Sunshine!!! Well, some …

The day got off to a fine start at Woody Gap, where some trail angels were laying on breakfast for hikers. As we walked across the car park we were greeted with “Hello and welcome!” and waffles, sausage and eggs were thrust into our hands. Several other hikers were sitting around on camp chairs, also enjoying the hospitality. After two days of gruelling hiking, it was a real morale booster! Sorry I didn’t take a photo, I was far too excited about the food!

After two days of rain, at long last we got some sunshine! And of all days to get some good weather, Thursday was a good one. With a 6 mile stretch from Jarrards Gap to Neels Gap where you can only camp if you have a bear barrel (a heavy bulky plastic barrel to protect your food from bears, which we don’t have) we were either going to have to stop short, making for a low mileage day, or carry on through to the end of the restriction – a total of 16 miles. The forecast was good, we were feeling fit, so we went for it. We were also hoping to get ahead of the crowd who were filling up all the shelters – which didn’t work, but never mind!

The big breakfast also set us up for a pretty energetic day. The AT is notorious for its constant ascents and descents. This day was no different, but it also took us over Blood Mountain, at 4442 feet the highest point on the AT in Georgia. The views were magnificent, and after walking past so many viewpoints in thick fog over the previous days, we really enjoyed seeing the Appalachians stretching out in front of us. And it was really warm in the sunshine, and without leaves on the trees we were glad of our sunhats.

We also enjoyed a conversation with another American hiker who was enjoying the view – like several other people we’ve spoken to, he was a Trump supporter. Not a rabid supporter, but someone who felt Biden had achieved nothing, while Trump had actually delivered some of what he promised. And like several other Trump supporters we met, he felt that Trump would be doing himself a favour if he kept his mouth shut more often …

From the top of Blood Mountain it was a long descent to Neel’s Gap, the end of the camping restrictions and an outdoor equipment shop sited directly on the trail. Not only does it sell high quality outdoor gear, but it also sells pizza and coffee and has flush toilets and showers!!! And a big fat ginger kitty too. We camped about 5 minutes’ walk up the hill, so we could enjoy coffee in the morning, I had a very welcome (and badly needed) hot shower, and we picked up some food for the next couple of days. Neil also decided to replace his Granite Gear pack, which was looking a bit tired after doing the whole Continental Divide Trail, and replace it with a lighter weight, more modern pack, the ULA Ohm.

Ginger kitty at Neel’s Gap – he’s the boss!

Another interesting feature at Neel’s Gap is the boot tree. A lot of people only get this far and then quit, and it has become a tradition to throw unwanted hiking footwear into the large tree outside the shop. I don’t know if every pair of boots or shoes represents a hiker who quit, but there are a lot of pairs up there!

We were late setting off hiking after doing our shopping, only getting going at 10am. We didn’t have far to go, with only 12 miles to Low Gap shelter, but the forecast was for heavy rain and thunderstorms coming in towards evening and lasting into the next day. So we set off at a good pace into the fog and drizzle and strengthening winds, half heartedly hoping to get a place in the shelter but being pretty resigned to the fact that we wouldn’t. Sure enough, by the time we got there the shelter was full (it only slept 7) and there was even a guy spreading out his sleeping mat in the dry dirt under the elevated floor of the shelter!

With 1 to 2 inches of rain forecast overnight, we chose our camping spot very carefully, trying to work out where water would flow in the event of a downpour. We had been warned about camping under the many dead trees surrounding the shelter, so there was that to bear in mind as well. We finally settled on a spot which we hoped would be ok. Dinner was a bit dismal, as the table and benches weren’t under shelter and it was raining, but we got it done and retired to our tent, once again in the hope of staying dry. Sleep was fitful, with the wind roaring in the trees above our heads – luckily we were on the leeward side of the gap so we weren’t getting buffeted. The rain went from pattering to loud drumming on the flysheet, and again bounced dirt up under the flysheet, covering everything. But it wasn’t quite as bad as Tuesday night, and we did get some sleep.

By this morning (Saturday) however, we were running short of food and more than ready to go into town for showers, laundry, cleaning our kit and stretching out in a warm dry place. Unicoi Gap was less than 10 miles away, and my guidebook told me that there was a free shuttle bus there for hikers, into the nearby town of Hiawassee.

So we packed away our soggy tent, and got a 7.15 start from the campsite. Rain was still dripping from the trees, but the drizzle eased off and we even got a glimpse of weak sunshine. It was a swift march to Unicoi Gap with few breaks; by the time we got there I was exhausted. The shuttle bus was there already, and within 5 minutes we were on our way to the Budget Inn in Hiawassee for rest, recuperation and an awful lot of washing.

3 Responses

  1. Toby
    | Reply

    I just love that pic of the pair of you! And a grand view too.

  2. Dave Haynes
    | Reply

    Of all the places to find a Cat! Incredible start, I’d have sure been adding to that tree of boots after all the soggy weather. Can’t wait for the next update 😀

  3. Roz Savage
    | Reply

    Big breakfast, pizza, and a big ginger cat – sounds like a good day…. until the rain started, anyway. Glad to hear it’s all going well (if slightly soggy) so far.

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