My First Week On The Appalachian Trail

In the days leading up to my trip and the first few days on the trail, it felt my really weird to finally be out here. You plan for a trip like this for so long, you obsess over every little detail and you daydream about it constantly for months. It’s surreal to be out here finally.

My obligatory photo under the iconic arch before the Approach Trail.

And while it’s early, the trail has been everything I could’ve hoped. The mountains are beautiful, all the other hikers are super friendly and kind, and I’ve really enjoyed the hiking. Being out here is just so blissful.

Starting my trek

To get out here I flew from Chicago to Atlanta. My dad is really into hiking as well, so he joined me for the first two days and hiked alongside me. We met at the airport, got a rental car, and drove to Amicalola Falls State Park where the trail begins in northern Georgia.

The next morning, on March 13, we attended the thru-hiker orientation at the visitors’ centers. Immediately we were greeted by volunteers with the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club. They were incredibly nice and welcoming. They had a scale to weigh my pack. Fully packed, with five days of food and two liters of water, it came out to 36 pounds. The volunteer told me that was about middle of the road. He said that when people come in with packs over 50 pounds, he’ll ask if they’d like to lay out their stuff so he can give them pointers on what they likely will and won’t need. I’m happy that wasn’t necessary for me (but I would be grateful for their advice if it was). As I was leaving the visitors’ center, I saw someone laying out their stuff in front of him outside the front door.

I then took a photo under the iconic archway that leads into the Approach Trail (For those that don’t know, there’s an 8.8-mile trail in Amicalola Falls State Park that takes you to the start of the Appalachian Trail.). Before arriving in Georgia, I’d heard the approach trail was closed for renovations, so I figured I’d be driving to the parking lot that’s about a mile from the start of the Appalachian Trail (Darn! I have to miss nine extra miles of trail before the trail? I’m devastated by this.). Upon arrival, I learned it was only the first mile or so that was closed, so my dad and I drove up to a parking spot where you can easily walk to the Approach Trail after the closed portion and we started out (OK, I guess I’ll do the extra mileage.)

Me enjoying a beer at the Lodge at Amicalola Falls State Park before my thru-hike.

Enjoying a beer at the Lodge at Amicalola Falls State Park before my thru-hike.

We walked on the Approach Trail for a few hours before arriving at Springer Mountain, the official start of the Appalachian Trail for northbound hikers.

My first impressions of the trail were how awesome it was to be walking with mountains on all sides of me, especially knowing this will be my backdrop for the next roughly five to seven months. The trees aren’t all green yet, so I’m really excited to watch spring unfold in real time, close up, all day, everyday. The weather I got for the first two days was amazing. I was prepared to deal with some cold, (and given the weather can turn on a dime, I’m still prepared for that) but it was nice and sunny: perfect weather to start my hike in.

The first day, we hiked about 15 miles. The folks at the visitors’ center stressed that it was important to start off slow and work your way into those higher mileages. They recommended 8 miles a day for the first few days. I felt bad not following their advice, but I didn’t feel overly sore, I had no blisters and my dad needed to be at Woody Gap to meet a shuttle to take him back to his car Thursday.

A photo of me and my father on trail.

Me and my dad on trail.

The second day, we went another roughly 11, and met a couple of folks along the way, including a guy from southern Georgia named Aaron and two ladies named Jennifer and Angela from Idaho and Washington state respectively that were hiking together. They were all lovely folks.

In the morning, we walked to Woody’s Gap and waited for the shuttle. While we waited under a small pavilion, it started to rain real hard.

9 a.m. passed and the shuttle still wasn’t there. We gave him about 15 minutes before we called and asked where he was. He was confused. He thought he’d already picked my dad up and that he was in his car. He soon realized he’d picked up the wrong people.

“I’ve never been in this situation before,” he told my dad over the phone.

I have no idea how he did that, but that’s what happened it seems. Although, we never saw anyone else get picked up at Woody Gap, which is puzzling.

Soon enough, the shuttle driver for the folks he’d mistakenly picked up arrived. He was also confused. We explained the situation to him, and eventually, we came to the conclusion that it was best for the shuttle driver that just arrived to take my dad, and that’s what happened. My dad was shuttled back to the rental car and caught a flight home that evening.

So much kindness

While my dad and I were waiting for his shuttle, Jennifer and Angela came down the trail and stopped to chat. I explained I was still figuring out my plans for the day. They told me Jennifer’s parents, Gary and Sheila, were driving a campervan along the trail as they walked and meeting them at different road crossings to bring them food and allow them to sleep in the camper. They said they were headed to Neel’s Gap that day where Jennifer’s parents would pick them up and take them to a nearby state park where they’d sleep in the camper van.

And then to my surprise, they invited me to join them! Gary and Sheila also told me they were cooking burgers and that they’d make me one too. I was shocked by their kindness to someone who was, at this point, a complete stranger.

So that’s what we did. They started hiking before my dad had left on the shuttle, so I got Jennifer’s number and told them I’d catch up to them. After a rainy hike,—I was pleasantly surprised to see how beautiful the trail is in the rain—I caught up to them right before they got to Neel’s Gap. Neel’s Gap is the location of a really neat outfitter famous for giving free gear shakedowns to anyone who’s backpack’s base weight (the weight of the backpack minus water and food) is over 30 pounds; mine wasn’t heavy enough to qualify, which means I did a good job packing, though I was slightly disappointed not to participate in a cool trail tradition. Nevertheless, the outfitter was a great place to buy snacks.

Jennifer, Angela and I posing for a photo at Neel’s Gap.

Jennifer, (from left) Angela and I posing for a photo at Neel’s Gap.

Gary and Sheila met us there, and drove us to nearby Vogel State Park. Gary and Shiela were so kind and cooked me a burger for dinner. I was expecting to pitch my tent at the campsite, but they told me they had a couch in the camper I could sleep on.

Jennifer and Angela, both parents and Angela a young grandparent, told me about their children and grandchildren, their jobs back home and their previous hikes.

They were too kind to me. I tried to pitch in a little money to cover the camp, but they were too kind to accept. I also offered some trail mix or beef jerky from my pack, but they already had a pretty stacked food pantry in the camper.

That night I slept on the couch of the camper while the rest of them slept on two beds inside the camper.

Sitting with them for dinner that night, I honestly felt overwhelmed by their kindness. The next day, however, I learned how common that level of kindness on the Appalachian Trail is.

Multiple times that day, I was stopped by a group of “trail angels.” These trail angels were former thru-hikers, local church groups and other folks who just love the trail. They set up tailgate-style tents on the trail and gave away food and drinks to weary thru-hikers.

I’ve been trying to get as many names and mailing addresses as I can to send thank you notes when I return home from the trail.

One trail angel said something that really stuck with me. I thanked her profusely after she gave me a bowl of delicious homemade beef vegetable soup and said “you’re too kind.”

She responded “There’s no such thing as too kind. Kindness is a powerful thing.”

Rounding out the week

Jennifer and Angela were experienced hikers. They’d previously hiked extensively on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Pacific Northwest Trail and the Florida Trail, among others. I expected them to leave me in the dust. In the next few days, they got ahead of me (but less so than I expected).

Throughout these couple days I kept running into Aaron. Aaron was a real cool guy who is turning 30 next month. He said he came out to the trail because he decided he wanted to do something adventurous to commemorate the milestone. One really fun part about this hike so far has been meeting folks and then seeing them again later on the trail. You don’t even try to, but you just keep seeing the same folks. Every time I pulled into a campsite or a road crossing and Aaron saw me, he’d shout “Ayyyy, you made it!” And there are several other folks I’d had similar experiences with. Aaron and I ended up walking together a bunch, just by happenstance of being at a similar pace.

That Monday, I went into Hiawassee, Georgia for my first resupply and stayed in my first hostel: Hostel Around the Bend. It was a wonderful hostel. I was pleasantly surprised by how nice and how accommodating of a place it was. I recommend the spot!

The next day I did an easy six-mile walk to avoid going too hard on my first week and not giving my legs time to adapt.

The day after that, March 20, I entered North Carolina!

Me, Angela and Jennifer walking down the trail, leaving Neel’s Gap.

A photo of me, (from left) Angela and Jennifer walking down the trail, leaving Neel’s Gap.

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Comments 1

  • Charles Leavitt : Mar 24th

    I hiked the AT from 2008 to 2010. My dog and I started at Bear Mount and hiked to Maine then to Georgia, back to Maine, then back to Maryland. Seen so much beauty and wild life.
    Living out under the stars and living off the land. It brings a real meaning to live free. Fresh air, crisp spring water. Mountains overlooking states and valleys with crisp fresh water lake un damaged by city life. A man can push himself and feel comfortable with his accomplishments. That’s what I felt when I hiked the AT.


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