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Day 5: Neels Gap to Low Gap Shelter

I was the first to wake up that day, a little before 8 AM. I had finally slept in and got a decent night of sleep. I tiptoed to use the bathroom and proceeded back into my sleeping bag to text family, post on Instagram, and check my email. Still, no one was awake and my stomach began to grumble. I tiptoed back out into the kitchen area to eat breakfast- Pop Tarts, peanut butter, and Powerade. I changed into my hiking clothes and decided to wash my other pair of underwear in the sink. I planned to hang it off my pack to dry. Last night, I had washed the other pair and let it dry next to the heater along with my socks.

At this point, everyone was awake and the bunk room light had been turned on. Everyone was scrambling to eat, use the bathroom, and pack up their gear before 9. I was pleased that my calf felt sore but no longer felt like the muscle was going to rip off. I packed up the remainder of my gear and headed up to Mountain Crossing for them to adjust my pack.

I hesitantly opened the door not wanting to get yelled at again and asked the girl if I could bring my pack in because I wanted someone to take a look at it. She let me bring it in and said Jason would be able to help me. Jason had told me to put my pack on how I normally would and he carefully inspected the pack. On longer days, I was getting severe neck pain, making it unbearable to look straight down – a problem I had experienced once before. I was wearing the Gossamer Gorilla 40 ultralight backpack in a size medium and a small hip belt size. This bag only weighed 29.8 oz. Prior to my trip, I had contemplated getting a new bag because my winter gear just barely fit. I ended up getting a new sleeping bag, Joule 21 because my dad’s North Face Cat’s Meow was too bulky and not properly fitted for me.

As this was happening, Jack and Isaiah were walking around the store looking at gear. Jason wanted to re-measure my torso size. I had told him I was just in REI before I left and they measured me again at a 15.5 torso size. After measuring me, he found my torso was less than 14… REI always said your belt needs to sit three inches below your belly button. I love REI but don’t always trust you’re working with an expert. Well, Jason said, “That doesn’t work for everyone. Everyone’s belly button and hips are in a different place. You have high hips and a short torso.” If this was true, my current pack was too big for me.
Jason wanted to fit me for a new pack. Just having spent major cash on a new sleeping bag, I was in no financial place to buy a new pack. I agreed to let him fit me because my plan was to order whatever backpack was a good fit at home once I had the cash. He fit me for ULA equipment Kids Spark, loaded it with about 25 lbs and had me wear it around the store for 10-15 minutes. The pack was tugging at my shoulders, so we tried a ULA OHM pack.  At this point, the guys were ready to head out and said they’d see me at the shelter if I didn’t catch up to them. Wrong Way asked if he could tag along with us, which we said yes. He was still at the store waiting for some of his videos to upload.
After wearing the OHM for another 10 minutes, I knew this was the one. I thought why wait to order a pack when he was literally fitting it to my body. There was no way I’d be able to properly fit myself. I knew they shipped packs to your home, so that’s what I suggested. Jason thought of an even better idea and said I could swap packs and send my old pack home. The OHM was a better fit because I have muscular upper back from lifting weights which was not allowing the Gossamer gear to properly hug my shoulders and the top loaders from the ULA were able to do just that. I swapped my gear, paid for my new bag, and headed for the trail.

It was already 10:15 AM, which felt so late to me. I had to hike 11.5 miles yet to Low Gap shelter. By the time I was ready to head out, Wrong Way was still there. He said it’ll take 6 hours to hike and he had plenty of time to still make it.

Leaving Neels Gap was a climb, my legs felt heavy. I trudged along, passing the occasional day hiker. After a few hours and no sign of the guys, I began asking day hikers and SOBO thru-hikers if they had passed two young guys recently. With no such luck, everyone was giving me different answers. About 15 minutes? 10 minutes? Or I wasn’t paying attention. Go figure!  If they said they were close by I’d push faster using it as motivation like a race to catch them.
Just as I was passing near Whitley Gap shelter and looking for a spot to use the bathroom, I heard shouting. Wait a minute… someone was shouting at me. I saw something moving in the deep undergrowth and realized it was Isaiah and Jack. They had stopped to take a long lunch break and I eagerly sat down next to them informing them about my new pack, how Wrong Way hadn’t left yet, and how I was asking people if they had passed them.
We continued on to Low Gap now hiking as a party of three. The miles seemed to fly by due to our conversation. We talked about school, church, small groups, how Jack met his now-fiance, jobs, gear, and hiking adventures.
Walking up to the shelter, there was definitely a feeling of relief. It was around 4:30 PM a little more than an hour of daylight to spare. Not many tent sites were close to the shelter and being the only ones there, we decided to set up in the shelter. If Wrong Way showed up, he’d have a spot next to me… don’t get me wrong, he was a very nice person, I just didn’t want to end up sleeping next to him. One of the guys offered to move next to me if he showed up.
Jack started to set up his sleep gear, I needed to dry out my tent fly before setting up my own, and Isaiah was trying to start a fire. A little stream trickled down the side of the mountain and flowed down the valley. Having to go to the bathroom, I headed to the privy and found a roll of toilet paper, which I was very excited about! I informed the guys of my findings and had left it up there for future use. Sleeping so close to the stream some would find soothing because of the noise. However, I was more worried because animals need to drink water too! It also made me feel like I needed to use the bathroom every five minutes.
After setting up camp and eating dinner, it was starting to get dark. Still no sign of Wrong  Way. I still couldn’t help but think about George and his friends, who were most likely staying at the shelter we just passed, Whitley Gap. We hung up all our smellables using the bear cables. We each climbed into our sleeping bags. Isaiah, Jack and I talked for a long time.  Some of the things we talked about were college stories, stories about faith, dating as a Christian, and different theories. Isaiah‘s new name was now “Backwards” because he would climb down slopes backward to help his knees and a lot of his outlooks on life were atypical. Jack was now “Mom” because he took care of Isaiah and reminded him of the little things. It was also Isaiah‘s first backpacking trip.
That night, I slept intermittently. It was the first night outdoors that I took off my beanie and my puffy jacket. The sky darkened and the cloud coverage helped trap in the warmth. It was almost like my first night out on the trail having slept in the hostel the previous night making it a long night waking often and listening to the stream. The only comforting thing was that I knew Mom was probably awake too because he didn’t sleep well on the trail either.