Prelude: Pinhoti Trail Shakedown

I buckled my pack, tightened my boots and walked out into the woods for the first time as an overnight backpacker.

My knowledge of the task at hand was as raw as the skin on the back of my heels was post hike. Still, I took those first steps onto the path never fearing the outcome. This was merely a prelude to a much larger and more epic story. The start of an epic tale is just as important as its middle, end and every step in between.

So I stepped into a new, unknown world, the Pinhoti Trail. The Pinhoti spans 339 miles from its southern terminus in central Alabama (close to home) to its northern terminus in northwest Georgia where it intersects with the Benton MacKaye Trail. Hike roughly 70 miles east on the BMT and you’ve arrived at Springer Mountain. This shakedown hike was literally and figuratively connected to my upcoming attempt to thru hike the AT.

Man did I look the part in my convertible hiking pants, poly Columbia T, Costa shades and my wide-brimmed, American-flag plastered hat? You’re damn right I did. It felt so good to finally be outfitted and in the field with the gear I’d been accumulating for so long. However, I was missing a couple key components — conditioned legs and lungs. Those inclines burned deep in the calfs and hamis with the heat of a thousand suns.

But I wouldn’t trade experiencing that first climb up Flagg Mountain (about 1,000 feet w a pretty steep grade) for nothing. The beads of sweat rolled down early, and I dug into and pushed off the Earth with my Lekki poles often. Once I peaked it all hit me; the exhaustion, sense of accomplishment and appreciation for what my eyes were seeing. I was there to gain that irreplaceable first-time experience and to break everything in, including my body. Mission accomplished.

It was a hike characterized by firsts. It was the first time my tent was exposed to a thunderstorm, first time I slept in 30 degree weather, first time I drank filtered water straight from a natural source, first hitchhike. I got my first annoying sleeping bag zipper snag, first time busting my ass on a slick spot, first bruises and blisters, first log in a hiker notebook, first trail magic (water and Gatorade left at a trailhead) and first 50 plus miles under my feet. My gear impressed the hell out of me, and I took down mental notes of what I did and didn’t need.

Sure, living in the woods was new, and it took some adjustments, but it felt instinctive. For the first time in a long time I felt completely capable of life. I had all that I needed and nothing more. I walked out of the woods after four days and three nights with a new found confidence in my backpacking skills and life in general.

I unbuckled my pack, yanked my boots off and got in my car to drive back to society. I was a first timer no more.

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