Four Days on the AT, and Feeling Good
Hello from Georgia! It’s the end of my fourth day on the AT, and I am feeling good. Feet are tired, but there’s nothing hurting right now. Plus, Tiger Balm and rolling out my feet with a spiky plastic ball in the evenings has been helping. Here’s a recap of the past four days.
Day One: Saturday, March 30
My train arrived about two hours late to Gainesville, but I was able to sleep for a few hours on the ride. As soon as I arrived at the station, I assumed anyone else wearing a backpack might be headed in the same direction, and I split a ride to Amicalola Falls with a cheerful guy from Maryland. We checked in at the Amicalola Falls visitors center and got official thru-hiker tags.
The first part of the trail was going right up the 600+ stairs, all the way to the top of the waterfall, which was pretty challenging and did make me wonder a few times just what exactly I’d gotten myself into. I had to stop quite often on the stairs, which was frustrating, and I got a bit freaked out when I saw a sign at the top saying it was an estimated six hours to Springer Mountain (it was around 11 a.m. at this point). Took me about five, which wasn’t too bad, and the hardest part of the day truly was getting through those stairs.
Once I got to mile seven on the Approach Trail and filled up my water at a stream, an immense feeling of calm swept over me. The hardest part of the day seemed to be behind me, given the stairs, and I felt like I knew I could do it. The whole six-month process doesn’t seem as intimidating given how well the rest of the day went.
I also realized that on the heavy uphills, I don’t have the mind space to listen to audiobooks. However, big shout-out to the Backpacker Radio podcast, which was engaging, unpredictable, and zany enough to keep me going on the climbs.
After passing Springer Mountain, I stopped at the nearby shelter for the night, especially as I knew it was going to rain and didn’t want to deal with a wet tent on my first real morning. There were six hikers in the shelter and probably 20 camped in the area, so we had a lovely fire and spent some time bonding with Dave, the ridge runner looking after that area. One of the stars for the evening was a cheerful girl (Dumpster) who kept us all engaged by her positive attitude, stories about dumpster diving / hiking the Florida Trail, and general all-around hard-core approach to hiking.
We had tremendous wind and rain overnight and I made my first rookie mistake: my socks had been on the shelter porch to dry, and in the night, one sock and one liner blew away and got buried in mud. I rinsed them off and spent about two days hanging them off my pack until they dried. Lesson learned.
Day Two: Sunday, March 31
I hiked about eight miles and felt great. There were so many other people where I camped, Hawk Mountain, but I managed to get a shelter spot. All day long I had The Ants Go Marching One by One stuck in my head, which was SO annoying. My hiker appetite hadn’t picked up yet, but I decided to make a full pouch of my dehydrated soup and combine it with a rice pack. With another fire going at the shelter, I was able to save my fuel and stick the pot near the flames, and though it took a good 20 minutes to get warm, it was a great move. Someone else tried to make tea but didn’t have a pot lid, thus providing some nice smoke and ash flavoring with the Lipton bag.
I decided, along with the three guys I’ve been seeing most days (Pete, Evan, and Thornton), to try to make it 15+ miles to a campsite right before an area of high bear activity. In that small section, you aren’t allowed to camp unless you have hard-sided bear cans, and we didn’t. That meant trying to make a long day to Lance Creek, right before that zone, and then take a shorter day to go over Blood Mountain, the highest point in Georgia. Feeling mentally ready for the long trip, but I was a little worried about how my feet would hold up.
Day Three: Monday, April 1
We ended up crushing 16.5 miles today, which wasn’t quite on purpose because the Lance Creek campsite was full, and we had to keep on pushing another mile to a stealth camp site. A few girls were getting off the trail, and they gave Pete a two-thirds full bottle of whiskey for us to have later that night.
We ran into our first trail magic at Woody Gap: a lady called Indiana Jones (section hiked the whole trail from 1996 to 2000 after having a broken hip). She and her three friends have been providing the trail magic for six years and always stay at the same cabin. They gave us brownies, hot dogs, chips, apples, oranges, soda, and cookies for all the guys who were in the military.
After finding our questionable campsite for the night, we ended up storing our food with the same trail magic ladies and trying out the Gatorade bottle whiskey. Not the worst I’ve had, but not the best, though it did make a difference on the cold night ahead.
Day Four: Tuesday, April 2
We hiked Blood Mountain today, which was not as tough as I’d been expecting, given it’s the highest point in Georgia. Maybe I’m getting early trail legs? Or maybe it’s just the contrast with the day before when we did over 15 miles?
We were aiming for one of the Blood Mountain cabins, which are pretty reasonable if you split them four ways and get the thru-hiker rate, but there’s only a limited number, and we are right in the midst of the hiker bubble, or maybe a few days ahead. After calling a few times to check whether there were even rooms available, I tried to speed along on the Blood Mountain descent (whoever in our group got there first would reserve a room). By the time we made it, there were only two cabins left, and a gentleman by the name of Diesel (because he snores like a diesel engine) snagged the last one, hoping to split it with some hikers further on.
Also, I have a trail name! On night one or two, Pete started calling me Manhattan (where I was born and raised), and it’s stuck. Plus it’s one of the more unique ones, so we haven’t heard it before.
We all snagged a pizza at Mountain Crossings, which absolutely hit the spot. Four of the other hikers we’ve been seeing off and on joined us for pizza and then came back to our cabin to hang out, relax, shower, and have a few beers. It was amazing to see how much of a mood booster the night off the trail has been going, and we’ve only been out for four days. Can’t wait to see how we feel when it’s summer, blazing hot all day, and then we take a day off.
That’s all for now. Hoping to have another update next week around Hiawassee.
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