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First Backpacking Experience Part II

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Ok so I left off at the Hiker Hostel. Let me tell you. This hostel is nice! It's a log cabin in the mountains, 3 levels, with a great rocking chair porch in the front and a grilling/firepit/swing deck in the back. There's a chicken coop and few of those tiny homes that they rent out. There are some private rooms inside along with two (that I saw) 4-person bunk rooms. You get linens/towel and they had a huge collection of hiker boxes full of free stuff people have ditched along the way. There's a box for tech (cords/chargers/adapters/batteries/headphones/etc), one for clothing items, one for snacks, one for drink mixes, and a misc box. They have a nice book and movie selection for entertainment if you're not into people. I enjoyed sitting out on the deck, personally. The owners are nice and I believe it's also their permanent home. I can't imagine having people in and out of my home all hours of the day year round but it's amazing that they do this for hikers!! Oh, they sell shirts/hoodies/hiker meals/fuel/AT souvenirs/postcards/stamps/water filters/cooking utensils/books. We both picked up one of those green AT guides which proved invaluable. We were just winging it the first couple of days! I've stayed there twice now (2nd visit described later). I think it was pretty full that day, my friend and I took the last two beds. She had never been in a hostel and was freaking out about having to make conversation with strangers haha she did ok though. She actually got up for breakfast whereas I caught the tail end... I am NOT a morning person. The plan (and what we paid for) was a shuttle all the way back to Cooper Gap but once we realized it was an hour trip up winding roads, we both jumped at the chance to climb out at Woody Gap and start the day from there! After all, we were running out of time and really wanted to see Blood Mtn! Thank gooodness we did bc not only did I start the hike sick, Blood Mountain is BEAUTIFUL in the Spring!! That's what did it for me. I am absolutely hooked on backpacking and in love with the mountains.

I have never seen mountain laurel. I kept wondering what these little white shell things were all over the ground until we turned a corner and it looked like a wedding isle! They're were blooms all around and above us! Wow! (This became my friend's trail name, Laurel because she was so in love with them she declared that she must tattoo them on her body. Worry not, it's not that weird. We're both Navy girls with plenty of tattoos anyways.. what's another?) I was wearing out my phone camera on Blood. Man, it was a challenge. We stopped and took breaks (and pics!) at all the lookouts. I think we did a little over 11 miles that day on to Neel's Gap where we pitched our tents behind the store for our last night. I had been calling around all day looking for a shuttle back to Amicalola with no luck. Ole Laurel was stoked about the aspect of hitchhiking so... we gave that a shot. We weren't disappointed!! After a little souvenir (and cold coke!) shopping at Mountain Crossings and lots of loving on the "Neel's Gap Cat" (he has a weird name, just can't remember it. He's a super friendly tabby.) we stuck out our thumbs. I think it was the 2nd or 3rd car that stopped. I was a little leery at first because it was a single man, but it turns out he is a Soccer coach at the university in Dahlonega. He brought us into town and dropped us at one of his favorite BBQ places downtown. (Not as good as Hickory Prime but also not bad. Think I tried the "burnt ends" sandwich.) We got some funky looks for families bc we looked rough and had big packs. We hobbled out on our sore feet (I could barely walk when we finally reached Neel's after that horrid descent from Blood.... my knees were on fire and feet were rawwww.)

We hobbled out of the BBQ place to more looks from locals. Pity? Idk... I was having a good time! Downtown Dahlonega is charming and I want to go back and explore. We walked just outside of town to a busy intersection and stuck our thumbs out once more. (Laurel was SO excited!) An awesome guy picked us up in an SUV. He was just out driving for the sake of it so he didn't mind taking us back to Amicalola, though we only requested he drop us only as far as he could without being out of his way! Not only that, he took us off-roading a little bit! We had met two great people that day by hitch hiking that we never would have met (one of which we've kept in touch with)!

After a couple of hours of dirt roading in the mountains, our new friend dropped us at my car in Amicalola (we had wondered whether I left it running the whole week... it's a Prius so you can't hear it when it's stopped. I was afraid in the excitement to start walking that I had forgotten to hit the power off button which I've done many times... thankfully... it was off!) We made the 3-ish hour drive back to Augusta and decompressed for work the next morning.

I was sore for days but so proud of myself. Laurel also had a great time (despite her mild social discomfort of being forced to hostel one night) and wanted to start planning our next trip after some gear trade outs (she could not stand her new boots or pack that ... I think she chose for color, personally. They were purple so she had to have them.) Thank God for REI in her case!! Unfortunately, she was sent on a short notice deployment soon after and will be gone until mid December. So... I started planning a solo trip for the following month.

No complaints on any of my gear really. I had small blisters on my right pinky toe and side of the big one on my right foot (it's a tad larger than my left) in my Keens, so I did look into a pair of Solomon trail runners (got the idea from a trail book I was reading at the time, they were bragging about them.). I went with a pair of waterproof ones against the recommendation of the REI guy... serves me right lol my feet were so hot on the next trip! they didn't leave blisters though and it was raining most of the time so.. dry feet. I'll keep them for cooler weather. For my 3rd trip, I found a pair of used drawstring breathable Solomon trail runners from Ebay. I saved a ton, they were gently used, and I wear them ALL the time! They are the best shoes I've ever had. No aching heels (I'm a pounder) or blisters or sweaty feet! Score!!

Some things I learned... pack even lighter than you think you should. As long as you have food (just enough), water and shelter... you're solid. You don't need a ton of extra clothes for Summer at least. I used what extra clothes I had as a pillow so you don't really need that (why are camp pillows SO expensive?! They're tiny!) I'm certainly no expert as most of my hiking experience has been day hiking and/or car camping. Just three backpacking trips so far, but I'm already learning from experience (and fellow hikers!) Ask questions, most people are happy to share what they have learned and help you out.