Day One, Mile Zero
My first minutes on the trail were a whirlwind of thoughts and feelings. Now that we had said our goodbyes, my plan to start hiking the AT was real in a whole new way. During practice hikes earlier in the week, every hike had a definite end point, and our time in the forest was a short period out of of an entire day. Now time in the woods stretched endlessly before me. Everything felt so surreal. Was I really planning to hike on the AT right now? How did I even get here? Was this something I actually wanted to do? Even though I had spent months planning for these moments, it took some time for my mind to catch up with the rest of me and face the trail ahead.
Stuck inside my own head and entertaining second thoughts, I hiked into an idyllic scene that brought me back to the present. A small, clear stream chuckled cheerfully among rocks and moss, crossing the path ahead, as a woman waded barefoot among the stones. Water filter slung round her neck and pack cast aside, she waved happily as I approached. “Watch your step,” she said. “I fell in!” We laughed. Apparently she had given in to the creek’s invitation. I had to smile as I walked on, thinking of this woman so free and alive, delighting in the gifts of nature on a warm spring day. Meeting such a joyful thru hiker did much to boost my spirits!
My first several miles on the AT were on a pretty, pine covered path that often crossed a gurgling stream. Before I knew it, a couple miles had gone by and I was passing the first shelter. I felt proud to be making progress without too much hardship. I hiked on and passed my first live encounter with “trail magic”. (Sometimes kind people find places along the trail to offer snacks and company to thru hikers passing through.) This trail angel had set up a sign pointing down the road, presumably to a table of snacks and company for the weary thru hiker. Though I didn’t stop (I wasn’t hungry), I was pleased to see trail magic in person. It really does exist!
A few miles later I came to Hawk Mountain Shelter where I planned to spend the night. A group of people were milling around as I walked up, and I saw a cluster of tents behind the shelter. It was a cheery sight, with clotheslines hanging and people relaxing near their tents. I chose a spot nearby and started setting up camp. It felt cozy to make my place for the night. I spent the next hour eating dinner, filtering water, and hanging my food bag from the bear lines so conveniently located by the shelter. I was glad I didn’t have to throw my own line yet!
Gradually the sky darkened and chattering died down over at the shelter. Someone said, “Time to turn in for the night!” It was little past eight pm! People headed for their tents or settled in the shelter, and soon all was quiet. I am scared of the forest at night, but I made myself peek outside my tent at the night sky. I was glad I did. The crescent moon shone bright as clouds scurried by, and bare tree limbs reached high, swaying gently in the wind. It was a pretty scene, not unlike the night sky as I’ve seen it before, but this particular night was my first night on the Appalachian Trail.
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