Shake Ups and Shake Downs

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

In planning any grand adventure, I think you’re doing it wrong if everything goes smoothly. With that in mind, my AT thru-hike is surely going to be epic considering all of the shake ups I’ve had, and I’m still many months out!

Shaking things up a bit…

The first big change to my plans involves my start date. From the beginning I have been hell-bent on starting with the hiker bubble mid-late March and experiencing the traditional NOBO thru-hike, Springer to Katahdin, all the way. Unfortunately, life and lemons get in the way of things and it looks like I’m not going to be able to finish school until the end of April, more than a month later than my original planned start date.


Now, I mentioned this in my last post but wasn’t sure of the details. Sure enough, it looks like not only am I going to have to stay in school until the end of April, but I’m going to have to move back to South Georgia where there are no mountains for four months! If you can’t tell, I’m having serious mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I’ll be able to live with my dad and save money and spend some much needed and valued time with my family. I’ll also finish my degree and my teaching certification, setting me up for hopeful success re-entering the professional world upon my return. On the other hand, though, there are no mountains in South Georgia and it puts a big damper on my hiking plans by pushing my start date back.

Now, for some this may not be an issue but I am inevitably a social butterfly and I will not be satisfied with my thru-hike if I don’t have that social experience of being with the hiker bubble. So, weighing all of my options, I’ve decided to hike the first 200 miles in sections BEFORE my start date There. I said it. I can’t help but feel like I’m cheating, but I know I will be happier if I’m in the Smokies at the end of April so I stand more of a chance of catching up with the bubble, rather than being on Springer on April 25th alone.

My dreams of a traditional NOBO thru hike have been squashed, but, well, so be it. At least, looking on the bright side of things, I ought to have a really good idea of how my gear is working and have figured out the perfect set-up and routine by the time I strike out for Katahdin at the end of April. This will hopefully set me up for even greater chances of success.

And now, shaking things down.

Moving away from the slightly depressing news above, I’ve started planning my first shakedown hike, and thus my first section aimed at knocking out those first 200 miles. The University of Georgia has an outdoor adventure club and I’ve been talking to several other club members about doing a Thanksgiving break hike. So far, I’ve got about 8 other people interested in joining, so it should be a lot of fun! Here’s our tentative itinerary. What do you more experienced hikers think? Doable?

  • Nov 21 (Friday) – early morning departure, leaving one vehicle at the end (either Hogpen Gap trailhead or Unicoi gap, depending on how many days we decide on, then driving on to the parking area at Springer Mountain. Hike out from Springer to Hawk Mountain Shelter (7.6 miles) for overnight.
  • Nov 22 – hike to Gooch Mountain Shelter (7.3 miles) for overnight.
  • Nov 23 – Gooch Gap to Woods Hole Shelter (11.9 miles). This would be the longest day.
  • Nov 24 – Woods Hole to Wolf Laurel top campsite (7.1 miles). There’s an outfitter/resupply on the way.
  • Nov 25 would be Wolf Laurel to Hogpen Gap (3 miles) then home OR if we choose to hike Wednesday as well would be to Low Gap Shelter (7.2 miles) then…
  • Nov 26th would be to Unicoi Gap (9.4 miles) then home.

This trip totals about 50 miles and will give me a good opportunity to test my gear and see how I’m going to handle the colder temps in a hammock. I’m planning another 3-4 day trip in December and a 9 day trip over my spring break in March. I’m hoping I’ll meet some other NOBO’ers during the March section, at which point I’ll be crossing North Carolina.

Let’s just shake things up a bit more while we are at it.

Probably the single most exciting thing that’s happened since I started planning my thru hike is when, about a week ago, my younger sister sent me a text that said “I want to do this hike with you.” I nearly fell out of my chair. See, my three younger siblings and I have not historically had very many of the same interests and I never would have thought she would want to spend 6 months with me, let alone 6 months in the woods! Unfortunately, she can’t start until school is out in May and she will have to go back to school in August, so realistically she won’t be able to finish the whole trail, but she wants to do as much of it as she can with me.

One of her biggest obstacles is finance. She, like me, is a full time college student with a part time job in food service. The difference is I’ve been saving for months now and she’s just starting. Not only that, but she has ZERO gear. So I’m doing everything I can to help her with purchases and saving.

Like me, she has no backpacking experience, but she is going to go on the Thanksgiving shakedown hike with me and we will see what she needs from there in order to be comfortable. I can not wait. I’ve gotten to spend so little time with my family over the last several years. This single change has become the highlight of my trail journey! Now I don’t have to start alone, I don’t have to plan alone, I don’t have to be excited alone. Having someone to share the journey with is great, but getting to share it with my sister makes it that much better. Welcome aboard the AT Crazy Train, Amanda!

Amanda (left), Clara (middle, barely) and Me at a concert in Atlanta.

Amanda (left), Clara (middle, barely) and Me at a concert in Atlanta.

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