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Day 4, January 6

Gooch Shelter to Neel Gap, 15.4 miles

I woke up the next morning a little before 6AM, I planned to start packing up around 6:30 and get an early start to the day. I already knew someone was packing up as their flashlight kept shining down the hill into my tent. It didn’t feel too chilly, but I was pretty comfortable in my tent. I took the clothes I planned on wearing that day and pushed them in my sleeping bag down by my feet to warm up a little bit. In the meantime, I texted my dad, finished my previous day review and posted it to Instagram and Facebook.

It was time to get the day started. I changed out of my sleeping clothes, packed away my electronics into their stuff sack and began to get to work. My sleep bag went at the bottom of my bag, so that had to be rolled up and placed in its own stuff sack first. I shoved that down inside my pack, which was lined with a trash compactor bag, and followed it by my electronics and sleep clothes. Once I deflated my pillow and air mattress, I added that to the bag as well. Once everything inside the tent was packed up, I put on my shoes and stepped out of my tent. It was just beginning to get light out and I could hear other people beginning to stir. I took the quick walk to the bear box to grab my food and headed back to my tent. I decided to attempt to cold soak two packets of oatmeal. I dumped the packets into my pot and filled enough water to cover the oats. While I waited for that to be ready, I broke down my tent and stowed it inside my bag. The only thing left to do was eat, brush my teeth, use the bathroom, and pick out food for the day. I added protein powder to my oats and quickly ate them followed by some Justin’s peanut butter. The oats could have soaked longer but tasted fine. I brushed my teeth and sorted my food for the day putting in my pack. I went to use the privy hoping there wouldn’t be a line given all the people, but I was in luck someone had just vacated it. I walked back down to my bag and grabbed my pack to head out for the day.
I left camp a little before 8AM and started at a quick pace. Most of the weekenders said they had parked at Woody Gap 4.8 miles away and it was an easy walk. I walked past the father, son, and daughter who had left about 30 minutes before me and they commented I was making great time. I ended up walking the first hour 3 mph. Shortly after, I was rewarded with some nice views.
I knew I was getting closer to Woody Gap as the number of hikers I was passing began to increase and it was Sunday. A large group of about 25 people was coming through as I was skirting the side of a mountain, I willingly stepped to the side knowing I was just one person (a person on a mission) but nonetheless I impatiently waited pushing full speed ahead as the last couple passed me. I finally reached Woody Gap, which had a very large parking lot that was pretty much full. Being hiker trash (a term long distance hikers call themselves), I sat down next to the steel trash cans, so I could eat a snack and get rid of all my trash I had been carrying. I crossed the street to use the bathroom (still no running toilets) and continue on the trail.
Not long after, a backpacker walking towards me stopped to ask me if was a thru-hiker. I soon realized this was Wrong Way! He is vlogging his journey on the trail.  I told him what my plan was for the day and he said he’d probably see me up at Blood Mountain later. I informed him what had happened to Richard and Jim (who we called Jim/Tim because we couldn’t remember his name) and that they had taken an unexpected zero. He was super kind and asked if I needed anything. Knowing I was going to Neels Gap to resupply and stay the night, I politely declined. After stopping and talking to Wrong Way, I knew I needed to stop talking to people or I’d never make it by 5PM.
Hiking up to Prospector’s Rock was the first steep climb of the day and I decided to take a break to elevate my feet on my pack and soak in the sunshine. As soon as I sat down, a huge spider moving at a rapid pace darted for my bag. I quickly jumped up and moved it, but never saw the spider again. I had a good view though, so it was okay.

The view on the way up to Prospector’s Rock.

As I was admiring the first great view, day hikers behind me would stop and keep hiking on. At one point, I heard an older couple tell this other couple about a blue side trail that led to another view that many people didn’t know about. This was where they had camped that night. It was his third favorite view in Georgia. He said to look for the blue blaze a little bit down the trail, it would veer right and the Appalachian Trail would go left.

View from Prospector’s Rock

Hearing this, I decided to check it out if I spotted it along the way. Before I reached it, I needed to use the bathroom, which would be tricky given how many people were out on the trail today. I found a big rock that shielded me from the one direction and decided to risk it. Just as I had pulled up my pants, someone was coming down the trail. Phew, that was close. Back on trial, my only concern with the side trail was that I didn’t know how long it was and I was already pushing it to do 15.4 miles. Spotting it, I followed two guys out to the view. Also at the view was the couple with their dog that the guy had originally told about the view. We began to engage in small talk about being along and hiking the trail, my experiences, navigation (I showed them the app Guthooks that I use) and questions about gear. She and her soon to be fiance were interested in going on their first backpacking trip. Having spent about 20 minutes or so talking to them, I knew I needed to push on.

View from the blue-blazed side trail

I didn’t come across anything too interesting in the next few miles prior to ascending Blood Mountain. There was an older couple who were hot on my heels for a while and I needed to use the bathroom again, which was kind of annoying. Eventually, I pushed ahead and had a moment just barely to go. I stopped to eat lunch and they had passed me. Eventually, I had caught up to them as they were taking a break and stopped to talk to them a bit about the usual. I probably talked to them for about 15 minutes and had to push on. At this point, I really needed to stop talking to people. I still had to go up and over Blood Mountain and it was around 2:00PM.
Right before starting the climb up Blood Mountain, I stopped to refill my water and grab a snack. I was feeling pretty tired, but after eating Pop Tarts I felt pretty good. This guy passed me as I was sitting there and passed me again going the opposite direction and asked me where the trail to Blood Mountain was as he had made a wrong turn headed to campsites. I redirected him and soon followed in his tracks. I needed to use the bathroom again! It was a hot day and I wanted to stay hydrated. So hot that I wished I had shorts to put on. Anyway, this was going to be even trickier with the number of people around. I found a spot and then people started coming down and I kept moving on. I found another spot, started to go, heard voices, panicked, and stopped to move on. Knowing it was only going to get more crowded at the top, I found another spot and went real quick. Since I was climbing up, technically I had the right away but day hikers weren’t moving and I was forced to step to the side. This was also very annoying.
There was a stone shelter at the top of Blood Mountain and that’s when I knew I had made it. But this was the view…

That’s it? Seriously? This can’t be? After all this, that’s my reward?! Well, I made it already 3:18PM. It was time to head down to get to Mountain Crossings and eat PIZZA (my new motivation). Feeling a little defeated I asked a day hiker if this really was it? I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. She asked me which way I hiked up and informed me on the way down there were such great views! Phew, I didn’t come that far for nothing. It was a steep, technical climb down and I had definitely hiked up in the right direction. There were so many day hikers and their dogs! My only regret is not being able to sit and admire the view but given my time crunch, I had to keep moving. Now my photos didn’t turn out the best, it being 67 degrees and sunny it inferred with my lense. I guess I’ll just have to go back. But here’s what I got.

On the way down, a sweet gentleman and his dog were literally stopping and talking to every person they passed. He caught me and chatted for a few minutes as we walked near each other but he could sense I was in a hurry.  At this point, my right calf muscle felt like it was splitting in two, but I was so close. I pushed on only to be held up by some people walking ahead of me going so slow. Thankfully they stepped to the side and I flew down the mountain. Normally, I’d feel uncomfortable asking people to move aside but this trip I grew bolder and would ask if I could get by.
Seeing so many dogs, I always thought to get my own dog that could be my hiking companion. I walking near this one guy who had two golden retrievers. The trail was sporadically muddy and slippery on the rocks. I witnessed the two dogs pulling the leash and their owner with him causing him to slid across the muddy rocks. Yikes!
Around 4:30 I pushed open the door to Mountain Crossings elated I made it before 5 and immediately got yelled at to keep my pack outside (really told but yelled at sounds better. Sorry Mountain Crossings). I dropped my pack and grabbed my money to head back inside. I needed to resupply for the next three days and pay for a bunk/shower. For breakfast, I grabbed three packages of Pop Tarts and three Jiffy Peanut Butter single containers. For lunch, I grabbed two Cliff Bars and two RX bars. For dinner, I grabbed two Ramens. I already had enough snacks. I also grabbed two Powerades from the fridge, a frozen cheese pizza, and a packet of Swedish Fish (my favorite candy). All of this and my bunk/shower cost me about $54 dollars. Later I found out Mountain Crossings is the most expensive place to resupply on trail, which I’m thankful for future trips. Wrong Way was in line right behind me. I had asked the guy working the register where the shoe with the tree was… clearly I was very exhausted. He said, “you mean the tree with the shoes? It’s right outside just look up.” They took my pizza to cook it for me, handed me a towel, and I walked down to the bunkhouse to drop off my pack.

The famous tree. Of northbound thru-hikers, only about 25% actually complete the hike. Many quit after hiking Blood Mountain and toss their shoes up into the tree. (I still got mine, just saying).

Initially walking into the bunkhouse, it was freezing cold. You walk into a large open space with a tv, a massive VHS collection, some bean bags, a little kitchenette sat at the back of the room with a sink, microwave, and counter/stools. The bathroom was right to the left of the door. The next door on the left led to the bunks, which smelled like bleach but at least they cleaned it. Three other guys were already there. I picked a bottom bunk in a little alcove that had terrible lighting, no outlet nearby, but at least I could spread my stuff out. I dropped my stuff, put on my puffy (down jacket), and walked back up to the store to wait for my pizza. Jason handed me my pizza and I walked back down to the bunk room kitchen. Wrong Way joined me shortly afterward. We filled each other in on the rest of our day’s hiking adventures. He said I had nearly missed him up at Blood Mountain by about 15-20 minutes or so.  I did share that I was staying at Mountain Crossings earlier that day with Wrong Way but I didn’t think anything of it. I had about three slices of pizza left and was beginning to feel pretty full. I knew I needed to finish the pizza because I needed the calories. Wrong Way ate about half of his and claimed he had a late lunch. I finished the rest of mine and he packed his up for lunch tomorrow.
After eating, the very next thing I wanted to do was take a shower. There were five of us staying there now. Wrong Way told me one of the other guys staying there was a Southbound thru-hiker named Food Truck about to finish his trip in a few days. I checked to make sure no one else needed to use the bathroom and then took my belongings with me. Luckily, the shower had shampoo, and body wash but no conditioner which I later blamed on the guys because they probably didn’t need to use it. The water was pretty warm. When I went to dry my face, I forgot about my eyebrows (newly microbladed) and I had scrubbed off some of my scabs and some coloring on the white towels, oops.
Going back to my bunk to stretch and set up my sleeping bag on the plastic mattress, I heard two of the other guys were headed to Low Gap Shelter tomorrow. I immediately tuned into their conversation and felt relief. None of my other friends from Gooch Shelter covered as many miles as I did and I knew there was a chance I’d have to stay alone. I jumped into their conversation and announced that’s where I planned to get to tomorrow. Their names were Jack and Isiah. They were best friends, seniors in college, and both from West Virginia. I found out they had stayed at Gooch Mountain Shelter last night but went right into their tents. I felt connected to them because they just hiked the same 15.4 miles as me that day. We agreed to hike out together the next day. Check out time was 9AM. I wanted to go up to the store and have them look at my pack to ensure I was wearing it properly. I had ordered it online and it was causing me some left shoulder/back pain that would stem into my neck making it painful to even look down. This had happened on and off the past couple of days but was made worse by covering more miles today. I also got this same pain on another backpacking trip. Isiah wanted to buy some candy from the store anyway in the morning. It was set – we would hike out the next day together.
Reflecting on my day, I realized to stop listening to others opinions about the trail. Richard had told me not hike the 15.4 miles. Well, guess what Richard? I did it. Blood Mountain was not that bad hiking it Northbound. I could see why he thought it would be hard because of walking up the stone steps but he must have never been to the Stairway to Heaven in NJ. Those steps were consistently longer than the sporadic steps of Blood Mountain. The way down was tough but manageable.
I stretched using my trekking poles to roll out my tight calves and felt ready for bed even though it was only 6PM. I forced myself to do some stuff on social media, wash some laundry in the sink, let it dry by the heater, and talk to the guys. Wrong Way had asked if I’d be on his Youtube channel as he wanted to feature other hikers. I told him sure. I was already on Boot Flap’s and Big Guy’s. The only guy who wasn’t interested in anything I had to say was Food Truck. He went into the other room, piled up all the bean bags, put a movie on, and sat and watched it. The tv happened to be on the opposing side of where my head lay in my bunk. Food Truck had the tv up so loud and certain parts of the movie would get louder making me jump. I could already hear someone snoring and could hear Wrong Way editing a video. I had hoped to actually get a good night’s rest. Eventually, I had managed to tune out Food Truck’s movie and fell asleep.
At some point, I woke up and it was so hot in the bunk room. I didn’t have any other clothes I could change into and I couldn’t take anything but my socks off, which I did. I fell asleep again with one leg out of my sleeping bag and one leg in.