Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chapter 2: Springer

It was March 21st, the first day of spring. Elliot had long ago agreed to drive me from the farm, which was just outside of fantastic, exciting Statesboro, Georgia, to Amicalola Falls State Park, a 204 mile journey that would take us almost four hours. I failed to appreciate our speed at the time. It would take me 17 days to go another 204 miles.

It was drizzling when we arrived. Since it was getting on in the afternoon, Elliot offered to drop me at the top of the falls, to save me a little time and effort. I agreed, neither knowing nor caring what sights I might be missing on the section of the approach trail I skipped. With the weather being as it was, I probably didn't miss anything, and we had ascended into a cloud before he parked. We hugged. He waved. I left my sunglasses in the car. And then started off in completely the wrong direction.

Five minutes later, I realized I probably shouldn't be going downhill, and promptly turned around. An inauspicious start, to be sure, but it also felt absolutely fantastic to be out there at last, to feel the cool wind whipping through my hair, to feel the sting of the rain on my cheeks. Did I mention it was raining? Well, it was. But I wasn't worried. That was what I was out there for, to brave and conquer the elements! Maybe it started to get a little cold, however, so I did eventually stop to put on my rain gear. Not that my rain gear proved to be much of a help. Whatever weatherproof qualities they might have had when first purchased in 1986 were long gone by now. At least they were still an extremely stylish shade of florescent yellow.

After about an hour of steady climbing, I met a woman camped along the side of the trail. My first trail friend! She said she was thru-hiking, and I didn't question this despite the fact she had hadn't even made it halfway up the approach trial on her first day. She seemed to sense my skepticism and smiled ruefully, telling me her trail name was Inchworm. At least she had a sense of humor. I wished her luck and moved on. I never saw her again.

It took me only about three hours to make the 7.8 mile climb up to the terminus, to the plaque on Springer Mountain that marks the beginning of the Appalachian Trail. I was immensely pleased with myself for making the climb that quickly, until I arrived at the Springer Mountain Shelter in the midst of a rapidly escalating thunderstorm and found it absolutely packed with about eighteen other aspiring thru-hikers. Surprised and disappointed, I nonetheless folded myself into a corner and foolishly tried to get some sleep. Which I soon found was impossible.

Rain and sleet constantly blew into the shelter, soaking whatever part of me I couldn't squeeze between people's packs, their boots and the ladder to the second floor. Then, there was the booming thunderstorm outside and the even louder cacophony of snoring inside. It hadn't occurred to me to bring ear plugs. I would end up bumming them off of people for over half the trail.

Around midnight I had finally had enough. I was soaking wet, freezing, and my spine felt like a broken accordion. I packed as quickly and quietly as I could, trying not to wake the other hikers, and went to pitch my tent. At least it had stopped raining. I took the proactive step to hang my sodden clothing on a nearby tree to dry. My trusty tarptent went up easily, and actually proved fairly comfortable. Best of all, it was quiet.

And when I woke in the morning, it was covered with about two or three inches of snow. My clothes, left out overnight, were frozen solid. Luckily, I had anticipated situations such as this, and had almost managed to pack accordingly. I did have plenty of pairs of extra socks. I shoved my frozen clothes, along with my frozen rain gear, into my surprisingly pliant pack and made ready to leave.

It seemed my only companions in tenting were a bunch of obnoxious teenagers, all of whom were even less prepared for the elements than I was. One skittered about in a pair of jean shorts while his companions laughed at him, ignoring their own precarious positions. I left the teenagers to mercifully freeze to death, and went to eat breakfast in front of the shelter. I wanted to make a showing in front of the others, to show them them that I wasn't so easily defeated. Not by the wind, the rain, the ice, the cold, or them. I quickly and defiantly swallowed down a few handfuls of gorp and then hit the trail.

My long adventure had begun.

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