Times of Rain, Snow, and Bits of Sunshine
The weather the last few days seems a metaphor for life. Good folks have been giving me sound advice and I will continue to listen when it comes to mileage and taking time to look at the beauty presented.
First an apology to Brant at Mountain Crossing for not getting his name right in my previous input, he deserves better. No mitigation, but I do have hearing issues.
Second, to the lone little bird up on Blood Mountain who looked at me as if I’m the first person to do The Cupid Shuffle up on top.
“ Down, down, do your dance, do your dance…”
Day 5 Jarrard Gap to Neel Gap
Pausing to catch my breath I wondered if the results of the ice storm in the area would allow easy passage. Though there were to be few miles hiked, they were miles of significance and consequence. So statistically twenty five to 30 percent of northbound thru hike attempts end at Neel Gap. Knowing that Blood Mountain, the highest peak on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail standing at 4,458 feet, was what stood between me and an encounter with the tree of broken dreams at Mountain Crossing had me concerned. Starting the long ascent I became more and more confident that when I reached Neel Gap my shoes would remain on my feet and not thrown into a tree already overpopulated with the footwear of the fallen. As footwear is a theme for this portion of the trail I was very deliberate in my selections. TOPO Mountain 2s would help me to the top as they feel nimble and responsive for the long haul up. HOKA TenNines, my hovercrafts, would provide the support and shock absorption for the long haul down. As so many have written about ascent from Blood Mountain I had researched and chosen the HOKAS as my leg saving footwear of choice. They did not disappoint.
While steep, the walk to the top of Blood Mountain has been my favorite part of the hike so far. The gradual climb allowed a meditative slow beat to my steps and in no time I caught glimpse of the iconic shelter on top.
The sky was clear and I was able to spend time gazing at the vista from this much awaited milestone. The anticipation gave way to a moment if serenity as if the view was a gift to me for the effort. After breathing in the beauty I changed into my downhill shoes and sought out the white blazes. Seeing a few on a large rocky outcropping did not inspire confidence as to how the next two miles would play out. Spoiler alert, that is a long, steep bunch of less fun than the climb up. I did lose the trail for a little bit and found it again. It is in that vain I give you a quote from Daniel Boone “I have never been lost but I was bewildered once for three days”.
Continuing down I saw the road below and though I had been to Neel Gap in the days previous, walking across the road to Mountain Crossing was as seeing it through new eyes. I had finished the day’s miles and the tree of broken dreams would not be further weighted with my shoes.
A quick trip inside for two Snickers and two bottles of electrolytes closed out my day with only a shuttle ride left to take me to my accommodation.
Day 6 Neel Gap to Hogpen Gap
Or in my case another course reversal. The rain was coming down heavily, and Bill and Donna from The Green Dragon Hostel had a discussion with me about road conditions and the day’s mileage. Since there is no predictor of how much rain and whether roads might be closed because of the rain we decided it was better to walk toward a populated are than into an area that risked be problematic. So Southward I trekked once more.
The rain was continuous and I trudged forward with the words of thru hikers through the years whispering in my ears, “ No Rain, No Pain, No Maine!” With the trail masquerading as a creek in many places and newly created water features flowing, I had but one positive thought, I wore waterproof socks. Score! There was no view on the periphery to gaze at and only tunnel vision on the trail to ensure my steps were well placed. Not much more to say about this section except that it provided a lot of time for inner voice. That is until I arrived at Mountain Crossing and a tall bearded gentleman was standing outside.
The rain had subsided and the man, who I now know is Bill, “The Pack Whisperer” was glancing at me suspiciously as if I may have stolen his tires back in 1983. As I approached he could take it no longer. He said “This is wrong and I might need to get a little feely.” Apparently my pack adjustment was horrendous and he could no longer stand by and watch me suffer. Having had to admit I had adjusted the pack myself, Bill shifted here and there, tightened and loosened straps, and went through the process I would need to follow for the remainder of my journey, he surely had to know he had saved another hiker from themselves. Thank you my Brother!
Another shuttle back to my accommodation, a nice dinner, followed by my usual restless sleep. An aside, a SOBO was staying there and provided great company and fellowship. His trail name is Clean Break. He and I chewed some of the same dirt overseas. I thank him for his wisdom and encouragement.
Day 7 Hogpen Gap to Unicoi Gap
My longest day on the trail thus far. Fourteen miles covered and though it was not my intention I know the strength training has paid off. After another of Donna’s delicious breakfasts I got to my starting point and am now thinking the word “gap” is pejorative and refers to a wound in the earth that hikers have to slide into and pull themselves out of continually as they are the portals to resupply and civilization. The altitude gain in the first mile was not unexpected and is a way to shake the morning chill. These first days of thru hiking have me with the expectation of being alone, but I was passed on the ascent by a group of eight Japanese hikers who I again encountered as they were having lunch. Their sense of community is very warming and admirable. I continued on and through the turns in the trail was presented with many small water flows strengthened and enlarged by the previous day’s rain.
I paused at each occurrence and absorbed the soothing sound and flowing beauty. It is in these moments the value of my day comes into focus. As I walked on I came across the hiker I call “Triple One”. He’s the first hiker out for the year and began his trek on New Year’s Day. The unmistakable SEAL tab on his pack is from his father. That small piece of metal speaks of unmeasurable discipline, drive, and devotion. See you down the trail Triple One.
It was my intention to stop at ten miles, and having reached that point there were still hours of daylight left and I continued on. The trails were easy and even so my pace picked up slightly. I was prepared to spend the night and was equipped for darkness, but still checked my headlamp one last time as the sun was easing lower. I finished the 14 miles while the sun was up and surprisingly had energy left over.
I was shuttled back to the hostel and took a quick shower before helping Donna prepare an evening meal.
“If a man were to know the end of this day’s business ere it come; But it suffice us that the day will end, and then the end be known. If we meet again, well then we’ll smile, and if not then this parting was well made.”
William Shakespeare Julius Caesar
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek’s ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.