An Appalachian Trail Series – Georgia

Georgia Fun Facts

78.5 miles

9½ Days

2nd most elevation change on the A.T. (New Hampshire is first)

Highest point: Blood Mountain–4,458 feet

Lowest point: A sleepless night at Mountain Crossings Hostel acclimating to fellow hikers’ snoring habits.

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Georgia, Georgia, Georgia… What can I say?

It’s TOUGH.

Unless you’ve just completed an Ironman triathlon or are Chris Hemsworth, you will struggle with this state. Physically, mentally, emotionally… Georgia covers a lot of ground on the struggle bus.

But, it’s also exhilarating.

For the Northbound thru-hiker, Georgia is the first state on your journey. Conversely, for the Southbounder, it’s the last.

::MIND BLOWN::

Whichever direction, it’s sure to stir some emotions.

Appalachian Trail Plaque

Rob and I decided to head north for our 2012 thru-hike so Georgia was the first state to rear its ugly (but oh-so-beautiful) head. Hell, getting there was an adventure by its own right. Ever the procrastinators, we pulled an all-nighter before our flight to finish packing our backpacks. Boy, does that sound familiar or what? We literally ran through the terminal at Bishop International Airport in Flint, MI while the flight attendants were announcing the final boarding call for our flight. It felt reminiscent of a Home Alone-style meltdown.

KEVIN!

Instead of screaming KEVIN, though, I screamed RAINPANTS!!!! (minus the horrible early 90’s clothing and haircut). Fortunately, that was the only thing left behind and, as it turns out, not needed for most of the trail.

Because we flew to Atlanta from Michigan, we decided to put our gear into boxes so nothing could fall out or get damaged during transport. We may have looked a little suspicious walking through the airport with two LARGE duct tape bound  cardboard boxes instead of a rolling suitcase. I was sure to announce to passerbies that we were NOT carrying bombs, though.

I think that was reassuring.

Flying out of Flint, which never fails to ride high on America’s list of most dangerous cities, people may have stopped giving a shit a long time ago. Whatever the case, our method worked and everything arrived in one piece. Our packages never did make it onto the baggage claim rotation, though. Instead, they were brought directly to the AirTran offices. Maybe Atlanta wasn’t quite as trusting as Flint. Good thing. We all know what happens there:

…reference number two to The Walking Dead. Who else is excited about its return in February?!

For those flying into Atlanta, a shuttle is needed to get to the trailhead. We caught a ride with Ron Brown and would highly recommend him to anyone. It was a 2 ½ hour car ride from Atlanta to the trailhead which was interesting as the roads progressed from 7 lanes down to one dirt road—from what we caught of the drive that is. It wasn’t long until the lack of sleep from the night before came over us. I kept doing the whole nod off/wake up/nod off/wake up sequence for about a half hour trying not to be rude to Ron (Rob practically shoved me into the front seat and was asleep before we could even get out-of-reach of segway-clad airport security chasing us for our strange boxes). I keenly remember hitting my head on the door window multiple times before giving in to sleep (rather, concussing myself to sleep). I can’t imagine what Ron must’ve thought while driving us. Perhaps:

“These two aren’t making it out of the car let alone off of Springer”

or

“These two inhaled one too many fumes while waterproofing their tent” (true story)

He could’ve been straight from “Deliverance” and we wouldn’t have cared as long as we could sleep before meeting our fate with the mountain men (which REALLY would not have been good for Rob). Good thing he was a nice, kind, and honorable man wanting to send any thru-hiker on a good start.

After getting dropped off at Springer, we actually had to backtrack to the official start of the trail. This is where the Appalachian Trail plaque and trail log are located and where everyone takes their ceremonial start/end pics. To give you a visual:

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We looked just a tad different by the end.

Because it was so early in the day, we decided to get a few miles in. By the time we got to the shelter we were sleeping at for the night, we were beyond exhausted and took a four hour nap. Another strange impression I’m sure we made as we were sleeping away in middle of the day as other hikers arrived. It was hard not to fall asleep, though, after reading this soothing poem written on the shelter wall:

Appalachian Trail 009

A modern-day Shakespeare.

During our first night in the woods, it stormed like crazy! It rained so hard that it felt like the shelter was in middle of an earthquake. By the time we woke (back) up, the rain reduced to a sprinkle. The flood gates opened up almost immediately after leaving the shelter—WELCOME TO THE A.T. Most of the day, we were literally walking up and down a small stream. It was kind of nice at first as it felt like we had mini-waterbeds in our shoes. Afterwards, it was just annoying. We had a quick introduction to the fact that you WILL get wet during your thru-hike and there is NO point in trying to avoid it. You just have to buck up and move along. After all, the rainy days make you appreciate those sunny days so much more.

Another thing to be aware of if you plan on heading northbound in the Spring: THERE ARE A LOT OF FREAKING PEOPLE. It’s great because everyone out there is aiming for the same goal as you so it makes for great conversation. It’s not so great because everyone moves along in the same direction. Privies were already overflowing (and it was only the middle of March). Shelters quickly filled up. Don’t even begin to imagine a scene of peaceful serenity granting you time to contemplate the months to come. No, instead imagine a giant party in the woods with a bunch of dirty hikers who feel the same uncertainty of the months ahead as would an incoming class of 9th graders. Fortunately, the amount of people drastically reduces and spreads out over the course of the first month.

In a way, it’s kind of nice. When you’re getting used to being in the woods and hearing strange noises in middle of the night, it’s reassuring to know that there are a bunch of other people nearby (which makes for greater odds that the serial killer you hear rustling in the nearby bushes at night will slash into someone else’s tent instead of yours).

When you are first starting out, it’s easy to think that everybody else is more experienced than you, especially when you feel like you have no idea what the hell you are doing. Don’t. Don’t think that. Most are learning right along with you. It’s pretty much just a cycle of waking up, eating, packing up camp, walking, eating, walking, looking for Whiteblaze’s to make sure you’re still on the right track (it’s pretty hard to get lost on the A.T., by the way), taking a picture whilst eating, pooping, walking, eating, setting up camp, sleeping, waking up to strange noises, coaxing yourself back to sleep, and waking up. Don’t be mistaken, though. There ARE people who lack common sense…

In the beginning of the trail, one of the more widely discussed topics is what to do with your food while you sleep. With a good amount of bear activity in Georgia, most of us resorted to the widely agreed upon (and Leave No Trace approved) method of hanging your food while you sleep. Assuming you hang your bear bag correctly, about 12 feet above the ground and 6 feet wide from the tree trunk, bears shouldn’t be able to treat themselves to dinner on your dime. Common sense would also require you to consider your surroundings while in the process of choosing a good location. But, as we all know, common sense is something we severely lack in our society.

Consider this: On our second night in the woods, we were excited to meet another couple that was setting up camp next to us. All hope of making new friends was extinguished when we realized that Fred and Wilma were absolute dingleberries. Dingleberries who decided to hang their bear bag 5 feet above our tent. If the roof of our tent were transparent, we’d be looking straight into the bottom of their “Sea to Summit” bear bag. I know Yogi is cute but I’d much prefer not having him fall square into Rob’s lap while he is dreaming of bacon and Reese’s ice cream. It felt reminiscent of this:

After a few days of hiking, soreness came marching in like that annoying friend who ALWAYS shows up to the party. If you can’t identify who that person is then, sorry to say, it’s probably you. We felt sore in places that we never felt sore in before.

And our feet… oh, our feet.

They became enemy #1. Whenever I first stood up in the morning, I hobbled around as would someone 90 times my age until my feet loosened up. There may be a lucky 1% of people who have no problems. These people fall into the same lucky category as this guy:

 Either way, this deserves attention. Your feet REQUIRE attention.

  1. Take care of any hot spots and/or blisters that arise. Different methods work for different people. What worked for us was to pop the blister, apply an antibiotic, cover with a Band-Aid, and lightly wrap with duct tape when necessary. No joke. Duct tape is a cure all.
  2. Massage your feet. Every night. Some people carry the extra weight of a golf ball to roll their feet on. It’s pure heaven.
  3. Elevate, elevate, elevate. Put your feet up on the wall of the shelter for a while before bed. I got into the habit of putting my pack at the end of my “bed” and propping my feet up through the night. I can’t speak medically if this is good or not but it worked for me.
  4. Cold mountain streams are a great substitute for icing.
  5. And, when the pain becomes utterly unbearable, amputate. Side effects include, but are not limited to: nausea, dizziness, severe loss of blood, a slight limp, rectal bleeding, mucous of the eyes, poor circulation, shortness of breath, agitation, anxiety, and nipple lactation.

The part of Georgia that we weren’t expecting was the terrain. It was a constant repetition of PUD’s (pointless ups-and-downs). Once you get into Bob Peoples’ territory (something like the Tennessee/North Carolina region) you’ll get accustomed to switchbacks. But here in Georgia, you go straight up and straight back down the mountain. I don’t know which is worse. The uphill was obviously hard on our out-of-shape bodies but the downhill was surprisingly hard on the knees. I’d learn more about this in the next state.

After a few days of battered feet, sleepless nights, and PUD’s (rather: beautiful scenery, inspiring people, and AMAZING trail magic), we took refuge on day four at Mountain Crossings, our first hostel stay on the A.T. We had to work hard to earn it as we climbed and descended Blood Mountain that same day. Here’s our journal snapshot from that day:

We woke up to a beautiful sunrise this morning. The extra padding from the leaves (not to mention the melatonin) helped aid in a good night’s sleep for Candice. Rob is still having a hard time sleeping. With both of our blisters covered, we headed out on the trail with a full head of steam. There were a lot of P.U.D.’s that wore us out quickly. Midday, we came upon the behemoth Blood Mountain. It was hell to climb but the view was worth it. There were mountains for miles and miles and neat rock outcroppings on which to view them from. A four-walled stone shelter was built on the summit by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930’s. Unfortunately, people are not permitted to stay overnight for the time being due to high bear activity.

We ate a snack, checked our phones, and moved on. We wanted to make sure that we got to Neel’s Gap before the hostel filled up. When we got to Mountain Crossings (the hostel/store), there were two giant oak trees with used hiking boots hanging in them. The store was full of packs, boots, food and other hiking gear. They overcharged for most everything but the shower made it all worth it! A couple of the guys managed to get some beer which they shared with us. It tasted A-MAZ-ING!

Soon after, the hostel keeper named Pirate treated us to some pork chops, beans, and salad. That was even better than the beer (which, if you know us at all, is saying a lot)! Afterwards, we went through our packs as to lighten our load. We didn’t eliminate much but, by the time we finished, Rob’s base weight was 25 pounds and Candice’s was 18. We were quite impressed as most people were averaging around 35 pounds. It’s nice being able to share the load, though. I guess we are pretty good at last minute packing!

After eating some green pineapple upside-down cake, we called our parents to let them know that we are still alive. I think they appreciated that. Later on, we sat outside on the patio with some fellow hikers and talked for awhile. We were in deep conversation (in all probability about why carrying Nutella is worth the weight or how insane Jennifer Pharr Davis must be to pump out so many miles) when out of nowhere, a bat came swooping down at our heads and came within inches of beheading a fellow hiker. It scared the shit out of all of us. After all that excitement, and the desire to survive a little bit longer into our thru-hike, we decided to call it a night. Going to bed in the bunkhouse will be tough as one of our fellow hikers told us that he has a MAJOR snoring problem. Good thing we brought earplugs!

The earplugs worked until the snoring elevated to the decibel of a pre-teen girl blaring Justin Bieber (or is it One Direction these days?). People without earplugs ended up moving out of the bunkhouse to attempt sleep. Some even slept outside on the patio. One person who did so told us the next morning that there was a bear that came within 15 feet of him. The bear sat down like a dog and checked out the hiker for awhile before walking away. How would you react in that situation? I don’t know that I’d get much more sleep.

Another Georgia highlight for us was an unplanned, but needed, night in the wonderful town of Helen. While most hikers tend to stop at Hiawassee, we elected to resupply earlier than planned after receiving a flyer that a church group was providing free rides into Helen for a free breakfast. With the vision of a plate full of bacon, this decision goes without explanation.

If you have never heard of Helen before (who would?), then you should know that the town is the equivalent of a Bavarian-style village with timber framed buildings and enough bier and bratwurst to satiate the appetite of an entire Hessian army. They cover all bases of Bavarian clichés:

Appalachian Trail 055

Even more exciting than finding Germany in America was sleeping in our very own hotel room, showering, eating real food, and consuming pints of ice-cold beer. We enjoyed dinner and interesting conversation with two trail comrades, Buddha and Peter. Peter hails from Canada and ended up buying us all dinner. Words cannot explain his good-heartedness and kind personality. We felt lucky to run into him a few times along the way and enjoy his company.

The trail community is truly like no other.

We first discovered this to be true from the seemingly endless amount of trail magic we were fortunate to receive in Georgia. Trail Magic, an unexpected act of kindness typically from complete strangers, can range anywhere from a ride into town to a cooler of pop to a free breakfast buffet. While being a fraction of why the trail community is so amazing, it was a wonderful introduction to how many people love this trail and are willing to give back to those starting their own journey.

We literally received trail magic almost every single day in Georgia. The state should be renamed to “The Most Considerate, Kind and Giving State in the U.S.A.”. While I don’t know if this is a normal experience (although evidence supports it being true), it certainly renewed our faith in humanity. With all of the news coverage of the bad things occurring in the world, I can assure you that there are PLENTY of good things happening as well—the good unquestionably outweighs the bad. There were three church groups that set-up stands of food at gaps (Southern for mountain pass), the church group that brought us into Helen for the other-worldly breakfast buffet (which DID have copious amounts of bacon—hallelujah!), free food and beer at Mountain Crossings Hostel, cake on Springer, a whisky shot at a shelter, and a Snicker’s bar and apple from a mom checking in on her thru-hiker daughter. We have a lot of great karma to look forward to repaying!

Georgia, in all of its splendor, proved tough yet inspiring; painful yet awakening; a transition yet welcoming; American… yet… German?

UP NEXT: Challenges and rewards in North Carolina and Tennessee; rain; a visit to redneck Las Vegas; the Great Smoky Mountains; rain; our first hitching experience; dry counties; rain; knee problems; and trail names.

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