Days 9 – 11 (3/9/15 – 3/11/15)

Day 9, 3/9/15

Start: Unicoi Gap
Finish: Sassafras Gap
Miles Hiked: 10.4
Miles To Go: 2125.9
Overall Miles Hiked: 63.3

With fresh clothes and a stocked food bag, we left Hiawassee and headed back to the trail around 10:00AM. Our goal was to walk to the next shelter, but by the time we got there the weather was still cooperating, so we pushed on. Around 6:00PM we reached a campsite at Sassafras Gap. Just when we had a nice fire going, the rain moved in. It is supposed to rain all week, but temperatures should be nowhere near last week. Billy Goat and I get along well with John. Hannah’s hiking speed is very similar ours too, so it looks like the four of us will be traveling together for the foreseeable future. Although it was not my intention, hiking in a small group is nice. Morale is up and friendly conversation helps pass the time. John is now Mountain Blazer because he is the fastest of us all, even at 56. He likes to start off behind us all, but it is not long before he blazes past us. I’ve been on the A.T. for over a week now and things are going well, so far. I’m having a blast fulfilling this silly dream of mine and my body is doing okay. Everything hurts and I only have one blister. It is raining pretty hard right now, but I’m hopeful that it will stop before morning. Breaking down a wet camp is not fun, plus it adds a few pounds of water to your soggy pack in the morning. Oh, and I told my Unicoi Gap story to a few other hikers here at our campsite – poetry snaps all around! Life is good!

View from Sassafras Gap

View from Sassafras Gap


Day 10, 3/10/15

Start: Sassafras Gap
Finish: Dicks Creek Gap
Miles Hiked: 6.3
Miles To Go: 2119.6
Overall Miles Hiked: 69.6

After sleeping through never ending rain, we got lucky at day break and packed up in a light drizzle. Packing up wet gear sucks! After hiking through on-again, off-again rain, we arrived at Dicks Creek Gap where we decided to eat lunch. A highway crosses the trail here and we saw a sign… and what a beautiful sign it was! It read, “Top of Georgia Hostel.” We were all smiles. I was the only one who wanted to keep hiking, but the others were fixated on the part that stated there were 13 inch pizzas for $6.00. They didn’t have to twist my arm too hard. Top of Georgia Hostel is run by Bob Gabrielson, better known as Sir-Packs-A lot. After showering and settling in, Bob said that he offers free pack shakedowns. A shakedown is when a professional hiker, such as Bob, goes through your entire pack and determines what you don’t really need to help save weight. An older guy volunteered first. I had been talking to him earlier when he told me he wanted a shakedown. When no one was looking, I added two big rocks to his pack and made a quick getaway! When Bob opened the section of his pack with the rocks and pulled them out of the pack, the whole room exploded with laughter. I never fessed up either! He was convinced his buddy did it earlier in the week and that he had been carrying the rocks throughout Georgia. That will make for an interesting conversation  when he meets back up with his buddy in a week!

Top of Georgia Hostel

Top of Georgia Hostel

The crew staying at the Top of Georgia Hostel

The crew staying at the Top of Georgia Hostel


Day 11, 3/11/15

Start: Dicks Creek Gap
Finish: Muskrat Creek Gap
Miles Hiked: 11.8
Miles To Go: 2107.8
Overall Miles Hiked: 81.4

I was one of the last ones to wake up at the shelter, no surprises there. After eating my regular breakfast of Poptarts and Snickers, I did my own pack shakedown. I actually saved myself from carrying about 5 lbs. of unneeded food and gear, bringing my base pack weight (everything but food and water) to 21 lbs. and to 29 lbs. total with my food and water – Not bad! Keeping your pack as light as possible will save your body over the long haul. Billy Goat and I were going through our packs when the shuttle that we were supposed on be on with Blazer and Hannah pulled out. Oh well. We had to wait another one and a half hours for the next one. We knew we were going to be hiking 12 of the hardest miles yet and the loss in time could put us hiking in the dark if we didn’t hustle. It rained, heavily at time, which turned the trail into a soupy mess, which was not very fun negotiating. With daylight running out, Billy Goat and I were hiking fast. Well, I may have been hiking too fast because I had my first fall this afternoon. Luckily, it wasn’t too bad as I escaped with just a small cut on my wrist and a bruised ass. Just before the shelter was the Georgia/North Carolina border. We made it out of Georgia in 9 days, which I think was pretty good; One state down! Billy Goat and I high fived and moved on. We made it to the shelter at 6:30PM set up our tents, ate dinner and went to bed.

Muskrat Creek Shelter

Muskrat Creek Shelter

I made it to the GA/NC border!

I made it to the GA/NC border!

Billy Goat at the GA/NC border

Billy Goat at the GA/NC border

Georgia was hard. In fact, I’d like to start a petition to name it Loose Rocks. The trail was littered with 1 – 20 lb. chunks  on granite hiding just beneath the fallen leaves, their only purpose is to make you trip. Either way, after miles of it your feet begin to deteriorate. Due to all the rain and snow, it has been hard to keep my feet dry in Georgia and for several days I had a painful rash on my toes that burned with every step. Once I started keeping my wet socks in the sleeping bag with me at night, which would dry them by morning, the problem went away. Other than my feet, my knees and quads hurt the most. 80 miles of lunges with a 30 lb. pack will do that to you. All in all, Georgia was great.The people along the way have been very helpful and trail magic was plentiful. We hear the trail in Georgia is about 4 out of 10 in terms of difficulty (with 10 being the hardest.) We have also heard that North Carolina is a 7…Yeah! Can’t wait. Physically, I’m in a lot of pain. Mentally, I am good, though. I crack jokes, again no surprises there, which helps keep everyone upbeat, in turn helping me feel better.


Days 6 – 8 (3/6/15 – 3/8/15)

Day 6, 3/6/15

Start: Wolfpen Gap Country Store
Finish: Whitley Gap Shelter
Miles Hiked: 11.7
Miles To Go: 2150.8
Overall Miles Hiked: 38.4

Dan and I arranged for a 7:00 AM shuttle from the Country Store to Jarrard Gap, the base of Blood Mountain. Sam Duke, a local shuttle driver, dropped us off and wished us luck. From the base of Jarrard Gap, the summit of Blood Mountain is 1,211 ft. up a steep trail. After several breaks we finally reached the top. It was our highest peak yet and the view was amazing. The sun had just broken through the relentless fog. It was the first sunlight we had seen and more importantly felt in over a week. At the top of Blood Mountain sits the Blood Mountain Shelter. Built in 1934, the shelter is two stories and made of stone. Dan and I took a few pictures and headed down the trail.

The Freeman Trail skirts the summit of Blood Mountain, saving the hiker 700 ft up and down. We did not take it.

The Freeman Trail skirts the summit of Blood Mountain, saving the hiker 700 ft up and down. We did not take it.

Blood Mountain Shelter - Built in 1934

Blood Mountain Shelter – Built in 1934

View from Blood Mountain

View from Blood Mountain

 Top of Blood Mountain

Top of Blood Mountain

We were having a very intriguing conversation about the existence of Bigfoot when we realized we were off trail. We had been carefully navigating a very slick slab of granite and Dan was about 30 ft. ahead of me. While Dan was testing the theory of gravity, I slowly backtracked and found the trail. I thought it would take him half the day to get back up, but surprisingly within a few minutes he had made it back up to meet me. He was making a horrible wheezing, guttural sound as he gulped his water. Due to the way he got back up the mountain, how he sounded after and for other reasons unknown, I said he reminded me of a billy goat. A trail name was born and for hereafter, Dan will now be called Billy Goat. We were pretty beat by the time we made it down from Blood Mountain (especially with our unplanned detour) but soon realized we were staring at the “Tree of Lost Souls” which could only mean one thing…We had made it to Neel Gap, the spot where 20% of all thru-hikers call it quits. When a hiker has decided that he/she has had enough time on the A.T. and decides to surrender, they will traditionally throw their boots in the trees outside of Mountain Crossings, a hiker outfitter situated neatly in the Gap.

The Tree of Lost Souls

The Tree of Lost Souls – Do you see the boots?

Mountain Crossing at Neel Gap

Mountain Crossings at Neel Gap

After grabbing a quick lunch of ramen noodles, snickers and coke, we traveled on, but not before mailing ahead unneeded gear and food. I just saved myself from carrying  an extra 11 lbs! With lighter packs, we hiked the remaining 8 miles in short order. All we had left was a 400 ft. climb up a steep cliff riddled with loose rocks to the shelter. Well, about half way up we hit the wall. Every step was agonizing and the temperature was now around 25 degrees. To say we were miserable would be an understatement. I made it to the marker on the trail signifying the shelter first. I was shocked at what I saw. The trail marker said the shelter was another 1.2 miles off the trail… OFF. THE. TRAIL. After several expletives were exchanged, we made the walk of shame to the shelter, setup our tents and promptly went to sleep.

Snowing on our hike to Whitley Gap Shelter

Snowing on our hike to Whitley Gap Shelter


Day 7, 3/7/15

Start: Whitley Gap Shelter
Finish: Blue Mountain Shelter
Miles Hiked: 12.1
Miles To Go: 2138.7
Overall Miles Hiked: 50.5

We reached the 50 mile point in under a week upon reaching the shelter. So far, my only battle wound is a small blister on my right big toe. We are sore all over, but that was expected; our spirits are high. Today was pretty uneventful other than the awesome trail magic we received. By this time, Billy Goat and I had paired up with John and Hannah, a father/daughter duo from Maine. We were almost to the shelter when we literally heard music to our ears! There, in the middle of the woods, was a guy playing a pink ukulele handing out Dr. Pepper and donuts to all hikers! His name was Hermes and he had successfully thru-hiked the A.T. in 2013. He said he just wanted to see the white blazes again before leaving for the Army. The donuts were beyond stale, but nonetheless, tasted amazing and was just what we needed before that last push into camp. I setup my tent, ate dinner and was in bed by 9:00 PM, “hiker’s midnight.”


Day 8, 3/8/15

Start: Blue Mountain Shelter
Finish: Unicoi Gap
Miles Hiked: 2.5
Miles To Go: 2136.3
Overall Miles Hiked: 52.9

With going into town on our mind, Billy Goat, John, Hannah and I broke camp early and made the 1,000 ft. descent in about an hour and a half. Descending a mountain is faster than climbing it, but it is much harder on your body. Your toes, knees and calves are constantly being pushed to the max, so going slow is your best bet. We were really starting to feel it toward the end, so I decided to tell a little story to raise spirits:

The Legend of Unicoi Gap

Long ago, somewhere in these woods was a hidden pond. In that pond lived a single and most lonely koi fish. For thousands of years, the koi had no one to talk to…until one day, out of the fog, a beautiful unicorn appeared. The unicorn had become lost and desperately needed water. As the unicorn quenched his thirst, he was startled to see the koi just beneath the surface. After taming his inclination to run, the unicorn thanked the koi for letting him drink. After hours and hours of talking, the unicorn had to go, but promised to visit the pond once a week. And so, for the next 47 years, the unicorn and koi forged a beautiful friendship that would one day turn to love! Upon realizing their love for one another, they instantly became saddened because, as you know, a unicorn and koi fish could never be together. The prayed every week to the God of Blue Mountain until one day, their prayer was heard. The God of Blue Mountain granted them one night of union, but after that night, they would both perish. Without hesitation, the two lovers took the deal and spent a magical night together. In the morning, they were no more. The God of Blue Mountain was so moved by their love for one another that he decided to create a lasting symbol of their affection. And so, the Unicoi was born. To this day, the Unicoi (a koi fish with a unicorn) swims in the hidden pond, longing for the day a thirsty traveler finds its shore.

The End

The story was a hit and we talked about it the rest of the day. We managed to hitch a ride into Hiawassee, GA, where we resupplied our food, washed our clothes and booked a cheap room for the night.

Days 4 – 5 (3/4/15 – 3/5/15)

Day 4, 3/4/15

Start: Wolfpen Gap Country Store
Finish: Wolfpen Gap Country Store
Miles Hiked: 5.9
Miles To Go: 2162.5

I wanted to wash and dry my clothes and with thunderstorms in the forecast I didn’t plan on hiking today. When I woke up and checked the weather though, it looked like I had a small gap before the temperature started to drop and the heavy rain started, so I made a quick 6 mile hike to the base of Blood Mountain…and then got a ride back to the hostel. Now, I know you are thinking, “Nick, you are a wuss!” Well, you are totally right. I am a wuss…a dry, warm and clean wuss and I am damn happy about it! I have six months ahead of me, so why subject myself to misery my first week? Actually, it is the cold that is keeping me from heavy miles. There have been two hikers within the last week that had to be rescued from the mountains just a few miles from where I am due to hypothermia. One even lost a toe to frostbite…seriously. I definitely don’t want to be one of them, so I’m letting the nasty stuff clear out before I try to take on Mother Nature.

Wolfpen Gap Country Store

Wolfpen Gap Country Store

Sunday night (my first night on the trail), you may have read I camped with 9 people at Black Gap Shelter. Two of them are now headed home. One found what he was looking for. The second, Blue Jeans, did not. This is what happened…

I started talking with two other guys who are also staying at the hostel. One of the guys had just told us his story. He said he decided to hike the A.T. because he is lost with no direction and was looking for a sign. He said he suffered from Bipolar Disorder, which he has been struggling with his entire life. He had decided today that he was done with the A.T. and was leaving for Atlanta in the morning, dejected. Not even 10 minutes later, we heard a knock on the door. We saw a woman nearly in tears desperately looking for her son. It was Blue Jeans’ mom. It is sad to say, but Blue Jeans really does have a mental disorder. She said he was in a bad state of mind and needed to get off the A.T. immediately. The guy looking for his sign had been hiking with Blue Jeans most of the day and thought he knew where he may be. He hopped in the car with Blue Jeans’ mom and they headed out on the highway to go rescue Blue Jeans. He led her to within two miles of her son, where another hiker agreed to go back to a nearby shelter to get him. Even though he decided that it was his last day on the trail, we gave him the trail name Hero. Hero came back to the hostel, sat down and said this was his sign. He knows now what he wants to do. Apparently, there is a program in Atlanta where you can act as a coach and mentor for people like Blue Jeans and he feels that is his calling. Good for Hero, I am glad he found what he was looking for and I wish him and Blue Jeans well.


Day 5, 3/5/15

Start: Wolfpen Gap Country Store
Finish: Wolfpen Gap Country Store
Miles Hiked: 0
Miles To Go: 2162.5

I took a zero today. It rained all morning, which then turned to sleet and snow. It is 15 degrees at the top of Blood Mountain right now, which is where I would have hiked today. I’m very happy with my decision to stay put. I counted 6 different hikers at the Country Store today that are headed home. Most just didn’t have the correct gear for these conditions and some just didn’t have it in them any longer. Right now, I don’t blame them, but I can’t wait to get back to the trail. I’ll be headed over Blood Mountain tomorrow. It will be in the low 20’s, but it will be dry. From where I am starting tomorrow, it is only 6 miles to Neel Gap, my destination and I will be hiking with Dan, a fellow thru-hiker holed up at Wolfpen with me.

Snow covered mountain

Snow covered mountain

Oh, and I have some big trail news…I got my hiker name today! A father and son I met a few days back asked me where I was from and of course we talked about all the delicious food in New Orleans. I ran into them again today and I was complaining that staying in these hostels will make me go broke, so PoBoy was the only logical choice. From now on, I will be known on the A.T. as PoBoy!