Monday, March 25, 2013

A Limp in the Woods (Day 1)

An Appalachian Trail Tale
Day 1: The Approach Trail = 8-ish miles
(AT) Miles to Date: .25

The start of a long limp!
The Approach

Scarcely do I find myself apprehensive when thinking about going for a walk, but this was no ordinary walk. This was the famed Appalachian Trail, more than two thousand miles of torturous, tortuous twisting, turning, climbing and, as I’d soon come to find, learning. Developmental learning. No other hike I’d done--and I’d done a few--had me prepared for such a Herculean task.

“Hail to the trail!” I muttered to myself.

“The walk finally supersedes the talk.”

Whereabouts positioned me and my friend Ruth at 34°37’36”N 84°11’37”W (UTM grid: 16S 757282m E. 3835225m N.), in Amicalola Falls State Park atop the 3,782-foot summit of Springer Mountain, thirty or forty miles north of the megalopolis that is Atlanta, Georgia. (Ruth is joining me for a week of walking, while I hope to remain atop the trail for many months to come, an ongoing form of backpack bondage.) We made it to this most mundane of woodsy places in one piece apiece, though the effort in doing so was anything but a cakewalk. I now knew: the forecast calls for pain. For the next five or six months. Gulp.

Springer Mountain!
My shoe of choice (two in fact): Wal-Mart specials
The approach to Springer’s summit was completely smothered in snow, as the frozen stuff had been coming down all day; the higher we went up, the more it came down. Because of the muddiness and the steepness, every step was an arduous affair. Though nary a word was spoken, I think Ruth and I both wondered what we were doing out there. If there was supposed to be a sense of belonging going on, it certainly didn’t belong to us.

Amicalola Falls
Some of the approach trail's six hundred plus steps
The top of the falls
Another plaque near Springer's summit
But we stand here now, at the official start of the world’s grandest hiking trail, as excited as we are cold. Ready to join the classless society known as thru-hikers. The wind is howling and kicking up even more snow and so picture-time is an ephemeral affair. We need to get to shelter. The trail’s first of many shelters is just a quarter-mile up-trail and, assuming there’s space available, we’ll make it our digs for the night.

It would turn out there wasn’t any room. A group of college-aged kids were jammed together in a heap of humanity so tight and tangled that it appeared they’d been stitched together. They were farting, smoking and joking. For us though, this was no joking matter. The temperature was a balmy twenty-five degrees, not factoring in the wind, which, at twenty to thirty miles-per-hour, hacked through our clothes like a giant invisible ice axe. So I asked them, despite an inherent aversion to crowdedness, if they could make some more room.

Shelters along the Appalachian Trail operate on a first-come, first-serve basis and I already knew the answer. But I had to try. It’s funny that I was in such a situation since I’d originally vowed to avoid shelters altogether on this trail, but ‘twas not to be, given the harsh realities of the storm beating down on us. In a resounding manner almost all of the kids replied, “the more, the merrier!” Ruth and I were ecstatic and would soon be claustrophobically content, adding to the aroma.

As the others had, we pitched our tent in the shelter and settled into our sleeping bags (along with our electronic devices and the water filter, so it wouldn’t all freeze and become damaged). We then ate dinner and, once our hands were warm enough, wrote in our journals. “Hello spare time!” I scribbled.

The Springer Mountain Shelter: 2/10ths into the AT
The next five or six months would allow me all the time in the world to do nothing, I realized. I smiled at the thought and continued to jot…

“It’s 2,186 miles to trail's end (@ two feet per mile) and all that separated us from the frozen earth today was our half-inch soles. Ruth wore nice boots worthy of the task, while I donned my typical el-cheap-o Wal-Mart shoes. I’m hoping I get four hundred miles out of the pair, but at sixteen bucks, the task might be a bit of an ask. We’ll see; it’s one stride at a time, each of which should take me about thirty inches closer to trail’s end. Of course I can’t afford to think that far in advance, since there are millions of strides between it and me, millions I hope to take, and millions I hope to make. Each northward step is a small victory of sorts and I know some will come harder than others.”

I paused.

“I wonder how today’s will compare...”

I paused again.

Let the good times stroll...

 “My feet is my only carriage...”
~Bob Marley

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