Start: Neels Gap
Finish: Poor Mountain
Miles: 8.8. Total miles: 40.5
My first day on my own. Mary dropped me off at Neels Gap at mid-morning, and the weather was promising a nice day, albeit mostly overcast. After a bunch of hugs, and a bit of guilt, because I’m deserting my wife, which they used to flog men for back in the day, we parted. I’ll miss her terribly. I’m already missing her terribly. She flies back home today.
Today I hiked over a couple of decent little mountains, Levelland and Cowrock, followed by a hard descent into Tesnatee Gap. From that point there was a difficult ascent to the top of Wildcat Mountain, where a side trail lead to Whitely Gap Shelter. I considered stopping there for the night, but two factors persuaded me to continue. First, was the fact that the shelter was a mile and a quarter off the trail, a distance I’d have to hike back over again just to get to the trail. Second, I encountered a number of day hikers who informed me that there was trail magic at Hogpen Gap, the first I’d encountered on my hike so far. If you don’t count the water jugs left at a couple of previous gaps, that is, which were much appreciated by many. So I soldiered on to Hogpen where a church group was serving up hot dogs, snacks and drinks.
I discovered that after a long and weary seven miles, a Coke is a thing of beauty indeed. And the hot dogs were mighty fine also. I took the opportunity to snag several water bottles to refill my bladder as I was now planning on camping a couple of miles beyond the gap, rather than trying to make it to the next shelter which was supposed to be quite crowded, and also five more miles away. I found a beautiful site on a ridge with great views, and soon found myself with company. A thru-hiker who’s from the area was visited for the night by his mother and nephew, who hiked in with him from the gap, and spent the night camping.
Some additional firsts today besides the trail magic. I got my first blessing from one of the church group members that was hiking along the trial. I’m not sure if blessings will be all that effective for me, fallen sinner type fellow that I am, but the thought was appreciated. Then there was the encounter with an individual that other hikers were referring to as the Mountainman. There was a tale, that I didn’t place much credence in, about a young man hiking the trail barefoot, with his possessions in a bindle. Along about dusk, I was all set up at camp, sitting leaning against a tree eating dinner, when I heard someone running up the trail adjacent to camp. I looked up and discovered that the tales were indeed true. A young man, apparent age in his twenties, barefoot and with a stick on his shoulder that held two plastic grocery bags of who knows what, suddenly appeared from around a bend. He was bushy haired and bushy bearded, and he was as startled to see us as we were to see him. He stopped for a moment, stared at us with a inscrutable gaze which I was devoutly hoping was not homicidal mania, and then trotted off down the trail, probably never to be see again, by yours truly at least. As someone commented earlier in the day, the Appalachian Trail allows one to be what one wants to be. Or something along those lines.