Milestones and memories – First Trail Update
17 days ago I was fortunate enough to stand at a place most folks only dream about. At nearly 2 pm on April 5th I stood quietly anxious at Springer Mountain Georgia the southern terminus of the AT beginning my journey to Maine. After 183 miles 17 days with 3 zero days I now lay awake at 1:30 am in a shelter in the Great Smokies National Park. Aside from the mice. I’m joined by 10 other aspiring thru hikers and one fascinated section hiker. The shelter hides from the pounding rain a couple from Finland, a woman from Sweden and a new friend from Hawaii, that has more stamps on his passport at 25 than most retired couples combined. We are also joined by a class of ’99 AT Thru Hiker who hiked the PCT in ’08. He’s in his mid 70’s and hikes incredibly fast compared to any mid twenties hiker. He’s a beast. He’s now a Ridgerunner for the ATC.
My mind is racing thinking about what I have accomplished so far. But more so what is in store for me ahead. At times I wonder where all the time has gone. At other times I think about the very long, steep, wet, winding road ahead.
The first time I felt a sense of accomplishment was as I walked up to the Wayah Bald Tower to see my friend Onterio, aka “Worst case Ontario” (ref. The trailer park boys) sitting on the phone at the tower. He excitedly showed me Alberts Mountainfar off in the distance. The 100 mile mark on the AT. We had passed it two days prior and could see it from the tower. I couldn’t believe how far away it looked knowing what it took to get to where we were from there. Only 10 miles as a crow flies but two days of sweating and cursing, we had finally been able to see how far we had come. This was a huge mental lift. Celebratory photos, a PBR and some Fireball whiskey ensued.
Prior to Alberts Mountain and ironically at a campsite called the Cheese Factory I was woken up when something struck me in the face. Knowing I was safely tucked inside my tent this shouldn’t have happened. I grabbed my headlamp in time to watch an equally surprised mouse scurry out the newly chewed holed in my tent. I decided to place a piece of cheese outside my tent as a peace offering so I could get some sleep before sunrise.
I have hiked most of my days with a small ever evolving group of people. Most of which I met on my second night at the Mountain Crossings hostel. Some days we all end up at the same place, others one of us will get ahead or behind for a day. It’s hard to explain the sense of family you’ll develop with folks you hardly know, yet. But you can see it in their faces each time you arrive at camp and can feel the smile come across your own face as you see theirs. It truly is family.
The group of people I am typically with includes a now retired Marine Sargent Major, a freshly discharged Corpsman home from 4 years in Okinawa, a well travelled commissioning engineer, an Army sniper school instructor, an ex college athlete and a YouTube Blogger. We also hike with a soon to be 70 year old hiking machine with more stories of hitch hiking across the country and Europe, scaring bears off of buses with a broom than anyone ever. I honestly hope he writes an autobiography and I’ve told him so.
All of my time and money invested in my gear has been well spent. So far I’m very happy with my choices. I did switch out my Altra trail runners for a pair of Dynafit ones. They are more structured and help keep my foot where it needs to be. I recently sent home the guts of my Big Agnes tent. Now its lighter and I’m only carrying the footprint(drop cloth) poles and rain fly. I also invested in a new Z Seat by thermarest. I had a worn out old pad to sit on that just wasn’t doing the trick. I have a majority boney butt and have no idea how people can just sit on the a rock or the hard ground comfortably. My gear has all performed exactly how I need it to. I can’t thank the companies I’m working with enough so please check out my gear list and show them some love too.
Healthwise I have been doing very well mentally wanting to continue and physically being able to. I can feel myself and my legs getting stronger. I have had pain with my Achilles’ tendons most days and hope to be over all that ASAP. Texts from loved ones and comments of encouragement have been amazing and incredibly inspiring to me. I have fully embraced the fact that I am consumed by hiker hunger. I simply cannot eat enough food. My hunger is insatiable. I consumed not one but two of the Mile Lost 134 gigantic open faced cheese burgers covered in chili in a single evening. I abandoned my morning oatmeal and coffee ration a few days in. I simply want to wake up and hike so I’ve been eating on the go. But I have also enjoyed a hot meal nightly. It’s extremely comforting to know at the end of the day I’m going to have a hot meal when I get to camp.
The phenomenon known as trail magic has been overwhelming. On one occasion I made it to Hiawassi Georgia only to find out the hostel I planned to stay at was full after riding their shuttle from the trail. My cell phone was dead so I couldn’t make a reservation the night before. Or even call to find another room. They allowed me to charge my phone and then shuttled me back to the trail. I sat there at the trailhead for what seemed like an eternity trying to decide what I could do. A few friends who had reservations arrived and rested at the trailhead with me.
As we sat along the road a woman arrived and asked if we were thru hikers. She was visiting a 73 year old thru hiking friend and grabbed a dozen McDonald’s cheese burgers and a bunch of cold sodas knowing hikers would be at this parking lot. Now for me I honestly could not remember the last time I put any of McDonalds pathetic excuse for food into my body. I actually bragged about that fact to my friends and coworkers. So Roxanne and Joyce you might want to sit down for this. That was probably the best 2 cheese burgers I’ve ever had, mentally of course. Lisa if you are reading this, you’re a wonderful woman and we have all paid it forward! She gave us the burgers and sodas and spoke with us about how our hikes were going, before offering to take a few of us in to Hiawassi to find rooms. It was perfect timing. I was honestly down in the dumps with no plan to get back out yet. What a genuinely awesome feeling. Folks who call themselves Trail Angels or provide trail magic are a huge help to thru hikers. My hat goes off to every single one. Lisa also got a huge stinky hiker hug.
I’ve been posting photos on Instagram and Fabebook pretty regularly and filled up everyone’s feed with some absolutely beautiful pictures. You can follow me on those platforms if you’d like to see those pics, trust me it’s well worth it. It’s been difficult to find time to write. It’s like a constant stream of new things all the time and I struggle to schedule time to write.
My days have been surprising busy for a person without a home or a job. Although I prefer to refer to myself as self employed without pay over jobless. It seems like there’s always something to do. Either hike, eat or sleep from pure exhaustion while on the trail. It’s even busy while I’m in town. Between trying to resupply my food to make it to the next town and call home while also trying to eat, rest and do laundry.
One thing that constantly runs through my mind is a quote.
For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. – Steve Jobs
I think about the days, months and years leading up to this amazing opportunity I have and how not enough people are willing to take a risk on their own happiness. To me this risk has been one of the greatest choices of my life. It took a ton of planning and sacrifice to be able to leave my career and go on a life changing journey. I hope that I can somehow encourage and inspire more people to place their own happiness ahead of the other things that don’t matter as much. Too many people are unhappy with their day to days. I also hope I never see this journey as too many days in a row of not being how I would want to spend the last day of my life. This is simply amazing and I love it.
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