On The Trail: Week 1
Wednesday, March 2nd
BOS to ATL
Today we left Maine. I hug my parents goodbye, and realize I won’t see them again until they join us in the Shenandoah National Park. This is Tyson’s first plane ride, and his first time out of New England. I’ve flown before, but never a one way ticket. Seems like something you only see happen in movies. I missed being in an airport, although I didn’t miss the waiting portion of travel. We finally board and I get stoked just seeing the amazement in Tyson’s eyes as we move towards the runway. I sleep most of the way there. We get to Atlanta and head straight for the boxes we checked filled with all of our gear. They come up the conveyor in baggage claim and a relief floods over me. We tear open the boxes and everyone stares as we put on our packs. It’s already 6:00pm, and we have reservations at a hotel nearby. We order pizza and watch some tv, realizing it may be our last opportunity to enjoy those small luxuries for a while. I don’t sleep very well – too anxious for another day of travel. The finality of it all starts to sink in.
Thursday, March 3rd
ATL to Hiker Hostel
We wake up and after a quick shower I put the same clothes back on. “Gotta get used to it,” I tell myself. More travel today, which means more waiting. We board the MARTA to where the Hiker Hostel is picking us up. We wait on a park bench sprawled out, practicing our newly adopted hiker trash lifestyle. Jeff and Forrester Gump round the corner and we’re of to Dahlonega. The hostel is immediately welcoming, filled with other soon to be thru-hikers that we spare no time getting introduced to. We purchase the AT Passport and pick up the package we mailed down to ourselves before making our way to the renovated shipping container we rented for the evening. It’s cozy inside as the outside starts to pour down thick, slushy snow. Never thought I’d see so much white powder down south. I lay down for a nap and the afternoon blurs by in a fog of grogginess. When I wake up we head to the common area to make dinner and watch a movie. More hikers have arrived, some retreating from the trail for the night in the storm. North Star is there, and we share stories since the last time we met at Owl’s Head last summer. I’m glad we’ve all made it. There’s a group that offers Trail Magic at the hostel, and I’m thankful for the yerba mate. We watch Star Wars: Return of the Jedi with everyone before rolling into bed. Big day tomorrow, and early to rise for breakfast and the shuttle to Amicalola Falls. Last night in a warm bed.
Friday, March 4th
Hiker Hostel to Stover Creek
Today is the only day of the year that is also a command. Appropriate too, marching forth. Everyone is focused at breakfast, and we eat our fill of eggs and pancakes before setting off. We wish everyone well, and set off. The shuttle is almost silent. We’re all mentally preparing. We arrive around 9:00am at Amicalola Falls. Tyson and I are hikers 343 and 344 for the year. We set off through the arch of the AT approach trail. It’s surreal to finally be here. And there’s still another 8.7 miles until we reach Springer. The steps up the falls are as strenuous as everyone warned, but it’s a good warm up with our packs full and our legs fresh. The trail is wet with slush and mud, and our shoes are soaked by the time we reach the summit. The first white blaze is glorious, and we rejoice at reaching the southern terminus of the AT. Shelter isn’t far, and we arrive around 4:00pm. It’s chilly, and we’re sore from our first 11+ mile push. Chicken Foot and some others make a fire, and we all dry our socks like marshmallows. Sleep is mixed with cold all night, but I don’t care. We made it.
Saturday, March 5th
Stover Creek to Justus River Camping
We start the day slow, getting out of camp after everyone is gone. It starts to get sunny and warm, and we enjoy the scenery around us as the last of the snow disappears. I start to feel my first blisters, but ignore them as we continue to make miles. We arrive at Cooper Gap to Trail Magic. MacGyver and No Name offer us hot dogs and soda, and I swear it may be the best food I’ve ever had. We say our “thank you” and start hiking again. My legs and feet are killing me. We stop at Justas River to soak our feet and the cold washes the pain away. A few yards up the trail is camping, and we decide to set up camp for the night after 13+ miles logged for the day. We make a fire as others roll into camp, and everyone is in bed by hiker midnight.
Sunday, March 6th
Justas River Camping to Blood Mountain Cabins
We have a long day ahead of us – fifteen miles to Neels Gap. We’re the first out of camp. It poured for an hour last night, but the Echo II held up above expectation. Not a drop of water in the shelter. We leap frog with Chicken Foot and Craig throughout the day, and overhear their plans to split a cabin. Chicken Foot had one reserved at Blood Mountain Cabins, and we ask if there’s room. Splitting the cost four ways proves an economic option for everyone, and we all have our eyes on the prize heading over Blood Mountain. As we’re descending, my knee gives and I feel a twinge under the kneecap. Crocodile tears cover my face until we see the road to Neels Gap. Salvation. I limp into the outfitter, happy to have made the mileage and looking forward to a good rest. Red Baron frozen pizza, a Barq’s Root Beer, and a Butterfinger are my reward. We’re all located in Squirrel Cabin, and it’s a glorious moment when we all take a load off and tend to our wounded feet. Except for Tyson, who earned the trail name Tenderfoot after showing off his baby soft soles. I spend the next hour popping and bandaging my half dozen blisters. Laundry service, a warm shower, a six pizza feast, and a soft bed make the hike worth it. Sleep is too easy.
Monday, March 7th
Blood Mountain Cabins to Whitley Gap Shelter
Everything still hurts. My knee is noticeable the moment I wake up. Damn. We’re slow getting out the door, and don’t leave until around 11:00am. We make a quick stop at the outfitter to grab a knee brace and stamp out passport. We’re both feeling it as we start hiking again just before noon, and agree on light mileage for the day. Whitley Gap becomes our best option when water is scarce between Neels Gap and Hogpen Gap. It’s 1.2 off trail, and we think we’ll be the only ones there tonight before Craig comes down the trail, followed by Michelle and John, and finally Hana. The weather is perfect tonight, and Tyson and I hope for improved injuries in the morning. As much as I hurt, I think to myself that I’d choose this over the office any day.
Tuesday, March 8th
Whitley Gap Shelter to Blue Mountain Shelter
We wake up ready for another long day. Everyone is in good spirits at breakfast, and most of us are heading to the same place. The weather is beautiful again. We’ve been spoiled, and I hate knowing that it can’t last before we get a rainy day. We start the day strong, getting to Low Gap before long. Tyson’s achilles are flaring up again, but my knee is feeling better with the help of he brace. Thankfully, the terrain and elevation are easy going. We take siesta at noon, and relax with our camp shoes on. Vitamin I is inevitable, but helps to get us through until camp. We finish our 14+ miles around 3:30pm as we arrive at camp. Friendly familiar faces are already set up for the night, and more arrive behind us. Some are taking a nero in Hiawassee from Unicoi Gap like us tomorrow, and others are making their way to Dicks Creek Gap before resupply. We go to bed early, looking forward to only hiking 2.2 miles out in the morning and catching our shuttle at 9:00am.
Wednesday, March 9th
Blue Mountain Shelter to Hiawassee Budget Inn
We pack out early and hike down the mountain. It’s foggy, and everything is damp. Thankfully it will all dry in town. Just before the rain everyone is predicting. I’ve accepted that nothing will stay dry or clean. We get to Unicoi Gap and wait for our shuttle. Others are getting dropped off after a night in Helen, and we see a familiar face or two. Our shuttle arrives from the Hiawassee Budget Inn. It’s been days since we were in a vehicle. What would have taken all day on foot takes ten minutes in the shuttle. We check into our room and immediately start on drying our gear and getting laundry together for the wash. We grab our mail drop and another stamp for the passport at the check in desk. We take and leave some things in the hiker box before grabbing our warm, clean clothes from the dryer. It’s time for food now, and the AWOL Guide shows an AYCE (All You Can Eat) buffet called Daniel’s within a half mile. Other thru-hikers flock there as well to load up on calories. We waddle out, stuffed to the brim. On the way back we grab some supplies at the Ingles grocery store and Rite Aid. The evening is spent relaxing in our room, planning and blogging. Our next couple days will be a push into North Carolina, and hoping not to resupply until Fontana Dam. It’s been a long and crazy week, but I can’t even describe the amazement the trail has brought us so far. Many more miles to Katahdin, but I don’t think I’ll ever want it to end.
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I am a recent (last summer) thru hike wanna be. I have been following several bloggers on this site and look forward to reading your blog and regular updates. Keep up the great writing as I am sure I am not the only one living vicariously through your adventure. Good luck…
Amazing Kendra!! You are an incredible writer & an even stronger, determined young- woman!! Although, better than a day at the office??!! Should I take offense to that? Just kidding & looking forward to your next Blog!
Question. What do you mean getting your passport stamped? I’ve section hiked the first 200 miles over the past 4 years but that’s a new term to me.