The Appalachian Trail is usually hiked starting from the southern terminus in Georgia. That’s because to hike it during one season (five to six months), you need to start in springtime. This wraps up the hike in late August, September, or early October, depending on your pace. April 1st is the traditional “start day,” though some bold souls have ventured out as early as February. The lessons they learn doing this quickly become obvious; just because they are in the South doesn’t mean the weather in the lower Appalachian range cannot be downright fierce.
My trip began in mid-April, so wintry weather was not in the mix. However, the ruggedness of the Georgia Appalachian hills certainly was. Most hikers like their trails with switchbacks, those wonderful zigs and zag which help on ascents. Georgia trailblazers, for some reason, seem to have mostly forgotten intentionally or otherwise to do this. Instead, trails climb straight up and straight down for the most part.
The Georgia section of the A.T. weeds out a majority of hopeful thru-hikers. As I mentioned earlier, physical injuries, missing the comforts of home and family, and pure exhaustion are the most common reasons for washing out. A frequently heard complaint among hikers is that they did not set out believing the trail would be as difficult to hike as it turned out to be. Their opinion is often peppered with profanities. Heat, stinging nettles which burn the exposed legs, and blisters that can cripple, end with lots of backpackers taking a bus or plane home. The “dream” quickly becomes a nightmare. Expectations are shattered. The ones who press through the loamy Georgia soil to the North Carolina border have paid with dogged persistence and drive.
Now don’t get me wrong. The hike is not all misery, but the early days are difficult. To start at Katahdin in Maine would be even tougher. Attitude, intention, and perseverance all count. It’s important to understand why you’re hiking to begin with. A dash of humility and a lowering of expectations will help open the door to the greater enjoyments the Appalachian Trail offers, such as the sheer beauty of the flora and fauna, the unique encounters with new and sometimes quirky friends, and the deep reward which comes with having achieved something few else have. No need to rush or compete. Simply enjoy a long-distance backpacking trip on an historic trail. More to come…