AT with dad

06/12/2009

Memorial Day weekend, my dad and I set out on the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain.

This is kind of a misnomer… as the trail starts at the “Approach Trail” at Amicalola Falls State Park, 7 miles (and about 4k feet vertically) from Springer.

For the record, things I suggested Dad bring and his response:

  1. Trekking poles:  “They are for old people.  If I need one I will cut a walking stick.”
  2. Crocs:  “They are the ugliest shoes on the planet.  I will never wear those things.  I’ll keep my boots on in camp.”
  3. Camel back:  “Nah, I’ve got my canteen.”

I, not one to cut corners, wanted to do it right. so we started at the famous arch on the “Approach” trail.

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Here’s a little trail know-how:  anytime you’re at a “Falls”, your mind should think:

First, “Yes!  I am going to get to see a waterfall.  yippee!”

and, secondly, “Then I am going to have to walk up a big $&% mountain.”

The first portion of the approach trail is 670-odd stair steps straight up a waterfall.  We were the only ones with backpacks on and about halfway up were scared we went the wrong way.  People in fanny packs and jean shorts are pulled over puffing on their inhalers… and here we are walking up with 30ish pound packs.  This isn’t your mama’s YMCA stair master.  We decided to keep going, because I surely didn’t want to have to walk up again if we were going the right way…

We get to the top of the stairs and are amazed to see:  a parking lot.  Where lots of hikers are unloading their gear.  Later, we found out most people do the stairs once then hike from there.  An initiation of sorts, which I’m glad to say we did.

We made it to the top of Springer Mountain, where just a few hours before a 72 year old woman completed her thru-hike of the trail.  She chipped away at the AT over 20 years.  (At this point, I started working the math on the portions I have done and begin devising a plan to do the same…)

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On the trail there are lots of decisions.  It isn’t as simple as just walking 10 miles a day.  You have to walk to a place to camp, namely with water.  That means you often have to chose between a wimpy 7 mile walk and a butt kicking 14 mile walk.  There is no in-between.

The first night we stayed at Springer Mountain Shelter.  There were a few campers, but we had the shelter to ourselves.  Most people continued on about 1.5 miles to the next shelter, mostly to reduce the next day’s trek over 7 mountains to a 13 mile butt-kick….they were smart.

Here’s us at the Springer Mtn shelter:

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Oh one other funny thing happened there.  When I was getting water, two college guys came from West Georgia came through camp.  Just graduated, so they were about 22.  Here’s our conversation:

me: “Hey guys, how are ya?”

them:  “Good, glad to see water.”

me:  “Yes, after that walk up it is!  Y’all start at the falls?”

them:  “Yes ma’am….”

Stop that train!!  I got ma’am’ed.  Over and over again.  By people born in the same decade as me.  I keep telling myself they were just polite country boys…

At dinner I checked in with dad on the gear suggestions from earlier and asked if he’d use them now:

  1. Trekking poles?  Yep.
  2. Crocs?  Yep.
  3. Camel back?  Yep.

Point for the daughter.

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The next day we set out and I knew we were going to have to do a quick 7 or a grueling 14.

The first 7 was quick, and we made it to Hawk Mountain Shelter.  The shelter was occupied by a family from Ellijay (pronounced ELLL-hi-jaaay).  For this story’s sake, we’ll call them the Hell-i-jay-ians.  These folks were there for the holiday weekend and spared no luxury:  tailgating chairs, cigs, spam, cheetos, crank radios, electronic gaming devices, their two dogs whom they fed on the ground right outside the shelter.  Mind you, this time of year the bears are waking up with empty stomachs to empty berry bushes.  Geniuses, these Hellijayians.  And extreme offenders to every known trail etiquette rule.

It was only 1 PM and the next water was 6.5 miles away, shelter 7.5.  Dad was up for staying or going.  I decided we should push through to at least the water, maybe the shelter.  I wasn’t up for witnessing a dog be attacked by a bear trying to get to spam.

The next 6.5 miles were grueling, over 6 or more peaks.  We came to loathe the term “gap” because it really means  “there is a big @$$ hill on the other side you have to walk up now”.  We met some characters along a logging road and took a bit of an “elevation cut”.  Not a short-cut.  An elevation cut.  We walked around a peak and picked up the trail again.

We got to water and couldn’t walk another step.  Set up camp.  Ate dinner and it started to rain.  It rained and rained and rained and rained all night.  Props to the REI tent that kept us completely dry!

The next day was dreary and wet, but we packed it up and hit the trail for Woody Gap.   The walk was wet, but nice.  The landscape changed to much taller trees with meadows.  Any vistas were shrouded in fog, but I always like a gray day and the mist provided lots of subdued, peaceful beauty:

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and a newt:

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We made it to Woody Gap and tried to reach mom, but she wasn’t answering her phone.  There were a group of dads and teenage sons there who offered to give us a ride back to my car…. under one condition:  that my mom was the same person as Dad’s wife, because they “weren’t trying to get shot”.  Hopefully you tracked with me on that one.  Ha!

Made it back to the house, where I was greeted by my Tillman, who is here chilling with his real mom, Jade.  It was a good time.  Walking in quiet woods all day is not a bad gig.  We’re going to tackle a few more days next year.

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