8 Takeaways From My First Section of the AT

Well, we officially started!

On February 17th, we hopped in our van and sidled toward Amicalola Falls State Park. After a frenzied evening tossing and turning and contemplating everything at the Lodge, we got our tags, took another little jaunt in the van, and set off from Springer.

Julia and I atop Springer, ready to embark!

If you haven’t read my first post here, you might be wondering: Okay, that was two weeks ago. Where are you now? And I am… sitting in my living room in Chattanooga. My hiking partner, Julia, and I are starting the AT in sections and then continuing our thru hike in May from wherever we left off. We are in the weekender stage of the hike currently.

The first weekend did A LOT in terms of shaking out any gear mishaps, teaching us trail basics, and overall getting us ready for a variety of conditions we might face on the trail full-time. I won’t bore you with the minute-by-minute details (but you can catch those on our Instagram). Instead, I’ve decided to boil it down to eight major takeaways. Hopefully, these can prepare future hikers, inform curious readers, and at least give a chuckle to the rest of you!

8 Takeaways From My First Section of the AT

1. Everyone is hiking their own hike!

Julia and I were both nervous about our unconventional hike and if we would get judgment from the purists or seasoned vets. I imagined a tall, bearded, ultralight entity scoffing, “you call THIS a thru-hike?!” at our first lunch stop. The reality out on the trail was much different. Most people we met were just excited to be out there and sharing the experience with others.

2. You realize the truth about your gear pretty quickly.

I, like many others, entrenched myself with gear research before setting out. I dug deeply into review sections, facebook pages, reddit forums, Youtube videos, and still had some gear truths come to light that I could not have planned for. Some were surprising (the REI kid’s large baselayer does work for a 5’9″ grown woman) and some were not (vegan faux jerky is actually as disgusting as it sounds and will contaminate your pack with its weird lab-grown stench). Overall, I am thankful for the chance to recalibrate and excited to continue to tweak what I have as I hike on.

3. Pack weight does matter… a lot.

Everyone is different, and I can add to the never-ending debacle by giving my two cents. Yes, ultralight gear can be incredibly overrated. But also, it can be incredibly worth it. After a four day stint on the Long Trail a few years back with what was probably a 45 lb pack, I knew I wanted to be super cognizant of my weight as I embarked on the AT. I had an all-in weight of 30 lbs when we set off from Amicalola. Let me tell you, I felt a difference. At the end of the day, it’s your weight to carry. But I realized pretty quickly that I prefer my weight to be as light as it can be.

4. The adjustment from normal life to walking all day is REAL.

I came in way too cocky. I thought I was young and nimble and not too out of shape. Yet, after a 21 mile stretch in two days, my body was beyond exhausted. I was thankful for the time to recoup at home and even more in awe of the traditionalists who kept on after we stepped off for a bit. From calf tightness from my new Altras (the break in period is undeniable and probably needed more attention) and the general up and down of the GA mountains, sore was an understatement. The two days after trail, I had to physically lift my own leg up into my car as I got in. Going forward, I want to prioritize stretching and using my off time to get stronger! The AT truly is a marathon (and a marathon and a marathon, and… like 80 more marathons) not a sprint.

5. Listen to other hikers!

Even within one weekend, we learned so much from our fellow hikers. At Hawk Mountain Shelter the first night, we ate dinner with a guy named Bad Idea who ironically instilled so many good ideas within us about gear switches, food hacks, and general trail-isms. The good advice or good stories carried over with everyone we met.

6. Winter backpacking (even in the South) is a whole different ballgame.

Similar to #4, I came into the first weekend a little too cocky about my ability to winter camp. The days were pretty seamless, but the nighttime got me good. First off, I had never slept in freezing temperatures before. My 20 degree bag managed alright, but nothing prepared me for having to stick most of my belongings by my feet to avoid freezing. No one told me about the absolute calamity that would ensue from that. I felt like there was a tiny clanging orchestra of junk wiggling around with each readjustment in my bag. Also, RIP to my wireless headphones that I apparently kicked with such force that I broke one side in half as I tried to get some much-needed sleep. Needless to say, I am ready for spring.

7. Trail names are… confusing.

Okay, is there an exact science to trail names? Is it cool to give yourself one? Do you have to “earn” one on the trail and accept whatever your peers deem you to be? Can you just take the first thing someone calls you and run with it? Can you change it once you have one? On day one of our hike people were asking us ours. Julia and I glanced at each other blankly and had to offer up our poor, measly, regular (gasp!) names instead with a short exposition that we were new to the trail. On day two, we spent a long section contemplating potential names and even giving each other some to try on (Julia, if you’re reading this, which I know you are, I still maintain that you should be called Posh Spice).

At Basecamp before getting on, the ridge-runner shook my pack and heard my clanging trowel. He remarked, “Ah, your own little wind chime!” A few hours later coming down from Springer, another hiker remarked that my bouncy cadence paired with my noisy pack sounded like a wind chime. I thought of that as we walked and talked about potential names the next day. I don’t mind it, but it feels odd accepting it as my own. So, I suppose I need another opinion. Is this my trail name?

8. Slow down, take it in.

On the night before we set out, I gave myself this advice for the weekend trip and the trail in general. So many of my days are spent wishing for the next hour to pass or the day to end, and I want to break away from that and truly be mindful. The glint of sun peeking through laurel bushes, the gurgling streams, the ramen bomb deliciousness that may or may not have wrecked my stomach later that evening. All of these things I tried to truly soak in and want to continue to do so.

One of my favorite moments was towards the end of our trip as we climbed Ramrock Mountain and the afternoon orange haze was setting in. My walking figure was backlit by the sun and I watched my shadow as I continued forward. I thought to myself “I’m so proud that you just keep going.” And I was.

And I am.

And I hope to continue to be!

Slowing down and taking in the glory of the green tunnel

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Comments 3

  • Maddy : Mar 2nd

    Nice post Hedy. Keep posting chime

  • Timothy Hill ( Campfire) : Mar 2nd

    I think wind chime is an excelent trail name. (: happy trails

  • Kb : Mar 3rd

    Watching Daisy’s 2015 A-T VLOG before bed this week has been pretty enlightening for me. From trail life to resupply and zeros I’ve learned much from her. Worth a watch while your back home.


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