Tic Tock – Hiking the AT

I had not planned what I was about to accomplish, hiking the Appalachian Trail (aka AT) but my internal clock was ticking. The month of unexpected changes to my pretty dull life had me thinking I had better just go, try to hike the five miles into and out of Springer Mountain.  I have always admired the few who have attempted the grueling thru-hike from Georgia to Maine. A six to nine month commitment of lightweight wilderness backpacking along the longest footpath in the world. But, I was inching my way towards another birthday in two weeks and I did not know if this opportunity would ever be possible again in the future. I crawled out of my cabin with all my gear in search of this predawn quest, the AT.  It would take a hour and half drive through the Georgia hill country to arrive at the Georgia State Park where many start the foot trek of  2,190 miles North to Maine.

Leaving Cartersville, GA at 05:00 am, I wound through the Northern Georgia hills and backroads. Every corner I took seemed to increase in elevation.  Not much to see at that hour in the dark except roadway, the occasional headlights of oncoming traffic headed towards work.

I had called my oldest in St Louis the night before, letting him know I was going to hike the five miles to Springer Mountain the Southern Terminus of the AT.  The initial silence on the phone line already told me that he thought, this AT hike was a bad idea. Then his voice added his concern.

I silently thought to myself “When did I get so old that a 10 mile hike should concern anyone?  I am only practicing good hiking skills by letting someone know where I am going and when I would return.  I am not asking for permission from my 27 year old son!”  

Suddenly, the sound of his voice snapped me back into focus as he said. “Mom, I can’t stop you, I don’t think it is a good idea.  If I don’t hear from you in three hours after you send me a pin drop I will call the rescue teams.”

“I really don’t think that will be necessary! Plus, I can’t hike 10 miles in three hours.  If you don’t hear from me by the end of the day tomorrow then contact my Hubby.”  I was hoping that this approach would stop the insanity that seemed now to enter this conversation between me and my oldest son.

He agreed.

I was rethinking the whole hiking idea as I was driving towards my destination with the previous conversation running circles in my brain as I drove.  I wasn’t sure if the conversation made me mad but it did add to any doubts I already had about this unplanned hike I was about to take.

AT Marker at the Visitor Center

AT Marker at the Visitor Center

I stopped in a small town of Marble Hill to fuel my body with coffee and a breakfast sandwich. Then I was back on the road to Amicalola Falls State Park.  I arrived just as the sun was peeking through the clouds on the horizon.

The early morning view from Amicalola Falls State Park Lodge

The early morning view from Amicalola Falls State Park Lodge

I parked the car at a parking lot just below the Amicalola Falls State Park Lodge, skipping the grueling five mile hike up the falls to the Appalachian Trail approach.  If I could cut off the hard part then getting to Springer Mountain would be a breeze from here.

So I thought…

The January, 24F temps didn’t have me worried as I unloaded my lightweight pack and headed towards the trail.  I was excited, my heart seemed to race ahead of me up the trail towards the noticeable increase in elevation.  Then as fast as my heart had celebrated it sank as I saw the following sign.

The sign crossing the point of no return.

The sign crossing the point of no return.

The picture above was taken the second time I approached this sign that morning.  The first being in the early dawn, the sign was barely visible.  I experienced shock to my entire system when I looked at the sign, I couldn’t even register my brain to take a picture. The brain was busy making tears of disappointment.

Yup, when all else fails and the trail looks to be too hard, cry like a big baby! Who cares you will be 54 in two weeks! What was I thinking by coming here?” all these thoughts flooded all reason. The tears continued rolling down my face now freezing into ice as I wiped them with my gloves.

Just getting here never seemed liked a possibility to me. The AT had never been one of those things on my bucket list.  It had been a promise to a combat buddy long ago in one of those moments of “what I would do, if I make it home and you don’t” conversations.

Now in this moment of tears, I asked out loud to myself “Why? Why I am here? Why am I keeping a promise to a dead person?”

More tears of pissed off frustration rolled down my cheeks.  I turned and hiked back towards the parking lot and then to the large lodge overlooking the Georgia foot hills.  Hopefully a cup of coffee would clear my head, I could regroup, make a new plan for the day.

The Lodge lobby with the map of the AT on the wall

The Lodge lobby with the map of the AT on the wall

As I walked into the lobby of the lodge, the views, the grandeur of the place only added to my feelings failure.  Not just the failure to keep a promise to someone who wasn’t even around anymore, but the inability to help my youngest son over the past month.  Even what I perceived, as foreshadowed failure, in my oldest sons voice as he had talked to me about the AT the night prior. It all flooded back to weigh on my shoulders as I set out to find a cup of coffee.

The Lodge wall map identified Springer MTN.

The Lodge wall map identified Springer MTN.

I sat in the lobby of this massive icon of a lodge, hugging my cup of coffee and looking at the AT map on the wall.  Then I looked out at the beautiful view of the Georgia hills coming alive in the early morning light.

View of the Georgia hills from the lodge deck.

View of the Georgia hills from the lodge deck.

“How many hikers over the years had felt this way?” I silently wondered to myself.

I knew many have been disappointed by injury, illness or immobilized by the fear of the unknown? Most planned for months or years prior to attempting this hike.

Nearly 3 million each year hike some part of the AT, of those, 3000 are thru-hikers with about 25%  of those making it the entire 2,190 miles. Most spend thousands of hours planning and thousands of dollars on equipment to be prepared.

I reasoned to myself as I sat there, just being here, was good enough.  I had nothing to prove to anyone.   The shock of sign of the sign stating the obvious had slapped me into reality.

Why?” I wondered.  I have walked 15 miles before in these sort of conditions alone. Granted, I was years younger too. I did have enough respect of the AT to know I was not in any condition to hike 15 miles on this cold morning. My body telling me that the close to nine miles of hiking the day before at Red Top Mountain State Park was my current limit.

I decided as I finished my coffee, I would wait for the visitor center to open, get some information and return to Cartersville.

I trekked back down the trail to my rental car, but not before re-hiking the trail that had freaked me out to get a picture of that darn sign. At least I would have this, a reason, a sign of my failed AT attempt.

I placed my gear in the car and then walked the few steps to the top of the falls to get some video. The gentle sound of the cascading waters returning me to a centered peacefulness.


Next blog… New hope of a Springer Mountain AT approach.

Have you planned to hike the AT or PCT trails? What freaked you out?  Have you attempted the hike? We would love to hear all your comments below.

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