Approach Trail to Neels Gap
The aspect of my thru hike that most people find the most shocking is fact that I’m going “alone”. After my trial run, I agree. I had a couple of undesirable situations during the first 30+ miles of the AT. But, I also ran into some amazing people who had nothing but my best interest in mind.
Stover creek shelter
As I pulled into Amicalola Falls State Park, it was raining almost comically hard. I drove there going a steady pace of 35 mph because visibility was low. I was determined to start my hike anyways! No rain, no Maine is what they always say…
A spooky white line at the start… Amicalola Falls Ghost?
My hands free umbrella set up. Just call me Mary Poppins.
After I got past the inn that is within the park, the rain let up. I only ran into one person on my path up the summit of Springer and it was a guy running in Bedrock sandals (woot!). The misty, foggy summit was beautiful and I had the moment all to myself. A few times when I was heading up Springer I stopped to look around, breathe, and let out a few happy tears. After all this time planning, I was finally hiking up the mountain I have dreamed about for 4 years. The experience was surreal.
A foggy Springer summit.
Once I arrived at the shelter, I met Mr. Homeless, Tenderfoot, Mad Dog and an older man named Will from Indiana.
Mr. Homeless, Tenderfoot, and I were eating dinner when Mad Dog arrived… he is a strange character with one squinted eye, an intense limp, and an 80+ lb pack. He had only done 2.9 miles to the shelter that day and his stories didn’t seem to match up either. He told a story about how he was shot in the head, and that last year he did a thru hike and it took him 8.5 months. He talked about how he hunts for his game on the trail by setting traps. I cringed when he told stories about eating squirrels and rats. There was nothing I could say considering I’m a solo woman and if he hunts for his food… that means he’s carrying weapons. Mr. Homeless, Tenderfoot, and Will were all good people from what I could tell, and I felt safe staying in the shelter with their company. I definitely was a little scared that night. I also watched him burn garbage… Desperately wanted to talk about LNT, but I was pretty nervous.
Tenderfoot hikes in DC skate shoes, jeans, and a cotton hoodie. I worried about him during the cold days that followed.
My first time using a privy. I’d rather go outside.
1 a.m. rolls around and I’m still not sleeping because Mad Dog was coughing and strangely kicking his feet every 5 minutes or so. It sounded like someone pounding and trying to get into the shelter. I laid there hoping someone would say something when thankfully Mr. Homeless spoke up and asked “what the hell he was doing”. Mad Dog replied with “scaring the bears away”. Needless to say, I got a really terrible night’s sleep. Maybe 3 hours. I woke up at 5 am cold, and anxious to put miles between me and Mad Dog. Somehow during the night I discombobulated my sleeping bag zipper and it had become a blanket instead of a bag. Instead of figuring it out in the dark, I packed up camp, put on my head lamp, and did an hour and a half of hiking in the dark. Night/dawn hiking was spooky, but very peaceful.
The following day I had planned for 13 miles. As the day went by I would pass, and be passed by a retired couple named Papa Wolf and Mama Wolf (the word wasn’t Mama but it was the translation from Korean). They were very fast at the downhill, and I was made for uphill so the three of us were around the same pace. I stopped and rested at a summit where I got cell phone reception and let my mom know I survived my first night. Dumb me forgot to put on my phone case… I dropped my phone in a pile of leaves, and I did a sigh of relief. Picked up my phone and the front glass was shattered in the bottom left corner. Those leaves must have solidified into concrete because I had no idea how my phone happened to shatter.
Downhill was a prominent feature of this second day of the trail, and my toes were killing me. I had bought a size bigger in shoe, but my toes were still slamming into the front of my boots. When I knew there was about 2 miles left of minimal elevation gain, I took my boots off and put on my sandals.
I came upon a creek crossing and noticed I would definitely be getting my feet wet and that I needed my trekking poles for stability. The creek was narrow enough, so I thought that I would easily be able to lightly toss my boots over to the other side…. WRONG. I tossed the first boot, watched it bounce off of a rock. I cringed and prayed that my boot didn’t fall in. My Darn Tough sock didn’t survive though. I sadly watched it float down the quickly moving creek. I mourned the loss of my sock, but was overjoyed it wasn’t my boot I was watching float away.
By the time I got to the shelter, I was drained since I had only gotten 3 hours of sleep. I had set down all my stuff and started to get my stove out to cook dinner. Mama and Papa Wolf were already there getting water. They said to me that they hoped I wasn’t planning on staying there for the night because a guy they slept with in the shelter the night before (Wild Card) got rip roaring drunk and had sleep apnea like a chainsaw. The couple was planning on hiking into Suches to the hostel there.
This meant I would be staying at this shelter, alone, with a man named Wild Card who had booze.
It’s funny how my aching toes stopped aching… I decided to stealth camp. I pushed another mile and found a spot that someone had camped at before. I hiked back to the trail and wasn’t pleased with the visibility. I walked a few yards and I was at a parking lot area. I started to set up my tent for a second time when a man walked up to me from the parking lot and asked me if I was planning on camping there for the night…
Well… I was mid-tent set up, so I didn’t lie. After he heard my response, he said “okay, I’ll set up camp over there”. He then got into his car, drove away, and yelled some strange Indian sounding howl. You can’t believe how fast I packed up my tent and fear was again a motivator for pushing more miles.
I found a great spot to camp, and proceeded to set up my tent for a third time. The sun was starting to set and the wind was picking up. This was the first time I had ever camped alone, and after the run-ins I had with men, I was spooked. The sunset that night was gorgeous though and it gave me a sense of peace. The wind picked up to 20 mph and the temperature for Suches that night was “feels like 7”, so I can’t imagine what the temperature was up in the mountains. BRRRR. The winds rushing through the trees sounded like ocean waves crashing on the beach. I dreamt of the sun.
I slept a lot better in my tent than at the shelter the night before so I was grateful for that.
I woke up with the sunrise. My bear bag held up to the wind! Score… but all my food was hard as a rock. Not score.
Putting away my tent, my hands were so cold I had a hard time handling the frame. I was smacked in the eye by a pole and gave myself a black eye…
I put a frozen brick of a Cliff Bar in my pocket and started my journey to Mountain Crossings.
The hike up Blood Mountain was tough but I loved every moment of it. The views were amazing.
After I reached the summit and started descending, I ran into two women and one stated “ You look like you stayed up there all night long”. Then I suddenly became aware of my appearance. I looked in my iPhone camera and along with the black eye I gave myself I had dirt smeared across my forehead.
Not sure where the dirt came from, but I looked like a crazy person.
Once I made it to Mountain Crossings I ate (almost) a whole pizza myself and drank two Sprites.
Mama and Papa Wolf made it to the hostel and were elated to see me. It was nice to see them again.
The night I stayed there happened to be a night where one of their workers was moving on to work at a different hostel and the people that live above the hostel were throwing a party.
I slept soundly to the thumping of the music because it sounded just like my last upstairs neighbors. The others staying in the hostel that night did not sleep as well.
I was so happy to not be out in the cold wind.
My experiences could be taken as negative, but I enjoyed the trial hike thoroughly. I will have a better sense of security when more people are out on the trail. I can’t wait to get back out there.
The beauty was overwhelming. The sense of community provided by Mr. Homeless, Tenderfoot, and Mama and Papa bear was amazing. Despite the unfortunate circumstances I encountered, I have never felt more at peace or calm than when I was on the trail. I would look up and see a white blaze, and my heart would be filled with the joy that I was finally setting out on a journey of a lifetime. This trail will be my job and my life for the next 5 months.
I have never felt more at home… and you know what? I really like this being “alone” thing.
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