I want to publish a few posts reflecting on the trip, as well as showing the pictures and telling the story thru the pictures. Pictures are worth a thousand words, as the cliche expression goes, but it is true that a picture will jog the memory, even a blurry one (don't worry, I will let them jog away, but won't bore you with those!).
I began in Georgia, as that is where the Appalachian Trail begins (or ends). My brother and his girl-friend Jen drove me down and dropped me off. I stood at the Southern Terminus on a cool spring morning full of anticipation with maybe a little trepidation.
Left alone, I began hiking. My excitement level was through the roof! I came to the first shelter and found a pile of junk people had lugged only this far before ditching. Someone had written a sign: 'Free to a Good Home'
In my excitement I hiked 16 miles! Much further than I should have. I would pay for my exuberance for weeks afterwards. I developed a fairly painful tendon in my right knee from over-use, going downhill became quite painful. All the way through the Smokies I would still get pings of pain.
The first couple nights I camped in stealth sites, not at shelters. I was a bit in shock after my initial happiness wore off. I started to comprehend the monumental task still before me, I began to feel the loneliness and the want of the company of home. The first few nights I slept well, though away from other people. I had big plans to stay out of towns, not stay at shelters, and be strong and resilient and alone. I wasn't against meeting people, I just wanted to prove to myself, at least this early in the game, that I could do it and not fall into a group as many were around me.
I viewed the sights by myself, and had only me to enjoy the breadth of the land below me from the top of Blood Mountain.
|the Privy was the cliff?|
Blue Mountain Shelter was the night I decided to stay near a shelter, and glad that I did. I talked with people, I made friends in common misery, I found other hikers much more ill prepared than I, and I heard about some Trail Magic happening at Tray Gap the next day. Being around other hikers was a balm. I still, thankfully, had enough sense to stay out of the shelters. I did eventually stay in shelters during this trip, but only a handful of times, and most of those times I regretted it!
|First stay at a shelter area|
|I ponder whether I have 'Swag'|
Of those times that I spent in shelters, one was right after I did a few monumental things in one day. I made mile 100 at Albert Mountain! I hiked in a hail, rain, and lightening storm! I hiked an 19 mile day! I also talked to my folks and setup a time for them to come and meet me on the Trail, after 8 or 9 days without a real resupply, day off, bed, or shower, I was in desperate need of any one, or preferably, all of those! Another hiker said, "Wow! We've been to every town in Georgia!" to which I said, "There's towns in Georgia?" I didn't stop at any.
|Raining hard whilst I'm dry in a shelter|
|View from Albert Mt fire tower... post thunder storm!|
After Albert Mt I was feeling like a big man, getting my Trail legs and ready for a big day. I decided to hike to the NOC and do a 23 mile day, by far my longest day. I made good time, by late in the day I was standing on the brink of a long steep down hill into the rafting resort. I was exhausted but I figured all down hill wouldn't be bad. The Trail followed a ridge, going up steeply, before losing the altitude, only to gain it back. I was so frustrated! The Trail finally descended down into the valley, I went as fast as I could, imagining burgers and a bed waiting for me. As I crossed the road I noticed that the 'Open' sign on the restaurant was extinguished - aghast I hurried over and dropped my pack. They had closed 5 minutes earlier!! But, being hiker friendly, they still served me a burger! I inquired about lodging and was told they had no vacancy (FUTURE THRU-Hikers TIP: come to find out later this was untrue - if you ever find yourself at the NOC and need a room, go to the dorms and look for an empty bed knock on doors, I spoke with several hikers that slept in rooms that had 3 empty beds!). Mark, my server, offered me a spare bedroom at his place, he has a hot-tub and beer on tap! I accepted his most gracious offer and was rewarded after a very difficult arduous and trying day!
My parents came and met me at Stecoah Gap a day after; we got a motel room and took me to a buffet. They sent some items home for me and we got some needed items from stores far from the Trail. The next day they hiked with me to the part of the Trail known as Jacob's Ladder before turning back. I was very happy to see familiar faces and to be able to include them in the journey. They were both very supportive of this trip. My dad would follow me daily using my SPOT GPS to track me, if I skipped a day or forgot to turn it on I would get a text message soon after, "People want to know where you are, Jon".
During this time I was suffering from my second ailment of the trip: shin splints. Going down hill was torture and really slowed us down. We still made a solid 17 mile day in the Smokeys, and by the last day I had finally pushed through the painful swelling and got relief. After we hiked triumphantly from the National Park we got a shuttle from Standing Bear Hostel back to Hot Springs and we drove to Asheville for some R&R.
Back on the Trail alone, I ran into Hotshot almost immediately and we hiked together for the next few days.
Between the edge of the Smokey's and Hot Springs I had changed batteries (might I add expensive) on the Steripen, and it stopped working. I had spoken with several other people who had similar experiences. I went in the outfitters in Hot Springs and they said they had stopped carrying Steripen for awhile because every one they sold was returned! Wow, not good P.R. I bought Aquamire chlorine drops and used them for the rest of the Trail with ease. Every outfitter everywhere carries Aquamire (except REI for some reason!!), and the drops lasted nearly a month and were cheap and light weight, they didn't have a strong after taste either.
|Hot Shot on Max Patch|
While on the border of NC and TN I stayed in my first hostel: Hemlock Hollow. The place was run by a retired couple, very nice once you got to know them. I got the impression that often times hikers had acted like they deserved special treatment and they were wary to open up, but once they found they could trust you they became a lot more pleasant. I did a my first (and only until Pennsylvania) slack pack. Slack packing is leaving your pack and doing a day hike back to where you started. The draw back of slack packing is that it burns through cash - 2 nights at the same place, plus shuttle rides two days in a row. I did enjoy doing 19 miles without a pack on though!
|On the road back to Hemlock Hollow|