AT Day 1 – The Climb to the Terminus
The real honest-to-god beginning of this adventure starts as all proper adventures start – at the Waffle House. My hiking partner, Keith, and I left yesterday from Orlando in a black rental car bound for Atlanta. Our plan was to turn in the car at the airport and hop on a train to North Atlanta where we would spend the night before getting a shuttle to the AT approach Trail.
There are only three reasons to stop between Orlando and Atlanta: gas, potty and food. And while gas and potty are driven by necessity, food would be the first real personal choice of the trip. In the days when I was too poor to get a hotel, the Waffle House parking lot had been my go-to interstate accommodation. It seemed like the perfect place to prepare my heart for a simpler kind of living – walking all day and sleeping on the ground.
No proper trail blog can be started without involving some kind train. And while MARTA may not top the list of destination train lines, it satisfied the requirements. From the train station, we hiked four blocks across Atlanta to our hotel where we would sleep. Our ride to the trail would arrive in the morning.
To the trail
I slept poorly. I had anxious dreams about difficult nights on PCT. Why was I still anxious about that? The AT was going to be different. I had a friend to hike with, too. We were going to have a great time.
This morning we grab breakfast in the hotel. As the thru-hiker handbook dictates, the best food is free. But Keith needs a lesson in petty larceny. Maybe we should call it “urban trail magic.” Chocolate muffins, I explain, must fill one’s pockets. The trail demands a variety of snacks. And just as I am about to suggest that he also make a couple PB&J sandwiches for his lunch, I stop myself. Better to mention it later, when the realization of this lost opportunity would make a greater impression. Nothing shapes the mind like regret.
The shuttle we are taking to the trial is operated by a fine man named Bret. He drives us from our hotel to the AT approach trail at Amicalola Falls State Park. On the way to the trail I jabber away with Bret in the front seat of his FJ Cruiser. In the back seat, Keith bends forward toward us. It seems that he is trying to hear our conversation. But Keith’s eyes are fixed on the instrument panel. Are we speeding? Later Keith tells me that every single warning light on the instrument panel was lit up. I think Keith expected the car to stop or blow up at any moment. Luckily nothing catastrophic happens and we make it to Amicalola Falls Park.
A journey of 1000 miles begins with…
I wonder what this place must be like in March and April when dozens of hikers are starting the trail at the same time each day. The falls in the park are really spectacular.
What is equally spectacular from a hiking perspective are the stairs next to the falls. I had heard someone say yesterday, “Oh, you’re going up the steps.” Like “Oh, you’re having a vasectomy.” I supposed that there must be a lot of steps. The sign beside the falls reads “175 Steps – Difficulty: Strenuous” I laugh a little inside. Hah! Strenuous! But after we climb the 175 steps there is another sign. It reads “1475 steps – Difficulty: Strenuous”. Wait. What? Did I miss something, or is this some kind of cruel joke Georgians play on Floridians. The 175 steps were a nice little endorphin rush. This next stair section was the Fentanyl-laced organ failure that comes next!
We huff and puff our way to the top. I vow to be leery of signage for the rest of this hike. It’s hard to stay mad when the trail is so beautiful, though.
One of the first hikers we meet is an older woman resting along one of the first big climbs. She says she is going all the way to Maine. She says her son, who has gone on ahead, is hiking the first section with her. How sweet. Not long after that we meet another female hiker. She says her son, who has gone on ahead, is thru-hiking the AT and she is hiking the first few days with him. That is also sweet, but what’s going on here? Did I miss the memo about how to start this trail? Should I have brought my daughter?
I always thought squirrels buried their nuts and then forgot where they put them, but this photo suggests otherwise. Somebody clearly retrieved this dirty acorn from under this rock on the trail and ate it. Was it the squirrel who buried it? I like to think so.
Keith and I finally make it to the start of the official AT. The trail register is hidden in a metal box under a rock. We both sign it. Gotta get Keith a trail name.
Alex is there. I take his picture with his own camera. It is one of those plastic disposable cameras they made in the 80’s that uses real film. He asks if I still know how to use one. Still? What is he trying to say?
After 12 first-day miles we make it to Stover Creek shelter where we will camp. It is late afternoon so there are plenty of camping spots. I eagerly set up my Lunar Solo. It will be my first night in this tent. I am testing it for use on the PCT. Eventually, some wind and rain would be nice. But be careful what you ask for!
The camp is filled with people (in the AT way). We chat (in the AT way) and eat our meals together with everyone. I like this vibe. This trail is gonna be ok.
- May 4
- Miles hiked today: 11.5
- Total AT miles hiked: 2.8
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