The One Where I Threw Shoes [AT mile 0.0-69.2]
Well…not mine, but we’ll get to that. First off, a breakdown of my first week on trail.
Day 1: 5.6 miles on the Approach Trail, 2.8 on the AT to Stover Creek Shelter
Day 2: 14.1 miles to Gooch Gap
Day 3: 9.4 miles to Jarrard Gap
Day 4: 11.9 miles to Hogpen Gap
Day 5: 11.9 miles to Blue Mountain Shelter
Day 6: 15.5 miles to Deep Gap Shelter
Day 7: 4.6 miles to Dick’s Creek Gap
Day 8: Zero at Hostel Around the Bend
Total miles hiked on the AT: 69.2
My mom, dad and sister drove me to Amicalola to drop me off. While talking to a lady in the visitor’s center, he learned how to skip the dreaded stairs on the Approach Trail. Which sounded wonderful to me. So after signing in and taking my picture with the arch, we drove up to High Shoals road, 3.2 miles into the Approach Trail. We said goodbyes and I headed off up the remaining 5.6 miles to Springer Mountain.
It didn’t feel real. Even now as I write this a week later, it doesn’t truly feel like I’m out here. It feels like a dream I’m going to wake up from any minute, still months away from my start date.
After a few hours, I summited Springer and saw my first white blaze. I took the traditional plaque photos and a nice long break before continuing on to Stover Creek Shelter where I pitched my tent for night 1. Many other hopeful thru-hikers were camping there, and I made the first of many friends that night.
Accidental Long Day
Before starting on the trail, I had planned on only hiking 8-12 miles each day so as not to push myself too hard and get injured (a large reason why many thru-hikers decide to quit). But on day 2, that plan kind of went out the window when I strolled up to a completely full Gooch Mountain Shelter. Absolutely slammed. So i continued 1.2 miles further to Gooch Gap where there was still plenty of space to pitch a tent despite many people already camping there.
The infamous (but highly overrated) Blood Mountain
Blood Mountain is the highest peak on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail, and the point at which many thru-hikers quit. So many that there’s a tree on the north side of the mountain where quitters throw their shoes into the branches. But we’ll get to that.
I summited Blood Mountain on a very foggy day 4. Since beginning to research the AT, I’ve heard horror stories about the difficulties of Blood Mountain—of the steep and unending climb, and the rocky and sketchy descent. But when I set out that morning, i was at the top before I knew it. Sure, it was no flat sandy beach, but I kept waiting for a killer steep section that never came. Honestly, I think the climbs up Wildcat Mountain (mile 37.8) and Kelly Knob (64.8) were much worse. So don’t believe all the horror stories you hear.
At the bottom of Blood Mountain is Neel Gap, where Mountain Crossings (an outfitter store) and the shoe tree are located. I took a nice long lunch break here, purchasing a little celebratory philly cheese steak and Kit Kat bar from the store. Before leaving, I found a pair of boots that had fallen from the shoe tree. So of course I decided to throw them back up. I have no clue how people get their shoes so high up in the tree around the huge limbs, because it took me 4 tries and a lot of effort just to get mine around a tiny little branch. But despite only barely succeeding, I was pumped to see those boots hanging there. And on a deeper level, it felt like a burden off my shoulders to pass that tree with my shoes and my dream still intact.
Lightning never strikes the same place twice, right?
On day 5 I weathered my first thunderstorm on trail. It was pretty easy hiking, but I spent almost all of it dodging lightning. Every time lightning flashed, I’d count to see how far the storm was. Twice lightning struck so close to me that there was no delay between the light and the sound, and instead of the world just being bright for a moment, it was bright blue. It was wild.
I spent the night of the storm inside Blue Mountain Shelter and I’m so thankful I did. The wind was howling all night, I would’ve been worried about my tent blowing down. And the thunder was so loud, the shelter shook. But I was warm and snug inside the shelter.
Every storm runs out of rain
The day after the storm dawned sunny and warm! By midafternoon it was 70 degrees and I had to trade my leggings for shorts and I couldn’t have been happier. The weather was so great, I managed my longest day yet of 15.5 miles! It also helped knowing every mile I did was one less between me and town the next day.
Living the Hostel Life
At Dick’s Creek Gap the next day I hitched a ride to Hostel Around the Bend. It’s only 0.6 miles from the trail, but the cars were flying down that curvy road and I didn’t want to become roadkill. And talk about God providing. My ride was a girl who works at the hostel, and I arrived just in time to grab the last open bed in the place. I cannot speak highly enough of this hostel. It is clean, cozy, and has a super friendly staff. I arrived planning to zero the next day, and now as my zero day is ending, I am wishing I could stay longer. But Maine is waiting!
I have loved every moment of my first week, even the ones where I was uncomfortable, cold, or in pain. But, and this is said by a lot of hikers, my favorite part has been the people by far. I’ve met so many amazing people, all with different life stories that have led them here. I’m so thankful for everyone I’ve met, and hope to meet many more. And to all my new friends, I hope our paths continue to cross.
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