Appalachian Trail Thru-hike Week One

Day One, March 22nd. 

Song in my head: We’ve Only Just Begun by the Carpenters. The obvious reason for this song is not why it’s rattling around up there. Before we left for the trail I had watched the movie 1408. If you have seen the film you know I get to keep my man-card. 

Our hike was from the Approach Trail to Springer Mt Shelter. We gained about 3500 feet over 9.0 miles. We started at 8:45 and ended at 3:30 pm, for a total of 6 hours and 45 minutes. Last mile to Springer was very tough. We are tired but fine. Springer shelter has 2 privies, multiple campsites, shelter, water source and bear cables for hanging our food bags. 
The wind howled all night. At first I thought it was the sound of semis driving down a highway. The problem was the freeway seemed to be getting closer and closer as the night progressed until the freeway was just outside our tent. 
Day two, March 23
7.1 miles Springer mountain Shelter to Hawk Mountain Campsite. Site is huge and spread out with 30 tent areas spaced very nicely. Bear boxes, privy and water source too. Hike start and stop – 9:05 – 1:45. 
Day three, March 24
Weary legs wobbly, but they don’t fall down; no they just keep walking.
8.4 miles from Hawk Mountain tent site to Gooch Mountain shelter. Left at 9am arrived at 3. Sassafras should be renamed Sassy Ass. A very tough climb for me. 
Day four, March 25
Song in my head: Oh, oh it’s Magic
Strolled 8.6 miles from Gooch Mountain Shelter to Lance Creek restoration area. Bear cables tent sites and great water source. Felt strong all day for the first time.
Two instances of trail magic today, breakfast and lunch. We knew breakfast was coming as the angel came through camp the night before letting everyone know. Lunch was unexpected and awesome. Burgers dogs chips and all the fixings. 
Rained for hours in the early morning, but woke to and walked in fog but dry. 
Day 5, March 26
7.2 lance creek to Neels Gap. 7:50-1:50. 6 hours. 
Took down a wet tent and hiked in drizzle all day. Blood mountain was a tough one. Both going up and coming down. Great end though at blood mountain cabins. Hot water, a small shop with pizza and wings and sundry items. Free laundry they do for you. Yippee. 
Song in my head: Vampires by Meat Puppets. It’s just a spooky looking day. 
Day 6, March 27
Neel (or Neels. I, like apparently everyone else, use the two interchangeably) Gap to Whitley Shelter. 9:30 – 2:30 6.7 miles (7.9 total). Easy day. 
Song in my head today: College by Matt the Electrition. Particularly the lyric, “he’s got a Gatorade bottle where he goes pee and your behind him with your college degree.” I’ll let you make your own inference. 
My shelter log entry today: I spent $100 just browsing at Mountain crossings. 
Supposed to rain tonight, bring it on. (It did not rain)
Day 7, March 28

Whitley Gap to Poplar Stamp Gap. 6.2 7.4. They should change the name of Poplar Stamp to Popular Stamp. This unofficial campsite has room for three tents and a campfire. 
We are 10 tents and 2 hammocks strong tonight. Chica and I arrived early and set up our tent. About an hour later a posse of testosterone permeates the space; I dub them the Bro Bros. We are treated to hours of talk of miles, gear and grams. 
On a positive note tomorrow is just an 8 mile hike and a shuttle will pick us up to take us into town for 2 nights and a full day of rest. No rain forecast for tonight. 
My shelter entry when we stopped for lunch: AT Mantra, “Just one more mountain.”
Great first week. 

Day 8

Day 8 (Mar. 29th) – 8.4 miles. Poplar Stamp Gap to Unicoi Gap. Sun out and temps up to 70, nice hiking most of day till last 3 miles – mountains and boulders galore. We are at the Budget Inn in Hiawassee and will stay here tomorrow for our first Zero day (no hiking, zero miles hiked). 
If you want to see pics or video search for “Appalachian Trail Tales” on Facebook and YouTube. 

Day 7

Day 7 (Mar. 28th) – 6.2 miles (AT), 7.4 miles total. Whitley Gap Shelter to Poplar Stamp Gap. Today was a beautiful day weather wise. Jen’s feet were tired today (no problems, just sore/tired), Greg felt good. Unofficial camp site tonight, one other person here. Tomorrow we go to Hiawassee for our zero day – yay!!

For pictures, search Facebook for “Appalachian Trail Tales” and also our first video is up on YouTube (search “Appalachian Trail Tales”)!  

Day 6

Day 6 ( Mar. 27th) – 6.7 miles (on AT), 7.9 total miles hiked. Neel’s Gap to Whitley Gap Shelter. Great day hiking today. Weather misty, foggy and rainy but brightened up as day went on. We both felt really good and strong today. Rain expected tonight and tomorrow. We are living our dream!

Day 5

Day 5 (Mar. 26th) – 7.4 miles. Lance Creek Campsites to Neel’s Gap (Blood Mountain Cabins). Rained all night last night, but stopped in time for us to pack up this morning. Misty and foggy all day. Blood Mountain kicked my butt today! My legs were very exhausted going up, coming down though steep and boulders galore was better. Greg did great though he says very challenging too. If anyone needs a challenge, this is it! We are happy to be living our dream. At cabins tonight with another couple and we are choking down on pizza now. Soooo yum!!

Days 1-4

Day 1 (Mar. 22nd) – 9.0 miles. Approach trail to Springer Mountain Shelter. Approach trail was hard, you guys! It just about kicked our butts except that – we kicked its ass! 604 steps to top of waterfall and then 7.7 miles uphill after that to Springer Mt. The Springer Mt. shelter is lovely and we got our chores all done for the first time and all went well (tent set up, water filtered, dinner cooked, bear bags hung). 
Day 2 (Mar. 23rd) – 7.0 miles. Springer Mt. Shelter to Hawk Mt. Campsite. First leg was easy and level and beautiful, but last couple miles were hard uphill, lots of roots and rocks. We were sore and exhausted after today!! This site is really nice with 30 tent sites, a new privy and bear boxes for our food. We both had loaded mashed potatoes tonight and they were awesome!

Day 3 (Mar. 24th) – 8.4 miles. Hawk Mt. campsite to Gooch Mt. Shelter. This was a hard day. Started with three little hills then two big mountains. But we did it. Feeling tired/sore a bit later into hike than first day so maybe it’s getting better. We are loving it out here and having the time of our lives!
Day 4 (Mar. 25th) – 9.6 miles. Gooch Mt. Shelter to Lance Creek Campsite. Today was a great day! We both felt good (bodies and feet still got sore, but they are getting tired later and later into our mileage). We had two trail magic as today!! Breakfast AND lunch! Amazing and wonderful. Great people who do this for the thru hikers. Tonight at small campsite but there are other familiar faces here. No privy but there are Bear cables. Expecting rain tonight and tomorrow. Tomorrow will be hard – we have to tackle Blood Mountain (which will be even harder in the rain). 

What have we gotten ourselves into?

What have we gotten ourselves into?

What have we gotten ourselves into?

Who was that guy who coined the Appalachian Trail a simple “walk in the woods?” That phrase paints a picture of a beautiful, level, happy-go-lucky, birds-chirping, sun-shining, leisurely stroll through the woods. Not a boulder-climbing, stream-crossing, mountain after mountain, panting, heavy-breathing, can’t talk to your partner, have to watch your feet at all times (so as not to twist your ankle on roots or rocks, or slide down a steep drop off), type of hike. Yea, thanks Mr. Bryson.

The truth is, the Appalachian Trail is HARD. It will, I’m sure, be the hardest thing Greg & I have ever done. And frankly, this is also why we want to do it. It is a mammoth challenge – one of stamina, physical exertion, and most of  all – mental fortitude.

The elevation gain/loss of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail is the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest 16 times.

Here’s a picture from the AT in Pennsylvania. PA is one of the toughest state’s the trail goes through, we hear walking on these boulders all day can really tear up your feet. Photo by: Ryan Johnson
PA rocks

A lot of our friends are already starting out on their thru-hike this year, and while it’s painful to see their posts and pictures from the comfort of our warm and comfy couch, we have to remind ourselves that this was always our plan. We wanted to wait until the end of March so as to experience as little of a “full” harsh/cold winter as possible, even though we will be starting in the “bubble” of thru-hikers.

A friend of mine recently said to me, when I was talking about my fears, “Hey – remember when you quit your jobs, sold everything, and moved to Costa Rica? If you can do that, you can hike the Appalachian Trail!”

Well, not necessarily. The AT will be SO much harder than quitting our jobs and moving to Costa Rica. Regarding Costa Rica, YES, that was a hard decision to make back then, but after we did our research and got our budget in order, it was actually quite easy to implement our plans. Quitting our jobs went smoothly, and after researching and planning out what would be the hardest things to tackle once we got to Costa Rica, actually living through those things went without a hitch. A positive attitude can go a long way. Maybe I can say all this because I’ve “been there, done that” now, but Greg and I both believe that the AT will be so much harder. Here’s some of our reasoning:

1.Physically, it will be hard. As I mentioned, it is not just a “walk in the woods.” It is a lot of PUD’s – pointless ups and downs. The Appalachian Trail is on a mountain range and goes up and down hills and mountains – a LOT. And not just little mountains. Sometimes the elevation increases rapidly, other times slowly. There will be rocks and roots and leaves and streams. The beginning alone will be hard. We have chosen (foolishly?) to start with the Approach Trail, which isn’t even PART of the Appalachian Trail, but lots of “real” hikers do it. And well, we want to be real hikers. It is 8.8 miles uphill, including a little section of 604 steps to the top Amicalola Falls.

The Approach Trail has a total elevation gain of 3,165 feet:
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Everyday will be a bit like this, several up and downs, some days harder than others. There has been a lot of rain and thunderstorms lately, and we are hoping that we can at least start Day 1 with no rain.

Approach trail at Amicalola Falls.  Photo by: @TwoCooksTakeAWalk
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2. The monotony. Day after day we will be hiking, all day, every day. In Costa Rica we didn’t have to do anything physical if we didn’t want to. On the trail we need to hike almost every day. And we want to end in Maine before Oct. 15th, as they start closing the summit of Mt. Katahdin (the northern terminus) due to the winter season.

3. Mentally, it will be hard. On Costa Rica, I feel like we did our research, and we were prepared for everything that was thrown at us. Sure, some things were hard, but we remained positive and were able to deal with things as they were thrown at us.   On the AT, there’s so much that could happen out of our control (well, I guess this was similar to Costa Rica) – injuries, diseases, animals, crazy weather… We could also just get so bored and tired of walking (people quit for this reason all the time). We’ve heard that the trail is 90% mental, which amazes me, because it is so physically challenging. Just goes to show how much your mind and attitude can make or break you. Can you imagine what it takes, mentally, to get through a part of the trail like Mahoosuc Notch?  It’s labeled “the most difficult or the most fun mile of the AT.”  The guidebook reads simply “make way through jumbled pit of boulders.”

Mahoosuc Notch. Photo by:  Ryan Johnson
notch

There’s a reason 25% of the people that attempt the AT each year going NOBO (northbound) quit by the time they even get out of the first state of Georgia. It’s hard, you guys! And Georgia starts out hard right away with a rollercoaster of mountains. And it’s made even harder with cold rain (sometimes snow), blisters and sore feet, heavy packs, and aching knees and hips.  No matter how much you train for the AT, you can’t really feel what it’s like until you’re on it and hiking every day.  Everyone out there will be in the same boat – getting used to their gear and how everything works.

The most likely reasons people quit are:

  • Boredom/loneliness:  Believe it or not, it just gets boring for people to hike 10-20 (or more) miles a day and see the “same scenery” day after day.  The majority of thru-hikers are in their 20’s, just out of high school or college, and miss their friends and family desperately.
  • Injuries: People get inured (knees give out, sprained ankles are common, fractured foot, broken legs even) or they may get a disease (Lyme’s disease, Giardia).
  • Money runs out:  Lots of thru-hikers are not able to manage their money well, or party too much along the way.

She makes this thigh-high mud look fun, doesn’t she? Photo by:  @hikes.camera.adventure
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Despite all of the hardships the AT will throw at us, none of this detracts from our desire and dream to hike the whole Appalachian Trail (all 2,189.8 miles of it!). Both Greg & I are determined to do this. In fact, we’ve already pledged to each other that the only way we would quit is if one of us has a severe injury (preventing further hiking) or there is a family emergency. This has been our dream for a couple of years now, and we are doing it! This is not to say that we don’t need help – just knowing you guys are thinking of us and sending us positive thoughts will help us tremendously (especially on the hard days), so please don’t hesitate to like or comment wherever you are following us (here, YouTubeInstagramFacebook)!

Can we even picture ourselves on the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine? Honesty, it’s hard to think about without getting emotional, but yes… YES WE CAN.  

We want this feeling!  Photo by:  Ryan Johnson (who thru-hiked last year):
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See videos of our Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike: here!