Day 28: Allen Gap

Day 28. Not sure if I’ve written about this yet, so apologies if it’s a repeat, but it is significantly more difficult hiking out from a town. There are the mental reasons, of course, like the comfort of a warm bed, the connection to the real world, good food, flowing drinks, etc. But the physical reasons are much worse. Such as the fact your pack weighs 10-15 pounds more because you have a full 4-5 days of food and water. Or because it is always a significant uphill climb to get back in the mountains.

Carrying a 20 pound pack for 15 miles downhill into town is a breeze. The motivation of a warm bed (or Hot Tub) is fueling your adrenaline, and you are carrying close to no food or water for the last few miles. Easy.

Coming out though, deferent story. Your motivation is lacking since you left the comforts of life behind. And your pack now weighs 30-35 pounds. And you have to climb 2,500 feet before you get any semblance of flat or downhill. It could be very easy to call it quits within the first mile and turn around. It’s not a bad day by any means, just a difficult one. After all, as the slogan goes, “the worst day on the trail is better than the best day in the office” … (sorry work friends).

Today was no different. We were all very sluggish for the first 3 miles. Very. My normal hiking speed is about 2.5 miles per hour, but it took a good 2 hours just to get up those first 3 miles … and there was still 5 more to go before we reached the top of the up, at Rich Mountain summit.

Fun Facts, Nubs, and Culligan started out in front of me as I ran last minute errands in town, but I caught up after about a mile and then slowly slipped ahead. They had a big 2nd dinner late last night that I skipped to work on my blog, so I’m guessing the steak dinner they enjoyed felt like a rock in the stomach this morning.

I got a text a couple hours later saying they were going to stealth camp at Rich Mountain and catch up tomorrow. Originally we had discussed going to Spring Mountain Shelter (10.9 miles) or Allen Gap (14.4 miles), depending on time. I arrived at the Shelter around 4pm and still felt good, so continued on to the gap. It was mostly downhill at that point (finally) anyways.

Allen Gap is just a road crossing, but there are definitive campsites about 200 feet inward. It’s flat, has a fire pit, and a water source. The road is loud when a car passes every 5-10 minutes, but nothing earplugs can’t solve.

After passing the others early in the day, I got in stride with Chickapea, a hiker I walked with in the Smokies for a day or two. The pic above is at the Rich Mountain Fire Tower … which was closed and lacked the whole bottom flight of stairs … but could be scaled if you climbed up the outer struts instead. A note below said “Good view at top, only for the brave.” I was not that brave, Chickapea was.

Side note, Chickapea got his name because he thought that is how you spell/pronounce the word back in Georgia. Chick-a-pea. He had never seen the ingredient before when reading the nutrition facts in hummus. I wasn’t there but he tells the story like it was a hoot.

He and I had a good pace going today and chatted a bit about his life growing up in southern Illinois. I am always intrigued by people’s backstories out here, and enjoy learning about the people I’m on this adventure with, and Chickapea was happy to share.

Chickapea grew up in a very rural part of Illinois, was a nationally ranked bowler in high school, and now owns a small bit of property in his home town where he does auto body and painting work out of. He loves fishing, hunting, wild mushroom collecting, gigging and more. What’s gigging you ask? Well, I asked too, and apparently it is the art of spear-hunting frogs. Using a 12 foot pole with prongs in the end, you walk the edge of lakes and ponds at night, stabbing and collecting your feast. He cooks them up and eats them, body head and all. It sounds odd to a city boy like me, but his passion and skill for it was still something to admire.

Last year, Chickapea’s brother passed away, and he honored him by raising money and hiking across America. From Virginia Beach to San Diego, he Forest Gunp’ed it in 7 months, pushing a cart of supplies. He worked with local police departments to find legal accommodations for his tent at night, and declined any free handouts or money (to avoid the perception of just being a homeless wanderer). The trip inspired him to look at other long-distance trips and felt the AT was a good next challenge.

It was a good day of walking and talking, so we agreed to keep hiking together for at least another day or two. I’d like to meet up with the others again also, but don’t want to necessarily slow down. I’m sure they’ll catch me by Erwin, since we all plan to spend a night there. Until then though, it’s good to have some walking company still.

Tomorrow is a much easier elevation day, so I am hoping to get to Flint Mountain Shelter 19 miles away. It sounds like Fun Facts, Culligan and Nubs are shooting for Jerry’s Cabin Shelter about 5 miles short of that. If the legs aren’t up for a long day, that’s a good backup plan. As usual, I’ll let the day unwind and feet decide.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

Side note, there was no WiFi strong enough in town to upload my week 4 video, so that will have to unfortunately wait a few days. Sorry YouTube subscribers…

  • Start Mile: 274.9
  • Start Time: 11:15
  • End Mile: 289.3
  • End Time: 5:25
  • Miles Hiked: 14.4
  • Miles to Go: 1901.6
  • Lodging: Unofficial Campsite at Allen Gap