Cast Party At Neels Gap

     The first snow flakes started as Mark and I left the summit of Blood Mountain. It was a hasty, knee jarring descent for we feared the worse as the blowing snow thickened and the visibility dropped. By the time we got to Neel’s Gap, there was several inches of snow on the ground. Suddenly my equipment list didn’t seem adequate. But that was OK because we’ve just stumbled in a hikers’ paradise known as Walasi-Yi. This Appalachian oasis features a hostel with showers, hiking equipment, mail facilities and FOOD. The snow had forced many hikers to stay so the hostel filled up fast and we got a chance to meet some of the other hikers.

 Featherback was one of the guys sleeping at the Springer shelter. His trail name reflects his hiking style as he practiced ultimate lightweight hiking. He even cut short all his pack straps and removed the extra pockets. His extreme modifications gave him a backpack that weighed less than 35 pounds. Sounded good to me as I prepared to send half my equipment back home in an attempt to lighten my burden. We would encounter Featherback throughout the hike north and always shared a haebar with him when we could.

Rambo finished his time with the military and set out to hike the AT. At first he appeared geeky and naive but he was actually just a mild mannered and friendly, God fearing guy from the south. Mark and I hiked with him often and he became a good friend.

 Swiss Miss and Dead Buffalo were hiking together when we first met them but they came to the Trail solo. Dead Buffalo was also from Massachusetts, so we hit it off well. He was a guy with a dry sense of humor and fun to hang with. Swiss Miss was friendly and quite intelligent as far as I could tell. One look at her and you’d get the trail name immediately. Swiss Miss set out to hike the AT by herself, but one is never really alone on the Appalachian Trail. A linear family exists from Georgia to Maine and back again.

 Redbeard (left) seemed out of place on the Trail. From Maryland, he appeared to me to be more suited to a city lifestyle. Never the less, he was a good hiker with the enthusiasm to pull it off. All I remember about G-Man (center) is reading his entries in the trail registers ending with “Happy Hiking Everyone”! Bilbo (right) was the first hiker we met and he, too, was stuck with us at Neels Gap. There were many other hikers coming and going during the storm and we didn’t get a chance to meet everyone.

     We had to stay at Neel’s Gap for two nights as the snow piled up and an ice storm threatened. My blisters were bad so I was happy to be off the Trail for a couple of days. I reorganized my pack and loaded up the hiker box* with my discards. As I was in the box, I saw a bunch of dice. I grabbed them with the intention of making a game we could play in the evenings. Here was the true origin of Blisters Dice Game. Those very dice are now in the hands of the Appalachian Trail Museum project, donated with various other AT artifacts related to the game. Hopefully they will all be on display someday.

We were on a local TV station that night. A reporter was at Neels Gap during the height of the snow storm getting footage for an Atlanta TV news story. He asked me with some urgency where he could find a bathroom. After I showed him where the can was, he asked Mark and I to stick around for an interview. During the interview he asked about the AT, our thruhike and the storm, loving every syllable of our Massachusetts accent. The next day we were back on the AT, chuffing through ten inches of April snow.

*Hiker boxes are like swap boxes found where ever Appalachian Trail hikers might gather. Take what you need, leave what you don’t.

…continue the expedition, read: From Winter To Rainbow Springs [link]