Musings of a thru Hiker
By Gary Shealy
It was 3:00pm the Saturday before Easter; the weather was cool with winds gusting. The trees were still barren from winter. From a parking lot in Amicalola Falls State Park it is seven or eight miles to the summit of Springer Mountain, the Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail. The climb up to Springer is moderately difficult, but after months of preparation, conditioning, and anxious anticipation, the excitement of actually starting carried me up the trail. My first day out would be a short one of ten miles or less.
According to my trip plans, I was not suppose to start until Monday after Easter, but the excitement was too much. So, I managed to convince my parents to drop me off a couple of days early. Everyone was a bit apprehensive as I struggled to lift the sixty-three pound pack from the trunk of the car. My father reluctantly offered assistance, then quickly asked who would help me lift the pack while on the trail. After a few nervous hugs and a couple of pre-trip pictures, I started on the adventure of a lifetime, the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, a foot trail over 2100 miles in length. Possible late snows, crowded shelters, wild animals, being alone, and tremendous unending physical exertion all lie ahead. After a year of intense planning, studying, conditioning, and many years of dreaming about the long hike, the time had finally come.
I managed to huff my way along for six miles, still too excited to notice the weight on my back, thinking ahead to Springer Mountain. It was after 6:00pm when I realized that I would not make the first shelter nor actually reach the summit of Springer Mountain before dark. Fortunately, there is a designated camping area before the final climb up Springer. Many, in fact, skip the first few miles from Amicalola Falls State Park and start at Nimblewell Gap, only a mile or two from the summit. This shortcut avoids several miles of climbing coming out of the park and typically makes for an easier first day. I reasoned that since I would be out for four to six months and would hike over 2000 miles, six more miles could hardly matter. Besides, there is no way I could convince my father to drive his new car down the logging road to Nimblewell Gap.
Realizing that I would fall short of my first goal, I stopped for the day. The area was full of campers. A scout troop from Alabaster, Alabama had filled the most desirable sites. Two other scraggly hikers were camped near an old fire ring. They carried hatchets, saws, lanterns, and a variety of other interesting gear. One of them did not have a sleeping bag. Instead, he slept in a single piece oversuite that hunters often wear during very cold days. It was an intriguing trade-off, however I wondered how long he would be able to continue to sleep in it as the weather warmed with Spring.
The scout troop managed camp in the fine tradition of scouting. They even hung a bear bag. Actually, it was more like six or eight bear bags. The food was so heavy that it took four of them to pull the bags up in the tree. I imagined that the tree was beginning to give way under the added weight. Their food bags were less than eight feet from the ground and less than two feet from the tree trunk. Not by the book. Although the scouts hung their food, I did not. It seemed reasonable that surrounded by others with such plentiful, aromatic food stores, any decent bear could not be interested in my meager rations. As the smell from several cooking fires lingered in the area, I would sleep with my food.
The nearest water was several hundred yards downhill. It was from a slack spring. I left my pack and headed downhill to collect enough water for dinner, for breakfast, and to fill my water bottles for the next day.
Reflecting on my first day, I was already missing my goals. Somehow those first miles took longer than on my previous jaunt in February. Of course, this time, my pack was over thirty pounds heavier. Since I started out two days ahead of schedule, my progress was not a real concern. At the time two days seemed like ample time to make up any lost distances. As the sun set it began to rain. I crawled into my tent, studied the maps, and after struggling for some time with the excitement of being on the trail, eventually dozed off to sleep. And so, an evening ritual was started that would be repeated many times over the next four months.
Copyright 1991-2000, all rights reserved
This is a fictional account of an actual Thru-Hike in 1990. Any resemblance to specific individuals or events is purely coincidental.