Greetings All –
It has been a long time since I posted on WhiteBlaze. I have lurked a few times but mostly I have stayed away. It has been hard to put these things in words but here goes.
On March 13th of this year I got fired! Not unexpected, I was reorganized into working for a guy that I really did not like. I had been working 7 days a week for several months, including some very long on-site gigs. I was fried and my home life had gone to crap. After a week on the bench, feeling sorry for myself and causing more heart ache at home my wife had had just about enough of me. SHE said “You always wanted to thru hike, why don’t you go!”. So with little preparation, and NO TRAINING, I grabbed a bus to Gainesville, Ga on April 4rd. My pack weighed 51 pounds at the bus station but at least I was going. I dumped a few things at the park but not near enough.
It took about 25 hours to get to Georgia. I arrived mid-morning at the bus station in Gainesville, called a taxi and headed to Amicalola Falls State Park. I started up the approach trail (my third time) at about 1 pm. It got to Frosty Mountain as the sun was getting low. There are a number of nice camp sites so I stopped for the night. I am 53 years old and normally spend a couple of months carrying a heavy pack before I strike out on a backpacking trip. I didn’t do that this time and I was pooped.
On my second day I headed to Springer. I stopped for a break and a snooze at Black Gap shelter, while there I met “Roni from Israel”. I signed the Springer Mountain register on April 6th, my 53rd birthday. Then I finished the day camping in the field above Springer Mountain Shelter. There was a pretty good collection of folks and more than a few thru hikers. “Many Sleeps”, the ATC Ridge Runner was there and added my name to his list of thru hike starters.
Next morning I was off to Hawk Mountain Shelter in the company of a character/thru hiker from Ohio. His frequent cigarette breaks and my slow pace kept us in contact much of the way. I was glad to be on the trail but I was having a minor health problem that was a bit of an issue, more on that later. Springer to Hawk Mountain is a trail I have been down before but never this early in the spring. There was a lot of Ranger activity out of Camp Merrill. Overall it is a nice hike with no killer climbs. I took my time and enjoyed the day.
Word on the trail was that there were severe thunder storm warnings in the area of Hawk Mountain. Possible high winds and hail. The shelter was pretty full including one guy underneath. I was using a Hex-3 with a bivy but no floor. We got high winds and plenty cold rain. About 2 am we got a big pelting of dime sized hail. Just like being home in Texas! My Hex-3 sheds weather pretty good but the hail would hit the ground then ricocheted around in side the tent. I got pretty exciting for a while. One hike near to me had set up his tarp and ground sheet in an area that turned into a stream, he had a damp cold night.
I decided to take a zero day at Hawk Mountain to see if I could resolve my health issue and to ditch the guy from Ohio. He was ill equipped and quite a leech. No luck, he took a zero day too! It was April 8th, my Dad’s birthday. I lost my Dad a couple of years ago. With the problems at home, no job, thoughts about my Dad and nagging health problems did not add up to my best day on the trail. I moved into the Shelter for some company and had a good evening and sound night sleep.
Next day I got a late start and DID NOT loose my “shadow”, off we went to Gooch Mountain Shelter. This too is a nice hike but there are three mountains in a row, starting with Sassafras that will really get you attention. I was feeling pretty strong so I was a good hiking day. I got my tent set-up near Gooch Mountain Shelter early enough to heat some water and take a bucket bath. I felt good to sleep clean.
I was up early and one of the first on the trail the next morning. It was a glorious day. I left my “Pal from Ohio” at the shelter mooching breakfast and smokes from other hikers. I was determined not to take a sit-down break until I go to Woody Gap and I did not. There are some very good views and interesting trail along that section. A few blow downs added to the excitement.
The day was beautiful. It was quiet on the trail for my first time this trip. I had a lot to think about. I was having a good hiking day. I felt strong, my knees were feeling fine. I was getting my hiker’s wind back. Only problem was I felt like I was running away from all my problems at home. I was a little worried how I would deal with my health issue (more below) but just between you and me, I was just about heart broken when I thought how I had left things with my wife. Before I had gone many miles I decide to get off t6he trail at Woody Gap and try to reconcile things at home.
I sat a thought about things for an hour or so at Woody Gap but I just didn’t want to continue. I gave my alcohol stove and fuel bottle to a needy hiker and headed east, down out of the gap. It took quite a bit of time on the phone but in the end my wife decided to take me back and bought me a plane ticket.
Not my year for a thru hike. I was defeated, not by my body but by my spirit. I was not prepared mentally or physically to take on the grand adventure of an AT thru-hike. I learned a lot about myself and think I understand better what I need to do to get ready for next time, if I ever get the chance.
I was home about a month when I got a job in a huge factory with a million square feet of floor space. People would run or walk around the shop floor at lunch. I loaded 40 pounds of rice and 10 ponds of beans and started walking an hour every other day. I am now into trail running as a way to condition my body for better endurance. So far I have competed in a 30K trail run (18+ miles) and a 24 hour Ultra-marathon where I clocked in better than 36 miles. I run 6 to 10 miles a week and walk that backpack a couple of days as well. My body will be ready if I get the chance again. I feel much better about myself and about my failure to even really start my thru hike.
I followed the thru-hiker class of 2006, they had a tough, wet year. There was not a day that I did not think about being out there. When October 15th came and the end of the season I did feel a little sad. I write this to you, my fellow thru-hiker wantabees. Don’t give it up but get prepared before you go. Understand what it will take and do an honest self assessment before you head up the trail.
I STILL plan to get in a thru-hike before I die. I will just take more preparation that most folks.
Thanks for listening!
Trail name “Traveler”
I will write about that health problem in another entry, this ran on a bit………..sorry