A Rude Awakening to Just How Tough the Hike Is
In my first post I promised brutal honesty so here it is. Georgia is one tough mother! In three and a half days of hiking I’ve managed to go 31.1 miles on the Appalachian Trail. Now my original plan was to hike eight to ten miles a day. So you may think that this fits right in with it. However, that original plan included loads of time to stop and enjoy views and chat with people and even more time in camp lounging around, writing in my journal, and reading my Kindle. The reality has been so far from that vision that it isn’t even funny.
Each day I stumble into camp exhausted with barely enough energy to set up my hammock and eat something. It has taken me all day to hike between eight and nine miles. There have been zero opportunities for lounging, not more than a few sentences a day in my journal, and only a few pages read as I fall asleep with the sun. Me, the habitual night owl who has battled insomnia for most of my life, now falls asleep around 7:30 p.m.
It feels like Georgia is intentionally trying to weed out the weak on this first section of the AT. Nothing has been easy. Well, maybe about ten minutes a day – a day mind you – the hiking is easy. Other than that, everything is tough. The inclines are difficult and the descents are knee killers. If you are lucky you’ll manage a minute or two of relatively flat terrain before you have to climb again.
Then there’s the weather. While I have been lucky on one hand because it hasn’t rained until today, it has been bitterly cold at night and snowy on two of the days. Managing body temperature is crucial both while hiking and while sleeping. While hiking, it’s a constant shuffle of putting on and taking off gloves, hat, buff, fleece jacket, and long-sleeve buttoned shirt. And I mean constant shuffle. You don’t want to be too warm because then you sweat and sweat makes you cold when the sun goes behind the clouds. But if you take off too much then you can’t get warm enough even when huffing and puffing up Blood Mountain. At night, however, it really becomes serious as temperatures drop and the wind picks up. I’m a hot sleeper, which is one reason I choose to hammock, but the wind whips right around my hammock and makes it even colder. So I’ve bundled up with literally every article of clothing, which makes me feel like the Stay Puft marshmallow man. Even with all of that and my under quilt, top quilt, and sleeping bag liner, I’ve also had to utilize HotHands in both my gloves and my socks every night. I wouldn’t say I was warm or even comfortable, but I survived with all of my extremities.
Another One Bites the Dust
While preparing for this trip, I kept coming across this statistic that said that 80 percent of people intending to complete a thru-hike don’t make it. And a large portion of that number drop out before getting out of Georgia. At the time this blew my mind. Now, I totally get it. Between the tough miles and the cold nights, there hasn’t been a lot of good times and we haven’t even talked about the crappy food and the homesickness. I’ll save those for another post.
I’ve already heard of four or five people quitting and at least one who hitched a ride to Neels Gap and skipped about 30 miles of trail. I sympathize with those dropping out but absolutely don’t understand those skipping portions of trail. If you are going to half-ass it, why do it at all? At least have the decency to just outright quit, go home, and tell your friends and family that it wasn’t for you. There is absolutely no shame in that.
Current Game Plan
Going forward, I think it will be important for me to focus on smaller goals. As I’m struggling up yet another mountain, thinking about 2,160 more miles to go is totally demoralizing. So I’m going to break it down into smaller chunks. My current goal is to get out of Georgia, which is at about mile 78. So, here’s to the next 47 miles. They can’t all be as tough as the first 31. Right?
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