At the tender age of 13, the whispering call of the Appalachian Trail beckoned me after reading about it in Scouts. This 2,100-mile titan, a winding path stretching from Georgia to Maine, became an impossible dream in my Oklahoma childhood. Now, years later and nestled in Atlanta’s hustle, my son, Miles, and I are answering that call, one trek at a time.
Our first segment: Springer Mountain to Hightower Gap
Emotions ran high as our supportive crew—AC, Miles, and BJ—heralded the start of our adventure. Damp air filled our lungs on this humid Georgia day as we slipped and slid up a wet mile-long ascent to Springer Mountain. The sight of the trail’s plaque stoked a wave of exhilaration mixed with a healthy dose of jitters. The journey had officially begun.
- Complete: 1 mile
- Remaining: 2,193.3 miles to go
Three Forks was our next destination, a modest 3-mile hike. This trial served to test our endurance for longer hikes and to assess the reliability of our walkie-talkies and our new boots. The lush, vibrant green landscape and several creek crossings were constant reminders of the region’s natural beauty. We emerged unscathed – no blisters, no ticks.
- Complete: 4.3 miles
- Remaining: 2,190 miles to go
Our next challenge: carrying backpacks loaded with 20-30 lbs. of gear for a 4-mile hike to Hightower Gap. This was our litmus test for more extensive, overnight trips. Despite the less picturesque setting compared to Three Forks, a standout feature was an impressive cluster of ferns. A candid photo of Miles amidst the ferns summed up our experience perfectly. We are ready for a real test, backpacking overnight.
- Complete: 8.6 miles
- Remaining: 2,185.7 miles to go
Our first major test: a two-day, 12-mile journey to Woody Gap
The Appalachian Trail can be a harsh master, offering steep ascents and descents, with fleeting moments of flat terrain acting as a merciful reprieve. The first segment was tough, as we struggled to adapt to the weight of our packs under the hot, humid conditions. We only had to go 6 miles, but they were grueling to our camp at Justus Creek. However, upon reaching camp, we were greeted by the sound of babbling, spring-fed creek. We soaked our feet in the cool water and recharged before making dinner. Dinner was nothing special, just freeze-dried pasta. We caped our evening with rounds of cards. Miles is the luckiest card player and after a few full houses, I decided to sleep off my losing streak.
The evening was dark, no moon, no stars, pitch black. It was comforting and a bit freaky at the same time. If it wasn’t for the sweet sound of planes landing in ATL we’d feel like we were truly isolated. The night passed in chunks, marked by bathroom breaks and the restless rolling for the perfect spot on the air mattress.
As dawn broke, it brought the promise of breakfast and a nice cup of coffee. We quickly learned that freeze-dried biscuits were not to our liking, prompting us to opt for oatmeal on our future trips. We quickly packed up camp and returned to the trail. We learned a lot the previous day and the pack seem lighter and easier to manage. The prospect of a burger reward at Whataburger quickened our pace, and we blazed through the trail.
As we neared the end of this leg, we came across a lookout a top a large granite boulder. We marveled at the expansive view of the trail we had conquered, and Miles shared, “Wow, Dad, this is so beautiful.” Every bit of the pain, the sweat, the bad biscuits, and the eventual blisters were worth this moment. We relaxed on the boulder for a bit longer before we made the gradual trek down to Woody’s Gap. Oh, and we rewarded ourselves with a couple #2s with cheese, onion rings and shakes. That’s it for now but I’ll keep sharing our next adventures.
- Complete: 20.5 miles
- Remaining: 2,173.8 miles to go