52 Miles into the AT
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Finished up the day at Low Gap with another 11.5 miles under my belt.
Truly a great day.
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.
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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