Appalachian Trail update #1 Written 2/26/2017
I have officially made it through Georgia and into North Carolina. I am writing while sitting all alone at the summit of Standing Indian Mountain, the first 5,000 footer of my trip, taking in the sunset on a cold but clear night.
I must say, I found the walking in Georgia to be very pleasant. Most of the trail consisted of nice, even, dirt footpath. Smooth walking for sure. I especially enjoyed hiking through the rhododendron and mountain laurel choked hollers that are so characteristic of the southern Appalachians. The Georgia trail already took me through numerous federally designated wilderness areas. I wouldn’t say that Georgia is riddled with views, but there certainly were some nice ones. However, with the great weather we’ve had so far and no leaves on the trees, to a certain degree we had views the entire time.
The unfortunate truth, and my one major gripe, is that the trail is quite polluted. From food waste and wrappers, to articles of clothing, gear, or toilet paper, I haven’t gone a day without seeing a pile of trash along the side of the trail. I’m not sure if this is a blatant disregard for the environment and irresponsibility for one’s own waste, if that much trash just happens to fall out of people’s pockets and packs, or if it is a desperate attempt to shed weight by those who packed way to much regardless of the environmental consequences, but no matter what, these “thru-hikers” have to do better. It’s infuriating and disgusting. It is not the job of Mother Earth, other hikers, trail crews, or ATC ridge runners to clean up trash that belongs to others. I hope as the riff raff gets weeded out farther north the trail becomes cleaner. But it is a shame for anyone to treat the trail and wilderness of beautiful Georgia this way.
I’ve stayed in or near shelters most nights. Doing so has provided some good socialization, and I’ve met some really great people. While there has certainly been plenty of people with whom to talk, I definitely would not describe the trail as “crowded.” I think I started the perfect time to stay ahead of a major bubble but with enough good folks around to relieve absolute isolation. I tend to be the first one out of camp in the morning, usually eating my breakfast and drinking my first liter of water as I walk. I walk alone most of the time. I’ve found it best for me to hike at my own pace and spend the days to myself, thinking. Early mornings have meant walking through a lot of fog, mist, and clouds. Things usually clear up in the afternoon, and then I catch up with my pals as we usually end up in the same place by the end of the day’s hike. I’ve found 16 miles a day to be my sweet spot here at the beginning of my hike. Any less and I feel I haven’t done enough. Any more, great, but 16 has allowed me to hike most of a day at a comfortable pace, without pushing myself too much to early. I learned a bit of restraint from my hernia a few years ago which was caused by trying to do too much too soon. I’m trying to avoid injury on this trip by doing the opposite. I do hope I can do bigger miles soon, however.
Everyone has been super kind so far. I’ve seen people lending a helping hand or offering encouragement to others on many occasions. Myself, starting my trip without any stove fuel, have been offered the use of someone else’s a few times. I have my own now. When another hiker was experiencing major cramps in his quadriceps, many offered electrolyte powder and gummies and extra water. People are willing to share their own precious resources with people they barely know, and that’s something special.
They say drugs and alcohol lower one’s inhibitions, but the trail has been mostly drug and alcohol free so far and it seems people’s walls are already down. That’s what the wilderness does. It relaxes the mind. While there are some folks here with a lot of responsibility outside of the trail, it seems their focus is solely on the trail. We’re all just living in the moment. Engaging in the ritualistic practice of backpacking has simplified our lives and minimialized potential stimuli and sources of stress. It seems that everyone is relaxed and happy. It has allowed for genuine interactions and honesty. Strong connections have already been built, and everyone is quick to greet each other, share a story, or have a laugh.
I think my previous hiking, backpacking, and backcountry work experience has made a drastic difference for me. While I do think I came into this hike slightly out of shape, I have been able to avoid most of the growing pains of backpacking, such as foot blisters, chaffing, ultra sore muscles, or carrying an excessively heavy or large backpack. Things have been going smoothly for me, and as long as I stay injury and illness free, I should continue to roll. I hope.
What my body doesn’t like, however, is my new diet. Whole foods have gone out the window, in favor of lightweight dehydrated foods and things that come in cellophane wrappers. I’ve already eaten more Snickers bars than I’m proud to admit. This diet has kept me adequately fueled for hiking, but has my stomach turned over a bit. I’m experiencing rather regular acid reflux, that may be due to my high levels of activity mixed with artificial preservatives and monodi-whatevers and sodium glu-so and sos. I hope my body adjusts, otherwise I’ll have to try I mitigate this acid reflux, which is highly unusual for me, with a change in diet (which would be difficult while backpacking), or with medication (which I’d rather not take). Dried fruit has been my main source of “healthy” food and my emotionally uplifting treat. We’ll see how it all shakes out.
Probably not a surprise to those who know me well, I’ve taken the trail name “Crispy C” or “Crispy.” This nickname didn’t originate on the trail, but was given to me by my brother 8 years ago. Since it has been solidified in most areas of my life, I didn’t feel the need for a new name here on the trail. However, as I’m hiking with my roommate from college who is already accustomed to it, his natural use of it has helped it spread. I’ve successfully awarded a few trail names to others myself, including but not limited to Lu Dawg, Cap’n Kirk, Cruise Control, The Salesman, Million Bucks, and Kentucky Straight. I love giving nicknames, so I hope this list grows.
So far I’ve been treated really well by the local businesses I’ve visited. I’ve stayed out of towns so far, as entering civilization becomes less attractive by the day. However, some businesses are conveniently located near the trail and cater to thru-hikers. I want to thank the Richard Judy and Len Foote Hike Inn for a very pleasant work for stay. It was a beautiful facility operated by great staff and made for a memorable start! I want to thank Mountain Crossings and Top of Georgia Hostel (thanks for the spoon, Youngblood!) for friendly service and very useful resupplies.
Also, Patagonia Baggies with a 5″ inseam are by far the best shorts in which I’ve ever hiked. I don’t know why I didn’t buy 10 pairs of these 10 years ago.
On to see what North Carolina and Tennessee have in store! I plan to take it kind of slow in order to enjoy Great Smoky Mountains National Park and to visit with some friends in the area.
Happy trails everyone!