Have you ever noticed how events in life seem to correlate? During the summer I was teaching an environmental science class at the local community college. The day after we covered air pollution I was driving on the interstate and noticed the ozone warning in effect. This morning I was thinking about watching Dan in Real Life. Instead I watched another movie, but an actress who played one of Dan’s (Steve Carell) daughters was in the movie I chose to watch.
I keep getting asked lately whether I’m excited. It’s only going to become more frequent as my start date approaches. People always ask whether you’re excited when you’re about to do something that’s rare. Weddings, retirement (I assume), a big trip. I started trying out different answers to the question, but then the other day I started reading a new trail journal. Portrait hiked the trail this year northbound. On the train on the way to Ga he had time to ponder the same question. I like his answer better than any I’ve come up with so far.
Last week Christy and I visited my dad in Georgia. While there we went to Amicalola Falls State Park, which is where the approach trail for the AT begins. The approach trail is about 8.5 miles of waterfalls and uphill to get to the top of Springer Mountain and the true AT trailhead. It is clearly designated by the visitor’s center and a giant arch.
On the corner of the visitor’s center hangs my nemesis: the scale. When thru-hikers begin they sign in at the visitor’s center and weigh their packs. My goal is to keep that pack as light as I can. There are several things that seem to drive hikers off the trail in the first few weeks, including 1) Going too fast too soon, 2) Having too much weight in your pack, and 3) Not realizing that they don’t like backpacking. The third won’t be a problem for me, as evidenced by my training hikes. The first two I know first-hand are problems because they cause injuries, but both can be controlled by not hiking too far the first few days and keeping your pack weight down.
While in the visitor’s center my dad chatted up some of the guys working there. One was a really nice older gentleman who talked about his work as a trail angel in Georgia. The other guy working there that day was younger and mentioned that the ATC over-estimates the percent of people who complete thru-hikes. Instead of 25%, he argues it is closer to 10%. I’m inclined to believe him – I think the ATC numbers include people who have finished multi-year section hikes of the trail. So let’s call it in between and say approximately 1 in 7 finish. He asked if I had been backpacking before. I said yes, but didn’t elaborate. He asked if we had hiked the approach trail yet. When I said no, he suggested that we try it so I could get an idea what it was like. His tone implied that I didn’t know what I was in for and it would kick my butt come March. I should have caught his name so I could send him a postcard from Katahdin.
We explored the waterfalls a bit. Amicalola is known for having the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi. While walking around we noticed a guy with a pack and Christy commented that it was the same pack I have. He heard her, and turned to say that it was a good pack. Turns out he was a southbounder who had just finished the trail that day. His plan now? Keep going. The Benton MacKaye Trail leads to the Pinhoti trail not far from Springer Mountain, and the Florida Trail beckons. Altogether, these trails make up the
So, am I excited? Let’s just say that as we were walking around Amicalola I felt a strong desire to throw a pack on my back and start hiking north toward Maine.