At last we are on the trail! So far we have had beautiful weather- almost a little too beautiful as I am now lobster colored, despite a lot of sunblock! They are calling for rain tonight, so we are prepared but hoping for a few more days without our rain gear. Here’s a little summary on each of our days so far-
The first day we started with the approach trail at Amicalola Falls where we stayed the previous night. The lodge there is beautiful and I definitely recommend checking it out if you ever have the chance! The approach trail is hotly debated amongst thru-hikers, some people do it and some don’t as it is not a part of the official AT (Appalachian Trail) and “doesn’t count”. Never one to turn down 8.8 bonus miles, we planned to do it and get our badge of honor. Due in part to the 604 steps that mark the beginning of the approach trail, it is considered very difficult, and many people end up quitting after it.
The night before we were set to start, Shelley started hearing stories at her hostel about how horrid the approach was and was thinking she wanted to skip it- meanwhile, I was standing at the base of the falls looking up and knew I needed to walk those stairs. So we came up with a compromise- we would do the stairs and then ride up to Springer Mountain, the official Southern Terminus of the AT.
We headed down to the approach trail visitor center to sign in and get our official Thru- Hiker number and get my official pack weight (32lbs). Shelley didn’t want to weigh hers because she was afraid it would put her in a different state of mind knowing the weight. Nicole, Michael, Shelley and I all tackled the stairs together. After the stairs, Shelley and I rode with my aunt and her two lady friends (Gail and JoAnn) up and up and up the rock studded Mountain road to Springer Mountain. The road was very narrow and treacherous, and it made several attempts to rip our van to shreds. We got lucky and rode behind a nice guy in a truck that did our scouting for us- but eventually it seemed impassable and we made a 12 point turn back down the road. The ladies dropped us off at a road crossing that led to the approach trail and we took that another 3.5 miles and FINALLY reached Springer Mountain! We made it to the AT! And we did it in true non-conformist fashion by avoiding the choice of whether or not to do the approach trail and doing 1/2 of the approach 🤣
We did about 10 miles total, and although we were both feeling fresh and as if we could go further we didn’t want to overdo it so we stopped and set up camp. We saw some empty tents across the stream from us but had our entire area to ourselves, which we were really excited about. The neighbor campers started piling in a little before dusk- there were a ton of them and they were open carrying, partying, and had lots of barking dogs. They played loud bass music into the morning hours. The overnight temperature went into the 30s and I quickly discovered my sleeping pad was not working- I froze. I had all of my clothes on- hat, gloves, and two pairs of undies- truly all of my clothing, and I couldn’t get warm. I fell asleep maybe an hour or two total, but the bass music sounded like war drums in my dreams and I was paranoid I was going be sacrificed, so the next day I was definitely feeling rough. I did do a lot of “what’s that noise” the first night and did hear some sort of animal screech that I wasn’t familiar with.
We did another 10 miles, but they were much tougher- we climbed two very high mountains and I quickly learned that walking up mountains is a lot harder than dog walking 🙂 Shelley scales mountains easily- I keep trying to give her the trail name “Mountain Goat” but she doesn’t appreciate it much. Luckily all that dog walking has paid off for me on the flats and hills, I’m really speedy there and catch back up to her. I got a nasty blister almost immediately, and it’s still nagging me to this day. We were very sore and exhausted and I had a cold progressing that was clogging up my nose- so we just about collapsed at camp. This was my first day drinking water that we harvested from streams, and there was something really satisfying about that. So far we have been in luck with flowing, clear and cool water. Being a water snob and all, I know I will have a hard time when we get to the discolored water areas. A really nice older man camped near us and taught me a neat trick to hang my bear bag with a little PVC pipe. I slept ok and figured out a way to stuff my sleeping pad inside my bag to keep warmer. We camped near a stream and this time there were no war drums, so sleeping to the sound of the water was wonderful. Despite all of my best efforts, my tent finally got dirt and leaves in it, and it seems to be permanent. I also experienced what I call “Bambi legs” which is pretty much where mom of the hinges on your body work and you walk like you are on stilts, or like Bambi.
We started to recognize some of the same people and are “leapfrogging” a lot of them. We did another 10 miles up and down hills- they are called PUDS or “pointless ups and downs”. We went through Woody Gap where we got to use a toilet and had a spot of cell service. I sent a few quick texts to let everyone know we were alive, and then we were approached by an older man on a motorcycle. And here’s my fun little story and Trail Tip #1:
He spoke for a few minutes about how he had attempted to hike in the 80’s but didn’t get far. Then he told us that we would lose 40lbs each if we could stick with it and do the whole trail, and that then we would be at our perfect bodyweights. I walked away and told him it was nice chatting and have a good day. Unfortunately, comments like this happen a lot when talking about my hike, so I’m going to throw in a little PSA here. The statistics actually show that most female thru-hikers don’t lose much weight at all, while most males do lose a great deal of weight. So, anyone that was expecting me to emerge from 6 months in the woods looking like Kate Upton is going to be extremely disappointed. We aren’t hiking 2,200 miles to lose weight, so weight discussions are off the table- that goes double if you are a stranger. If you do feel like telling us our calves look like they are made of steel or we must be super strong to carry those big packs, those comments are acceptable 😉
We set up camp early again and we were glad we did when the sites filled up and some people had to go a few more miles to the next stop. The site we stayed at had designated pads for tents and bear cables to hang our food bags, which makes it a lot easier! I slept better but still woke up every two hours and was more than ready to ditch the awful sleeping pad.
We knew we had a big day- Blood Mountain was ahead, which is the highest point in Georgia. We pumped ourselves up knowing that we only had to do 8 tough miles and then we could shower, do laundry, have pizza and beer! Shelley’s climbing mantra was “Pizza and Beer, Pizza and Beer”. I was also excited to pick up my first resupply box, exchange my sleeping pad and mail home a few things I didn’t want.
In the morning, Shelley was ready before me, and being hat she would be mountain goat-ing up the mountain and I knew I would be extra slow, (my cold had progressed into my chest and I knew breathing up that mountain was going to be a mouth-breathing challenge), I told her to go on ahead and have a beer ready for me at Mountain Crossings. It was really peaceful hiking alone. I took a lot of scenic breaks, photos, and I made myself stop every mile or sooner for a little water. I could tell I was dehydrated- I only peed once a day and everyone that knows me knows that I usually pee every hour! Between the respiratory cold and knowing my muscles needed to repair, I made hydration a priority. The mountain was tough, so I tried to get a ride on the struggle bus but it had already left, and I asked around but no one knew when the waaambulance was arriving, so I just kept on trucking along. I started getting pretty hungry so I stopped just shy of the Blood Mountain shelter and had a Buffalo Style Tuna packet on a little rock cliff. I was too tired to dig my spoon out of the bottom of my bag, so I ate it like a popsicle. I sat there feeling a little mad at myself for being slow and thinking about how Shelley was probably already at Mountain Crossings (the shop with laundry and food) all fresh and clean sipping an ice cold beer. As I was finishing up my woe-is-me tuna-sicle, Shelly came around the corner! She had stopped at the privy a few miles from where we had camped and I passed her and we never knew it. It was perfect timing because we were able to reach the apex of Blood Mountain together, and it was absolutely stunning. It felt like standing on top of the world. I couldn’t help but think about how the view from the top is so much better when you know you have worked hard to get there. We soaked it in and then headed back down the mountain to get to Mountain Crossings for that hard earned shower, laundry, and beer… only to find out they didn’t have any running water and didn’t sell beer. They also didn’t have the sleeping pad I needed. We did see our first bit of Trail Magic (locals and past hikers leave/make goodies for stinky thru-hikers), a case of beer- but alas it was already empty. With broken hearts we hiked on another mile to the next campsite and were the first ones to arrive. A lot of others campers came later, some that we recognize from leapfrogging. My victory for the night was that I was the only one to successfully hang my bear bag and it was super high! I told a few fellows they could share my line, but only one took me up on it.
In summary, we are dirty, stinky, sore, and sunburnt but we are appreciating every minute of it! All of the people we have encountered have been very friendly, but we never actually have any introductions. I am loving my flavorful homemade food and thinking I should start a business of it. I’m happy with most of my gear but have a few things that aren’t working, and hopefully I’ll have that all changed out in a few more days. I’m starting to get a little routine setting up and tearing down camp that is making tent life more streamlined. I see woodpeckers every day and hear owls at night, but haven’t seen any other critters aside from a few squirrels. There have been plenty of moments climbing mountains when I have wanted a break, but none where I have felt like I wanted to quit- although I am sure those moments will come eventually. Although it’s hard to crawl out of my sleeping bag into the cold morning, I look forward to the many beautiful new sights each day, and I wish I had a way to show them to you because the pictures truly do not do these mountains justice!
Readers – Have you ever used a mantra to get through a tough situation? What worked for you?