Darwin and I spent a lot of time recently in Georgia awaiting the start of his Pinhoti Thru-Hike. We hovered around a few main spots close to the Appalachian Trail one of which was Mountain Crossings at Neel Gap. For those of you who do not know, Mountain Crossings is a big landmark on the Appalachian Trail, the first piece of civilization that a hiker will come to if heading North and the last piece of trail history before finishing if heading South.
When Darwin and I first hit this historic spot in 2015 we were overjoyed at the sight. The thought of a hot shower, clean clothes, and pizza was like heaven. We stayed in the hostel and celebrated our first few days on the trail (hiking thirty miles over the course of about four days was a big deal back then…) with our fellow hikers and said our goodbyes to others. Mountain Crossings is known as the first big drop off point for a lot North-bounders. Thirty miles into a thru-hike is just enough time to feel the extra weight on your back and the growing numbness in your feet.
We were now once again standing in front of this iconic place but this time we drove and felt a little sprier then before. The fog that shrouded the trail past the brick-arched breezeway was no longer a mystery. We knew first hand what awaited those who passed thru it. We were surprised this time to find motorcycles and tons of families surrounding us. We often forget that hikers are not the only beings in the world; the weekend and a blue sky had brought out others all wanting to enjoy the mountain air in different ways. It was disturbing but somehow chaotically beautiful.
We gazed up to the swinging boots and shoes in the trees and waved to them. They seemed to be watching us…dropping on those unworthy of passage… Those boots are almost as famous as the building itself. Some seemed to be ancient, relics of past hiking footwear…or maybe they were just moldy and gross, hard to tell. We entered into the outfitter only to be immediately identified as hikers. Thus began an almost three-week-long chumminess with the staff who both work and live there. All of the staff members at Mountain Crossings are thru-hikers so if you ever miss trail life and long to talk to hiker trash, this is the place to go.
During our time in the area, we provided trail magic to about six South-bounders who were staying in the hostel. It was a good feeling to be able to provide a few hikers with much-needed calories and cold beer. We had been on the receiving end so often I was glad to return the favor. We stayed up a little past hiker midnight with this crew swapping trail stories and talking of trail legends like Baltimore Jack. Their perspective of the AT was fascinating, I recommend every Northbounder to talk trail with a Southbounder after each has hit the final summit. It’s a very different hike for a SOBO…
It was a beautiful scene that evening, one only a hiker could appreciate. Empty beer cans piled up, Cosmic Brownies littering the counter, the smell of sweat and soap hanging heavy in the air, and the warmth of the room heated mostly by our bodies and laughter but also a small heater…it all wrapped us up in a cocoon against the cold night air.
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