Zin Master (Ken Nieland) after hiking for three days and developing blisters, has been off the Appalachian Trail for 17 consecutive days. He has been staying with his in-laws in Tennessee. His hope is to return to the trail on Tuesday, February 13. He is planning on leaving Tennessee at 4:00 am in order to drop off his rental car in Blairsville, Georgia when Enterprise opens at 8:00. He has arranged for a shuttle driver (Pretzel) to take him to the trailhead at Tesnatee Gap. From there Zin will hike 6 miles southbound (SOBO) – back to Neel Gap while Pretzel takes most of his supplies with him. (This is called slackpacking – someone takes for heavy stuff like your tent, sleeping bag, etc. and meets you down the trail while you hike with just the needed supplies for the day.) Zin will stay at Blood Mountain Cabins or Mountain Crossing on Tuesday night. Pretzel will pick him up on Wednesday morning and shuttle him again to Tesnatee Gap and Zin will continue his NOBO hike from there.
Sounds complicated? I let you know how it all turns out when he posts in his journal in the next few days.
Vagabond Jack (Jack Masters) began his thru-hike on Appalachian Trail on February 1 with a 5.2-mile hike from Springer Mountain to Long Creek Falls. Day Two found him helping another hiker in distress to find refuge in Hightower for a hike of only 3.4 miles. Vagabond took two zero-days in Dahlonega, Georgia to avoid some winter weather. He returned on February 5th and hiked 7.2 miles from Hightower to Gooch Mountain. His longest trek so far was on February 6th from Gooch Mountain to Woods Hole Shelter (12.1 miles). He took a short day on the 7th with a 3.5-mile hike into Neel Gap and then a ride into Blairsville, followed by a 0 day on February 8.
Vagabond Jack returned to Neel Gap on the 9th and hiked 11.5 miles to Low Gap. The next day he managed 7.3-miles from Low Gap to Blue Mountain Shelter. He then hiked into Unicoi Gap (2.4 miles) and took a shuttle into Hiawassee, Georgia. He zeroed in Hiawassee on the February 12th. Vagabond Jack plans to return to the trail on the 13th and hike from Unicoi Gap to Tray Mountain (about 5.7 miles).
I am hoping that the warmer weather coming in the next few weeks will allow Jack to up his mileage. Less than 4.5 miles per day does not spell a successful thru-hike. I can tell by his journal that he is becoming discouraged and fighting for some determination to continue. He shares in his 2/12/18 post from Hiawassee:
“It’s said that about 25% of all people who start out as thru-hikers quit at Neel Gap, about 32 miles into the 2200-mile trek. I can see why. It’s not easy! It is not a walk in the woods. It is constantly climbing up and going down. In some sections, the trail is nothing but rocks, and each step has the potential to twist an ankle or worse. It’s taking 10 steps up a slope, then stopping for 10 seconds to catch your breath, then repeating that process for an hour. It’s taking even longer going down the other side of that mountain because you have to carefully consider every step. It’s sleeping on a hard platform in a shelter, side by side with strangers who snore, fart, and toss and turn. It’s your nose getting cold in the middle of the night, but knowing you can’t sleep with your head in your sleeping bag or you’ll wake up with a wet bag from the condensation from your breath. It’s eating crappy food, filtering water when your hands are numb from the cold…”
My prayers go out to both these hiker. They have both had a difficult, discouraging start.