George On AT (Part I)

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Appalachian Trail Through Hike Journal (Part I)
George Li

On April 24th late evening, I took a bus from New York to Gainesville, GA, arriving 4:30 p.m. on the 25th of April, took a taxi to the approach trail at Amicalola Falls State Park. At 6:30 a.m. on the 26th, the first hiker I saw was “Grandpa B” Mr. Frank Boucher from Draper, UT. He grew up in Montana and retired in Utah.  He asked did I have a trail name. I replied, “Jersey George”.  This name stuck with me for the rest of the journey.
I was hauling a backpack over 50 pounds, and I realized his external frame pack weight like nothing, may be only 30 pounds, and he wears sneakers, carries an umbrella, and I knew he was an “ultra light backpacker”. (Those who read Ray Jardine’s book on the Pacific Crest Trail carry the gear with the lightest weight and minimize all unnecessary gears).

“Grandpa B” hiked up the trail like a mountain goat. I guess his highlander’s lung worked twice as good as mine and in no time he is gone! The hike up the approach trails to Springer Mountain was quite tough. It took me five hours to get to the top of Springer Mountain where the first white blaze of the A.T., a 6”x2” white blaze where the trail officially starts. Just then the cloudy sky started to pour heavy rain, and marked 5 days of on and off rainy, foggy, windy weather!  What an omen!  Shelter:  The first night I spent the night at Hank Mountain Shelter. It was a 2-story beautifully built structure that slept over 12 people. Recent years had seen over 3000 people trying to through hike and the GATC (Georgia Appalachian Trail Club) and the Forest Service, with the help of army air lift unit, had re-built old shelters into 2 story bunk houses to put more hikers in.

Here on Hank Mountain Shelter, it was reported an aggressive black bear with a taste of hiker’s food was always present around the site. I did not get to see the bear, but a girl I met later at Fontana Dam Shelter told me she was storing food in her tent and the bear was there all night to pester her, she had to leave at 2:00 a.m. to escape the bears, and hence she got her trail name “Bear Bait”.

People:  The most fascinating aspect on the AT probably is the people whom travel on it. The first night I met “Bunka”, “Magnolia” (2 girls, one is a waitress, Bunka got her name from Buddhism, she was a Buddhist) Howard AKA “Lord of the trail” a mechanical engineer from Amfac who works at Death Valley, CA. Svein (pronounced swain), a tourist from Norway, and “Uncle Mike”, an artist originally from NYC but now moved to Austin, TX and “Grandpa B”, a retiree from UT.  There are more people at the two ends of the age groups, more young people under 25 and retirees over 55. And I am distinguishably in this group and there are very few Asian Americans or African Americans. Most people will think I am from a foreign country.  That is why I choose my trail name “Jersey George”.

Scenery: Everyday on the hike, going up and down the ridge line and cross valleys, I was rewarded with some exceptional sights of mountain scenery, but if you are on the trails day after day, soon you will find the scenery is really the icing on the cake.

On the third night I was arriving late at Low Gap Shelter, and found the shelter filled to capacity.  There were over 10 tents pitching around the site.  The wind was blowing hard and I hurriedly put up the tent. I bought a summer sleeping bag with me to try to save weight, but it turned out to be a mistake. It was cold and down to freezing.  I had to put on all my clothing and slept for only about 3 hours. The next evening I arrived at Tray Mountain Shelter, about 15 miles away, and again, another cold night.  In the morning, it was snowing about 1”.  What a night!

It was so cold that I had to put the space blanket into my sleeping bag to keep warm!

May 1, arriving at Rainbow Spring Camp Ground, just want to see Jensine and Buddy Crossman, the lady Bill Bryson made a story out from his book “A walk in the words”. He portrait Jensine as the hiker hating, bossy lady.  When I met her she was watching me as one of those trying to find out who she really was.  But she was very business like, but definitely not as friendly as all the people I met along the trail.  Kind of “cold”.  I stay the night in the bunk house and met 2 guys from Washington DC. They will take a shuttle to Amicalola State Park and hike the way north to the campground. The best part is they are going into Franklin, about 15 miles from the camp ground to have dinner. They invited me to go, and I was delighted. These were nothing like a real dinner after 5 days on the trail!

Week 2

After 7 days, I had passed a lot of other hikers by averaging 20 miles/day.  It was surprising that a lot of people I passed had already quit the trail. It is a long walk and the hiking is difficult. I was amazed at least half of the people were not really ready for the trail. The rest is just hating the hard work you have to hike everyday.  Pain! After the 10th mile, it started from the foot bed and just keep coming back until quitting time. It continues during the night when your feet try to heal and than at dawn you will be ready to walk again.  I guess it really take a lot of determination to continue!
May 3, arriving Wesser, a river cross the town and the highway US19 right across the trail. From the high bluff over the trail.  I can hear children laughing and yelling, like an amusement park!

There were guys playing kayak on the white water, surfing like a leaf on the turbo charged wave.  They were entertaining school children from the nearby town out for a day. NOC (Nantahala River Outdoor Center) is a place where you can rent kayaks and mountain bikes.  It is a very good adult playground.
The walk off Wesser to the next shelter: Sarafras Gap shelter, was murder;  vertical gain of about 3 K and it last like forever. I kept crossing the hill.  And it was the third day of good sunny, hot days. I almost ran out of water before I hit the shelter.
Mile:  AT shelters are notorious for their mice population, but this was the one that I got it!

I cooked my macaroni and cheese dinner, and right at the pouch, dropped it and it spread on the ground.  I cleaned it up the best I could and I could smell trouble! I had to make a 2nd dinner.  But at night, the mouse came and do a 2nd clean up job, went up to the clothe line and chew a big hole in my towel, went into my pack and chewed holes in the garbage bag (clean and unused), made a hole in the tent, and did some damage to the backpack, even though the pack was hung up!  In the morning, the mother mouse refused to leave the pack and had to be thrown out by me!
It was the 8th day on May 4th I finally got to Fontana Dam.  I did a 26 miles day the best I could just to get into town. This was the night before the Tornado hit Oklahoma City

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