Appalachian Trail journal

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Week 1: A beginning and an end

April 8, 1983
My girlfriend, Dia and I departed from the Providence, Rhode Island bus terminal at 11:00 am headed for Georgia to begin what was to be our journey of a lifetime.

Saturday, April 9, 1983
Marcel and I (Dia) stepped out of a cab which had arrived at Amicalola Falls State Park, Georgia late in the afternoon around 4:30pm. The cabbie had become so interested in finding out what would happen to a couple of hikers setting out on a two thousand mile journey that he took our names and the state we were from, then gave us his address. He asked us to drop him a line after we had gone 100 miles. Maybe he thought we would not make it much further than that and his services would be needed again. I don't know, but we agreed and then set out to begin our adventure.

At this time of the year evening was quickly approaching so we wasted no time weighing our packs at the Ranger's station. One after the other, they both pushed the scale needle up to 40 pounds. We noticed as we signed into the nearby register that five other people had signed in today also; each with hopes to go all the way to Maine. Believe it or not, one was even from Rhode Island like us. Near the other postings, our eyes were drawn to a statistic printed on a flyer claiming that last year only 110 people had reported hiking the trail from start to finish. We hoped that this year we would be added to that statistic for 1983.

Marcel called his parents, then I called mine - each to let them know we were actually on the way. At least we would be tomorrow; we are stealth camping tonight at the base of "The Falls" in the park, and hiking out first thing in the morning to avoid detection since this is not exactly a "legal" place to stay.
(Amicalola Falls and Marcel gathering water for the journey)

Marcel took a hot shower before we got to our campsite. Thank god! He was beginning to smell a little ripe from the long journey from Rhode Island. He used his shirt as a towel, then threw it in the dryer. I don't know what caused it, but he also managed to cut his face while shaving. Maybe the unconventional lubrication of lathering up with regular soap rather than shaving cream threw him off.

The weather today had been mild, with a few wispy clouds overhead. Tonight I find myself under a star-filled sky, in a sleeping bag, wondering if the insulation will keep me warm enough.

Sunday, April 10th, 1983
Today we begin hiking what is known as "the approach trail" up to the summit of Springer Mountain where the Appalachian Trail actually begins. After the first half hour, we caught up with another hiker named Jim Moore. He told us he was from Boston. We hiked with him for a good part of the day, but then he went ahead of us for the last two miles - ultimately getting there an hour before us. I thought I would never make it the last two miles as the slope was soooo steep!

When we finally got to the summit, we met two ladies from Baltimore. They hoped to walk the trail to Maine too. Jim already told us that he isn't going all the way because he has to return to work in May, but he awed us as he told how he had been to Central America just for adventure, and his stories were fascinating - especially when he told us he had hitchhiked all the way back to Vermont! The shelter held more draw on our tired bodies so we moved on just past the summit to Springer Mountain Shelter for a little supper and preparations for the night. We would return again to the summit tomorrow morning to make a proper start.

For supper we prepared a batch of Mac N' Cheese accompanied with a cup of hot chocolate. The weather so far has been very windy and chilly; more so than last night. I feel this will really be the big test for my sleeping bag tonight.

Monday, April 11th 1983
Well, the bag did its job, but I didn't sleep much anyway. I felt so sore and stiff that I tossed and turned most of the night.

We emerged from our bags at 7:00 am inside the three walled, open-fronted Springer Mountain Lean-To, and immediately spotted a mouse looking for food. The rodent was obviously hungry, just like us.

After breakfast, Marcel and I back-tracked the two-tenths of a mile to the summit of Springer Mountain, where we staged and took the traditional "beginning our trip pictures", and didn't officially get going toward Maine until about 9:00 am. Jim started after us.

(Our traditional summit photos)

(The famous trail plaque on the summit) (and the view from Springer Mountain, Georgia)

The walk was tame, and featured gorgeous scenery, beautiful waterfalls, and lots of water. The trail had been relocated in one area, which thankfully omitted some uphill climbing. Regardless, during the last half mile, my right knee began to act up. The going became even tougher then, but just when I thought that I would not make it, we arrived at the Hawk Mountain shelter.

(Hawk Mountain Shelter with George Trough, Tracy "Spaceman" Gayton, and Jim Moore)

We met two guys at the lean-to, George (Trough?) and Tracy "Spaceman" Gayton. George told us that when he gets to Hot Springs he will have completed the whole trail. He is what we call a section hiker, doing the trail in sections over a series of years. Tracy, another prospective thru-hiker, is hoping to get to Maine. He had rather wild hair and went by the name of "Spaceman" - probably because he looked "spaced-out" or a little out of this world in some ways. He seemed to be quite easy going though. Jim Moore had arrived at about 4:00 pm, an hour after us. Imagine me, a female, spending the night with four guys! Well, make it five now! Rob Spaulding strolled in about 5:30 pm, but he's decided to pitch his tent rather than occupy space in the shelter.

Tomorrows climbs should be hard, particularly with my knee problem.

Tuesday, April 12th 1983
I slept this morning until 7:30 am. I had slept all night, and my leg feels good for now.

We started off at 8:45 am from the lean-to with Tracy and George in front of us, and Jim and Rob behind. My knee began to act up right away, but we managed to travel half our planned distance before the pain became almost unbearable. We stopped for lunch at Cooper Gap to rest my knee. Jim and Rob strolled in and had lunch with us. Lunch for us consisted of a granola bar and water.

Fortunately, the weather today was the best yet. Unfortunately, since the leaves were not totally out yet this spring, the sun shone through the branches unobstructed,and both Marcel and I got sunburned. Rob's partially bald head became pretty well scorched as well.

My knee wasn't much better after an hour, but I kept on going with the assistance of a walking stick I picked up and fashioned out of a branch from a fallen tree. We only needed to travel two miles to the next creek, and a much welcomed bath. It took us two hours to go those two miles to the creek! That sounds really pathetic, but the trail was blocked in many places by fallen trees from the previous winter which impeded our progress along the path. Marcel had to help me over most of them. He has been a real trooper taking care of me even though I sense he wishes things were a bit different. Besides looking after me, he is struggling with some other issues that are trail related. He relayed his thoughts to me concerning these issues. He talked about a portion of the trail
today where we were faced with a fork in the trail that led down a hill. Try as I might he could not see which branch was blazed, so with my knee hurting badly we took the the easiest of the two routes down. Once at the bottom he looked back and discovered that we had taken the fork that was not marked. We had missed about thirty yards of the actual AT. We both sat down on a rock so I could rest. He began to think.... "Should I go back to tie myself to the while blazes, or shall I roam? If I don't go back would I be able to truly say that I hiked the whole trail? Who would know but me? I am, after all, out here for an adventure, so would straying from "the white" cause me to be blue when I told everyone I had indeed hiked the entire trail? My decision here could shape and define the rest of my hike. This will be a moot point if I can't complete this hike, and at this point I have serious doubt given the pace that we are traveling. Ed Garvey said fifteen miles a day was his average." Finally, making his choice, I rested while he retraced his steps and hiked down the the A.T. trail. Better safe than sorry. Besides, He can always walk the blue blazes later if he feels the need - but as he then stated "I know that I will never come back to hike these unremarkable few yards."

We finally arrived at Blackwell Creek at 3:30 pm, and after pitching our tent, we jumped in the creek and took refreshing baths. The water felt so good. For supper we we whipped up a beef with vegetable soup, mixed tang to drink, and instant chocolate fudge pudding became our dessert. We don't seem to be eating much, but get full very quickly. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending how you look at it, we are camping here by ourselves as the others outdistanced us due to my injury. Hopefully, tomorrow my leg will be good enough to hobble two miles to the next shelter where we can hold up until it is better. There we can relax a little, and not worry about the rain that seems to be coming.

Wednesday, April 13th 1983
Got up at 8:00 am and found Dia's knee no better. We began hiking anyway, hobbling along with her stick for support. Luckily, the terrain was nice and not too difficult, but even with that advantage we took two and a half hours to cover two miles. I don't think we can get to Maine with that pace.

We took a break at Gooch Gap Lean-To for one-half hour. After that, the clock indicated only 11:00 am so we decided to walk another mile to another spot where there should have been water. Unfortunately the route the trail followed lacked any source of water for the next 3.5 miles. This brought us to Woody Gap. By then Dia was totally exhausted, and her knee had swelled up like a balloon. We could not find a place to pitch our tent in Woody Gap, so we decided to follow the road that intersected the gap into the town of Suches, Georgia for the night. We had walked one-half mile along the pavement by the time two guys stopped, picked us up, and gave us a ride into the town. They were kind enough to drop us off at the local clinic. The nurse was not due for an hour, so we went up the street to the store. Our unlucky streak continued as we found the store was also closed.

We went back to the clinic, and when the nurse came in she immediately examined Dia's knee. The diagnosis came in as a case of water on the knee, or something to that effect. Of course she recommended keeping the weight off of it for at least 3 weeks! She basically said Dia would have to go home.

We were devastated.

Our luck changed then. Talk about southern hospitality, Lynn (the nurse) took us to her house for the night. She arranged for her two assisting nurses to take Dia to Atlanta the following afternoon, where she could get transportation back to Rhode Island. That would leave me, Marcel, to continue on and see the trail for the both of us.

Thursday, April 14th, 1983
Dia and I spent most of the day reading while we waited for her ride to Atlanta and ultimately home for her. She's really heart-broken. And so was I, but to me she will always be a real hiker! We ate one last romantic mac-n-cheese dinner together "on the trail" before leaving for Atlanta, where we said our good-bye's, and parted as her bus rolled out of the station.

Once back at the clinic near Suches, I walked into town and picked up some junk food to resupply for the trip. I explored the small town for about one and a half hours before Lynn gave me a ride back to her house, where I would spend the night before returning to the trail.

Waiting at her house were two friends of hers, Michelle and Harry. Lynn dropped me off, and then took Harry back to the Health Center to give a report to the board of directors. Michelle stayed behind to study. She intended to become a dental hygienist. Michelle had become separated from her husband, and will be going through a divorce soon. She made the mistake of getting married too early and is now feeling the repercussions; she is starting over again at 21 years of age. Harry is a dentist who works at the clinic.

When Lynn took her job at the clinic, she took on a massive project. She is a Don Quixote - fighting windmills. I do not envy her. For me, the freedom of the trail is what I have been dreaming about for a decade. I guess the real journey will begin tomorrow as I set out alone - Northward to Maine.

I glance at my watch and see it is 9:22 pm. It is raining like hell outside, I'm getting tired and bored, but happy that I have shelter for the night. I hope this weather pattern breaks.

Well, it has been a long day.

Friday, April 15th, 1983

(Fantastic panoramic view from Blood Mountain summit) (Photo from Tracy Gayton)

Lynn gave me a ride back up to Woody Gap this morning. I could not see much in the forest due to the fog at first, but later the fog lifted and I was treated to a spectacular view from the summit of Blood Mountain.

Just before climbing Blood Mountain, there were three deer near the Slaughter Creek area, a buck, a doe and fawn. I spotted them first. As soon as I saw them I froze. The Doe saw me, but was not alarmed. I have never seen deer this close. I estimate about one hundred feet away from me! I slowly walked toward them until the buck turned its head and looked at me - I froze again. After a few minutes he went back to eating. I walked towards them again hoping to get even closer, but suddenly they bolted away. Such grace and beauty in those animals. I also encountered a garter snake sunning in the middle of the footpath at some point along the trail today.

I passed directly through the Walasii Inn at Neels Gap, but did not make an extended stop because I could not find a pay phone at the store to allow me to call home. The place is unique and strange because the trail goes right through the middle of it, literally.

I just finished setting up my tent somewhere on Cowrock Mountain, and ate some oriental noodle soup - fantastic stuff. It's 7:09 pm and the sun is setting. I managed to hike about 15 miles today, my best yet, but I am exhausted. I lay here, listening to the radio for a while. The weather man says there will be frost tonight, I believe it, I can feel the cold and its windy already. Off to bed. I sure miss Dia!!!

Saturday, April 16th, 1983
This morning I hiked down from the summit of Cowrock Mountain to the intersection of Rt. 348 and got a ride to Blairsville so I could check on Dia. From a public pay phone in town I called Dia's house, but she was not in. At least I learned from her mother that she got home safely.

To get back to the trail I stuck out my thumb at every passing car while I walked up the road. I got a ride within a mile. People sure are friendly around here, even if they are not willing to give you a ride they're waving to you.

Once I got back to Tesnatee Gap, I hiked over to Low Gap Lean-to, where I planned to spend the night. Unfortunately, a high school group on a class outing also ended up at the same place - tons of kids, and tents everywhere! I'm too tired to go on, so I'll sleep here. Right now they're building a fire. I washed my hair, my face, and shaved; feels good. Going to enjoy their fire, and then go to sleep.


Gonzo! Appalachian Trail Journals ©1983