My last full day on the trail. I couldn't have asked for a better one. I slept in as late as I could, then took my sweet time getting ready so that I'd be hiking in the daylight. I hiked over some bumps and down to Neel Gap, home of Mountain Crossings. At this point, only thirty miles in, about 15 percent of northbounders ditch out on their thru-hike attempt. That number never ceases to baffle me. This spot is also noteworthy because the AT passes through an archway in the building. As I arrived, word got out that I was a southbounder. One of the employees gave me half of an avocado, my most unique trail magic. It surprisingly hit the spot. I looked through my food bag and found I barely needed any resupply food. I went inside the store just to look around and find snacks for the moment. What I did find was a Mountain House meal. These expensive just-add-water meals are a section-hiker staple, but at seven dollars or more a pop, thru-hikers tend to steer clear. Tonight is a night for celebration, so I grabbed a mac and cheese packet. The girl who gave me the avocado took my picture for Mountain Crossings' Facebook page (check it out!).
Back on the trail, I realized that this weekend day would be full of section and day hikers. This was a good thing though; I didn't have a ton of miles to cover. I had plenty of time to talk to anyone who had questions. That's lucky, because pretty much everyone who found out about my thru-hike had a lot to ask. I was rocking the celebrity status today. A group of women tentatively asked, "Are you just out for the day? Or..." When I told them, they shrieked in excitement and took pictures with me. "Make sure his legs are in it!" I answered questions and thanked them for the congratulations. Within a few hundred yards, I was chatting with some teenage section hikers. I eventually made it to the top of Blood Mountain, the high point in Georgia. The area between here and Springer is a popular hiking destination, and boy did I know it. I didn't really have anywhere to be, though. I had set a good pace and would be at the shelter with plenty of time to do my evening chores. On the backside of Blood Mountain, I saw a figure approach that I recognized: Brightside the girl! The closure of the Smokies had forced her to flip down to Springer and start north, hoping the park would be open by the time she approached from the south. We caught up on thru-hiker happenings since we saw each other in Pearisburg, VA. She also warned me of a wasp's nest near the trail ahead. I am upset that the government shutdown is actually affecting us thru-hikers, who are almost as off-the-grid as you can get, but it was great to see Brightside again. I hiked a bit down the trail and of course didn't see the hive, getting stung on my calf. No big deal though. It's just a nuisance.
Climbing down from Big Cedar Mountain, I caught up to a girl who was hiking at a good clip, but still a bit slower than me. I came up behind her, but she didn't yield. She just picked up the pace a little. I didn't know if it was an issue of pride for her or if she thought I was going to assault her, but I backed off so I couldn't be called a creeper. I pulled up to the shelter around 5:30, and it has a comfortable number of nice people hanging around. I like that I won't be alone on my last night, but it's also nice not to walk up to an overflowing shelter. I'm just under sixteen miles from the end. Looks like I'll beat that dingus tropical storm after all! That would mean my last 350 miles were rain-free! Until tomorrow, my friends.