Really? This has to be the one time you want to take the stairs?
In January I was home from my capacity development job in Afghanistan. My then boyfriend Alex, came over from Scotland where he was also on leave from his job in Afghanistan. I say then boyfriend because Alex is now my husband. We got married in the coffee shop on Main Street. I was testing out leggings and Injinji socks for my thru hike which is set to begin on April 11, 2016, a Columbia travel skirt, some black boots with fake fur on the rims and some comfy black sweater or jumper as Alex would say in his cute Scottish accent. Alex had on jeans. We are not the fashionista types. More the, “Hey let’s do it!” types and the coffee shop just happened to do it.
Anyway, after we got married and Alex had met some of my family then we drove a rental down to Savannah, Georgia so we could spend some time with my son Peanut Head, which was awesome! I love my son so much and he loves it when I call him Peanut Head! Not really but I get a pass because I cried when he asked me not to call him Peanut Head ad reminded him I was in labor with him for a whole hour!
I was hoping he would join me for a few days on the AT during my hike. That is not going to happen for a few reasons. One, he is the only guy I know who got himself shipped home from an Outward Bound trip in Colorado because the staff were afraid he was going to die. Two, he hates the outdoors and three, like he told the guy at the Verizon store when asked if he was going to hike along with me, “Umm, do I look like the outdoorsy type?” He is overweight and not particularly interested in doing much to change it.
While in Savannah we did a bunch of the ‘things to do in Savannah’ things. We stayed in a haunted hotel (but saw no ghosts), visited the squares, Jere’s Antiques, City market, and River Street. We ate at The Crab Shack, the Pirates House, and Clary’s (three days in a row) and the MidTown Deli, which is awesome by the way!
While in Savannah, I introduced Alex to his first American sports/outdoors store. We went to The Bass Pro Shop. He fell in love! We also went to Dick’s and Fleet Feet so I could get my new Brooks Cascadia trail shoes. He got to go to Cabbalas on the way home to Ohio too. He is so glad we decided to live in the U.S. instead of Scotland.
After leaving Savannah we were supposed to go to Washington D.C. to see people we worked with in Afghanistan but there was a huge storm going up the East coast so what else were we supposed to do but go West, and what just happens to be West? Why Springer Mountain of course!
So, off we drove to Amicalola Falls Lodge. We called and made reservations for two nights while driving. This turned into three nights because we were having so much fun and decided to do the whole Appalachian Approach Trail. The first day we bundled up and headed out to hike down the Amicalola Falls Trail. We went down a lot of stairs which we subsequently had to climb back up totaling around 850 steps.
Anyway, when we got to the bottom of the trail we ended up at the Amicalola Falls State Park reception center. Behind the reception center is the famous archway, the beginning of the Appalachian Approach trail that leads to the actual beginning of the Appalachian Trail at the very top of Springer Mountain. We were so lucky because we got there just in time to watch Greg finish his Appalachian Trail Flip-Flop hike! How lucky is that? He looked really cold. His parents were there to meet him and there wear tears all around as we took some family photos for them.
We were so excited! I am sure they thought we had serious mental issues, well me at least anyway. I kept thinking about my upcoming hike and wondered what I will feel like when I take my last steps at Katahinin State Park in Maine when I reached the end of my hike next October.
We left Greg and his family to climb back up the steps. Our excitement overflowing, we decided we needed to stay an additional night at the Lodge and hike up the AT Approach Trail, right up Springer Mountain. While at the front desk, extending our stay by a day, we told the man at reception our plan. He said the weather is not great and there is no way we could possibly get up and back down the trail in one day, no way. Boy did he say that to the two wrong people. If it weren’t before, it was set in stone now! We were going up! We turned from the desk and Alex headed once again to the elevator, which he had insisted we use every single time we went up to our room.
Me: “Alex, we are only one floor up remember? We can take the stairs.”
Alex: “Hmmm…the elevator works good too.”
So, the next morning we were up early looking out the window over the valley at the beautiful morning. It had stopped snowing and the sky was clear. We went down to breakfast where we ate way too much food figuring we would hike it off and besides we needed fuel, then back up to our room, in the elevator of course.
We got dressed to head out. Even though we had not planned on a day hike of approximately 15 miles we had a surprising amount of appropriate gear to wear. I got to test out my new Brooks trail shoes, Injinji sock liners, Darn Tough Vermont Women’s 1/4 Cushion socks, Frogg Toggs Women’s All Purpose Rain Suit, Columbia’s Women’s Anytime Outdoor Boot Cut Pants. Alex got to see how his swede boots would do on the trial (surprisingly again, they did really great)! Bundled up in layers, off we went. We were quite determined that we were going to make it all the way up and all the way down in one day just to prove to the man behind the desk we could.
It was a beautiful day and we were surpassed at just how soon those layers started coming off once we got going. The tree branches were covered in ice creating what Alex called a beautiful ice world. There was snow on the ground. One set of steps were in the snow heading down the trail. We imagined they were Greg’s from the day before. As it turns out we are very thankful for Greg and his footsteps because in some places the blue blazes seemed very far apart and the trail not easy to follow. As we waked in Greg’s footsteps I could not help but think that the snow would be melted by April 11 (I hope) and I would not be able to leave footprints of my own in the snow. I hate being cold!
We had been hiking for about three hours when I pointed in front of us, about 200 feet, Me, more calmly then I had thought I might be “Alex, there is a bear!” Alex, “That is not a bear. It’s a dog (pronounced dug in his accent)’.
The bear must have heard us because he did a little bear gallup up the ridge parallel in front of us. “Alex, that’s a bear.” “It’s a big dog.” At that point, as if to support my claim, the bear stopped and turned and looked right at us. We could see his lighter colored bear face. I was digging for my cell phone (not really the best first thing to do when seeing a bear) to get pictures. “Hmmm, you’re right. That’s a bear!” Alex whispered. Me, “I don’t think we’re supposed to whisper. It is a black bear. We are supposed to make lots of noise.” “HI BEAR!” and take his picture of course.
Obviously not in the mood to be social, the bear ignored my greeting and bear galloped up the ridge and out of sight. At least I got some pictures and a wee video of the bear butt as he ran off. We talked really loud and kept a good look out (for another photo op) as we made our way up the trail to where the bear had crossed the trail him or herself. Though we felt blessed to have seen a bear we figured we could check that box and there was no need to see another one!
We made it to the top of Springer Mountain and found that though we had not passed any other hikers on the way up, there were five people and a dog already there. A couple and their dog who had come up from the road access, two men, one of them a German guy, who had set out individually but met up on the trail and decided to hike together, and a man with a really large, heavy looking pack who said he had started his NOBO hike two days before at the Amicalola Falls reception center and had been stuck in the shelter waiting out the snow storm the night before. We chatted a bit and had our snacks, signed the journal and headed back down the mountain.
About an hour later we met a group of four heading up the mountain to camp overnight. Then about another hour later we ran into another thru hiker starting his AT thru hike. His name was “Doc”. He said he has thru hiked the trail multiple times, I can’t remember how many but is was around ten or eleven maybe. He definitely looked like he knew what he was doing and his pack appeared a lot more organized and lighter than the guy from atop the mountain. We told “Doc” about the guy and said he may pass him by night fall if not sooner. He said he would be on the look out for him in case he needed any assistance.
It was such an awesome day that I would write forever if I added all the details so I will summarize:
Animals seen: 2, one bear and one wood pecker who scared the shit out of us when he flew out of the hollow tree he was working in before we interrupted him by peeping in.
Animals heard: some birds and the woodpecker from above who was not happy about us nosy people.
People seen: 10, two of whom were beginning their thru hikes ( I could not help thinking they were crazy to be starting so early, it was really cold out!)
Hazards: Widow makers (we learned this is what the ice cycles and ice covered branches falling from the trees were called)
Pain and Injuries: 2.5, one red bump on forehead from above widow makers ( I had thought Alex was being a bit dramatic when he was getting hit with them until karma taught me that he was not), one swollen knee and one aching shoulder that I later found out is a ‘frozen shoulder’ and may put a glitch in my thru hike plans but not as of yet.
Times I thought I was bat shit crazy for even thinking I could possible complete the whole Appalachian Trail when I was pretty sure I was going to die after just 15 miles: Oh I don’t know, let’s low ball it at 120!
Time it took to hike up Springer Mountain and back to Amicalola Falls Lodge: 8
Negative: 1-Don’t hike in swede boots (even though they did exceptionally well considering they are not hiking shoes). 2-I really should not plan on hiking 15 miles per day to start off my thru hike in April. Ten or twelve miles may be a bit more realistic, especially with this shoulder.
Positive: 1-Frogg Toggs, Injinji, Brooks shoes, leggings, Columbia pants are awesome, 2-I love Peanut M&M’s and justified eating them by saying the sugar would be processed too fast to cause any problems (this is not a professional opinion).
In the end we did make it all the way up and all the way down the Approach Trail even though it was dusk toward the end of our hike. As we were approaching the Lodge Alex said, after rolling his shoulders back to straighten himself up, “Okay, here we go, stand up straight Sweetie, look perky and not like we can barely walk. This is the time for a wee spring in our step!” I had no words for him, not because I didn’t have a reply but because I didn’t even have the energy to open my mouth. I did stand up a bit straighter though.
In we walked, a spring in our step that was actually more like a limp with a bounce then a spring of any kind. I headed straight for the elevator, stairs be damned. Alex, in his desire not to be emasculated by a mere mountain, headed for the stairs. I found my voice, “Really, this has to be the one time you want to take the freakin’ stairs?” We took the stairs.
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That was an impressive first AT hike, and a great read. Good luck on your time in the woods.