Wednesday, April 25th

Start: Low Gap Shelter
End: Blue Mountain Shelter
Miles: 7.2
Total Miles: 52.7

I broke 50 miles!

Another day where we really did some good planning. We had an easy morning and hit 5 miles before stopping for lunch.

And then.

And then there were big ups. And big rocks. And just to mix things up, some big ups over big rocks.

The last stretch to the shelter felt almost vertical. But we did get a little cheering section via a guy headed southbound. He had met some of the guys from the night before and was looking out for us. He encouraged us about the mileage left and warned to not bother with the first water stop because the one closer to the shelter was pure spring water and easier to obtain.

Basically, everyone we encounter wants to help you get your hike on. They want to see you succeed, whatever that means to you. Ed was so happy to see K back on the trail the day before. The vibe out here pretty much rocks 24/7.

Ed, Bill, and Sling Shot were at the shelter. K and I decided to set up camp (as did Bill) to give others a shot at shelter space. Plus, we had a short day planned ahead of us so getting up early to make miles wasn’t an issue.

Blue Mountain shelter is known for cold winds coming up from the gap. And that night was no exception. But we stayed warm in the tent and the wind almost sounded like waves crashing on the beach. It rained a bit, but nothing hard and the wind dried the tent before morning.

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Moth pollenating a purple flower.

Tuesday, April 24th

Start: Whitley Gap Shelter
End: Low Gap Shelter
Miles: 5.8
Total Miles: 45.5

Today K and I really hit our stride in terms of planning. We knew our end destination was doable, knew where we wanted to stop for water, etc.

It was COLD when we got up. 35 degrees was the low. And then we had that 1.2 side trail out to the AT.

But setting reasonable goals meant we got to a shelter at a reasonable hour. We found Ed and a new guy, Sling Shot, there already.

We debated tenting even though there was room in the shelter because it was going to be a cool night again. But the lure of not having to break camp won out.

By the end of the night the shelter was full and several were camping at the site. There was a nice guy from Naples there who was the first person I saw hammocking instead of tenting. He let me try it out. Very comfy.

A guy named Bill got in earlier than the main crowd and we got to know him a bit. He lives in Pennsylvania and plans to make it home before deciding to go all the way to Maine.

The shelter was noisy. A symphony of snores. But I got my earbuds out (first time) and listened to a book to lull myself to sleep.

It ended up raining a bit and as we left in the morning the tenters were hanging their rain flys on low branches to dry out. It was nice to not have be part of that crowd for once.

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K packing up to leave Low Gap Shelter

Monday April 23rd

Start: Neels Gap
End: Whitley Gap Shelter
Miles: 7.4
Total Miles: 39.7

Usually I don’t add the little side trails to campsites, lunch spots, water, etc. But Whitley Gap Shelter is 1.2 effing miles off the effing trail. And that counts damnit.

The night before was the coldest they had seen in awhile-32 degrees. And this night was not much better. 35.

Even though we knew tenting would be warmer than camping, we had our sights set on a shelter area so we’d have some amenities and options to make the day/night easier.

First, K got some help with cold(er) weather gear from Mountain Crossings. We’ve been lucky to find that I sleep a lot warmer than her, so swapping sleeping bags has worked great for us. But she still needed a few layers to be comfortable in the new cold snap.

We had two pretty good climbs and lots of smaller ups and down throughout the day. We did a poor job of planning water and communicating our preferences of how to handle it, but we got to the shelter around 5:30 with no real hassle. Unless you count the 1.2 mile side trail. Belch. Never again.

But! We lucked out that no one else wanted to make that trek. So after pitching the tent and cooking, we figured we were safe to go ahead and take one more step towards warmth-we put the tent IN the shelter.

This is considered bad manners, but no one else showed up so it was all good. Except that the shelter mice (most shelters have them what with the riches of crumbs hikers leave) decided to use the tent as a jungle gym.

I shoulda packed Pixie.

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Top of Wildcat Mountain? Maybe? Majestic shit abounds. Hard to keep track.

Sunday, April 22nd

Start: Woody Gap
End: Neels Gap
Miles: 10.6
Total Miles: 32.3

First off, if I go by the wooden sign at the start of Woody Gap, I hiked 13.7 miles. But I have been using the 2010 AT thru-hiker’s companion book for mileage so far and I will continue to do so. I’m just pointing out there are a lot of ways to come up with mileage and they are all a little (or a lot) different from each other.

Even going by the wooden trail signs, the mileage between Woody and Jarrad Gaps is different by .4 miles depending on which Gap you start at.

ANYWAY.

K stayed at the hiker hostel while I got the shuttle to Woody Gap. We agreed I would text from Jarrad Gap if I was planning to go on to Neels and she’d catch the shuttle over there. Otherwise, she’d spend the night again at the hostel and I’d camp before tackling Blood mountain.

Thank you, Leigh and Josh. For your patience and understanding of a hiker schedule.

Ed, Bluebearee, and a young kid named Candycane Man were dropped off with me. Bluebearee quickly hiked ahead and after a few minutes my pace put me in front of the men.

This was the best of both worlds. Alone on the trail, but knowing in an emergency I could blow my whistle and people would hear.

All the way to Jarrad’s Gap was pretty easy. I did have my first big stumble because no one else was there to help set the pace. I didn’t fall, thanks to my trekking poles, and slowed myself down a bit.

I got to Jarrad Gap by 11:45 and knew I could press on. It helped that is was a coolish, windy day.

A few feet up the trail, I got enough signal to let K know and she soon texted back we had a cabin rented at Blood Mountain cabins. (the hostel at Neels is not known to be pleasant and with two+ people splitting the bill a cabin was quite affordable).

The climb up Blood mountain was not as hard as I anticipated. And the view! While I’m too scared of heights to walk right to the edge, I did peek down and see hawks soaring below me. Awesome.

The climb down, in a word, sucked. Down is harder on my knees and there were some rock walking spots that scared me. But I got to Neels around 3:30 and felt pretty good about the day.

At Neels is a rather famous place on the trail-Mountain Crossings. An outfitter that employees many a thru-hiker and offers lots of help on making it the next 2,070 miles.

I looked around some, but was a bit overwhelmed with my day. Finally I took the .3 mile side trail to the cabins. K met me shortly.

The cabins have a small shop too. Marked up prices, yes, but you can set yourself up for a few hot meals with little fuss. K did not believe I would eat an entire frozen pizza. She was wrong. The hiker hunger has set in a bit early for me.

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The view to the east on top of Blood mountain

Tastes Like An Update

Just a brief post to say we are in town (Helen, GA) for resupply, shower, and a real bed with real pillows.

I plan to work on the past few days and get them published before I leave town. But I kept poor notes-it was very cold a few nights and I chose wearing gloves over iPhone tapping.

So if I don’t get back to the blog tonight, please know I appreciate your comments, miss your company, and am having a blast.

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All you need to live in the woods

Saturday, April 21st

Start: Hiker Hostel, Suches GA
End: Hiker Hostel, Suches GA
Miles: 0
Total Miles: 21.7

When we got to Woody Gap, another hiker named Ed was waiting for the shuttle to the hostel as well. He actually camped at Justus Creek with us the night before but he was all settled and we got there late so we scrambled to get the tent out, dinner made, and food bag hung before dark. Not much time to socialize.

Besides him, another hiker (Nick) who leap-frogged us a few times on day 2 showed up at the hostel later to complete our 4-person bunk room. I slept in a top bunk. It’s not as fun at 37, but I didn’t fall out.

The hostel is wonderful. Clean, bright, spacious. They can hold 20, but there were only 10 of us at (the filling and delicious) breakfast.

It started raining right about 6am. The weather channel showed just a small shower passing through so I was game to try and get back to the trail. I left it to K who asked if we could zero (a day off the trail where you hike zero miles). It’s 10 now and the rain has not stopped. She made the right choice. Ed stayed too, but Nick was itching to get back on the trail. I wish him warm thoughts but am happy his phone alarm isn’t staying the night with us.

It is wonderful to be dry. And have some time to strategize our next few days. We have Blood mountain coming up, the highest point on the AT in GA at 4,400. She’s not sure she wants to make the climb so we may arrange a shuttle for her to meet me in Neels Gap. You’ll have to tune in later to find out what she decides.

In honor of our first zero day, here’s a list of some other firsts:

1) first stumble. We got on the trail at 11:54. K took a knee to regain footing at 12:15.

2) first “trail magic” (gifts, usually of food, left by people (“trail angels”) at road crossings). At Horse Gap there is a road that dead ends at a couple’s house. We passed the road right as they were driving off and urged water and snacks on us. We agreed to the water and we’re very thankful for it on Sassafras &$@ mountain.

3) first hiker that lent us a hand. We met “Deej” at Gooch Gap shelter. When we debated getting water, he offered us an extra 1/2 liter he had filtered.

4) first wrong turn. Coming out of the Hawk mountain shelter for lunch, there was an obvious trail right in front of us. It was uphill, which seemed wrong but we started it. Maybe 1/8 of a mile up, I found a white diamond indicating we were on the Benton McKaye trail. Back where we started, it was easy to see the AT white rectangle blazes when looking towards the shelter. I’m still amazed K didn’t bludgeon me with her walking sticks for that one.

5) first Chinese food. The hostel only serves breakfast. There is a kitchen for guest use with their own food and a Chinese restaurant that delivers. Best Kung Pow chicken ever.

6) first hiker box. (a box where hikers may leave/take items). It’s really a hiker closet here. You could definitely make lunch/dinner out of it if you didn’t want Chinese. But most food left is too heavy/bulky/complicated to cook out on the trail. So far I swiped one bandaid so I don’t use up our trail first aid (stitches on leg still have a divot I am hoping will fill in) and q-tips(!!!! Very excited about these). We put into the box a small lighter Tom had left in the pack K’s using and a Swiss army knife K found on our descent of Springer day one. We saw a few hikers afterwards and asked, but no one claimed it.

7) first hostel. Just like everything else about the trail, you can read all you want but then you just have to experience it for yourself. While the shower, clean clothes, real pillow, and breakfast are awesome, I think I really enjoyed the first shuttle ride. Some friendly stranger riding up in a warm van offering to whisk you away.

Not as creepy as it sounds.

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The great tent drying party after the rain. All tents invited!

Friday, April 20th

Start: Justus Creek camp site
End: Woody Gap
Miles: 7
Total Miles: 21.7

I got up around 6:30 this morning, again to disappointing weather. Not exactly raining, but mist heavy enough that lots of condensation formed on everything. Including the already wet tent.

During breakfast/breaking camp we agreed we had to either stay in a shelter or get off the trail to town.

We made it the two miles to Gooch Gap shelter in no time. This was the only shelter for almost 15 miles – two in-between are closed to camping unless using bear barrel or other approved bear-resistant food container due to increased activity.

Stopping our day before it really began didn’t appeal, so while K was in the privy I wandered the site holding my phone up to the sky like a moron.

But a lucky moron! When she got back, I told her we had bunks at the hiker hostel complete with showers, laundry, and a free shuttle from Woody Gap at 5pm.

She fell into my arms for an embrace. I think we’re now married by Georgia law.

We knocked out the 5 miles to the Gap in short order and I’m writing this while waiting for the shuttle. With my hike wife.

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Cool tree growing around rocks/waterfall on Ramrock mountain

Thursday, April 19th

Start: Long Creek Falls
End: Justus creek camping site
Miles: 8.7
Total Miles: 14.7

This was the day I’d been expecting. K and I had to really work hard to find some common ground.

For those that don’t know the start of all this, I originally was planning a solo journey of about a quarter of the trail. When K had some free time in her schedule, I asked if she wanted to come along.

Now that we’re here on the trail together, we need to come up with a plan and a hike that suits both of us.

It was long day, and we fell short of a shelter once again. But we were both happy with what we accomplished. And that we do not have to climb Sassafras mountain again.

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Wild columbine on sassafras @&$” mountain

Wednesday, April 18th

Start: Forest road 42
End: Long Creek falls
Miles: 6
Total Miles: 6

We woke up to rain. Lots and lots of rain. The atmosphere inside the cottage was about as gloomy as it was outside.

Look, I know I’m going to get wet. But do I really need to start off soaking?

We took an extra hour than planned to make it to breakfast. Just hoping. While we ate, I brought up the idea that the boys could go home, K and I check into the lodge, then start from the approach trail the next day.

Back at the cabin, we tried to watch the weather on TV but the rain was messing with the satellite feed.

Finally, we agreed we would drive to the forest road that is just .9 miles from the summit of Springer mountain and start of the AT. If the weather made driving the road impossible, we’d stay at the lodge.

By the time we got there, it was cool and misty but no longer raining. Unfortunately the late start and still ominous skies meant the guys did not summit with us as planned. Quick kisses and pictures and we were off.

The original plan was to make it to Hawk mountain shelter today. We fell short by about 2.7 miles.

We got to Stover Creek shelter around 3pm and felt good enough to continue on. It even seemed like we made some good time on some nice flat areas of the trail. But I was worried about us pushing too hard on the first day and after we hit a nice healthy assent, we decided to take a peek down Long Creek falls trail for established camp sites.

Camping out means we have a few less amenities than staying at a shelter – no cables to hang our food bags, no privy, no nice picnic bench to sit on. And tenting means we have to breakdown camp in the morning versus stuffing sleep paraphernalia in our packs and hitting the trail.

But I’m happy we’re smart enough to stop when we need to. My back is more sore than I counted on. It would have felt awful trying to push on.

Fingers crossed for a good night’s sleep and clear morning skies.

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Me and the first white blaze of the AT

Tuesday, April 17th

The forecast threatened rain for the afternoon, so we got in a quick hike (stair climb really) of Amicalola falls after breakfast.

Tom and I went both down and up the stairs while K and Q went down then hiked on to the visitors center. A special shout-out to my yoga instructors as I breathed deep through my nose and did not feel winded afterwards.

We met up at the center and signed the AT section hikers log. Then got a few photos of the archway that starts the approach trail even though we will be skipping that extra 8 miles.

Besides double checking our food and haggling a few ounces out of our gear, we were pretty set in preparations.

It never did rain until dinner time. Then it started up sometime in the night and has been steady since. Not the greatest way to start out. Maybe after a hot breakfast things will look brighter.

See you on the trail!

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