First Day in the New Office

There were definitely some tense moments these past few weeks getting to this point; getting to the trail. After painting ten times the number of ceilings and walls than I’ll inhabit for the foreseeable future, attending a family member’s funeral to celebrate a life cut short, moving what I didn’t sell, give-away, or get rid of over the past 10 years into storage, and saying good-bye, in some cases several times, to family and friends, it was finally time to get the heck out of Dodge, er Wichita, get on the plane to Atlanta, and get to walking.

Pre-Flight Jitters

I traveled regularly to pay the bills for years, so I’m no stranger to packing a bag, queuing in lines, emptying my liquids, removing my belt, and taking my shoes off to enjoy (ha!) the experience of modern air travel, but this trip was of a different variety.

For one, my pack doesn’t only feel heavy, it is heavy. From the Thermarest air mattress and the Enlightened Equipment quilt to the spare underwear, Tevas, and the four days of food, my pack had officially made me nervous. After packing and repacking and packing again due to a last minute flight delay, I decided I’d done my best. No, I guess I don’t need the crank radio that charges your phone, or the extra granola bars. This will just have to do.

I threw my Gossamer Gorilla 50L backpack into a large suitcase, ate some bacon and eggs, and my Dad and I were headed off to the airport. We didn’t talk much on the drive. I just tried to breathe and console myself, “You’re going to be fine (Do I have my wallet). You’re going to be fine (How many pairs of underwear did I count – two). You’re going to be fine (Do I owe anybody money).”

Rolling into the airport I checked in and handed my luggage to the nice clerk, putting my whole life, house, and hopes into the hands of an underpaid airport employee I’d just met. I winced and pieced together a wimpy whispered plea, “Let this bag come out the other side and not be used as a soccer ball or punching bag in the interim.”

Welcome to Atlanta

The day before running off to “find myself” in the woods, I got out my handy, spineless, loose-leaf AWOL handbook and flipped to a page recommending some shuttle drivers to pick you up from either the airport or the northern Marta station and take you on to test your fate at Springer Mountain.

I connected with Mary at Further Shuttle quickly confirming my pickup from the airport the next day (no backing out now!). Upon arrival, the genial Ms. Amanda picked me up as quickly as she could fight through rush hour traffic on a Sunday (is there ever non-rush hour in Atlanta?) and we were off.

We talked about surface level things for a while, the driving, the weather, the what-not, but it quickly evolved into, well, more. We talked about how those of us crazy enough to embark on this 4-7 month journey are often coming out here to heal. We talked of hikers she’d given rides to previously. We talked of shared pain. I started to breathe a little easier. The walk hadn’t started, but the journey had begun.

Amanda and I were closing in on the Forrest Hills Mountain Resort in Dahlonega, GA, when we turned a rural county road corner and her cooler full of trail magic went flying in the back of her SUV. We chuckled a bit as it was only water and got out to clean the “mess” when we noticed we had stopped in front of the most beautiful horses I, for sure, and her, seemingly, had ever seen. The big Budweiser-esque black beauties seemed friendly and were curious enough to sniff out treats we didn’t have to share.

After dropping me off at the front of the property, we hugged and promised we’d stay in touch.

That evening after watching the first episode of the new season of ‘Succession’ on HBO, and a final use of a microwave oven and a shower (not simultaneously), I tried to get some sleep. Soon I’d hear booming thunder and heavy rains. I winced and pieced together a wimpy whispered plea, “Let those out there find respite, and please let that dang sun shine tomorrow!”

This is Not a Drill

The next morning after another brief shuttle ride (thanks Ashly!), I headed towards orientation to sign the log, weigh my pack (38 lbs – ouch!), learn the intricacies of burying waste, get my tag, and pose for a customary photo op. Two other gentlemen were in orientation that morning, one from Ireland and another from Maryland.

And so I began my way toward the top of Amicalola Falls.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a building and had to evacuate down winding stairs during a fire alarm. I hope you haven’t. But if you can picture the guys that have to run in the opposite direction, up the stairs, toward the fire; that’s what the wooden steps of Amicalola Falls feel like, but with a view and, thankfully, no fire (except in your calves)!

Now I’m not attempting to actually compare myself with the heroic efforts of our local fire departments, so maybe I should ask that you visualize being at the gym, on a Stairmaster, and not getting off the machine for 5 hours.

It wasn’t what I’d expected. Stairs? I thought we were to enjoy nature in it’s primitive form. Immediately uphill terrain? I thought starting south and heading north was supposed to be easier!

After some heaving and huffing, I got off the Stairmaster, unbuckled my pack, took a few well-deserved swigs of water, and surveyed the…parking lot? You mean I could have driven up here!?

Stover Creek

I had decided previously that I would try to push past the first shelter within the Appalachian Trail, Springer Mountain Shelter, as going 2.6 miles on the AT after an entire day of effort just didn’t seem like the pay-off I’d hoped for.

I wasn’t sure I’d make it, but after some perfectly timed trail-magic (Capri-Sun and some potato chips) the sugar rush seemed convincing enough to push on.

And so, eventually, toward 4pm that afternoon, I stumbled across the ‘Shelter ->” sign into Stover Creek.

I came into camp and immediately ran into smiling yet fatigued faces and a couple guys hoping to start a fire with wood newly wet from the rains the night before.

After a few niceties, I was off to answer, not life’s important questions, but very practical ones; where do I pitch my tent? Is this spot level? Is this where people will pee in the middle of the night? Where do I refill water? What is this privy business about? And why I am so dang tired; it’s only Day One!?

After setting my tent, refilling my water bottles, and airing up my oh-so-squeaky mattress, I embarked on a sweet, sunny afternoon nap.

That evening those of us that found ourselves camping together huddled in the 3-sided shelter to cook our dehydrated foods, write in our journals, and become acquainted, if only loosely and, in most cases, briefly.

We shared stories of why we were there ranging from career pivots, to struggles with addicition, to downright stubbornness.

The takeaway that evening came in two words that would forever change the course of this journey: Ramen. Bomb.



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Comments 3

  • Molly : Apr 30th

    You are brave and fierce. And here you are now, one month in. Rockin’ it.

  • Ms. Banjo Teacher : Apr 30th

    Thanks for sharing your trip w/ us. You’ve got this!

  • Jack B : May 4th

    Good luck, buddy. Wish I was there. Guess I’ll just have to live through you, vicariously. With much envy, Jack.


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