Hawk Mountain Shelter to Mountain Crossings Hostel – 23.6 miles – Unexpected long day
My alarm sounds at 6 AM. I did not have a very sound sleep in the rain. I slept lightly trying to stay dry on my footprint and under the fly. I am quite unorganized and all my gear is spread out, so I have to get it all packed, while thinking of the best way to quickly break down my wet tent, while also keeping my gear and pack dry. It is raining as I retrieve my bear bag from the cables. On just this second day, basically most things in my pack are wet. I know this was inevitable, but I didn’t think I’d happen so soon into the hike. But as the saying goes, “You can’t get to Maine, if you don’t hike in the rain.” I finally get started hiking about 7 AM. It is too foggy to use my headlamp, so I just hike in the dark.
About midmorning I experience my first trail magic. Atlanta Outdoor Club has a large tent set up at a campsite/road just off the trail. I just about pass it when some of the folks shout at me. I stop and turn off the trail into the clearing. There is about a dozen volunteers and lots of food (coffee, fresh fruit, hot chocolate, candy, cookies, etc.). I eat a bit and have some hot chocolate and then hit the trail again. I don’t stay very long, didn’t feel that I need to.
There is rain and clouds all day and there are no views. The campsite I had planned (based on my itinerary) to stay for the night, I arrive at about 1 PM. It’s too early to stop and still raining, and I don’t want to set up in the rain again, so I continue on. With yesterday’s 8+ miles after 1:30 PM, I am confident I can cover at least as many miles again this afternoon (This will be a constant reminder and has set the tone for the rest of the hike) and still be able to get a bunk at the hostel . After this decision to continue, there are two climbs, the first, really, of the trail. Once I commit to going on, I have to continue to Neels Gap because to camp in this section of trail, a bear canister is required.
I arrive at Neels Gap mid-afternoon and fortunately get a bunk in the hostel. Pizza, bed, and hot shower for $25. This seems like a fantastic deal after this long day in the rain. I choose a supreme Tombstone pizza from the freezer and the store employee cooks it for me. I devour it in minutes, far less time than it had taken to cook, and I burn my mouth doing so. The bunk room is full and I am very thankful I had gotten here in time. I charge my phone, take a long hot shower, and talk to Lindsay and Ryder for the first time in days! It feels so good to be warm and dry on only this second day on the trail.