Day 1 Beautiful Day Hard Night

We started at Amicalola State Park on the approach trail and headed to Stover Creek Shelter. This means we hiked 8.5 miles before we reached the beginning of the Appalachian Trail. We wanted to start there because of the iconic stone archway marking where most hikers start, and because it’s a long hard climb up stairs and the mountain. This year, the AT is 2190.9 miles long. I figured the approach trail was an initiation, and it was indeed.

It was cold, 32 degrees, and snowed on us all day. This was a lucky break, first because it was so pretty and second because we quickly realized the hard little snowflakes did not stay on us and melt. For two days prior to our start, hikers were dealing with freezing rain. One man who started a day ahead of us, woke to find his tent zipper frozen shut. This was after he discovered a mouse had chewed through his tent to eat some nuts he had in a baggie. Two other women whom we met found themselves and every piece of gear and clothing soaked through and through, with temps in the 30’s on the night before they could reach a road and shuttle to a hotel.

So we were delighted to hike all day in the snow. At the top of Springer Mtn is the start of the AT. It was after 3 pm, bitter cold and windy. Karen made the right call by nixing the campsite near the top of the mountain and having us hike 2.8 more miles down to Stover Creek Shelter. The three sided hut was full, so we set up our three tents out of the worst of the wind. It was hard to set up our cookstoves and eat, because it was so cold. After eating, I was shivering and needed to climb into my insulated sleeping bag liner and my bag, which was on top of a pad in the tent. At first I wore my puffy coat and mittens too, but eventually took off the coat and mittens. We couldn’t let our water filters, water, or fuel canisters freeze, so I put those in the bag with me. Surprisingly, they were not uncomfortable to sleep with.

I worried a bit through the night thinking it might become colder, and took consolation knowing there were about twenty five others camping up there too -surely we were not all idiots freezing to death.

I was so excited to open my eyes and see the first bit of light from dawn coming into my tent. It was 29 degrees and the wind was blowing like crazy, but we were fine and would soon be hiking again. We could only work a minute or two on taking down our gear and packing up, before needing to warm our hands so they didn’t hurt so darn bad. It took over 2 hours to eat and break down camp, which is ridiculously long, but then we set off hiking into what became a beautiful day, happy to again be hiking and looking forward to Day 2 on the AT.

Lesson One: snow is better than rain

Lesson Two: buy warmer gloves

Hike Like A Kid

It’s hard to believe the day is here and in just a few minutes, we will be flying off to Atlanta and making our way to a hostel near the start of the Appalachian Trail. One of my worries – and believe it or not I have a few! – is I will focus so much on finishing each day’s hike that I will miss being present on the trail.

It’s a well ingrained habit of mine to focus on what I want to accomplish, and one which keeps me stubbornly persistent in reaching goals. It has a flip side though and that is to be ignorant of the present while pressing onward to the finish. I’ve been working on balancing both for years, and a recent hike with my young neighbor reminded me it’s rather easy to live in the present if you simply allow yourself.

Identifying Quartz

I took Collier, five years old, on her first hike to Enchanted Rock a couple weeks ago. My original plan to hike with a full backpack for about five miles was quickly tossed aside when her Mom, UnMi, said she could go on a  hike with me. My new goal was two-fold: spend an hour and a half with my thirty pound backpack on my back while hiking as far along the trail as Collier wanted to go. She was so much fun, and it was an insightful hike.


Not all young hikers, or grown hikers for that matter, are fun, but Collier was full of wonder and curiosity, excitedly spotting moss balls which became the ends of fairy wands on a dry grass stalk, or looking for insects and minnows in the little streams we passed. She had never been to Enchanted Rock before and was delighted to climb the boulders near the high point of the trail, so we could see how high we had climbed. Best of all, she was sensible about climbing and didn’t skitter to the edge of the rocks like I thought she might.

We stopped for a snack on a wide open expanse of rock and Collier created nature art with the sticks and leaves she found. The girl is full of creativity and it was interesting to see all the new ideas pop into her head as she created things from all that was around us. That’s when I realized how much fun it was to just be in the park absorbing everything different about where we were, how it looked, and how it felt.

In one of those moments, I locked in the reminder to enjoy my Appalachian Trail hike more vividly and in the present moments. Some of those moments (okay, many) will be uncomfortable or downright miserable. I don’t care. As my AT hiking partner, Karen, said, “I’m looking forward to the good parts, the bad parts, the excitement and the misery.” Watching Collier’s delight with the world around her as she hiked without wondering how far to go or when we would finish, I resolved to hike like a kid more and like a goal oriented zealot less. Let’s see how well I do. Tomorrow is Day 1 of the AT.


The Weigh-In

Everyone preparing for a long-distance thru-hike seems obsessed with weight. I’m not talking about my weight, although I obsess about that all the time. Nope, I’m talking backpack weight. Thru-hikers talk about weight constantly. In fact, I decided there is no end to the talk about weight and how to lighten it. Let me lead you down the slippery slope.

Base weight is the weight of your backpack fully loaded with all essentials except food and water. On the Appalachian Trail (AT), you need only about four to five days food at any time, so base weight is the usual question and it is followed by lots of discussion on how you could trim it down.

First, evaluate major gear like tents, sleeping bags, cookstoves, and the like, where hundreds of dollars can save pounds. Weight and money are only two factors, but they are pretty big factors. Once you’ve bought or borrowed your major gear, the discussion moves into saving 8-14 ounces here or there  with ideas like exchanging a knife with twelve gadgets for one with just a blade, or hiking with one and a half liters of water instead of two. Next you trim extra items, like deodorant. One AT friend named Further (Trail names will be explained in a future post.) told me, “Don’t take deodorant. You will stink from every pore so there is no use.”

Okay, so my stinky body will still want a lighter  load on my back. Thus, the discussion moves to how to save 4-6 ounces with nifty ideas like  leaving out the emergency space blanket or leaving sunscreen behind. Finally, you move into the truly obsessive zone, and if you are still part of the weight discussion it will turn to using the same soap for dishes as your hair to save a couple ounces on a bottle of shampoo, or drilling holes in handles of toothbrushes. Seriously? Yes, some people will do such things. Long before I looked for a drill bit to reduce the weight of my toothbrush handle, my obsession began to ebb.

Poptart (aka MoneyBags) said, “You are either happy in camp, or you are happy on the trail” to help me understand the things we carry  make time in camp more pleasant,  and the things we leave out make hiking more pleasant. You can fret and research and talk about your choices and never really know what’s best until you actually start hiking – and there really is no “best” anyway. (I’ve noticed experienced thru-hikers change their mind from one hike to the next.) I finally stopped myself from constantly thinking about weight, and decided to just be happy with whatever it turned out to be.

 That worked for a few months. Now I’m three weeks from starting and decided to see if everything would fit into my backpack. It did …and while choosing and packing I decided to learn my base weight:  23 pounds. That’s heavy by today’s standards, but just fine by mine. Food and water will add about 11 pounds and I’ll start the AT with 34 pounds on my back. I’m certain my choices will change over time, but for the first time in a long time, I’m pretty excited about my weight! 



AT Dream

After years of talking to potential hiking partners about hiking the Appalachian Trail, it became clear no one I knew was really serious about hiking all 2,189 miles of it in one season. I realized I was going to have to tackle this goal on my own and that’s when I fell into limbo. Without anyone with whom to coordinate, I didn’t know when to start this long hike. My husband suggested going sooner rather than later. His reasoned the longer I waited, the better the chance I would never go at all.

I took a hard look at what would be different about hiking in 2018 instead of a  year or two later. The only disadvantages for going the very next season all had to do with money. Saving more money for the trip and current financial obligations  were at the heart of every reason to wait. I’m a certified financial planner, with decades of experience helping people reach financial goals. I know a thing or two about money, and two things I know for sure. First, you can always use more money. Second, you will always find a way to have money for what you truly want.

I fretted about it for a few more days, and then decided my husband was right. If I waited a few more years trying to have “enough money” it was likely my dream would stay a dream and I would never go. It was time to set a date and figure out how to make the money work out.

I chose March 2018 and began researching how to prepare. Ironically, within a week I had a bona fide hiking partner also committed to go the entire distance! Ten days after she joined me committed for the entire journey and now we have a third partner who will hike at least the first month. I spent all those years searching for a hiking partner, when all I needed to do was commit to my dream and state my intention to those around me.

A couple months later the financial end worked itself out, too. I found ways to cut costs and to save more money. I was inspired to spend less on everyday items. Over time I became inventive in earning a little bit extra here and there. Now I have both a team and “enough” money. Funny how the definition of enough changes when it is no longer an excuse, but a part of your mission.

Whatever your dream, making it part of your life comes when you commit to the dream and take action. For me, the turning point was choosing a date and declaring I would go. I don’t know what it will be for you, but I hope you take the steps to make your dream become your life, too.