What We’ve Learned From One Week on the Trail
We started with great expectations. Stomp the Approach Trail, get to Springer, and start passing the white blazes.
I didn’t see me stopping at every staircase, taking a breath, looking up at the gorgeous waterfall, wishing it was a bit less tall.
I kept climbing, though, and felt accomplished when we reached the top. Then I realized how much was left. No stair climber can prep you for this. I got to 4.4 miles the first day. That last hill got me. Luckily, there was a campsite right there and I hit the hay. I couldn’t even eat.
Back on Track
Day two went much better. We ate lunch at Black Gap Shelter and finished at Springer Mountain. I felt better, a little stronger.
Bring on the Rain
The third day warned us of the oncoming rainstorm so we pushed on toward Hawk Mountain Shelter. It was a pleasurable hike. Each big climb I have to handle with lots of breaks and baby steps. The small steps keep my muscles from being overstretched. We pushed on and got to the shelter before sundown. I made us some macaroni and cheese and it was great. We rushed and found an OK tent site and braced for impact. It was a beautiful lightning storm and the rain was torrential. It lasted all night but sadly, we picked the wrong site. We ended up with a soggy floor because we ended up in an inch pond. All my hiking clothes were soaked. When all the fast hikers left the shelter, we packed our stuff there and pressed on.
Getting better at climbs but learning that mountain days are low-mileage days. I wish the distance hiked would take in account for the height you climb. A whole mountain can be just a couple of miles.
We tried to make it to Gooch Gap Shelter but ran out of sunlight and energy. We ended up at Devils Kitchen campsites and we rested well.
Our First Trail Magic
Walking past the shelter in the morning, I was thankful we stopped at that first campsite. Looking at Guthook, I saw the next campsite was nine miles away. At my speed, there was no way we’d make it in time. Three miles into our day, we came out to Gooch Gap. We saw tents and people hanging out. One person invited us to hang out and gave us free pizza and beer. We just happen to walk in at the perfect time.
We decided to camp there and party all night. It was amazing. We laughed with our new friends by the fire, ate tons of junk food, and even met Miss Janet! It was exactly what we needed. I voiced my concern that I’m going way too slow to her. She convinced me that starting slow was normal and given time, I will get stronger and faster.
Tearing Away from the Festivities
Determined to make more progress, we had to leave everyone after breakfast. It was so hard leaving. We only made it to Woody Gap before making camp. We heard it was going to be cold and it’s better to be off a mountain. We found a spot and made camp. It was nice because it actually had a trash can and a privy nearby. It’s the little things.
Just Past Another Mountain
It was another day of some big climbs and wonderful views. We met some people on Preacher’s Rock and had lunch there. Even though I’m afraid of heights, the views fill me with awe.
We wanted to get to Woods Hole Shelter because we knew the next day would be dedicated to Blood Mountain. I heard that it was the biggest mountain in Georgia and I was getting pumped.
We got to the shelter but it was after a couple more climbs than I wanted to do that day. I kept thinking a mile closer to Neel Gap. We thought about staying in the shelter but figured it would be warmer in our tent. We’d be right. Winds howling and we woke up to small ice shards strewn all over the ground. Such crunchy steps reminded us that we definitely weren’t in Florida. After lying in our tent as long as we could, we packed our house back in our packs and continued on.
The ascent went surprising fast. Sure, you have to watch those slippery flat rocks going up the mountain. Soon enough, I saw that we were reaching the summit. The shelter on the very top of this mountain is the oldest shelter on the AT.
We climbed the rocks beside and were blessed with an amazing view.
We had lunch there and seeing it was still early, we started our descent. It was intense! The path down wasn’t really even a path, just giant rocks the size of me in a random pattern almost straight down at times. You have to focus on each rock. You feel overwhelmed but you keep at it and soon you’re at the bottom. Two quick miles later and we made it to Neel Gap. We had to camp behind it because the hostel was full but I still felt great.
Nothing could really prepare us for what we experienced this week. We took a zero day and stayed at the hostel, recharging our bodies and our electronics.
Whenever we saw a challenge, we took it on in small, manageable parts. I remember being overwhelmed at a climb, turning around to take a breath and being amazed at the progress we done to it. I only really planned to make it to Neel Gap so continuing on tomorrow is as mysterious as it is exciting.
The shoes are staying on for now, guys. There’s no quitting in us yet.
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