A handful of hikers showed up last night, which changed the aimless tone of my afternoon. I lounged on my bunk trying to plan my third food box, which is an exercise in fortune telling, but necessary if you’re going to do mail drops. As I crunched mileage and made a list of food, the newbies groaned about their packs and their blisters. I watched aghast as one of them pulled out a giant first aid kid that probably weighs 3 pounds. But I applauded her on the inside when she said she was going to skip the ride into town (via “mama’s taxi”) so she could figure out how to reduce her pack weigh, which was apparently 52lbs at amicalola visitor center!
Speaking of weight, I’m anxious about how my pack is going to feel during today’s 11.1 mile goal. My base weight is in the neighborhood of 13.5lb depending on what you consider base weight. Add food and water and fuel and I’m hovering in the 23-25lb range. Pretty good, but still a of weight for an unpredictable foot.
My watch Alarm went off at 6:45 and I sighed to myself, very much not ready to get out of bed. An older gentleman from San Antonio doing a section hike road trip combo stirred in his bunk and began packing up him stuff, which caused a cascade of movement in the room.
I packed as much as I could before heading down to breakfast, which was lackluster. I ate weird peach yogurt with a cereal of some sort because the “granola” looked like dog kibble. With 15 minutes left before the shuttle, I hurried back to the bunk room and did my final tasks (eg contacts, teeth brushing, final sweep of my space).
The shuttle ride consisted of rolling green Hills and a tedious and money grubbing conversation about real estate development that made me cringe. I was relieved and bubbling with anxiety when we finally took the turn into amicalola falls state park. When planning my hike, I decided to do the approach trail because it’s what the ATC recommends from a conservation perspective.
I went through the front doors and saw the fabled arches through the back door. It was strange to be standing in a place I’ve seen so many times on social media. A park ranger was giving a brief orientation in the AT office, so I waited until he finished to get my hang tag. He bent the rule and let me get one for Oakland as well (partially because I fibbed and said she would be meeting me at neel gap). I’m NOBO hiker 2,375.
Ranger Bob asked if I wanted my picture taken, and I said yes. He took one with my default stance and then he said “now hold your arms up like you’re having a good time!” I complied even though i felt like an idiot. Then he sent me on my way up the blue blazed trail. I decided to drop a tiny bit of water weight before hitting the 600 steps up the falls, so I took each of my smart water bottles and squeezed them halfway out along either side of me as I walked. My CA drought sensibilities cringed, but I did it anyway.
The trail was mulch covered until it crossed the road and then it switched over to pavement, which is The surface that i try to avoid the most when I’m carrying a pack. Much to my chagrin it was about 3/4 of a mile uphill on pavement before the stairs. I tried not to preemptively freak out about what it would do to my feet and kept chugging along. When I got to the steps, I faced another disappointment: metal steps. I knew they existed, but they were worse than I expected. Guess what you can’t use on this type of stair:
Hiking poles! I tossed my poles in my left hand and made my way up. I tried to think of the stairs as an extension of the thousands of calf raises I’ve done for PT over the last 8 months. Literally, thousands. About a third of the way up, a couple asked me to take their picture and I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying, “dude I am carrying 24lb on my back, does it look like I want to stop and take your picture??” (Yes, I took the picture).
I got to the top of the stairs much sooner than I expected based on how much everyone gripes about them. I took a right and walked past the falls:
Then made my way up paved steps (ugh) and into a parking lot where the approach trail continued on in actual dirt form from that point on. I relished the soft dirt and tried to avoid the attack sticks (i trip on sticks so easily that this is what Oakland and I now call them). Took a quick pit stop to put on sunscreen and eat a snack, then continued up the easy going trail.
As I rounded the corner to the first water source, I realized that I did not have my water scoop. Finally, the thing I’ve forgotten! I’ve had that nagging feeling since I left. My water scoop is the bottom half of a seltzer bottle that is used to scoop water out of streams rather than try to fill the sawyer bags straight from the stream, which is tedious at best and downright impossible if there’slow water flow. I made one before I left and thought I had tucked it into my suitcase but I definitely didn’t remember to take it OUT of the suitcase. Or maybe TSA tossed it? Who knows, but it’s an annoyance I will deal with until neel gap where I will figure out a backup scoop.
I crossed over the footbridge and continued on my way with two full water bottles. I’ve decided to try carrying a bit less water, filtering more frequently and drinking more water when I filter. We’ll see how that works out when it gets hotter. The trail wound through a thinly populated forest with a gradual hill that dropped me onto a beautiful flat soft path with the sun filtering through the trees to my right. Small purple irises dotting the sides of the trails along with gobs of poison ivy. Much more than I expected.
I “walked” Oakland to work while I have the luxury of using my phone battery because I’ll be somewhere with electricity in just over three days. Another hiker approached right as I got distracted by something moving on the trail. I warned him that I wasn’t talking to myself, I was just on the phone and then I told him there was a big spider which made him pick his feet up higher as he walked by.
The trail wound through rolling hills with long stretches of soft flat. I took a break to eat a snack on the log and saw things floating in the air, which I thought were leaves or petals, but they turned out to be a mass of moths coming from a nearby log. The weather is absolutely gorgeous with a the light breeze when I’m walking and powerful sunshine coming through the sparse tree canopy.
I heard my first woodpecker report around 1130 while I was stooping over to take a picture of this wild Iris.
A little while later, I passed a gentleman sitting at a campsite wrestling with his pack. After I walked by, I promptly forgot that he was back there, so when he cleared his throat, I jumped a mile because I thought it might’ve been a bear. Not long after that, I saw a fast-moving large shadow to my left and looked up to find a buzzard. I had hoped for somewhere shady to eat lunch but the prospects weren’t good. It’s definitely going to be a two application day in the sunscreen department.
There were big patches of May flowers scattered through the woods that looked like floating green clouds among the thin groundcover. I finally found a sprawling rock with dappled shade for lunch and made myself the usual peanut butter Frito honey wrap, the frito part of which I have to give credit to buzzcut. We’ve recently been in touch again, and she is another person whom I would love to have the company of right now. While I made my way through my wrap, a set of four bedraggled looking hikers passed me and stopped just up the hill. Two of them are wearing big packs and look like thru hikers. One of them had the look of exhaustion that comes from being talked into doing a thing. I watched them pass me, giving the expected hello, and saw them all simultaneously lean against trees huffing and wilting on their feet. My food tastes vaguely of bounce dryer sheets, which might mean the end of my mouse strategy. One of the hikers last night told me that she uses them in her food bag to deter mice so I snagged a few from her, but they are TOO SMELLY. Sadly I’m stuck carrying them until neel gap because of leave no trace rules.
Before I got back on my feet, I put sunscreen on my legs because I don’t want to get another horrible sun rash like I did in the first couple of weeks of my 2017 hike. I have about 6 more miles to go and I’m tired, but mostly doing well. My right foot is a bit tight after the pavement and the stairs, but I’m doing my best to let it be without over interpreting each sensation I feel.
The trail between lunch and springer was pretty nondescript. There were cheerful wildflowers that I stooped over like a dummy to take pictures of. I stopped for water near a handful of people, which turned out to the parents of two of the people I’d seen before. I stopped and asked if there was in fact water down the short side trail and the oldest man in the crowd gave a hearty yes. He quickly shuffled out of the way and his wife said well she’s going to get water she doesn’t need to sit! And the man said yes but she’s not going to take her pack down there! To which I said, noooo of course not. I of course had totally been about to unnecessarily take my pack down the steep bank. I’ve gotten out of the habit of finding the little ways I can take a break from my pack. When I got back up the hill, I sat with the gaggle for a few minutes. Then I took a risk and asked the Day hikers in the group if they’d be willing to take the dryer sheets off my hands. I had moved them to the outside of my pack but I could still hardly stand the smell of them. They immediately agreed and I thanked them profusely for carrying the smelly ziplock down the mountain.
A little bit before the summit, I attempted another phone call to Oakland because she had an unusually large span of time without class (she’s a teacher), but the signal was frustrating and some personal demons came up. That combined with too much sun and the fear I’d been wrestling with because right hip and my right knee had been getting tighter sent me over the edge. I hurried myself off the phone and proceeded to have my first cry of the hike.
I moped my way up to Springer, which felt ridiculous because of the importance of that location, but that’s where I was at mentally. I had to pull it together to face the small gaggle of people (same group from the water stop) hanging out on the summit. I took a long break up there, waiting for the crowd to thin. Met another thru hiker named Runa who said that the approach trail was nothing compared to Korea. It felt good to hear someone else say it before me.
My mood slowly lifted as I made my way onto the AT. Sadly the rock quotient also lifted and I found myself picking my way through the rocks feeling anxious about straining my ankle. I decided to try another call to Oakland with slightly improved service and this time it was far better. Then I made my way down Springer listening to music to keep myself from focusing on how tired I had started to feel. I had a pang of regret that I hadn’t decided to stay at Springer but I’d also like to get a little farther up the trail on such a nice day.
The walking got easier as I went down the mountain. In fact it hardly felt like I was coming down a mountain. I went through the Springer parking lot and back into the woods which were filled with a patchwork of bright baby leaves. Then came a short stretch of trail that had a thick carpet of new ferns on either side. The greens made me so happy. I eventually came to a stretch of trail that was flanked by rhododendrons, which made me think of walking through a rhododendron tunnel with front pocket back in PA. He’s also out on the trail this year finishing up a stretch he missed in TN.
I crossed over a rhododendron covered stream and continued through very mild walking conditions. My right side seems to have let go of some of the tightness from earlier, which I was thankful for. Sadly my phone signal completely tanked, so my plans for social media posting and touching base with people went out the window. I stopped about 0.1 of a mile before the stover creek shelter to fill up my water for the night. A couple of people were camped right near the stream and I watched one of them drop the cap to his platypus in the stream. Bye bye cap! He sloshed about trying to catch but to no avail. When I picked up my now water-filled pack, I felt grateful that I had managed to keep my weight down. Carrying a 30lb pack all the time would be impossible for me.
I arrived at the shelter tired but in decent spirits. There were a few people there already, which made me happy. I’m anxious about camping alone with such high bear activity (according to fb and my guthook app). I dropped my pack and wandered around looking for a tent spot. Then I pulled out my water, my food and my cooking supplies and left them by the shelter and went to set up my tent. It’s not supposed to rain and I don’t feel like finding out about the mosquito population just yet.
I forced myself to go all the way through my bed setup before I started making dinner. I ate at the shelter and had a nice chat with the people there. One is a thru hiker who introduced himself as Dave. The other two men are a father and son duo who are from Chicago and only out for a couple of days, which is evident based on the amount of stuff they have!
After dinner the father proceeded to set up his camp chair in front of the fire he’d built. Dave and I shared information with the son about thru hiking – he seems very intrigued and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gives it a shot soon. He’s a mental health nurse in a hospital setting so I’m sure he could use the time in the woods.
I’m finishing this to evening birdsong, the occasional ratatat of a woodpecker, the rustling of two other hikers who arrived after I retired to write, and the thunk of bugs flying against my tent walls. Here’s one day of hiking dirt:
Approach trail to mile 2.8
Total miles: 11.1
Creature feature: The first creature of the day was a small scorpion hanging out near the door handle of the bunkhouse. Then came your usual squirrels and what I think is some sort of thrush hopping along monologue right after my snack break of the morning. Around midday I Heard the small Rustle off to my right while daydreaming about lunch and stopped to find a little bird with an olive green back and zebra striped chest. Yet another moment and I wish that halfway were here. Maybe it’s an oven bird? Also saw a Black & white warbler and tree trunk hopping black and gray bird that I don’t know the name of.