It Only Seems Like I Fell Into a Black Hole on the Appalachian Trail

The first week of my AT thru hike was long and intense. It held surprises, new friendships, and equipment changes. The trail and the weather were (mostly) beautiful.  I hope you aren’t disappointed if I don’t give the blow by blows of each day on the trail. My attention span is not that long! Today I want to tell you how the week has gone, some surprises along the way, and how my first wag at the complicated issue of equipment has gone. I would love to hear your comments!

 Can You Spell “Slackpacking”?

On the afternoon prior to starting my hike, I arrived at the Amicalola Falls Visitor’s Center about 15 minutes after hiker registration was supposed to end. However, the members of the GA ATC Club were kind enough to take care of me and a couple other late-comers. Their dedication and sense of mission was easy to see and very much appreated.

When the presentation was over and we had gotten our tags, one of my fellow hikers asked me if I would be interested in “slack packing.” I have read a lot of books by fellow thru hikers and know many enjoy this technique at some point during their hike. But at the beginning?

What is Slack Packing?​

What usually happens with slack packing is the hiker hires a shuttle service to take them to where they are going going to start hiking that day and then picks them up where they plan to stop. It can be quite a treat to hike so unhindered when used to carrying 20 or more pounds on your back!

There are many iterations of this process. In this case, Tick Magnet and Cloud Chaser (their trail names, obviously) had driven to GA from CA and had a car. Their plan was that for any given segment of trail, one would be dropped off at, say, the south end of the segment and start hiking north (nobo). Then the other hiker would drive to the north end, park the car, and start hiking south (sobo) . They would pass somewhere near the middle of the segment. Once hiker 1 reached the car, they would drive to the south end and pick up hiker 2. Only day packs are required for the hike.

What to Do?​

I definitely had mixed emotions about this. It wasn’t the way I envisioned ​starting my adventure. I was supposed to be tough, and I had my own agenda. I felt a bit pressed for a decision. On the other hand, this could be a nice way to transition to carrying all my stuff, and a great way to meet some people. It sounded like they only planned to do it for a few days until they reached where they were leaving their car. I decided I was in.

Day 1 -7: Springer Mountain to Blood Mountain/Mountain Crossings

I had a little trouble meeting up with Tick Magnet/Cloud Chaser (TM/CC) that first morning, but I ran into them on Springer Mountain. CC was the perfect hiking companion: our pace was compatible and we found endless topics of mutual interest to discuss.

Bunny (me) and Cloud Chaser

The Invisible Becomes Visible

One really cool thing about hiking with CC was that she had no experience with this part of the country. I have hiked in the southeast, mainly in the Smokies, all of my life. During this first week, she was forever saying, “Look at that!” Or, “Isn’t that pretty.” I would look and see how much I missed. Then she would ooh and aah over some rock I treated as ordinary that has beautiful color or texture. She took pictures of (beautiful) weeds! I loved watching the world from her perspective!

CC found beauty everywhere

Gatorade is a Food Additive, Right?

That first night I learned one of the down-sides to car-slackpacking, and that is finding a place to camp is difficult. The designated shelters are not near the road, and camping near the road has its own set of dangers. That first night, however, we found a good spot. Unfortunately, though, as I prepared to fix my first dinner on the trail, I realized the only “water” I had left was Gatorade!

So I made my spicy rice noodles with spicy tuna. The noodle color was a little weird, but it actually benefited, I think, from addition of the little citrus flavor…a fact not shared with my coffe the next morning!

No Rain, No Maine, but What About Wind?

Blood Mountain is known as the biggest AT challenge in GA, and we skipped it! We probably wouldn’t have skipped it but for the wind warnings. Add gale force winds to rain, mix in difficult terrain, well, we decided to hike a bit north to avoid the trifecta.

Blood Mountain in the Sunshine

I am soo glad that we waited to hike Blood Mountain. Not only was waiting the safe thing to do, but the delay allowed us to enjoy the priceless views from the top once we did hike it.  The hike was difficult but not scary. At the top we were greeted by a 5th grader who had run ahead of her parents. She was so cute scurrying around with endless energy. It so much reminded me of my kids when they were that age. As many times as they ran back and forth, I know they more than doubled the mileage of the hike. How I wish I had that energy!

Mountain Crossings and the Next Chapter in my Pack Saga

My original pack for this hike was to be an Osprey Eja 58. It is light and comfortable. However, I could not figure out how to fit the bear canister in and still have room for other important ingredients, like my sleeping bag. So, I had to settle for a Greggory Maven 65 about 2 pounds heavier.

Fast forward to Day 4. My pack was way too heavy. I knew my base weight was 22 lbs and my packed weight at Amicalola was 28 lbs. This seems to be within the range of reasonable, but I could barely put my pack on without assistance. I needed help and headed to Mountain Crossings to find it.

Mountain Crossings is in the only building through which the AT passes. Not only is the building historic, the staff is known for doing pack “shake downs”  to see what can be eliminated to lighten the load.

Initially I was told I didn’t qualify for a shake down because my pack was too light, but eventually Brent took mercy on me and agreed to do it. He liked my tent and my sleep system (sleeping bag and pad). He said everything seemed “well dialed in.” He said I was right to use the bear canister, but that it was the only place I could reasonable reduce weight. By getting rid of it, I would save 2 lbs, plus I could get a lighter pack.

He was a little concerned they didn’t have a small enough pack for me, but I was content with one that really seemed great on my shoulders, my usual point of pain. Off I went, a “happy camper.” That was the easiest 4 lbs I have ever lost!

Equipment: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

After 2 weeks of hiking, some equipment has really stood out, whether good or bad. The following will give some early results, recognizing it is too soon to tell for many items.

The Good: My Therm-a-rest Parcec 0

I worried about having a “zero bag” (takes up more space) but in the end, I wanted warmth. A zero bag is supposed to be “adequate” down to zero degrees. The biggest problem with it is that it has so much loft, it tries to take over the world! Meanwhile, I love this bag. I have not been at all cold so far, and yet it doesn’t make me hot either.

Also in the Good category are my Kula Cloth and my pStyle. I am still adjusting to my latest “female urination device” but it already so far ahead of any other devices I have tried!

The Bad: My REI Trail 5 Waist Pack

I was so excited about this piece of gear because it has 2 bottle holders and several compartments within a very lightweight package. However, the bottle compartments are too shallow so the bottles easily fall out. Also, the zipper placement on the main compartment facilitates the contents falling out! The one saving grace is REI’s great return process.

The Ugly: My New Black Diamond Pursuit Trekking Poles

You already know how much I love my trekking poles. However, I did find some not to love. On the day I departed for Amicalola Falls, Heather and I had some other business to take care of in town. Before we left for GA, however, I realized I had forgotten my poles. To save the trip back home, we dropped by REI and bought a new pair. I have never had any trouble with my old Black Diamond poles, but these kept slipping (getting shorter) at very inopportune times. I barely avoided a serious fall when this happened with the pole on the downside of the mountain. It mattered not how often or how tightly I fastened them, the poles continued to slip.

Finally, Heather mailed me my old faithful poles…problem solved!

The Fantastic: My Down Vest

The surprise star of my equipment list has been an old light-weight down vest that I have had for years. I don’t know the brand…defintly nothing expensive. It is perfect for the start of the hike when just a shirt seems too little. Once I warm up, it’s easy to stow. It is washable, and all around my most flexible clothing item. 

Next Up: The Great Smoky Mountains



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Comments 7

  • John Cole : Apr 18th

    Great post. Glad to hear that you have hooked up with some traveling companions. Heather has kept Dan informed of your health and wellbeing.

  • Peter von Herrmann : Apr 18th

    I’d never heard of slack-packing. That sounds like a good idea for transitioning into the grind of walking all day.

    Do you have a trail name? If not, I bet Epworth’s choir or the Searcher’s class would have fun making one up!

    We’re praying for you as you make this journey. Just try not to run the WHOLE way 😉

  • Judy Fiske : Apr 18th

    Enjoyed reading about your adventure!! Praying for your safety and enjoyment!!! I miss seeing you in SS class and choir!!

    So glad you have this opportunity to follow your dreams.

    Looking forward to all your tomorrows and adventures.

    Love, Judy Fiske

  • Ginger Campbell : Apr 18th

    Great post! But I wish you had the energy to post more often!

  • Marlene Hillermann : Apr 18th

    Loved your story, looking forward to more

  • Jennifer Christian : Apr 18th

    Diane, I’m so glad to see this post— to hear how things are going and enjoy your sense of humor. The Trek people send what seem like daily emails from random people on the AT— so many that I’ve stopped reading since there was nothing from YOU.. I don’t care’ bout other people’ travels— just yours!

  • DANIEL L JAMES : Apr 23rd

    I love reading of the adventures of everyone and especially enjoyed catching up with you. So glad you are with others. Praying for you. dan


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