I've finally started the Appalachian Trail. It was one of those awful ideas you get during exams; you know, like starting a circus or putting parking boots on Campus Safety vehicles. But this awful idea, unlike all the others, didn't seem like such an awful idea a couple weeks later. I let it brew up in the ol' noggin for probably a year and a half before even admitting to anyone that I might want to try the AT. I was mostly afraid that I'd back down, and then feel stupid for not following through. But eventually the idea became irrepressable, and I was hooked. And now it's finally here.
The reason I felt such trepidation of voicing a desire publically is the huge rate of failure, not for physical reasons, but for mental reasons. People don't drop off the trail normally because they break a leg or get eaten by a bear. They drop off because they're sick and tired of the cold, the heat, the bugs, and the blisters. Nothing is so seductive as the thought of a warm bed and shower when you're shivering in your sleeping bag atop a mountain in March. And this week I found that out.
After a mostly uneventful trip (save the Megabus crashing into the side of a Louisville McDonalds at 6:00AM), I arrived in Atlanta and had a wonderful, albeit very brief, visit with my Uncle Marc and Aunt Paula, along with their daughters. They dropped me off on February the 28th close to Springer Mountain in northern Georgia. It was 33 degrees at the time.
That was the highest temperature I'd see in the next 4 days. It's not too bad when I'm hiking, but at that temperature, when I stop for even a minute, I have to put multiple layers on to stay warm -- or start hiking again. The nights are the problem. My supposedly 0-degree rated sleeping bag didn't do the trick when the temperature dropped below about 15 at nights, and is getting ditched in favor of a new, warmer one.
Monday the 4th brought warmer temperatures and sunshine, and it was a marvelous hiking day. Tuesday, however, was forecasted to bring severe thunderstorms, so I headed into Hiawassee, GA with a few hiking buddies I made along the trail. The day turned out to be mostly fine weather-wise, but considering the state of my feet (quite blistered), a near zero-day ("nero") probably wasn't the worst idea in the world.
The weather hasn't been the only pick-me-up. A couple days ago I was having one of those days where you slog along, annoyed with the weather, your legs, trail conditions, and pretty much everything imaginable.Then I got to camp and discovered one last package of my Aunt Cathi's bon-bons and a piece of banket hiding in the bottom of my foodbag. My entire disposition changed immediately. I'm now jealously guarding the last bon-bon until the next time I have a truly bad day on the trail.
So far, the weather and my feet have been giving me problems, but I can't really complain. The fine folks at the Neels Gap outfitter graciously cut me a deal on a new neck gaitor, and lent me a pop can and a razor knife to do some gear repair on the floor in the middle of their store. The line between "homeless" and "thru-hiker" is finer than one might think. Plus I've run into several interesting people, including a guy trying to start a carnival on the AT, a guy 2 weeks out of the Army, a gentleman on his 9th thru-hike, and a girl carrying a ceramic garden gnome all the way to Maine.
One of the biggest realizations I've come to (yes, I'm a philosophy nerd) is that we westerners have really high expectations. We want everything easy, and only then is it a good day. But out on the trail, if we have food, clothing, and decent weather, we are content with that. Might a little trail experience do us all some good in breaking free of the idolotry of "stuff"?