I Decided to Skip Georgia, and Maybe You Should Too
For my 23rd birthday I made my almost annual pilgrimage to the North Georgia mountains with my dad. He had never been on a backpacking trip, and with him joining me in Virginia for my 2019 thru-hike, I know he needs the experience. So for the fourth time I hiked up the stairs, and for the third time I backpacked through the Approach Trail. Knowing my deadline, dad asked the following question:
“Jack, why even bother doing Georgia again in March?”
Skip Georgia or not skip Georgia? At first, my hubris spoke about being a true thru-hiker means starting at Springer and finishing at Katahdin. Then I thought about his question some more. Georgia is and has been my practice round. All my shakedowns, all my learning, and all my mistakes were born and fleshed out in North Georgia. At this point I have backpacked all of Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail twice. Except for four miles between Gooch Gap and Neel Gap. I’ll get to that in a moment, but for the time being I’ve decided to skip Georgia.
Skipping Georgia offers several advantages for me and you
Consider such a route as a different form of flip-flop thru-hike.
1. Pop or skip the bubble
The bubble is a term for the large influx of NOBO thru-hikers starting between March and April. For those seeking more solitude, like myself, this can be a great thing. You won’t have to compete for campsites, chances of catching a disease go down, and you don’t have to deal with other people’s mess as much. The Appalachian Trail also benefits from decreased erosion from fewer thru-hikers in Georgia.
2. Georgia is hard
This point should be taken with a grain of salt as I have not personally done much outside Georgia. What I do know is that Georgia is difficult in two ways. Firstly, as a new thru-hiker you are not physically conditioned for the stresses of hiking all day and therefore more likely to get injured. Secondly, the terrain of Georgia has a lot of up and down that adds to your chances of injury. You go up Springer, down Springer, up Sassafras, down Sassafras, up Blood, down Blood, and so on. As someone with knee issues, Georgia is hell for the knees.
3. Time to adjust to urban living
This point pertains more to NOBO hikers than SOBOs, but hear me out. You’ve been hiking for five to six months and made it to Katahdin. Now it’s time to go home, and your journey is done. So you fly back south and maybe spend a few days with family and friends to celebrate. Then you leave again to hike NOBO or SOBO on just the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail, giving those 70ish miles special attention and care because soon it’s done. You did it. The mental adjustment can start and progress. Make Georgia your love letter to the trail. Because here’s the thing; Georgia is beautiful!
Well, on a good day. Here’s me in perpetual mist that makes everything wet.
I’m not ignorant to the downsides of this method, though. Most likely I will miss all the major trail festivals. I probably won’t fall into that odd entity that is the trail family. Lastly, some may not call me a thru-hiker but they have a right to do so. Besides, I want the Triple Crown more.
What does my plan entail?
Simple, at my start date I will be dropped off at Gooch Gap for four miles of solitude to Woody Gap. Therefore, completing Georgia for myself. I will then be shuttled up to Dicks Creek Gap and dropped off there, and to Katahdin I go. I have a large family and I have lived with them for all 23 years of my life and I know I will miss them terribly. I’m making Gooch to Woody that time to cry it out, frankly. Georgia will not be that love letter I envision, but Georgia made me the hiker I need to be. Mentally, goodbyes are the first of my five million steps.
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