Squirrel and The Shakedown

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Turns out futons are much less comfortable than hammocks. I rolled of the pathetic bed/couch and breathed in the anxiety of 4 green hikers laughing to bring it all back together. After exploding all over the cabin the night before to dry everything, each piece must return to its place. It gets faster with time but these guys put “island time Steve” to shame. I packed up fast and sucked down a mate while watching 4  thru hiker pinballs bounce around the living room.  Midmorning I moved towards the gear shop at Neels Gap to check on my package arrival and to scare up a shakedown.

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Mountain Crossings at Neels Gap is the first touch of civilization after you start the hike. Completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937 (the same year the AT finished construction), the stone building is the only man covered section of the AT. Since the trail runs right thru the shop, Neels Gap decided to offer “shakedowns” for beginning hikers where they unpack everything and let a member of the staff (100% completed thru hikers) tell you what stays and what goes in a box home. I’ve been working in a gear shop outfitting for months and have been studying the industry deeply for much longer. All good reason says I could just bypass the shakedown and keep moving.   But of course I’m feeling cocky and want to see the shaker’s look when he gets a face full of Deep South Mountaineering.

Turns out futons are much less comfortable than hammocks.

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I got paired with a chill cat named Squirrel. The kind of guy that whose work attire rocks maximum man cleavage (hamburger) and sweat pants leaving nothing to the imagination. I liked him immediately. He hiked in 2005 and thought electronic things didn’t belong in the woods. I exploded my pack and we ruffled through each major gear group. Starting with clothes he liked most of my choices but thought I could ditch the cotton tee and blue snuggly patagoochee bottoms. I have needed the bottoms every night (including right now) and love my cotton nighttime/town shirt system. It’s a keystone piece of gear in my personal Deep South Mountaineering ecosystem. Squirrel was fine with most of my stuff, but easily found stuff he’d drop.

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Going into the shakedown I wanted  to go  on the defensive for some of my unique gear but I decided to let him talk first.

Squirrel: “Maté?”
SE: “Absolutely essential part to life on the trail. The wooden cup, 1.5 lbs if tea, and a metal and gold straw basically carry themselves.”

Squirrel: “Who told your mom about the SPOT?”

SE: “Don’t get me started.”

Squirrel: “I would toss all if these wires, phone, and electric crap. Just call your mom in town.”
SE: “Ideally. Not this one though.”

 

 

At the end I think I passed. The staff told me every year people bring in cast iron pans, guns, and things out of the Lewis and Clark generation.  While I was at Neels Gap the postman came and I was out the door with my beautiful purple shorts. I started hiking hard and didn’t really stop until I got to the low gap shelter at 4. I was going to push further but I finally found a solid crowd and I was fascinated. I’d met about half if the guys and soon pieced together the other half. I camped with 2 sweet ladies from the Boston area, a Kentucky finger picker, and a Chill (redundant) Colorado native. The valley is lined with a half dozen clusters of two to five tent/hammocks. Appalachian Trail suburbs with only one or two in the mice ridden shelter. On the top was a group of friendly Germans. All extremely polite and with awesome European gear company equipment. Another camp of middle aged and olders are going to bed the and second dinner is done. Then it’s our camp and twenty other dudes speckled down in to the shelter. We gathered around the shelter fire a fire after dinner and already started talking aches and pains. Trail makes it crazy easy to push 20 strangers together.  Big day tomorrow with a solid group of characters. It feels great to have finally found a pack.

 

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Name: Raven Cliffs Wilderness
Managing Body: United States Forest Service – Chattahoochee National Forest
Legal Foundation: Federally Designated Wilderness 1986
Size: 9,115 acres
Features: Beautifully exposed rocky outcropping assorted on a picturesque Appalachian ridgeline.
Maintainers: GATC

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Name: Mark Trail Wilderness
Managing Body: United States Forest Service – Chattahoochee National Forest
Legal Foundation: Federally Designated Wilderness 1991
Size: 16,400 acres
Features:
Maintainers: GATC

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