78.5 Miles (Plus 8.5 miles on the Approach Trail)
Being an avid hiker and having hiked all winter long, I started my thru-hike already bearing "hiking legs." My hiking companions would comment their envy when I told them I had no sore back or leg muscles whatsoever. My feet on the other hand, oh boy. My feet were not accustomed to the added weight on my back and they wholeheartedly revolted. I have NEVER had a problem with my feet getting blisters until I stepped foot on the Appalachian Trail. From day one, my feet blistered. Bad. Both of my heels split open by day six which earned me my trail name "Tip Toe" as I tip-toed my way down the steep hill that led into Dicks Creek Gap. It wasn't just my heels but also the tops, tips, bottoms and knuckles of my toes. It was a new kind of pain for me and I had to deal with it every single day until I got to Vermont. That's right, the blisters finally stopped in Vermont. They had mostly healed by the time I was leaving the Whites in New Hampshire. And nearly 3 months after having summitted Katahdin, the skin on my heels is still peeling a little bit. I quickly learned how to expertly tape my feet everyday. I factored it into my morning routine (and usually my lunchtime routine as well). I had to take a zero a week for the nearly the first half of the hike, to give my feet a day to literally air out. As you can imagine, the added expense of buying ointment, gauze, bandages and tape every week threw a little bit of a kink into my budget. $15-$20 a week adds up pretty quickly, especially when you have no income coming in!
For all of you aspiring thru-hikers-to-be out there, do not let this worry you! Most of my fellow hikers had no issues with anything but an occasional blister on their feet (well, they had issues, but not in this sense). For some reason my feet just wanted to rebel. I went through four different styles of shoes (Thank You Vasque Footwear) and even switched sizes. Nothing helped until one random day in Vermont when the blisters just stopped. It's very strange, I know.
Anyway....back to Georgia!
During my first week on trail, Mother Nature brought me a little bit of everything in the way of weather. It went from warm spring sunny days to cold and pouring rain. The day I hiked up Blood Mountain was cold, sunny and incredibly windy. The trail had ice and snow and the trees were all sparkly from the ice that clung to their branches. The following two days the mercury was pushing 80 degrees making it instantly feel like summer. And since it was spring and the trees had not yet sprouted leaves, there was no shade to be found except for the occasional shelter. Most hikers rolled into Hiawassee burnt to a crisp and dehydrated. Let the farmers tans begin!
I also noticed right away that there were no spruce trees anywhere. The only spruce forest south of Vermont on the Appalachian Trail is found on Roan Mountain in Tennessee which I will get into detail about in a later post. In New England the mountain scenery changes as one ascends and gains elevation. The trees found at lower elevations consists of mixed hardwoods while the trees at higher elevations consist of different types of evergreens. In the southern Appalachians the trees are all mostly mixed hardwoods with Rhododendron shrubs everywhere. The ridge lines up high are lined with tunnels of Rhododendrons and these tunnels are found down low too. They are giant Rhododendrons, not the small contained shrubs we see in front yards around New England, but huge tall clusters of them with a tunnel underneath. I felt like I was in a storybook on more than one occasion, a little hiker hiking through a giant's world.
The first couple of weeks of the Appalachian Trail were relatively smooth sailing. I was excited to be out there on the trail, meeting new people and experiencing new scenery. I gave hardly any thought to any pain I was experiencing and I kept telling myself that the blisters would just be a temporary thing (HA!). It truly was a honeymoon period. I would quickly learn upon entering North Carolina that the challenge was real, both physically and mentally, and that self doubt would surface and make me ask myself if I really had what it took to complete this thru-hike. Self doubt is a very scary thing, especially for someone who considers herself a strong and confident person. I had no idea the lessons I was about to learn. I had no idea how much this hike would change me as a person...
Some more pictures from Georgia...
I told you I was going to give you ALL the nasty details....HaHa!