Eager to start our journey, we hopped out of our bunk beds after a short night of sleep. We gathered around a big table with other hikers and devoured our last breakfast before heading into the woods. After nervously filling our bellies with French toast, eggs, and oatmeal, we bought gas canisters for our stoves and dragged our packs out onto the porch with the other hikers. As we waited to leave for the trail, Ais & I started dying laughing at how much bigger our packs were compared to the others sitting on the porch. Clearly, we had missed the memo on how to pack light. As we crammed the last of our belongings into our overstretched bursting bags. it occurred to me that we might become the female versions of Bill Bryson & his friend Katz, throwing our belongings and donuts off the side of the mountain.
Soon after carrying (dragging) my overstuffed burrito of a pack, ten of us crammed into a van and followed the windy road up to the start of the Appalachian Trail. After a couple stops along the way to let two hikers throw up on the side of the road, we arrived at a parking lot where we were promptly greeted by a man named Mountain Squid. He let us store our packs behind a sign so that we could quickly hike up to the top of Springer Mountain (the official start of the Appalachian trail for northbound hikers). Feeling light on our feet, we made it to the top of Springer in just 20 minutes. Buzzing with excitement we took pictures & videos next to the AT sign. There was a rock with metal drawer and inside of it was the first trail register we would sign. We all confidently wrote “see you in Maine!” while chomping on Starbursts given to us by a hiker from Scotland. We then each picked up a small rock to bring with us on our journey for the big cairn on top of Katahdin in Maine (the end point of the Appalachian Trail). At the time it didn’t seem strange to lug a rock from the top of one mountain, 2,181 miles up the eastern seaboard to place on top of another mountain, but we also found it perfectly normal that a man named Mountain Squid lived in a parking lot in Georgia & was at the moment watching over all of our worldly belongings for the next 6 months. Our commonsense was a little lacking at the time, which would prove itself to be true over and over again throughout our journey.
We hiked nine miles through the Georgia woods for our first day & made it to Hawk Mountain Shelter. It was a beautiful wooden shelter with two floors. The three of us claimed the top floor and after unrolling our sleeping bags & digging our stoves & food out of our packs, we joined the other hikers at the picnic table in front of the shelter. We were introduced to 8 other hikers: Spring, Half-Man, Tuna, Samsquach, Snowflake, Big Bear, a nameless hiker, and a 70 year-old man with long gray hair pulled back in a pony tail named Tequila Joe. Tequila Joe was a man of few words and looked like he had seen some shit in his day.
Dinner was a comedic event; we were all trying to figure out how the gear that we had overly bragged about to our non-hiker friends back home, even worked. I had Spring crying laughing as I read the instructions from my stove manual outloud, fidgeting with the nozzles, befuddled as to why it wasn’t working like the REI salesman had demonstrated. After a meal of Uncle Ben’s instant rice & time around Tequila Joe’s fire where we talked about trail names & the hiking to come, we crawled into bed drawing our first night on the AT to an end.