** These notes are handwritten at shelters along the trail and I’ve retyped them at leisure whenever I had the opportunity to do so from the comforts of a train town hostel. So please pardon any misgivings and duly post your responses or corrections in the comment section and I’ll do my best to update them, particularly regarding spellings of names etc**
Springer Mountain Shelter
Total Distance (TD): 8.8 Miles
AT : 0.2 Miles
I had just ripped up all the entries I wrote when I was trying to deal with a particularly difficult and protracted break up so that I can write these notes down to night, just mere hours before I celebrate a white blaze birthday I’ve been dreaming about. How’s that for an opener!
I suppose that is as good an indication as any that I am finally here: to do something I’ve first dreamed about five years ago that perhaps was the catalyst to all that came to pass since.
Things have full circle, it seems, for it was when i first hiked the smoky mouintain section of the AT all those years ago that it became timidly but inexorably obvious to me, like a slow rumble atop a tenuous mountain top which eventually rolls into an awesome avalanche, that I am and I will always be following a path going anywhere while those who are and were near to me wanted to plant roots, make a home in Toronto, grow rich, live out the rest of their lives in comfortable security. Bless their souls, but that wasn’t for me. I never felt home anywhere, never more so, it has become clear to me, than when I am on the move. I am home when I am not…
So today I hiked up 9 miles all told from the base of the Amicalola Falls. Located at the Amicalola State Park in Georgia, the 600+ steel staircase ascent is notoriously difficult and a tradition of sorts for AT thru-hiker purists. It zig zags at cruel angle along the picturesque waterfall, the majesty of which is beckoning even if the stairs bring those pre-hike anxiety that has been simmering unquietly in your stomach to a full and angry boil. It is difficult; it kicked my ass. But it was exhilarating, too. I hiked up with a fellow hiker whose trail name was Dundee on accounts of his cowboy hat, a chatty Navy reserve veteran who has done some extensive bicycling along the Pacific Crest Trail in th
e West Coast. I had to go slow, gauge the strength of my Achilles tendon that was torn and re-stuttered together two years ago following a humble but ultimately devastating badminton injury. After keeping me company, Dundee overtook me politely and I had to remind myself again that I was here on my own terms and I’ll walk each of these miles, starting with these stairs, one at a time, at my rhythm. And I did. 8.8 Miles of the approach Trail, 600+ stairs, 982 FT, 5.5 hours–just in time to hike the 0.2 miles to the Springer Mountain Summit and shelter to be on schedule for a memorable and much fantasized and planned for ’white blaze birthday’.
First, a few thru-hiker jargon for those who are less aquaintated with what’s known as the granddaddy of long distance hiking trails in North America, the 2164+ mile long Appalachian Trail (AT) that runs from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mt. Katadhin, Maine, passing through 14 States along the Eastern American Seaboard.
AT– Appalachian Trail
Thru hiker– an individual who attempts to walk the length of the hike in one season (4-6 months)
Section hiker – individuals who take hike the trail by different sections, usually by states, over years.slack packer – those who drive to and from a trail head and hike with our without a full packflip flop – Unlike a Georgia to Maine or Maine to Georgia thru hike, flip flopers hike half way and hike back to the point of origin. For example one may hike from Georgia to Harper’s Ferry (halfway) and flip flop back to Georgia; this is still considered thru hiking.
white blaze – official markers of the Appalachian trail
blue blaze – markers of the side trails to water, shelter or even ‘short cuts’
blue blazers – those who take short cuts to bypass sections of the AT, despised by purists
shelters – rudimentary wooden or stone platforms along the trail where the unwritten rule is that thru hikers are given priority space but not always. Shelters may be crowded in the early season and thru hiking status does not guarantee you a spot, since it is too early to earn you any sort of credit in the early stages.
lean-tos : i haven’t seen these yet but these are predominantly found in Maine, even more rudimentary than shelters in the southern states.
snot-rocket – the art of blowing your nose and let it fly along the side of a great mountain ridge without altering your pace; simply put one finger against the side of your nose and blow hard and swift and repeat. A real skill, I assure you!
zero day – typically a hostel/resupply day where a thru hiker binge eats and embodies laziness to a point of saintliness. Zero days typically involve clean clothes, luxurious hot showers, warmer beds and lots of calorie packed foods–can be very expensive if you decide to over indulge in the towns.
trail family – the people who hike with day in day out. One comes to know them very intimately, from sights to sounds to scents, I’ll leave it at that.
trail name – a nickname one aquires for quick reference along the trail. You can hike the entire trail with someone and only know their trail name and nothing whatever about their personal life. Trail names are sacred and sometimes well earned. It is typically a mistake to let others name you, I am told, but I have named everyone in my trail family so far. So far I have named a few. Such names include: LT. CooCooBird, Walmart D.Bag, Chuck Nightingale, Ciel, K2Summit, Radagasta. My own is BitterGoAT (I’ll explain this one day)
ultralighters – those who carry a full backpack (including water,food, shelter and sleep system) with a total weight under 30 lbs. Crazy I know but possible, but will cost you significant amount of money or much technical know how and ingenuity. My own full pack weighs 34 lbs so far and I expect to get lighter once summer starts.
Dirtbagging – cheaper and creative alternatives to buying expensive gear; in my mind, a fun and industrious way to hike the trail. My own dirtbagging attempts are: camp shoes made out of old shoe insoles and elastic bands, alcohol stove made out of pop cans, drip tray and windscreen for my stove made out of a fosters beer can, garbage bag for pack liners and waterproofing my sleeping bag, contractor garbage bag for tent foot print, coffee can wood burning stove etc.
hiker box – boxes at lodges, hostels and sometimes even trail hotels where pack heavy hikers unburden themselves: usually a good place to resupply anything from food, to equipment to supplies. I’ve heard of someone who started the trail with nothing and 200+ and found everything he needed in hiker boxes along the way. So far I’ve resupplied my first aid kit, a REI waterproof side pouch for snacks, new tube for my water bladder, various stuff sacks, woof mits, food, and even pepper spray.
I think that list should give you a fair idea of some of the hiker parlance but If you or I think of more I am sure that list can be amended.
back to the hike:
So I walked up with Dundee, and my own trailname is BitterGoAT. Some of you may know that BitterGoAT (or Bitter Melon) is a bitter, prickly looking vegetable from Asia, often cooked on its own, fried in a sambol, or curried with dried fish or beef. It is bitter, an acquired delicacy really, but very good for you. It cleans out your system; a natural anti-toxin. I wanted to be B-GoAT or Brown Guy on Appalachian Trail as I have yet to encounter another south asian, past or present, who has completed the trail (if you are one, or know of one, please put me in touch so that we can swap stories about the lack of diversity on the thru hiking demographic–i was recently told today that I was the first brown hiker many have seen on this trail and I don’t doubt it). Anyway, I like Bitter-GoAT better, especially since I just had some at a Filipino restaurant in New Jersey with my cousin just prior to the hike. I feel it was portentuous that i did and so I am keeping it. Besides, I am an Aries, if you are into zodiacs and such, that is.
Anyway, I am at the shelter now and will likely (and hopefully) sleep through my birthday. My arms are cramping up from this a
wkward position inside my sleeping bag as i figure out the optimum warmth-to ergonomic ratio for writing on a small little note pad, fending off the frigid drafts.
This is going to be a white blaze birthday after all and BitterGoAT is going to pasture now but will be on the move tomorrow.until next…