Gooch Mountain shelter to Bull Gap campsite (17 miles)
Today was a big day. I was hoping to get to near Neels Gap, though I was behind on my “schedule” due to only hiking about 4 miles the first day because of rain. In order to get to Neels Gap, I’d have to get over Blood Mountain, which was supposed to be pretty steep up and down. Additionally, there was a 6 mile or so area including the mountain where one was required to have a bear canister to camp. So, one had to decide at Justus Creek campsite (around mile 25) what they were going to do.
I felt pretty good all day though. I played leapfrog with the German lady from Munster who was quite frankly a total badass (I think her pack was bigger than she was). It was a Saturday and that meant trail magic! There was a guy named Dr. Pepper who I ran into on the trail before Woody Gap who handed me a ziplock of candy. I realized later that there was a pamphlet inside with one of those creepy handwritten, zeroxed life stories about a conversion to faith. Well, being in the South, it’s not so surprising.
Then at Woody Gap proper “The Bus” was set up- a group of people from the “Twelve Tribes” sect that I have only vague ideas of their religion. It seems to me that basically they all take on these names that are a cross of Old Testament names with something out of a L Ron Hubbard novel, drink yerba mate like there’s no tomorrow, and have a hard on for hooking up thru hikers. They have a series of hostels throughout the trail. Anyway, yeah. Definitely not the worst religion I’ve heard of. They hooked me up with mate juice, some veggie chili, and probably the most delicious energy bar I ever had. I asked what was in it and they said “uh, you know, kale, some stuff, carob chips”. I think probably, there was a ton of yerba mate, since that stuff powered me up Blood Mountain later like it was nada.
I took a longish lunch break at Justus Creek and decided to head on and conquer the mountain. A guy named Longcloud joined me for part of the break and I gave him most of the candy from Dr. Pepper, which I didn’t like. We walked together for a bit but as he seemed quite speedy and at ease I encouraged him to go on ahead. Before I knew it I was at the top of the mountain! It wasn’t easy, but definitely did not seem as steep as it sounded from the guide. The summit was packed with day hikers. Going down was a little tricky for me as I feel I need to be careful to avoid slipping, and it hurts my knees a little. There were all these kids, and even a guy in his 60s who were just blazing downhill though.
I got to the Mountain Crossings center around 4:30 and popped in to buy a little alcohol fuel for cooking (didn’t get to stop on the way to Springer) a Smartwater bottle (the nozzle can be used to backflush my water filter and also I needed a “clean” water bottle) and also a temporary fuel bottle- a sweet iced tea. This came to $6 and change.
It was a mile up to the Bull Gap campground, fairly steep. I headed up with Longcloud and we were a little worried as we only saw orange blazes, instead of white ones. A guy assured us we were on the right trail but he seemed a little off. Longcloud stopped to pee and I headed on ahead. I ended up stopping maybe 2 tenths of a mile on for him to catch up- it really seemed longer than the mile it was supposed to be. After about 10 minutes though we finally reached the campsite. It was a long day and after making some food most people hit the sack.