I smiled the smile of a relieved man. I would soon arrive in Neels Gap. A few beers, a big feed, a hot shower and a semi-comfortable mattress awaited me. Perhaps I would linger there for a day or two; take stock, organize transport, maybe even go for a day hike!
As I began the final descent from Blood Mountain, the weather had taken a turn for the worse. Temps were in the mid-teens and dropping fast, the wind was howling and the exposed rocky slabs on the aforementioned peak resembled an ice skating rink. I chuckled. Mother Nature was giving me a send-off to remember! The sun had set and the final two miles of my journey would be made in darkness. Sort of appropriate considering how much night hiking I had done over the past few months. As I made my way down, I suddenly encountered a day hiker by the name of Mark. He had become disorientated, had no headlamp, little in the way of gear and was becoming justifiably concerned as to his welfare. Over the next hour and a half I shepherded him down the mountain, cracking jokes, assuring him that all would be OK. We finally arrived at Neels Gap around 7.30 pm, just in time for dinner at the Walasi Yi Hostel. Mark was a very relieved man. He called his wife to assure her that all was fine and he would soon be driving home. I had helped to save someone’s life. Perhaps this was the real reason why I turned around and walked those extra thirty miles? The final and perhaps most important serendipitous encounter of my entire journey.