Starting Off

Scene: Two college-aged girls watch the horror movie Wrong Turn in a cool, dark basement. On the television screen, attractive, young actors scream as they are beset by inbred, deformed hillbillies.  
Anna: Have you ever heard of the Appalachian Trail?
Ellen: (munching popcorn) No. What is it?
Anna: (raises voice to be heard over horror movie) It’s this trail that goes all the way through the Appalachian mountains. It takes people months to finish. (Pauses to watch actors sway on the trunks of evergreen trees while hillbillies gather below with chainsaws.) 
Ellen: Does it go through West Virginia? 
Anna: It does! Why do you ask?
Ellen: Because this movie is set in West Virginia. 
Anna: Oh yeah, that’s what made me think of it. Anyways, it’s one of my goals to hike the whole thing one day.
Ellen: I’ll do it with you!
Anna: Awesome. It might be a few years. We need to graduate from college and then be unemployed.
Ellen: Perfect. 

A few years later…

We’ve been on the trail for (checks calendar) eleven days now. I have a surprising amount of service right now at mile 125 and so I’m determined to update the blog! So much has happened in so few days.  Day one on the trail seems so long ago.

Day one was April 21. My mom drove Anna (hereafter called by her trail name, Finch) and me down to Georgia. We spent the night of the 20th in Dawsonville, ate at a steakhouse for dinner, and drove to Amicalola State Park in the morning.

Walking into the visitor’s center and signing in was surreal. I’ve read a ton of trail journals describing the process of weighing packs and writing in the log, so doing so myself felt like a rite of passage. I was number 1307 to start at the approach trail. My pack weighed only 26 pounds!! 


Signing in at the visitor center

Saying goodbye to my mom was really bittersweet. We both got misty and she told me to take care of myself. Doing my best, Mom!

Finch and I set off to walk the approach trail, which is about 8.5 miles upwards to the southern terminus of the AT, Springer Mountain. We thought we’d done a good job preparing physically for the trail, but I was very challenged by that uphill. The climb began with a staircase that wove around Amicalola’s beautiful waterfalls. It was incredibly atmospheric. Then, the trail kept going up. And up. And up, up, up. 


Amicalola Falls


Approach trail


Difficulty: Strenuous

On our way up, up, up, we met our first fellow thru-hiker, Ben. We’ve seen a lot of Ben since, and refer to him as Fever Dog, for his glorious 70’s hairdo that he buzzed off for the trail. We saw a picture of his before-hair and immediately I thought of the fictional band Stillwater from the movie, Almost Famous, and their wailing song, Fever Dog. Not sure if this trail name will stick, as Ben is currently a day or two ahead of us and Finch and I aren’t with him to reinforce the moniker. If you’re reading this, hi, Ben! I mean, Fever Dog!


Finch and Ben "Fever Dog"

The approach trail took the better part of the day.


The crowd on Springer

When we reached Springer Mountain, we had just enough juice left in us to make it to Stover Creek Shelter. There, I had a delicious dinner of rice and veggies seasoned with Chick-fil-A Polynesian sauce. I went to bed (went to tent?) and was freezing cold throughout the night. 

I might as well take this opportunity to air my grievances with my ZPacks 20 degree down sleeping bag. It has just not been sufficient for the weather on the trail. We’ve had cold nights and my sleeping bag, made to fit my 5’5″ frame, leaves my head and shoulders exposed. Moreover, there are cold spots at my feet where the down layer is quite thin. I wake up most nights, in discomfort and chilled through. All in all, the bag is a big disappointment for the price I paid.

On a happier note, I’ve had great experiences with other pieces of  gear. My thermarest sleeping pad is immensely comfortable and reflects body heat. Without it, I’d wake up as a popsicle. I also am in love with my Sea to Summit inflatable pillow. It was a last-minute purchase, and so worth it.

While I hike, I like to listen to audio books. My Sansa SanDisk mp3 player has been perfect for this. It’s light, has a nifty clip, and has a micro SD slot that, combined with the 8 GB of internal memory, makes the Sansa capable of holding a whopping 40 GB. Since I’m carrying two 32GB micro SD cards, that’s almost 90 audiobooks that I have access to. So far, I’ve burned through three books.

Another thing I’ve burned through is my feet. The first few days on the trail, Finch and I really pushed our miles. I started the trail with blisters and our pace only served to enrage them. Every step was painful. I remember thinking that this trail would be a snap if only every footfall didn’t make me want to dive off a cliff. Making matters more complicated, the first night I discovered that my Castille soap had escaped the confines of its bottle and saturated everything in my first aid/toiletries bag. Everything. Bandages. Medicine. Toothbrush. Contact case. Everything smelled and burned of corrosive peppermint soap. This made treating my blisters and maintaining personal hygiene a soapy mess. 

So, for the first few days, walking, our only job on the trail, was pretty horrible. Relief came at Mountain Crossings at Neel Gap, where I decimated my bank account and bought new shoes. It turns out the toe box of my Oboz was too small for my feet. I got a pair of Keens, a size up. (Luckily MC had size 11.) The toe box is a dream. The heels aren’t perfect, though. I had more support in my Oboz, but overall the Keens are a better fit for my feet. Also helpful was the pair of toe sock liners I procured. No new blisters and my old ones have turned to calluses!


My new toe sock liners

There is so much more left to write, but I think I’ll go to bed now and write a second installment tomorrow. 

Happy trails!

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Comments 1

  • sheffieldnick : May 2nd

    Love my Zpacks sleeping bag! Really warm and amazingly light. From their website:
    “Important: The sizes listed will
    cinch snug around the neck of a person up to the indicated height.
    We recommend sizing up one length so that you have extra length to
    pull up around your ears
    when it gets cold.”

    They have an excellent returns policy, so you can probably just swap it for a longer length.

    They also sell a down hood for sleeping when it is really cold. Perhaps you could get one posted out to you?


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