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ATKO 2020 and A Section Hike Along the AT by OZ The Hiking Sailor

April 08, 2020 6 min read

ATKO 2020 and A Section Hike Along the AT by OZ The Hiking Sailor

On March 6th I attended the Appalachian Trail Kick-Off event for the weekend before starting my third attempt on the Appalachian Trail. The following is my trail journal from the event and the first section of the AT. With the ever-increasing issues in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, my plans for 2020 were cut short when my hiking partners and I made the difficult decision to give up our hike and head home to Canada, per ATC’s recommendation. I am still looking at a possible SOBO hike this year depending on what happens. Until then I hope you enjoy my hiking memories.

- OZ the Hiking Sailor


Appalachian Trail Kickoff 

Day 0

We just spend the last 2 days at the Appalachian Trail Kickoff meeting old and new hikers. We set up a Maple Leaf Gazebo with a table and eventually gathered most of the new thru-hikers around us in our mini tent city. Food was mostly provided by previous thru-hikers and trail supporters. And off course the last night, we had a huge fire to gather around and just chat.

The hikers we met at the ATKO would form the core of our bubble and we would eventually become good friends. Everyone for the most part though I was very amusing, but a little too focused on my hiking plans. That kind of scared some new hikers but they later realized my goals were very realistic.

My brain trauma from Afghanistan left me changed but to the positive. Too focused, too Social, too Friendly. That is my life now.

Gracious asked Thumper why he hikes with me and he said "he puts a smile on my face and you never really know what he will say next, as he seems to have a lot going on inside his head. Who wouldn't want to hike with him".

The lectures at the ATKO were mostly the same from the previous years but “Allgood” from Six Moon Designs was easily the best one, he made it very entertaining for everyone. 

Day 1 Amicalola Falls to Springer Campsite

March 8, 2020

We did all the standard pictures/videos at the Arch area and soon after the adventure would begin. I remember the stairs being a challenge and the approach to be nice and easy. But I tell you they must have changed the approach trail as it seemed a lot harder, however, they were still a lot of fun. This was my 3rd time on the stairs.

After that climb, we rested at the lodge where our newest youngest member from Baton Rouge, Louisiana joined our fellowship.

We had lunch at a flat sunny area and as it goes on the trail, a bunch of other hikers decided that it was a brilliant idea too and joined us.

We reached Springer mountain with the sun angle ruining most of the pictures we wanted to take, but on the flip side, it was the first time in 3 years that we were rewarded with a view atop Springer Mountain.

The Springer Mountain campground has been expanded and we found a group spot large enough to fit our 5 tents. Our newest member started a fire and earned the trail name of Phoenix. Today was a special day for everyone as they had successfully completed their first day on the Appalachian Trail, and the Fellowship was born.

Day 2, Springer campground to Cooper Gap

March 9, 2020

The next day started on a positive sunny note, with clear skies and trail magic by Buttercup. We had a great camping spot and a good night’s rest the previous night so we were all ready to rock in roll for the day.

The group goal and I were 12 miles to Cooper Gap. By the end of the day, everyone was feeling sore with some members grumbling at me and my plans for the hike. I figured that if 2 older guys can do it, the rest of the group could do it too since they had youth on their side.

The big climb of the day was Sassafras Mountain and boy was harder than I expected. I really don't remember this mountain being that difficult but for some reason today it was a challenge, even with the easier reroutes that the trail organizations made over the past 5 years.

As the sun was dipping low, we stumbled into Cooper Gap, tired, exhausted and most of our group cursing my mileage plan for the day. I would have to amend the plan for the next day to allow everyone to have an easier and more enjoyable day. Side not for some reason I had no appetite and for the second night in a row, I did not eat supper.

Day 3, Cooper Gap to Woody Gap

March 10, 2020

When we awoke the weather was foggy with the clouds settled into the valley and extending to the mountain ridges, however, this did make for a very cool hike as one could get lost in their mind instead of worrying about seeing the next view around the bend.

Because many in the group were sore from the previous days hiking, we decided to lower our mileage and just do 8 miles for the day.

The highlight of the day for me was when I arrived at Woody Gap and was treated to double trail magic by UnderDog and Buttercup. It was so cool to finally see Underdog who for those that don’t know is a popular YouTuber. He was planning to start on the trail again in a couple of weeks, after taking the time to provide trail magic for other hikers. He treated us to hotdogs plus a cornucopia of other goodies a hiker would want.

We left the trail magic and camped on top of Woody Gap and as the evening set in and the sky turned from day to night, we enjoyed the evening chatting with the other hikers who were also camping there. 

Insert Woody Gap picture and underdog group.

Day 4, Woody Gap to Neel Gap

March 11, 2020 

When I opened my eyes and peered outside my tent I noticed that it was wet and foggy, that always makes it hard to want to get out of the bag and get going, luckily though “UnderDog” and the “Count” were still there doing trail magic and treated me to one of the best-grilled cheese sandwiches I have ever eaten.

As I was packing up I noticed that my Tyvek was still wet from the previous day. I was using a Deschutes Bundle but my groundsheet was too big. I solved the problem by using the scissors on my pocket knife to trim it down, with that quick fix I never had an issue again.

In a surprising twist, the group all voted that we should hike straight to Neel Gap and our reward would be a night and a full zero day at Blood Mountain Cabins. The weather was still foggy keeping the temperatures cool, but pleasant as long as you kept moving.

The hike towards Blood has a lot of elevation as one has to go up and down many hills before the final climb to the summit of Blood Mountain. As we climbed the final bit to the top of Blood Mountain the skies cleared and we were rewarded to incredible views of the surrounding landscape.

A big highlight for me this day was getting to meet the ever-popular Youtuber “Darwin” and “Pride for the Wilderness”.

“Phoenix,” remarked that she was happy to hike with and states that she believed I was some sort of famous hiker since so many other hikers had greeted me on the trail, it made my heart swell with pride to hear these kind words.

We checked the time and realized that Neel Gap was closing in an hour so we raced downhill as fast as we could, given the steepness of the terrain it was a knee jarring ordeal. We pushed ourselves as hard as we could only to arrive at Neel Gap and learn it was extending its hours and not closing for another hour, I guess it’s better to have extra time than no time at all.

After arriving at Neel Gap, we took some time to stocked up on supplies: pizza, sodas, snacks, and other goodies we were craving, while the others in my group browsed around I took some time to tweak some of the settings on my Swift X, over the past few days I had to make notes of where I thought it could be adjusted to ride more comfortable, and with a few adjustments it rode like a dream.

The evening was spent in the warmth of Blood Mountain Cabins, we passed the time enjoying each other’s company and visiting with other hikers staying in the cabins around us.

“The Fellowship of Chaos” was now officially formed and we had just completed the first section of the Appalachian Trail, historically this section on average accounts for between 10%-20% of those hoping to complete a thru-hike of the trail, call it good and head home. 

Why do hikers quit? The answers to that question can range anywhere from not being properly prepared, having a romantic idea of what it will be like on the trail only to realize it is nothing of the sort, homesickness, injury, and a whole other slew of reasons that only the hiker truly knows.


 *Adrian and his crew got off trail in Franklin, NC on March 21st as the COVID-19 pandemic progressed and ATC recommended hikers go home and not hike.

Words and photos by Adrian "OZ The Hiking Sailor" Redgwell.

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