On the Trail!

This is my first post from the trail and I’m writing it on my iPhone so please excuse any typos.
My wife dropped me off at the Springer Mountain parking lot on the morning of March 27th. After saying our goodbyes she drove off, headed back home to Virginia, and I walked the mile from the parking lot to the peak of Springer. It was cold with a little fresh snow on the ground and several icy patches on the trail. As I walked toward the top I was so excited I felt like I was going to hyperventilate! It was cold up the so I quickly signed the register, took a quick photo of the plaque (with my foot in it) and headed back down. It felt surreal to finally be starting an adventure that I had been dreaming about for so long.
I’ve been on the trail for four days now and it has been even better than I could have imagined. The first day I walked to Gooch Mountain shelter and met a lot of great people. The first person I met was Olavi from Estonia who, like me, had walked Camino de Santiago. I ended the day walking with the guys in there early twenties, two if which had recently completed their military service in the Army. The first day (and night) went well – no blisters, no bears in camp, and I managed to get a little sleep in my tent, although it’s going to be a while before I can sleep soundly on the trail.
The second day I walked from Gooch Mountain Shelter to Neel’s Gap. Blood Mountain is every bit as tough as they say it is and as I had heard, going down was just as hard as going up. At Neel’s Gap I visited the terrific outfitter, Mountain Crossings, and picked up a few supplies and got some tips from Baltimore Jack and Will, two of the employees there who have thru-hiked and have a lot of experience helping new thru-hikers. I could not stay in the hostel there because I’m allergic to cats so I camped just behind their building and shared the campsite with Jacob and Emily, a nice couple from Boston who are on sabbatical from college to hike the trail.
On the third day I walked from Neel’s Gap to Blue Mountain Shelter and met Hurricane, a really interesting guy from New Zealand who has already hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and tried the AT last year, making it as far as Damascus before having to return home to take care of some family matters. I hope to be able to see him a lot on the trail. I found a great tent site at Blue Mountain Shelter and had fun talking to people around the campfire (see photo). There were a lot of hikers at Blue Mountain – the shelter was full and there were about ten tents set up. I had a great cell signal so i texted my wife, who immediately called me. We had a nice conversation and I was really glad to hear that everything is going well on her end. I had a pretty good night sleep, thanks in part to a perfectly flat tent site – I think I’m starting to get use to sleeping out. It rained a little that night but the rain had stopped by the time I was ready to start packing up at 7:00 a.m.
Yesterday, the fourth day, I walked from Blue Mountain Shelter to Dick’s Creek Gap, the getting off point for Hiawasee, GA, which is a popular trail town. I received my first trail magic from a 2010 thru-hiker who had driven up from Atlanta and set up his trail magic site near the place called the Cheese Factory. I enjoyed a Mello Yellow soft drink (my first ever), some Oreos and Snickers while hearing about his AT experience and getting some useful tips about the trail. I wish I could remember his trail name so that I could thank him in print. Anyway, he was a great guy and was really “paying it forward” to those of us who went through his magic site yesterday.
At Dick’s Creel Gap I got picked up by my Dad and his wife, Marilyn, who live in Blue Ridge, GA, not far from Hiawasee. They took me out for dinner and I did laundry and hit the grocery store to get enough food to get me to my next resupply point, the Nantahala Outdoor Center. I also picked up some moisturizing lotion for my hands and feet. I haven’t had any trouble with blisters but my skin is really dry and I have a small crack on my left heel and another on the tip of my right thumb. I put some Superglue on the crack on my thumb and may do the same on my heel if it gets any worse.
Today I am taking a “nero” (near zero) at my Dad and Marilyn’s house. We’re going to the Easter Sunday service at their church, Marilyn is cooking a nice lunch and some of their friends are coming over, and then they’ll drive me back to the trail. Depending on what time I get started I’ll go either four or ten miles and camp at a shelter. It’s getting dark at 8:00 p.m. So I need to get to my camp site by about 7:00 if I want to set up before dark. It’s raining now and forecast to rain all day so I may get to test my strategy for setting up my tent in the rain. Wish me luck!
Here are a few observations after four days on the trail:
– Being on the trail is just as awesome as I had imagined it would be.
– Doing a lot of research by talking to experienced thru-hikers, reading on-line journals and blogs and asking a lot of questions has paid off.
– My physical preparation, especially the many training hikes that I did, has paid off.
– Carrying too much food is the single biggest cause of an overweight pack. Even though I knew better, I have been carrying a day’s more food than I need. The hiker appetite has not kicked in yet so I almost have to force myself to cook dinner (my only hot meal of the day).
– Using the privy isn’t bad at all. So far they have been very well maintained thanks to a great local AT club.
– Going to bed at sunset and getting up at sunrise makes for a long night…at least this time of year. Unless you’re a great sleeper you’re going to have some free time in the tent to read, write a journal or whatever, so be prepared for that.
– Sleeping with your water bottle in your sleeping bag keeps it from freezing at night and isn’t as uncomfortable as it sounds. It’s nice to have water to drink when you wake up in the middle of the night and it’s good to drink as much as you can when you first wake up so that you start the day well hydrated.
– The down side to being well hydrated at night is that you may have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Laying there and thinking about how cold it’s going to be outside your bag doesn’t quell the urge, so just go for it. You’ll feel great when you get back in your bag.
That’s about all for now. It’s been a great adventure so far. I’ve had wonderful weather, although a bit cold, a met some really interesting people. It looks like later today the weather conditions will be less favorable – but I knew there would be challenging days ahead. So here goes…


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