My Lessons Learned in the First 100 Miles of the AT

The most important lessons I’ve learned on the AT in my first 100 miles is that I was not as prepared for thru-hiking as I thought I was and I was not prepared for the Approach Trail at all.

Yes, Read About the AT, But Also Do

During my preparations for my hike, I read everything I could find on what to expect, what gear I needed, what gear I didn’t need, blogs, websites, vlogs, YouTube videos, and every article on The Trek website I could find. I made lists and made Excel spreadsheets and word documents. I downloaded both major AT guidebooks and actually read them. What I did not do enough of was prepare physically. Yes, I hiked under my trail weight and I did shakedown hikes. But it was not in even remotely the same type of terrain I would find in Georgia and so far in North Carolina. I should have trained more, and harder, and under more varying conditions.

The Approach Trail

The Approach Trail, not even part of the AT, tried to murder me. My hike started at Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia and did, or tried to do, the 8.5 mile Approach Trail to Springer Mountain.  I say tried to because I couldn’t finish it. I made it 7.5 miles in, to Black Gap Shelter, and was so exhausted I couldn’t do the last mile to Springer. It was a humbling day.  All. Those. Stairs. Then uphill the rest of the day. I was not ready.

Time Begins to Blur

After that first day, time blurred into a haze of pain and agony. I couldn’t breathe going up the hills and my hips and legs would be literally shaking coming back down those same hills. The first days are simply go straight up a hill and then come straight back down. After already surviving the Approach Trail, these first few days were hell for me.

Blairsville

By the time I made it to Neel Gap I was physically wrecked. Everything hurt. After only five days on the trail I had to take a zero day. I stayed at the Best Western in Blairsville. There is a Domino’s across the street that delivers and a Huddle House within walking distance. I lay in bed for 24 straight hours. It was what I needed to keep going.

Georgia to North Carolina

There is very little change to the scenery in the first 100 miles. The trees are bare and look exactly the same from one mile to the next. It’s still a continuous loop of going uphill then down. I’m stopping less frequently, so I suppose that’s a good sign. I still have to stop a lot, just less frequently than I did in Georgia. My body is adjusting. Slowly. Painfully. But it is.

Final Thoughts

The trail is no joke. It’s hard and it’s painful and it’s a bit boring. It’s also beautiful and it will test and push you to your limits. I have met people who are having fun, mostly because they were prepared for the physicalness of the trail. I wasn’t, and finding fun has been somewhat elusive for me so far. I’ve learned  valuable lessons in my first 100 miles.  Lessons I thought I had already learned in life. More than anything else I did before starting the trail, though, I wish I had challenged myself more physically.

I hope that you’ll join me again as I continue to document my journey.  Next up for me, I’ll be hiking through the Great Smoky Mountains!

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Comments 26

  • Jason : Mar 21st

    Just remember- the objective is always over the next hill. Good luck brother, keep stepping. See you when you get close…

    Reply
    • Ruth Anne Collins : Mar 22nd

      Hang in there! The trail is HARD! So proud of you for perservering, and thank you for your honesty. Looking forward to following your trek! You sound REAL!

      Reply
    • Debbi : Mar 22nd

      Keep going you can do it. You served our country and now find peacefulness in the AT hike while you are one with nature.

      Reply
  • Heather : Mar 21st

    Wishing you the best and look forward to future updates 😘

    Reply
  • Matt : Mar 21st

    Great read. Thanks for sharing.
    One foot in front of the other my friend. Enjoy the journey and if you can’t do that, then embrace the suck, you got this.

    Reply
  • Lynn May : Mar 22nd

    The most important feeling I get from your post is that what you perceive as failure or lack of success hasn’t stopped you. Jumping in and trying to do something so completely new is a challenge for anyone. Set your own pace, do what you know your body can do, and I hope in time things get to be “more fun!’ Looking forward to hearing how you do through NC (my home state!)

    Reply
  • Lawrence H Constantino : Mar 22nd

    Sounds to me you’ve done great, but it is your hike nobody elses! We don’t know much about what you’re carrying, how you decided between taking what you needed vs what you thought you MIGHT need and so on. Enjoy your hike, we learn as we leave miles behind.

    Reply
  • Detail : Mar 22nd

    The first days are the hardest days. It’s going to get better, not necessarily easier, but your body will adjust and your pain threshold will increase. Rest is important and amazingly every morning you can get up and do it over again and again. As the mikes melt away, your accomplishment will drive you to keep going. You will have fun. Take the zeros, enjoy yourself. You got it.

    Reply
  • Lavonna Skeans : Mar 22nd

    It is the same until Pennsylvania! We hiked in 2017. It is a challenge both mentally and physically. In the words of someone I read, nothing prepares you for the trail, except the trail.

    Reply
  • Kool-Aid : Mar 22nd

    You have NO idea what is to come. I did as you did, and worked out constantly. Read, studied!! Wow. I had no idea!! Best luck!! Its all worth it, but unbelievably hard!! Wait till the excessive heat!! Humidity!!! Wow!! Indescribable!!

    Reply
  • Alvin : Mar 22nd

    1st – You Got This 🙂 just slow-down, enjoy, take time to ease into this Adventure. 2nd, yes it’s not going to be anything like you imagined – going to be tough, weather may not cooperate, but this will ultimately be your Greatest Next Adventure yet – you will make it! I’m a 200+ mile section-hiker, planning a nobo thru-hike in a few years. Keep going – this is your story – HYOH – and Have Fun!

    Reply
  • Carrie : Mar 22nd

    Loved the update. You sound almost human. 🙂 Slow down and smell the roses… er mushrooms… I have become old and out of shape so I am living this trail through you and I want to see and hear about it all. Take care of yourself and find the fun!!!

    Reply
  • Zack : Mar 22nd

    Mike!

    From one Soldier to another, best of luck! Looking forward to reading your posts in real time! I am in MD right now, and about 40 miles cuts through this state.

    You can do this, brother.

    One foot in front of the other!

    Reply
  • Michael Ross : Mar 22nd

    You nailed it. It’s hard as hell. For the most part though you get to do this with really cool people. Your mind will go places you never expected as you drag your carcass over rocks, mud and ice. Most days there are at least a few other people you can chat with and share the glory or the defeat of the day. Sometimes the faces are with you for hundreds of miles. Sometimes they just disappear at a road crossing. You may even find yourself at that road crossing and suddenly the yellow blazes are more appealing than the white ones. Just make sure you squeeze all you can get out of each day.

    Reply
  • Lisa : Mar 22nd

    First, thank you for your service and the sacrifices you have made. I love the raw truth of your post; it’s a quest and the challenges make you stronger inside and out. In those quiet moments of solitude focus on your “why.” You are an inspiration to me and I look forward to your next update.

    Reply
  • Mike Hathorne : Mar 22nd

    Head up !!
    Enjoyed your post and you are keeping it real. Proud of you.
    Sounds like you are working both areas of challenge….. mental and physical.
    You have done something that so many of us never do.
    You have taken the first step.
    Wishing you success and travel safe !!!

    Reply
  • Tortoise : Mar 22nd

    You got it brother, nobody shoots at you and although we’re all crazy, the spring water is delicious. I walked flat Houston to train and carried a 40 lbs pack but I made it to Bear Mtn. NY. LONGER THAN BILL BRYSON. Just keep going and HIKE IN THE RAIN. Don’t worry about the 20 year olds lapping you. They turn out to be your best friends. Love your courage. Hope to hear more from you!!!

    Reply
  • Bear Piñata : Mar 22nd

    Just remember, your worst day on the trail will still beat the best day strapped into a MOLLE pack. Better gear, better environment, and way better chow. And Naked Hiking Day! You’ve got this!

    Reply
  • Jerry Fisher : Mar 22nd

    Reading your story brought back some good and not so good memories, my wife of 34 years Jane. And I are section hiking the trail, we hope to complete it over the next few years. We only made it to black gap shelther also the first day, it rained on us the first 3 days, what a test. Neal’s gap, best $5 shower I had in my entire life, I was worried about the smokey mountain section, but we were told if we could do the approach trail we would be fine, and we were. Good luck maybe we will see you out on the trail.

    Reply
  • Sugar Bear6 : Mar 22nd

    You are there, enjoy the small or short triumphs. Your body knows how to adjust..be patient.
    Good luck from another Army guy, got my handle from my platoon Sgt in the woods of Germany.

    Reply
  • Kay : Mar 22nd

    Good for you! Keep going and enjoy. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  • 4 Dig : Mar 23rd

    So your friends call you Mike, I’d like to do that! My wife and I are hikers, we’ve been up the switch-backs, wet feet and back tracking due to wrong sides of the fork. Push forward, we all have your 6! Strong people build themselves, it sounds as if you are one. As the steps, hours, rain and stones in your boots add up and go by, and those unwanted stops become fewer, Mike, know this challenge is one of what you wanted. Push forward, stay focused on those suck days and look up at the blue in the sky each time you can. Thank you for the service to our country allowing me to be here and read your incredible story. I look forward to your next update! Go easy Sir.

    Reply
  • Cliff : Mar 23rd

    I think what I’m hearing is that people should expect the first few weeks to be its own training. Have no mileage expectations those first few weeks and hike at your own pace. If you do 3 miles you do 3 miles. 7.5 is pretty good day one IMHO. Great post! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  • Ulrich Franke : Mar 23rd

    Hi Mike, thank you for this very true finding. Yes the trail is tough – but what did you expect ? A Sunday morning walk ? Trust yourself, you will make it as long as you are not creating doubts about the „why“ or any other one-self related issues…One day will come and you will realize that you are on the AT now and there is no doubt that you will make it. Good luck, take care — and: Rangers lead the way – (even on the AT)

    Reply
  • Tom deFig : Mar 23rd

    Thank you for your thoughts, i am definitely in the camp of reading and buying and not hiking enough. Time to commit.

    Reply
  • Scott mcCallister : Mar 24th

    Hiked the whole trail in sections back in the 70s and early 80s in the Boy Scouts from north to south would like to through hike like you from south to north with my daughter it gets easier your legs will become rock hard and you will soon be doing 20 miles per day or more and the views in the white mountains and Maine are worth every step enjoy

    Reply

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