Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi

Appalachian hikers in Blairsville, Georgia donate to Museum of Old Soles

Susie McNeely and Marc Puckett donated their 30 year old hiking boots to the Museum of Old Soles located in Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi Center (Neel's Gap) on July 7, 1007. Susie and Marc walked the entire Appalachian Trail back in 1979 and their boots have over 2000 miles of wear. The boots are definitely "old soles" and will be displayed along with the other 550 pairs of boots that line the walls of Mountain Crossings.

Twenty-eight years ago, Susie McNeely was a southbound hiker on the Appalachian Trail leaving out from Maine on June 11th. Marc Puckett of Suches , Georgia was a northbound hiker. They met on August 6 th at Graymoor Monastery in New York where the friars offered thru-hikers a night's stay, free laundry facilities, and food.

After sharing meals, a late night of good conversation, and a hearty breakfast, Susie and Marc said their good-byes and headed off in opposite directions. The two lost contact until a few years later when Susie saw Marc's name in a flyer (advertising a shuttle service for hikers out of Dahlonega). She was living in the Athens area and drove up for a grand reunion. They now share outdoor interests and spend a week together with mutual friends on Cumberland Island every year.

Marc says, "When we hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1979 less than 1000 people had ever completed the entire trail. Back then there wasn't even any special hiking boots or backpacking equipment."

Susie and Marc met at Mountain Crossings to "retire the old boots to a space of glory." Perhaps it takes an experienced hiker to understand the full meaning behind the excitement; after all the boots are just old, worn out shoes.

Mountain Crossings Proprietor, Winton Porter says, "These may be the oldest boots in the collection." Right away and without much examination, Porter could tell the brand names of Susie's and Marc's boots - Danner and Vasque.

Porter has displayed old boots and backpacks for eight years in what is commonly known as the " Old Sole Museum ." He adds, "I'm trying to collect 2175 pairs - one for each mile of the Appalachian Trail ." Porter currently has 550 pairs of boots and 15 back-packs (one pack with 20,000 miles of use).

Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi has offered refuge to weary hikers for over 20 years. More than 2000 thru-hikers pass through Union County while on the trail and thousands more drive up for day trips each year.

"A lot of cold, wet, weary, and lonely souls have wandered in here needing hot coffee, food, companionship, advice, directions or first aid. Many need new shoes since the ones they have are either worn out or killing their feet. Up here, you can't get far in bad shoes," says Porter.

Before turning over their old boots, Susie and Marc signed them with art markers and added other significant information. A nearby sign says, "It ain't about the miles. It's all about the smiles." Susie and Marc were both smiling with memories of their journey.

Mountain Crossings offers a large supply of boots and other hiking equipment. They have sporting goods, clothing, and other merchandise for sale at the Union County store.

Through the years old boots were kept to show customers wear patterns of well-made and well-fitted shoes. As time went on, stories of valor and courage inspired the clerks to start hanging the boots on walls and from rafters. They made great conversation pieces and served as inspiration. Soon hikers began donating to the museum.

Porter adds, "Even the foulest shoe gives up its smelly ghost after a few weeks. If not, my wife would leave me and my only customers would be grizzled old trail dogs who can't tell the difference."

If you'd like to donate your old soles to the museum, send them c/o Winton or Margie Porter to Mountain Crossings, 9710 Gainesville Highway, Blairsville, Georgia 30512. Sign your name and write their estimated miles on the side of each shoe.