A first time for everything!
I’ve previously done very short sections of the Appalachian Trail: a mile or two here and there in NC, a few miles in VA, and Springer Mountain in GA many years ago. It wasn’t until the last two weekends, however, that I ever hiked in the AT with purpose. I’ve experience many firsts in the last couple weeks, and I have to say I’m more excited than ever to be embarking on this journey.
First “big mileage” day!
I’ve hiked a lot since I was introduced to hiking about 6 years ago, but it’s been almost exclusively day hikes shorter than 5 miles. I’m not the most physically fit person. In fact, one if the big things on my “List of reasons I’m hiking the AT” is that I want to get in better physical shape. However, I have been pretty confident in my ability to do 8-10 mile days at the start of my thru-hike. I’ve finally proven that to myself.
Last Saturday, I arranged a meetup with a guy who’s planning to section hike the AT. He’d done a section in Georgia but had to stop short before Dicks Creek Gap and therefore had a 3.5 mile section from Deep Gap Shelter up to Dicks Creek to finish. I joined him for this hike as an in-and-back, which totaled about 7 miles, then did a 2 mile hike to a nearby waterfall, for a total of 9 miles. Now, I have to admit, I was exhausted after this hike. I went home and slept for nearly 13 hours! And I was only carrying about 12lbs in my pack. But, I did it, and I felt good about it.
My first AT section hike!
The above trip gave me the confidence to plan my first true section on the AT for this past weekend. Through a Facebook group, I met a really cool guy from Franklin who has section hiked the whole AT, and he offered to not only drive me and a friend to Deep Gap, but also joined us for the first day of hiking and camp that night. I left my car at Winding Stair Gap and we hit the trail for a 6 mile night hike in to Beech Gap (another first: my first time night hiking!)
The next day, my friend and I continued on to Long Branch Shelter, making a nearly 12 mile day, my longest day yet! This included the hike up Albert Mountain, which I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed. The “rock scramble” was interesting to navigate and not nearly as bad as I’d heard it would be. By the end of the day, my feet ached, but physically I was not as exhausted as I expected to be.
Sunday we finished the 7.5 miles to Winding Stair Gap. Saturday night at the shelter we met 4Be, who is planning a thru hike next year and was knocking out a section. He’d been on the trail for 18 days coming from Springer. I was thrilled to be able to give him a ride into Franklin to his hotel room, since I’d left my car parked at Winding Stair Gap.
My first multi-day hike!
Prior to this trip, I’d only done a couple of overnights, and those were short mileage. This was my first time being on the trail for more than one night and my first time hiking multiple days with longer miles. Because I’d never camped for more than one night, this was also my first time having to pack up camp in the morning knowing I’d need to use everything again that evening, so I got some experience with sorting out how to organize my pack and keep up with everything. Speaking of packs, this was also my first time carrying a fully loaded pack, including 3 days worth of food.
I learned a few things on this hike:
- Hiking with friends is good for the company, but if you hike with someone who is inexperienced with backpacking/camping, be prepared to do twice as much work as you would if you were alone.
- Trekking poles are really worth their weight in gold. I had to loan one of mine to my friend, and having one pole compared to two made climbs much more difficult, but I am positive I’d have seriously injured myself if I hadn’t had them at all.
- I CAN set up camp and I can also set up camp, including my hammock and tarp, in the dark.
- I CAN stay warm and dry in my hammock if I wear enough clothing.
- At the end of a long day of hiking, packs of tuna and crackers aren’t really all that satisfying. I definitely need to get a stove so I can cook myself something warm.
- I LOVE my shoes. Yes, my feet ached and yes, I was ready to take them off at the end of the day but I never once felt even the beginning of a blister or hot spot. I’m wearing Brooks Cascadias with SOLE insoles and Darn Tough bike/run low cut socks and I think this combo is really going to work for me.
- I may need to get a bigger pack after all. I really really really don’t want to carry anything bigger than my 50L pack, but I couldn’t have fit much more into it and there are a few things I really need to add to my packing list, namely a stove and a warmer sleeping bag.
- I drink a ridiculous amount of water when I hike. My friend drank about 4 liters in the 3 days we were out. I think I drank that much each day. I honestly have no idea how I’m going to carry enough water for myself!
- Hiking with a dog has huge perks and also makes things a lot more difficult. I was very proud of my poodle girl for keeping up with us and carrying her own food/water, but it was more to worry about at the end of the day making sure she was fed. It also makes it much harder to keep things clean when you have a dog going in and out of your tent.
- I’m completely addicted to hiking. I think this one is self-explanatory.
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