Walking to the Smoky Mountains, Day 4, June 1
Garland Gap to Blue Ridge 15.4 miles (plus hitch into town)
In the last 4 or 5 miles of a long bicycle ride, my friend Greg would note our increase in speed and say “smelling the barn.” Like Greg’s proverbial horse, I was smelling the barn today. The prospect of a hot shower, a meal with fresh vegetables, and not having to hang a bear bag had a strong appeal and no doubt quickened my pace. Today was also the day my trekking legs started to reappear. Still stiff and sore, but now able to maintain pace. I was up and off early because I wanted time in Blue Ridge to resupply and just relax. The early morning trail off Garland Gap was ideal, and watching the sun work it’s way up the sky through the trees quickened my steps. At one road crossing I ran up on a wild turkey, always exciting.
The two concerns I had were a long road walk and, at the end, getting a ride into town. (Only later did I remember I had a friend who I could have called—forgetfulness can be a curse). The road walk was along a beautiful stretch of the Toccoa river, crossing at the old Shallowford Bridge. Road walks tend to reduce concentration. You have to worry about traffic, and it is easy to miss a turn— which is precisely what I did, adding 2 miles to the day. But they also give you a chance to see houses and farms tucked up in the coves. That area is becoming heavily developed and some houses are monstrosities, but there were a number that were inviting. Trying to hitch on US 76 — 4 lanes with a speed limit of 65 is nearly impossible, but you can count on the hospitality of mountain folk. A minivan with a young family turned around, picked me up and delivered me to the Douglas Inn.
When my son Bennett and I hiked the Appalachian Trail, we discovered (particularly in the northern parts) on arriving in small towns there usually was an inexpensive hostel, but also an old classic motel—the kind with lawn chairs in front of the rooms facing the parking lot. Since there were two of us, the cost of the motel was similar to the hostel, so after resupply, Bennett would take his break from the trail watching television, while I would get a book and a beer and read on that “veranda.” This is all just to say, on a trail town day, I’ll look hard for one of those classic motels, enjoying my evening this time at the Douglas Inn, reading a book and looking out at the empty swimming pool.
T. Hugh Crawford