Tray Mountain Shelter to Plum Orchard Gap Shelter – 15.5 miles
Another long day with a resupply at an Ingle’s in Hiawassee. Got 2 cheap big slices of pizza for $2 and a Yoo-Hoo for $1.50. Took a shuttle into town but had to ask a lot of strangers for a ride to get back to the trail. An older couple eventually said yes and even gave me chocolate chips cookies during the drive. Plumorchard Gap Shelter is the biggest shelter I’ve seen yet. 3 floors for sleeping on. A nice fire and a calm, small dog – Scuba Steve – to pet to end the day.
Just Shawn was up and hiking before the sun was up. No one else was even awake when he left. Eventually I would start waking up much earlier, but it was still really cold in the mornings so I didn’t want to leave my sleeping bag without any sunlight for warmth. By 8am, I was hiking. I planned on going into Hiawassee today for my first off-trail town resupply. I made it to Dicks Creek Gap and found Smiles and Penguin waiting there for their shuttle to take them to the Budget Inn where Snicker Bear, Honey Badger, and Coors already were. I was told that I should be able to find a hitch very easily into town, but I was very nervous to do that for the first time. I ended up getting a free ride with the motel shuttle and then given directions to an Ingle’s that was only half a mile away from the motel. While resupplying, I called my uncle in law – Joe – because he wanted to meet up the next day to hike a few miles with me. We decided that he would hike south from Blue Ridge Gap if he was able to get his car far enough up the road while I made sure to wake up a little bit earlier than I usually do. The Ingle’s I was in sold huge slices of pizza for $2 each, so I was more than happy to make that my lunch for the day.
The shuttle driver that drove me from Dicks Creek Gap said that I could come back to the motel and pay to get shuttled back to the trail, but I wanted to try my luck and see if I could get a ride from someone at the grocery store. I felt very sketchy standing outside asking people for a ride – especially with all the no’s I got – but eventually I got a yes! An older couple offered to drive me back out of their way and even gave me a few chocolate chip cookies on the drive to the trail! Hitching and asking strangers for a ride was something that took me a long time to get comfortable with. I managed to go a long time on the AT without ever sticking my thumb out for a ride but once I finally did do it, my reservations went away (not 100%, but enough for me to keep doing it for the remainder of the trail).
Back on the trail, I had about 4 miles left to get to the Plumorchard Gap Shelter. I finished hiking later than usual with a longer mile day plus the extra time I spent resupplying in town. The shelter at Plumorchard Gap was the biggest one I had seen so far. It had 3 floors to it with the 2nd floor being just big enough for four people to sleep 2 by 2 and hopefully without anyone turning over in the night and falling off onto the 1st floor. There were a lot of new hikers that I didn’t know at this shelter, but still plenty of space for me to set up without my tent. I ended up sharing the 2nd floor with Beach Bum and Irish AF. These two were recent high school grads who were taking a gap year before starting college in the fall. I joined the other hikers by the fire and officially met Grant and Graham. This was when I found out about them taking a zero day at Gooch Mountain Shelter on my 2nd day on trail. I also met 2 guys hiking with a chihuahua named Scuba Steve! I don’t normally like smaller dogs, but Scuba Steve was great. He was one of the calmest dogs I’ve ever met. He would stop at every hiker sitting around the fire so that each person could pet him. I even got him to sit on my lap for almost an hour while I pet his head. He spent a lot of time going between me and another hiker named Alex. We couldn’t help but give Scuba Steve as much love as he would take from us. Down the trail, so many people knew who Scuba Steve was and somehow no one could remember his owner’s names. I’m not sure if they finished the trail, but I did hear that they at least got through the Smokies. That dog will forever be an AT legend…at least the thru hiker class of 2018.