I’m still trying to find an adjective that will accurately summarize how I feel about the 45 miles I hiked on the Appalachian Trail in Northern Georgia. Words seem to fail me. One of my friends offered me the word “Adventurous” – and that probably is as good of a descriptor as any.
I’m a realist. Most days I’m a positive realist, but on the Appalachian Trail, my positivity was probably absent from the realism during a lot of miles. I didn’t come home feeling like this was a life changing experience. I didn’t feel like it was the most fun or rewarding thing I’d ever done. But I also didn’t go into this trip with the expectations of either of those things. I knew it was going to be challenging. And it definitely was. It was probably the single most challenging thing I’ve ever done – both physically and mentally. No amount of preparation could have adequately gotten me ready for this trail, but I’m really glad I had trained as much as I had or I’d have probably quit on the first day.
Am I glad I did it? Yes. I enjoy challenging and pushing myself beyond my limits and seeing where I can grow. I enjoy physically knowing I can conquer just about anything I set my mind on. Do I hope to one day be able to section hike my way through completing the entire AT? Definitely no. I’d like to go back for another 2 nights and 3 days to finish the Georgia section, but if I never make it back to do that, I won’t lose any sleep over it. I feel proud of what we accomplished, the miles we put in, appreciate the new experiences I had, and am happy to say I still love my friend who I went on the trail with. However, this trail confirmed what I already suspected: I am firmly in the camp of happily being a day-hiker. That’s just what I like. I like a lodge and a bed and a hot shower at the end of a really long day on the trail. This doesn’t mean I’ll never camp or shelter sleep again – I’m certain I will. But I’m not longing to sleep in a cramped tent anytime soon.
There were so many questions that I worked through as I was planning this trip. Things I’d never before contemplated….
- What is a gap?
- What do I do with toilet paper?
- Should I take a pee rag?
Logistics questions that took some pondering…
- How do we get to the AT?
- How do we get back to civilization?
- Do we need shelter reservations/permits?
- Can we pitch a tent anywhere?
- Can I really do this?
- How much food do I really need?
- What kind of hiking shoes do I need?
- How much is this trip actually costing me?!
- What am I going to wear?
- Do I need a bear bag for my food?
And topics that I wish I didn’t have to learn about or prepare for…
- Snakes – venomous vs “safe” ones
- Peeing at night
- Poison ivy and poison oak
My vocabulary exploded with so many new acronyms…
- Section Hiker
- Trail Magic
- Cat Hole
My skills have expanded to now read multiple kinds of maps and life-saving symbols. I’ve learned how to read blazes, what the different blaze markings mean, and the different colors for off-shooting or intersecting trails.
A friend asked me “what was the best part of the trip?” I really had to pause and think, and I’m still contemplating that question. My first answer was to say “Springer Mountain and the Southern Terminus.” Because it was only 1 mile into the trail, and I felt my strongest and freshest, and it was exciting to finally begin the adventure. But honestly, my favorite moment was probably the last 2.2 miles of the journey, when we had decided to end the trail. Not because I was finally getting off of the trail, but because of the way things lined up to make it happen. It was nothing short of miraculous, and for the first time, sun streamed through the trees providing sun beams as we raced those last two miles to make it to our exit point in time. There was a feeling of euphoria at both the beginning and the end.
That same friend also asked “what was the worst part of the trip?” This was easier for me to answer. My answer was “Somewhere on Sassafras Mountain.” Those pointless ups-and-downs (aka PUDs) and ass-kickers were brutal, and we didn’t even know we were on Sassafras, but at one point we lost the trail markers. That is the most uneasy feeling you can have out on the trail, thinking you’re going the wrong direction. While I distinctly remember struggling over those PUDS, the real answer was “Coming down from Blood Mountain.” I know it says Blood Mountain is a gradual incline, and comparatively to the 800 ft elevation gain in less than half a mile of Sassafras, it probably is gradual. But it didn’t feel gradual. And coming down felt just down right awful. Nearly 3/4 of a mile of giant Hercules-sized boulders to climb and scale and navigate along with sections of slick, sheer rock trails were enough to tax every ounce of reserve I had in my body. By the end of that 16 mile day, I was simply done. Somewhere on that last section of the trail I lost my smile, felt unsure of my legs and footing, and just wanted the day to end. That might have been the worst part of the trip for me.
Any trip is going to have high points and low points. And the further out from the trip we get, the more nostalgic we become. But I’m realistic enough to know that the words “that was the greatest trip ever” are not going to come out of my mouth. For a lot of reasons but also because I’ve had such spectacular trips to other places in my lifetime as well.
We conquered 45 miles of excruciatingly hard trails over the course of four days, hiking through Tropical Storm Cindy, making it from Springer Mountain to Hogpen Gap. We survived a lot of things that are designed to cause you harm or kill you: venomous snakes (both Timber Rattlesnakes and Copperheads), bears (we didn’t see them but they were around), poisonous plants, killer trees falling from the storms, torrential downpouring rain, thunder and lightning (and thus electrocution), and who knows what else. I am incredibly proud of what we accomplished, how we handled the trail and each other, and the decisions we made along the way. The trail doesn’t call to me… yet. And I do hope to finish those final few Georgia miles. But if it doesn’t happen, I’ll still be living with no regrets.