Lessons from Georgia

Even before I set foot on the Approach Trail at Amicalola Falls, starting my journey north to Maine, I knew I would be in for an adventure. I knew I would have some of the best days and the worst days of my life. What I didn’t know was how hard the bad days would hit.

Mother Nature Doesn’t Listen to Hikers

My first 5 days on trail included 3 nights below freezing and 2 days of rain—which tended to overlap. On Day 2, I set up my tent in the pouring rain, and everything inside (including my down feather sleeping bag) got soaking wet. Thinking only about hypothermia, as temperatures had dropped to about 18 degrees, I put on every piece of dry clothing I had and used every hand warmer that I’d shoved last minute into my pack in a (mostly) futile effort to stay dry and warm. Then, on Day 5, it wasn’t supposed to rain; no one had called for rain! But, in fact, rain barreled down from the sky for nearly the entire day. After hiking for only 2 miles, the mountain mist began to set in, chilling me and my already-drenched gear. I was climbing a mountain, and I hit a wall. I was tired, wet, cold, and feeling doubtful that I would ever make it to Maine.

Wearing every layer of clothing I have to face the cold.

On a day or a weekend hike, a hiker can check the forecast and decide to postpone their trip until a later date with nicer weather. On a thru-hike, a hiker gets up every day and keeps pushing, regardless of the weather. In addition, the mountain forecast can change at any moment: as I write this post, I am facing cloudy skies when I thought I would be getting all-day thunderstorms. This, moreover, even presumes that a thru-hiker has sufficient cell service or satellite coverage to obtain the forecast for the following day. The uncertainty about the weather is a new experience for me, but it is not unworkable.

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

This can take different forms in different circumstances. For me, preparing for the weather meant anticipating my biggest dangers and remedying them first. After facing a night in a sleeping bag full of wet down, I knew that it had come about from two failures. First, my pack’s rain cover didn’t hold up as well as I thought I would, and so I had to invest in a dry bag or a trash compactor bag to keep my sleeping bag dry when it is inside my pack. Second, if I wanted to stay dry, I had to either get to a shelter earlier in the day to secure my spot, or I had to find a hostel or hotel to stay at for the night to escape the rain and/or dry my equipment. I utilized both of these strategies at different times. If the forecast called for overnight thunderstorms, I would get up early or hike fewer miles in an effort to stay in a dry shelter. If rain all day was called for, I weighed my options, considering zero days or near-o days if it looked like it would be more than a drizzle. Since being warm and dry was important to me, I invested in disposable ponchos and more hand warmers. I bought more no-cook food so I wouldn’t have to worry about setting up my stove in the rain. I wasn’t going to let the weather push me off the trail, and so I adapted in ways that worked for me.

Riding out a thunderstorm in Low Gap Shelter.

When the Trail Isn’t Friendly, Georgians Are

That night my sleeping bag got wet? The next day I was in a hiker hostel where the owners dried my sleeping bag and washed my clothes. That day I struggled to climb a mountain in the rain? I called it halfway through the uphill climb, called the same hostel, grabbed their last bunk, and rode out the rain in the bunkhouse. All throughout Georgia, I met shuttle drivers who encouraged me and empathized with my struggle in the cold rain. I met trail angels who offered me food when I hadn’t packed enough, rides when my shuttles were late, and an ear to talk to when I needed it. I’m so thankful for Rainbow and Johnny at Hidden Pond, Dale from Mountain Shuttles, Zig Zag, the staff at Hostel Around the Bend, and every ridge runner and Forest Service employee who stopped me to make sure I was hiking with enough food and supplies. Without the Georgia trail community, I may have given up on my thru-hike after spending so much time cold and wet. I credit so much of my ability to finish hiking through Georgia to their efforts and support.

Hike Your Own Hike

It’s said so much that it might as well be trademarked. In my first week, I met so many people that I really liked. I wanted to form a tramily with them, get to know them, and have consistent hiking partners. That didn’t happen for me. I hike at my own speed (which is slower than many others), I take near-oes or zeroes if I want a shower or if I’m feeling worn out, and I tend to do lower mileage days than many of the people I’ve encountered. At first, this troubled me. It took some time for me to realize that I was on this trek for me, that I would do it at my own speed, and the way that I wanted to do it. This means I get to meet new people every day, while still seeing some of the same familiar faces every few days when our schedules sync up. It also means that my pace is set by no one other than myself, and I can push myself or pull back when I think I need it. I have felt much more secure on trail when I go at my own speed, unencumbered by no one else. It’s this mindset that I intend to carry with me through the remaining 13 states, and what will ultimately get me to Maine.

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