As I sit in a hotel in Franklin, NC after completing my first 109.4 miles, I find myself feeling very grateful for having survived the past nine days.
I started my AT Thru Hike attempt on February 28, 2019. The first two days saw rain, and plenty of it! Although it was February and raining, the temperature was mild and perfect for hiking in shorts and a short sleeve shirt.
Day OneI made it to Gooch Gap on Day One and set up my tent as the rain was beginning another round. Overnight a small amount of water pooled in my tent. I did a quick inspection before my first cup of coffee and found that one of the stakes had come loose and the fly had come to rest on my tent. My sleeping bag was only slightly wet, so all things considered, I wasn’t too upset. This lesson learned on my first night on the trail should be an easy fix to prevent rain from entering my tent in the future.
Day TwoThe trail was a muddy mess on Day Two!! I felt like I was in a constant state of controlled sliding for most of the day. Sometimes I had to laugh out loud at the precarious positions I found myself in, barely escaping a face plant. The good news…my rain gear held fast and I stayed dry. The amazing news… I was able to stay vertical the entire day!
Tom drove from our home in Alpharetta, only a couple of hours south, and I was thrilled to see him at Neels Gap when I finished my second day. I plopped my very muddy self into his car and off to Blairesville we went. A warm shower and a nice dinner felt so good!!
Day ThreeThe next day we hung out at Mountain Crossings and enjoyed the festivities of the annual Thru Hiker Kick Off Party complete with free hot dogs and live music. It was a beautiful day and we basked in the sun as we relaxed on the patio. Later that afternoon, Keith and C.J., (two guys with whom I started from Springer Mountain) arrived and it was good to see them and get back in sync. After the party, we all hiked a mile north from Mountain Crossings to Bull Gap campsite. Tom joined us for the evening so I was able to spend a little more time with him. Yay!
Day FourDay Four, the rain was NO JOKE! When I arrived at Low Gap Shelter there were already about 15 people hunkered down, trying to escape the deluge. I shuffled in, filling a space that didn’t seem to exist. Everyone was quiet and seemed a bit somber when I arrived. Shortly after, someone suggested we play a word game and life was breathed into this wet and cold group. There can be intense competition when a word game is taking place, make no mistake! Laughter ensued and everyone’s spirits were lifted as our focus changed to outthinking our shelter companions.
Around 5:00 we got a short reprieve from the rain. Those of us who would be setting up tents raced out and threw up our nomadic homes for the night. It continued to rain, off and on, for the next couple of hours then the temperatures began to drop. The next morning it seemed to take me “forty forevers” to get out of camp. The knot on my Ursack was frozen and seemed impossible to get loose. The stakes were frozen in the ground and my sleeping bag ate a sock. After I gave up on finding the sock, (how far can a sock go in a tent for God’s sake?) the sock appeared! Other than Keith and C.J. (the two I started at Springer Mountain with) I was the last person out of camp. Off to Tray Mountain Shelter!
Day FiveThe Polar Vortex went to Tray Mountain Shelter with me on Day Five! Temperatures that night dipped to 15* with 15-20 mph winds. I heard the next day the wind chill was 8*. I bundled up wearing every piece of clothing I had, including my muddy rain pants and put hand warmers in my gloves and my down booties. I slept curled up tight with my water filter and my water bladder to keep them from freezing. That night I had the best night’s sleep since starting the trail!! Isn’t that just crazy?!?!
Day SixFor Day Six, since the coldest of nights was predicted to be next, we decided to hike to Top Of Georgia Hostel. It was delightful to have a warm place to escape the cold, take a warm shower, do a little laundry and hang out with some pretty neat folks.
Day SevenDay Seven I left Keith and C.J. at Top Of Georgia and headed to Muskrat Creek Shelter. Keith was experiencing issues with his Achilles as well as a knee. He wanted to take the day off and address his injuries hoping to be back on the trail the following day. It is an interesting dynamic on the trail when you hike along and make camp with a group of people you’ve just met and then you find yourself being separated. Friendships develop quickly in times like these.
The seventh day proved to be the most difficult thus far! This was the day that I would hike out of Georgia and enter North Carolina. It felt like Georgia was saying “Take This”, maybe even flipping the bird while North Carolina was pretty much doing the same thing. The climb that day was relentless and even though the distance from TOG to Muskrat Creek Shelter was only a little over 12 miles, I was exhausted!! Completing this day felt like quite the accomplishment and I just kept telling myself, “This is what will make you stronger and ready for what is to come later down the trail.” Another great night’s sleep and I woke feeling refreshed and ready for another day on the trail!
Day Eight I hiked to Betty Creek campsite. It ended up being a 16 mile day but the terrain was friendly, the sky was smiling and it was a joy to be moving down the trail. I made it to camp, and everyone was settled in their tents by 7:00. After we had all fallen soundly asleep, someone started yelling, shattering the silence. If you have never been awakened suddenly from a deep sleep, in a tent, in the woods, by the sound of someone screaming you probably can’t fully realize the terror as all the possible scenarios race through your mind even before you are fully conscious. As we stumbled out of our tents to identify the cause for the ruckus, a young man (trail name Alaska) sheepishly confessed the sound originated from him. The result of a bad dream. Needless to say, it took quite some time to drift back off to sleep after such an abrupt awakening.
Day NineDay Nine I climbed my way over Albert Mountain then made my way to Winding Stairway Gap where my knight in shining armor (AKA Tom) was waiting for me. The day was another rainy one, so again, I climbed into his car a muddy mess. Good thing he is not a neat freak and has a great sense of humor!
I believe in beginner’s luck and I believe it was with me during my first 109.4 miles. I endured several rainy days and nights and stayed dry. I experienced a polar vortex that drove many folks off the trail for days yet I managed to keep hiking and stayed warm. Lastly, I have walked 109.4 miles carrying a pack weighing 33 pounds and I am currently free of any injury and loving the AT experience so far. My heart is filled with gratitude and I look forward to getting back on the trail tomorrow!
Cheers and stay tuned…