We’re not in Wisconsin anymore Toto

I thought this title was funny, Jared didn’t seem to agree with me. It is appropriate though, we’re not in Wisconsin anymore and the places we’ve hiked have been very different from Wisconsin.

Last Friday we left the car in a parking lot near Franklin, North Carolina and were shuttled to Hogpen Gap in Georgia. From one spot to the next, it was a 50 mile car trip that would take about an hour. By foot it was a 71 mile hike over and around mountains. Our shuttle was with a couple other hikers, so it took a bit longer. It was interesting to talk to some other hikers on the drive. We were using a different shuttle driver than than last time. This guy’s name was Ron and he said he drove about 500 miles a day. He could get in 8 or 9 shuttles a day and he had to change his oil every 5 days. I thought I drove a lot for work!

Being in the mountains is very different from flat Wisconsin, even when you’re surrounded by bluffs or glacial features. It’s really neat to see the mountains and to drive in that area. When hiking on the trail, it’s hard to tell at times how high up you are and where you are on the mountain. I used my GPS watch on this trip, and it’s really interesting to look at the data. Our elevation while hiking ranged from 2000 to 4000 feet. When looking at the map or thinking about this at home, I really had no idea what it meant. I looked up Devils Lake online, and according to Wikipedia, the bluffs are 500 feet high. The elevation in that area is 1329 feet. Madison’s elevation is 873. During our hike, there were times when we hiked up mountains and had a 1000 foot elevation gain!

The first day we hiked 12.19 miles. Overall I felt pretty good throughout the day. There were some steep inclines, but it didn’t seem too bad. We really didn’t have any good views and I didn’t take any pictures except for when we started. It started to rain near the end and I got wet because I didn’t take the time to get out my rain coat. We pitched our tent at a shelter that night. There were two groups at the shelter and another group camping outside the shelter. One of the groups was a family with three kids under 8! The youngest was 4 and she carried her own sleeping pad.

Saturday’s mileage total was 13.76 and was a really hard day. We had camped on a mountain, so we had to go down that mountain and back up another. Within the first three hours we hiked down 1000 feet, immediately back up 1000 feet and then down 1000 feet again. We went about 5.25 miles, and in Wisconsin we can usually hike 8 or 9 miles in 3 hours. You would think going down would be easy, but it’s not. Sometimes it’s really steep and other times you have to take big steps down. My quads and knees get really tired. It’s also a lot of pressure on your feet. Most of the time I would rather go up than down.

After doing all that, we then had to hike up another mountain that was 4400 feet high. The rest of the day after that mountain was mainly downhill with some small up hill sections. When I say small, I mean small in mountain terrain, which in Wisconsin isn’t small. My watch ran for 8 hours that day. I don’t stop my watch for lunch and other breaks, but we probably were stopped for about an hour that day, the rest of the time was hiking!

Sunday was a bit easier due to a smaller elevation gain and loss, but we still had to climb up to 4000 feet and we were tired from the day before. I usually prefer the uphill, but going uphill was really hard. I was always glad when we got to a downhill section. Jared started talking about finding a place to end rather than going the full distance. He was getting tired. I was tired too, but I felt disappointed that we may not be able to complete what we had set out to do. At times though I wasn’t having fun and I wasn’t sure if I could keep going. We decided to stop after 6.5 miles at Dicks Creek Gap on Sunday. We were at a parking lot and a spot where we could possibly get a shuttle back to the car. If we kept going, we would have to climb a mountain that was 5000 feet high. The next parking lot was quite a ways off, and it would be another two days before we could get off the trail. If we had gotten to that parking lot it would have made more sense to just hike a sixth day and go the rest of the way to the car.

We started contacting people to shuttle us, which wasn’t easy because the reception was bad. My phone would have no reception at times. Text messages worked a lot better than calling. Luckily we found someone and only had to wait an hour to be picked up. We were sharing the shuttle again and it took a couple hours to get back to the car.

Our total mileage on the AT was 32.4 miles. We have 39 miles left from what we originally planned, so we will go back in the future to do the rest.

Now that we were off the trail, we became tourists! On Monday we went to Great Smoky Mountain National Park, which is in North Carolina and Tennessee. We visited two visitor centers and three gift shops. I bought a National Parks passport, which I’ve always wanted to get. I can get my passport stamped at many parks and other locations around the country. I really like collecting things like this! Near the visit center, there was a small farming village to walk through and a trail along the river. There were signs that the field was closed if elk were present and to stay at least 50 yards from elk. We heard an elk call, and then were able to see some across the river. There were two or three females and two males. It was pretty neat! While at the park, we were going to hike up a 2.5 mile trail (5 mile round trip) that has good views and is very steep, but ended up doing another trail instead. We went to Clingmans Dome, which is the highest mountain in the Smokies and is 6643 feet high. There’s also a lookout tower on the mountain. The AT crosses the trail to the top too. Many people were taking pictures at the AT sign and were excited to say they were on the AT. My eyes rolled down the mountain.

There were many spots throughout the park to pull over and see the mountains, it was really neat. We were able to see the topography at times. It was easier to understand all the ups and downs we did at times on the AT. Unfortunately the trees weren’t turning color yet, but I bet it’s really pretty when the trees are colorful.

On Tuesday we went to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. We had stopped at Mammoth Cave the last time we hiked the AT and went on a 2 hour cave tour. We decided to try the 4 hour cave tour. The only tickets available at the last minute are walk up, so we got there right when the visitor center opened to make sure we got tickets. Luckily for us, a guy wanted to get rid of some tickets he had already bought and they were for the tour we wanted. He had paid for the tickets at the senior price, so we saved some money! The tour was very interesting. It was a total of 4 miles and was very steep at times. There were railings installed in the caves to assist in going up or down. We even got to the Disney World part of the cave! They used to serve lunch on the 4 hour tour, so they had an area with picnic tables and a serving line. There were bathrooms with real toilets and running water! I felt like I was at Disney World. Farther along there was a second set of bathrooms too. It was nice to have the bathrooms, I can’t hold it for four hours! The ranger said that if you feel like you might have to go, you should go, otherwise you will have to ask for a small bag and carry it out.

After the cave tour, we got a backcountry permit and hiked out to a campsite for the night. Mammoth Cave is a really big park and there are many trails above ground that most people probably don’t even know about. They have backpack sites and sites along the river if you’re kayaking or canoeing. We only hiked out 1.25 miles and it was pretty easy since we only needed food for one meal. I’m still getting used to how early it gets dark out and in the woods it gets dark quicker. We had a campfire and went to bed at 8. The terrain in this area was hilly, but very similar to Wisconsin.

Today is Wednesday and it’s weird to think that had we stayed on the AT, we would be finishing up today after a 12 mile hike. I’m still a bit sad we didn’t do it all, but I think it was a good choice. We will come back to finish what we started and next time I’m going to look at the elevation map more and choose our distances more off of that. We will also hike shorter days next time too.

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