Leaving Springer Mountain was awesome. It was great to have our parents with us as we set out on our journey and to finally begin hiking after years of planning. After setting out, we hiked around 8.7 miles to the Hawk Mountain Shelter where we ran into a fellow Virginian, and from Charlottesville no less, named Andrew who was thru-hiking as well. He told us that he was trying to average around 25 miles a day in order to finish in around three months.
From Hawk Mountain Shelter we hiked a 21.1 mile day all to way up to one of the AT’s oldest shelters (1934), standing firmly on top of Blood Mountain. It was Jake’s 22nd birthday and to hike as far as we did in such wonderful weather and pretty country was a fantastic way to celebrate. The next morning, however, we awoke to find a wet, cold fog rolling in through the windows of our shelter, dampening every piece of gear we had. We got up though and hiked only a few miles before coming to Neel Gap where an outfitter, Mountain Crossings, is located. We resupplied on food and got a whole bunch of useful tips and information from the staff who were working there.
Only about a mile after leaving Neel Gap, we were going up a steep section of trail when, up ahead, I heard “Hokie Hokie Hokie Hi, Tech Tech VPI!!” I looked up and standing there was an older man with a Virginia Tech hat almost identical to mine. We talked for about five minutes or so and I learned that he was a 1975 alumnus and that he lived near Hiawassee. He invited Jake and I to his home but we respectfully declined because our schedules did not match up. I was very appreciative and we ended the conversation with him saying “next football game, you stop by our tailgate and we’ll set you up right.”
That day was a misty, drizzly day where neither of us could see more that 25 yards in front of us. Due to the weather and the time we wasted on resupplying, Jake and I decided to set up camp after only 13.9 miles of walking, near Low Gap Shelter. There was terrible weather that night. The wind blew as hard as I’ve ever seen or heard it blow and the thunder roared every few seconds as we tried to stay dry in our separate tents. After a few hours of incredible winds and bursts of lighting, the storm subsided suddenly and I was able to sleep the whole night through.
The next morning, the weather had returned to near perfect and we hiked on, climbing three or four mountains that were higher than 4,000 ft. and completing a near 21-mile day. We were exhausted, however, and that night, which was last night, we were once again hit with a series of terrible thunderstorms. Early this morning, we got up and hiked only 6.3 miles to Dicks Creek Gap where we caught a rickety old shuttle in to Hiawassee, GA and booked a $39 room at the local Budget Inn.
After doing laundry, cleaning out a China King Buffett, and eating a chicken strip basket from Dairy Queen, Jake and I resupplied on enough food for the next six or seven days (enough to get to the Nantahala Outdoor Center and hopefully Fontana, NC). We also showered and cleaned most of our gear. Tomorrow we will cross into North Carolina and, in a few days, will be in the Great Smokies. The two of us are tired but are as energized and as motivated as ever to keep going. We both cannot wait see what lies ahead.