52 Miles into the AT

Day 1:

I launched my Appalachian Trail thruhike on March 15th, at Amicolola Falls State Park. The weather was below freezing, but I was filled with adrenaline as I began the 8.8 mile Approach Trail (the official start of the trail is at Springer Mountain, but it’s a rite of passage to do the Approach Trail). The 2,000 ft ascent to Springer was a winter wonderland. The ground was completely covered in fresh snow and it was beautiful.

By mile 5, the wind picked up and my whole face went numb from the cold. I didn’t stop at any point just so I could get out of the cold as quickly as I could.

At mile 7, I pulled out a snickers bar, and leisurely munched on that, as I continued my ascent. Simply because I could. 🙂 It was delicious.

Getting to Springer, finally, made it all feel real. I got my picture taken, and I signed the trail register. But it was too cold to loiter, so I hopped off that mountain and  began officially hiking the Appalachain Trail!

Made it to Springer!

I hiked another 2.8 miles to Stover Creek Shelter, bringing my mileage total to 11.6. Although, I was only done with 2.8 miles of the official trail.

I set up my tent, but the wind chill was so atrocious, I ended up moving into the shelter.

That night was the coldest I’ve ever been in my life. I was told the next day by an AT Ridge Runner that it got down to 12 degrees (F), with an added wind chill bringing it down to -6 degrees (F)!!!

Needless to say, I didn’t get any sleep that night. I just laid there listening to the wind howl all night.

Winter Wonderland on the Approach Trail

Day 2:

By the time the sun started to rise, my hands and feet were useless. I quickly made oatmeal to warm me up a bit, and then packed everything and began trekking.

I hiked 13 miles to get to Gooch Gap Shelter. It was too cold to do anything but hike.

I walked over Sassafrass Mountain (550 ft ascent in just 1 mile) and Justus Mountain, before getting to camp and I was exhausted!

I set up my tent, and started cooking dinner (a Knorr pasta side). The Hiker Hunger won’t kick in until week 3 or 4, so for now, a 450 calorie dinner felt sufficient.


Day 3:

This was a tough day. I hiked 11.4 miles from Gooch Gap to Jarrard Gap. Despite getting a shoe that was a half-size larger than normal, my feet were hurting. I had been doubling up my socks due to the cold, plus my feet had swelled a bit from the amount of hiking I put them through (this was expected – hence the larger size shoe), and it resulted in a very bruised big toe on my right foot. This made it very hard to hike. By the time I strolled up to camp, I was winding with pain.

I took ibuprofen and tried to stay off of it for the rest of the night.

Day 4:

My goal was to get from Jarrard Gap to Neels Gap (there’s a hiker hostel right on the trail here, complete with an outfitter and food resupply!) so I could take care of my foot. But first, I had to climb Blood Mountain.

The weather was foggy with light rain which made the hike so much more beautiful! The fog was so thick and everything looked a bit eery.

Blood Mountain

The climb up Blood Mountain was surprisingly pretty easy. I was surprised when I made it to the summit earlier than expected. The hike down Blood Mountain to Neels Gap, however, was muddy and steep. With my toe in so much pain, I was trying to be as careful as I could all the way down, but by the time I got within 2 miles of Neels Gap, I picked up the pace.

When I finally got to Neels Gap, I immediately reserved a bunk in the hostel and ordered a frozen pizza (they heat them up there for you) for lunch. I took a shower and it felt amaaaaaazing.

I felt human again. But my toe was in worse shape, for sure. But with a shower and pizza, I didn’t mind as much.

I hitched a ride into town so I could do laundry and get some dinner (a mouthwatering burger). I got back to the hostel and slept a glorious sleep.

Neels Gap img_0998 img_1005

Day 5:

I started the day by purchasing some new shoes (now a size and a half larger), and picked up more food for the next two days, and set off.

The new shoes were perfect! Lifted my spirits right up!

Halfway through the day, and after a particularly tough ascent of Wildcat Mountain, I came across my first trail magic at Hogpen Gap!! An army vet had a bunch of snacks laying out on his truck bed and invited us to eat it. Omg. There were chips, strawberries, blueberries, water! I plopped down in the sun and munched away. So satisfying! Definitely made the second half of my hike much better!

Trail Magic!


Finished up the day at Low Gap with another 11.5 miles under my belt.

Truly a great day.

Day 6:

I woke up early and wasted no time getting on the trail. I ate pop tarts on the way, which is now my new favorite way to eat breakfast – on the go.

Blue Mountain

I climbed Blue Mountain and descended into Unicoi Gap in only 4 hours (9.7 miles). Once at Unicoi, I got my hitchhiking sign out (a bandana that reads “Hiker to Town” on one side and “Hiker to Trail” on the other), and got a ride within seconds! I got into Hiawasee by lunch time, booked a room, and took a very long shower. I ordered pizza and it was glorious.

So far, this has been an amazing experience. I’m getting into the groove of things and I’m learning A LOT, like how amazing trekking poles really are, and how to hitch rides to and from places (a first for me).

But mostly, I’ve learned that I really enjoy, if not prefer, hiking on my own. I came out here as a solo hiker and I’m really glad I did.

The trail seems to give you what you need. It can humble you, lift you, bring you to tears. In the end, it shows you a lot about yourself, and who you can be.

I’m 52 miles in, barely a dent in the overall goal, but I’m so honored that I get to do this.

One step at a time.



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Comments 10

  • John : Mar 21st

    Very simple, honest and way cool post. I’m an old old and old section-hiker and remember all the places you mentioned. I’ll be on the trail in 30 days hiking into Harper’s Ferry. I read lots of these blogs and this is the first time I’ve responded… I just like the way you put it! happy trails

  • Dad : Mar 21st

    “The days pass, and never return, and the South still waits for you.Take the adventure, heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes! Tis but a banging of a door behind you, a blithesome step forward,

    and you are out of the old life and into the new!”

    The Adventurer to the Water Rat, from ‘Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame

  • Gary Stell : Mar 22nd

    Good on ya Stephanie! Sounds like you’re doing well and making good decisions! Enjoy every moment of your hike! The memories will be with you your whole life! Happy Trails!

  • JOHN CORBITT : Mar 22nd

    You’re writing ability is really good. Although I only met you for a long marathon weekend of a different kind of trekking, you came across as a positive and determined person with a humorous side to yourself. Your writing shows all of those great qualities. Best of luck to you. Sending lots of positives vibes!

  • Jon Longo : Mar 22nd

    Great story so far!! Really looking forward to seeing your progress.. Your comment about the Trump sticker was unfortunate and somewhat insulting as you had no problem accepting his food. Sorry we are so backwards from you West coasters. At any rate… Keep up the good stories and stay safe.

  • Ed England : Mar 23rd

    Hi Folks, I am a fan of you brave souls out there and want to do the hike so much! It’s on my bucket list. Because I’m 74 now I know I’m not supposed to but God it’s tempting! Keep trecking!

  • Keith : Mar 23rd

    TAKE CARE of those feet, Stephanie!
    I’ve done the first ~450 Approach to Damascus. Don’t be in a hurry… enjoy the hike and remember to look up now and then.

    Keith aka “Beans”

    • Firehound : Mar 23rd

      Great Hike So Far, been told to enjoy the challenging with the good! I’m a Day hiker for now, Love the AT, Proud of you………..

  • Ernie Lukacs : Mar 24th

    A size and a half shoe!!! Sounds like something that I would have to do? Keep up the good work! And keep on trucking!!???

  • Paul Rhoades : Mar 26th

    Enjoying reading your adventure,looking forward to reading more.This trail is on my bucket list.When you get home in San Francisco my daughter owns OnPointe Pilates Studio 3248 Scott st.She would love to hear about your adventures


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