5 Things I Learned in My First 5 Days on the Trail
Between the peaks and people, my first five days on the Appalachian Trail were better than I could’ve ever expected. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been hard – we’ve already tasted rain and pain – but each day gets easier. Each mile, I’ve encountered more and more smiles from day hikers, trail angels, and fellow thru-hikers. The sense of community has been incredible, and almost everyone has a positive attitude. While every hiker is out here to hike their own hike, a camaraderie exists from being in the trenches together. Sharing our stories and spreading our knowledge has been pivotal to all of our successes in these early days, so it only feels right to spread the love here! Here are five things I learned during the first five days of my northbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail:
1. Fears will find their way into the pack (aka your pack may be heavier than expected)
My pack weighed in at a healthy 33lbs with food and water, which was about 7 pounds more than I expected. At first, the digits intimated me – 33lbs is more than a quarter of my weight! Yet, the more people I met on the trail, the heavier the packs seemed to get, coming across hikers with 40, 50, 60-pound packs. I felt my pre-trail research was saturated with this “do or die” mentality regarding ultra-light and lightweight gear. While it makes sense to carry a lighter load, it also felt more human to encounter hikers in these heavier packs. It was enlightening to see the intangibles of comfort and fear translate to ounces hikers are willing to carry on their back. For me, fear found its way into my pack in the form of food, packing way too much for the 40 miles to Neels Gap from the Approach Trail. The comfort I find in books convinced me to carry Abby Wambach’s “Wolfpack,” and I couldn’t resist carrying a patch of my childhood blanket I donned “deedee” as a kid. Chuckle all you like, but it’s something I’m willing to carry!
2. The thru-hiker orientation at the Amicalola Falls visitor center is worth attending
That morning, it took us a bit longer to pack up our gear than we thought, so it was nearly noon by the time we made it down to the Approach Trail’s iconic arch and the ants in my pants only kept multiplying. Yet, attending the 15-minute orientation at the visitor center with the ridge runner from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy was well worth the wait! We learned how to hang our Ursacks and PCT-style bear hangs properly, that 1L of water is plenty to carry on the A.T., that toilet paper can be buried in a cat-hole but not biodegradable wipes, and that Georgia has the finest amenities of bear boxes and cables. Josh, the ridge runner, was our orientation guide, and his enthusiasm for the trail was contagious! He not only amped us up but helped answer our final questions before embarking!
3. The Approach Trail is humbling
My group decided to do the Approach Trail because we thought it’d help us gauge our abilities early on. We viewed it as a warm-up to our thru-hike, and let me say: holy cow! During my first five days on the trail, we hiked from the Approach Trail to Baggs Creek Gap at mile 35.6, and the Approach Trail was easily my most demanding day of hiking. With the ridge-line still barren from trees yet to bloom, the sun beat down on us as we climbed and climbed. We strolled into the Black Gap shelter physically and emotionally drained. The Approach Trail is strenuous as advertised, but completing it helped us take our first steps along the white blazes with more confidence. However, I did meet a few aspiring thru-hikers that wanted to throw in the towel within the first day of doing the Approach Trail. The Approach Trail is a solid reality check to see if you’re truly interested in the multi-month journey that is to ensue with a thru-hike. When you step through that arch, you’re no longer suspended weightlessly in a dream-state of hiking, you’re actually doing the thing and it may be harder than it looks online!
4. The hiker box should be checked before resupplying
When we strolled into our first resupply point on the Appalachian Trail at mile 31, Neels Gap, we weren’t the only hikers dreaming of munching on a burger and a shake, especially after climbing Blood Mountain. Yet, be warned, Mountain Crossings has plenty of hiker-friendly fare, with Cliff Bars galore and a bowl of Snickers right by the register, but fresh food isn’t one of them. Pizzas and wraps come from the fridge, which they’ll happily microwave for free! And you can snag a shower for $8 a pop if you’re feeling grimy by that point. The biggest lesson learned during my first resupply was to check the hiker box before whipping out the credit card. Hiker boxes are bins located at many outfitters, resuppliers, hotels, and hostels with food and gear that hikers discard. Anything in it is fair game. I had already purchased peanut butter, a pouch of tortillas, and Cliff Bars from Mountain Crossings when I discovered all of those items were in the hiker box FOR FREE! Many hikers were also giving away food from resupply boxes they had sent themselves, deciding they were already carrying too much food. Checking the hiker box before resupplying may save you more than a few bucks!
5. Save your sh*t for Woody Gap: An Ode
If the privies are smelly and your cat-holes aren’t perfected,
the bathrooms at Woody Gap are much to be respected!
At mile 20.5, you’ll find toilet paper and a door,
the site is so nice it’ll be a hard place to let a bowel movement go ignored.
They even have trash cans to dispose of your food waste,
Woody Gap is such a nice place!
P.S: Huge shoutout to Free Byrd and Kim, two fellow thru-hikers who recognized my name from these blogs. I hope you’re both still rocking it out there on the trail!
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