Georgia on My Mind – Reflections
As you may or may not know, I hiked around 720 miles of the Appalachian Trail in 2011 with my then-boyfriend Steve “Badger” Borges. We were both tragically new to hiking, but we started at Springer Moutain on March 1st and sallied forth for a fine stretch of land, skipping no miles even though the going frequently got tough.
I have described this year’s hike to my fellow hikers as a mission, a vendetta – hell – it’s a reckoning. As I recall, the challenges included being out of shape and inexperienced. But here I am a mere 52 miles into Georgia in the small Bavarian-style town of Helen, having huffed and puffed the whole way here, hiding out from the rain.
Indeed, I ought to have given my 2011 self more credit. These mountains are rough and rugged. In a single day we gain and lose thousands of feet in elevation over and over and over again. Meanwhile, it’s cold and rainy. I hustle forward, never stopping to break on a wet rock or log, earnestly trying to beat the next guy for a spot in the shelter. Well, that was yesterday, anyway. It was also 4 years ago.
In some of the brand spankin’ new hikers I’ve met so far, I see much of my former self. I’ve seen a couple without sleeping pads, hikers with giant shoes causing them giant blisters, I’ve seen packs that weigh 40, 50, even more than 60 pounds. I’m not UL at 30 pounds, but my goodness. What are they carrying? Well, I’ve seen machetes, hatchets, sleeping clothes, town clothes, multiple outfits. I’ve seen denim pants and jackets. Metal canteens. Big external frame packs from the ’70s. Yeah, to each his own, we all like to say. Hike your own hike. But lord, am I ever happy not to have brought the Army knife that made me John Rambo or the metal belt buckle I had in 2011 that featured a smoking gun and the statement, “I don’t dial 911,” or the 3 cotton t-shirts that all got soaking wet over the course of, well, 3 days.
And yet, in spite of all this wonderful and hard earned wisdom I’ve collected, I am sitting here in Helen with sore and tight muscles, exhausted, and still in awe at this reality of the Appalachian Trail: it is HARD.
And I knew this going into it, but that doesn’t make it any easier! I thought my memory would be a little more vivid. I remember the towns pretty well. I remember bailing out at Woody Gap in 2011 and staying the night at Neel Gap, then getting the shuttle back to Woody Gap only to hike into Neel Gap that night. I was super delighted to revisit the hostel there. I have trouble remembering the shelters, except for the one I puked in because I did a poor job sterilizing my water. And I even kinda remember some stretches of Trail. But I think I blocked out most of these brutal climbs and slippery, rocky descents.
What does make it easier – what makes it so worth it and keeps me coming back for more – is my dirty stinky hiker trash brethren, many of whom don’t even know they are hiker trash yet!
Tonight, 4 of us are snuggled into a Super 8 motel room with our packs exploded every where. We helped each other get to the shelter last night and laughed at the rain and laughed at each other until the sun went down. We helped each other rustle up the strength and wherewithal this morning just to get out of our sleeping bags, and then we helped each other get up and over Blue Mountain, down to the road, and into town for warmth, showers, and good food. I am so happy to be with the community I met in 2011 and grew to love being a part of with every passing hike. I look forward to the day we help each other summit Katahdin, that sick bastid of a mountain. It’s not going to be easy. We may not all make it, and many have already gotten off Trail. But many of us will, and we’re gonna make it together.
As far as my gear holding up, I’m very happy with the system I introduced in my Gear List post. I haven’t had the desire yet to send much home – just my hat and scarf, as I have a turtle neck base layer and a neato fleece headband with built-in ear muffins. I have tented on clear nights to avoid snoring and mice, both of which are still alive and well in the shelters.
I checked out the 10 day forecast and 8 days showed rain, but I think I will be able to stay fairly dry via suave and swagger. Franklin, NC is only about 60 miles away. I think I should be able to make it in one go, starting in the morning.
I am HAPPY. I feel free. I am amongst my tribe. And most importantly, I just ate about 5 steak and shrimp tacos. What more could a girl want?
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