Monday: 12.9 miles / 20.8 km

“Are you two going all the way?”

“Well, we’re married so… that’s really none of your business, my friend.”

The Trail is social. Camaraderie at the shelters — even along the trail with 27 pounds strapped to your back — people open up, crack jokes, ask questions. The intimacy creates a warmth much needed while spending days outdoors.

We launched from Stover Creek Monday morning headed for Gooch Mountain Shelter – the first official day on the AT.

The sun didn’t join us, but I took my long johns off before noon. K2 hikes in shorts and tee shirts as a rule.

Although the overall elevation dropped 931′, a few big Georgia hills showed me what the Top of Georgia is all about.

We came up Hawk Mountain, then Sassafras, then Justus – three hills close together in less than seven miles.

Do you know where you are?

You’re in the jungle, baby!

Between Justus Creek and Blackwell Creek I napped while hiking. Seriously. I had to wake up to fjord Blackwell.

As the tent sites around Gooch Mountain Shelter came into view, I began to sing Angel from Montgomery, my voice wavering as the aching in my body turned to ennui. When I dropped my pack I could barely raise my arms.

Our good news, “we beat the rain” met the bad news of the hikers jammed into the shelter: “no tent sites left.” Luckily we snuggled our 3-man Big Agnes next to Tyler’s tent. Tyler had attempted once before and was thinking this night might be his last on the trail.

Don’t quit on a bad day.

The rain held off until after dinner and tea. The rain on our tent gave me the best night of sleep thus far on the trail.

This post was updated to reflect proper mileage. Muscle exhaustion and forest dampness combine to lay a fog over my memory.

Sunday: First Hike Up

The Appalachian Trail begins at the top of Springer Mountain in Georgia and ends at the top of Katahdin in Maine.

We started this sabbatical hike at the Approach Trail from Amicalola Falls State Park on a beautiful sunny day. This 8.8 mile trek climbs 1,982 feet to the top of Springer Mountain, which stands at an elevation of 3,782 feet.

The journey of a lifetime begins with a single step… or literally a whole slew of steps up a waterfall.

Then down from the peak to Springer Mountain Shelter Stover Creek Shelter (2,916 feet) where we took our packs off, ate dinner, and then slept in the bottom bunk with a hiker from Australia by way of Scotland, Scotty Roo, on the opposite bottom bunk and a couple other hikers in the loft. After a total of 11.6 miles of hiking, I slept well.

Highlights of the day:

  • The waterfall, its mist, and the 600+ stairs up – what a feat of engineering
  • Chatting with Louise, an octogenarian out for a constitutional
  • Top of Springer – the history as well as the view
  • Learning I should keep my mini Sayer water filter in the tent or sleeping bag so it doesn’t freeze
  • Helping a less-than-prepared hiker with her piezo-igniter stove (I had mixed feelings about touching her stuff after she barfed next to the shelter – Yay Dr Bronner’s!)

This post was updated to reflect the correct shelter. Apparently, confusion is indeed one of the first signs of hypothermia.

Today we hike!

We drove about 1,100 miles from TX to GA in about 17 hours to get in position. We stayed in Helen, GA and today we drop the car at up the trail and a dude picks us up and drops us at the state park in Amicolola.

Highlights from the drive –

  • Bridges along I-10 – it’s no wonder that interstate shuts down so much. It was actually still closed for a brief stretch in Houston.
  • Swanky gas station privies
  • Gorgeous moon rises – huge full moon all orange and mesmerizing
  • Listening to the Bruins pull out a win the Habs in overtime

Good dirty vs Bad dirty

Soon I will be showing sporadically. I will also be outside most of the time, hiking an average of 13 miles a day, and sleeping pretty close to the dirt.

How will I stay tidy?

We will drive the car up the trail, shuttle back, then hike to meet the car a few times during our trek. When we meet the car, we will be off trail, in civilization. There will be hot showers – perhaps even baths!

While on the trail, the AT offers plentiful water sources. Sometimes this is in the form of a shower at an outdoor center, cabin, or hostel. Other times I will be at the trail water source wiping off the layer of sweat and grime before crawling into my sleeping bag. This is what makes it an adventure!

Carrying a pack stocked with toiletries helps keep the dirt layer from tattooing itself permanently to my body. BUT I don’t want to carry so much that I add a bunch of weight. I’ve prepared one ditty bag for the car and another for my pack.

My pack ditty contains essentials like toothpaste, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, anti-chafing balm, Desitin (for blisters not diaper rash), Dr Bronner’s soap, and Bert’s Bees wipes that I’ve dried out and will rehydrate on the trail.

It might need more editing because it currently weighs 1lb 1oz – 17oz. But it has more than simply items to fight dirt. There’s moleskin, Leukotape, Advil, turmeric supplements, earplugs, and other TOTALLY essential items I can’t see clear to part with at this time. Hey, I am leaving the SheWee at home, folks. Ok, yeah, maybe I’ll bring that too.

The car ditty has back stock to refill my pack ditty. I am curious to learn what items actually get restocked and what items stay in the car.

If you’re dirty, what in this world isn’t?! – Fuyumi Soryo

6 Days to Depature

We will be driving to Hiawassee, Georgia in less than a week. Much to do and yet we are on track.

My challenge today is to get my pack weight as close to 30 pounds as possible. I hike much more comfortably with that weight, no more. March is still fairly winterish and much of what I’m wanting to bring is clothing. No individual piece weighs much – together they add up.

I am also concerned about water – having enough, but not carrying too much. Can I get by with 1.5L? Should I go with 3L? I probably will hike with two 1.5L bladders – hopefully both won’t need to be full most days.

I weigh a moderately lean 136 lbs without any shoes. My Fitbit tells me I am in “very good to excellent shape” but the longest day hike I have ever done was 20 miles and I have only done two or three days out at once. No matter my physical readiness at this point: STUFF will not create more endurance nor more strength nor more stamina. Too much stuff is a liability.

Shoes: I tried Vasque and Solomon before settling on Keen. So far so good. We shall see. I have moleskin and Leukotape to treat potential hotspots.

Bag: the One Bag by North Face with a comfort range of 18-46F.

This bag is a solid choice for backpackers hiking in varying climates like the Lone Star state and this southern stretch of the AT in March. It’s basically a bag with a blanket that zips to provide options depending on the weather. It’s actually pretty easy to use even with all the zippers and I love hanging in camp with the blanket. It also comes with its own stuff sack that doubles as a pillow.

For the rest of my packing I’m relying quite a bit on the advice of my husband, Ken, who is an experienced backpacker/hiker and who has thru hiked the AT already. He’s also recommended Andrew Skurka’s gear lists, which have been super helpful.

After several hours of mostly mental gyrations and one load of laundry, I have reduced my life to 30 pounds… including ~6 days of food and many snack baggies of toiletries. Here’s the high level:

It’s not a true adventure if you’re comfortable the whole dang time!

WTF is a Sabbatical?

For me, it’s 20 days off from work

Going on sabbatical scares me a little. In a prior professional life we all used to say, ‘if you can take two weeks off at once, we don’t need you.’

Now I’m taking 20 workdays off from work all at once. Wow.

I’ve decided to hike. This has been a plan for several months. When K2 and I first fell in love during our whirlwind courtship, we realized we both loved the outdoors.

Before we decided to live together, we backpacked. Live in a tent together first, see what happens, then cohabitate. Some free advice, y’all.

When we got married, we did a brief honeymoon because we had already started planning Appalachian Trail Adventure 2018. We will hike from Springer Mountain, GA to Hot Springs, NC.

I have been in a hiking club for 10 years now. We don’t hike as much as we used to though and we never we super serious. To be honest it was more of a drinking club with a hiking problem. [Fugowies Forevah!]

I have a home-based yoga practice and according to my Fitbit I’m in “excellent” shape for my age – whatever that means. Still I expect this trip to stress me in ways entirely different from the day-to-day stress of the life I lead today. Isn’t that the point of a sabbatical?

I want to be challenged and tap a new wellspring of resilience I can bring back with me. Hey, at least it won’t add any weight to my pack.

It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. – Sir Edmund Hillary