Nothing Left To Do But Hike
2 Days and 20.5 miles since Springer Mountain.
It’s been a crazy eight days since my last post. I spent an incredible week with Alicia and the dogs as we made our way south for me to start the hike. We spent a night in Evansville, IN where restaurants and Ubers apparently stop at pretty much dinner time on a Monday so we literally walked back 4.5 miles to the hotel, half in the rain after dinner.
We spent two awesome nights in Chattanooga, TN where we got massages, tried local whiskey, and local breweries, and went bowling for the first time since we met 14 years ago, where I won decisively.
From there we spent two nights in Dahlonega, GA where I learned I had been woefully mispronouncing the name of the town for the last couple years (duh-LAWN-egg-uh, not Dahl-own-ā-guh). Cute little town that we explored extensively and stayed at a hotel that prompted one woman we met to warn us “oh no, be careful.”
Upon checking out of The Bates Motel we journeyed to the Lodge at Amicalola Falls where we got a cabin for our final night together. I checked my gear. We made brats on the grill. The dogs ran around the yard and played in the creek. We got sleepy watching “The Office” from the couch. It was simple perfection. Before bed, Alicia gifted me what will prove to be the most important piece of gear I’m taking north. A beautiful video compilation of love from family and friends wishing me luck and strength on the trail through short videos and written word passages. On a day that I was already struggling to define or display my emotions, I could barely contain how it made me feel. It knocked my socks off, and I can never thank everyone enough who contributed to this incredible and cherished gift. It meant everything to me and I love you all. My heart was overflowing as I went to bed this night. This last night I’ll be wearing deodorant before this coming Labor Day.
We breakfasted in The Lodge the following morning, March 27th. It was a surreal feeling to know we were eating eggs on the day that’s been circled on my calendar for years. Tough to put into words. It was tough to eat too, it was more of an exercise in fueling up by force. After the coffee was gone and the bill was paid. There wasn’t much else to do but hike. So hike I did.
We parted ways the first time at the Visitors Center, behind which is the iconic stone arch designating the start of the Appalachian Trail Approach Trail. The AT starts at the top of Springer Mountain. To get to this mountain top you can hike the Approach Trail or drive up the back way. I always wanted to be able to tell folks I went that extra mile (8.8 strenuous miles, to be exact). I set off on the Approach with plans to meet Alicia at the summit for the final send-off. Of course, she hacked the system and surprised me a mile or two up, which was great. Got a bonus kiss and a bonus snack break. But back to work after that and I was feeling good. I got lucky with the weather, it was cool and sunny with zero realistic chance of rain. I was in shorts and a T-shirt after the first quarter mile.
7.25 miles and two humbling close-call ankle twists later, I summit Springer Mountain. I’m hungry and exhausted while the reality of the situation sets in. On this historic mountain in the Appalachians, where many have passed before and many will continue to flock, I will begin this half-insane adventure that has consumed my mind for so long. Holy shit.
I’m joined by my wife and dogs for the first mile of the AT as we walk toward the parking lot where her vehicle is. The exhaustion, coupled with the magnitude of the day contributed to me losing focus for a second, tripping and falling on my knee. Not even a mile and I have fallen on the Appalachian Trail. I sanded my right knee open pretty well but with Alicia watching, I brushed it off as but a routine stumble. I figure I’ll give myself one fall for every thousand miles without embarrassment. This one got used quickly but good to get it out of the way, I suppose.
We both remain positive and motivational during a tearful carside farewell. I get on trail, and after she video records my departure, she gets in the car. On one of the most exciting days of my life, this was difficult.
I hike 2.8 miles to Stover Creek Shelter where roughly twenty people are staying the night. I set up my area in the shelter and have a little dinner despite my stomach’s lack of interest. Everyone here seems super cool as we talk around the fire. Feeling somewhat solemn, my extroverted side takes something of a backseat to my preference to just listen and appreciate where I am. Quite the day.
It’s cold that first night and I’m dealing with it just fine aside from my feet. I’m wearing two pairs of dry socks and still can’t get them to a temperature even approaching comfortable. After a night of sleeping intermittently, I wake up on Monday feeling pretty alright, actually. Breakfast, break down camp, and back on the trail. This is life for a while. Cool.
My stomach becomes unsettled and my left foot becomes uncomfortable in my shoe on descents. Otherwise feeling good. I twist my ankles zero times today as 12.9 miles pass and Sassafras Mountain disappears in my proverbial rearview mirror. As I take my pack off at Gooch Gap Shelter, my shoulders resoundingly announce they are angry and they did not care for carrying that much weight for that much time. Guess we will work on that. I sleep only slightly better but am pleased that it’s progressing in the right direction.
Another shelter night of more listening than talking. I force myself to eat a delicious spicy noodle dish that any other day would’ve been surprisingly good, but today it’s a bit of a chore to consume calories. This is somewhat of a shared experience around the table with many hikers choking down their dinners. All of us assuring one another that the hiker hunger is on its way and soon we’ll all be insatiable beyond comprehension.
My gastrointestinal issues become more of a concern this evening. Because of my gut, along with a bubble of hikers all planning on camping in the same small site tomorrow that I was planning on, I have a hostel reservation made for me Tuesday night. There I will rest my knee, foot, and shoulders, rise above this introverted emotional funk, and not have to pitch my tent on top of someone else’s. It’s the right move for my body, mind, and hike in general.
I write this entry from a comfy chair at the amazing Above the Clouds Hostel in Suches, Georgia. 29.3 total miles down and all things considered I’m feeling darn good. Admittedly still a complete amateur, the confidence is beginning to build.
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