Day 1-4: From Thru to Through and Back Again
Day 1: Amicalola Lodge to Springer Mountain Shelter
We woke early after our second night at Amicalola Lodge to a foggy rainy morning and a lot of nervous energy. We showered, dressed in hiking clothes, and went down to breakfast.
With running water, the full menu was available, and we ordered real brewed coffee, on top of the pot we brewed in the room, and French toast with bacon. Muskrat ordered his with yogurt, and I got grits. I managed to eat most of mine, and Muskrat ate the yogurt and a bit of French toast. He doesn’t eat much when he’s nervous.
We brushed our teeth, grabbed our packs, checked out of the lodge, and headed out into the fog and rain. We caught the approach trail right where we had gotten off the day before, and we began the climb to Springer.
I was excited and felt really good, in spite of our slow steady pace and all of the people passing us. I kept reminding myself that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. It was a tough climb, but our packs, a lean mean 30 pounds each, felt good! Obviously, not everyone felt that way as we saw a trash bag of discarded food and gear hanging from a tree just a few miles in.
The wind was vicious and cold, but the hiking kept us warm. We saw a few fat wet snow flakes fall as we climbed higher. Our only view was fog and mist.
We had planned to go on to Stover Creek Shelter after signing the register at Springer. When we finally crested the summit and saw the first white blaze, I started shaking with tears! I couldn’t believe I had finally made it to my thru hike! We took some photos, and I grabbed the register to write my thoughts, but as the wind blew and the rain fell, my hands became useless pieces of frozen flesh. I scrawled something on the soggy paper and crammed the book back into its hiding spot in the side of the rock.
Muskrat looked over at me. I was shivering uncontrollably. He rushed me to get my pack on so we could get out of the wind. He let me put my hands inside his rain shell hood to warm them for a minute. We practically ran to Springer shelter, where we pitched our tent and huddled together in the sleeping bag until I was warm again.
We decided to stay, since we were already set up. We cooked dinner in the shelter, where several other hikers had gathered. I was really trying to muster the excitement that I’d felt as we summited Springer, but all I felt was dread.
After dinner and cleanup, we were asleep before it was dark, and morning with its cool misty fog did nothing to improve my mood. We packed our wet muddy gear, cooked oatmeal, lamented our oversight at not having packed coffee, and hiked out towards Hawk Mountain.
Day 2: Springer Mountain Shelter to Hawk Mountain Shelter
As we hiked out, I kept thinking that we had made the biggest mistake coming out here. I hiked in tears of anger and sadness and homesickness for our pets and for DC and for a dry warm indoor space in general. I spilled all of the doubts I had carried since our shakedown hike in August to Muskrat in a flood of angry tears as I stomped and sobbed my way north.
In the back of my mind I thought of my lists, and I didn’t care about anything I’d written on them. I honestly wanted to quit, and I couldn’t see anything beyond that. Muskrat reminded me that I’d had this dream since I was 12, and I told him that 12 year olds don’t know what they want. It was just some dumb thing I read about in the encyclopedia.
It was a beautiful stretch of trail, and the fog burned off leaving high clouds that allowed the sun to peek through here and there. I didn’t see it though. It all just felt like a trap. . . But I kept telling people we were hiking to Maine when they’d ask, and I kept stepping north.
By afternoon, my feet were on fire with pain, and I was again in tears. Using my trekking poles as canes, I limped along, Muskrat behind me trying to be encouraging and positive. We sat and ate snacks by a footbridge and a parking area, and I longed for a ride away from the woods.
I soaked my feet in and icy stream, and we passed up a blue blaze to some falls that I would normally have loved to have seen. At least it was dry now. At least we could set up camp and dry our tent and clothes. Not long now.
Then the rain started falling. I went to pieces again. I was officially through. Done. Complete. Thru to through in less than 48 hours.
We finally arrived at Hawk Mountain Shelter, filtered water, set up camp, cooked and ate huddled out of the rain. In the tent, I told Muskrat that I was done. He told me that was okay. If I wanted to quit, we would. He promised he wasn’t disappointed, and I promised that I wouldn’t regret it. He said we had to get to Neels Gap first though. It seemed a million miles of hell was between here and there.
He offered the idea that we take a zero at Hawk Mountain the next day. We could dry our gear, relax, let my sore feet rest, and get our heads on straight. I told him we would decide in the morning.
Day 3: Hawk Mountain Zero
What wimp takes a zero on day 3? Oh. That would be me.
We woke pre-dawn under our damp rainfly, and Muskrat asked what I wanted to do. I didn’t know. I just wanted to go home, but we don’t have one at the moment. He suggested I test my feet walking to the water source. I reluctantly agreed.
I did take a deep breath. It smelled of the mountains, and it brought me back to myself. It stirred a million memories of childhood summers in western North Carolina, waking to that smell, picking blueberries in the sun behind my papaw’s cabin, drinking hot chocolate on the porch, playing in the creek surrounded by bright yellow flowers, hours spent climbing the big red wagon wheel out front, evenings staring at the stars and reading by the warmth of the wood stove.
I told Muskrat that the air smelled good. He smiled and agreed. I told him that it would smell better from the porch of a cabin with a hot cup of coffee, but I was smiling.
Walking to get water, my feet let me know that they were NOT ready to continue. There was nothing wrong with them. They were just generally sore and slightly swollen like the day after a marathon.
We decided to zero.
We turned Hawk Mountain’s trees into clothes drying racks, and we lounged in our hammock in the sunshine. We filled out shower and let it warm in the sun before rigging our rainfly as a curtain and cleaning off the funk of the last two days.
We talked with other hikers who stopped in for water and began setting camp in the later afternoon. The area filled up, and we connected with some people closer to our age.
It stayed dry and warm, and after dinner, we snuggled into our tent with an outlook as bright as the day had been. I told Muskrat, “We can totally do this!”
Day 4: Hawk Mountain Shelter to Gooch Mountain Shelter
As day broke over Hawk Mountain that familiar sound of rain on the tent roused us from sleep. I felt a moment of panic, fearing I may slide into upset again, but I didn’t.
Muskrat and I planned our exit and executed the plan perfectly. We kept our gear dry by packing up most of it in the shelter once it had been vacated. I grabbed a roll of orange duct tape someone had discarded in the shelter and fashioned two pack covers for us out of gas station rain ponchos we had picked up.
We had been talked out of pack covers by an REI employee who said trash compactor bags inside the packs were better. After lugging soggy packs laden with who knows how much water, we were convinced that covers were 100% necessary.
We hiked out in good spirits with the seeds of our first trail friendships planted. It was going to be a good day!
It stayed damp and cloudy, but not too rainy. My feet felt almost new again after the rest.
We kept a nice pace all the way to Gooch Mountain Shelter, where we met some ridge runners and reconnected with several of the folks we had met at Hawk Mountain. Seeing the same faces helped me feel good about taking it easy on the miles.
We got our tent up and our bed ready just before the real rain started, and we were pleased that my homemade pack covers had done their job well! I felt like we were figuring things out as we unpacked dry gear from dry packs. We were getting the hang of things!
As we cooked dinner at the covered picnic table by the shelter, a girl of about 12 appeared in leggings and a t-shirt to timidly announce that there was trail magic about two miles north at Gooch Gap. They would be cooking chili and chicken soup for dinner, and they would also have hot breakfast in the morning. If not for the rain, the fact that we were all set up and cooking, we might have done it! We decided to hike out early for breakfast though!
We slept to the sound of the rain with thoughts of hot coffee dancing in our dreams!
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