100 Miles, Trail Magic, Fires, & Bars (Not Bears): Neels Gap to Franklin, NC
My time on trail has been a blur.
The first 30 miles of trail were eventful, but I didn’t know how much more exciting things were going to get.
After a restful zero day (a day with no hiking) in Blairsville and another stop at the distillery, my thru-hiker friend Husk and I busted out 21 miles to get to Unicoi Gap.
Along the way we were treated to two different groups doing trail magic for Easter Sunday! This magic consisted of a full Easter Dinner, cold soda and Gatorade, and plenty of hiking snacks and desserts. Everyone was feeling very thankful for this generosity—all free of charge, no donations accepted.
From Unicoi Gap we hitched into Hiawassee, another trail town, for a stop at the famous Sand Bar. The crowd here was colorful to say the least. There were hikers, bikers, college kids, locals, and even a dog at the bar!
We didn’t know where we were going to sleep that night, but luckily Husk is an expert Yogi—a hiker who tactfully “manifests” his/her own trail magic. He’s had plenty of practice, since he’s completed the Pacific Crest Trail nearly three times.
After talking to the bartender and having a couple drinks, she agreed to host us in her backyard right next to the bar.
Crossing the NC Border and Mile 100!
After leaving Hiawassee, I hiked into North Carolina, and the next day hit mile 100 of my adventure! Both milestones put a spring in my step and propelled me into Franklin, my first stop in NC.
Before getting into Franklin, I noticed a potent smell of campfire—or so I thought. It turned out to be a controlled burn conducted by the US Forest Service. At the top of a nearby fire tower I was able to speak with a Forest Ranger, who told me that the burn was planned for forest health, as some of the native plants actually need fire to survive and reproduce.
After being reassured that we weren’t in any danger, my group of friends and I continued to hike into Franklin.
Transportation and Amenities in Town
As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve mentioned hitchhiking a few times. So far, this has been my primary method of travel to and from the trail. The locals that live in trail towns are very familiar with hikers, and it really is as simple as sticking your thumb out. I haven’t had to wait more than ten minutes to get a ride, and usually the drivers won’t accept any form of payment and just ask us to pay it forward. This is one aspect of the trail I love—good deeds abound everywhere, from trail magic, to hitches, to other hikers trading gear at hiker boxes in town.
So far, none of my rides have felt unsafe, but they have been colorful. They’ve included a young couple in a Subaru, an older man handing out “ultralight” New Testaments (only 2 ounces!), and a guy living in his van (I got jostled around trying to stay still on his bed—there weren’t backseats).
Other transportation options include free shuttles run by some of the towns, including Hiawassee and Franklin, as well as former thru-hikers and hostels that run on-demand shuttle services for a small fee.
At most hostels and motels there are also hiker boxes filled with unused or unwanted items. It’s worth it to check these boxes at each stop for something you might need. At my last stay in a motel, I used some leftover shampoo, shower gel, and a pack of new razors from the hiker box.
Next Stop: The Smokies!
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