Day 4 – March 11 2017 – 10.8 miles – Woody Gap to Neel Gap
One thing that I think helped me get through the trip was that I would give myself something to look forward to every three to five days. Weather it was a geological feature, mile post, or town. Small goals helped keep up our spirits up and gave us a better sense accomplishment. Much better than if we only looked at miles left to go. Its the journey not the destination. Cliché, I know, but true.
That morning I had three things to look forward to. We would be going over Preaching rock, Blood Mountain, and go down into Neels gap. It was still cold that morning but the sky was clear. Promising a warmer day.
After only a mile climb we arrived at Preaching rock. Where we were treated to 180 degree views of the surrounding mountain ranges. The early morning light cast shadows in the valleys and highlighted the contours of the mountains. Adding depth to an already beautiful view. The wind, so unrelenting the day before, was completely still.
We hung out there quite a while. The birds were chirping and the sun was warming our bodies. “Spring had finally arrived for good” I thought
As we made our way to blood mountain we were told of an approaching snowstorm expected to hit in the early evening. So much for spring.
We noticed a white haired gentleman wearing yellow earmuffs up ahead. Upon closer inspection I realized they were actually ear protection headphones. The kind you might see on a construction worker or a guy directing airplanes. These headphone also had an antenna and volume controls on them. As he was reciting the play by play of a baseball game played in 1975, not to mention to complete lack of signal in the area, we came to the conclusion that they were probably no longer operational.
When he was not reciting baseball plays he was talking at a younger Asian man named Kevin nearby. When i say at, I mean at. Poor Kevin was clearly not a willing participant in the conversation. After realizing yellow earphone was not going to eave him alone, Kevin tried hiking away at a very fast rate. Yellow Earphones stayed right behind him.
It was around this time we began to wonder when we would be going up Blood Mountain. The trail had been going up slightly for a while which didn’t really jive with the map. We knew we were on the AT so we kept going. A few minutes after we realized we were more than halfway up the mountain we had been looking for. Blood mountain had been described as the first “real “ mountain of the trail by locals. The difficulty did not live up to the hype.
Near the summit there is an old stone shelter. We popped our heads in real quick to check in out. Passed out in the corner, with a bottle of whiskey in his hands, was Yellow Headphones. We decided not to disturb his slumber and check out the views instead.
At 4457 feet and views in almost all direction it really did feel like it was our first “real” mountain. We took a few pictures and had a snack. Soon snow flurries and a sudden influx of day hikers prompted us to get moving.
We found the way down was much steeper than the way up. I was glad we didnt have to come up that way The slight knee pain Jon had been experiencing throughout the day suddenly became major. The previously idle talk of taking a break the next day was starting to look more like a reality.
As we were descending there were quite a few day hikers going up. Three of which were woman in their mid twenties and their dogs. My brother loves dogs. If you’ve ever seen people crowd in and shower a newborn baby with affection. That’s how Jon is around dogs. As the women approached they said hello and asked how we were doing. “Better Now!” Jon said with a smile. They giggled in a way that approved the apparent light flirting. My brother, horrified that he accidentally said a slighlty sleazy pickup line, and before realizing that they didn’t mind, blurted out “The dogs! I mean the dogs!”. That’s my brother. One smooth operator.
Neel Gap if famous in the hiking community for a few reasons. There is a good outfitter basically right on the trail. They do pack shakedowns and will hold any packages sent to you. They also have frozen pizza and burgers. Which after four days in the woods sound delicious.
While we were there we picked up one of the few scheduled “mail drop” resupply boxes. It contained five days worth of food for both of us and it was heavy!
There also is a hostel that is run by the outfitter there. While it was clean if definitely had more of a frat house feel. There was a common area with some chairs and a TV. Adjacent to that was a cooking area. In a separate corridor there was a line of bunkbeds. Some of the bunks had mattresses. Some didn’t. Went I went to lay down on my bunk I discovered that there was exposed duct-work about ten inches above my body… When I was laying down
It was here that i discovered that there is a distinction between a hostel and a thru hiker hostel. A Hostel is someplace I would stay on a long weekend. A Thru hiker Hostel is someplace I would probably never stay if I wasn’t Thru hiking. I am not knocking the hostels that cater to thru hikers only. They add a valuable service to thru hikers. I’m just saying if there were the two types of hostels next to each other I’d choose the normal hostel.
The last thing that is famous for, maybe most famous for is the tree. Outside the outfitter right next to the trail is a large oak tree. Its adorned with tens maybe hundreds of boots and shoes. Apparently some people who finish the trail come back to show their appreciation to the outfitter by throwing their shoes in the tree.
When I was there I was told a different story. I was told it was called the quitting tree because people threw their shoes in it when they quit. This turned out to be untrue but I can see why people believe it. Twenty percent of northbound thru hikers quit at neel gap.
Among the many people staying at the hostel were Jim and John from the hiker hostel. Both of whom now had trail names.
Jim was now Drop Top. He did not fare so well in his hammock during the last thunderstorm. A strong updraft of wind detached part of his rainfly from the stakes that secured it to the ground, tangling the rainfly in the process. This all was happening during the most torrential part of the storm. His hammock started filling up with water. Soaking his sleeping bag. He did not have a good night.
John was now Neapolitan. On one of the sunny days he was wearing a buff as a headband. A buff is a garment that can be converted into several head covering configurations. When h took his buff off at the end of the day his face was pink, his forehead white, and his shaved head was burnt brown. The same colors of Neapolitan ice cream.
We spoke to many other hikers there including Rocket and Salty Camel
I sent a short text to my mom to let her know where we where. Originally she was going to hike with us for the first day. Unfortunately, with a elderly mother and other responsibilities at home she wasn’t able to make it. Sending texts and posting pictures to social media was our way of taking her along. We even gave her a trail name. M.O.T.H. mother of thru hikers. She was following along in her AT guidebook and also had a map of the entire appalachian trail hanging up in her office. It raised a lot of interest with her coworkers and customers.
After I sent the text, Neapolitan let us know that he had two extra spots available in a cabin that he reserved for the following day. As we were going to take a Zero the next day, We kindly took him up on the offer.