After 40 miles and almost 5 days of hiking, I’m staying the night at Mountain Crossings in Neels Gap. Right on the trail at mile 31.7 of the AT, this great group of people offers a full outfitter store, hiker hostel, laundry, and hot showers, and I have taken advantage of all of them. As the first stop for northbound hikers, I’m sure they make a fortune fixing all our bad gear decisions, selling extra clothing layers, and shipping back what we don’t need in our packs, and their prices are completely reasonable. I picked up my first mail drop (4 more days of food and my travel sized shampoo and conditioner) here and purchased a delicious (because I was hiking) chicken salad sandwich and ice cold coca cola. Also for those who were concerned, I am now stocked up on toilet paper.
After five days, I would love to claim that I have had some deep revelations about life, but all I’ve determined so far is that I like hiking and that extended backpacking trips are often a metaphor for life: The first mile everyday is the hardest, and then it gets better. The last mile is the easiest. Uphill is harder work but going downhill too fast is when you get injured. Everyone has their own pace. It doesn’t take a natural athlete to be a thru hiker- this is primarily a game of mental toughness. Etc. Make what you will of those.
So instead of solving the mysteries of life as your favorite woodland mystic, I’ll just give you the brief overview of my days so far and some of my favorite highlights.
Day 1: My awesome aunt dropped me off at Amicalola Falls State Park after we had a nice lunch at their lodge. Not going to lie: The burger was the highlight of the day. Then I hiked approach trail to the AT 7.3 miles to Black Gap Shelter. I came into camp as it was getting dark and saw a suspended bag near the shelter. Assuming someone was in the shelter asleep, I worked to keep quiet and set up my hammock a little ways off, even hanging my bear bag far enough away to not disturb them. Thus far, that has been the coldest night with temperatures below freezing. Since I’d lost a lot of sleep, I decided to turn off my alarm and sleep until the sun woke me. Instead, a lady park ranger woke me around 11 am to make sure I was still alive and to inform me that no one had been in the shelter last night. Instead some jerk had left a bag of trash on the bear cables for this ranger to carry out with her. Shame on you random camper.
Day 2: 9.6 miles. Luckily things started improving. After a short walk, I started the official AT at the summit of Springer Mountain. After a long day of hiking, I came into camp at Hawk Mtn Shelter right at dark again. I was getting a little nervous (girl alone in the woods style) when I walked up to a boisterous bonfire of guys I could hardly see in the dark. However, it took next to no time to figure out that these guys, aged in their thirties to fifties, were sweethearts. From south GA, they knew each other from various churches, colleges, and so on, but mostly, now they do crossfit together. One was a doctor. One a crossfit coach. One works for Monsanto. One morally opposes Monsanto at every opportunity. And so on. They were great to hang out with. So every day they would quickly hike for about four hours, make camp, and build a huge bonfire that the rest of us would enjoy. Some called them the Magnificent Seven, but I got more of a ‘Caitlin White and the Seven Dwarves’ vibe.
Day 3: 7.7 mikes to Gooch Mtn Shelter. By that morning, I realized I was hiking the same first 100 miles as Michael and Leah, two students from Pittsburg, and we began our friendship. So far so good. We pretty much sealed the deal when I carried on a conversation with Michael last night even though he was down the trail taking a leak at the time. Probably a first for me, but the first rule of hiking is to leave certain manners and sensitivities at home. The downside to this night was how crazy the mice were. Leah’s bear bag was chewed through even though it was 25 feet in the air suspended on steel cables. Meanwhile, some determined rodent chewed holes in my sleeping bag stuff sack even though it has never had food in it and it was 60 yards from the shelter… In the rain. Obviously it didn’t benefit him in anyway to come all that way, so he made sure to really stick it to me by chewing through the drawstring cord while he was at it.
Day 4: 8.5 miles to Lance Creek. As Facebook friends of mine are already aware, this was my miracle day when I came across a public restroom in the midst of a toilet paper dilemma. As mentioned, the night before had been rainy and humid, and as a result, my toilet paper had been turned into a clump of paper product. Things were looking pretty dire until I managed to refill at my lunch spot in Woody Gap. My backup plan was to ask Michael and Leah and then to start cutting pages out of my trail guide. I’m coming for you first, Pennsylvania.
The other great highlight of the day was a wonderful camp conversation with M&L and two young dude thru hikers, Alex and Riley. The guys were both going solo but happened to be traveling at the same pace so far. As we sat, we discussed our reasons for wanting to hike the trail and what we thought made the experience worth it. Most of us had wanted to do this since we first heard the AT exists, like it is built into our DNA. We’ve dreamed about it for years. We want to see what kind of people the trail will turn us into. You get the idea. But then a thirty second pause went by as we considered this crazy hiking love of ours, only to be interrupted by Riley’s question: “so do any of you guys believe in Bigfoot?” followed by a ton of facts about the mysterious man-beast and anecdotal stories of sightings along the AT. Which just goes to show, we are all out here chasing something. For some, it’s Bigfoot.
Day 5: 7.4 miles. Today was a very successful hiking day as I made some of my best times for the trip so far. I will do ridiculous things for clean clothes and a shower. The shower was the highlight of the day by far. On top of that, my calves look like they belong to a fit person, which is really exciting. However, my shower is only interesting to me, and frankly no one needs a play by play of all the ways dirt can stick to you. (Merino Baselayers leave a fuzzy film over every surface they touch but it doesn’t matter because they are magic.)
Instead, I’ll fill you in on our adventure in bear hanging last night. Because we are in black bear country, campers must always hang their food and strong smelling goodies in a bag from a tree or post so that bears cannot rummage through and take all your food. Also the chances of them eating you in your sleeping bag like the soft shell human taco you are is slightly decreased if they cannot still smell your ramen noodles in your tent. Therefore, last night, Michael, Leah, and I went to hang our bags together. We’ve been spoiled by state park cables for days, and all the trees in the area were pretty pitiful. So when we found the largest tree in the area, already decorated with other camper’s failed attempts and cut rope, our logical thought (we were tired and all really needed to pee) was to use my bear rope as the weight to throw their bear rope over. Epic fail. Two ropes down. Bears win again.
That’s your wilderness heroes at work. Now I’m off for 39 miles in 4 days to Hiawassee. More stories to come when I get there and happy hiking to all!