Posted by: pjbarr | March 22, 2010

Mixed Emotions

Start: Springer Mountain
Finish: Hawk Mountain Shelter
Distance: 7.8 mi.
Trip Distance: 7.8 mi.
Side Trips: Long Creek Falls, Hickory Flats Cemetery
Side Trip Miles: 0.5 mi.
State: Georgia
Highlights: Beginning a 2,178 mile journey, Springer Mountain plaque and views, Snow, Long Creek Falls

” There’s a lone footpath along the crest of the Appalachian Chain, On the cloud-high hills so richly blessed with sun and wind and rain” -Earl Shaffer, 1948

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The apprehension with which I start this journey is far greater than I ever anticipated. I fear that this trek over high peaks and through vast forests will test my resolve beyond my expectations. I have dreamt of this adventure since boyhood and in essence have been preparing for it ever since. Yet when the moment finally arrives and I must take my first steps into the mountains, I feel an insurmountable feeling of trepidation. The uncertainty that lies ahead both exciting and terrifying.

What does this expedition have in store for me? In a way this feeling is invigorating – I think everyone should seek to experience this sentiment once in their life, this whirlwind of emotions.

I got about 2 hours of sleep last night. Allison and I awoke in Dahlonega to snow flurries. When we reached sight of the mountains, the slopes were white. Considering the forecast for rain, this was a fortunate break. I know what you’re thinking. Snow good for my AT departure? Better than rain, I say. Our drive was like a normal one to the start of a hiking trip. I was putting off dealing with the emotions of sadness for soon leaving Allison. These would soon catch up with me.

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The forest, carpeted in about an inch of snow, was beautiful. We reached the top of Springer Mtn. after about a mile of hiking. Much to our suprise, we had a good view from the top despite the active snow showers. And there it was: the bronze AT terminus plaque and the first white blaze. So many dreams involved this moment, but it seemed surreal to actually be there.

We were extreamly fortunate to have the summit to ourselves for the majority of the time we spent on top. We took lots of photographs – the documentation of me starting an adventure of a lifetime, and a dream of mine, was very important to me. I signed the log-in book. It wasn’t even noon and I was already the 7th hiker to leave Springer today. I discovered from the log that about 20 left this weekend.

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I called my mom. She cried. This made me tear up and my voice quiver. She told me that she loved me and how proud she was of me. She would call back a minute later to tell me again. I was having difficulty concealing my emotions. My dad called and echoed the same sentiments. He was filled with excitement but it made me sad once again.

I picked up a small stone from the summit. Allison picked it out. I intend to carry it my whole journey and deposit it on Katahdin.

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And I was off. As we decended I told Allison that these miles and steps now “counted”. I didn’t say much on the way down, my mind knowing that I was about to face one of the most difficult moments of the trip. She soon took my mind off it by coming up with funny songs and poems – a favorite activity of ours when we hike together.

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We reached the gap and Forest Service road north of Springer. The moment of dread was now upon me. I had just expereinced the excitement of starting an epic journey and now I immediately must bid farewell to my wife – the love of my life and my best friend – in favor of lonliness in the mountains.

After a hug that was difficult to let go, I turned and walked away. I didn’t look back. I was a basketcase. I sobbed for a quarter mile before I could gather myself. Leaving Allison, I knew that while I may see her occasionally in the weeks to come, I wouldn’t be going home to be with her for a long time.

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The Georgia woods blanketed in a thin layer of snow continued to show their beauty. The falling snow was magical. I soon got into a hiking groove and just walked and walked. The trail was pleasantly easy – as if it had solace for me and others who need these first few miles to ride out their emotions.

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I stopped at Stover Creek shelter. This shelter was very nice. Only two people were staying there. Shovel, an older guy thru hiking, and Rice and Beans, a girl hiking to Virginia. They seemed very nice and I considered staying the night there, especially with all of the extra room. But I couldn’t justify only hiking 2 miles total today. I would throw off my 2 week rendezvous schedule with Allison and frankly I would never get to Maine that way. The decision was one I would later regret.

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The trail remained unchallenging and followed lots of old logging roads or railroad grades converted to trail often parralleling creaks and crossing small streams. A short climb soon led to my first side trip – Long Creek Falls. This was an impressive, powerful cascade. The snowfall intensified while I was there and the scene was exhilarating.

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I made another side trip to Hickory Flats cemetery. This was dual purpose. I had intended to visit it becasue I love history. But it was also to investigate the presence of a picnic pavilion and bathrooms for AWOL’s guide. Affermative on the pavilion. Negative on the bathrooms. Oh they’re there – but they are far from functioning!

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I reached Hawk Mountain Shelter hoping that there would be a space for me. I was also apprehensive about the potential social situation. I soon discovered my greatest fear: a massive tent satellite city around the full shelter. I was welcomed by several people, but the large group social dynamics proved awkward as suspected. I typically form friendships on a single person basis, so I eventually departed for my tent very dissapointed that I did not begin any lasting friendships at the onset of this long journey.

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I must admit my apprehension that this scenario will repeat nightly because it is nearly peak thru-hiker season and the shelter crowds will be impossible to avoid. While I have condidered tenting in the coming days in more isolated locations, such reclusivity will make forming any meaningfun friendships even more impossible.

My emotional low on this subject especially makes me miss Allison, a sentiment I am not yet over from my recent departure. Before I left Springer Mountain, I added this to the log book:

Allison, I will miss you so much. Know that I will always be dreaming of you.

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