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Appalachian Trail: Days 1-6

Day 1 - March 1st

Daily miles: 11.6

Official distance covered on trail: 2.8

So... we started our hike today. Instead of the official southern terminus at Springer Mountain, we chose to begin 8.8 miles south at Amicalola Falls State Park. So far this year, 361 people have begun their journey there as well. My number in the log book was 362, Mitch's 363.

Today started without fanfare. There was a small group of people from the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club who talked to us about hiker safety. There were no AT thru hiker tags this year since the official stance from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is one of discouragement, what with covid precautions. There was a stone arch that let us know that, as of 10:30am, we were actually beginning our journey.

Stone arch at Amicalola Falls State Park

Then there were 600 stairs spanning a whole waterfall. I now want a ranch-style home so I never have to do stairs ever again. No photo can do justice the height of the falls or the steepness of stairs or the pain in the quads justice.

View from the top of the falls pointing down

An old (now banned) tradition at Ohio State was to jump in Mirror Lake the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Of course, it was also tradition to be drunk as hell while doing it. My freshman year, I decided to do it completely sober, just to have an unobstructed witnessing of the event. Somehow, despite all logic, it was still a blast. I say this to explain why today, unlike most other days, I did every step without some audio input to help push me through and keep me entertained. I now see why those audiobooks and podcasts will help so much.

A very foggy start to the hike

All day I felt very akin to Rapunzel from Tangled, questioning every action and wondering if I was making some sort of huge mistake, mixed with feeling more free and at peace than I have in my life. So far, my muscles have ached, I've made friends, I've been rained on (and it's cold!), I've been happy, and I've decided that, no, this isn't a mistake.

More fog, more mist

No knee pain... yet.

In bed around 6:30 out of sheer coldness. I find myself whispering the word "okay" out loud when I do tasks like putting on socks or staking down the tent - whether it's an affirmation or a reminder remains to be seen.

And tomorrow, we continue to push onward & upward & downward & aroundward & thruward & toward.

Day 2 - March 2nd

Daily miles: 11.5

Official distance covered on trail: 14.3

Today, I had that "holy shit yes I'm out here and I love my life" moment. I wish it had hit yesterday. I think the fog and intermittent rain got to me, along with it blocking any chance of good vistas. Today had sun and blue skies. Not all day but at least for a few hours. Been really enjoying the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire audiobook. Somewhere around listening to the best opening in the HP series, seeing blue skies, and having clear views of the blue hazy mountains in the distance, I found myself smiling to nobody and nothing in particular. Just happy. Been happy all day. This is my life and I'm happy.

L to R: Mitch, me, Wilson, and James

Note to self: bananas are not the move in bear canisters. Had to eat one that was 50% brown to prevent it from getting more bruised. Produce = town food. So far, I think I could live off of almonds and Kind bars and be pretty satiated.

Food for the first 4 days

Some knee pain. Broke out the brace for my left knee with a few miles to go. The long uphills kill my lungs, but the long downhills kill my knees. I think I'll get a second brace in town so when my right knee starts bothering me, I can have another one ready to go.

Made it all the way to 6:54 before getting ready for bed tonight. Still taking my time. Not warm, haven't been comfortably warm for more than 20 minutes at a time yet, but not as cold as I was last night!

Friendship level: Wilson sharing his Girl Scout cookies

Day 3 - March 3rd

Miles: 9.7

Official distance covered on trail: 24.0

Started the day so cold I almost chose to shit my pants instead of drop trou and remove the layer keeping my legs warm. By late morning I was able to shed my puffy jacket (which I hadn't removed since Monday); by the last few miles, I was able to hike just in a sports bra.

First morning sun I saw

Woke up to sunshine and blue skies just out of reach of where we we were camped. Getting out of bed was hard, since it was so cold. Looking forward to waking up without a frigid nose.

Spent most of the morning hiking by myself and admiring this particular stretch of trail. At the time of writing this specific sentence (10:55am), the sun is shining and the whole hike has been gloriously temperate. Certainly not warm, but not so cold that it's impossible to take a lengthy break at a preferable rock and lie down for a bit of a sun bask. The skies are without a cloud. I can count 6 hawks riding the wind. Spent about a half hour here just admiring the scenery and absorbing the sun.

View from my back while basking on a rock

Ran into our first trail magic today around lunchtime. A lovely couple was set up in the parking lot of Woody Gap and they provided several pizzas, a cooler of pop, jugs of water for resupply, and tubs of any hiker need - snacks, toilet paper, sandwich baggies, and duct tape. It wasn't that we were already in need of such decadent food - we'd only been hiking for two and a half days when we passed through - but it put the biggest smile on all of our faces. While there, caught up with some other thru hikers we've befriended. Even before running into the trail angels, we were all just so happy because of the weather, and the trail magic made us all giddy with excitement. Perfect way to go into the last few miles of our day.

Trail magic

The 3.4 mile stretch from Woody Gap to Lance Creek was about as perfect as it could get. No steep slopes either way, incredible sunshine and real warmth (a first so far), and an overall positive mood.

Warmth and good views at Preaching Rock

We decided to actually adhere to our 10 mile per day limit today and stay at Lance Creek instead of moving on to Jarrard Gap 3.5 miles ahead. Had to really squeeze our tent into a space, but got a good game of euchre going and had a great chat with our camp-mates over dinner - that is, before it got so cold we had to retire to our tents before the sun fully set.

L to R: Stephen, Mason, Scott, Mitch, me

It's cold again tonight. The wind is unlike the wind I know; because the trees are all bare, it roars overhead like a wave with the absence of leaves to rustle. We've been hoping to see bears through the trees since there's a distinct lack of foliage, but so far we haven't seen any. I wonder how many have seen us. I wonder what else is watching us.

Tomorrow, we're only doing 7.3 miles - enough to get us up and over Blood Mountain and into Neel Gap for our first stop at a resupply point.

Day 4 - March 4th

Daily miles: 11.5

Official distance covered on trail: 35.5

Ok, I lied: we did more than 7.3 miles today. But, in our defense, we got to Neel Gap before noon, and it was too sunny to not take advantage of a few more miles. We, plus most of our trail friends, ended up at a campsite that is rumored to have a good amount of bear activity at night, but none of us are too concerned.

Tree at Neel Gap with alleged boots of hikers who quit

For fear of sounding cocky, Blood Mountain was surprisingly not that bad. I kept waiting for a really steep uphill that never came. The downhill was way worse, just because of my knees, but nothing a little rest and ibuprofen at Neel Gap couldn't fix. The entire hike to the gap from Lance Creek was very pleasant, and the views atop Blood Mountain were beautiful! We met a thru hiking duo who are songwriters from Nashville, and they performed for us their song "Hiker Trash" - guitar and harmonies and all - and I couldn't help but smile. I don't think I'm hiker trash yet, but I'll certainly get there.

Mitch admiring the views coming down from Blood Mountain

Played some more euchre before dinner and got in a good stretch before heading into our tents around 6:15. Looking forward to warmer evenings. My current evening routine is: eat dinner, brush teeth immediately afterward, pee right before getting into the tent so as to not have to go in the middle of the night, put on tent-only socks and pj pants (too cold to remove puffy jacket or long-sleeved shirt in exchange for my pajama t-shirt), journal, and try to keep myself entertained until 7:30-8:00 before falling asleep.

Euchre with Mitch, Wilson, and Scott

Baggs Creek Gap

Day 5 - March 5th

Daily miles: 14.6

Official miles covered on trail: 50.1

What started as no concern for bear activity turned into paralyzing fear when certain tent flap rustling and snores from another camper sounded awfully like padded footsteps and animal snarls and grunts. Although some of us joked about having a safe word to alert the others if we heard a bear near our tents, it appears many of us silently listened in fear, on our own, around similar times of night. So that was a successful night for us all.

Today started off colder than any other morning so far. The wind chill was probably in the high 20s, and none of us were truly prepared for that. I didn't even bother brushing my teeth until we'd hiked a few miles and gotten somewhere sunny; I physically could not bear to stand around when it was that cold and windy.

The hiking today started with an uphill more demanding by far than Blood Mountain, but it at least warmed me up a bit. Most of the terrain today was pretty stable - a few steep/long ups and downs, but mostly relatively gentle, so we felt ok pushing our miles.

The day flew today with the chill terrain and my audiobook to keep my mind occupied. Been in a generally good mood, albeit quite tired.

Looking forward to warmer days so we can hang out and chat around camp longer than sunset. I love my lil tramily!

L to R: Wilson, Mitch, Scott, James

Tomorrow, we'll take a nero (near zero/low mileage day) and head into the town of Hiawassee, where we have a hotel room booked along with a few other friends. I have never wanted to do laundry more in my life. Also grapes. I just really want grapes.

Day 6 - March 6th

Daily miles: 2.4

Official distance covered on trail: 52.5

Amazing how a lack of wind really makes a cold morning more bearable. Slept in today (7:30!) because we knew we only had a few short miles before getting a ride into town. We'd planned on hitching, but one of the hotels in the area offered a shuttle for a $5 fee, and it already was in the lot of Unicoi Gap, so we figured we'd take it.

Wilson, James, and Mitch looking for a ride to Hiawassee

They let us check into our rooms before 10:00am, which we didn't think would be an option, and they let us mooch off of this morning's breakfast. I have never eaten hotel scrambled eggs so happily or quickly as I did this morning.

Off to do laundry, shower, restock on food, probably shower again, and generally relax.

Hotel room nonsense


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