Hiking the Appalachian Trail in the Spring

by on May 13th, 2013
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Springer is in the air! As we emerge from the winter months, many hikers begin to plan their journey to Springer Mt., or Amicalola Falls, the beginning of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. Some prepare for the entire 2,000+ mile long hike to Mt. Katahdin, Maine, while others look to take on an exciting section hike.

As the plants and animals awaken from their slumber, spring is a great time to catch all the breath-taking mountain views before some become blocked by the blooming foliage. Whether you are ready to hike for a few months or a few days, all hikers leave the AT as a different person than they arrived. Getting away from the city, the traffic, the noise, the hustle & bustle of everyday life; the hike holds unpredictable rewards for all who embark.

As a teacher, I look forward to using some of my spring break vacation to walk in the woods on a 4-day trek. An adventure that has been on my mind since experiencing the same trip last year with my father. We began at Springer Mountain, southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, and traveled North for 3 ½ days, making it to the famous Walasi-yi Outfitters Store, also known as Mountain Crossings, before the trail became too much for my dad. Despite the shortened trip, the trail had much to offer for both of us.

This is not your average day hike. The first four days on the trail were physically challenging as our bodies adjusted to the terrain. With the added weight of a full pack carrying all of our necessary supplies, our endurance was tested each day as we enjoyed the hike and worked our way to the campsites each night. We were among the few on the trail who were not planning to hike the full length of the trail as early April is a popular time to begin a full length hike of the AT. Ironically, we outlasted many of the people intending to hike the entire trail in our short few days as they came to the realization of the true challenges the trail presents.

If it is so tough, why return? The physical challenge of the hike offers a rare opportunity to test your personal limits physically and mentally. By the end of our hike, I could feel my body had become less sore each day and stronger as it adjusted to the distance and elevation of the hike. For the weight loss fanatics out there, both my dad and I lost about 5 lbs. in the short experience. As stated early, the experience is different for everyone. Without all the worldly distractions, we left the trail a little smellier, but with a stronger bond and relationship than we have had in a long while. Sharing the experience has brought us closer together and we’ve had more communication in the past year than ever before. The appreciation of or planet and nature is unavoidable. Surrounded by 360 degrees of wilderness rivals the beauty of any beach we could have visited instead. There is something brilliant about the simplicity of reducing yourself to all that you have in one backpack and relying on mountain streams for your essential water. I’ve never appreciated my home faucet more than when I returned from the trip. Some leave with a renewed belief in a higher power and some find themselves on their sole search in the woods. No matter how long you spend on the hike- it changes you.

With all the perks of this excursion that are calling for me to return, it was the other hikers that I look forward to seeing the most. Many times you have the trail to yourself during long periods, but you do cross paths with other hikers from time to time while walking or when you reach a shelter. Many hikers shed their real names for the alter egos when reach the trail. Each trail name is unique and usually has an interested story attached to it. Some were given the name by other hikers and others assigned them to themselves. These names usually come over time and experiences on the trail during a hike. We weren’t part of the thru-hike club, but since we outlast a lot of hikers that were, we thought we should come up with names despite our newbie status. Hence, I return to the Appalachian Trail as “Hatchet”, a favorite book from my youth about a boy, Brian, who was forced to survive in the Canadian wilderness alone following a plane crash by Gary Paulsen. The connection between Brian and I both learning, growing, and becoming one with nature along the way made it a natural fit. My dad and I found the stories of hikers’ trail name origins entertaining. When we encountered thru-hikers, we always inquired about what has brought them to the trail and why they want to accomplish the feat. There were some amazing reasons for wanting to hike over 2,000 miles of terrain each and every day for over 6-8 months, as you can imagine. Meeting the other hikers, complete strangers, and sharing stories about our common interest was a surprise highlight of our trip.

So what will you be doing in early spring? Another forgettable trip to a Florida beach for the one hundredth time? Enjoy your fancy dinners, your luxuries, and your showers. I’ll be on the trail soaking up one of the most amazing, life changing experiences while you work on your tan. But in the event you are up for the challenge of the Appalachian Trail, either a thru-hike or a section, keep an eye out for Hatchet!

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