Today, March 4th, (or as I like to think of it: March Forth) is a special anniversary for Will and I. Today it's been seven years since the two of us packed up our gear and headed off into the woods of Georgia to attempt a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Although we didn't make it all the way to Maine (I got a stress-fracture in my foot one day before we would have arrived in West Virginia), our two-and-a-half months on the trail were an incredible experience that we'll never forget. No matter what life throws at me, I can think back to our days on the trail and compare my feelings to a day spent following the white blazes. Whether it was having to sing, "just keep swimming" over and over again in my head to make it up the seemingly never-ending Kelly Knob, or hiking through rain, sleet, ice, freezing rain, and snow as we made our way through the Smoky Mountains, or looking out over a beautiful mountain view at the end of a long climb, or finding ourselves at an amazing overlook right at sunset, there is always something to remember and help me through whatever situation I'm in. For that, I will always be grateful.
I thought I'd take the next several weeks to write about some stories from our days on the trail. We literally have hundreds of pictures, and probably just as many stories to go with them. If you're tired of sitting in an office all day, you can get out and live vicariously through these photos (as I'll be doing), at least for a few minutes.
Something you should know up front: thru-hikers don't use their real names on the trail, but instead go by trail names. Will was Swiftcreek (a nickname from his camp counselor days) and I was Small Wonder (the name of one of my favorite Barbara Kingsolver books). When I use weird names to refer to other people in my pictures, now you know why.
Here we are at Amicalola Falls State Park at the beginning of the 8.8 mile Approach Trail to the official Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain in Georgia. Many people who choose to hike the AT decide not to hike the Approach Trail, instead opting to drive up the mountain to the first white blaze. We decided to go for it. Do we look scared? 'Cause we were!
At the top of Springer Mountain, we found the first white blaze, the marker that would lead us over 2,000 miles to the official Northern Terminus of the trail on Mount Katahdin in Maine.
Our second night on trail found us sleeping with several other thru-hikers in Gooch Mountain Shelter. There's me unpacking behind the pole and that's Tree Frog over there on the right. We hiked with him and his buddy Show Me on and off throughout our time on the trail. I remember waking up the next morning and being so stiff I could barely bend my knees. See those steps there on the bottom left of the photo? When I went to fill up our water bottles, I almost fell on my face when my knees refused to cooperate on the way down.
Despite being so sore, we kept moving and found ourselves with a new group at Low Gap Shelter. That's me there in the blue jacket and hat, waiting for our water to boil, watching the other hikers, taking it all in, observing and learning new tricks that we would later use ourselves further up the trail. See that guy in the yellow pants? That's Squirrel. That night, he built a huge fire and kept feeding it with leaves until the sparks were flying and I was sure he was going to burn down the woods. After the fire had been safely put out, we stuffed nine people into that seven-person shelter and slept like logs.
The next day was a milestone for us - we hiked 10 miles before noon! We wound our way up Tray Mountain to our highest elevation yet and stayed in Tray Mountain Shelter. Here I am warming up my hands on a steaming Nalgene full of hot chocolate. You can see our stove and pot in the background - that's where the trail food magic happened. That little thing could boil water in about three minutes and was then used to make amazing concoctions such as broccoli and cheese rice with beef jerky or ramen noodles with beef jerky or butter noodles with beef jerky. To the right of me is Hodge, also cooking up some masterful meal. That night, a storm blew in, and I remember waking up and trying to keep my sleeping bag dry by scrunching my legs up. After a few minutes of rain blowing in the shelter and deciding that my efforts were going to be in vain, I covered up my head with the sleeping bag, stretched out, and went to sleep. Luckily, the rain didn't last that long.
This photo shows me and our buddy YooHoo at Rufus Morgan Shelter just outside the Nantahala Outdoor Center. We had just hiked our first 20 mile day and were completely exhausted. We made and ate our dinner and were tucked into our sleeping bags before the sun had completely set. Definitely a good day.
There goes Swiftcreek and YooHoo, heading off to our next set of mountains. I clearly remember hiking through this section and just being amazed at what this world has to offer. Just look at that view!
I'll end here for today, with another photo of the endless sea of mountains we saw almost every single day.
Over the next several weeks, I'll be showing more photos and sharing more stories from our days on the trail as I re-live my experiences seven years later. Hope you'll enjoy these tales from the trail!