Thanks for the Lessons, Georgia

As I crossed the Georgia border into North Carolina, I smiled and let out a little whoop of excitement. I’d done it – made it through my first state on the AT! One down, 13 more to go.

Despite taking only about ten days of the six months I expect (and hope) to be out here on the trail, making it through Georgia was no small feat. Twenty-five percent of hikers drop out before reaching her border, or so I’m told. Her mountains are steep, her weather bipolar, and her lessons priceless. Allow me to share a little bit of what I’ve learned so far.

1. Hiking poles are your new best friend. I’ve been hiking incorrectly my whole life by not using these babies. These little gifts from the heavens will push you up mountains, slow you down steep inclines, prevent you from tripping over rocks and roots, and make you feel like a magical, confident giraffe. If you don’t already own some, you should consider buying a pair. My friend Jukebox even wrote a song about how great they are to the tune of “God Bless America.” You’ll have to find her on the trail to hear that rendition.

2. Be prepared for a very social trail. If you’re worried about being lonely, don’t be. Seriously, I’m living in the woods and struggle to find alone time each day. There are so many incredibly warm, friendly people out here – from thru-hikers to section hikers to trail angels to ridge runners and more. This means countless new friends to be made and interesting stories to be heard. My birthday was week two of my hike and happened to fall on a town day. You know how I spent it? Having dinner and drinks with 20 new trail friends, followed by a campfire and birthday cake. Near-strangers went out of their way to wish me a happy birthday. Hundreds of miles away from my loved ones, I had an incredible birthday. You don’t have to look far on the trail to find a plethora of kindness.

3. Candy is a food group! Think back to all the sweet treats you loved as a kid. Then add them to your shopping list. When you’re struggling with the last couple miles of the day, a little bit of straight sugar will help push you through.

4. Be prepared for all kinds of weather. In our first week, we had snow (our first night), rain, sleet, intense wind, freezing temperatures, and very sporadically, some sun. Make sure you have the necessary supplies to deal with it all. It might technically be spring, but I’m not sure anyone told Georgia.

5. Don’t worry about perfecting your gear or knowing exactly what you’re doing before hitting the trail. You have plenty of time to figure it all out once you’ve arrived and plenty of kind folks to help you along the way. The rangers and volunteers at Amicalola will give you a shakedown if you ask (they helped me shed five pounds from my bag) and plenty of good advice (all with a smile), the ridge runners you’ll meet along the way are full of tips and helpful anecdotes, and even your fellow hikers have experience to share. You’re not alone – so try not to overthink it.

6. The first day is the hardest. Well, it is if you start with the approach trail at Amicalola Falls (in my opinion). Those 604 stairs are no joke. As soon as I finished the last one, I threw off my pack and laid on the ground for a solid five minutes before continuing on. It was a struggle with a capital “S.” But even the steepest of Georgia’s mountains didn’t compare to those stairs, so if you can make it past the falls, you can make it through Georgia.

Thanks for the lessons, Georgia. Bring it on, North Carolina!

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