We stopped briefly at Mountain Crossings Outfiters at Neels Gap on the Appalachian Trail and was immediately in the middle of a lot of thru hikers heading north to Maine. It was crazy! People were putting up tents everywhere—even on the rock patio. Inside, I looked for a new pair of wool hiking socks and listened to people talking about spending the night at the hostel or on the trail. The first 30 miles of the AT is a make-it-or break-it experience. Many people quit by the time they get it to this center.

Everywhere you turn there’s the familiar AT signage. Construction on the historical natural rock building began in 1934. It was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (the first of the New Deal programs under President Roosevelt), and finished in 1937—the same year the Appalachian Trail was completed.

Up until the mid 60’s, the center served as a dining hall and an inn. After nearly being torn down in the 1970s, local residents worked together to preserve this historic building. Then in 1983, it became Mountain Crossings—an outdoor retailer and Appalachian Trail store. The A.T. passes through the building, marking the only covered portion of the trail’s 2100 plus miles.

Here’s some cool facts from their website: “Each year Mountain Crossings serves over 2000 hikers on their way to Maine. The staff evaluates over 500 packs for thru hikers, and ends up shipping over 9,000 lbs of gear back to hiker’s homes. The personalized service and the spirit of the store and staff can be felt from the moment you enter the store. Mountain Crossings staff know their stuff. The combined experience of our team exceeds 15,000 miles on the Appalachian Trail. Since 1983, Mountain Crossings has helped many a hiker and even helped develop some gear.” Fun!

Like I have written before, the trail goes straight through the hostel. The AT white blaze can be seen on the building next to the breezeway in this photo. I noticed a lot of the packs looked brand new and not “broken in yet. Guess there is another 2,000 miles for that to happen.

Walking sticks that can only be used by day hikers are propped up against a tree.

See what I mean: nice shoes and nice packs. Nothing out of place here. Even the hiking sticks look quite professional.

Oops here’s a photo of Chip and Cocoa. Both wanted to get out of the car and usually I do let Cocoa do a meet and greet, but I have been keeping up with some of the hikers and I know that many on the trail in Georgia are sick. I certainly didn’t want Cocoa walking through “random stuff” in an effort to say hello, and she would do that in a second.

The fact is: everyone I was with stayed in the car and when I returned with the camera, they immediately handed me two bottles of anti bacterial lotion and said, “Put this on your hands and anything else that touched something!”

Thru hikers were hanging out talking about what would come next when they get up in the morning.

Here’s the journal like the ones that are at so many of the AT shelters and hostels. The notebooks serve as a record of those who are passing through and also as message boards for friends and relatives. Two notes are posted above the desk. One is asking that no one take the hostel’s firewood and the other is a note for a guy who needs to pick up a package at the desk.

A quick photo of the inlay of the AT logo inside the Mountain Crossings store.

Outside there are lots of discarded shoes. The trees are full of these and this time I noticed that things were filling up next the bear proof trash collection units. These are shoes that just did not work out. They probably were expensive and some were even purchased at REI! But on this day, they were left behind because they felt horrible, didn’t fit, or came a part after only being used on the trail for a few miles. The 79 miles on Georgia’s section of the Appalichian Trail is some of the toughest.