The Power of Three: Days 0 to 6
Well, here I am taking a lazy zero day in Haiwassee, GA after six days on the AT. I’ve come to learn one key fact about myself, and that is, what I am now calling, the “Three Day Rule”. It seems that every situation I put myself in, be it summer camp, college, or the Appalachian Trail, it takes three days for my head to stop screaming “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?! GO BACK HOME WHERE IT’S NICE AND SAFE!”. After those three days, I can enjoy myself to the fullest. So, without further ado, here are my first six days on the AT.
Day Zero: 8.8 miles
The first day of my Appalachian Trail freak out, in retrospect, seems pretty reasonable. My flight to Atlanta was at 5 am, meaning I had to be up at 3 am. Lack of sleep was something that I had tried to avoid, but I was far too nervous to do anything but toss and turn. When I got to Atlanta, I met Mariah (who is now going by Flame Thrower), my hiking partner. We met on whiteblaze, and had been chatting via email since February. I think we were both relieved to discover that the other had not been lying about our age or sex. Jasmine, Mariah’s friend who would be taking us to Amicalola Falls, leaned over to me at one point and said “I am just so happy to know that you aren’t a crazy old man”. Me to, Jasime, me too. Somehow, we didn’t make it to the state park until 3 pm, and by the time the photographs had been taken, the “I can’t believe we are actually here’s” had been uttered, it was 3:30 and we still had not done the approach trail. Those 8.8 miles were probably the hardest miles I have ever done. We hadn’t slept, we hadn’t eaten, and we were certainly not hydrated enough. “What the hell am I doing” was a constant mantra in my head while climbing those godforsaken stairs. After that, the trail got easier physically. Mentally, however, was a different story. Starting out, it’s very hard to tell how many miles you can do in an hour. Every mountain that we came across after 6 pm looked like Springer. They weren’t. It was just another mountain we had to climb. When we finally reached Black Gap Shelter, it was getting dark, and my pinky toes had started to swell and get blisters, and we had a decision to make; we could either stay at the Black Gap Shelter and go up Springer tomorrow, or we could push on with the remaining daylight and head up tonight. We chose the latter. So, I patched up my pinky toes and we trudged up the mountain, making it to the start of the Appalachian Trail just as the sun was setting over the Georgia mountains. It was certainly an incredible sight.
The Springer Mountain Shelter had room for us, thank goodness, so I basically just keeled over onto my sleeping bag. Did the mice allow me to sleep? Hell no.
Lesson of the Day: Mountains seem farther than they appear.
Day One: 14.2 miles
Although I had barely slept in the last 24 hours, my pinky toes blisters were getting worse, and that stupid “why are you here” voice was still in my head, I was excited to be on the Trail. We were planning on doing an easy day, because we were both exhausted from yesterday, but that somehow did not happen. We got to Hawk Mountain Shelter by midday, and decided to push on to Horse Gap. Horse Gap, unfortunately, was right by a road. By this point there were about 6 of us heading out from the shelter, and we all did not feel comfortable staying that close to a dirt road. So we decided to push on 4 more miles to Justus Creek. I made a further decision to wear my sandals, instead of my boots, for the remaining miles. If Grandma Gatewood could do it, so could I. Those were probably the easiest miles I have had on the Trail so far. The campsite was packed, but I got to put my feet in the stream, which felt absolutely wonderful. The campsite was on a hill, however, so I kept sliding down to the bottom of my tent all night. Night three with no sleep, check.
Lesson of the Day: Pick a flat campsite. Your legs will thank you.
Day Two: 5.4 miles
Today began the experimentation to my pinky toes, which had grown to three times their normal size and were barely recognizable. I tried duct tape, different socks, and thread through the blisters. I was hobbling along at a surprisingly good pace. We reached Woody Gap by lunch time, and everyone we spoke to, including the ridge runner we met on the trail, warned us of the thunderstorms that were rolling in today and tomorrow. Since my toes were killing me, and I hadn’t slept in days, we decided to head to a hostel and wait out the storm for the day. At first, I wasn’t sure that we had made the right decision, but as soon as I saw the pizza and kittens at the Wolfpen Gap Country Store, I was sold. Kittens and pizza can get you through just about anything.
Lesson of the day: It’s okay to stop when you want to.
Day Three: 11.8 miles
Even though it was thundering, rain was pouring down, my blisters were still not better, and I hadn’t slept very well (again), I was optimistic. Today, a handful of us had made the decision to press on to Neel Gap. I felt a certain commradere with these people who were just as crazy as I was. My spirits were lifting, even though I was soaked. We were hiking in the rain, we were singing stupid songs and laughing, and I was happy for the first time on the trail. When we got up Blood Mountain, the fog lifted, and I could see the incredible view from the top of the mountain.
That’s when it hit me that I was truly hiking the Appalachian Trail. I was going to Maine, and I was actually having fun doing it. The three day rule had won. When we got down to Neel Gap, I got my first mail drop at Mountain Crossings, and also new boots, which felt incredible as soon as I put them on. Fair well, old boots. I shall miss you least of all.
Lesson of the Day: If something isn’t working, get rid of it.
Day Four: 13 miles
Today I encountered my first Trail Magic. It was incredible. We got goodie bags from a local church with Easter candy, and some fresh fruit. An orange never tasted so good. The views from the top of Cowrock Mountain were fantastic, and I made some great mac and cheese for dinner. I also got a trail name that I refuse to acknowledge: Artichoke Boots. All because I was so happy about my new boots, and I said “okey dokey artichokey” one time. I hope it doesn’t stick. It was the best nights sleep I have had on the trip so far, probably because I figured out listening to my iPod before bed lulls me to sleep.
Lesson of the day: Never utter the phrase “okey dokey artichokey” again.
Day Five: 13 miles
Today was exhausting, but ultimately rewarding. We pushed to Tray Mountain Shelter, and the two mountains before the shelter definitely kicked my ass. The promise of a zero day definitely loomed on the horizon. I slept in the shelter, which had a distinct lack of mice.
Lesson of the day: iPods stave off snoring.
Day Six: 11 miles
We got up, and there was a thick fog around the shelter site. The rain was pounding steadily against the roof, but I was dry and warm inside my sleeping bag. Despite the rain throughout the day, we made it to Dick’s Creek Gap by 1 pm, and hitched a ride into Haiwassee. The shower at the Budget Inn felt fantastic. We then went to an all you can eat buffet, where my stomach was definitely smaller than I thought it was. I guess it will learn to accommodate more as time goes on.
Lesson of the day: Sometimes, a pillow and a mattress is all you need for a good night sleep.
Day Seven: 0 miles
And now, here I am! Taking a zero day and relaxing. My body definitely needed it, but I am itching to get back on the trail. I’ve learned a lot about myself over this past week; I can make friends wherever I go, I should never be allowed to hang a bear bag, and things will get better if you wait just a little bit more. I can’t wait to see what the next week brings.
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