Neels Gap to Dicks Creek Gap (3/31-4/3)

3/31/21 (10.4 miles – 42.8 cumulative) let it rain, let it rain, let it rain. And it poured. While about half the people zero’d for the day, two guys from Iowa and my self decided trek it out. The torrential downpour, flash flood warnings, severe thunder storms, gusty winds did not intimidate us, but rather excite us. And boy was it fun. The thunder and lightning never did come through, but everything else did. When we did reach our shelter destination, it was full. So I set up my tent, with standing water still in it, and hoped that everything would dry out in time. Fortunately, my sleeping bag stayed dry the whole time.

When the storm finally died down
Calm after the first storm/before the second

4/1/21 (9.7 miles – 52.5 cumulative) The next morning after the storm I left camp alone and hike the day by myself. As I was getting closer to Unicoi Gap, I knew I was going to need to find a way into town and a place to stay. And I did not want to have to hitch-hike alone. I was stressing out a little bit. As I approached the gap, I saw 2 girls from the shelter the night before. I hustled down to them hoping they had their shit together. And they did. Their hostel shuttle driver was arriving in 10 minutes. So I hopped in that shuttle ride and got an easy $20 couch spot on one of the coldest nights so far. Plus free laundry, free showers and a free shuttle ride into town for a resupply. Funny the way things always works themselves out. I decided to come back here in 2 days for a second stay.

Morning icicles
Don’t know how this ice forms, but it’s all over the trail after the cold days

4/2/21 (13.1 miles – 65.6 cumulative) First day listening to music and I was feeling it. It got me through three summits in the hardest day so far. By the time I reached Kelly’s Knob (3rd summit), my feet were aching and my knees were wobbling. That was the worst summit. I limped the whole way up, and even more on the way time. The cursing was consistent every 5 minutes or so. It didn’t help that the shelter was another 0.3 miles off trail. I could say a lot worse things about that hill, but better that I hold my tongue. I did meet a lot of cool people at the shelter that night, and was very glad I made the extra hike to get there and hang out with them.

Top of Tray Mountain. (2nd summit)
Longest Centipede yet!

4/3/21 (3.6 miles – 69.2 cumulative). Made it to Dicks Creek Gap. Easy recovery day. I rushed to the hostel and got a bunk. Resupplied on food. Hopefully gonna get some good sleep for the first time. oh yea, yes Dicks Creek Gap is at the 69 mile marker. Nice!

Amicalola Falls to Neels Gap (3/26-3/30 – 31.3 AT miles)

3/26/21 (0.2 AT Miles, 8.6 Approach): Oh man first day on the trail couldn’t have gone any better! My calves were sore within 30 minutes of hiking, and I’m already feeling it in my knees. All this just for 0.2 AT miles lol. But it was actually a great first day. Amicalola Falls was a really nice start. Talked to quite a few people about my thru-hike at the falls. Then about 2 hours into the to hike, it seemed like every one was either thru-hiking north or hiking back to the falls from a day hike. Lots of cool people and characters I’ve already met. For all the Brookfield fam, I’ve already met a guy from Waukesha South who’s started today. Small world

The view from the top of the falls.

Also I think I have the heaviest of packs in the group here at the shelter. I guess that 4Liters of water I started with was unnecessary. Also I never really thought about how much food I was carrying on this first trek. I kind of just threw all the stuff I bought into my food bag. I probably could’ve rationed that out better.

First white blaze at the top of Springer

3/27/21 (7.9 AT miles – 8.1 cumulative): Well today was definitely a great easy day. I woke up and there was a heavy fog covering everything. It was actually pretty magnificent. Awesome experience hiking through that in the morning. I made it a mile down Springer mountain and there were already a few trail angels offering muffins, pastries, juice, and beer. I guess the trail magic is pretty common early on in the hike. There’s been 1 guy, Chopsticks, who’s been hiking with us making pork chops, steaks and bacon the last two nights. He’s thru-hiked already but comes back every year to hike some more with the new hikers.

Part way through the hike, I came across Long Creek Falls. I stopped there about an hour for lunch. And dunked myself in the water too. You’ve gotta take advantage of these showers and ice bathes as much as possible.

Long Creek Falls = free ice bath

There has been a group of us forming already. We all either met at Springer Mountain Shelter, or hiking the approach trail yesterday. But everyone seems to be staying at the same shelters and sticking to very similar hiking schedules: roughly 8 miles/day.

3/28/21 (12.5 Miles – 20.6 cumulative): I saw 14 centipedes today. More than I think I’ve seen in my entire life. Pretty gnarly.

One of the many centipedes of the day

Also, I saw this crazy salamander situation. Honestly I think it’s a giant red salamander that was eating a smaller black one, but then the smaller black one choked out the big red one, while halfway down the throat of it’s enemy. Thus, resulting in simultaneous deaths. A win and a loss, for both parties.

You tell me what’s going on here

But the rain finally arrived today. Poured for a good 45 minutes. Honestly almost got struck by lightning on top of one of the ridges. I moved a bit quicker after that. But the rest of the day was just drizzling and foggy. Really pretty spots with the fog. But also a bit disappointing we couldn’t get any mountain top views. There was a good mile stretch before Gooch Mt shelter that honestly looked like a rainforest. There were so many mushrooms, water was flowing everywhere, moss growing all over the place, and all the plants and flowers seemed like they were just starting to bloom: the forest was waking up from the rain.

I initially planned to stop at Gooch Mt shelter for the day, because who doesn’t want to stay at the Gooch Shelter. But I got there around 1 and didn’t feel like stopping. I went down to the next campground at Gooch Gap (gaps tend to be road crossings), and ran into a few other hikers I knew from staying together at the shelters the last 2 nights. We decided to hike on down an extra 3.6 miles to Woody Gap (yes I know, Gooch Gap and Woody Gap, conveniently located near each other). Just the 3 of us made it this far and decided to camp here. We found a 6-pack of Yuengling tall boys left in a fire pit. It was as good as finding gold. The winds are crazy here. Sounds like there’s a massive vacuum trying to suck me out of the AT. This may be my first cold night.

Let it rain

3/29/21 (10.7 miles – 31.3 miles cumulative): Blood Mountain summit day. Damn was it tough. But awesome views at the top. It would’ve been an amazing place to stay for the night, but bear canisters were mandatory for overnight stays. And not many people have them. So me and 4 other hikers split a cabin for the night at Neels Gap. Finally got to shower, drank lots of beer, and devoured a few pounds of steak. Phenomenal stop.

Blood Mountain summit
Heading down to Neels Gap

Neels Gap is the first major resupply location. There’s an outfitters store here, maybe 5ft from the trail that has everything and anything you could need to hike the AT. Someone could show up here with a pocket full of cash, and buy everything to start a thru-hike. There’s even an iconic tree where all the victims of defeat leave their trail shoes.

Neels Gap (ft. shoe tree and AT outfitter)

3/30/21 (1.1 miles – 32.4 cumulative): Nero Day. After summiting Blood Mountain yesterday and powering through two days of 10+miles/day, we decided to rest up and prepare for the next splint of the trail. I’m taking the day hanging out at the outfitters updating my social media and any thing else that may have happened with my phone being turned off for 4 days. My feet, calves, knees, hammies, glutes, back, shoulders, neck and hands are all sore. I wake up most mornings feeling rejuvenated, but 0.01miles of uphill brings back all the soreness. Just have to make it through the first 2 weeks of boot camp.

My view for the day

Pedernales Falls State Park, TX 3/3-3/5/21

3/3/21 (9.61 miles): Today marks the first day I have gone backpacking by myself. Just under 3 weeks before I hit the AT. I found this state park about 75 minutes from my place near Austin, TX. There is actually quite a lot of trails that add up to some daily mileage similar to what I anticipate on the trail. Obviously it does not compare to the AT in elevation, but there are some mild hills and lots of surficial bedrock; so actually some moderate hiking. I really needed to break in the gear I’ve bought and figure out what works, what can be trashed, and just how to pack everything.

Honestly, all the gear recommendations have been fantastic. Cooking with the stove and pot was easy peasy. My shoes fit like a slipper. My feet are pretty sore, so I’ll probably end up buying some new insoles. I think finalizing my clothes will be the biggest issue. I can’t decide on whether to bring a pair of hiking pants, or just bring two pairs of long underwear and wear one under my shorts when hiking in the cold. I already have rain pants getting shipped in the next week.

As I’m sitting here alone in my campsite, it’s starting to seem like the wildlife is adjusting to my presence. Rather than being a disturbance, I feel like I’m a welcomed spectator. I’m hoping the stars will be wild tonight. Haven’t seen a cloud all day today.

3/4/21 (12.13 miles): I was right. The stars were magnificent. I was able to fully make out Orion, and then from there, find Mars. It really is a shame that we can’t see the stars like that everywhere.

At the end of the day, my feet are killing me. It feels just like the second day of an ultimate tournament. Except the weather is beautiful here, unlike every ultimate tournament ever. I’ll have to buy some in soles.

Saw some mountain goats (?) running by the river below me. I camped at this spot last night too. It’s right at the edge of a bluff looking down on the river and opposing hills. Last night, while in my tent, I heard some wild hogs and nearly shit myself. I grabbed my hiking poles and started screaming ‘Hey Hey.’ Luckily, the hogs were below the bluff by the river, like the mountain goats

3/5/21 (8.75 miles): I drove my car to the other campground and hiked the loop on the other side of the river. It was way more picturesque. The grass was green, there were tons of large, old trees overhanging the river, I was walking on sand rather than gravel, and I even got to eat lunch at a scenic spot that overlooked the park and hill country of Texas. Definitely worth making the trip to the other side.

I water tested my shoes by walking through the creek twice. Honestly I was highly satisfied with them. They dried out fairly fast and didn’t bother me while I continued to hike. Although they had not dried out completely when I finally got home.

My campsite for both nights.
Shot from the trail on the second day
The creek crossing (I’m standing in the shade of the trees)
First, definitely not the last, self-timed photo of myself