Final Journey – Day Three – Oct 21, 2013

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Day 3

Kelly Knob to site of the old “Cheese Factory”

North to South

8.0 Miles

Awoke to another gorgeous autumn day in the Georgia mountains. One thing for sure, I caught up on my sleep, I slept 8 hours straight, awoke at 4:19 to go out and look at the stars, then dove back into the sleeping bag for 3 more hours of shut eye.  One small annoyance from yesterday was an incessant headache above my left eye, which I attributed to lack of sleep. I relegated it to “check engine light” status. It was a warning that I needed to keep tabs on, but nothing that would take this vehicle off the road for repairs. Turns out I was right. No headache today.

It took a while for the sun to light up our ridge. We stayed in the tent and cooked dried eggs, Italian sausage and cheese burritos (the heaviest breakfast we had), brewed French press coffee and settled into the day – maybe a little too much. We didn’t get underway until 10:00. Time to start making mileage if we were going to finish on schedule.  Lighter packs and descending trail on a simply beautiful day. As always, the warmup miles are an unknown. Today I was a bit stiffer than usual. I would have actually preferred a climb vs a descent, which is tougher on the knees. You are constantly braking, and the knees take most of the strain. The ski poles are a big help.

The trail became forgiving and we covered the first two miles under turning oaks in under an hour to arrive at Sasafras Gap  There was a campsite off the beaten track. We sat on logs for a few minutes before I descended to a spring to tank up. A group of 5 college aged north bounders arrived at the gap, then moved on. Lots of north bounders this trip. We are the contrarians.

Now carrying 2 quarts of water each and needed to make afternoon mileage. Lots of little ups and downs along the ridge, which made for a pleasant hike, More woodprcker sightings, as well as gray squirrels and two hawks from an overlook.  The big climb of the day was Tray Mountain – 1,000′ in about a mile. Again the southern trail was forgiving. The climb was steady and long, as opposed to so many New England approaches that are straight up. Nonetheless, it was work. This is when I need to keep in tune with my demeanor.

Sometimes, as today, there’s a little voice that starts saying, “Why are you carrying 70 lbs up a mountain at your age? 30 years ago, you were practically running up trails like this. Now you are barely making progress.”  If I’ve learned anything over the past several years on the trail, it’s this: “Change the channel”.If that little voice becomes the loudest one, I’ll be miserable. This isn’t 30 years ago. It’s now. And now is pretty damned good. I’m still able to do this. And that is the blessing.

One of my childhood friends, John, has ALS. My thoughts turned to him during my climb up Tray Mountain. John loves the outdoors and would love to be doing what I am today, But the fact of the matter is that the mountain he is climbing is far greater than those I face on the trail. Just thinking about that put a fine point on how lucky I am to be here and squelched that little voice completely. Thank you, John. I admire the way you face your climbs more than you know, my friend.

At 5.9 miles, I emerged onto the summit ridge and junctioned with the side trail to the Tray Mountain Shelter. Stopped just long enough to hear voices from the campsite. I turned and climbed the last .3 to the rocky summit. Now standing at 4,430′ and the highest point between here and Springer Mountain.   There were viewpoints to either side of the mountain and I was bathed in bright sunshine. A blessing indeed,  Soon a college aged kid arrived from the south, took a quick peak at the view, inquired about the shelter and disappeared.

Wayne was the next to arrive at the suddenly rush hour summit. We sat and split a granola bar. Now a guy more our age showed up. It was the college kid;s father. We had a great chat. They were headed from Springer Mountain to Fontana Dam. He was incredulous at how long we’ve been doing the trail.  Now 5:00 and time to make quick time down to camp.

Steady decent on long switchbacks (zig zagz) that make the down climbs easier. On the way, we passed a northbound woman with her dog asking about Tray Mountain shelter. Looks like it will be a popular place tonight. At least 5 people will be there.  The knees were barking at me.

At 1.6 miles from the top of Tray Mountain, we bottomed out at the former site of the “Cheese Factory” where a New Englander established his business in the late 1700s. No remnants of that operation except the name.  We set up the tent and moseyed down to the steam to fully tank up with water. One more big meal and 12 hours of sleep.  Tomorrow will have more morning climbs. The afternoon looks much more sane. Good thing. My right leg is really sore.

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