Amicalola – Woody Gap
Nor’easter has come and hoards of thru-hikers (myself included) have chosen to flee the trail to recoup and avoid the dangerously low temperatures. I can’t say I’m not thankful for the reprieve. My feet are covered in blisters, I have open sores on my hip from my overloaded backpack, and my muscles are more than ready for a break. I’ve only been on the trail for four days, and I’ve already been pushed past my limit mentally over and over again. This is hard. Still, I plan to be back to the trail and pushing forward by Thursday morning.
From a smelly motel room in a noisy town, I give you my first update.
Day 0: PIT – Hiker Hostel
My mom and my best friend dropped me off at the airport at the ungodly hour of 4 am. After months of prep, it finally hit me that I was going to do this thing all alone. I was nervous and shaky and already so wrapped up in the surreality of everything. My pack and boots got me plenty of funny looks. A few people at the gate took the time to talk to me about my adventure and wished me well. The guy sitting next to me on the plane could probably tell how nervous I was and talked to me about my plans through the whole flight. If any of you somehow find and read this, thank you so much. Your small gestures of kindness really calmed me down in my first few moments of aloneness. We landed early and I had time to kill. A few hours of wondering around, a trip to REI, and a long train ride later, I got to the final MARTA stop where I met Al, John, Chris, Gabby and Robin. We caught the shuttle to Hiker Hostel at around noon, and the rest of my night was spent writing a review, briefly socializing, and mediating on what was to come.
Day 1: Amicalola State Park – Springer Mountain Shelter (mile 0.2)
Miles hiked: 9.0
After a hot breakfast at the hostel, Gabby, Robin, John and I took the shuttle to Amicalola. It was warm outside and the sky was cloudless. After signing and weighing in, I discovered that my pack was 44.5 lbs – way too heavy. I’m still paying for it. I took the standard picture under the arch and was on my way. Truthfully, the 600+ stairs weren’t that bad. I got a killer endorphin high once I reached the top and the view of the falls was great.
I felt ready to take on the world for about two miles after, and then I hit a wall. I fell far behind the others and really struggled up Springer. I got my first bit of trail magic just past Len Foot Hike Inn: a fresh orange. This lifted my spirits until the last mile, when I hit another, much higher wall – a trend that’s occurred every day since. I cried all the way up the last stretch and reached an empty summit. It was silent apart from the whistle of wind and I was totally alone up there. The sun was starting to go down and it was gorgeous. Truthfully, I’m grateful to have had the moment to myself. I signed the register “Thanks, God!” and made it to the shelter at around 5:30.
If I could rewind, I wouldn’t do the Approach Trail. It was too much to start out with for someone as out of shape as I am. Perhaps even more frustrating for me was that after 9 miles of hiking, I’d only made 0.2 miles of official progress. It won’t really matter in a few weeks, but it was a discouraging first day.
Day 2: Springer Mountain Shelter (0.2) – Hawk Mountain Shelter (8.1)
Miles hiked: 7.7
Pleasant weather, an even grade and beautiful trees made for a much better outlook on Saturday. Sadly, my phone died early and I was without a camera for most of the day.
The viney, twisting, long leafed trees and creeks filled with orange pebbles in this section reminded me of the Chinese mountain forests I see when I binge watch NatGeo. I half expected to see a panda around the corner instead of the more probable black bear!
Make sure to take the two minute walk to Long Creek Falls when you’re in this area! It’s a perfectly peaceful place for lunch.
I broke out my ukulele for the first time at Hawk Mountain at the request of my fellow hikers. A few songs in it started to rain and then snow, ending the concert and sending us all too our sleeping bags.
Day 3: Hawk Mountain Shelter (8.1) – Justus Creek (14.4)
Miles hiked: 6.3
I woke up to eerie snow and fog, which soon turned to rain and mud.
My emotions on Sunday mirrored the quick changing weather and the rollercoaster up-and-down of the terrain. I started the day out confident and ready to face anything, as I’ve found I often do. The steep decent into Horse Gap knocked me down a few pegs. I was loosing a toe nail, my hips were bleeding, and I really, really missed home. I tearfully ate my lunch and waited for the crowd of resting hikers to move on so I could call my mom and beg her to come get me. Eventually the lot cleared and my foggy head followed suit. The tears stopped, I put my boots back on, and I took on Sassafrass Mountain with a smile. The trail treated me to great views and I found trail magic at Cooper Gap (thanks Cool Hand!) Lessons of the day: a good cry can be the best medicine, and the trail will give to you if you give in to it (i.e., no rain, no pain, no Maine).
A row of tents filled the ledge just above the lovely Justus Creek that night. It really was the perfect campsite and the ideal place for the trail to teach me yet another lesson. After my first big meltdown, all I wanted to do was call home. My phone couldn’t find service, inspiring another good cry in my tent and, eventually, the realization that I needed to be more aware of the moment I was in. I went out to bond and swap tips with the hikers around me, cooked a yummy dinner, and retired peacefully. The sound of the bubbling water was the perfect lullaby, and everyone in our mini Hoover city slept soundly.
Day 4: Justus Creek (14.4) – Woody Gap (20.6)
Thanks to reletively flat terrain and a great nights sleep, I kicked Monday’s butt. After barely moving at a mile an hour for the first three days, I made it 6 miles to Woody Gap by noon. It may not seem like a big deal and I know it might be average for a lot of hikers, but it was a big confidence boost for me. I felt like I hit a good stride early on and really enjoyed the hike, even though it was the coldest and windiest day so far.
After setting up my tent and unpacking all of my things, I learned that the resupply shuttle I was waiting for would not be returning to Woody Gap, and that winter storm Stella was on the way. With five minutes to spare before the shuttle arrived, I haphazardly broke down and repacked everything as best I could. I was a hot mess, but I made it. A little over an hour and a quick Walmart run later, I made it to the motel where I’ll be hunkering down for the next few days. I’ve made an absolute mess of the room trying to reorganize and dry out my gear.
It’s loud and artificial here. It already feels a little uncomfortable after just four days in the woods. Still, resting feels so great and, honestly, well deserved. I can’t wait to be healed up and back out there in much warmer weather.
Thanks for reading and happy trails, friends!
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