Forging Bonds Exiting Georgia

Day Four: Henry Gap to Neel Gap

They gave me a name! Call me Petra, it means rock. I think the girls gave it to me as something I could grow into.

Fossey, Zia (fka Emily), Zu Zu, and I set out early to hike over Blood Mountain. The plan was to beat everyone to Neel Gap and snag bunks for the night. Though rocky, Blood Mountain is nothing to fear. I should say it is no harder a mountain to climb as any other up till this point on the trail.

All of us at Blood Mountain Shelter.

We arrived at Neel Gap just before lunchtime. I hurried in without even regrouping with the girls. I secured a bunk and ordered a pizza. I challenged myself to eat the whole thing but my hiker hunger hasn’t kicked in yet so I only manged to consume about three-quarters before my belly ached, full.

I should’ve waited to converse with Fossey and Zia as Neel Gap is not able to accommodate dogs. Zia was able to get a cabin at the Blood Mountain Cabins, leaving Fossey and me to lobby fellow hikers, attempting to sell our bunks so we could join our friend. In the meantime, we had the pleasure of experiencing our first trail magic when a couple pulled up with pots full of food to feed the hungry hikers. I was stoked to eat a salad!

My first taste of trail magic.

It took hours, but Fossey and I were eventually able to join Zia at the cabin. Together we reviewed the weather for the following day and came up with some contingency plans given that the impending weather looked quite foul.

Day Five: A Wasted Day

How nice it was to shower and sleep in a real bed!

At 5:50 a.m., I awoke to the miserable sounds of a severe weather alert: a tornado warning in effect till 6 a.m.

Checking the weather report, I learned that three to four  inches of rain was expected to fall over the course of the day.

Ten minutes later, another severe weather alert chimed on my phone. This one for a flash flood warning in effect until 1 p.m.

The girls and I had planned to return to trail today after taking a nero at the Blood Mountain Cabins; however, it seemed the weather had different plans for us.

We agreed to take a zero, allowing the severe storm to pass and would resume hiking tomorrow. Just as soon as I agreed to stay another night, I was smacked by a certain sadness for the trail. I should be out there hiking. No rain, no pain, no Maine. Right?

The trail is where I belong, in fair weather or foul.

As it turned out no less, the weather wasn’t as bad as forecast, which only furthered my regret to have agreed to a zero. Two nights in a cabin, some civilian food, and hours spent not hiking—it’s an expensive lesson of time and money. I’m new to this thru-hiking thing so of course, I’m still learning.

Day Six: Neel Gap to Low Gap Shelter

How wonderful it was to return to trail after a zero! I had the pleasure of experiencing more trail magic as we walked through the breezeway at Neel Gap where former hikers were offering coffee and doughnuts. Yum!

The day’s temperatures were in the upper 30s to low 40s. As we walked through the mountains, it began to snow. Since we don’t get snow in Florida, seeing the flurries was a whimsical experience for me.

Embracing cold, wet days on the AT.

At lunch I tried Spam for the first time. As it turns out, Spam tastes nothing like bologna. I’ll just leave it at that… If you’re looking for a good laugh, you are welcome to watch how well the Spam went over on Fossey’s YouTube channel

Day Seven:  Low Gap Shelter to Cheese Factory Campsite

It was a cold night with temperatures in the mid-30s. I found it difficult to stay warm. I woke up earlier than usual and quickly gathered my things. I really wanted to set out before the girls. While it’s nice to have a tramily, it’s also really important to me to have my own solo experience.

To see me on trail is to see me happy.

I happily hiked along the trail, alone, listening to an audiobook and smiling to myself that this is in fact real: the Appalachian Trail is my life now!

Day Eight: Cheese Factory to Dicks Creek/Top of Georgia

I made really good time hiking, probably because I was in such a blissful state that I was running on the downhills. This is what freedom feels like!

I arrived at the Top of Georgia Hostel midafternoon, where I quickly made friends with Alex and Atlas, who are helping around the hostel for the hiking season. That evening we had a bonfire together and Atlas shared his experience of hiking the trail with me.

Atlas had so many insightful things to share with me that evening; my favorite is:

“We don’t come out here to find ourselves, we come out here to accept ourselves.” – Atlas

Day Nine: Zero in Hiawassee

Though planned, this zero was no easier for me than the first. I think the main reason taking a zero is so emotionally taxing for me is because of the sudden immersion into regular society. It’s a reminder of why I decided to hike in the first place. I don’t want a traditional life.

My body needs a breakthrough. I’m asking a lot of my body and the least I can do is repay it with kindness. So I insist on starting slow. I don’t want to fall victim to the “too heavy, too much, too fast, too soon.” Already I have watched countless hikers forced off trail due to injury. I don’t want to be another Appalachian Trail fail statistic.

I’m in it to win it.

Hanging out with the other hikers taking a zero in Hiawassee.

Day Ten: Dicks Creek to Muskrat Shelter

Returning to trail with the same excitement as day one, I felt refreshed and ready to get my hike on. I said my goodbyes to Atlas and he gave me another good quote:

“This trail is not a hike, it is an adventure for the soul.” – Atlas.

Atlas and me. Gotta love the kilt!

He is, without even realizing it, a teacher to me. I have enjoyed our talks and hope we’ll stay in touch.

Returning to trail at Dicks Creek.

The terrain going up from Dicks Creek was relatively easy, and before I knew it I was at the North Carolina state line. One state down, 13 more to go.

So excited to have arrived in North Carolina.

But it’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey.

My tramily and I passing the twisted tree.

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