Days 5-8

On Day 4, we wound up at Mountain Crossings at Neel Gap. They have a hostel and an outfitter, and word is, 25% of people who start the trail at Springer Mtn. wind up going off-trail there. Out front, there is a huge tree with the boots of folks who gave up the ghost early. We stayed in the hostel on the night of day 4. There we met Rick from PA and Red from Indiana and we agreed to “slack-pack” the next day. For us, that meant getting a shuttle from Mountain Crossings up the trail about 8 miles to Hogpen Gap. We carried only water, rain gear, and a few snacks, so the hiking was much easier. We were able to do the whole eight miles in about four hours. That night the four of us shared a cabin at Gooch Mtn. Cabins.

 After a second night indoors, the four of us got a shuttle ride back to Hogpen Gap and we hiked northward again. Our plan was for Red, Gavin, and me to share a cabin at a hostel that was down a trail off the AT. I got a text from Red that he had missed the turn-off, so he went on down to Unicoi Gap and got a shuttle into the cabin. Gavin and I saw the side trail, but it was 1.4 miles downhill, which meant we’d be doing the same trip uphill the next morning. Since Blue Mountain Shelter was only 1.5 miles up the trail, we opted to head on up the trail. I hope we didn’t put Red out any, but I told him we’d make it up to him up the trail somewhere. This turned out to be an 11.9-mile day, our longest and most difficult yet.

From Blue Mountain Shelter we had a 7.6-mile day to Tray Mtn. Shelter. The day started off with a 200’ climb, followed by a 1,000’ descent to Unicoi Gap where we were met with Trail Magic from BSA Troop 134 from Decatur. We had hot dogs and sodas and headed back up 1,000’ to the summit of Rocky Mtn. That was followed by a nearly 1,000’ descent, which was followed by about 1,500’ uphill to the top of Tray Mtn. The shelter was down the back side of the mountain a short distance. Though the mileage of the day was on par with what we’d been doing, this was definitely our most arduous day of hiking. We slept well, and slept in a little bit, and were the last ones to leave the campsite.

On Sunday we hiked from to Deep Gap Shelter, a distance of 7.9 miles. Gavin really put on the afterburners and left me in the dust. We met up with Jukebox and Timber and hiked much of the day with them. They are definitely much younger than me, but Gavin was able to keep pace with them. Thankfully, they stopped and waited on me periodically. With about 1.5 miles left, we were climbing Kelly Knob and it started to rain. I got my pack cover on, and pulled on my rain jacket, but didn’t take the time to mess with my rain pants. This was a huge mistake! I was hiking in shorts, and in a short time, they were soaked. Thankfully, it wasn’t too cold. Yet. We made our 8 miles in about four hours, which was a new speed record for us, though I still trudge slowly uphill. Gavin and the younger hikers beat me to the shelter by 20-30 minutes. On the way up, I met up with Rick again and we finished the day’s trip together.

When we got to the shelter, there were folks all around trying to get in, get settled, get dry, and get warm. I went down to the privy and switched into my dry wool base layer and covered back up with rain gear and my down puffy jacket. We wandered around the awning for a while watching it rain and waiting for an opportunity to go pitch a tent. Finally, it let up enough for me to do that, but it wasn’t a completely dry pitch. Oh well, live and learn. Gavin stayed in the shelter and made bunches of friends. He brought some waterproof playing cards with him, and he has had much fun playing Egyptian Rat Slap with folks. All the other hikers have really accepted him as one of their own because he has hiked the same miles that they have. They are all really impressed with his tenacity and grit, and the fact that they’re in the company of a not quite 14-year-old thru hiker that is doing as well as they are.

This morning it was about 25° when we left the shelter. It was a real joy putting on boots that had frozen solid overnight. I slept with my water filter so that it wouldn’t freeze and become worthless. We had a short 3.6 mile trip today to Dick’s Ck. Gap where we were picked up by a shuttle driver for the Budget Inn in Hiawassee, GA. We’re staying here for the next two nights because the temperatures are supposed to drop into the low teens. I haven’t looked much farther out, but I expect we’ll have some snow in the coming week. Yay. We are sharing a room the next two nights with a hiker from Winnepeg named Travis.

We had supper tonight at an all-you-can-eat buffet called Daniels Steak House. It was really good- salad bar, fried chicken (and chicken livers), and Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, and Lima beans! Yummm. Unfortunately, Gavin, who usually picks at his food and isn’t accustomed to eating large meals, ate too much, too fast, and wound up with a stomachache. There were 8-10 other hikers at our table and while Gavin was in the restroom nursing his stomach, they were all amazed at how well he is doing on the hike. They couldn’t stop going on about how well he is hiking, fitting in, and making friends. They are all in awe that he is able to make this trip as a 13-year-old. It made me really proud to be his dad!

I’m going to close by revisiting a tired subject, that of trail names. If you’ve kept up with our posts, you know I’ve been toying with two trail names, Next Step and Aftermath. Funny story: I met a girl on the trail the other day and told her I was waffling between two names, but she misunderstood. She thought I said my trail name is Waffle. Needless to say, it is now. The good thing is, though, that when I explain my name, I can tell the stories of both the trail names I set out with. Gavin was first called Hawk by So Far, So Good, but after we met another Hawk who is planning to yo-yo the trail (Springer to Katahdin, and back), he picked up Hawkeye because of his ability see things that others miss.

I think the thing I’ve enjoyed most so far about the trail is meeting complete strangers and becoming instant friends. We’re all out in the woods walking the same miles, through the same rain, uphills, and downhills, so we have a shared experience. Hanging around the shelter the past two or three nights has given us a chance to make new friends, and we’ll be hiking around each other for the near future until the younger group get their trail legs more quickly than me and start hiking longer days. By that time, though, others will catch up to us, so there will never be a shortage of folks to meet and socialize with. At some point, we’ll fall into a group that has a similar pace and we’ll form a trail family. That will be really cool.

Thanks for following our posts. I’m doing the best I can to get some videos out, but the WiFi in our hotel isn’t strong enough for me to post. I’ll keep trying. Blogging and blogging on the trail has turned out to be harder than I expected because by the time we reach camp, all we want to do is eat and go to bed. I am also not flexible enough to sit cross-legged and type. I really need a chair and flat surface to write, and so far, the picnic tables at the shelters have been too wet to do that on. I’ll try to do better.

Again, thanks for following our journey. I am trying to respond personally to comments, but the same eat/sleep routine gets in the way of that as well. Please do keep sending them, though. It is very encouraging to hear from friends and strangers who wish us well. Prayers are appreciated as well, especially for the uphills that I’m struggling with so. I guess I need to just keep taking the Next Step.

52 thoughts on “Days 5-8”

  1. Thank you Robert for allowing us to take this journey with you and Gavin, even only in our minds.

  2. i enjoy reading about your journey so much and I’m so proud of you and Gavin! Looking forward to the next blog. I’m an old lady, 76 years old and I wish in my younger years I had been able to hike the AT..I couldn’t so I feel like I’m hiking along with you and Gavin…Thank you so much for taking the time to blog!

  3. You’re making really good time! Glad to hear you accepted your “assigned” trail name…that’s how it works, Waffle!! (No need to respond…save it for those you know) ~ Plodding Bison

  4. Great to hear the trip is going well and look forward to reading more. Definitely a trip of a lifetime. Question for future hikes….were your shuttles planned or are you calling someone, and are they readily available? Oh and trail magic….so nice

  5. Hey Rob n Gavin I hope all is well. I love reading your blog. It’s so inspiring. I enjoy hiking but have never done an overnight. But it’s on my bucket list.
    You must be so proud of Gavin and forming an incredible bond with him on this thru hike. Stay safe.

  6. When I checked to see where you were (from your SPOT locator) I could tell you were in Hiawassee….but then when I did a close-up, I saw there was a hospital VERY close to where your locator had placed you. Glad your reason for the trip to Hiawassee was for the hotel rather than the other.
    Appreciating your updates.

  7. Way to go Rob and Gavin!! I’m proud to know someone willing to take on this adventure. You both will remember this trip and pass along stories from it for years to come!

  8. Every night when I settle down in my warm, dry bed, I pray that you and Gavin are warm and most importantly dry. So glad Gavin is fitting right in! No doubt that he would!

  9. Glad to hear things are well. Reading that last post has brought back memories from my section hike in 1990. Sounds like Gavin is doing well and making lots of friends. The AT is a special place,enjoy every day.

  10. Waffle 😂😂

    I have to say, I like Aftermath best. Wish I was with y’all! Keep trucking

  11. I love reading your blog. So proud of you and a little envious. I think I might could handle most of it….. except the RAIN and the cold!!! You two will have these wonderful memories to share for generations to come.

  12. Wow….what a wonderfully enjoyable and informative post. Loved it! So glad to hear that Gavin is a hit on the trail. What a wonderful young man with his wonderful father on a fabulous adventure. Keep the post coming. Love and miss you all bunches❤

  13. Dear Waffle,

    My wife and I have only hiked Pennsylvania and are a couple of miles off the AT trail by Caledonia State Park a few months away from you I suppose. We enjoy your posts and want to extend an invitation for warm shower, beds, and meals for you and your boy if your schedule permits. Also be happy to pick up some supplies for you if you need anything when you get into Pennsylvania. Praying for you and wishing you the best!
    Derek and Linda Campbell

    814.330.4230 cell

    1. Thanks so much for your generous offer. I will do my best to remember it when we get up that way. We are awed that people we don’t know from Adam have followed our hike and have offered us respite. I hope we can blog more regularly as we settle into the trail, but right now all we want to do when we get to camp is eat and sleep. I finally uploaded some videos today, so please check those out as well. They’re linked up at the top. We have Day 2 coming out Wednesday, and Day 3 will open up on Friday. Thanks again, and we look forward to meeting you.

  14. Thanks for bearing the extra weight of your computer to keep us updated. Waffle serves as an excellent trail name. Similarities of making a real waffle and making the trail Waffle. Rob, think of yourself entering the trail as a soft “doughboy”. Just as real waffle dough is pressed and patterned and cooked to give characteristic size, shape, and impression, so will the trail press and pattern and “cook” you to shape and impress you. Enjoying your updates. Tell Gavin to keep leading the way.

    Fred w.

  15. Robert, you’re a helluva an Eagle Scout and even better dad – just like Bob Duncan himself. Well done. So proud of you and Gavin. Wishing the very best and praying for safety and wonderful memories. Looking forward to living vicariously through your blog. Go get em Gavin!

  16. Thanks for sharing! Please let Gavin know I am excited for him to share this experience with our students next fall!! Safe travels…

  17. Glad to see you’ve got a couple of videos up from this hike. Perhaps you’ve already mentioned the equipment you’re using to vlog….but if not, I’d be interested in knowing. Thanks.

    1. I’m using Lumafusion. It allows for three audio and three video tracks. I’m still figuring out audio levels. Hopefully this week’s will be better.

  18. Good luck on your journey! You are currently staying 1 mile from our house! Small world! Looking forward to following your blog with my kiddos!!

  19. Hi Rob and Gavin,
    Jeannie and Jerry G. are my sister and brother-in-law. Jeannie told me about your great adventure. I am really enjoying your blog and will continue to follow you. Be safe!

  20. Waffle is perfect! Hawkeye is awesome!
    I literally LOLed at how Waffle came to be… seemingly fitting. Congratulations on reaching NC!

  21. All about the journey! Enjoying your detailed blog. Prayers for safety … one step at a time.

  22. I learned about your thru hike from a friend and now I’m keeping an eye on your blog and journey with much anticipation. Keep pushing and don’t be afraid to take zero days to regroup your mind and body and gear. Good luck.

    1. Zeros have not been a problem at all. We spent two nights in Hiawassee and were in Franklin now. Resting and and letting sore muscles heal is paramount.

  23. Think about you guys most everyday and so enjoy reading about your journey. Be safe,step easy and know you have many who lift you both daily.

  24. Thank you so much for sharing this. Really – it is SO cool and I love hearing your stories. I think Gavin is a Rockstar for doing this with what sounds like real heart. I have a 20 year old that thinks walking from the back end of the parking lot is roughing it.

  25. I love how much fun you are having with your son and meeting new friends. This is an adventure many of us would love to do but know we won’t. Keep posting when you can.

    1. We are having a blast and have met folks from all over including Finland and Germany. We’ve been hiking with a guy from Winnepeg for the past week or so.

  26. Congrats on making it to NC!!! I bet that feels great! I told Fred we should try to get a group up to meet you guys at Fontana or Roan Mtn or Damascus! Take care!

    1. That would be awesome! I’ll have to check on Fontana Dam, because I think that is coming fairly soon. Damascus is a while out, but we should be there well before trail days.

  27. Hey Rob, don’t know if you remember me from App State and Alpha Phi Omega back in the day but it’s really awesome of you to let us follow along on your adventure on the AT. Wishing you and your son godspeed my friend.

    Trent Huffman
    ASU Class of 1989

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