Shakedown Street = Neel Gap (Learning Curves on the Trail)
The journey as a L.A.S.H.er (Long Ass Section Hiker) began for me in July 2013. At this point in my life I was a 7th grade science teacher and the only time available for a considerable hike was during summer break. I planned on spending about two weeks on the trail every year and hoped to hike around 200 miles. At this rate I would complete the trail in 11 years. Definitely not the way I wanted to go about completing the trail that I feel most connected to, but this was my only option at the time.
The Early Days
My dad started got me interested in the outdoors and hiking at a very early age. We would hike in the Great Smoky Mountains and in the state parks in South Carolina. I got into backpacking and overnight trips in college with friends and the Sierra Club. Being one with nature and spending extended time outdoors has always been in my blood and it is where I truly feel the happiest.
The Approach Trail
I pulled up to Amicalola Falls State Park the morning of July 5, 2013 to embark on this great journey, or pilgrimage, with my old Gregory Pack loaded down with about 50 lbs of gear and 2 weeks of food. There were no intentions of stopping in any towns or hostels for any extended period of time. I was just going to take a quick shower, do laundry and then hit the trails as fast as I could. Boy was I mistaken! (You can tell I was a newbie at this long-distance hiking thing and to top it off, I was stubborn and didn’t do the proper research.)
No Need for Fashion in the Wild
Being a fashionista and a southern girl that likes to put an emphasis on dressing cute and trying to look decent, I began my hike with my hair looking fairly nice and some cute denim cut off shorts that were t
rendy at the time and they celebrated the recent July 4th holiday. (seriously, what was I thinking?!) As I climbed the 604 stairs on the approach trail I soon learned that trying to look “cute” was a mistake and just wasn’t going to work in the wilderness. At the first place to stop on the never ending staircase I slung off my “overloaded” pack, pulled my sweaty hair up into a top-knot, ripped my jacket off and regretted wearing these denim shorts. And this crazy heavy pack was a REALLY BAD idea. Why the heck was I carrying all this stuff?!
Laundry and Humidity DO NOT Mix
I stayed at Stover Creek Shelter that evening and thought it was a great idea to wash my denim shorts in the stream with my outdoor laundry soap. Of course they would dry overnight and be clean and ready to go in the morning. WRONG!! Nothing dries in the mountain wilderness in the middle of the summer in 100% humidity! Lesson learned. I woke up to soaking wet shorts that now had doubled in weight. I will admit it was nice to be able to put on my running shorts that morning, but now the weight of my already too heavy pack was even heavier.
The Trail Provides
Thankfully the trail provides just what you need when you need it the most. There were a few hikers that I got to know at the shelter that night that informed me about Mountain Crossings at Neel Gap and their shakedown service for hikers. That was the best sounding news I had heard in a long time! I couldn’t get there fast enough.
I hiked into Neel Gap with an aching back on the afternoon of July 7, 2013 with the now rain soaked pack that probably still weighed 50 lbs (maybe even more) even though I had eaten two and a half days worth of food. (2013 was one of the rainiest summers North Georgia had seen in a long time.) The staff saw me coming and knew exactly what I needed and directed me where to place my pack. They let me take a shower and clean up before the “shakedown” process started which I was grateful for, and I’m sure they were too. (I mean, they probably get tired of smelling mangy, stinky hikers that pass through there.)
Time Honored Traditions
The “shakedown” at Mountain Crossings is a time honored tradition they provide to hikers of all sorts looking to make their trek a little easier. I am forever grateful to these guys for lightening my load to a more manageable 35 lbs!
Their experienced staff had me arrange all my gear and “stuff” on a large white plastic sheet on the floor. We picked through it piece by piece and they recommended what to keep and what to either send home or throw away all together. They adjusted my pack, reminded me of where it was supposed to hit my hips, showed me the best way to pack it and even lined it with a trash bag so my gear would be sure to stay dry.
I haven’t forgotten any of their advice and will forever be thankful for Mountain Crossings and their “shakedown” service. I recommend anyone driving up that way or hiking through there to stop and at least check out the outfitters and take them up on the “shakedown” if needed.
Our Southern Highlanders
What really makes me laugh, but the staff at Mountain Crossings sees this all time is that I was carrying Our Southern Highlanders. A wonderful 474-page book by Horace Kephart about the adventure in the Southern Appalachians and a study of life among the mountaineers. I was so looking forward to getting to the shelters in the evening because I was going to have all the time in the world to read this glorious book. NO WAY! This book became a water magnet and it easily doubled in weight by the time I arrived at Neel Gap. Also, by the time I arrived to the shelter each
See Ya Later Gator!
We packaged up two boxes of extraneous gear and things that weighed 15 lbs and I paid to have it shipped home. Yes, I am very embarrassed by this, but I learned a valuable lesson over those first three days on the Appalachian Trail – living a simple life is the way to happiness on the trail (and I believe in everyday life too!) and there are still nice people in the world willing to help you out.
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