I am Northbound thru hiker #1128. That’s means 1,128 hikers have set out for Maine before me. And that’s only the Northbounders. The trail has gotten a lot of attention in recent years and it shows! I’m one of the optimists that thinks more attention means more loves and respect for the wilderness. That’s why I’m out here, right?
GETTING TO AMICALOLA FALLS STATE PARK
Brian and I chose to treat each other to a night of luxury at the lodge at Amicalola Falls State Park, a decision I don’t think I’ll ever regret, but first, we had to get there.
We didn’t want to fly; you can’t take propane on a plane and we’d have to check just about anything else. And neither of us were too interested in relying on a train or bus to remain on schedule (a choice that would prove to be wise). After doing some price comparisons, it cost about the same to rent a car as it did to take a bus/shuttle. Plus, renting a car meant we could take turns driving while the other lounged the chair back and slept (it also meant we could loudly scream/sing along with out favorite songs without getting kicked out).
At 3am (ugh) and with very little sleep (we couldn’t! We were too excited!) we headed to the Budget Car Rental. We had a bit of a slower start than planned and there seemed to be a little confusion about our rental, but by a little after 5 we were on the road! And I, of course, was finally able to fall asleep (Don’t worry; Brian drove the first shift).
Side note: 81 is a beautiful drive. The Shenandoah Valley does not disappoint.
NEXT STOP: CHATTANOOGA
My Uncle Steve, who is a hiker himself, saved us a lot of money and trouble by meeting us in Chattanooga and taking us to Amicalola Falls from there. To explain just how much this helped us, a trail friend told us that she took a train to Gainsville(?) and had planned to take a shuttle from there to Amicalola… However, as is always the case, the train was running horribly late due to some issue or another, she didn’t get to Gainsville until 2am, had to stay at an inn there, and then pay for a $70 shuttle to Amicalola the next day. Meanwhile, Brian and I met Uncle Steve in Chattanooga and got to the state park on time and without a hiccup. Conclusion: your family is the best.
We did have one small hiccup while dropping of the rental car… The confused Budget Rental employee from Dulles accidentally put our rental under Brian Howell, whoever that is. The folks in Chattanooga had no idea who we were or how we got their car, but it only took a bit of thinking to fix and the mix up even saved us a little money.
The lodge at Amicalola is amazing. It’s a beautiful building looking out on Georgia’s mountains. Our room was cozy and beautiful, the food was delicious and plentiful, and yes, we had a celebratory beer. There’s a large observation deck with lounge chairs an even better view. If you want secluded vacation in the Georgia mountains but also want to stay a beautiful hotel, I can recommend it.
At the WISE recommendation of the woman at the front desk, we walked down to the arch, the start of the A.T. Approach Trail, that afternoon while our packs were in our room and not on our backs. GENIUS.
Amicalola Falls is the largest cascading waterfall in the southeast. You can walk all the way down them on the series of stairs and bridges that follow and cross the Falls.
After having a FILLING (oh, we STUFFED our FACES) dinner at the lodge and a beer on the deck, we turned in for the night. I slept much better this time.
On our first day, we didn’t actually hike the Appalachian Trail. We hiked the Approach Trail, which is about 8 miles long. 8 miles is an easy day compared to what we usually do on a weekend out, but with our packs weighing about 8 to 10 lbs more than usual, we were glad to take an easy day. We’ll hike between 8 to 12 miles for the first two weeks until we adjust to hiking everyday and then we’ll get back to our usual pace.
After a bit of breakfast at the lodge, we hit the trail around 9am, a little late for some but also, a little early for others. Just right.
The hike was beautiful of course. We met new friends along the way too. A couple people have poked fun at us for hiking the extra 8 miles of the approach trail (which, according to one tale we heard, are more likely to make you want to quit instead of just starting at Springer), but I think it was worth it. It was a good warm up. The terrain wasn’t difficult, it was a lot like the trail in northern VA: a lot of PUDs (pointless ups and downs) and the occasions flat ridge.
We got to the top of Springer around 1:30. After enjoying the view, we took our picture with the infamous plaque and signed the log book.
That white blaze below my knee in the picture above is the first blaze of the A. T.
We even got interviewed by a reporter from the CBS station in Atlanta. Keep your eye out for that and hope I didn’t say anything dumb!
We took a short walk down to the Springer Mountain shelter for the night. We thought about heading an extra three miles since it was only 2pm, but we had heard that the next shelter was going to be crowded and wanted to stick to our plan of taking it easy at first.
Nothing feels better than taking your pack off at the end of the day. We set up camp, hung out, and headed up to a picnic table for dinner and to meet the other hikers. We shared stories, snacks, and advice. We definitely had a good crew with us tonight. The ATC trail runner at Springer inspired my next gear purchase: a little scraper for cleaning my cook pot. Really gets up the noodles that get stuck to the bottom and it’s not at gross as a scouring pad!
I know it’s only day one, but I’m having a lot of fun.
Written on 3/23/2017