Day 1: White Blaze

Appalachian Trail May 7, 2012 • 5 min read

Conditions: Low 60s, Rain
Distance: 15.2 miles

The Appalachian Trail is marked with white blazes – a painted white stripe. It's like Miyagi sent Daniel-son into the woods to randomly make perfect brush strokes on trees.

And they are random. I questioned several times today if I was still on the Appalachian Trail. Eventually when I'd see one, I'd shout “white blaze”. This served as both a positive reinforcement and a bear alert. It quickly turned into a game. I started to sing “white blaze” (I did so in a Robert Goulet voice). I'd also sip from my Camelbak every other blaze. Anything to pass the time.

The day started with a small success. It was unclear how to reach Springer Mountain most efficiently. Coming in FSRD 42 is best. It puts you .9 miles north of Springer Mountain. While you double-back, it's the closest you can get. Springer Mountain is the southern end of the Appalachian Trail. I had to start at the beginning. There is an approach trail to Springer Mountain. 8.8 miles to the top. But who wants the extra miles.

Appalachian Trail Plaque Springer Mountain, GA

My parents dropped me off. We stayed the night in Ellijay, GA so I could start the trail first thing Monday morning. They did the .9 mile hike to Springer Mountain with me. We took pictures at the start of the trail and signed the hiker log. We each grabbed a rock from Springer Mountain. It's tradition for thru-hikers to carry the rock to Katadin Mountain – the northern end of the Appalachian Trail in Maine. We got back to the parking lot and said our “Goodbyes”. It was 11:30am when I hit the trail.

It rained on and off. About 20 minutes each time. Pretty steady downpour. It was a good distraction. I still had some anxiety about being on the trail. It was all so unknown. Although in shape, I was not a hiker. With almost 50lbs on my back, who knew how far I could hike in a day. Or how many days I could hike in a row. Also, I was a solo hiker. I'd never camped alone before. Would there be people on the trail? May is considered a late start for the Appalachian Trail. A lot of unanswered questions.

About a mile in I passed a father/son group. Soon after I passed a family. They split into two groups. The parents were first, and the kids about a mile ahead. I also passed another father/son group. The son had gone ahead to hold a spot at Hawk Mountain shelter. Everyone seemed to have Hawk Mountain as their stopping point for the day.

I reached the shelter around 2pm. Right on schedule. I made a quick peanut butter sandwich (I mistakenly bought chunky) and gave the legs a 20 minute break. The shelter was already near capacity. And as much as it was nice to socialize, I decided to move on. Hawk Mountain was only 8.3 miles into the trail. My goal was to do around 14 miles a day. 2:30pm was too early to stop. I felt confident I could make it farther before dark.

Justus Creek was another 6 miles. It offered water and campsites. To my surprise that 6 miles crossed 2 mountains. By the time I reached Justus Creek, I was exhausted. My knees were shaky and my arches felt flat. Mainly though, my shoulders were sore. I'll pack differently tomorrow and see if that helps.

I spent the day hiking alone. And after Hawk Mountain, I didn't see anyone on the trail. But fortunately as soon as I crossed the creek I saw a couple filtering water. As a courtesy I asked if I could camp with them. I was glad they said “Yes”. While I would have kept going, the next shelter was another 1.7 miles. It would have been slow-going.

I didn't want to spend the night alone. I think that would have been tough on the first night. There was a point after dinner when the couple went back to the creek for a good half hour. About 15 minutes in, I felt pretty lonely. I think the exhaustion and the hunger allowed negative thoughts to creep in. Once I rested and ate I felt better. Emotions seem to swing easily on the trail. This was going to be as much a mental challenge as a physical one.

It took me a good half hour to hang my food bag. Hanging your food is a precaution for bears. Black bears are excellent climbers. My research dictated at least 15ft off the ground and several feet from the trunk of the tree. At first the line was tangled. Then it was too close to the trunk. It was nearly dark. A hook-shot over a 30ft high branch takes a few tries. I finally hung it where I felt comfortable. I'll know in the morning.

A few lessons from the day:

  • Watch where you're going. Stop if you want to look around.
  • Snack more often. Food is fuel. Eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner is not enough.
  • A 40lbs pack is my upper limit. I should have reviewed my gear until under.

I better get to bed. Trying to hike 16.8 miles tomorrow. I did 15.2 miles today. From 10:00am to 6:30pm. So long as the legs aren't sore, I should be able to hike it.

Writing this entry before bed helped me relax. I'll likely make this a routine.

I look forward to the morning.

~ Bootstrapper – 0001

Jason McCreary - Springer Mountain, GA, Appalachian Trail
Atop Springer Mountain, Georgia, Appalachian Trail

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