Go Time!

Week One on the Appalachian Trail

The day is finally here!  I know, I skipped the gear and training blogs, but will eventually get to it, promise!  For those that don’t know, my Dad will be hiking the GA section of the trail with me.  I’m not exactly how I’m going to structure these blogs just yet either, I’ve been taking notes every evening in the App called Hiker’s Logbook.  It’s a pretty cool App that you can enter a bunch of stats into and take notes on.  At the end of the hike, it’ll provide tons of data such as longest periods of time without a shower, average miles hiked per day, how many nights were spent in a tent, shelter, or hostel/hotel.  I kind of like doing the bullet point structure, but we’ll see.

Always on My Mind

Also, I haven’t mentioned my biggest concern on this journey.  At the end of last December, Emy and I went on a pretty easy overnight hike in the Shenandoah National Park.  After we got home the next day, my feet, and more specifically, my heels started to ache.  Yep, I had a flare up of plantar fasciitis.

So, the long and grueling path to getting my feet straight began.  I had already been using blazephysio workouts to strengthen my legs and knees.  I reached back out to a physical therapist, Dr. Morgan Brosnihan, who has thru-hiked the PCT and now runs her own business out of her sprinter van helping hikers as they are headed north on the PCT.  I purchased her feet and ankle workouts and immediately got to work.  In addition to those workouts, I began doing some homework on local sports specific physical therapists in Northern Virginia.  I eventually found Resurgent Sports Rehab in Merrifield, VA.  I wanted to throw everything I could at this injury.  I worked with Dr. Mike Fitzpatrick from Jan to a week before my start date.  I also went to Athletic Edge Sports Massage clinic twice a week, where Shelly worked out all the knots and tight muscles in my legs and lower back.

I’ve learned so much from all three of these people over the past few months and will continue using some of these preventive and recovery methods while on trail.  Anyone can reach out to Dr. Brosnihan from any location and any trail, she even does virtual appointments to treat your specific needs.  If you are in the Northern Virgina area, I’s highly recommend visiting Resurgent and Edge Sports Massage.  With all that said, my feet have been a concern of mine for that past few months and will continue to be on mind while on trail.  Hopefully, it’ll be something I can manage throughout the hike.

Day 1 – Springer to Hawk Mountain Shelter

Finally started!  The night before go time, Emy, me, Mom, and Dad all stayed at the Lodge at Amicalola Falls State Park.  The next morning, Dad and I checked in at the visitor center, listened to a leave no trace class, and got my AT tag number 1745.  We all piled into the truck and drove up to the Springer Mountain trail head parking lot and still pretty worried about my feet. Emy walked with us southbound on the AT for a mile to the starting point for north bound hikers (NOBO), Springer Mountain.  We took pictures at the southern terminus and I signed the logbook.  We walked back the same one mile stretch of the AT and said our goodbyes.

I still couldn’t believe that I was actually starting the trail; it seemed unreal.  Dad and I were then on our own, stopping to have lunch next to a stream and soaked my feet in the cold water.  We took another break at Long Creek Falls, where I soaked my feet again and had a crawdad pinch my toe.  Dad thinks my trail name should be crawdad, but I’m not convinced, and I feel like it’s way too early for a trail name.  For those not in the know, people out here on trail eventually get a “trail name.”  Usually, these names derive from an unexpected event, embarrassing situation, the way you look, or whatever.  Other hikers will also suggest names based on random events as well.  The final one-mile climb for the day seemed to last forever and we took breaks often.

We finally reached Hawk Mtn Shelter, where we set up camp, and was afraid to touch anything because of the talk we had with ridge runner and AT thru-hiking registration about norovirus.  I washed my hands immediately after touching anything anyone else could have touched.  There was a father and son duo who lost their water filter, Dad let them borrow his. Washed hands again. Put food in bear box, washed hands again.  Feet feel ok, not great but not any worse than they would’ve at home.  The night ended dozing off to the sound of freedom, as the Army Rangers strum the sound of a lullaby with their automatic weapons.

Day 2 – Hawk Mtn Shelter to Gooch Mtn Shelter

We got a late start and were the last ones to leave camp.  Carried 6.6 lbs of water because there wasn’t any for about five or six miles.  We ate lunch at Horse Gap but didn’t see any horses.  Met another father son duo hiking for a few days, noticed his bald head that was red and burnt.  I asked if he had a hat, said no, and I asked if he wanted sunscreen.  He was thankful.  The next climb was tough for about a mile and a guy in pink crocs flew by, said they’re going to Maine.  He wasn’t even in 4-wheel drive (wasn’t using the back strap).  Met a local hiker and his family, gave us additional tenting options for the night, but risked going to Gooch Shelter, even though all the tent sites may have been occupied.  Dad and I got two of the last few tent sites available.  Set up camp, got water, ate, brushed teeth, used privy, stretched, took some notes of the day, checked in with Emy.  And was out pretty quick.

Day 3 – Gooch Mtn Shelter to Lance Creek

Weren’t the last ones leaving camp today, but no one gets a trophy for leaving first.  Pretty flowy trail conditions and warm morning.  Had lunch at a spring coming off the side of the mountain.  Burnt bald guy with kid from yesterday walked by while eating lunch. Gave him more sunscreen.  Another guy showed up during lunch not looking so hot.  Not sure if he knew how to use his filter. He had just got back on trail from being sick and battling blisters.  Completed our first official road crossing at Woody Gap, entered the Blood Mountain Wilderness. Was very excited to dump our trash.  Steep climb, heard from some day hikers there was a guy at top not looking so hot lying on the ground.

Hike continued downhill for the rest of the day, still not seeing the sick guy. Saw a cool tree that grew an extra trunk.  Made it to Lance Creek camp, no shelter here.  Couldn’t camp at next shelter because bear canisters are required, and we have bear bags that either have to be hung in a tree or put in bear boxes.  Set up camp completed camp chores.  Had a really good dehydrated meal.  Peak brand, beef pasta marinara, did my business in a cat hole.  First time for this trip.  Guy next to us came from springer today, he’s trying to complete the Smokies in two weeks.  Hung our bear bags on bear cables for first time. GA really spoils us with the cables and bear boxes.  Won’t be the case in NC.  I found another sunburned casualty, gave him sunscreen.  Overall body is feeling good, every now and then feet tingle.  Still stretching every 30 mins during the day.  Lower back is feeling it from all the bending over and sitting on the ground.

Day 4 – Lance Creek to Neels Gap / Mountain Crossings Outfitters

Got up early in order to get up and over Blood Mountain and into Mountain Crossings Outfitter before they closed.  Most of the day was up hill, had lunch at Slaughter Creek, then the climb up Blood Mtn got steeper.  Had a snack at the top, no view due to clouds.  Blood Mtn is the highest peak on the AT in GA.  Going down the north side of Blood was much, much steeper, wound up going off trail a little bit and had to back track up hill to find the trail again.  Note to self if there’s branches or logs that are piled up, don’t cross it, the trail doesn’t go that way. Didn’t notice them on the way down, but blaming it on Dad, he was out in front.

Probably pushed the pace too much going down, but made it to the outfitters before they closed.  Saw the famous shoe tree.  There’s a huge tree with shoes hung in it from either hikers that have quit or who have purchased new shoes and threw their old ones up.  Ordered some frozen pizza and tried on some other shoes.  The heel cup of my shoes have been irritating my Achillies area and inner heal.  Didn’t care for any of the shoes they carried.  Shout out to Bill at the outfitters for teaching me the proper way to tie my shoes.  At the age of 40 I thought I had it down, but nope.  I was halfway doing my heel lock lacing method.  Hopefully his technique will alleviate the heel issues I’ve been having.  Bill also adjusted our packs better. Thanks Bill!

Destroyed my pizza, snickers, Gatorade, banana, and a real cherry coke. Successfully got our first hitch by a retired Air Force gentleman named Mike.  Great dude and great conversation. Mike even gave me an ESB beer from Asheville, NC.  Checked into the Holiday Inn in Dahlonega, GA.  Immediately stripped and washed clothes, took showers and ate dinner at an Italian restaurant.  Iced and elevated feet.  Four days without deodorant and same clothes can smell a little.  Deodorant doesn’t work out here and is extra weight for no reason, so no one uses or carries it.  Slept in real beds and found out Dad snores. Put my ear plugs in and went to sleep.

Day 5 – Zero Day in Dahlonega, GA

Woke up earlier than I wanted to, snuck down to the gym to stretch and do my mobility routine.  Had the continental breakfast, met another gentleman named Keith who is about to hike the GA portion of the AT.  Walked about a mile down to Walmart and Dollar Tree to resupply our lunches, snacks, and toiletries for the next leg.  Dinner and breakfast dehydrated meals will be bought at Mountain Crossings tomorrow before we hit the trail.  Had lunch across the street from hotel at Spirits Tavern.  Ran into Keith again, who bought our lunch.  Thanks Keith and good luck on your hike!  Got back to our room, took a nap and reorganized our food.

Day 6 – Neels Gap to Hogpen Gap

Ate breakfast at hotel.  Got a shuttle from Chillbilly and his dog Biscuit back to Neels Gap.  Resupplied dehydrated meals at mountain crossings for the next three days.  Took pictures with the shoe tree.  Transferred fuel from fuel canisters that were in the hiker box.  Overall easy day today, only 6.9 miles due to the way shelters, tent sites, and water sources are spread out. Otherwise, it would’ve been a little over 11 miles and didn’t want to do that much yet.  Still nursing the feet a little.

Had great views from Wildcat Mountain, could see the Atlanta skyline and we thought we could see Stone Mountain as well.  Got to Hogpen Gap tent site early, set up camp, camp chores, ate, hung out first bear hang, and found a great spot to poo. Was in bed before 7:00, stretched and went to bed with Mother Nature sprinkling us with a slight winter mix that didn’t last long.  Dad was out and snoring at 7:21.


Day 7 – Hogpen Gap to Chattahoochee Gap

Two words for the day… windy and cold.  Woke up to the wind still blowing pretty strong.  Fingers and toes went numb quick while breaking down camp and trying to eat my dehydrated granola breakfast.  Wind continued all day, originally was shooting for a tent spot about seven miles away near a spring.  Wound up being too rocky, so kept on walking.  Next goal was a tent site up on a ridge, but realized it’d likely be exposed to the strong winds.

Came down to Chattahoochee gap and found a perfect spot to set up for the night because it was tucked down below the non-windy side of the ridge we were on.  Overall, terrain was flowy and smooth, was hoping to see a bear due to all the bear activity comments on the FarOut App. (It’s the guide we use out here on the trail) No bears were seen.  Slept like a baby.

If you have any questions, please ask them below. I welcome all comments!

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Comments 8

  • Dad : Apr 10th

    Greatly enjoyed being out on the trail with you. Remember, I beat ya to the boarder. Keep doing your thing, cause its working. Love ya Happy Trails!!

    • Keith Owens : Apr 15th

      It was a blast!

  • Cindy Owens : Apr 10th

    Son, what an adventure you are experiencing! Your Dad and I are so happy that you get to enjoy all the things: God’s beauty, the people you meet along the way and all the successes of conquering each and every challenge that comes your way. You’vee got this! I’m so proud of you for taking on this challenge! You are a natural, but at the same time I know you’ve prepared for the A.T.: physically with all the training, stretches to strengthen weak areas, and reading of previous hikers experiences so you know what to expect. So, your A.T. journey started long before ever stepping on the trail. Now, just enjoy! I love you and stay safe! Yes, I’m Mom… and you know that safe word was to come. Smiles… I love you Son!

    P.S: I’m so glad your Dad was able to experience the Georgia part with you, it’s something he will never forget!

    • Mickey Trail, actually Michael : Apr 11th

      First of all, appreciate you for your service. Thank you. Enjoyed your post. Do you have any links to the foot and ankle exercises that you do? Carrying a ruck around for 20 years will definitely damage your body. Also, do you have a link to the traveling PT that ministers to hikers. If you post when you will be in Harpers Ferry or near I 70 which is a bit further north, I will try to meet you and bring you anything you need. Be happy to buy your lunch or dinner in that area. Respect to your dad for hiking with you on your first stretch.

      Best of luck!

    • Keith Owens : Apr 15th

      Thanks Mom!

  • Rushmore : Apr 11th

    Bullet points are the way to go. (With some narrative, of course )
    Have a great time!

    • Keith Owens : Apr 15th

      Haha Yeah looking back at the first week, it was a lot. Will do bullet points / shorter posts for sure!


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