9 miles, 0.2 on the AT (Springer Mountain Shelter)
I plan to wake up at 7:30, but I am up at 6:30 and can’t get back to sleep. I get up and take a shower, my last for several days. I pack the last few items in my pack and grab some breakfast. We get on the road around 7:30 and battle the morning traffic. My leg shakes with anticipation. My dad and I ponder trail names and how much weight I’ll lose. By 9:30 we arrive at Amicalola Falls State Park where the AT approach trail begins with an archway behind the ranger station.
We walk inside and announce to the rangers that I am an aspiring thru-hiker. They provide the logbook for me to sign in – I am hiker #497 of the year, an underestimate to be sure since not all hikers bother to sign in. I weigh my pack – 37 lbs, more than I want but not bad considering the 5 day supply of food I’ve packed to get me to Neel’s Gap. I buy a few postcards and hurriedly write and address them. It isn’t until several hours and miles later that I will realize I forgot to even sign my name. As I’m preparing to start i discover that my hiking pole is stuck despite the repair I thought it had received at REI a week ago. It takes a tool from the back of the ranger’s car to loosen the stick. After some pictures in the archway I set out at 10. The excitement soon fades and I feel calm as I begin the monotony of putting one foot in front of the other. I finish the 604 stairs by 10:45 and am well on my way by the time I stop for a snack.
As I walk it is warm but overcast. The trail mostly follows the ridge so I can see for miles in either direction. Spring is just beginning to bloom but the occasional holly tree with its bright green leaves sticks out in the surroundings like the youngest sibling of the trees, vying for attention. I pass several hikers and backpackers who are heading the other direction. One is a thru-hiker from last year. He is on his way back from a night at Springer Mt shelter with a group that he escorted up on their first day. He informs me that he has already passed several thru-hikers ahead of me, some who look to be my age, which he describes as “young”.
Before long I’m at my target destination – Black Gap shelter 1.5 miles below Springer summit. A few college kids are there, but the fact that one has a slingshot makes me happy when they move on soon after I arrive. A man named Bill remains. He’s a friendly guy from PA who, when I ask what his plans are, says he has none. He’s taking his first few days easy and he’ll figure it out from there. He is taking a zero (a zero mile day) in the shelter. Although he seems nice enough it is only 1:30 and the group of thru-hikers that was ahead of me appears to have moved on. I eat a quick lunch and pack my stuff up to head to the next shelter.
The next shelter is Springer Mtn shelter about 1.5 miles away and just past the summit of Springer. I get to Springer just before 3 and am treated to a beautiful view from the top. I sign the register and take a few pictures. I reach the shelter just after 3 and find 2 tents as the only signs of life. However I refuse to push on yet again, remembering the lesson I learned from my practice hikes. Soon after I get settled 2 guys from Georgia arrive. Brad and Bill are the first thru-hikers I’ve met but they quickly move on. A short while later three others arrive, one of which is a thru-hiker named Ryan. They stay the night, with Ryan thinking the same thing I am- don’t do too many miles too early.
Before bedtime Navigator arrives. He attempted a thru in 2010 but got off the trail at Delaware Water Gap. We discuss pack weights a bit before turning in. We all agree that I probably brought too much food, but I’m ok with the direction of my error. Otherwise my pack weight seems appropriate.
Tomorrow I plan to do about 8 miles to Hawk Mtn Shelter. It will be my first full day thru-hiking on the AT.