I was fortunate enough to walk onto the Trail in Hot Springs with some other hikers and very quickly became acquainted with the spirit of comraderie on this trail. Stopped for lunch at a beautiful pond with a crew and spent an hour chatting and watching as one of the other hikers fly fished in its still waters.
My first real views of the Mountains were at a fire tower a few miles up with much of the same crew, and it finally started to settle in that this is my life for the next 5 or so months. Beautiful weather and sunshine accompanied us for the next three days as we continued to push miles, 11 the first day, then 14, 15.5 and finally rounding out to 20.8 miles before a 6 mile nearo into Erwin.
I spent a lot of time hiking on my own, noticing the trees and flowers and plants around me. Most of the trees here are old friends from Up North, lots of maples and oaks and hickories and hemlocks. I entertained myself by identifying as many plants as I could on the way, and was introduced to a few new species by fellow hikers. I caught glimpses of mountains through the leaves as I hiked, occasionally coming to an overlook or a bald before plunging back into the green tunnel.
Nights were spent in shelters and campsites with the same crew, sitting around the fire, talking about random stuff and chowing down on mashed potatoes and other trail delicacies. By the sun went down, I was ready to sleep, finishing out my night with a few pages of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas before passing out. The chattering of birds at sunrise was my alarm clock, arousing me from sleep and reminding me of the miles ahead. There was never a bad moment those first 5 days, spent in either the company of other friendly hikers or the trees and living things around me as I walked the Trail.
I’ve been hanging out at Uncle Johnny’s hostel since yesterday morning resting up and allowing an angry bug bite to heal and hoping to get back on Trail soon, but it’s a moment that reminds me that the Trail delivers what it’s meant to deliver. I had a chance to grab breakfast with a gentleman named Mountain Sage, who despite having Parkinson’s disease, has been crushing about 25 miles a day. He says that hiking is the only thing that’s easy anymore — even getting his camp packed up in the morning takes about 2 hours, and that’s before eating. He doesn’t take pity on himself though, he just pushes on. This is his third time hiking the AT in the last four years, and he’s about to pass his 5,000 mile mark.
People come to this Trail for many reasons and carrying many experiences with them. Mountain Sage hikes to be a part of nature, to listen to the trail and to his body and to be fully present in the moment. I’m still wondering exactly what I’m looking for out here, but I’m not too worried. Already these past 5 days have been some of the best of my life, and I’m just getting started.
Next stop, Hampton, TN.