Sam’s Gap to 19E: A Hiking Horror Story

So section hiking Sam’s Gap to 19E on the Appalachian Trail. I bet you want to know what it’s like… Well, I suppose that I could tell you exactly what you’d discover on this scenic and isolated part of the A.T. However, my 75-mile section hike through this remote region was rather strange, scary, and ultimately horrifying. And definitely NOT your typical section hike. So why’s that?

Well, for starters, I’m more of an easy-going, laid-back, luxury lightweight hiker. And certainly not a fleet-footed, nimble, and ultralight Appalachian Trail hiker. That said, after a long summer of A LOT of rain in Northeast Tennessee, I noticed that the forecasts were calling for sunny skies without precipitation for about 8 to 10 days. With mild temperatures in the 70s. In short, the perfect hiking weather. And so, I began packing and planning for my first 75-mile section hike on the Appalachian Trail.

After which, I soon found myself shuttled and dropped off at Sam’s Gap on the interstate in the first week of September this year.

And right away, hiking up that first mountain peak, I felt great. The skies were sunny and clear. My legs were strong, not aching. Views were outstanding. Jaw dropping. Moreover, because I hike at least once a week, locally, I had no problem at all making it to my first trail shelter just past Big Bald peak.

Here, I set camp and laid back in my tent, preparing for a nice peaceful night of sleeping underneath the stars. Until they arrived at the shelter, just around nightfall.

As far as I could tell, from their loud conversation, there were five of them. Five hikers. All from Florida. And they were loud, boisterous, and obnoxious. Even leaving their lights on inside the A.T. shelter all night long. Which is rude and inconsiderate. As not everyone appreciates the light pollution.

Still, I figured that it wouldn’t matter a bit, since I’d soon put these guys all behind me. Leaving them in the dust the next day. Never to see them again. After all, they were from Florida. And flatlanders, at that. So how fast could they hike on a trail with a tremendous amount of elevation gain? Anyway, for all I knew they were so clueless that they’d probably even gone in the wrong direction on the trail.

But when I awoke, bright and early the next morning, I quickly discovered that the “Florida Five” had already broken camp. Way before daybreak. So they’d have a big lead on me.

Still, I figured that I’d overtake them at some point during the day, due to their lack of experience with hiking elevation. Which, of course, the A.T. is notorious for.

But the only problem was that I didn’t pass them. In fact, I didn’t even catch a glimpse of them the entire day. Moreover, at the end of the day, when I finally stumbled into the next trail shelter. Winded, exhausted, and beat up from the trail. Well, they were still nowhere to be seen.

Impossible, I thought.

After all, I’d distinctly heard them saying that they were from Florida the night before. And no flatlander from Florida, or the Midwest, for that matter, could ever stay ahead of me on the A.T. But, if so, where were they? And how come I hadn’t caught up with them? But perhaps, I’d unknowingly passed them, when they’d stopped for lunch on a side trail? I hoped and prayed that was the case.

But when night came, I soon spotted a bunch of headlamps flashing around on a mountain peak about a mile or so away. So not only had they gotten up earlier than me that morning. But they’d also hiked further than me today. And even ascended more elevation!

And how was that even possible? That, I didn’t know. But in my heart, I was sure that they’d already given all that they had to give. And by tomorrow. Well, I’d surely overtake them.

Moreover, at this point, this hike was no longer about anything else other than me winning this race against them. For no other reason than the simple fact that I just couldn’t let these darn Floridian flatlanders beat me on my own home turf, the Southern Appalachians. So brother, it was on.

After a long career in the publishing industry, Gary Alan left his corporate job to pursue his next adventures in life as a blogger, writer, investor, fly fisherman, hiker, and traveler. He is the author of the adventure fiction book, 'Big Thunder-Hearted River'.

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