Musings of a thru-Hiker
By Gary Shealy
I rose early at Gooch Gap, packed my gear, and was hiking by 7:45am. I practiced the five mile step that morning, and by 11:00 I had covered nearly seven miles. I stopped at Miller Gap for a light lunch. Actually all lunches seemed rather light - sandwiches, crackers, gorp, and occasionally soup. As I filled my water bottle, the scouts caught up with me. The remainder of the day was up hill, and they were planning on staying at Slaughter Gap. We talked for a few moments, and then I pushed on toward Blood Mountain. My pace was slow and steady; I had mastered the five mile step. By 3:00pm I reached Slaughter Gap.
Slaughter Gap was large and open. Numerous tent sites showed evidence of recent camps. No doubt the Ed Garvey entourage and many others had passed through recently. Although the camp sites were numerous, the plentiful standing dead trees, or widow makers, made many sites undesirable. The scouts would have to be careful selecting camp sites.
I was low on water and intended to refill before crossing Blood Mountain. While I was looking for water, the scouts started arriving. I paused to add iodine tablets to my water and pointed out a few of the better looking tent sites. Closer inspection revealed considerable recent erosion, hence many of the sites would not be useful, especially if it rained. I left the scouts and started the climb over the mountain. It was steep, but I was motivated by the thoughts of fresh food, a shower, and clean clothes at Walasi-Yi in Neels Gap.
Neels Gap is the first real milestone from Springer Mountain. The Walasi-Yi sits right in the middle of the trail. Here hot food, bunks, showers, and a backpacking shop await the AT hiker. The people at Neels Gap are known for their hospitality and sound advice. I sought both. Thru-hikers are encouraged to use this place as the first supply point. Doing so reduces the starting weight, and gives the hiker a couple of days to grow accustom to the rigors of the woods before loading down with full gear. Neels Gap is also known as the first road crossing with a telephone. In 1989 fully one quarter of aspiring Northbound hikers ended their trip here, 31.6 miles from Springer Mountain.
The Summit of Blood Mountain offers spectacular views of the Southern Appalachians. A stone shelter rests squarely on top of the mountain. Most shelters along the AT house hikers and small animals. Frequently the year-round inhabitants are mice. The stone shelter on Blood Mountain was a notable exception; inside its dark walls a family of large rats welcomes visitors. Fortunately this was only a brief rest point, as I intended to descend on Neels Gap and the Walasi-Yi.
I pushed for the remaining miles in order to reach the Walasi-Yi before supper was served. After descending steeply, over numerous switch backs, the slope became gradual. I repeatedly checked my watch hoping to make the evening meal and to meet other thru-hikers. Finally, I could see a road winding through the Georgia Mountains, and I anxiously pushed on to the gap. With sore and somewhat blistered feet, I reached the Walasi-Yi.
A row of packs lined the porch near the bath and laundry rooms. Among them I recognized the packs of Huff and Puff. Soon I was greeted by them, and Puff informed me that I must make arrangements for a bunk to sleep on and should place an order to eat with them.
The bunk room was nearly full, only two bunks were open. Gear was strewn all over the floor. I picked a spot and spread my cherished belongings on one of the two empty top bunks. Several heating ducts ran the length of the room, and one was directly over my bunk. There was very little head room.
Dinner was served promptly at six o'clock. Generous portions of spaghetti, tossed salads, French bread, fruit cups, and brownies rounded out a delicious meal. It was not dehydrated and was not cold. At the table I was introduced to Dick Cates, the Honeymooners, the Florida Flyers, PT and Coleman, and Gadget the trail store. Dick Cates was in his sixties. The Honeymooners were just married and lived in Atlanta. Scott and Bob were neighbors from Florida, and had adopted the Florida Flyers as a trail name. PT found a small pup that he named Coleman, and they traveled together. Gadget had every item imaginable. His pack weighed well over seventy(70!) pounds. He carried more gear than most camp stores.
The meal and conversation lifted my spirits. I was beginning to worry that I was not making enough daily mileage. As it turned out these people started the same day that I did or earlier. Ed Garvey and his entourage passed through the night before and left early that morning. Doing laundry and taking a shower also helped my attitude. After showering it became apparent that my heels were severely blistered. I applied medicine and light bandages for the night and discussed my travels with the other hikers.
Copyright 1991-2000, all rights reserved
This is a fictional account of an actual Thru-Hike in 1990. Any resemblance to specific individuals or events is purely coincidental.