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Neel Gap to Hogpen Gap

At first daylight I peered out the window on a bleak, cold, windy day. Walmart had been shuffling around downstairs in the dark for some time, trying to get his pack ready. He needed an early departure in order to try and catch a group he had previously been hiking with. When I heard him whispering with Overalls, I told them to turn on some lights since I was already awake. A short while later I wished Walmart well as he stepped out into the frigid day, telling him I hoped I’d see him again somewhere up the trail.

Boomerang awoke, gathered her gear, and left next. Then Overalls went to meet the group he had been hiking with to determine their plans for the day. At this point I still had about an hour before I needed to start today’s hike since I had arranged for Doug of Alpine Taxi to pick me up at Hogpen Gap at 1:00 for a shuttle into Helen. So with the time I had left, I laid my still wet tent out in the sauna like bathroom to see if I could get it dry. Much to my amazement, it was almost completely dry within an hour.

After packing up myself, I walked up to Walasi-Yi to get some milk before hitting the trail. The outfitters buzzed with at least a score of thru hikers. Some mingled around within the building while others milled around outside in the flurries. Daypack, from my first night on the trail, was there as was Jacko who has come over to hike the trail from Australia. He recognized me from trailjournals and offered to share some doughnuts while we chatted. I only ate two of the crispy creams as somewhat of a dessert to the leftover pizza I had finished a few minutes earlier. I drank half of the pint of milk before securing the remainder of the bottle in my jacket pocket for “on up the trail.” In this cold weather milk will stay fresh all day.

When I discovered it was almost 10:00, I quickly said goodby to George, thanking her for her help. George and her dog Gracie thru hiked the trail a few years back. She, along with all of those who work at Mountain Crossings, offer an invaluable service to the hikers. I think most, like myself, are grateful.

As I walked through the arch of Walasi-Yi toward the woods, a blustery wind hit my face. I put the hood of my fleece securely over my head and part of my face before starting the climb upwards. I quickly passed three very slowly moving hikers who appeared to be carrying very heavy packs. The frozen snow over the mud actually made for good traction early in the day.

Over the 6.9 miles from Neel Gap to Hogpen Gap, I passed several hikers. Red Specs is from a small town in Germany. He’s 58 and this is his first trip to the US. He seemed like an interesting guy., but my pace was much faster, so we only hiked together for less than a quarter mile. Others I met on today’s hike were Dundee from Oregon, two young men without trail names from Virginia, and Mark from Chicago, who had also lost his brother last year. He is doing a section hike with his dog Hero, to determine if she is trail worthy. By the way she scampered down the frozen rock faces, I’d say she is.

A little after 11:00 I reached the top of Cowrock Mountain. I finally was treated to some beautiful views. A local group was relaxing on the rocks when I arrived. Bob informed me that they were a part of http://www.hikingsouth.com and that they hiked up to Cowrock from Hogpen Gap every Tuesday. I took a pic with Bob, who is from Taccoa, and asked him to check out my website.

The day continued cold and windy. According to Dundee’s thermometer it was 23 as we headed down Cowrock. The ice on the rocks made for difficult hiking much of the day. Going up Wildcat Mountain I passed Boomerang. We chatted briefly and then I headed on past her. A few minutes later, mainly due to lack of concentration, I slipped on an icy rock and fell. I quickly recovered, however, but decided to wait there to warn Boomerang who was just a little behind me. She handled the area well and hiked on with me until we reached the blue blazed trail down to Whitley Gap Shelter, where she planned to stay the night.

The climb over the mountain just before Hogpen Gap was tough; however, I managed to arrive just before Doug drove up in his SUV. He said that yesterday he had driven hikers non-stop, who needed to get off of the mountain and into the towns due to the dangerously low temps. There are other hikers here tonight, and Carol, the owner, is going to shuttle 5 of us back to the trail in the morning. I’ll hike 14.3 to Unicoi Gap and them come back here for another night.

One of the nicest aspects about hiking the Appalachian Trail centers around the fellow sojourners you meet along the way. Overalls, who hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma, spent some time working on an oil rig. He came to the trail for his own reasons, determined to reach Katahdin. The time it takes to get there is irrelevant for Overalls, just as it is for many hikers. After beginning his trek lugging a 70 pound pack, he recently decided to lighten his load. One of the items Overalls sent home was his fishing pole. That would definitely have made Don laugh. I think my brother would have really liked Overalls. Like Overalls, Don loved to fish. And also like Overalls, Don loved the woods.

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Hawk Mountain to Woody Gap

It was a dark and stormy night. As we negotiated the forest roads in our search for the start of the AT yesterday, I kidded with Linda, Lisa, and Scotty that at some time during the hike I wanted to begin a post with Snoopy’s opening sentence for his novel. I just didn’t know it would come so soon.

Folks, it deluged last night. As my granddaddy Harry Andrews would have said, “it came a gullywasher.” The thunderstorms commenced around midnight and didn’t subside until dawn. They were relentless. Lightning lit up the sky like a bomb exploding. I envisioned that line of dark red on the weather radar. Needless to say, I slept little.

At first light I began to pack up. Water had crept beneath my tent despite my meticulous placement of the tent at what I had thought was the ideal camping spot. So after packing a damp sleeping bag, wet clothes, and a partially soaked sleeping pad, I ate breakfast and then took down my drenched tent. Therefore, until the sun comes out, I’ll be carrying an unusable wet tent.

The hike today was a lot more strenuous than yesterday. Due to the rain, there was a considerable amount of standing water on the trail. The streams were rushing as well which meant that crossings were also a bit challenging. At one point there was no other choice but to step directly in the water. I thought about changing socks but decided to forgo the stop. In addition, mud was everywhere. I slipped several times; however, so far I have been able to follow my good running buddy John Cobis’ advice, “stay vertical.” Tomorrow going down Blood Mountain will be the biggest challenge thus far.

Along the way today I hiked briefly with two fire fighters from Winston Salem and also stopped to chat with a south bound section hiker Pilot, who is from the Boston area. I stopped briefly to eat and rest at Gooch Mountain shelter where I shared some info with a young couple from Indiana. After a tiring final 5.3 miles I arrived at Woody Gap in a dense fog. I was able to hitch a ride to the Hiker Hostel with Kayleen and her husband (whose name I can’t remember). They were dropping off another hiker and gladly offered me the ride here. My first trail angel.

Josh and Leigh, the owners of the hostel, thru hiked in 2000. They are really great folks, answering questions and providing advice when asked. Josh took me in to Dahlonega to get a meal at Captain D’s. After returning to the hostel I was able to talk to some of the hikers here about Don. All listened with compassion. Among those are Kathy Sanders, who is on trailjournals, Cliffdiver, Ratchet, Lance, Alex from England, and four hikers from Maine. It has been great exchanging stories with all.

Tomorrow morning, after a hearty breakfast at the hostel, I’ll head back to the trail to resume my hike at Woody Gap, with Neel Gap and Mountain Crossings as my destination. Like I will sign every register, Don loved the woods.
Until tomorrow….

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Golf with Sam

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Final Week Countdown

EPSON MFP imageMuch has happened over the past three weeks as I continue to prepare for my upcoming thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. With only one week remaining before I depart from Springer, I find myself constantly going over a mental list of what still needs to be done on the home front. My gear is ready, I think I’m prepared physically, and I’ve begun to say goodbye to those who I’ll miss while away. Now I just have to wait for seven more days.

Two weeks ago, my son Sam was home for the weekend, and we were able to get in 9 holes of golf on a very cold Saturday morning. In fact, we even had a brief snow flurry during the round. My good running buddy, Kevin, joined us on the Oxbow Creek course. As usual I finished third in the threesome. It’s always good to spend time with my son and a great friend.

Last weekend my wife Linda and I visited our daughter Rachel in NYC. Even though it was a brief trip this time, we did manage to get in some fine dining and a broadway show. I thought often of the similar trip we had taken with Don and Lisa two years ago just before Don’s diagnosis. Those memories brought smiles to all of us.

Earlier this week I was given the opportunity to speak at a luncheon at my church regarding my hike. The “Prime Timers” mainly consists of the older members of our congregation, many of whom are in a Sunday School class I teach on a rotating basis once a month. I’ll miss those folks while I’m away; however, I will be blessed many times by their prayers. The luncheon also gave me the opportunity to provide a birthday cake for my mom. She will be 88 next Thursday, two days before I begin walking northward. Despite her concern for the health and safety of her lone surviving child, I think deep down she is very proud of what I am trying to accomplish.

Today we celebrated a second time at lunch with Lisa, Brent, and Lori, (Don’s wife, son, and daughter-in-law). Lisa’s sister Val and her husband Freddy also joined us. Much of the talk around the table centered around my hike. Brent and Lori plan to meet me somewhere along the way, and Lisa promises a celebration in Maine if I make it. Certainly provides me with more incentive.

So, it’s been a great last three weeks as I get ready for that final seven day countdown. I’m still reading daily others’ trail journals and can’t wait to be out there hiking with them. I greatly appreciate all who have found and read my journal, and I thank sincerely those who have signed my guest book or sent me an email. Over the next few months I hope I’ll be able to provide all with an insightful as well as entertaining portrayal of trail life while I pursue an adventure on the Appalachian Trail. And each day that I walk I’ll often remember that Don loved the woods.

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