I don’t even know where to start this post. The past several days have been a flood of new experiences, people, and sights.
Should I first tell you about the people I’ve met? Matthew, Fresh Ground, Charlotte and Joel, Dumptruck, Peanut, Coyote, Bunny, Slow but Sure, Bud, Quaker, Karma, Ed, Jann, TechE, Sawyer, Brenna, Zen, Lentil…and the list goes on. I’ve met dozens of people, and it’s become commonplace to refer to someone as one of a variety of inanimate objects. In fact, I don’t know most of these people’s real names. I wouldn’t be surprised if I came across someone on the trail tomorrow who introduced himself as Wardrobe or Lamp. And why not? I love lamp. Everybody loves Lamp.
I want to share an observation. It’s interesting how immediately a thru-hiker becomes a trusted friend. As unlikely as it sounds, there was another person (Rob) headed to the Hiker Hostel on my flight from Norfolk. When we got to Atlanta, we waited a couple hours before the shuttle pick up time. Several times, I left my pack with him and vice versa (to grab a snack, go to the bathroom, etc.). I would never have done that with a complete stranger, but in this case I didn’t think twice.
That level of trust has conveyed around the shelters and campsites too. In fact, the first time I thought to grab my valuables was the other day on Blood Mountain when I left my pack to climb to a beautiful vista. In total opposition with my feelings toward “dirty hippie hikers” as a kid, I only began to be wary when surrounded by relatively clean day hikers and Boy Scouts.
Or maybe let me tell you about how amazing the weather has been. Just in case it hasn’t been clear to date, I’m definitely a superstitious person. In the days leading up to my start, there was a frigid cold front in the area of Springer Mountain. The day I arrived, it was cold and windy. But the next morning the cold snap snapped, and it warmed to 55. An auspicious start. And for the record, I was searching for that word for like eight hours until my friend found it and gave it to me. So generous of him.
I stayed the night before at the Hiker Hostel in Dahlonega, GA, which was an amazing opportunity to meet fellow hikers. I’ve stayed in many hostels in the past, but I’ve found that an AT hostel has a different kind of energy. Everyone there, at least during hiker season, is drawn by a similar desire and anticipation. Even those not attempting a thru-hike – like Fresh Ground, who was spreading trail magic for a few weeks – share a congenial excitement for the trail and the thru-hiking goal.
The morning I started my hike, about a dozen of us loaded up into two vans and were driven to the start. When we unloaded an hour later in the Springer Mountain parking lot, there were cheerleaders, a marching band, and people handing out bananas and bagels. OK, not really, but that would’ve been cool.
Can you imagine a marching band following you up an icy mountain? That would probably have led to a lot of crashing metal, totally ruining the ambiance. I will say, though, that Leigh – the co-owner of the Hiker Hostel – was thoughtful enough to make me a gluten free bagel, which I sandwiched with scrambled eggs and brought on the trail…completely made my day.
Oh, you’re wondering about that off handed comment about ice? Yeah, well, it did warm up, but it was a chilly start. In the .9 miles from the starting point at Springer, I slipped three times, one of which was reminiscent of a cartoon character falling on a banana peel. I’m talking both feet out from underneath me. Out loud, I said to myself, “Jor, that hurt. Nothing to do but to get up.” And off I went.
Eight+ muddy miles later, I found myself at Hawk Mountain Shelter, along with about 40 to 50 new friends. Yeah, it was crowded, but I preferred the company since I’m a neophyte.
After filling my water bottles from a stream for the first time in my entire life, setting up my tent, and cooking my dehydrated meal, I sat and met my fellow hikers. It was a dark and frigid night at shy of 30 degrees, so we all turned in at about 6:30pm. And thus began my first ever night backpacking.
The next morning was a bit rough. I accidentally got my hands wet while trying to pour water into my JetBoil, which made my Reynaud’s flare up and hands feel like they were bashed with a sledgehammer. I ended up getting back into my sleeping bag and decided to shiver for a half hour for the heck of it.
That first day it took me almost two hours to break camp and load my pack. My glorious organizational skills combined with my useless fingers were to blame. I’m happy to report that I’ve been incrementally improving; two days ago it took 90 minutes and yesterday just an hour.
The first few days I hiked alone but saw many others in pairs and larger groups. I get stressed at the thought of slowing someone down or otherwise pacing differently, so I went it alone. Also, as much as I’ve met tons of interesting people, I’m not sure I’d be compatible with each personality, so I’ve been cautious.
And it’s been wonderful and freeing to decide, “I’m going to stop here to listen to the wind or make lunch..because I can, because I have nowhere else to be, because I want to and nobody’s expecting me anywhere else.”
Yesterday, for the first time, I hiked with others. Peanut and I paired up for the couple hours to Woods Hole Shelter, and we were joined by Lentil and later Zen on Blood Mountain en route to Neel’s Gap. That hiking strategy was nice too, if different. There’s a lot more talking and laughing and checking my back (to make sure others are safe).
Today, several of us are taking a Zero (a day with zero miles hiked) at Blood Mountain Cabins (amazing!) to rest our sore feet and wait out the rain. Tomorrow, we’ll be on our way toward Hiawassee, GA. I’m not sure if our little band will ultimately stay together, but – what the heck – we’re all going in the same direction at similar pace. All of the heavy milers have already pushed ahead, but it’ll be interesting to see who’ll catch up to us in the coming days.
I wish I could go into more detail about the sights and sounds (not to mention smells…uh yeah), but there are too many things to share and a 500 piece puzzle waiting for me.