Last week at this time I was hiking the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. I can't say I loved it, but I can't say I hated it either. At times, as evidenced by my text messages to Kevin, I absolutely hated it, but time blurs those memories. Right?
A couple of years ago, while day hiking in the Wichita Mountains with the Herron Girls, Kim and Bailey, our conversation turned to a curiosity about hiking the Appalachian Trail. We decided we needed to give it a go. We didn't set a date at that time, but we started talking about making it a Girls Only trip and giving it a try. We decided to start at the beginning. Over time, we committed and picked last week to go. So I started gathering my "tools." I bought a backpack--a cheap one. I bought new hiking shoes and got them 1/2 size bigger as advised. I started gathering dehydrated foods. I read. I read guides on hiking the AT. I read peoples memoirs. I tried to absorb as much as I could. I upped my workouts at the gym, walking more, raising the incline, coming in with the packed backpack and working out with it on. I even walked home from town several times to get used to walking on real terrain. (ha...as if the Kansas prairie can ever prepare you for hiking in the mountains of Georgia!)
I'm not an experienced backpacker or even hiker. I've hiked three times in Colorado. I've "hiked" here in Kansas some. I've never backpacked. I've camped and cooked over a fire, I've slept in a tent. I just haven't hauled everything in a backpack and relied only on what was in my backpack. So this was going to be an adventure.
I'm 53. Kim is 43. Bailey is 23. We tried to convince Miss Kat to join us, but the thought of no showers for a week turned her off and she declined. On June 2, the three of us left for Georgia.
We decided to hike from Springer Mt. to Unicoi Gap. A distance of 53ish miles. We had a week. We figured we could make 10 miles a day but would aim for 7 for the first couple of days, as recommended in the AT Guide.
So on a rainy Sunday morning, we began. We hired a shuttle driver to meet us at Unicoi and drive us to Springer. We started hiking at 10:30 in the rain.
And it rained for two days.
At first, I didn't mind the rain or the walking. For the most part, Springer is an easy climb and it stayed that way for the first 4-5 miles. The rain was cooling, it was a gentle rain. We quickly shed our rain gear because it was just too hot. About mile 6, I hit a wall. I was exhausted and probably hadn't snacked or drank enough. I happened to have a Gatorade (which I HATE). It tasted wonderful and gave me some much needed energy. Our backpacks weighed between 25 and 30 lbs. We didn't weigh them because we really didn't want to know how much weight we were carrying. My biggest problem I think, was I was carrying the big bear canister in a backpack that was really to small for it. That first night, we did some switching around and Kim took the bear canister and I traded her for the tent and the snack food which was in a bag. That stopped the canister from digging into my shoulders and hips. (I found some chafing marks later from the canister on my back.)
Day two was a long day with hiking up Sassafrass Mountain. It had rained during the night, so not much sleep was had by any in our tent. My feet started to be a real issue on day two along with the rain that continued.
Shoes: it's recommended that mountain hikers get their shoes 1/2 size to 1 full size larger than their regular shoe size. You need this space because your feet slide in your shoes as you go downhill and your toes can slam into the end of your shoe leaving your toes bloody and you can and will lose toenails. I'd bought new shoes 1/2 size larger, but I didn't get good shoes, just normal over the counter shoes. BIG mistake. My feet hurt horribly by day two and all you can do is keep walking. There's only so may places you can get off the trail, so I kept walking, every step painful. Every step UP and every step DOWN.
I tried not to let my misery show, but I failed. Kim and Bailey knew I was hurting and knew I was miserable. And it kept raining. In fact, while on Sassafrass, it poured. It rained so hard we had streams pouring down the trail ankle deep. It rained that way for over an hour. Just made everyone miserable. Add that to my foot problem, and I was ready to quit.
At times, I had to walk on alone because I knew I wasn't fit company and I will admit, I told the girls if there was a way out, I'd probably take it. I tried to talk them into stopping at Neels Gap, but they were enjoying the adventure and wouldn't give in to my not-so-subtle hints. (good for them because it made me keep going too.)
Day three was better. WE took a two hour break at Woody Gap and dried everything out. It was paved, so the asphalt was warm and dried everything. That two hour break allowed me to rest my feet. The walk from there while still painful, was a nice walk. I started to enjoy the trip a bit more.
Day four found us ready to go up Blood Mountain. We ran into a south-bound hiker with his son who suggested we take the trail around the mountain, Freedman trail, because he was seeing hikers come across Blood Mt. with cuts, and bruises and bleeding. We took Freedman. Which was our toughest hike. It's all climbing boulders and rocks. It seemed never ending. But once we made it back to the mail trail, it was a relatively easy walk down to Neels. Where I bought new shoes.
Lord what a difference a new pair of shoes made. My toes didn't hurt anymore and I had more support for the remainder of my feet which made such a difference! And Pizza! We had a pizza. It was the best frozen Red Baron's Pizza ever made. Ambrosia wouldn't taste any better than that pizza did. With my shoes, we continued on for another 4 miles.
Day five, we hiked 15 miles! We had an illusion that we could make the remaining 3 miles and get out a day early, but it was pretty rough headed up to Blue Mt. Shelter, so we camped.
Day six was a short day, around 3 miles to Unicoi. We were up early, broke camp quickly and were on the trail by 7:30. About an hour in our hike, we came upon 3 bear cubs--who we saw climb a tree. Worried about Mama Bear, we slowly backed up, bunched together, and made lots of noise. We then watched the cubs climb down the tree and head down the mountain to Mama. We gave them plenty of time, then continued our hike down the mountain. Two miles downhill. It was rough. We'd decided early on that climbing sucks, but going downhill hurts. It's just hard on your knees. That two mile hike down was the worst as we knew we were on our last downhill trek. We were at the car by 10:00. Foot sore, knee sore, tired, and so happy, proud, sweaty, and very dirty and smelly.
I'm glad I didn't give in to my disillusionment and quit. I'm glad I finished our set section. But I don't think I'll do any more hiking on the AT. Camping didn't bother me. The rain? Maybe it affected me more than I thought. What I really think got to me is the fact that all you do on the AT is walk. All.day.long. It's up and it's down. All.day.long--up and down. It was work. Not hard work, but work. And it does take it's toll on knees, ankles and feet. Somehow it just wasn't was spiritually fulfilling as I wanted it to be. It is that for others, but for me it just wasn't.
Part of me says to try it again and now that I have good shoes, I'll do better. But I've been home 4 days now and my knees still hurt. I don't like that! It wasn't fun enough that I want to go back. It's just not my cup of tea. I'm rather sad about that. I want to love it. I want to feel awe or inspired or something. But I don't.
I told Kev that I wanted to do this to see if I could.
I got my answer. I can do it, but for me I guess I discovered CAN isn't fulfilling. I want to want to do it...and I don't.
I guess that's OK. Trying something new is about self-discovery, and I did discover things about myself. It's OK to discover you don't enjoy something. It's probably as important as discovering you DO enjoy something it's just not as much fun.
I did it. I set a goal and I met it. I didn't give up when I so desperately wanted to. I hiked a section of the Appalachian Trail.