View Full Version : Good read on thru-hike from MaineToday

05-06-2005, 22:49
Nice article that's worth perusing..

http://outdoors.mainetoday.com/trailhead/001475.shtml (http://outdoors.mainetoday.com/trailhead/001475.shtml)

First day on the trail
May 05, 2005 - MaineToday.com
Today is the nth anniversary of the start of my Appalachian Trail (http://www.appalachiantrail.org/) thru-hike from Georgia to Maine. I say nth because for some odd reason I'm a bit embarrassed to admit just how long ago it was.

I've been on many a big backpacking adventure in the years since, but there may never be another one to top the Appalachian Trail. It is the journey of a lifetime, and a powerful life changing journey at that. And I doubt if a day has gone by that I haven't thought at least in some little way about my AT experience.

Big journeys change people. No one returns from climbing Mount Everest the same. Or crossing Antarctica. Or sailing around the world. Or hiking the Appalachian Trail. You can see it in their eyes. Hear it in their voice. The physical and emotional toll of such a journey is enormous, and the effects are long lasting. And because it is such a deeply personal experience, it's often a hard thing to explain, to share.

But I did want to share with you my journal entry for that first, very special day on the trail. It reveals a young man who was happy, yet scared; determined, yet unsure. And despite all the planning and dreaming, I really had no idea what I'd gotten myself into. But the many long months of walking ahead of me would surely take care of that.

The entry was written long ago, so please bear with me...

May 5
Springer Mountain Shelter, Georgia

The sun beat down mercilessly as I paused to rest on the steep trail. I was sweating profusely, my shoulders ached from the heavy pack and I could feel a blister developing on my right heel. Refusing to acknowledge my condition I reshouldered my pack and trudged on. Minutes later the ridge leveled off and I came upon a weathered sign:

Southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. A mountain footpath extending 2,000 miles to Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

That's me atop Springer Mtn. Georgia and the start of the Appalachian Trail.

A warm glow of pride came over me and I momentarily forgot about my aches and pains. I had been following the white blazes of the AT in my dreams for several years and now I was really here. But I knew that walking 2,000 miles would be by no means easy. Maine suddenly seemed very distant. And I wasn’t so sure that I could carry this project through to the end. I was a long way from home and I missed my family and friends already. And suddenly all those aches and pains began to reappear and I felt worse than before.

It was then that I decided that thinking about the end of the trail wasn’t going to get me anywhere. The only way to face this big hike was one day at a time. And I would try to live each day to its fullest. What lay before me over the next five months I could only guess. I was on the threshold of a journey that would surely change my life. Feeling very much alone, high on a mountain in the wilds of northern Georgia, I knew it was time to move on.

I signed the register book and indicated “Maine” as my destination. I undid the flap of my big orange backpack, took out my camera, and snapped a few pictures. Then I quickly got things together and started off down the trail. A cool breeze blew across the ridge top carrying with it the annoying flies that had harassed me most of the day. The sun was getting pretty low by this time and I kept an eye open for a campsite. It wasn’t long before I could smell the wood smoke of a campfire. I scrambled down a short side trail and found myself at a shelter.

“Hello there, where you headed?” came a voice from inside the shelter. Out came a big burly guy with a beard. “I’m headed for Maine,” I said, as we shook hands. His name was Mike and he was from Massachusetts. Maine was where he was headed too. We agreed on the spot to hike together for awhile.

It hadn’t occurred to me until now that there would be anyone else out here intending to hike from Georgia to Maine. But by nightfall ten other hikers had arrived, all with the same objective. And I was worried about being lonely!

Supper that first night was a meager affair of macaroni and cheese and a cup of tea. But it tasted delicious, probably because I was so bushed from the day’s exertion. All around the shelter stoves were roaring, pots were banging, people chattering. The place was alive with sound, a little outpost of civilization in the wilderness.

The sunset was a marvelous scene, casting golden rays across the sky, and we all clicked our cameras furiously. A sudden chill swept over the mountain as the sun disappeared from view. In the failing light we pitched together and gathered wood for a fire. Soon enough a cheery blaze was going strong in the fire pit in front of the shelter. Twelve weary men and women hunkered around it soaking up the warmth. They had all become instant friends and I felt a great bond with them. And together that night we shared our hopes and fears of the big trip ahead, and our experiences of our first day on the Appalachian Trail, a beautiful one in the southern Appalachians.

Throughout the day I heard and saw many things that I would never forget: the majestic hawks, whose seemingly effortless flight is a truly awesome sight; the many birds whose calls were not drowned out by autos or jet planes; the playful squirrels whose jibberous chatter resounded through the treetops; the playful mice that scurried through the brush along the trail. There was the delight of coming upon a clear rushing stream bordered by deep dark rhododendron and filling a cup of the cold, delicious water and letting it run down my throat, dashing it on my face and over my head. Every turn in the trail seemed to bring some surprise, some joy. There was no rush to the day, and each step down this wilderness trail brought back pleasant memories of other wonderful days spent backpacking in the mountains.

Yes, we all agreed that it had been quite a first day, with many more to look forward to. And thank goodness for that.

Exhaustion finally overtook me, so I said good night to my new trail friends and quietly made my way back to my sleeping bag. And as I lay there, snuggled in its warmth, unable to sleep, my mind raced with thoughts of the adventures that lay ahead on the trail.

Note: I finally made it all the way to Maine 5 1/2 months later, finishing the AT atop Katahdin on a spectacular October day in 1977. I've never been the same person since.

Finishing the AT on the summit of Mount Katahdin.

Mount Katahdin on the afternoon I finished the trail.

05-06-2005, 23:09
You gotta dig the outfit! I can just imagine him going over his checklist: Jean shorts, check. Army t-shirt, check. Gigantic orange pack, check. Aviator shades, check...

It's good to see those sunglasses and big wooly socks made it to Katahdin!


The Hog
05-07-2005, 06:36
Good article! Thanks SL.

Seven years later (1984), I started off in the same spot. Blue jean shorts, check. Cotten T-shirts, check. External frame pack, check. Fifteen pounds of camera gear, check. (My pack weight varied from 35 to 57 lbs). Good attitude, check.

It rained 11 of the first 14 days I was on the Trail, cold rain mixed with sleet, raw fog hanging in the air, at times gale winds and lightning on the ridgetop.

Yet my good attitude remained. (I threw most of my cotten stuff away) I must have seemed like a crazy man at times, for I would suddenly burst out laughing on the trail. To an onlooker, that would have been scary. But I was overcome with happiness at my freedom and good fortune to be doing exactly what I wanted to do.

178 days later I set my 16 mm movie camera atop the cairn on Baxter Peak. Just like the article said, that trip still resonates deeply 21 years later. Life doesn't get any better than an A.T. thru hike.

05-09-2005, 21:48
Hog- you have the ultimate AT keepsake - a documentary!

"North to Katahdin" still stands up against today's trail vids. Must be nice to pop that in the dvd player and have all those memories come right back.