Georgia

June 3 — 0 Miles today, 0 miles from Springer, 2174.6 Miles to Katahdin
Wx: 80s, 70%, Shelter: 3, Dinner: 2, Overall: 4.

I woke up extraordinarily early to get to Logan and realized I left my trail guide and log book sitting on the kitchen table. Only so much brainpower at 5:15 a.m. Oh well. I was off to Atlanta via Charlotte in a bulkhead row (long legs) for a relatively easy flight to CLT. I sat next to a guy from Natick and we talked about the Sox the whole way down and I realized how much baseball I am going to be missing. This better be a good trip.

In Charlotte, I got on my next flight to Atlanta which was packed full (they had already bumped a few people before I got there). Charlotte has this rinky-dink little commuter terminal where you walk out on the tarmac to smaller planes, and my flight to Atlanta was a regional jet so we got to walk outside. After a couple minutes they made an announcement that because they had overfueled the plane they needed four volunteers to take the later flight (two hours later) in exchange for a free ticket. My hand was immediately waving in the air! Point, Ari. (The match would go to US Air, which refused to honor the ticket they gave me because the print rubbed off in my pack. Boo.)

There were four of us who took the deal. Two were young women who, if they represent the future of our nation, scare me. One, in her mid-20s and on her way to a wedding, told the other that “she had to potty” before they could go to the bar for bloody marys. She had to — what? Did she just say “potty”? Wow. Mind you, they were both very excited about drinking at 10:00 on a Friday morning. I wasn’t. With a couple hours to kill in the airport I stood in a news shop and read the NYT, the local paper, and skimmed a few magazines. I wasn’t carrying any books (dead weight). And then it was on to Atlanta.

Once I stepped out of the terminal in the ATL, I added a new state to my “been to” list (transiting airports doesn’t count). The plan was to take the MARTA to meet a friend from college for a ride up to Amicalola State Park, where the approach trail begins. They were doing trackwork on MARTA so I got to sit in the airport station for twenty minutes, but was treated to an impromptu free freestyle rap competition on the train. With my pack and short shorts I was a bit out of place I transferred to the line I needed and arrived at the end mid-afternoon. After finding an REI, buying a guide book and fuel, we made for the trail. We stopped to ask directions in Dahlonega, Ga. and found a rack of maps. We found out where we were and were set to leave when the clerk, in a thick southern drawl (it’s not hard to put it on, you just talk real slow-like and say y’all a lot. As Mitch Hedberg said, “down south they say y’all and leave out the o and u. So I try to talk like that. ‘Can I have a sandwich and a bowl of sp?’ ‘I stubbed my toe. CH!'”), said “Y’all read the sign.?” Pulling back the maps we saw an obscured, little sign that said that the maps are not for reference and you better buy them. He let us go without buying the map and he didn’t even pull out his shotgun, but we got out of there real fast. So much for Southern hospitality.

We got to Amicalola Falls State Park and I got dropped off after we took a view of the falls. Amicalola (pronounced by the Cherokee “Um-uh-ca-lo-la,” by the locals “Amiclola” and meaning something about tumbling waters) is a 700-foot high waterfall, the highest in Georgia. I set to sleep in a little shelter (south of New England, lean-tos are called shelters but they are essentially the same thing), made dinner, and went to sleep.

June 4 — 7.6 Miles today (plus 8.8 on the approach trail), 7.6 miles from Springer, 2167 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +1540 feet.
Climbs: 2,3,4,4, Wx: 70s, 70%, TR, Shelter: 4, Dinner: 4, Overall: 4.

The first day ok hiking was uneventful, but nice. The approach trail was originally part of the trail until 1959, when the encroaching Atlanta suburbs moved the end of the trail from Mount Oglethorpe to Springer Mountain. It began by basically climbing up next to the falls, a steep start to the trip. Right when I began to wonder if it would ever end I reached the top and the rest was much easier. At the summit I met twins from MIT (’08) who were hiking as much of the trail as they could before classes resumed, and who, by starting by the road near the summit, went off fast, never to be seen again, as well as a day hiker originally from Belfast, Maine. The trail is lined with monstrous, tall, straight tulip trees, but they only flower on top so all you see are fallen petals. There are also a ton of wildflowers, which lend character to the otherwise green-bland landscape, which became more interesting when the trail goes through a stand of tremendous, old-growth hemlocks and by Long Creek Falls

I came running in to a shelter as a thunderstorm started, with only a minor case of chafing. I spent the night there where Lucy the dog and her owners had a lot of trouble keeping Lucy from attacking me. They were planning to hike several weeks but because of the dog’s behavior were making plans to get off trail. I felt kind of bad about it, but I guess if the dog was not made for hiking it was bound to happen to them. We were camped near an army base and heard, periodically through the night, machine gun fire and a bomb exploding. Which made for some interesting dreams. It was chilly at night, too. I, as usual, was way too hot, but everyone else complained about the cold.

June 5 — 19.2 Miles today, 26.8 miles from Springer, 2147.8 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +330 feet.
Climbs: 4,4,4,4, Wx: 70s, 100%, Shelter: 5, Dinner: 4, Overall: 3.

It was a beautiful day for hiking. Perfect temperature. Great visibility (I saw Atlanta from a mountain lookout, of which there are few here in the South). And I rolled my ankle pretty badly. I was jogging down the trail and feeling grand, bemoaning the fact that the guide (Wingfoot) didn’t mention one of the streams I had just crossed (a recurring theme) when I stepped on a root wrong and thwink!, my ankle rolled over to the side. By mile 1000, my ankles were much stronger, and a minor roll wasn’t a problem. Here, it was. So I stumbled along for twelve miles to the shelter, which I got to around 8:30, right before sunset. I had wanted to make a hostel at Walasi-Yi at Neels Gap, but because of my ankle I was three miles (and a big climb) short of it, which was too bad. It was a long day. The shelter is really nice, however, with nice folks sleeping in tents so I have the shelter to myself to hang my bug net and sleep in peace and calm. And my ankle is swollen and purple. This is not good.

June 6 — 14.3 Miles today, 41.1 miles from Springer, 2133.5 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -550 feet.
Climbs: 3,3,4, Wx: 70s, 100%, Shelter: 3, Dinner: 4, Overall: 3.

Before I left the shelter, I had my first “yogi” (Yogiing is having people cheerfully offer you food. If you ask outright, it’s begging. If you lamentfully look at your trail mix bag and comment on how you are running low, it’s not. Figure that one out.) of a couple of nutrition bars as well as an ace bandage. My ankle felt fine today, at least for a while. I went over Blood Mountain (4461 feet, the trail’s highest point in Georgia) to the Walasi-Yi center where I restocked on some food and had lunch.

I hobbled out of there and my ankle began to hurt. A lot. It turned out, as I sat on my pack in the middle of the trail, that I had wrapped it too tight. Once I took off the ace bandage it felt better. By that time, however, I had resigned myself to a short (14 mile) day. I need to average 18 miles every day for the trip, not go at least 18 every day. Especially with a bum ankle.

There was one spot left in the camp when I hobbled in around dark. There were several boy scouts and scout masters there, and little did I know that they would be some of the most prolific snorers south of the Mason-Dixon line. The scoutmaster’s 14-year-old kid sawed wood all night. A teenager. The scoutmaster drowned him out; he sounded like a freight train the whole time. The entire shelter shook as the father-son team engaged in a major league snoring contest. I slept in fits and starts.

June 7 — 14.9 Miles today, 56 miles from Springer, 2118.6 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +1180 feet.
Climbs: 4,3,2, Wx: 70s, 100%, Shelter: 3, Dinner: 3, Overall: 3.

I had options to go 7, 15 or 22 miles today, or hitch down to a hospital if my ankle needed it. I finally put two and two together and realized that I was kind of sick, too. The not wanting to eat too much. The cold sweats at night and while hiking. I decided that I’d sleep a lot at camp (atop Tray Mountain, a long climb up) and that I’d spend the next day there if necessary. The first part of the day was great — the trail followed an old road, complete with bridges over each stream gap, and I later found out that this was originally going to be an extension of the Blue Ridge Parkway along the trail (which would be relocated) and even after the AT was designated a “National Scenic Trail” in 1968 construction was still in the law and only fully killed in the 1970s. I also saw a black bear in the woods and a four foot snake crossing the trail. I was glad the bear was running away from me, and would soon learn that non-rattling black snakes were harmless. I still banged my hiking poles together for a while after I had seen the bear to warn others of my passing.

June 8 — 17.2 Miles today, 73.2 miles from Springer, 2101.4 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +700 feet.
Climbs: 4,3,3,3,4, Wx: 70s-80s, 80%, Shelter: -, Dinner: 4, Overall: 3.

I woke up late, but feeling much better overall. I had smaller, more frequent meals (I began the ritual first lunch and second lunch) as I went north. I’d wanted to do 20+ but because of the late start (10:00 a.m.) I only made 17 to a campsite. It had a scuzzy water source, but I was fine with it. It was water. It took a while to throw bear ropes, and at one point I jerked the rock right back in to my arm (CH!) but once hung they were quite good. I almost spilled dinner as I cooked, ate in the dark, and went to bed. I decided I rather like shelters rather than camping out in the woods on my own … with the bears.