When Things Don’t Go as Planned: Neel Gap to Dicks Creek
After making it to Neel Gap, a couple of women I’d been hiking with and I decided to get a cabin at Blood Mountain Cabins for a warm bed and a hot shower. It was fabulous. Not having to filter water. Flushing the toilet. Boiling a pot of water for tea, without stove assembly — it’s the simple things.
The night had a forecast for possible rain and snow showers for the following night. The plan was to camp in the rain and stay at Misty Mountain Inn the night it would snow. We hiked in the sporadic cold rain and set up camp. When I was trying (and failing) to hang my bear bag, a past thru-hiker turned trail angel had hiked up to our campsite to let us know there was trail magic in the nearby parking lot of Hogpen Gap. While we were visiting with him and his family, he told us the forecast for the night now included two-inch hail, tornadoes, and thunderstorms. So much for plans. We gave Craig at Misty Mountain a call to see if we could stay an additional night.
And this was the start of an unexpected week of unpleasant weather.
We zeroed (hiked zero miles) the next day and heard tales of search and rescue pulling hikers off trail and frightful storms. Wokman and Craig are literal angels.
I spent the next day with the other women (Bear Box, Rebound, Soup Spot, and Mousie) exploring Blairsville, Ga., and cleaning my gear. I earned my trail name, French Toast, thanks to a delicious off-trail breakfast of eggs, bacon, chocolate milk, coffee, and of course, French toast, at Hole in the Wall. If you know me, the fact that my trail name is a food is no surprise.
The next day, Bear Box, Mousie, and I decided to hike. We knew there’d be snow but how bad could it be in Georgia? I’m from Michigan and have wintered in Minnesota for four years. I mean, really.
I instantly regretted it when Craig opened the door of the truck to drop us off. What the bloody hell had I just done? But I was there to hike so off I went. Another thru-hiker, ManChuck, was starting his hike for the day so we all hiked together. Hard. Whether it was a combination of the bitter wind and cold with the rolling hills of this section of the trail or not, we booked it. There was no way I was sleeping outside tonight.
As we crossed paths with other hikers we heard bits of the weather forecast — snow all day, gusts of wind over 30 mph, and 15 below tonight. We took two brief breaks at the shelters along the 14 miles to Unicoi Gap. Fourteen miles in eight hours with a 30-pound pack and biting cold. It’s the biggest day I’ve had yet and although I wouldn’t recommend it, I’m proud I accomplished it.
That night, ManChuck, Bear Box, Mousie, and I shared a hotel room, got pizza and beer for dinner, and watched “The Martian.” Plus, the Huddle House for breakfast. The rest of the week was pleasant to hike during the day, although with remnants of snow, and cold at night. I slept in my first shelter at Deep Gap Shelter (fortunately no mice attacked) which was a warm and cozy night but I still prefer the privacy and the ability to explode my pack in my tent.
This section of the trail taught me three things: don’t be stupid about the suck, be grateful for your trail angels, and the trail truly does provide you with what you’ll need.
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