- Days: 11
- Miles: 118.3
- Beard Length: Viggo Mortensen in the Two Towers
- Showers Taken: 2
- Beers Drank: 5
- Bears Spotted: 0
- Zero Days: 1
To say that I am totally upbeat, excited, and enthusiastic would be a lie. Contrary to what I could have hoped for, it’s been a rocky start with some incredible instances of bad luck very early into this journey. However, I am still motivated, determined, and feel beyond privileged to spend so much time in nature and be able to wake up every morning and just put one foot in front of the other.
The nerves that hit while driving to the start of the Appalachian Trail surprised me. And I guess it wasn’t until the van pulled away and I only had one way to walk did everything become real. This wasn’t a race or a triathlon, no gun shot or announcer willed me forward at the start line. I was briefed by a Georgia AT maintainer about various do’s and don’t’s of the trail. He also told me how there was a very heavy presence of bear activity on the AT this year and the importance of using the bear boxes when available or otherwise hanging my food (see below). We weighed my fully loaded pack (32 lbs. but this has since improved to 28 lbs.). I signed the book and was handed my tag as registered North Bound Hiker #2135. And then… I just started walking. That was it. No pump up music or loud cheering like every other race that I had nerves built up for like I was used to; because this wasn’t a race. I’ve realized this more and more everyday.
Over the first couple days I spent my time moving quick across the trail like every other hike I’ve ever been on. Another adjustment, was that I needed to tone back my mileage until I got my ‘trail legs’ under me. But as I moved down the Approach Trail from Amicalola Falls State Park, I was so caught up in the fact that my journey had actually begun, I wasn’t aware of anything. After one year of preparation, I was finally here. Oh and that’s right, Approach Trail. You know what’s nuts? You have to hike 8.8 miles just to get to the start of the Appalachian Trail a top of Springer Mountain.
The first few days were honestly a little lonely but I enjoyed the time of quiet and self-reflection. Every person out here is still trying to find there groove and get used to trail life. But also, there are some real weirdos that I just wanted nothing to do with.
After coming down Blood Mountain to Neel’s Gap, I began to feel a strange pain in my right heel. I ignored it for the rest of the hike and made it down to the gap where the trail crosses right through the Mountain Crossing Shop. There I was able to have the best frozen pizza of my life and was then approached by a two students from Converse College who asked if I was thru-hiking and would be willing to take a survey about my feelings and emotions. In exchange, they would give me a Gatorade, a snack, a homemade brownie, and $5. I did the survey immediately.
That night I was so full from the frozen pizza, I didn’t even cook myself dinner. I fell asleep reading my book and snacking on some trail mix. Suddenly, I awoke at 12:30 to some scratching on my face. It took less than a second for me to realize that there was a mouse sitting on my upper lip, just under my nose. I absolutely lost my shit. I flung the mouse off of my face and scuttled out of my sleeping bag. I opened my tent and threw everything outside and then took another two hours before I could fall asleep again, still paranoid that the mouse might still be inside. The next morning, I needed to patch a hole in my tent and in my backpack from where the mouse had chewed through.
When I first packed up my tent wearing my Crocs, everything felt fine, but when I walked down the hill from my tent site back to Mountain Crossings, my heel was in excruciating pain from my trail runners. Nervous and over-anxious that my hike was over I consulted with the gear guys in the shop. The weird thing was, without shoes on, I had no pain and complete mobility. He had my try on a few other pairs of shoes and the only ones that were relatively pain free were the ones where the back tab rose higher on my heel. It must have been just the pressure point from my shoe causing the irritation after a few days of big mileage with a heavy pack. So the only thing I could do: take my knife and cut the back heel off my right shoe. After that I was sore, but things have been getting better.
That same day I began hiking with a girl named Lindsey who was an X-Ray Tech from New Orleans (Shout out to my Speare Rad techs!) We were having an awesome day hiking together and then came upon Jack Rabbit a guy in his late twenties from Georgia, and Carey, a same aged girl from Kentucky. We spent the rest of the day hiking together and bonded pretty quickly.
Jack Rabbit then gave me my trail name, ‘Handy Man’, because he had seen me carving out my shoes and heard of me patching my tent after the Great Mice War of 2018. Although Booby will always be sentimental to me because it was given to me by Rach, everyone on trail now knows me as Handy Man, and I was excited to receive a trail name in a more traditional sense.
Right after that, I gave Lindsey her trail name of ‘Red Stripe’, because of a brutal sunburn solely on her neck. And communally, we gave Carey the name, ‘Kanye’, a play on how humble she actually is.
After a discouraging night and morning, we were having the best day together. We heard rumors of some pretty great trail magic at the bottom of Tenasee Gap and were not disappointed. As we approached the junction, we noticed picnic tables lined with food and drinks, and even camp chairs for us to sit in while we enjoyed it all.
There was Caribbean Pulled Pork Black Bean Soup, PB&J, fruit, cookies, homemade brownies, coffee, and lemonade. All put together by a couple named Bobby and Mitsy along with some help from their friend Penny.
Mitsy told us the story of how Bobby was attempting a thru-hike in 2014 when he began to feel sick. To his surprise, he was soon after diagnosed with Kidney Cancer. He prayed to the Lord for help and guidance and miraculously beat his cancer. Bobby says that in return the Lord had asked him to help all the hikers passing through. So every single weekend, beginning in February, the two of them come out no matter the weather to feed and comfort thru-hikers. Before we left, Bobby said a blessing for all of us on a safe journey to Maine.
Crazy enough, my friend Janice whom I had met during the Antarctica Marathon in 2016 lives in Georgia and met us at the next gap up with soda, chips, water, and moon pies. thanks Janice! It really was a great day.
From then on I’ve been hiking with my ‘Trail Family’ of Red Stripe, Jack Rabbit, and Kanye, and we’ve already been through some heavy crap. We saw the weather forecast for the weekend, and were warned by many day hikers passing through of a nasty storm approaching on Sunday. We made plans to push a little further and then hike through the rain Sunday morning to get to Unicoi Gap for a ride into town.
It rained harder than anything I had ever been in before. Thunder, lightning, and a constant downpour for ten straight miles. We made it cold, miserable, and water logged to Unicoi Gap after 5 hours of hiking.
We got shuttled to the Baymont Inn in Helen, Georgia for the first warm shower of the trail. Only problem was when we got there, my cell phone wouldn’t turn on. Turns out my Lifeproof case wasn’t so Lifeproof. I went to the dollar store, bought a bag of rice and hoped for the best.
Another weird thing about this hotel, was that it was hosting the Cabbage Patch Kids convention, drawing people from all over the world. I thought I had met some weird people on the trail, but let me tell you… Those people are tapped. Cabbage patch Kids literally everywhere. They were talking to them, seat belting them into cars, and having them sit in chairs in the hotel lobby. These are full -grown adults mind you.
Regardless, the four of us took warm showers, got cleaned up, bought a six pack of beer then went to the laundromat and drank while we washed our clothes. After a great dinner and resupplying food I went to bed warm, full, and content.
Unfortunately, the next morning my phone was totally shot. I used the hotel phone to talk to my mom who had already begun figuring out the insurance policy. Thankfully, they were able to mail a phone to me in Franklin, North Carolina which I just picked up today. The bad news… All of my pictures and notes from the first week of my hike are gone. I’ve been lucky to have the tramily taking pics for me and also had texted my mom and dad my picture from the beginning before I started.
Bad luck continued into the next night where it was unseasonably cold and began to snow. Jack Rabbit pressured me into honoring my trail name and building us a fire which I did. But it was one of the hardest fires I’ve ever started and only lasted for about a half-hour until we were just too cold and ready for bed. The temp dropped into the high teens and the wind whipped above 30 mph, sending me to bed shivering cold while wearing all my layers; including my rain gear.
Someone once said, “There are good days and hard days on the AT, but no bad days.” In the first section of this journey I’ve certainly experienced my fair share of both. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. The torrential downpours, freezing nights, and every other obstacle make this what it is; an adventure. If it were all easy, this would simply be just a passive experience.
This post isn’t a “woe is me” type of deal, this is precisely the adventure that I wanted. And hopefully everyone can get a little bit of a laugh out of the struggles so far. Physically each day is getting better, and mentally, the support from home and the on trail attitude from my awesome Tramily has been epic. I am having an amazing time and wouldn’t trade the past 11 days for anything.
Will hopefully be in the Smoky Mountains this time next week, a section of the hike I’ve been the most excited about. Until next time, thanks for following along! I’m always happy to answer any questions via email.
Lastly, Happy Birthday Dad! Love you.
Franklin, North Carolina
April 21, 2018