Miles Hiked: 7.4
Miles Left: 2153.6
Ending Location: Mountain Crossing Hostel at Neel’s Gap
It was a very Eastern European morning as the rain had turned into fog so it was in the 40s and humid. When I remarked on the weather, Fred said what a beautiful day it was with the sun rising over the mountains. He was right so I mentioned with everything that’s happened to him I hoped he got a trail name like Zen Master to match his outlook. The name stuck! So I just officially named the first person in our group. ZM said his kids would get a kick out of it since they would never believe it. His wife picked up the name Tag Along soon after.
Today was only about seven miles of hiking but the first five of then were all up. There were a couple icy parts where either B or I would remark that we should put on micro spikes, but we never did. Luckily our poles did a pretty good job giving us traction since we were dealing with compacted snow vs real ice.
Once on top of Blood Mountain we rested for a while as the view was spectacular, (it’s the highest point we’ll hit in Georgia), and the sun had come out and burned up the last of the fog. We were met a pair of retirees, Gap Jumper and Sandman, who pointed out the various landmarks for us. On the way down we met a number of day hikers who asked us if we were going all the way to Maine. It felt good to be able to say yes.
We made it to the hostel at Neal’s Gap around 3pm, checked in, and immediately put our laundry in the machine before everyone else started queuing up. For those who don’t know, Neal’s Gap is a historic site originally built by the CCC and the trail passes right though it. A number of years ago a savvy business man bought it and opened up a store where you can buy supplies and ship gear home, as well as a hostel. This was one of places B and I stayed at last year and it was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. It had just been bought out by new owners a couple of months ago so it’s much more sedate, (And clean!), now. They obviously we’re not ready for through hikers showing up this early though as they were still unboxing stuff and weren’t going to be serving dinner or breakfast until March 1st. B and I were devastated as we’d been talking about the BBQ we ate the last time for at least two days. We consoled ourselves by each buying a pizza so life continues on. Also the store clerk gave us a Wendy’s hamburger he didn’t want so B and I split it. You can’t turn down trail magic! Sitting at the overlook, talking with the other hikers, and enjoying a pizza and coke is what makes this trail worthwhile. As a side note, the new owners were very happy to see us because we were the first big group of through hikers they had seen this season! So it looks like we’ll be trail blazers for everyone else hiking the AT this year.
Oh, and the shower was amazing! Which is good because the weather forecast is predicting rain the rest of the week so I expect some wet, muddy, stinky times in the near future.