I Ate the Best Orange of My Life at the Cheese Factory on the Appalachian Trail

It’s true. 🍊

Day 3: Woody Gap to Bull Gap; 11.9 miles

The aroma of Lucky’s cooking woke up all the hungry hikers at Above the Clouds Hostel this morning. After a filling breakfast of potatoes, sausage, toast, and eggs, we took a shuttle back to Woody Gap. For those of you who know me and my aversion to eggs, I was actually hungry enough to eat a few bites!

How do we feel about food pics? Does this look appetizing?

Holy cow, it was windy today. The weather reminded me of northern Michigan, and I definitely need to pick up some chapstick ASAP.

The sunshine atop Preachers Rock felt amazing after a few days of rain!

I knew I’d be climbing pretty much all day so I tried to eat a lot of food yesterday, which has been hard for me on trail. I think I’m actually eating and drinking less than I do off trail and it’s been stressing me out. For now, I’m trying to just listen to what my body is craving and drink lots of water and electrolytes even when I don’t feel thirsty.

Once I locked into a comfortable pace this morning, the climb up to Blood Mountain felt just fine. I listened to my “for big climbs” playlist in one ear and was cruisin’. Marathon, not a sprint.

There’s a lot of fear mongering on the trail and forums about Blood Mountain — especially the descent. As one of my new friends says when faced with gossip about how difficult a section of trail may or may not be: “Cool, thanks, I’ll check it out for myself.” Take it at your pace, enjoy the moment, and you’ll be just fine.

Views for days (thanks for snapping this, Neb!)

After coming down off of Blood Mountain, Lauren, Teddy, Spicy, Neb, and I arrived at Neel Gap. A few of us went in on frozen pizzas at Mountain Outfitters and they really hit the spot.

Lauren and I also bought insoles for our shoes. I wanted to see how my feet would feel the first few days of hiking AT terrain before making major adjustments, but alas, these dogs were howling and my high arches needed a little extra support.

The absolute joy I felt seeing this tree (IYKYK)

After a few hours sitting outside Mountain Outfitters setting tentative plans for the next few days of our lives, a group of us hiked another 1.1 miles up to Bull Gap and set up camp. I hung my first bear line of the AT with a little moral support from Patrick. That mid-line clove hitch always gets me.

It is incredibly windy and chilly tonight. My earplugs are really helping to tune out the wind ripping against my tent (which is holding up great — shoutout to Big Agnes!).

mtnGLO lights, baby!!

Day 4: Bull Gap to Low Gap; 10.6 miles

Phew, survived the night. I thought I didn’t sleep at all, but I ended up getting about five hours judging by what time it was when I checked my watch in the morning. I’ll take it. My sleep system kept me warm, but last thing I wanted to do was unzip my bag and get ready for the day.

Lauren, Neb, Teddy, Spicy, Pat, and I took the morning to wake up and warm up slowly.

Becoming caterpillars

Then we hit the trail and went up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down…

This afternoon was challenging for me. I’m dealing with some health insurance stuff after being laid off in November. It’s been frustrating navigating that when I find spots of service. I know I should’ve made sure it was all set before leaving, so that’s also part of my frustration — at myself. Learning as I live.

The folks I’ve been hiking with these past few days were super positive and shared their good vibes all afternoon. It’s so important to surround yourself with great people on trail. We’ll all have our share of difficult moments and it feels good to know I can ask for help when I need it.

Anyway, after a short little breakdown on the phone with my mom (love you, Mom), I queued up Brahms 4 in one ear and just locked in for the afternoon, feeling gratitude for every step forward.

Low Gap Shelter is maintained beautifully by Kelly, who was on site to greet us. Once I found a spot to pitch my tent, a man named Phoenix kindly offered to help me. While we were setting up, he told me that he has three daughters around my age. Phoenix, your kindness went extra far today. Best Camp Dad award goes to you!

Day 5: Low Gap to Cheese Factory Campsite; 13.5 miles

I woke up to an owl hoot-hooting in the distance. I wish I could recognize bird calls better because they start singing first thing in the morning and it makes me so happy to wake up to their music.

Phoenix checked on me because he heard me sniffling as I was packing up. The pollen and cold has set off my cough again. I wrote a mental note to take some meds to stave it off tomorrow.

Data and Badger were my tent neighbors last night — I first met them at Above the Clouds. Badger hiked the trail in 2021 and is back to do it again with Data. They’re a fun pair and exude a special kind of contagious warmth. Time and again, I’m learning that it’s all about the people on this trail.

The first five miles of the day were super cruisey, and I was in great company with Lauren and Pat. Shortly after beginning our hike, we learned there’d be trail magic ahead at Unicoi Gap. I’m learning that word travels ridiculously fast among the trail community. Needless to say, we booked it for lunch. I did, however, take the steep and rocky descent into Unicoi relatively slowly to save my knees. I feel like I could hear the road for an hour before I actually made it down there! I was so ready for a hot, never dehydrated meal.

Trail magic always makes me cry a little.

Mun and Slow & Steady greeted us with the best blueberry pancakes, bean chili, and bagged salads. They were also loaded with snacks, fruit, wipes, electrolyte mixes, and more.

We sat at Unicoi Gap for about an hour and a half, then headed back up the hill to the Cheese Factory. Sadly, it’s a tent site and not an actual cheese factory. On the way, Lauren and I stopped to dip our feet in a creek. It was bitterly cold, but my feet felt brand new afterward.

No free foot pics for you!

We finished our journey for the day during golden hour, my favorite time of day to be outside. Mun’s bagged salad was delicious, then I ate an orange from his trail magic. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this orange was the best orange I’ve ever consumed. So sweet and juicy. (I’m rereading this a few days later, and can confirm that I’m still thinking about this orange).

Pat said watching Lauren and me toss our rock bags over the super high branch tonight was “better than ESPN.” But we each got it in like three tries — improvement!

We did it, Joe

Two short days ahead, then a hostel stay for a zero!

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Comments 1

  • Bridget Gonzales : Mar 19th

    Hey Morgan! I’m impressed (and inspired!) that the AT trek has so many fellow travelers to meet, greet, and learn from along the way. I will be interested to know how this holds up and/or changes in the days to come. Glad the weather has been kind to you thus far. We got cold, wind, and snow flurries up in Charlevoix! Thanks for the travelogue! I’m enjoying your posts. Take care! ~Bridget


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