The First 30 Miles

I understand why many aspiring thru-hikers don’t make it any farther than Neels Gap at mile 31.3 on the AT.

But let me go back to mile one.
Wait…let me go back a little further.

Base Camp, Amicalola Falls State Park

The day before the AT

We arrived at Hostel Around the Bend in Hiawassee early, left our car, and hopped into Bear’s car for the shuttle to Amicalola Falls State Park. Learning Curve came along for the ride and we were glad he did. Both of these hikers had great advice and were a huge encouragement.

Once at AFSP, one of the volunteers there gave everyone a speech of sorts—how to bury your poop, where to find water, and the principles of “leave no trace.”

We registered, were given our hiker numbers, and had our backpacks weighed.

What the…how is my pack 38 pounds?!?

Time for the infamous stairs. All 5,479 of them. Okay, okay, there were actually only 720 stairs, but with my freaking heavy backpack, it might as well have been a few thousand. You know what? The amazing cascade waterfall was totally worth the lactic acid burn in my thighs.

That’s just the upper portion of Amicalola Falls.

Once at the top, we headed for the lodge. If you’ve seen the movie “A Walk in the Woods,” you’ll see a bit of the lodge.

We had dinner, re-packed our packs, and hit the sack.

Michelle from White Blaze Shuttles picked us up early on my start date of 3/23/23, and expertly navigated the old forestry service roads to the parking lot a mile from the start of the AT: Springer Mountain.

Standing at the top, cold wind whipping, I swallowed my emotions (it was too cold for tears).

I’m finally starting my journey…so long in the planning and even longer in the back of my mind.

I signed the log and got a photo. A few minutes later, someone else signed the log and said, “Who is Fortune Cookie?”

I smiled and raised my hand.

She said, “I read your blogs on The Trek!”

Ruth Ann, thanks for making my day!

We made it to Hawk Mountain tent site that night, then to Gooch Mountain Shelter the next. We tented again at Lance Creek and then made it to Neels Gap where we stayed in the hostel.

What was so tough about those first 30 miles?

Day one, the IT band on my right leg started screaming at me only four miles in. I was prepared, however, with IT band stabilizer straps. I cinched those bad boys on, downed some Tylenol and finished the day.

Day two, my hiking was painfully slow, even with healthy doses of Vitamin I (ibuprofen) and the straps.

Day three, I continued to hobble, but the tent site community at the end made it worthwhile. We caught up to Ruth Ann and Charles, Aloha, Alton, Shorts, and Strange Bird, along with about a dozen others.

Day four took us up and over Blood Mountain—the highest mountain of the Georgia portion of the AT—and into Neels Gap.

At the top of Blood Mountain. You can see the IT band straps above and below my right knee.

At 4,459 feet, Blood Mountain is a formidable hiker foe. My legs ache just writing about it. Imagine a mountain that a child might draw…a triangle with a point, steep grade up and down. Yeah, that’s Blood Mountain.

Once at the top, you think, “I conquered it,” but you’re so very wrong. You still have to descend the mountain. Heading NOBO, the descent was more rough than the ascent. Giant slabs of rock, not enough switchbacks, rock steps, tangles of tree roots…did I mention the giant slabs of rock?

Once again, just like last September in Pennsylvania, the rocks tried to kill me. This time, I only slid sideways instead of face down. My IT band straps actually absorbed the impact for my knee. This time, the bruises wound up on my hip and shoulder. By the time I limped into Neels Gap I was ready for a shower, a cold drink, some cheese, a night in a warm building (thank God they have a hostel at Mountain Crossings)…but I was not ready to quit.

Sadly, a couple of the hikers we arrived with…called it quits.

Those are hiking shoes and boots in the tree in front of Mountain Crossings at Neels Gap.

By the way, I will not be ready to quit until I touch the sign at the top of Katahdin.

Thanks to Moose Juice at Mountain Crossings, my pack is 7 pounds lighter. Take advantage of the free pack shakedown when you get there.

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Comments 16

  • Martha Potocki : Mar 30th

    Brings back memories!!! To heavy pack etc. We skipped the approach trail and started at the top of Springer. One of our AT friend’s had to take a week off after the approach trail. We had read about it and especially everyone’s pack was way to heavy.
    AT GA-ME 97

    • Carol Fielding : Apr 6th

      Wow, that’s awful about your friend! A few thru-hikers recommended we skip the approach trail and we heeded their advice.

  • Nancy J : Mar 30th

    I admire your determination. This is a very serious adventure. I liked seeing the two of you laughing. Good humor will get you through a log of hard places. nj

    • Carol Fielding : Apr 6th

      Thanks! You have to laugh and be flexible for this hike for sure.

  • Jo Anne Reinhard : Mar 30th

    Congrats on the first 30! My daughter and I have section-hiked the last few years. The evil rocks near Smith Gap, PA, bit me last August. I face-planted, busted my lip, and broke a tooth. We will be back out there again this summer chipping away a few more miles. I think you and I carry the same 38-pound pack so I’m looking forward to reading your posts. Stay safe!

    • Carol Fielding : Apr 6th

      PA rocks are no joke! Sorry you got hurt. My pack is now down to about 30 lbs.

  • Jamie Ditzler : Mar 30th

    You go girl! I am so stinking excited for you and can’t wait to follow along with you all the way to the end!

    • Carol Fielding : Apr 6th

      Thanks, Jamie!

  • Linda Taylor : Mar 31st

    You’re gonna do it, sis! Love reading these posts!

    • Carol Fielding : Apr 6th

      Yay! Thanks!

  • Tarheel : Apr 1st

    On 4-28-79 as I trekked up the approach trail ( they hadn’t invented the “steps” yet ) I met two prospective thru-hikers coming SOUTHBOUND at the old fire tower foundations. They said that they weren’t prepared enough for the AT and that they were “through”, having not made it to Springer. I haven’t heard of a shorter duration attempt since then. At the Dick’s Creek Gap road intersection in the rain, I told the Atlanta GA swat team guy ( replete with not one but two knives to his body…boot laces and back of his neck ): “Andy, you couldn’t pay me to do this”. He agreed and then asked me where the next road crossing was. Never saw him again. When I was preparing to start the trail, a local hiker had heard about my thru-hike, so he told me that I only had to do two things to hike the AT: “go down to Springer and start, when you get to Katahdin, stop”. True enough, the rest is just details……..TarHeel GA>ME ’79

    • Carol Fielding : Apr 6th

      I love that—start at Springer, stop at Katahdin. Perfect!

  • Bob Soto (Billie and Bob from Amicalola Falls Hotel) : Apr 3rd

    So excited for you. Congratulation on your first 30miles. Billie and I are cheering for you. Enjoy your accomplishments, be careful and keep us posted./Users/Bobesoto/Desktop/Carol Fielding ” The TRex”/Carol Fielding Final/DSC00451.jpg

    • Carol Fielding : Apr 6th

      Thanks, Bob! You’re the best!

  • Jennifer Reed : Apr 3rd

    Hi Fortune Cookie,
    Great post, and keep hiking! I am a little bit behind you, but maybe we will cross paths at some point.
    Double Nickels

    • Carol Fielding : Apr 6th

      Awesome! I’m slow right now so we will likely cross paths on the trail. Looking forward to seeing you!


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