Saturday, February 11, 2006

the journey is the destination

It is that time of year, hundreds of die-hard hikers (and some just clueless ones) are planning the ultimate hiking trip, to hike the entire Appalachian Trail.

The Appalachian Trail begins on Springer Mountain, about 15 miles from here, and heads north for 2175 miles to Mt. Katahdin in Maine. (You can go either way, of course, but if you are hiking the entire trail in one trip ( a through-hiker), then you usually start at the southern end where the weather is milder earlier (usually late March) and you try your best to reach Mt. Katahdin before the snow and ice make it impossible to reach the top.

the 8-mile weeding out section...
To get to the top of Springer Mountain to start your journey on the AT, you can start out at Amicalola Falls State Park and hike the 8 mile approach trail uphill to the official beginning of the AT. This initial 8 miles is a good test for the hiker's condition, amount of gear, and willingness to really be a through-hiker. According to park officials, a lot of outcast gear and supplies can be found along this 8 mile stretch that takes you to the 'beginning' of the AT.

first woman through-hiker!
The AT's southernmost point was not always on Springer Mountain. From the early 1930s until 1958 it began on Mount Oglethorpe, which is just 5 miles from our house. When we were first married in the early 70s, we would visit our neighbor, Mrs. Mealer, who would share stories of the area. One of her stories I remember was about Grandma Gatewood. (Emma "Grandma" Gatewood was the first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail solo, in 1955, wearing her Keds sneakers and carrying a homemade knapsack slung over her shoulder. Grandma Gatewood hiked the entire trail three times in all - also in 1960 and 1963). She spent the night at our neighbor's house once on her way to start the trail. Mrs. Mealer told us all about the little grandmother setting out to hike the trail, she described her tennis shoes and knapsack. After spending the night with Mrs. Mealer, and I am sure eating a great country breakfast, she started off the next morning up the road to begin the trail.

inspiration...
More of our neighbors, Pearl and Al, retired here after living and working in Ohio and being missionaries in Africa. They decided that they wanted to hike the entire AT. They did their research, gathered equipment and trained daily. We would often see them heading up or down this mountain with their packs loaded, getting ready for the big trip. They trained for about a year before starting out on the trail in the spring. They made it about 2/3 of the way, 1400 miles, before her knee gave out. I am not sure of their age at the time, but I know they were over 60! I often think of Pearl and Al and their determination to accomplish their goal, they are a real inspiration.

spring break...
When I mention wanting to hike some on the AT, my husband Buddy gets this look and says something to the effect of 'been there, done that.' One Spring Break, he was probably 17 (before my time), he and his best friend, Chuck, decided to do some hiking on the AT. Chuck's mom furnished all the food for the trip, which turned out to be all canned goods. Their packs weighed 50 pounds each (Buddy probably weighed 145 soaking wet?). They were dropped off at Amicalola Falls and proceeded to walk up the steep mountain road toward the approach trail to Springer Mountain. It was all they could do to get up that mountain, and it was decided that they would eat as much of that food as possible the first night, just to get it off their backs! A feast was enjoyed by the guys, and their load was much lighter. By the end of the week they had made it to Blood Mountain and met their ride home, Buddy's sister, Kay. I am sure they had never been so glad to see Kay!

humorous account...
There have been many books written about the trail, one of my favorites is by Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods, a very funny account of his hiking experience with his friend Katz on the AT. I remember at one point when stopping for supplies, they see the 48" long AT poster map. They were excited to see how far they had been on the map, and upon discovering it was an inch or less, you can just picture the looks on their faces and the realization that this was not going to happen.

the ultimate footpath...
The AT is like no other trail. Sure, it may look the same as other trails leading off into the woods, but it is not. Most trails end up a mile or so away, at a view or waterfall, or just woods, but when you start out on the AT, you can feel the difference. Ahead of you there are 2175 miles, sights to see and life to experience.

a fellow blogger's thoughts...
"When I was in college in Pennyslvania, there was just something magic about going up to South Mountain, setting foot on the Appalachian Trail, and then having to choose a direction: Maine or Georgia! It seemed like such a momentous decision each time!"

5 comments:

Motherkitty said...

You have to admire these adventurous souls -- they are either really courageous or they are totally nuts for undertaking such a momentous walk in the woods. Trail indeed. Just driving through the southern AT region gives me a nosebleed thinking about being high in the mountains. Can you imagine walking/hiking all that way?

In our neck of the woods we get a long of cross-country bike riders, another lot of adventurous folks. Because of our location between other places along their journey, they stop off in our little town for a breather, a shower, a bed for the night, a meal, or just a rest.

Thanks for these interesting stories.

jellyhead said...

Thanks Susan - you have some great tales to tell.

I would love to do something like hike the Appalachian trail, or the Kokoda trail in Papua New Guinea. The challenge of it appeals to me. Maybe one day, when my kids are teens or older.

Abandoned in Pasadena said...

Your post was very informative and I applaud anyone who ventures out and walks the whole length of the A.T.

I wish that I had the youth and stamina to try it...I think it would be quite an adventure.

doubleknot said...

Loved the story of Grandma Gatewood - reminds me of my grandmother - now she would have been one to take on the trail if she had lived near it. She spent her life in Florida farming and working till she passed on.

Seeing Anew said...

Susan, I enjoyed your anecdotes! I especially like the angle you took -- hiking the trail as an older adult. Re: hiking south to north or north to south -- One time as we were hiking in Pennsylvania, we met a man who was hiking from Maine to Georgia (north to south, for international visitors). He commented that he was witnessing the longest period of fall colors he could ever remember. When he started in Maine (late September/early October), the leaves were just at the peak of their colors. Week after week on his southerly journey, he kept arriving in each locale just as the local colors were reaching their peak.