This post was written in my sleeping bag at the end of a long day. Please excuse any errors.
I stay with Meg, and Corey’s parents, in a house outside Atlanta on Lake Lanier. Corey’s parents are section hikers, and open their home to me.
Meg and Candace hike with me from Amicalola falls. I go into the visitor center to register. The woman there asks if I’m thru hiking. She sounds unsure. “Yes?” I answer. I’ve never had to answer questions when starting before. I hike through the arch and onto the approach trail. For about 200ft. The trail that runs by Amicalola falls is closed. We take a side trail that reconnects just above the falls. We hike quickly, laughing and chatting. The trail goes over every lump on the way to Springer and my calves burn a little. We see day hiker after day hiker, but no other thru hikers. It’s cold- too cold to hike without my puffy, but not so cold I don’t sweat on the uphill. I guess it’s going to take a little while to figure out AT layering. We crest Springer and take another round of photos. I’m finally on the AT proper. A mile later and I say goodbye to Candace and Meg at the parking lot. I hike fast, happy to be alone for the first time in weeks. Soon, I see my first thru hiker. He’s very young and I identify him by the orange tag on his pack which matches the one the visitor center handed me. He looks like a kid on his first day of school and I know how he feels. Will I make friends? Will I learn what the AT has to teach me? We leapfrog a little- his name is Austin, but then I lose him on a long uphill. I reach Hawk Mountain Shelter a little before dark. It’s a long way to the next one and it’s supposed to rain. Four brothers are there for the weekend, trying to light a fire. I find a corner and I cook my little dinner. Austin shows up and takes another corner. We’re about to fall asleep when a nighthiker comes in. I can see by the light of his headlamp he’s not like the others. Huge beard, tiny pack: he is one of my people. Unfortunately, he’s going the wrong way. Big Tex is almost done with his SoBo thru hike and will be heading to the PCT. We swap stories and I’m so happy to be around other hikers. I wake up before it’s light. Rain patters on the shelter roof, but the trees look strange in the half light. Snow? No. Ice! All three of us take turns sitting up, groaning, then laying back down. I’m on my second cup of coffee when the freezing rain lessens enough for Big Tex to head out. Austin follows, but I’m struggling with my motivation. Both Austin and Big Tex asked me why I’m hiking. I gave them a cop out answer- to finish out my triple crown. Its bugging me a little as to why I’m hiking though. Both the CDT and PCT went to areas I really wanted to visit. The AT just wanders in the woods. I head out. The rocks and roots are coated in ice, but the leaves still offer plenty grip. I pass Austin before lunch, then wait for him at Gooch Gap shelter while I eat. I like this leapfrogging. I get the solitude I want, but not too much. After lunch, I’m walking through the mist when a huge owl swoops overhead. It lifts my spirits and I am so happy to be out here. I wind through the forest to a campsite by a creek. I still have an hour of daylight, but the next five miles there’s no camping unless you have a bear can and I don’t feel like solo night hiking over spooky blood mountain. Another thruhiker, Jersey, is there too. He tells me he started the day before me. I’d been feeling a little glum about my weather induced 16s, so this cheers me up a little. It’s cold and windy in the morning, so I pack up fast, skipping breakfast. I say goodbye to Austin and Jersey and start the approach to Blood Mountain. A few hundred feet up, everything is coated with frost. I put in my headphones and hike fast, dancing a little to stay warm. I’ve just passed a shelter, when I hear a noise behind me. Startled, I turn and meet Bolt (who I will officially bestow with a trail name later in the day). He’s hiking even faster to stay warm, so I let him pass me. I climb through the frost and the ice until I reach the summit. Bolt is standing on a rock there and he beckons me up. “This is the best view in all of Georgia,” he tells me. We hike down together, chatting in that easy way thru hikers have when they’ve just met. We hit Mountain Crossings, a tiny store, before lunch. I buy a microwave cheeseburger, then a sandwich. The cold is kick starting my hiker hunger. We hike out together. Bolt is a little faster on the up (I am still terrible at hills) and I’m a little faster the rest of the time, but we both compromise to have someone to chat with. I share some CDT horror stories and he tells me about being struck by lightning as a kid. Bolt seems fitting. We come into the shelter to a fire and a group of six hikers. Including my first other female hiker! I’m excited and so is she- she’s been the only woman for a while too. We sit around and chat til after seven- hiker midnight is early with these dark winter nights. Bolt and I head out together in the morning, quickly losing the others. 8 miles passes quickly and before we know it we’re at the next shelter for an early lunch. The morning has been flat by AT standards, but now we drop down to Unicoi gap, climb a thousand feet, drop and do the whole things over again. Still, the miles speed by and we find ourselves at the next shelter before 3. An older gentleman is there- he introduces himself as Loner Boner and I immediately get creeper vibes- something that never happens with other hikers. I’d been pretty sure I wanted to push on to the next shelter, but now I am certain. I talk Bolt into continuing on with me. It’ll give us a 23 mile day on day 4. I know I can do it no problem, but it’s not something someone just starting out should do. Still, he’s game, and we keep on going. I’m a little behind when I roll my ankle. I put all my weight on my trekking poles and curse for a full minute. I slowly put my weight on it. It hurts but I can walk, though it will bug me all afternoon. We reach deep gap shelter just before dark. We’re just 4 miles from the road to Hiawassee and it’s supposed to rain all day. The shelter is mouse infested and I hear them rustle all night. I get up at 2am to pee and find one has made a nest in Girl Pack. Out of my bug net. Damn. I shake it out and hope for the best- I should be able to sew up the holes in my net and I won’t need it for a while anyway. In the morning, it’s an easy 3 miles to a hostel, where I can grab a few things. I hadn’t planned on staying, but it’s raining and my cold is getting worse instead of better. Oh well.