pie, it was decided that my cousin, the Ninja Lumberjack, and his wife Hinky Di-Di would join me for the trip.

The plan for our Appalachian Trail adventure was for Mr. Dirty, the Ninja Lumberjack, the Dirty Boy (who earned the trail name Frodo by hiking in his bare Hobbit feet), and the Hiking Ninja, to hike with Hinky Di-Di & I from Fontana Dam to Nantahala Outdoor Center. Hinky Di-Di and I were to continue hiking south to Springer Mountain. At least, that was the plan.

The Gang at Cable Gap Shelter
“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” – Robert Burns

On the third day, Hinky Di-Di began having some medical struggles. It was a scary afternoon, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I worry about what would have happened had her medical crisis occurred after the guys left the trail. Would I have had the mental clarity to successfully get her the help she needed? Would I have had the physical strength necessary to get her off the mountain?

I thank God that I didn’t have to find out the hard way. I like to think that I would have responded so well in the crisis that they would have given me an honorary Wilderness First Aid certificate. I’m grateful that Hinky Di-Di is going to be okay and that she didn’t have to rely solely on my abilities. I WILL be signing up for a wilderness first aid course so that I can be more confident in my ability to render first aid on the trail. During my time in the Air Force, I took Self Aid & Buddy Care. I’ve been hiking and backpacking for years, but I have never taken one of these courses. Now, I see just how important it is.

If you are someone who enjoys hiking – I assume there are some of you out there reading this, consider signing up for one of these courses. We really have no idea if or when someone will need us to step in and provide emergency care. It’s frightening to be on the side of a mountain with someone who is in medical distress and NOT be able to help. Wilderness First Aid Course Schedule

“When you find your path, you must not be afraid. You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes. Disappointment, defeat, and despair are the tools God uses to show us the way.” – Paul Coelho

This last week has been pretty rough. I’ve felt a lot like how I assume Colt McCoy felt in 2010. I’ve questioned every decision I made. I’ve sat at home watching General Hospital mourning the fact that I wasn’t on the trail where I really wanted to be. I cried as I drove my car away from Springer Mountain; I never envisioned being driven to get my car… at least not driven by anything other than an intense desire & passion for the trail.

“Burning desire to be or do something gives us staying power – a reason to get up every morning or to pick ourselves up and start again after a disappointment.” – Marsha Sinetar

Cheoah Bald
The passion that I have for hiking the Appalachian Trail hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s still there, pulling me back to the trailhead. As I type this, Mr. Dirty is repacking his pack and planning a section tor us to hike in early July. There are changes that we will make to our packing lists, because with experience comes wisdom.

In honor of those who have suffered disappointment with dignity & climbed back on the horse – especially Colt McCoy…..