Wednesday, April 13, 2016
AT 12.8 – 20.8, 8.5 miles
On Tuesday, I had arranged for the Hiker Hostel shuttle to pick us up at the hotel at 8:00. The shuttle arrived on-time, and we were off. Our driver, Duffy, told us we’d be going to the hostel to switch vehicles, then be on our way. We wound up in a van full of potential thru-hikers that were all going up to Springer Mountain. On the way, we talked to three of the hikers – Jeff, Jack, and Julia. Jack was from London, and quickly earned the trail name of Jack London. Julia was simply called Jules (though, we would cross paths the next day, and she said she was going to change it to Joules). Jules was so excited that the kids were hiking; in fact, all hikers we ran across were very encouraging and supportive of these kids being out there. She asked if I had a trail name, and I said “No.” She dubbed me the Amazing Stacy…I guess because I was out with my kids. I felt a little strange accepting that name, but she assured me that because someone else gave it to me, I could accept without feeling self-conscious about it. I’m still working on that!
We were dropped off at Cooper’s Gap around 9. We wished everyone on the bus well; what an enthusiastic bunch. We got strapped up, adjusted, and we were on our way up one of two big climbs we had that day – Justus Mountain. It was steep, but short. We had a pretty uneventful day on the trail, though Alice started voicing that she wanted to quit. I suspected it was because the other girl (who is the same age) had gone home and that Alice was homesick. We also had quite a few stops with Ben making adjustments, and I must admit I was getting a bit frustrated with our progress. However, there were some good moments when Alice and Ben decided to start singing; perhaps that’s why we didn’t see too many other hikers out there!
We stopped at the Gooch Mountain Shelter and met Pete & Sue, an older couple who now work as Trail Ambassadors. They spend a few days at the shelter maintaining it, and helping hikers. I had hoped that day to make it to Lance Creek campsites, but as the day went on I started thinking we might not get there. Sue was at the AT-end of the side trail, and indicated Pete could help me identify some other camp sites that were closer. So, back we went to the shelter. Although this ate up more time, I was happy to have met Pete. He is truly a friend to the hikers there. While I talked with him, Alice looked through the trail registers and Ben was climbing up into the shelter.
That afternoon, we ascended Ramrock Mountain, which was beautiful. Somewhere along the way, we made the decision to stop for the day at Woody Gap, and call a shuttle to haul us to the Hiker Hostel. I felt a bit guilty doing this, and started questioning why I was carrying a tent around when one could potentially just stay at a hostel every night. We had a nice night at the hostel, though we did share a bunk room with Walt, an older gentleman who was taking 2-3 weeks to do some hiking. He was quite nice but snored! Our bunkroom had a private bathroom and was very comfortable. There were maybe 20 other hikers there that night, most of which were heading to either Springer Mountain or the Approach Trail the next day. The hostel was very nice; from what I’ve heard it’s one of the nicest on the trail. Downstairs was a community kitchen, tv lounge, and laundry area. I opted to do some laundry that night (again). The hikers that had collected in the basement were in the process of putting together quite a dinner; gnocchi, Brussels sprouts, and grilled steaks. We had just missed this group decision, and were waiting on our pizza.
You would think that, at this point, I’d give up making plans and mileage goals. But no! I decided that night that we’d make it to Neel Gap the next day, it would be a fairly easy 10 to 11 miles.