Days 1-3 on the Appalachian Trail

In which we attempt to find our footing.

So! It turns out that blogging about the trail while on the trail is really, really challenging. I may or may not be able to muster an entry for every day going forward; it’s been really important to me not to let this (the blog) detract from the actual experience of being out here, and there’s a whole lot of experience to be had. But I do have some thoughts, particularly about the first few days, so let’s see what we can do.

Mon 3/25: Day 1

11.1 Miles (2.8 AT plus 8.3 Approach Trail), 3,215′ Elevation Gain

I was up by 6:45 AM and arose to an incredible sunrise outside the hotel:

Not a bad way to start any day – this day in particular.

The weather was calling for rain tomorrow but a nice day for today. I’ll take it. Tomorrow’s a tomorrow problem.

I was kind of a bundle of nerves, but I made myself eat some breakfast at the hotel and then we were off. I returned the rental car by 8:30ish and used up about a dozen sheets of a lint roller to get all the dog hair out of back seat; they never charged me, so I guess it worked. From there I was able to get an Uber to the trailhead pretty easily.

On our way to a Grand Adventure. We got to hear a good portion of our driver Kim’s life story in the 45 minutes or so it took to get to the trailhead.

We arrived at the Amicalola Visitors Center a little after 10 AM. These guys really know what they’re doing; it’s almost as if they’ve seen a lot of thru-hikers come through here. They gave an orientation presentation that was brief but engaging and packed with good info about the Georgia section of the trail, which covers about the first 80 miles. There was also a signboard near the entrance with some good info.

Better start practicing that PCT Hang! The shelters in Georgia have bear boxes and cables but the ones in neighboring North Carolina don’t.

The presenter stressed over and over again that we should not go more than eight or nine miles per day to start. Meanwhile I kept looking at my first two days’ planned itinerary: 11 and 13 miles. But I had trained for this and knew how far I could go with a full pack, so I was reluctant to change it.

I got my AT thru-hiker badge (#1603) and my starting-off picture at the stone archway behind the Visitors Center. It’s a common place to get photographed starting the trail, even though the more interesting approach trail actually starts in a different location. Still, it’s a nice spot right next to the center to commemorate setting off. We got our snaps from another thru-hiker also starting that day (thanks, Raven).

Aaaaaand, start! (On the other side of the parking lot from here.)

And then Birch and I headed over to the approach trail and took our first steps into the splashy sunshine of this wild, totally surreal hike.

It was almost incomprehensible that this thing was actually happening.

There wasn’t much for it after that but to start walking.

Amicalola Falls is the tallest in Georgia and the place is very popular. Added to which it was a nice day. So the early going was packed with people. It was incredibly weird to be setting out on this huge journey in the midst of families just having a good time for the afternoon (“Mom! I found a salamander!”). Interspersed throughout the crowd were other thru-hikers wearing the same shell-shocked expression I was.

At the base of the falls.

425 steps, eh? So that’s basically less than a quarter of a Harvard Stadium, right? I think we got this.

And we did. The view from the top of the falls.

But as soon as we got away from the falls it cleared out considerably, and pretty soon after that I was struck by just how empty it was on the trail, even here at the beginning. I had been expecting a steady stream of hikers the whole way, but for a long while it was just the two of us strolling through the woods. It was an absolutely gorgeous day.

I’m sure every single day will be exactly as beautiful as this one and we will never face a single moment of adversity on this entire trip!!!

Two roads diverged in a Georgia wood, and I- I took the one that goes reeeally far.

We made great time. Before too long we were at the summit of Springer Mountain, the official starting point of the AT.

Now it’s OFFICIAL official.

My first “wild” white blaze.

I pushed out a couple more miles to my first shelter destination at Stover Creek shelter by about 6:15 PM – still plenty of time to set up camp.

I had just survived my first day on the AT.

I’m not really sure what I was expecting to happen – an ankle roll, perhaps, or maybe a cocaine bear attack? – but it was still a relief to get through the first day.

After dinner I lay in my tent listening to the rising wind through the trees higher up in elevation. Down where we were camped the air was pretty still, but after a while it was absolutely roaring up above. It sounded like a huge distant waterfall.

Rain was coming.

Tue 3/26: Day 2

12.9 Miles, 2,680′ Elevation Gain

The day started ominously with the sound of rain on the tent at around 6 AM. It stopped after about half an hour, giving me a window to pack up, but I knew more was coming.

In the shelter over breakfast, someone asked: “Does anyone know how long it’s supposed to rain today?”

“All day,” replied a couple in unison, glumly.


Birch decked out in her rain gear.

I definitely wasn’t psyched about getting rained on all day, but I had to admit that I was interested in seeing how well my gear performed, in particular a new piece of gear: my trekking umbrella. I had read some very positive reviews about them, in particular their usefulness for people who wear glasses (the improved air circulation under the umbrella compared to a rain jacket hood makes the glasses fog up less).

We were about to find out. We set out and almost immediately the sky opened up and it began to absolutely pour.

Remember that nice sunny day yesterday? Yeah. Well, expect a lot of this kind of thing on rainy days.

Five minutes in, I knew the umbrella was a winner. It’s got a hands-free attachment that makes it very convenient, and it made a huge difference, not only in keeping my glasses from fogging up but in keeping wave after wave of rain off of me and my pack. Even the very best rain gear will eventually “wet out,” as it’s called, where the water penetrates the layer, and after that it becomes all about maintaining body heat. The umbrella prevented things from wetting out in the first place, so I stayed (relatively) warm and dry. An instant classic piece of gear.

Rocking the trekking umbrella. Yes, I know Birch looks wet and bedraggled in this picture. I guarantee you she does not give a single solitary shit.

The rain came on in wave after wave all day. I was feeling good but was also nervous as to whether the gear in my pack was staying dry. Birch was her general unflappable self. We carried on.

Another beautiful day in the lowlands of Mordor.

I don’t think that’s a big concern today…

In the afternoon there were a few periods where the rain let up enough for me to close the umbrella. It stowed nicely in the side pocket of the pack (score another one for the Granite Gear pockets). But after 10 or 15 minutes a new band would pass overhead and out came the umbrella again.

I rolled into Cooper’s Gap at around 2:30 PM. There was a guy in a pickup truck chatting with another hiker. I stopped and talked with them for a few minutes. Suddenly the guy in the truck said: “Hey, do you want a beer?”

There’s a thing on the trail known as “trail magic,” where non thru-hikers come out and give unexpected aid to the thru-hikers. Lots of times this takes the form of food – and can be quite extravagant – but it could also be a ride somewhere, the use of a back yard for camping, etc.

Or, just to pull a random example out of a hat, it could be a dude hanging out at a random gap in his truck offering beer.

Despite the awesomeness of the offer, I said that it was really tempting but that, given the weather, I was just trying to stay warm and get to camp.

Then he said, “How about a shot of whiskey, then?”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how my absolutely epic first trail magic ended up being a swig of Tullamore Dew.

The picture’s a bit blurry from rain on the lens, but that is the golden amber delight of Tullamore Dew heading down the hatch. No lie, he was going to give me that entire bottle.

We chatted for a few more minutes and he told me about taking his daughter down this section of trail in years past. “I don’t have the knees for it now, but that section of trail up ahead is a sweet part of Georgia.” Paul Burns. He was very pleased to have given me my first trail magic.

“Thanks man, you made my day,” I said.

“And you made mine,” he replied.

I made it to Gooch Mountain shelter at around 4 PM just as the rain was finally ending for good. Everything in my pack was bone dry. Rain day test: passed.

Wed 3/27: Day 3

8.3 Miles, 1,726′ Elevation Gain

The gear was dry, which was awesome. Birch, not so much.

This is what the aftermath of one night of muddy dog looks like.

Her rain jacket works great, but it can’t prevent her undercarriage from getting muddy. Still, the towel and pad combo did keep the tent bottom nice and clean:

I’m still figuring out how best to pack my pack, so I fumbled about pulling my stuff together in the morning and left a bit later than I would have liked, but I had a shorter day planned anyway in an attempt not to overdo things. It’s definitely hard though; these first couple of days have been successful but I’ve just been completely amped. It’s pretty common: the temptation is great to want to push out big miles. But for today I was happy to have an easier day. The weather was beautiful and it was like yesterday never happened.

It was like Georgia shoved us into the pool, then pulled us out and toweled us off and said, “Nah, I’m just messing with ya.”

Simple but effective trail magic at Woody Gap.

I reached Lance Creek Campsite in the late afternoon and hung my wet tent stuff up to dry. I was also able to get Birch’s towel pretty clean with a quick wash in the stream. So as it turns out all I need is a perfectly nice sunny day after every rainstorm and all will be well.

Laundry day!


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Comments 7

  • Hey Alaska : Apr 13th

    Thanks for reporting on how the umbrella did in rain. I’ve only read about gg used in the sun, so was wondering how well it did with rain. I’m adding it to my gear wish list for next summer’s Colorado Trail hike.

    • Robi : Apr 17th

      Hi Chris, good luck. Planning myself the AT with my dog. Please blog how you get dog food supplies over your journey.
      Thank you

  • Pcs : Apr 13th

    Nice dog
    Cool umbrella
    Fine post
    Best to you

  • Margaret : Apr 13th

    Great idea with the umbrella! Dogs don’t care about the rain or cold my GSD used to go lay on a snow bank and sleep!
    Happy trails

  • Michael S Linkroum : Apr 16th

    Good idea bring the dog we with you,I wouldn’t be able to hike that trail alone,the noises at night would probably scare me too much,yeah I’m a wimp!Good luck and post many pics!

  • John "Tercius" Rutkowski : Apr 22nd

    Carry on. I’m reading this from Spain walking the Camino Finsterre. Yeah it’s tough writing daily. I’m 7 days behind.

    Go for it! But slow and easy, hike your own hike.

    Carry on

  • Old Man Paul : Apr 24th

    Check out ” Peg Legs” posts. She gives alot of good advice. She’s solo and buddy hiked all over America and Canada. Completed the PCT and Appalachian.
    It’s going to be rough with a four legger companion…. there’s spots you’ll have to go around or carry him up over steel ladders.


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