First Full Day (and Fools’ Day)
On the morning of my first full day on the trail (April 1), I woke up with the sunrise. After crawling into my tent at sunset the evening before, it wasn’t difficult to rise at daybreak!
I ate breakfast at the picnic table with the other early risers. Everyone was subdued but seemed to be in good spirits. The sky overhead was cloudy and overcast with occasional gusts of wind. Some said they were surprised at the sounds bare branches make in the night wind when they are scraping together- it is easy to imagine large animals lurking nearby, just waiting to pounce on a sleeping human in the dark! I mentioned that my phone predicted temperatures at 60 degrees and sunny weather, and we all laughed as we sat in our coats, huddled over breakfast stoves.
I started hiking. I noticed that the wind seemed to touch down on the earth in wisps or pockets around me, often without actually touching me. I could hear roaring wind above or all over the mountain, like the roaring of ocean waves at varying distances. I had never noticed anything like that before, which was pretty neat.
Soon I was up on a ridge. The day was filled with good views from up high- green, blue and brown panoramas of mountains and valleys before me. The bareness of the trees allowed for a better view of entire nearby mountainsides, left relatively exposed without leaf cover. This was something I appreciated about beginning this hike in early spring. Surprisingly, my weather prediction gradually came true. We all had a clear, warm spring day of hiking.
I reached my initial goal (Gooch Mountain Shelter) early in the afternoon and decided to press on. Although single campsites along the trail were random and abundant, I felt uncomfortable with the idea of camping alone somewhere. This meant I had to push on for quite a bit further to Lance Creek camping area, the next group camping area. I had seen a couple hikers throughout the day, but overall most of my day was spent alone. I was starting to feel lonely and discouraged when I caught up to another thru hiker around my age. The rest of the day we either walked together or I knew he was behind or in front of me somewhere. This really helped to put me at ease again.
I crossed a parking area at Woody Gap, which was full of cars. Many day hikers and families were hiking on this part of the trail as part of their weekend fun. It was amusing to hike in an area so full of day hikers and families. On this day, my heavy pack was often eyed with disbelief or awe, and I was stopped several times and asked multiple questions. I was happy for those breaks as this was a steep part of the trail! One man exclaimed, “You’re such an itty- bitty thing to be carrying that heavy pack up here!” I had to laugh at that one.
Looking back in my journal, I’m surprised I wrote this so early, on day one! But I guess the evidence is here! I wrote about my changing views of hiking the Appalachian Trail. I had always imagined hiking the AT as such an adventure, but my first day felt very, very long. I often did not feel excited or adventurous. Often I just felt tired or even bored. I had been hiking before on 2-3 day trips, but it was difficult for me to imagine hiking like this for weeks on end. It seems so obvious, but I was coming to truly realize that my day consisted of one main activity- hiking- and that one activity was left unbroken by many other distractions. What a big difference from life prior to the trail! And what an insight into my own attention span!
Despite my doubts, I also felt that there was enough to keep me going- curiosity about what comes next, beautiful views, different weather and terrain…. Three weeks later, I’m glad I did continue on, because gradually I did adjust to the slower pace of life.
Anyway, my thru hiker friend and I made it to Lance Creek that evening with enough time to eat dinner, set up camp and relax with the sunset. It was a good first full day on the trail, despite some of my misgivings.
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