Greetings! First we want to thank the many friends and followers of our Appalachian Trail hike. Hundreds have visited this website and written comments and many have text or emailed words that encourage us daily. Thank you for your prayers and support –they are needed–and for your support of the Hike for John. Together we can show our love and support for the Gurney Family!
We have so much to share from the past few days. Days 4 & 5 we continued hiking in the rain and camped at Lance Creek that night in preparation of a climb of Georgia’s A.T. highest mountain the next day. That 4,461′ ascent was challenging and took several hours. Every time we thought we cleared the summit, there was another bend of the trail revealing a higher plane. At one point we heard church chimes, which was odd because the only things we typically heard were pelting rain drops and an occasional bird singing. The chimes were playing, “The Old Rugged Cross”. Interestingly, the name of the mountain we were climbing was Blood Mountain. How symbolic! There is an old stone shelter atop Blood Mountain (see photo page) that contains a journal for hikers to sign. We jokingly referred to it as a clue for CSI in case we didn’t make it down. The rock face descent was so treacherous our fate was questionable. Of course we made it down the mountain to Neels Gap before nightfall and spent the night at Walasi-Yi Center. This historic stone building is well known in the hiker community with its quaint store to resupply and a bunkhouse for thru-hikers. It is also the only place on the entire A.T. where the trail actually goes through a building. We met an old hiker named Jack who likes to hang out at Walasi and tell stories. Jack is a throwback with long gray hair and hippie necklaces and says he thru-hiked the A.T. nine times (seven of which were in consecutive years). Jack and the Walasi staff were very helpful and even did a shakedown on some of the hikers. We pause here to share…
Hiker lingo– Shakedown: when an experienced thru-hiker goes through the contents of your backpack and tells you what to discard to lighten pack weight.
Out in front of the Walasi-Yi building is a large tree with hundreds of pairs of hiking boots and shoes hanging in its branches. Legend says it is the tree of shame. Hikers who come down off Blood Mountain and quit the trail throw their boots into the tree. Committed to continuing, we spent the night at Walasi for $17pp which got us a towel, shower, and a bunk in the basement bunkroom with seventeen other rain-soaked hikers. As you can imagine the hiker funk was off the chart.
Hiker funk: a smell resulting from the combination of sweat, mildew and foot rot that typically takes multiple cleanings to eliminate. It may garner you private seating in many restaurants.
Moving on… the hikers were treated to a hot dog and hamburger cookout that night by members of a local church who brought enough food and desserts for a small army. Talk about a ministry! It also opened up opportunities for conversation with hikers about their worldviews. Chief talked to three hikers, one of which is an atheist and two recovering addicts, trail names Detour and Machinegun, who have struggled with faith and religion. We continue to pray for them and see two on the trail. Detour sprained an ankle and is heading home to Pennsylvania.
Day 6 brought a few hours of sunshine and lifted the fog long enough to catch our first sights of the beautiful Georgia mountains and valleys. The views were breathtaking as we looked from a mountain top over the many other mountains and green gaps in between. Several dogwoods in white bloom dotted the landscape. The rain returned by afternoon and the wind kicked up so there was a definite chill in the air. We experienced our first trail magic in the late afternoon when we hiked down a mountain and across the road. A man named Bob was serving piping hot vegetable beef soup and sandwiches out of the back of his truck to hikers. We were sharing with Bob about our Hike for John and he prayed for John and for the success of our endeavor. We then hiked to the top of another mountain and dealing with pure exhaustion we pitched the tent in a remote clearing while the rain continued. The continuous rain drops on the tent has become a familiar sound at night but something unfamiliar caused us to awake during this night. The sound of footsteps on the leaves surrounding the tent conjured up all sorts of unwelcome thoughts. We know there are deer, bear, raccoon and other wildlife in the area and we follow protocol with tying up all food in a bear proof bag. The steps stopped close to the tent and then thankfully went off in the opposite direction.
We awoke the next morning to even harder rain! How could that be?! Good thing we were atop a mountain because we may have needed an ark. Packing up the tent and backpacks in the downpour resulted in heavier packs due to the saturation of practically everything we carry. We had a long hike planned this Day 7 to get to Blue Mountain shelter about 9 miles away. We first had to get drinking water at a nearby stream, which in hindsight was silly due to the numerous waterfalls we encountered the entire day. The torrential rains continued all day. The trail, once muddy, turned into small ponds and we couldn’t avoid the soaking sloshing feeling with every step. The fierce winds kicked up around each bend and blew our packs with gale force. Think Lieutenant Dan on the boat during the hurricane scene in the Forrest Gump movie. That is how we felt! Even with all our rain gear we were chilled to the core. The only way to keep warm was to hike faster so we started at 9:00 a.m. and didn’t stop until 5:30 p.m. covering about 11 miles over jagged rocks and trail ponds. When we got to the road at Unicoi Gap we were given a ride into the town of Helen, Georgia by a nice lady who rescues cats. She didn’t understand why we were out hiking and kept asking us where our car was parked — LOL. She dropped us off at the Best Western motel that has rooms for $55 for hikers. Finally this was our ark! Thank God for the protection of a dry hotel room!
Day 8– We are taking a zero day at the Best Western. There are lovely people here and they serve a mean southern breakfast for FREE!
Zero day: when a hiker takes a day with no miles due to injury, bad weather, utter exhaustion, or to enter the sanctuary of the ark.
Until next time, Chief and Toad