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After doing the parking lot shuffle, we started.
The beginning of any hike is always…well….sort of anticlimactic. I suppose that’s the way it should be; just grab your pack and go. There’s no crowd to cheer as you stride off into the mountains, just the rustle of the wind in the trees.
Thinking back, I wasn’t overly excited about this trip. Hillbilly talked me into going. The only backpacking I had ever done was just a night or two on the trail. From this brief experience I had learned that: 1) I don’t sleep well in the outdoors, and 2) AT shelters are full of mice. Bold mice. They come out at dusk and have no fear. They practically walk right up to you and beg for food. I will tell you that there’s nothing creepier than seeing pairs of beady eyes watching you around a campfire, just waiting for you to go to sleep.
Seventy miles on the trail – I didn’t know what to think. I honestly thought it would be a fairly lonely trip, with just Hillbilly and the mice for company. No one told me that the AT in the spring is a roving, ever changing community. We had chosen a great time to be on the trail. Thru-hikers were everywhere. The weather was phenomenal. It was truly the trip of a lifetime.
The Georgia-North Carolina section of the AT is brutal. It has all sorts of torture. There are long, slow climbs that never seem to end. Then you have short but steep sections with unsure footing. To truly classify and characterize the pain inflicted on an AT hike, I have devised a scale with seven stages.
Stage One. Early in a hike, the gradient just starts to turn uphill, but you’re still feelin’ good and just have a slight tinge of burning in your legs.
Stage Two. The burning in your legs has increased as they protest: “Are you suuuure you want to do this?”
Stage Three. The pain in your legs has calmed, but now your heart rate and breathing have escalated. You’re reaching your oxygen threshold.
Stage Four. The grade has gotten steeper. Your legs are screaming and your heart and lungs are doing ALL they can to keep up. You are on the verge of a blowout.
Stage Five. Blowout barely avoided. The mountain isn’t quite as steep but it is not letting up.
Stage Six. This is the final stage. Your body is in full revolt. It is a constant struggle to not stop and lean against every tree you walk past.
Stage Seven. You have lost 90% of your mental capacities. You are not sure where you are or where you are going, but you know you must keep going.
Now, I can’t vouch for Hillbilly, but I experienced all seven stages within the first few hours of our weeklong backpacking trip.
Adam Rambin is an ESOL-teaching, kayaking, hiking, bass playing, Sasquatch-writing adventurer. And he has more writing adventures on the way. Stay tuned for the next exciting installment in Adam’s A.T. hiking saga!
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