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…I decided it was time to act on my desire for a solo hike on the Appalachian Trail. Neel’s gap would kick off the 4 day, 40 mile hike to Amicalola Falls. After buying, borrowing and gathering all the supplies needed, I was ready to set out on this journey. I’ve never done this before, but I’m a strong independent person. I got this!
The day before the hike, I had to drive out to a friend’s house to pick up the tent and sleeping bag that she so graciously loaned me. Upon inspection, the sleeping bag seems a bit small but looks good.
On the other hand, the tent feels very heavy and bigger than necessary. There is no way I can carry that thing for the duration of the trip. Oh well, all trips have snags. After going by the sporting goods store, I select the cheapest backpacking tent available. It’s very light, but how good could a $24 backpacking tent be? I guess I’ll find out.
The morning of the hike, I awoke early to get a good head start. I packed my bag. Made sure everything was there and went ahead and added my water to the load. My friends and I wanted to weigh it all. 35 pounds didn’t seem too bad to carry. Though, 40 mountain miles does seem like a long time to lug 35 lbs on your back.
While enjoying my last cup of coffee I was to have for a few days, my friend looks over and notifies me that my bag is sitting in a puddle of water. Apparently I didn’t completely snap close a water bottle. Really! Luckily the only thing that was affected by the water was the sleeping bag. Snag number two proved to be a quick fix. After putting it in the dryer for a little while, everything was ready to go.
Now on to the mountain. As I was being dropped off at Neel’s Gap, it seemed a bit chillier than the weather forecast predicted. This led me to reach for my fleece, which….is back in my car at my friend’s house. Wonderful! I look in the AT tourist shop down the road from the trail head and purchase a cheap hoodie. A simple fix, but another unplanned purchase. Nothing is going to stop me from completing this hike though.
Hiking from Neel’s Gap up to Blood Mountain makes me realize why people pay so much for lighter gear. The 2.4 mile 1,350 foot climb was already exhausting me. Luckily the next few miles were all down the mountain. The view atop Blood Mountain was beautiful and I was already meeting new people. Much like riding a motorcycle included you in an exclusive group and enabled you to send and receive the customary biker wave, having a pack on the AT automatically included you in the backpacking community.
Everyone wanted to talk, give advice, and ask questions. After talking to two guys, Grizzly and Wild Man, I was told that I was doing better than Candy Cane. This is a guy they met on the trail and thought might not make it. He apparently was hiking with very little supplies. Hmm, I’m not really sure that should be taken as a compliment.
After finishing my lunch on Blood Mountain, it was time to move on. The sun came out and was bright. A wonderful breeze kept me cooled off. Despite the few snags, it was proving to be a great and relaxing hike. Then I stopped to take a break behind a large rock. As I looked down, I saw a shiny black triangular head staring up at me.
I let out the girliest shrill that I could possibly procure and jumped as far away as I could manage. I can’t believe that I’ve been on the trail for only a few hours and I’ve already run into a snake. And I remember passing on buying the snake bite kit to save a few bucks. But as I look back at the predator, I see it crawl away.
Yes, I said crawl.
It turns out my snake is really just a salamander. Relaxation hits when I realize that no one was around to witness such an embarrassing reaction. I mean, strong women don’t do girly shrills.
The hike continues on for what seems like eons. My pack seems to be getting heavier by the minute. I stop occasionally to take pictures and converse with fellow hikers. I did notice that most of the hikers were in groups. And of the few solo hikers, none were female.
The last group of hikers I encountered, approaching Woody Gap, were concerned with the increasing wind speed and inquired about the nearest camp site. They had originally planned to camp at Woody Gap, same as I, but thought that it would get too cold and that they could find a better less windy spot before nightfall. I let them know that it was about three miles North and I continued on to my destination.
Granted, I did notice the increase in wind speed and the decrease in temperature, but it was windy the whole day on the trail. And my body was spent, I couldn’t keep hiking and I still had to make camp and gather water. I knew where the water and camp sites were at Woody Gap and wasn’t exactly sure how long it would take to get to the next spot so it just made sense to stick with my original plan.
I collected my water from the stream and carried it back to camp. My reservoir is not labeled so I just kind of guess how much water is in there and add some pills accordingly. I get the tent pitched easily and determine to make a fire.
After gathering wood and using dryer lint and a magnesium striker, my attempt to start a fire is thwarted by the increasing wind speed. I give up and decide to cook dinner. In response to the wind, I decide to build a little barrier for my stove by stacking rocks. The solid fuel cube lights up quickly and within minutes my food is ready to go. I even made hot green tea to help warm me up. Then I settle in to read a book while sipping my tea. See, I can totally do this.
As the night starts engulfing the sky, the weather is becoming increasingly unbearable. The sleeping bag I borrowed was definitely not made for cold weather. But then again, the forecast did not call for weather like this. It starts getting so cold that I put on all of my clothes that I packed. I even wore a pair of socks as gloves.
As I lay there freezing, I recall passing one of those trail bathrooms on the way to get water. Sleeping in a bathroom doesn’t sound very pleasant but it’s a solid building and has to offer more protection from the weather. So I ditch my tent and make a run for the building with just my sleeping bag and a few small items. Even though I’m protected from the wind, the temperature is still dropping pretty rapidly. I end up huddled in the fetal position in the bottom of my sleeping bag against the back corner of the bathroom.
Even though my fingers and toes eventually thawed out, I still have to keep switching the side that I’m lying on in an attempt to stay somewhat warm. After a few hours of this and knowing that it is supposed to be a little colder the next day, as much as I hated to do it, I conceded to quit the trip. I called a friend to come and pick me up early in the morning.
My exciting journey on the trail ended with an uncomfortably frigid night on a bathroom floor. It was incredibly disappointing to quit, especially after only one night. But I will definitely attempt the AT again. Perhaps in the summer time.
Editor’s note: Technically this is Part II of Kimberly Drew’s backpacking adventure. If you haven’t read Part I, check it out here.
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