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Day 2-4: A Rough Start


Day 2: Long Creek (Mile 4.7)-East of Justus Creek (Mile 15); 10.3 Miles

Our first night on the Appalachian Trail brought bitter cold and powerful wind. We had planned for cold weather but 9 degrees (with wind chill) chilled us to the bone. Neither of us slept much.

In the morning when we pulled the tarp stakes out, clumps of dirt were frozen so solidly to the stakes that we couldn’t remove the dirt. We finished packing up quickly and started hiking to get our blood flowing. Gradually our fingers and toes began to defrost.


As we warmed up, Shutterbug began to notice that his left knee was sore. The pain was slight but it was bothersome to swing his leg forward, especially on downhill sections.

Between lack of sleep and knee pain, Shutterbug was in a sour mood and in need of a lengthy break. We found a quiet sunny hillside, pulled out a sleeping bag (it was still fairly cold) and took an afternoon nap.


Slightly rejuvenated, we hiked a few miles further through towering trees. It had been a tough day, and we were glad to set up camp and start fresh tomorrow.


Day 3: East of Justus Creek (Mile 15)-Dockery Lake Trail (Mile 24); 9 miles

Our second night on the trail was cold, but not brutally so. With a low in the 30s we slept much better. We were excited to hear a barred owl hoot in the night. Its distinctive call sounds like “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?”

We were in good spirits as we headed down the trail.


Unfortunately all of yesterday’s problems weren’t behind us. Shutterbug’s knee began to complain again after about five minutes of walking. The pain quickly became worse than yesterday. It was discouraging to have a recurring pain so early in the hike. In addition to ibuprofen and icing with cold creek water, we decided to take more frequent breaks. Our first break decision was made easy for us as we came upon SoWay and Miss Janet giving trail magic breakfast sandwiches to a large group of hikers. Thanks!


We headed up Ramrock Mountain and called another rest break when we spotted a view through the trees.


Upon reaching Woody Gap we met Scott, a registered nurse who treats hikers’ ailments on a donation basis. He couldn’t diagnose Shutterbug’s knee issue but taped around the knee to relieve some of the pressure. His taping technique was a bit odd, but it reduced the pain for the rest of the day’s walking.

As evening fell, we set up our tarp in an area with a number of other hikers.


Day 4: Dockery Lake Trail (Mile 24)- Neel Gap (mile 31.5); 7.5 miles

The night was windy but relatively warm. We packed up at sunrise.


Today Shutterbug’s knee pain remained stable due to the taping. About a mile into the day we met trail angels Indiana Jones and Map Girl giving out clementines and apples. We welcomed this treat as we began our climb to Blood Mountain. A few hours later we reached the summit with excellent panoramic views.


On the way down the mountain we met James giving out apples to thru hikers. It’s amazing how much trail magic there is on the AT! The path down was steep.


At the bottom we reached Neels Gap where the AT crosses US 19. Crowds of hikers and bikers were gathered at Mountain Crossings, the local outfitter. Originally we had planned to pick up our first food resupply box there and immediately get back on the trail, but Shutterbug’s knee pain caused us to reconsider. We opted to take a few rest days in a nearby town.

A section hiker named Hardy Girl and her friend Anna kindly gave us a ride to Blairsville, GA. We hoped this small town would be a good place for us to rest and heal Shutterbug’s knee.

45 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jane Alexander #

    Hope your knee gets better quickly, Chris!

    March 18, 2013
  2. Sabrina #

    A different hike all-together! Hope all is better by now! Great photos!

    March 18, 2013
  3. Mike S #

    Good idea to rest the knee. Hope it works out for you.

    March 18, 2013
  4. Allen Edwards #

    Let us know when you knee feels better.

    March 18, 2013
  5. Eric #

    Sure hope a few days rest helps!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 18, 2013
  6. Craig #

    enjoy the zero’s. Enjoying reading about your journy. Hopefully we will meet on the trail while I do my section hikes

    March 18, 2013
  7. I hope your knee heals quickly!!!

    I’m local to the area, and just recently hiked the Dockery Lake Trail up to the AT…and then to Preaching Rock. So neat to see pictures of where I recently hiked. I hope you enjoy the scenery!

    March 18, 2013
  8. margaret alexander #

    And here I had thought the PCT would be worse, every inch of the way!! Knees are something to take care of says your crotchety old aunt. :)

    BTW, if you haven’t considered it, I would recommend that your next book include your posts. I suspect lots of folks would be highly interested, not just in the pics of this other world, but also in your moment by moment, unpredictable adventures!

    March 18, 2013
    • The PCT is challenging in other ways, but the AT is definitely steeper. That makes it harder on knees. Don’t worry, we are taking it slow and resting frequently. You’re right that knees are nothing to mess with.

      March 20, 2013
  9. Andy #

    Way to stick it out folks .. Your tough cookies for sure .. Nothing like frequent napping breaks to help the mental focus , I always get the best sleeps in when outdoors .. How is the tick situation ? Have you noticed any ?

    March 18, 2013
  10. Love your blog! I’m hoping to hike the AT or PCT in the future, and reading about your adventures just makes me want to get out there all the sooner!! I hope the knee heals quickly …

    March 18, 2013
  11. Milo #

    Love your journal and I hope you guys are able to continue your journey soon. I start the AT in a couple of weeks. I was comparing your gear list to mine and I’m curious if you would change anything after being out there for a few nights. Would you pack warmer clothes or bags?


    March 18, 2013
    • Thanks Milo. The only change we’ve made is to switch from a tarp to the tent we used on the PCT. We like the additional privacy a tent provides. All our gear has been performing very well. We haven’t changed anything else. Good luck with your hike!

      March 20, 2013
  12. Nancy Rorty #

    I have walked short stretches of the Appy Trail. It’s not at all like Sierra.

    March 18, 2013
  13. Ian Wolcott #

    Feel better. I get very sharp ACL pain under the knee cap in similar circumstances. I’ve dealt with it for years, but I don’t have a good workaround. Since I never hike for more than two days at a time it’s not bad for me. Hopefully you’re dealing with something more manageable.

    March 18, 2013
  14. Im sure he’ll be fine…take it easy..Do your own’ll get stronger as you go…Happy Trails

    March 18, 2013
  15. runandsewquilts #

    Being runners, the first thing that pops into our mind about your knee are your new shoes. Hope you get the knee problem worked out.

    March 18, 2013
    • Thanks! I’ve been wearing the Cascadias for a few months now with no problems, so it seems strange that they’d be giving me trouble now. I will definitely consider switching shoes if my knee keeps hurting, though.

      March 20, 2013
  16. Jan #

    We’re sending more wishes for a quick recovery for your knee, Chris. By now, after your PCT experiences, you must be ready for any new twist that appears in the often unpredictable adventures that befall the thru-hiker. It’s just another bump in the road and you two are tough as nails. The prevalence of trail angels is remarkable, especially the one that was there to tape up problems as they appear. Amazing!

    March 18, 2013
  17. Chuck Goodwin (Gondos' Dad) #

    Greetings from Washington State! Loved meeting you two at Hart’s Pass last year and I have really enjoyed your posts. My son Michael (Gondo) is in Florida and is going to hike the AT as well. Last year was the first time I had done any Trail Angeling and I am really looking forward to it again this year at Hart’s Pass. Bigger and better this year as I learned alot about what to bring and not what to bring. It was so much fun and the wonderful people I met was just amazing. Good Luck with the knee issues and keep up the good work and enjoy the journey.

    March 18, 2013
    • Hi Chuck! Great to hear you will be back with your awesome trail magic again this year. Hart’s Pass is such a special place for thru hikers — it’s the perfect place for some angeling.

      Maybe we will run into Gondo on the AT. Thanks for writing and enjoy the new class of PCT thru hikers!

      March 20, 2013
  18. Skippy #

    I agree about the shoes. I always end up with pain if I’m walking/running funny because of old shoes. If your knee joint feels like a wobbley hinge…I’ve only found rest to be the remedy. It’s an endurance match, not a race. No rush. You’ll get there just like you got to Canada!

    March 18, 2013
    • Thanks Skippy. These Cascadias are in the middle of their life, but if the pain persists I will definitely try a different pair of shoes. For now we are taking it easy. Good point about it not being a race!

      March 20, 2013
  19. I hate to hear about knee troubles on a hike…hope you get well and are able to resume your journey

    March 19, 2013
  20. Suzanne in berkeley #

    Shutterbug, hope your knee settles down soon, and hope you find lots of patience to wait for it to happen. Sending good thoughts to both of you.

    March 19, 2013
  21. Joe #

    We hope your luck changes and a speed recovery to Shutter Bug. Safe Travels.

    March 19, 2013
  22. Rattlesnake #

    Sorry to hear the knee problem. R&R should solve it. We enjoyed following your PCT adventure and will thru in2014. In 1976 I thruwd the AT, no angles at all ga to me. What kindness now a days. We should see some on the PCT.😄 Take care, Rattlesnake and Seaglass

    March 19, 2013
  23. Dana #

    so proud to see you’ve gone with a tarp! farther faster lighter better! Enjoy.

    April 10, 2013

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