Amicalola Blues and Georgia Highs: Days 0-10 (Miles 0-78.1)
Afraid. Nervous. Fearful. When I arrived at Amicalola Falls State Park on March 18th with my mom, I was terrified. The joy and giddy thoughts about getting on trail had faded and I was beginning to worry. What had I gotten myself into?
The dark before the dawn
For almost three years, I had dreamed and planned about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. If you asked any of my family and friends, they would tell you I was excited, determined, and diligent. I would spend almost any free moment I had researching the trail and what I needed to be successful on trail. I knew so much about the trail that you would have thought that I had already hiked it. However, that was the problem. As I came closer and closer to my start date on March 19th, I became more and more worried.
My thoughts began to spiral into my worst fears. Was I strong enough to do the trail? Would I make friends along the way? Was I capable of reaching Katahdin? For a few months before starting the trail, these thoughts simmered.
Soon, they reached a roaring boil as my mom drove me to Amicalola Falls State Park. We parked in front of the building where thru-hikers were receiving their purple thru-hiker tags and going through orientation. I stepped out of the car a bit shakily. I was in panic mode. Hikers were standing all around the building waiting to weigh their packs and listen to a 15-minute presentation on how to successfully and responsibly take to the trail. I immediately began comparing myself to those around me. What did their pack look like? Did I seem less fit to hike the trail than the person in front of me? Did I truly know enough to even get me through Georgia?
Thankfully, the presentation somewhat managed to calm my nerves and the lovely Ridgerunner who gave us the presentation was able to help me get the hang of doing a bear hang before hitting the trail the next day. After, my mom and I headed to the Lodge at the top of the falls to have one last cozy night before jumping on the Approach Trail the next day. Although I felt a bit better, my thoughts continued to spiral. Was I going to be able to handle the upcoming cold nights? Did I have the right equipment? Was I mentally strong enough for this pursuit?
I was restless most of the night, but eventually managed to tame my inner thoughts.
Fight or flight on the Approach Trail
The next morning as I woke up to a glimmer of sunlight peeking through my window, I did not feel excited. That worried me more than anything. I should feel excited to start something this cool, shouldn’t I? Instead, continued thoughts of worry and fear clouded my brain.
My mom and I made our way to the arch at the beginning of the Approach Trail. My pack weighed in at 31.08 lbs. Was I packing my fears? Definitely.
My mom and I began the climb up the stairs by the falls and I couldn’t help but laugh in my head. These stairs were tough. Who did I think I was, trying to attempt an AT thru-hike?
I took one step, then took another. I remembered that I needed to breathe. It was cold, about 22°F. I was chilly, but it was sunny. I occasionally looked back to see my mom a few steps behind me, struggling just as I was. The Approach Trail was no joke, but I’m so glad I had my mom right there with me. As I continued along the trail, I tried to let go of my doubts and fears. I began looking around at the scenery. I was about to attempt a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. How badass is that?
With each step and each climb, I gained some confidence. I was feeling much better by just being out there on the trail. My demons were starting to lose.
Soon, I came across this lady at a road crossing. She was having a snack and so I thought I should do the same. I stopped, said hello, and soon we were chit-chatting away. Her name was Nikki, she was from the UK. I left her to plow on up a steep uphill but soon met up with her again around lunch time. We ate and chatted some more. Close to the end of the trek that day, Nikki and I were hiking together and we came across this mom and son, Kristen and Gunnar. They’re from Minnesota and Kristen is homeschooling Gunnar while on trail, he’s 13-years-old. Pretty soon we were moseying up the mountain in a little train, talking and laughing as we got to know each other.
What was I afraid of? There’s some really kind souls out here attempting to do the same thing I was. And looking at all of us, we were all so different. None of us were the same age. None of us were in similar physical shape. We had different gear, different pack weights, and different reasons for hiking the trail. Meeting these three individuals and hiking the Approach Trail with my mom is what I attribute my success in not fleeing from my dream of hiking the trail right away. Although I can’t deny that it was there that day. Fight or flight they say, and fight to stay is what I would do.
A light in the darkness
I reached Springer Mt. on March 19th and encountered some of the joy I had been missing for a few months. I was now officially on the Appalachian Trail. I was about to attempt a 2,198.4-mile journey. In that instant, I thought about how epic of a journey this will be.
I strolled into camp with my mom that evening and set my tent up near Nikki’s. We made our way down to the shelter and started cooking up dinner in the frigidness of the setting sun. We all knew we would be cold that night. It made us all bond as we cooked our freeze dried meals, ramens, and Knorr sides. We sat around the shelter and the fire trying to get warm, but soon lost hope and we all settled into bed for the night.
The next morning we all gathered together at the shelter again and realized none of us had slept well. The temperature had dropped to about 17°F and we all froze for a good chunk of the night. A gentleman by the trail name of Silverback Ginger had set up his hammock but ended up in the shelter due to the chill of the wind. We were all a bit miserable, but it was sunny so we took it as a good sign.
I said good-bye to my mom and she made her way back down the Approach Trail. I was so thankful that she hiked my first few miles with me. I don’t know if I would even have made it to Georgia without her. Soon, I was scampering down the trail with Kristen and Gunnar and we were chatting all the way to the next shelter where we had a snack and took off some layers. What a beautiful first day on the Appalachian Trail. It only got better by the time we reached a blue-blazed side trail to a fantastic waterfall. While not as enormous as the one at Amicalola, it was still stunning with all the rhododendrons and the icicles. This would be one hell of a journey.
People of the trail
I’d like to think that I would have made it to North Carolina by myself, but it would be a great disservice to all the lovely individuals I’ve met along the trail if I didn’t give them some credit. I have long heard that the AT has an incredibly unique culture and that the people you meet along the trail are inspiring, caring, fearless, and badass. Some people start out with those qualities, some develop them as they go along.
I would definitely say that the people I started hiking with in these first few days made my experience truly wonderful. Nikki, Kristen, and Gunnar kept my spirit alive with curiosity and joy. Silverback reminded me of the reasons as to why I was hiking the trail.
On the Approach Trail, I met Fire Master and Smoke Master. Hailing from Indiana, just as I was, we immediately felt some sense of closeness. While not the best equipped, both Fire and Smoke reminded me that it takes resilience to be out here. I was strong. I was capable. I was resilient.
Renegade came from the UK, just as Nikki did. He was kind and funny. He was clearly in much better shape than all of us, yet he stayed with us because he believed in teamwork. Together, we pushed up some tough climbs in Georgia. He reminded me that I’m not alone out here.
Packman, a recent Yale grad and Long Trail (LT) thru-hiker, reminded me to be myself and hike my own hike. On the LT, he carried a pack that weighed 80 lbs, hence his trail name. On the AT, his pack weighed in at 57 lbs at the beginning. However, in that pack he carries lots of creature comforts that allow him to have the experience he wants to have, not the experience anyone else tells him he should have.
Dozer, a guy in his mid-20’s who recently quit his job, reminded me to be confident and unapologetic about who I am. I’ve always been a shy person, but on trail I feel like I can truly be myself. I am not afraid of judgement. I can let loose and relax. I feel free.
They say the trail provides and I fully believe it. I think the trail provided me with individuals who would remind me of all the things that I am. I am not weak. I am not unworthy. I am not silly for attempting this enormous task.
So with all of these souls in tow, we made it to North Carolina. We climbed up tall mountains. We descended on painful knees. We told stories around campfires. We struggled through the rain. We experienced the joy of trail magic. We felt loss when Nikki had to stay behind due to an injured ankle.
Georgia was a test of endurance, pain, nerves and so much more. However, I would do it all again to meet these people once more and experience all the sites the trail has to offer.
Reaching North Carolina
Some people reach North Carolina faster than others. Some take their time. At some points, I felt like I was sprinting to get to the border. At other times I felt like I was going too slow. I think that’s something I’ll have to learn as I go along. The trail is still fairly new to me. I have so much left to learn, to experience, to enjoy.
Blood Mountain was a difficult climb, but the views and the shelter were incredibly worth it. Neels Gap provided me with some delicious frozen pizza and a great first nero. Trail magic at Woody Gap kept me sane. The hiker feed in Hiawassee reminded me that people can be good.
On my way to North Carolina from Amicalola, I’ve learned that bear hangs are tough but it’s ok to fail a few times before eventually getting it. I’ve learned that people are incredibly open and friendly on the trail. I’ve learned that I can survive cold weather. I’ve learned that shelters are pretty enjoyable to stay in, if you’re ok with the mice and snorers. I’ve learned that I need to be more present. I’ve learned that I’m a lot more confident than I thought. Georgia taught me that I can do anything I set my mind to. Katahdin, here I come!
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