Day 6: Unicoi Gap

Day 6. Today was the day I understood why hypothermia is a real threat on this trail. Don’t worry, nothing bad happened, but the weather conditions definitely foreshadow what 3 days in this could do to a person.

It started raining last night and did not let up until 1pm today. I got in to bed in the rain, I got out of bed in the rain, I packed up camp in the rain, I hiked out of camp in the rain. And then I hiked for 3.5 more hours in the rain. Alone.

The temp was somewhere around 40 degrees and I fell behind the group to check in with the Mrs. back home for a few minutes on her way to work. By the time I hung up, there was no one and no thing in sight. Just cold and wet fog as far as the eye could see (which was about 20 feet).

The plan was to hike 15 miles to Tray Mountain Shelter, which would be a beast of a day on its own in sunny warm weather. But in this rain and cold, I think I’d be close to frostbite by the time I arrived. My supposed waterproof gloves were anything but, and my rain jacket is just as good at keeping rain water out as it is keeping sweat moisture in. I could barely feel my appendages when I finally reached the halfway point of Blue Mountain Shelter.

It was here I met up with the rest of the gang and we made the very quick decision to skip the next 7 miles and instead stop at Unicoi Gap a mile away. This road crossing is a common shuttle pickup location to Hiawassee, a large trail town with motels, restaurants, outfitters and more. As soon as arrangements and reservations were made though, it of course cleared up. I threw out the suggestion of possibly going on but I think the combination of wet gear and low spirits were too big to overcome. I think I am ready for a bit more mikes per day, but I’m ok taking it slow for now as planned.

So, we are at a Budget Inn tonight, and head back to Unicoi Gap tomorrow at 8am. This entire motel is hikers though, so it’s a fun night of drying gear, washing clothes, drinking beer and chatting about the trail. Many of the people we shared a hostel with last night are here, so we are making new friends to add to the growing family of hikers in this Georgia section of the AT. Pictured above is me with Fun Facts and Santa.

SIde note, you know what’s AMAZING on a bitter cold day of hiking? Hot Gatorade. Fun Facts told us a fun fact about how drinking heated Gatorade is the ultimate hydration technique. And once again, her knowledge did not disappoint. I can’t express how incredible it felt to drink a cup of piping hot Gatorade at that shelter after 3.5 hours in the cold rain.

Tomorrow is going to be almost 17 miles in order to make up what was avoided today, and get to the Top of Georgia Hostel as planned tomorrow. I think it’s doable but it will be a long day. Two nights in a row with a warm bed feels like cheating, but I don’t see this as a trend … just a convenient solution to a miserable and bitter cold day. Hello Neiman!

  • Start Mile: 42.6
  • Start Time: 09:15
  • End Mile: 52.3
  • End Time: 14:00
  • Miles Hiked: 9.7
  • Miles to Go: 2138.6
  • Lodging: Hiawassee / Budget Inn

Day 5: Low Gap Shelter

Day 5. Had to say goodbye to Gandalf and The Captain today. We had such an amazing 4 days, and I was sad to see them go, but by the time this publishes, they’ll be back to just Craig and Rob. Still great guys (and great names), but their AT story is over. (for now?)

After seeing them off at Neels Gap, I reconnected with the gang from yesterday that has quickly become my “trail family” or Tramily, as it is affectionately called among hikers. Steve, Julia, Rachel and Kyle … or Santa, Jukebox, Fun Facts and Huevos, as trail names go. Wait, Huevos? Wasn’t his name 8-Bit? Yes, it was … but he is obsessed with eggs and felt that name was more appropriate. After a 5 year old yelled it at him on top of Blood Mountain yesterday, i guess it stuck. So bye bye 8-Bit, Hello Huevos. And yes, he really likes eggs that much. He even hard boiled a few before today’s hike.

I also got a trail name today, but I’m not sure if I like it enough to keep it yet. I’ll mull it over tomorrow and consider whether to keep it and share it.

Now, as today’s hiking goes, the magic word is POLES! I don’t know why I resisted them so long, it really is a game changer. Between that and the brace, my knees were back to full strength today and the 11 mile hike was a breeze. I would have gone further but don’t want to press my luck too much.

Met a couple new friends today at Low Gap shelter, mainly because they started after me but hiked faster. One girl named Emilia started on March 3rd and already caught us. She’s averaging 17-20 miles a day and will probably finish by June.

Another guy named Braveheart … and yes I’m jealous of the name … is here too, and he is today’s celebrity. He saw a bear. He was probably only 10 minutes behind me at the time, and I was scanning the wilderness eagerly, as I knew this was an area for common sightings. I saw nothing. Braveheart was hiking alone and said the bear bluff charged him and then ran off. Scared him to hell of course, but made him a hero to everyone at the shelter as well. We are sleeping about a mile from where that happened so hopefully the bear ran the other direction … I want to see one, but not while I’m sleeping. I’m sure I’ll get my chance another day.

Rain is coming tonight (update, just started), but it will supposedly dry up by morning. I opted to setup the hammock, versus sleep in the shelter, so I’ll have to dry stuff out some time tomorrow if possible. Only 2 days to the Top of Georgia Hostel though, so it’s ok if things aren’t ideal for a day or two.

Just before bed, we got a campfire going and Santa pulled out a pan of popcorn. Huevos roasted it over the fire for us and we ended the night sharing a giant tub of hot buttered popcorn! Tomorrow is my longest day yet, at over 15 miles. If the rain lets up, it should be another great one in Georgia. Hello Neiman!

  • Start Mile: 31.1
  • Start Time: 09:15
  • End Mile: 42.6
  • End Time: 16:00
  • Miles Hiked: 11.5
  • Miles to Go: 2148.3
  • Lodging: Low Gap Shelter