One year ago today I started my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Nothing was certain and everything seemed overwhelming. It was like being born into a new world; there were so many things to learn. My mom and I started at the Springer sign. We grabbed our packs and hiked south to the Springer Mountain start point as my step-dad Kevin rattled off down the bumpy mountain road. We waved goodbye as he disappeared and started that first mile. It felt like any other hike, just a short jaunt to a destination. I unknowingly met people going both ways that I would recognize for miles to come. At the time I thought little of saying hi and meeting people because usually when hiking people just go on their merry way and you never meet again.
We went to the southern terminus and looked out over the landscape. It was a crisp day following rain. The muddy ground sucked at our leather boots and the trees were barren in the cold beginnings of spring. The world was brown and sparse, but the air was filled with an energy that I couldn’t quite pinpoint.
After a deep sigh of commitment we turned and started our journey north. The first day we didn’t hike too far. There were so many people that we often found large groups here and there falling, laughing and chattering with excitement. The trail was a thick trampled mud from all the feet churning the earth. I met Aussie Legs this day, as we walked out to Springer. My mom and I took lunch at the first shelter past Springer. I met another young lady who wasn’t so sure she was excited about what she’d gotten into. I gave her one of my home-made snacks and told her not to worry about miles just yet- to take it easy.
As we moved along to the next shelter, I noticed that there were a lot of people ahead of us. I met a trail runner just before our planned destination who informed us that there were fifty people camped at Hawk shelter, confirming my suspicions. He also ventured to educate us about NORO virus. I had no idea what it was, but once I learned the horrifying truth I steered cautiously clear of shelters and privies for the first few weeks. Noro was a constant fear for the entirety of my hike. It is one of the many harsh realities of hygiene and overpopulation that stays present in the woods. Hand sanitizer and Dr. Bronner’s became my best friends on trail.
We made camp and did a bit of Yoga, bending over and contorting in front of whomever ventured down the trail. We weren’t very stealthy. I hung my first bear bag this night. I was nervous that I would get my bear rope hung in the tree, but my only embarrassment came by not even being able to throw the rock over the branch I had chosen. Instead I threw the rock straight up and we’d both fled as it fell back towards our heads. My mom looked skeptical because I had puffed myself up as being a seasoned backpacker…but my dad always hung the bear bag and made dinner. I spent the next few weeks practicing my throws and trying not to light anything on fire.
Everything was awkward. I fumbled with the stove. We put on our ridiculous gear and searched ourselves to see if we were doing alright. It felt like learning to walk all over again. We were like little new born critters stumbling around in the woods trying to gain some solid footing and confidence. On the first day I learned at least twenty new ideas, out of simple necessity to the hiking lifestyle.
We were off to a bad start: judgmental people seemed to be around every corner, laying traps for us, hoping we’d be silly enough to take the bait. The first person we meet is this creepy guy named foot who seems to be attempting trail magic but only succeeding in worrying my step-dad about our hopeful adventure. But in spite of it all, I am ecstatic. Even the worst encounters are making me smile.