Friday, April 1, 2011

The first day - April Fools Day

It's only one hour's drive from Mike and Theresa Krause's home to the start of the trail. Mike and Theresa have taken us under their wing for 3 days and today they drive us to Amicolola Falls where the hike to Springer Mountain, the start of the Appalachian Trail begins. It seems strange that we have to walk 8 miles to the start of the trail - how come the trail starts at the top of the mountain? We really appreciate their support - they make the logistics to get started very easy - we have a mobile phone, food for 7 days, and a chauffeured drive to the visitor centre.

A ranger with long hair, checks us in at the visitor centre. Digby weighs our packs on the hook - his weighs 53lbs and mine weights 41lbs - bloody hell. The ranger says 'You won't make it to Katahdin with those weights. We sign in - number 465 and number 465 - this many hikers have started the AT from this point, so far for 2010. There is a rough road to the summit of Mt Springer, but we have a philosophy of being 'pure' - which is surprisingly maintained throughout the next 177 days. We decide to walk from Amicolola. We wave goodbye to Mike and Theresa and start the climb - 500 steel steps up the Amicolola Falls on a staircase. It is really steep, really spectacular and really hot.

I stagger up the stairs to the top of the falls - a voice yells to us from above 'Alison... Digby....!!' It's Mike and Theresa who have driven up to the top of the falls to meet us - what a surprise! A road to the top - we could have skipped the climb. But we have decided to be 'pure' as in PURE, really PURE. Do the trail properly or not at all. That's why we have flown half way across the world - to walk the trail 'properly' - no shortcuts for us. Our first moral dilemma - but our ignorance of the shortcut otpion relieved us of the decision. We had survived the first test. Mike and Theresa gave us a wonderful opportunity - to unload excess weight which hadn't seemed so bad at the visitor centre. I empty my pack and remove 3 pairs of trousers, my tiva sandals, and a few other 'just in case' items. 500 steps had shown me there was no room for 'just in case' stuff in my back pack. It had to be lighter and it had to happen now!

10lbs lighter we head up the mountain. Hikers pass us. More hikers pass us. We get used to this. On the whole trail for 177 days we only pass about 4 people while we are actually hiking.We are 'passees', not passers. We meet our first 'through-hiker' and introduce ourselves to Traveller from Florida. Traveller has the heaviest pack I have ever seen and no front teeth. We actually pass him - someone who is going slower than us. We are passed by  Jeremy, a young man from Louisana, a fat guy wearing a kilt, as well as two girlfriends carrying day packs and escorting their partners to the start of the trail. An oversize guy is carrying an oversize chainsaw to clear the path - the first volunteer trail maintainer that we meet.

The steep climb continues and the sun gets hotter - over 30 C in April in Georgia - and our water runs low. At a track across the trail, a 4WD stops and we meet 'Whitey'. We ask 'Can you spare us some water?'  'Sure thing', he says and hands us 2 bottles of water and won't take any payment. We have only been walking for 4 hours and we have our first taste of 'trail magic' - the kindness of strangers to hikers. He pulls out a crystal on a string and asks it if he should follow this road - does it go through? Crystal says yes! through to where? Who knows. He drives on and we keep walking.

Next we meet a young couple with an American Bulldog - they stop at the first hut about 2 hours below the summit. We decide to press on. Digby is suffering badly from cramps - he has forgotten his salt tablets. We arrive at the summit, exhausted at about 6.00pm and take the obligatory photo of the plaque to register the 'start' of the trail.

We arrive at the campsite at around 6.30pm - and scramble to set up camp before the sun sets. This sunset is one of the most memorable sunsets we are to experience on the trail. We are actually here - on the trail - at Springer Mountain. At the campsite we are met by 'Manysleeps', an old man with a long white beard who is the caretaker of the campsite. He signs us in, and tells us we are number 38 and 39 for today. He camps at the Springer Mountain campsite for 8 weeks while the pulse of through hikers comes through. We make camp away from the shelter, near Jeremy from Louisana, and wonder what has happened to Traveller.


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