Appalachian Trail Section Hike – Trip 1
Springer Mountain (Mile 0) to Unicoi Gap (Mile 52)
July of 2019
I have four children. It is a challenge to make them all feel special. To solve this problem, I do special dates with each child.
My three youngest are all girls. Each year, I take one to a rock concert. I take another to a play. I take the youngest to a fancy dinner. Each date is just the two of us, and my goal is the make my daughters feel special.
My oldest is my only son. We decided our special date was going to be a boys weekend hiking and camping – even though neither of us had ever done either before.
Our first trip was to South Mountain State Park. We hiked 6 miles to get to our campsite. We saw a rattle snake in the middle of the path on the way up the mountain. We had a blast.
We had so much fun that over the winter we decided we were going to hike the Appalachian Trail – all 2200 miles of it.
Of course, we couldn’t do it in one shot. He has school and I have work. So we decided we were going to do it in sections, always continuing where we left off the year before.
So in July of 2019, we drove to Georgia to start our adventure.
I parked our car 30 miles up trail, and had a shuttle service take us to start. There is no turning back when you have to walk back to the car.
Pro Tip: If you are a section-hiker like we are, you park your car where you want to finish and pay a shuttle driver to take you where to start. There are tons of places to find shuttle drivers online. This sounds like a difficult thing, but is easy peasy.
Each night I had my son write in a journal. I told him that one day this may be his most cherished possession because 9 year old James will be writing in the same journal as 25 year old James.
I also tasked James with coming up with our trail names. A trail name is your trail nickname.
About 5 hours into the hike, James came up with ours. He informed me that he will be The Captain. I asked him why, and he explained that I let him go first and be the leader. The Captain leads, so he is The Captain.
I told him I loved it, but how about me?
He said “You are Alpha.” Again, I said I loved it and I wanted to know how he came up with that one.
He said that with superheroes Alpha is the guy in the back. It is his job to make sure that no man gets left behind. That was absolutely fantastic.
It took us four days to get to the car. We learned some lessons on those first days.
Pro Tip: We learned to get rid of any unnecessary weight. We ruthlessly got rid of anything we didn’t need to an extreme.
Pro Tip: We learned how important it was to plan our water stops. We encountered two dry water holes, which put us in a precarious situation in the North Georgia heat.
Pro Tip: We learned how much time and energy you could lose by ghost miles. We labeled ghost miles as any mile not walking on the trail to main. Ghost miles would include getting off the trail for water, shelters, privies or scenic overlooks. For those first 30 miles we ended up walking closer to 50. We would not make that mistake again.
Once we got to the car, we drove into town for an overnight and a warm shower. I asked The Captain what he wanted to eat. He said he wanted pizza. So for the first time in his life, I got my 9 year-old his own pizza.
After a good night’s sleep, we parked the car at the 52 mile marker. This would be where we finish our first trip. I expected it to take us 3 days to get there.
Armed with lessons learned on the first 30 miles, and with packs that weighed significantly less than those when we started, we ended up finishing the last 22 miles in two days. Not only that, we finished those two days by lunch.
Our first trip was a huge success, and I couldn’t have been more proud of The Captain.
The Captain walked 52 miles through the North Georgia heat and did not complain once in six days. We had no distractions, and we talked for hours on end.
For the first time in my life as a parent – I could tell my boy had a sense of pride in his achievement. He knew he had accomplished something noteworthy.
I often comment that the Captain was his best self on the trail. The truth is that it is the same for me.
I cannot wait for our next trip.