Day 1, 3/1/15
Start: Amicalola Falls Welcome Center
Finish: Black Gap Shelter
Miles Hiked: 7.3
I left my parents at the Welcome Center after taking a picture in front of an A.T. plaque holding our local newspaper’s Travel section. My dad says he can send in this photo and maybe get me in the newspaper – I could be famous! I started walking at 8:00 AM and soon came to the dreaded, loathed and despised 604 steps at the base of Amicalola Falls.
After that kicked my ass, I had another 6.5 miles of pretty tough hiking – at least it was tough for me! There is still a lot of snow on the ground, which has now melted into a slick layer of ice trying to bring me down with every step…and NO I didn’t slip, but I will. Everyone does eventually. I noticed something after about a dozen hikers passed me throughout the day. You need to be young and skinny to hike fast; I am neither. After 7.3 miles and 6 hours of hiking, I reached a sign stating that a shelter was just in the woods to my left. My goal was to make it the full 8.8 miles to Springer Mountain the first day (the actual starting point of the Appalachian Trail), so I kept walking for about 100 yards and then turned around and went back. I was cold, wet and tired, so why be a hero on the first day? I was the second one to the shelter (I guess all the young, skinny guys were in Maine about now) and ate some crappy mac & cheese. After a few hours, 2 groups walked into the shelter. They did not know each other and all hailed from Maine; they were walking home! After cramming 9 people into a shelter made for 6, we went to bed around 9:00 PM. An hour later, a guy walks in, soaked to the bone wearing blue jeans (there is a saying on the trail “cotton kills” due to how poorly cotton handles moisture in cold conditions.) We literally had no room left in the shelter. This guy was carrying a tent, but he refused to set it up and said he would be fine. I went back to sleep and Blue Jeans guy woke up Spencer, another hiker staying in the shelter. The following is the (no lie!) actual conversation between these two: Blue Jeans: “Hey man, you awake? Someone is trying to kill me.” Spencer: “Ugggghh…” (white faced and speechless) Blue Jeans: “Yeah, I think my mom and dad said I might be schizophrenic, but I’m fine.” Spencer said he didn’t sleep at all that night. Blue Jeans slept on the picnic table.
Day 2, 3/2/15
Start: Black Gap Shelter
Finish: Hawk Mountain Shelter
Miles Hiked: 9.6 (1.5 to Springer Mountain and 7.9 to Hawk Mountain Shelter)
Miles To Go: 2181.1
It was a quick hike to the summit of Springer. After a few pictures of the real start of the trail, I moved on. There were signs in the area cautioning hikers about recent bear activity and the importance of hanging your food from a tree. I actually passed a tree that had bark scraped off 5 – 6 ft up. The bark was still on the ground and looked fresh, so I hiked fast! It was a long descent (about 1200 ft) and the hiking was rather enjoyable. There was still a lot of snow on the ground – It was awesome! I hiked most of the day with Sid. He got his trail name the night before at Black Gap because he built a fire out of wet sticks. Apparently, Sid is a character from Ice Age. I’ve never seen it, so I am unsure of the correlation. After 9.6 miles in 6 hours, I was beat, but Sid moved on. I’ll probably never see him again, but that is how the A.T. is. Unless you partner up, relationships are built around great campfire stories and camaraderie, but disappear fast as everyone hikes at a different pace. I’ve had a few opportunities to partner up with some really good people, but have chosen not to so far. It makes for lonelier days, but so far that is how I like it. After pulling into the shelter, I decided to put up my tent since the ground was pretty level. There was a lot of talk about bears, but all they really want is your food. I hung mine up on the bear line and went to bed. There was a 90% chance of rain and it rained…all night long. My tent did not leak, so I was dry, but cold. There was still snow on the ground, so I did the best I could along with the other 5 tents in our tent city.
Day 3, 3/3/15
Start: Hawk Mountain Shelter
Finish: Wolfpen Gap Country Store
Miles Hiked: 12.7
Miles To Go: 2168.4
Woke up at 7:00 AM to a wet tent and it was still raining. It’s not fun breaking camp in the rain. After I did a wonderful job getting all of my dry gear wet and muddy, I headed out. With my rain gear on, I stayed pretty dry, but I was sweating through my base layers. I only had one mid-weight layer on under my rain gear and since I’m fat and out of shape, I was drenched (more so on my upper body.) Since all my clothing is wool, I wasn’t cold until I stopped for long breaks. With temps in the low 40s, it really wasn’t that bad. After leaving the shelter, I checked my trail book (2015 Northbound A.T. Guide) and saw my first two mountains coming up (Sassafras and Justus, 673.7 ft and 286 ft respectively.) I closed the book and started walking. After climbing up, the trail leveled and then descended. I said to myself, “one down.” After hiking up and up and up (with several breaks of course) I reached the top of the second summit. The incline kicked my butt and I was sweating profusely, but I was happy to have my first two mountains under my belt (or so I thought.) After slowly navigating the decline (which is hard work too!), I happily reached Cooper Gap. Note: Gaps are the low points between mountains and most are named just like the mountains before and after them. It was here that I found my first Trail Magic! A road was nearby and someone left 4 jugs of purified water. I topped off my 16oz bottle and took a picture (and don’t worry, I have another 2L in reserve that I refill with my Sawyer water filter about once a day.) Another group descended from the mountain and took a break. They moved on and asked me if I was ready for round two – I was confused. Even though I thought I had just tackled both mountains, I had only done one. Bummer. Even though Justus is only 286 vertical feet, it was at a very steep incline. It too kicked my butt, but I pushed forward. The rest of the afternoon was fairly easy. I reached Gooch Mountain Shelter around 1:00 PM and after 7.7 miles, I debated my next move as I ate a PopTart. With a forecast of thunderstorms the next day, I decided to press on an additional 5 miles to Woody Gap with hopes to get a ride into Suches, GA to dry out. After 2 miles of quick hiking, I came to Gooch Gap and found Fresh Grounds at his famous Leapfrog Cafe. Fresh Grounds attempted to thru-hike years ago. Although he didn’t reach Maine, he still wanted to be a part of the A.T., so he serves fresh coffee, hot dogs, fruit and other amazing items free of charge to all hikers during the A.T. season. After guzzling down 3 hot dogs, I moved on.
It wasn’t long after that I met SISU, a local ridgerunner. Ridgerunners are either volunteers or employed staff of the Appalachian Trail Conservatory who spend days or weeks at a time walking or hiking a stretch of the A.T. which can span 70 miles. They are responsible for checking on shelters, maintaining the trail and helping hikers. SISU went to Chalmette High and was nice to talk to. Several areas I had hiked through had trees and limbs all across the trail from last week’s snow storm. Within a few weeks, ridgerunners will have it all cleared away.
To all ridgerunners and A.T. caretakers: Thanks so much for the hard work you do maintaining the A.T.!
There had been rumors of a shuttle at 5:00 PM at Woody Gap which would bring hikers to a nearby hostel. I had to walk fast… and I did until a series of shorter ups and downs completely exhausted me. I stumbled into Woody Gap around 4:15 PM in the pouring rain. There was no one else there. I walked under an overhang and changed out of my wet clothes, no doubt giving a free show to the many cars passing by. I got out my A.T. Handbook and dialed. The Hiker Hostel – booked solid. I called another and was told Steve would be there in 15 minutes to pick me up – SWEET! He and his wife run the Wolfpen Gap Country Store and for $15/night you get a shower, bunk and access to soda and pizza! Plus, for an additional $5 you can do laundry. I met 5 people at the hostel and offered my remaining 3 slices of pizza to them… it didn’t last long.