Reflecting Back On My First AT Section Hike
If you ask around the A.T. section hiking community, you’ll find that there is no set rule for determining where to begin your section hike. Some look at the logistics of it all and find the trail head closest to home. Others choose based on what they’ve read from others who have done a lot of section hiking. For me, the answer was clear from the moment the A.T. bug bit me: I was going to start from the beginning.
We loaded up our gear and hit I-75, Georgia-bound! Arriving in Dahlonega, GA, we wasted no time checking into our hotel and then hitting the local Pizza Hut (which has since become our restaurant of choice when coming off the trail). We double-checked all our gear and finally climbed into bed, satisfied that we’d forgotten nothing. In hindsight, it would have served us well if we had…but who REALLY knew how much pack weight would come into play? I’d done tons of reading about such things but this was our first time out…and we wanted to be comfortable.
Because we’d climbed the stairs at Amicalola Falls numerous times, we opted to skip them the morning of our departure so once we’d checked in at the Visitor’s Center, we drove up to the parking lot at the tops of the Falls where the kind ranger (Ron Brown, who now operates a kick-butt trail shuttle service) told us we could leave the car. We were giddy with excitement as we grabbed our packs. This is where I felt a kinship to Robert Redford and Nick Nolte in “A Walk in the Woods.” We stood there looking at each for what seemed like forever….as if we were expecting bolts of lightening to come crashing down or some thunderous drum roll to come out of nowhere, announcing to the world that Lori and Debbie were about to begin their A.T. section hike.
Finally, we both just shrugged and decided it was time to go. We headed towards the woods, smiles on our faces, but those smiles quickly faded as we were instantly introduced to the concept of pack weight. I, admittedly, was out of breath before we reached the woods and my sister looked back at me after a couple of steps and said, “I’m not sure I can do this.” We made a pact right then and there that if the going got too rough, we’d turn around and head back to our car. “We can do this,” I said reassuringly, trying to hide my own doubts that only multiplied under the weight of my over-sized pack. Still…my heart was filled with excitement. I was actually doing it! I was actually hiking the A.T.!
I’m not sure what I expected hiking the A.T. would be like. After having read several books (A Walk in the Woods and Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail to name a few), I envisioned this glamorous world filled with super-friendly people….I’m just not sure what, on that first hike, that I expected to find out there. What we did encounter was elevation…something foreign to us Floridians. I knew there would be mountains to climb…but knowing it and doing it are two very different things. All the while, there were a handful of thoughts that kept tumbling around in my mind:
- What the heck was I doing out there?
- What kind of a “vacation” is this?
- How on earth am I going to carry this freakishly heavy backpack for 8.5 miles?
- Have I completely lost my mind? Who does this kind of thing for fun!!??
- I simply CANNOT take one more step!
- Are we f***ing there yet?!
I must insert here that at this time, I had not read Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis so I had no idea that what I was thinking and feeling was actually pretty normal. I fought a battle internally between what my heart wanted and what my mind kept telling me: “You’re freaking crazy!”
I can’t say exactly how far up Springer we were but seemingly out of nowhere we heard this man’s voice exclaiming, “This is the WORST f***ing day of my life!” Now….I don’t judge….but I can honestly say I’ve never seen anyone carrying a backpack as big as this guy’s was. Yes…he was THAT GUY….carrying cast iron cookware and other very large personal items, strapped on the outside of his monstrous pack. He continued to swear as he passed us by, barely acknowledging that we were there.
Before long, I was standing at the summit of Springer….a moment that I’ll never forget. I’d done it. We’d done it. We hadn’t let those voices in our heads convince us that we couldn’t, even though they really gave it their all the entire way.
We quickly finished up the quarter mile between the summit and the shelter area, hoping to beat THAT GUY into camp.
I know…it doesn’t look like much but once we got our tent all set up, it felt like home. There wasn’t anything on me that didn’t hurt and yet all I could really feel was a tremendous sense of accomplishment. That pride was immediately kicked under a log when I clogged my water filter due to user error and we ended up having to boil our water. Yeah…the A.T. reminded me that I was just a beginner with a lot left to learn. We climbed into our tent that night, completely exhausted. Soon the woods came alive with the first rays of the sun and we slowly (and painfully) climbed out of our tent. The sight that greeted us took my breath away….
We took our time with our breakfast, just basking in the beauty of nature. This was our only night on this trip but this was just the beginning of my obsession with the A.T.
So…how do you decide where to begin your A.T. section hike? Honestly, where you start doesn’t matter. Just pick a place and go!
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