Horse Gap to Woody Gap
Total: 21 miles
The temperature dropped thru the night; the wind picked up, and a storm rolled in. My first clap of thunder and flash of lightening on the trail would be on night one. It seemed distant and non threatening, but the rains came fairly hard.
At first light, I noticed that a side of my tent floor seemed to be damp, and my down sleeping bag was absorbing it. Nothing could wake me up faster, as that is the kiss of doom: a wet sleeping bag. I quickly stuffed it in to the dry sack and began storing and breaking down all my gear.
What a difference a day makes. It was a cold and rainy day with no promise of sun. When I crawled out of my tent with my breakfast, Belvita crackers in hand, I saw one of the older gentleman looking rather dejected under his tarp. I went over to speak with him, he looked so frail and exhausted. I offered him my crackers, and he took them eagerly. He said he was diabetic and had low blood sugar and could not get his water boiling for his oatmeal. WHAT? Now I am truly worried. We talked about his options. His pack was 60 pounds, and he said he did not think he could carry it further. His friend, he said, was in bad shape. I reminded him we were camped at the road and perhaps the best option would be to get a ride out. He agreed that Maine looked impossible. I think so…
Jeff and I finished, trying to keep things as dry and mud free as possible. (Impossible) As we departed, the second gentleman had not yet emerged from his tent. I concernedly wondered if he was alive, but then I heard him coughing and turning. My new friend promised me that he would go to the road and get a ride. An army truck pulled up with soldiers. They used these woods for training—we had heard their gunfire and passed a soldier the day before. So I felt comfortable that the older pair would be ok as we turned our attention to Sassafras Mountain . Help was near by; I headed upward. My steps much slower than yesterday!
We had not made it far up Sassafras when I turned to see Jeff grimacing. He said he was fine, just a bit of trouble from his knee (old football injury, six surgeries later). We continued up slowly, bundled up in our rain gear, pushing against the wind, the mountain and our screaming bodies. It was only a mile or so in when Jeff said let’s take a break, he was obviously in pain. He remained optimistic, repeating his mantra, “Embrace the suck”. We laughed lots and kept moving, stopping frequently for Jeff’s knee. The descent began and that began the beginning of the end for Jeff’s hike. With each step it became more apparent that 2 weeks was not going to happen.
The goal changed to Neels Gap: another mountain, another downhill. Then, the reality set in. Jeff’s knee was finished whether Jeff was or not. We made the decision to attempt to get cell service at the next gap and call for a ride. That was doubtful because we had had none to this point. We reached Gooch Gap, and the wind was unbelievable. It whipped fiercely; Jeff estimated up to 40 miles an hour at points. I was able to call Katie who agreed to pick us up at the first road crossing.
We had 3.8 miles to go, and I hoped we could make it over the mountain before dark. It was a brutal afternoon, but the woods were quite beautiful, They were mystical and magical, with the dense fog, but the cold wind kept our heads bowed and motivated us to keep pushing.
We reached Woody Gap in near record time. The second we stopped moving, the chill set in. We were frozen to the core. Katie had not yet arrived, so we crept back into the woods to block the wind. As I peered across the road I saw a tarp set up and wondered what crazy person would have a road side stand in this weather. Then I realized it was trail magic!!
I told Jeff we had to cross the road, and I must say he looked at me like I had lost my mind. But we braved the wind and no sweeter sight had we ever seen: hot soup and banana pancakes. I know that soup was out of a can but (sorry Gus) it was the best soup that had ever crossed my lips. Just when you need it most a trail angel bearing gifts. Katie arrived minutes later, our second angel. Jeff hobbled to the car and she whisked us away.
Every hiker was attempting to find a hostel or room for the night ahead, harsh winter conditions were promised and it was worsening moment by moment. Jeff, Katie and I would spend the night at Max and MaryEllens cabin, truly paradise on earth. Katie bought us a bucket of KFC for dinner and spent the evening drying out all my gear.
I would sleep well, re-pack and Jeff will drop me back at Woody’s Gap in the morning. He must recuperate and make some decisions on his knee, which he has been putting off. So for the time being, I was warm and surrounded by those who love me, tomorrow I would set off again, alone. But I am forever grateful for him starting this journey with me, he will always be the voice telling me to “Embrace the suck”.