Early Trail Magic & Miles on My Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike

I meant to post an introduction before getting on trail for my AT thru-hike. I wrote, edited, and drafted a post, but anxiety the week before my start date hijacked me. The thought of getting on trail suddenly left me terrified. Spending time away from my partner and taking leave from work was too much change and too much unknown all at once. With a bit of grit, mindfulness, and support from the people in my life, I kept on moving forward. Today, I’m 4 days into the hike with my buddy Joe, and I’m sure glad I kept at it.

Day 1-2: Amicalola Falls to Gooch Gap

We took a plane, train, and automobile to get from Chicago to the start of the AT approach trail at Amicalola Falls. After feeling like a fish out of water wandering in short shorts and a backpack in Atlanta, we finally got to the trail shortly before sunset. In what I consider our first dose of trail magic, a kind park worker scooped us up in his pickup and helped us bypass the infamous stair climb.

We proceeded to hike, without a plan, straight into the sunset. We were anxious as hell, but the miles eased our nerves, so we hiked on into the night with the help of the moonlight.

Our first official day on trail wasn’t until day 2. Hitting Springer Mountain was a surreal moment. So much energy, excitement, and anxiety had led us here over the last several months. All that was left to do was put one foot in front of the other, over and over and over again all the way to Maine.

Two hikers smiling on Springer Mopuntain in Georgia

We met a local section hiker named Chi Master who left us with some hiking wisdom, we exchanged some friendly hellos with fellow thru-hikers while smashing up the Georgia mountains, and just before we were about to call it quits for the day the magic hit us. A 3-course dinner, beer, and the promise of breakfast in the morning were waiting for us just up the trail. We couldn’t believe the generosity we’d experienced, and we soon went to bed with full stomachs.

Hiker holding a beer in front of another hiker

Day 3-4: Gooch Gap to Unicoi Gap

After waking up to a glorious breakfast 10 feet from our tent, we couldn’t help but think that hiking the AT would be easier than we thought.. Until we saw nonstop rain ahead in the weather forecast. Full of energy, we pushed hard to crush miles before the rain.

As we got over Georgia’s AT high point, Blood Mountain, we reached Neels Gap to a sight out of a fairy tale. A lovely orange cat welcomed us to Mountain Crossings, a local outfitter, as we walked through wind chimes and resting hikers. After ordering and demolishing an entire Red Baron pizza, we had a choice to make: continue hiking in the rain, or find a spot in town.

An orange cat sits at neels gap on the appalachian trail

Despite collective energy surrounding us of hikers wanting to avoid the rain, our bodies felt good and we leaned in heavily to the motto of “Hike Your Own Hike”. The next few hours felt like a scene from the Lord of the Rings as we scaled wet rocks and traversed misty ridges to reach Whitley Gap Shelter, where we laid out our sleeping pads and huddled up with 6 other hikers to rest in good spirits through a night of rain, wind, and mice.

We woke up with stiff legs and a lack of sleep and came to the mutual decision to get a room at the Holiday Inn in Hiawassee to rest and recover. First, though, we’d make a solid 15-mile trek to Unicoi Gap to catch a shuttle. 1 mile in and we were already getting blessed with trail magic: omelets, donuts, coffee, fruit, and phone chargers. The people of Georgia are truly some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met.

Hiking gear laid out in a hotel room on the AT

I’m writing from my bed in the room of our Holiday Inn. Taking a hot shower and sipping a tall boy has never felt so good, but it pales in comparison to the joy of the trail. Tonight we rest and recover, but tomorrow we’ll be back on the trail, hiking onward to North Carolina.

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Comments 3

  • Greg cota : Mar 24th

    Good luck guys I envy you two

  • Robbie Steen : Mar 25th

    Love your enthusiasm and your acknowledgement of all the kindness on trail. I made a stab at a thru-hike two years back. What I learned and had considered was having a trail bud is near-essential. Not just for companionship, but to cut the cost. Owing to the virus, hostels were not an option. I just didn’t plan to spend for a hotel every week and no matter how fit you might think you are, your feet need a break. At my age (72), finding a bud to tackle the trail with is impossible. They’re less than fit and darn sure aren’t gonna camp in a tent. So, I’m gonna monitor your hike and I wish you the best.

  • Chelly : Mar 25th

    Cheering you on Mika! We can’t wait to have you back at work and we’re following along.


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