And We’re Off!

Surprisingly, 24 hours before starting our thru-hike I found myself staring up at a colorful Bavarian Castle. I had to do a double-take when I noticed there was a vape shop in it, along with two Port-a-Let Potties flanking the rear entrance.  We had come to Helen, Ga. this morning to get breakfast and explore the area. I thought this strange detour to a medieval psychedelic tourist trap was a pretty good analogy for interrupting a wonderful life to walk off into the woods for a few months. I’m glad I went to Helen, and I’m glad I’m walking the trail. Hofer’s Bakery and Cafe is amazing, btw. Totally worth the hour to get there from the approach trail in Amicalola. Beautiful drive too. And no, I didn’t storm the castle and plunder the vape shop.

The Drive
Four of us made the trip to Amicalola Falls on Thursday- Madeline and her boyfriend Brennan, and my wife Lori and I. Traffic was thick the whole way, and I spent much of the drive in-between semi trucks at 75 miles an hour. I thought about the juxtaposition between sketchy Interstate travel and walking a 2 foot wide trail. From Wilmington it was about a 7.5 hour drive.

We’re Official
Friday was all about the side trip to Helen, and once we had returned to Amicalola going to get our hiker tags and completing the registration for the thru-hike. Moxie was the amazing ridge runner who checked us in, answered our questions, showed us the PCT method for bear bag hanging (I have a canister but Madeline has a bag) and weighing our packs. I was disappointed that Madeline outdid me there- she came in at 30 lbs and I was at 31.  We enjoyed the Amicalola Lodge by sitting in the sun and enjoying the pastries we had purchased at Hofer’s. It was satisfying to stare at the mountains we’d be calling home for the foreseeable future. After a quick run to Dahlonega to get supper at Moe’s we ended the evening watching our beloved Duke Blue Devils take down Miami in the ACC Basketball Tournament.

Day 1- Approach Trail to Stover Gap (11.6 miles)

I awoke after the first day’s hike at 8 o’clock, raring to go. Unfortunately, it was 8 PM and I had woken up after only an hour of sleep!  This sleeping in a tent thing is going to take some getting used to. The forecasted rain was just beginning following a gorgeous opening day on trail. Day 1 had been exciting and exhausting, but I’m getting ahead of myself…

After saying tough goodbyes to Lori and Brennan we started up the fabled approach trail. For those unaware, the approach trail is 8.8 miles long and DOES NOT COUNT! It simply leads from the bottom of Georgia’s highest waterfall, Amicalola Falls, up to the actual start of the trail on Springer Mountain. So why did we do it if it doesn’t count? Uh, let me check with the next Lemming I can get ahold of. It was tough and began with 1,100 steps built for the citizens of Georgia to get a closer look at their waterfall, but we were up to the task. We filled in the log book located in a hidey-hole carved into a rock, then took pictures of the Springer Mountain Plaques with our hiking shoes and poles on them.

Our official hike started inauspiciously as I left Springer in the wrong direction and took the wrong trail. That was unfortunate as I had just spoken with a man and his wife who were amazed that we were going all the way to Maine. I had no choice but to make jokes to the couple as I came back and found the right way. Other highlights included meeting Popeye, a cool dude and YouTuber, as well as Socrates. Socrates walked the whole trail last year and gave us amazing energy in a matter of 2 minutes. His parting words to us were, “Embrace the suck and you’ll do fine!” Seeing Springer Mountain was incredible, and it doesn’t seem possible that one can climb a tall mountain like that on a footpath in only an hour- but we did it. 

Day 2- Stover Gap to Devil’s Kitchen Campsite (11.6 miles)

Craaack… crunnnnch….. grinnnnnd-

No, that was not my knee thank goodness!

After a tough half hour climb on day two I was feeling soaking wet, cold and hungry. How cold? Well, the sounds above came from me breaking my tooth and chewing on it after I bit into the frozen Snickers bar in my pack pocket. Guess I’ll be looking for a dentist in a Trail Town one day soon. Day 2 was hard mainly because the sunshine and 50 plus degree temps of day 1 had turned overnight into rain, fog, and cold. It took almost 3 hours for us to eat breakfast and break camp since neither Madeline nor I could move our fingers to manipulate the clasps on the tents and other gear. Madeline wanted coffee, which sounded like a good idea to warm up. However, try dipping your hands into ice water for a couple minutes and then lighting a Bic lighter with a child proof guard on it!  The good news is when we finally did get going we were hiking great. We ended up with the exact amount of miles,11.6, as the day before. Madeline is developing a small blister on her foot, but she is attending to it with moleskin. My only injury is that tooth… at least it’s one of the back ones and shouldn’t be able to be seen in the 75 selfies I took today with trees, streams and my daughter!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more-


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Comments 13

  • Jacob Ehrenpreis : Mar 14th

    Hey George,

    First of all, great last name ( somewhat close to mine 🙂 )
    Best of luck on the hike, – i had a tooth crack from a cycling incident a while back…

    All the best,


    • George Preiss : Mar 19th

      Thanks Jacob… Love the last name similarity. I appreciate your support-

  • Jan Sherman : Mar 15th

    Embrace the suck! I love it! Sending good vibes for perfect weather henceforth!

    • George Preiss : Mar 19th

      You’d have like Socrates… he was a trip. Thanks for commenting and it’s great to hear from you Jan!

  • David Groce : Mar 15th

    Thanks for taking the time (and using the energy) to post about your start. Try to remember that there are a number of us who will be following you with interest and looking forward to your next update.

    • George Preiss : Mar 19th

      That’s good to hear David… it helps to know you’re interested.

  • Rowman : Mar 15th

    My daughter and I through hike the AT in 2020(it was her idea) best wishes to you both on your amazing adventure!

  • Marilyn : Mar 15th

    Can not wait for the next post, you both rock!

    • George Preiss : Mar 19th

      Miss you Marilyn… this is hard, but not half as hard as teaching Middle School!

  • Laurie : Mar 16th

    What I would have given for an experience like this with my Dad… You will both treasure this all your lives long. Keep on keepin’ on!

    • George Preiss : Mar 19th

      I feel so lucky to have this opportunity… and if it ended tomorrow it’s sorry been awesome. Thank you for saying that Laurie-

  • K : Mar 17th

    Your posts are so amazing and SOOTHING, George! I could never do a hike (let alone 2,000 MILES… PLUS the additional 8.8 that don’t count?!), I am ASTOUNDED at you two (per usual)! Luv you guys ?

    • George Preiss : Mar 19th

      Oh Kinaya, you always make me happy with your comments. Madeline thinks you could do this. Come join us for a day!


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