Thursday, April 23, 2015

The First 100+ Miles - Amicalola Falls to Franklin, NC

And we're off!  We left the lodge at Amicalola Falls on Thursday, March 19.  It was a cold and misty day as we started up the approach trail. We were excited, but nervous too. Our goal was about to do about 10 miles, and camp at a shelter about three miles beyond Springer Mountain.
Everything we had read about the approach trail was that it was a killer. It was a hard climb, but nothing more than we have done before. The rain held off as we climbed, but we did see a few big, fat snowflakes as we reached higher elevations. And soon we were there, Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
We stopped and took the requisite photos and, as you can see, it was pretty cold and damp. And that's when all the body heat sapped out of Jen, and she started shivering badly. She tried to sign the register, but could barely write. Fortunately, Springer Mountain shelter was just down the trail. We hurried there, quickly set up the tent, and dived into the sleeping bag to try to warm up. This was as far as we would make it the first day. After warming up, we quickly cooked dinner at the shelter, and went to bed before dark. 

The next day's weather was no better, cold and damp. We only planned to go eight miles, but even this turned out to be a trial. We were cold and miserable, plus Jen's feet began to hurt badly to the point where she could barely walk. This is when the doubt began to sink in. Why were we doing this? What was the point?  Honestly, we were ready to quit, only two days in. We knew we didn't want to, but we were in over our heads. We limped into Hawk Mountain shelter and decided that the next day would be our first zero day to reassess our whole plan. It would be a good decision. 

The next morning was bright and sunny. With no pressure to move on, we hung and dried out all our clothes and gear, chatted with other hikers who stopped for lunch, and lounged in the hammock. It was the perfect mental health day, and by the end, any thoughts of quitting had left us. 

The next few days went smoothly. Even though we weren't doing big miles, we were making forward progress. We fell in with a great group of fellow hikers who were at our same pace. We also experienced our first trail magic, people who come out to provide food and drinks to hikers at road crossings. Finally, we were rewarded with a beautiful day when we hiked over Blood Mountain, the highest point on the AT in Georgia. 
Soon, we were at Neels Gap and Mountain Crossing Outfitters, the first sign of civilization in a week. We resupplied our food stocks, and arranged to share a cabin with another hiker couple. We were in the Woodchuck Cabin. 
A warm bed and a shower never felt so good.  Back on the trail the next day, we continued to make progress, but our next trial would soon begin. 

We were just over a week into hiking the AT and had logged little more than 40 miles when my feet began to hurt. . . badly. It felt as though the ligaments in my feet were stretched to the limit, and my arches could collapse at any moment. Our plan was to go as far as Dicks Creek Gap at mile 70 before taking a break in the town of Hiawasse, but when we arrived at Unicoi Gap at mile 52, we decided to go to town from there. The fact that it was raining again and the temperature was going to dip into the single digits overnight made the decision that much easier. 

We spent two nights in town to let my feet recover a bit and wait for the temps to warm up. Then it was back to hiking. The next 60 miles went by much more quickly, taking only five days as opposed to the nine it took to hike the approach trail and the first 50 miles of the AT. The weather was relatively good during the days, though we did experience our first overnight thunderstorm at Sassfaras Gap. The highlight though was crossing from Georgia into North Carolina. We had just knocked the first state off the list. 

My feet were still hurting at the end of each day, and Jen's were beginning to ache again as well. Our next goal was to get to Franklin, NC and the outfitter, Outdoor 76, known by all who hike the trail for their expertise in feet and boots. The day before heading into town, we put in a 16 mile day, our biggest yet. It helped that the terrain was easy, and with our food almost gone, our packs were light. The next day we were in Franklin and at Outdoor 76. It's true that they are the foot experts. Jen and I spent four hours with them getting an in depth lesson on how feet work, and getting our foot issues diagnosed. It turned out that Jen's boots were a size too small, and the way I walked, my feet were not supporting my weight correctly. So, it was new boots for Jen, and new insoles for me. We spent so much time there that we decided to take a second day to take care of all of our other re-supply errands. 

Next up - the Great Smoky Mountains (or Great Soggy Mountains). . .

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