My First Lesson from the Appalachian Trail: This is Not a Race

Lesson #1

They say that the trail teaches you what you need to know. My lesson to learn right now is to slow my roll. This challenge is not a race. In the three days that I’ve been on the trail in Georgia, I am constantly experiencing a very different trail. Mother Nature is the one determining the pace.

On Day 1, from the first rocky climb to the summit of Springer Mountain, Greg and I realized pretty quickly that we were not in Texas anymore. The terrain was a bit tougher than we expected, but we tried to keep a consistent trek. Surrounded by amazing scenery, we both admit that we were more concerned about the mile markers, and when we would “finish” for the day. Dining on dehydrated chicken and mashed potatoes (at the time a gourmet meal), we both agreed that it would not be wise for me to keep this strategy up for the next 5-6 months. The finish line is too far away.

Day 2

After a tearful goodbye hug and kiss with Greg, I set out for Day 2. Wrestling with my backpack during my first significant climb of the day, I passed a beautiful silver-haired woman named Birdie.

“I hiked this trail 20 years ago,” she told me. “Second-day pack soreness is always the worst,” she said, confirming what my shoulders were already telling me.

The terrain is hard enough, but climbing a mountain with a 28lb backpack is no joke, and I admit that I was having a bit of a pity party. A few miles later, turning a corner, I saw a girl peeing behind a tree.

“Hey! I’ll wait here,” I yelled up to her.

“Cool, but it won’t be the first time someone’s seen my butt.” I’ll call her Trooper, to protect the innocent.

Trooper and I walked together a bit, and I learned that she was section-hiking with a group of women—all cancer survivors. Trooper had been diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis at the young age of 13 and found out she had cancer at age 20. Today, almost 20 years later, she walks in the woods for fitness, and to find peace. Even on her hardest days, she feels grateful to be able to walk outside, as doctors once told her she would be wheelchair-bound for the rest of her life. My backpack was still heavy, but it was no longer a burden to me.

That evening, about eight of us camped at Jarrard Gap, resting up for the climb to Blood Mountain. I met some really good people and got both helpful information, and a few tent stakes–the ONLY thing I left back at home. Sticks and rocks weren’t going to cut it as a makeshift substitute on this windy evening.

Day 3

Today the rain came early and did not let up until evening. I’m sure the view from Blood Mountain was gorgeous, but all any of us could see was a hazy fog as the rain blew sideways, stinging our faces. The steep, rocky descent from the mountain turned into a waterfall.

By the time we reached Neils Gap, we were all drenched. What a gift it was to get a warm shower there, and to spend a few hours eating, talking, and smelling of fresh shampoo before heading back out into the monsoon. My afternoon was spent either going upstream (up a mountain), downstream (down a mountain) or in a stream (on the flats).

“Hey!” A skinny dude moving rather quickly called behind me. “Didn’t want to scare you, but I’m going to pass. I just love this rain! I’m trying to get as much in while it’s not hot!”.

He was right. It wasn’t as hot as it was yesterday, and I was indeed happy about that. It’s not about the miles. It’s not a race.

Coming up on a parking lot, a few hikers were waiting for a shuttle into town. Cold and wet … I decided to join them. A meal with actual vegetables and dry clothes was too tempting. Tomorrow a few others and I will leave at 7 a.m. to get back on the trail where we left off. I have a mileage goal for tomorrow, but we’ll see how it goes. Each day brings new surprises and experiences to enjoy. I’m here to let go of the miles per hour and to take it one minute at a time.


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Comments 14

  • Quiet Man : Apr 11th

    Great entry… the best I have read about the first trail day on The Trek this year!

    • Luna : Apr 11th


      • Slowandsteady : Apr 19th

        Good luck, I will be following you. I have hiked most of the trail over 2018-2020 but I am on my rear this year with a knee that needs to be replaced. I am living vicariously through the people I am following this year

        • Jennifer Kimble : Apr 30th

          Ugh- so sorry to hear. I hope you get well soon so you can get back in the woods 🙂
          Thanks for following me.

  • Chris AKA Han Slolo : Apr 11th

    Remember to hike your own hike. Have a good sleeping pad and inflatable pillow and get a good night’s rest. Everything else will work itself out.

    • Luna : Apr 11th

      I’m so tired in the evenings- I just crash!

  • Randy Gates : Apr 11th

    Good luck with your hike. Slow and Steady will get you to Maine. I knew a Jennifer Kimble at Keene State College in NH back in the early 1980’s. Is that you?

    • Luna : Apr 11th

      Not me. Thanks for reading, and for the reassurance!

  • Deadpool : Apr 12th

    Hike your own hike is the best rule to follow. Later on the meaning of hike your own hike will change after seeing all the different hiking styles. You will love it.

    • Jennifer Kimble : Apr 30th

      I find this to be more and more true every day. Thank you!

  • pearwood : Apr 12th

    Go for it, Jennifer, and go at your own pace.
    I have never in my life been a strong or fast hiker. I’m planning on six months for my AT NOBO next year. I will start in February, so I’ll be carrying cold weather gear. I would love to keep it down to 28 pounds but I don’t expect that to be possible. But I figured out decades ago that if I got over pounds I wasn’t having fun any more.
    Blessings on your way,

  • Karen : Apr 19th

    Am loving your posts, Jennifer. And living vicariously through you!! My husband and I do day hikes (Batona Trail is one) and we are doing the Stairway to Heaven in May 22 to celebrate 10 years of knowing each other — we hope to see some thru hikers!!! Enjoy every moment!!!

    • Jennifer Kimble : Apr 30th

      Thank you Karen! Best wishes to you and your husband on your adventure!

  • Enoch ArdenTolleson Trail Name: “Slow Bo” : May 9th

    Good hiking! I thru hiked in 1995, had to flip flop because my wife who was hiking with me, tore a tendon in N.C. and had to get off. That was not all bad as I got to meet people I hiked with down south heading north as I passed thru the Whites. Took the trail name Slow Bo as I had a no passing rule, never pass another hiker. Started in April, finished in Dec., and wish I had taken more time.

    Best tip I received on the trail, buy a summer weight sleeping bag when the weather warms up, it made all the difference in getting a good nights sleep.


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