So what did I do in my tent in the middle of the woods without companionship last night? I debated whether to watch some you tube videos; however, since I also worried about my phone not maintaining its charge for two days, I determined that was not a good idea. Therefore, at a little before 9:00 PM I decided to call it a night and try to get a good night’s rest. As I remember, I quickly fell asleep and slept very well until I awoke some time later, or so I thought. When I checked my watch it was 9:20. In other words, I had gotten a very restful nap. Unfortunately it was the only sleep I was to get until I last checked my watch at 12:40 AM. I must have eventually fallen asleep because the next time I checked it was almost 5:00. As I lay awake wanting desperately for daylight to arrive so that I could again begin hiking, a light rain began to fall. This actually excited me since I had wanted to determine how well I had seam sealed my tent under true trail conditions. Even though it only drizzled for about an hour, all was well. Everything inside appeared to be dry as I packed up a little after 6:00.
Knowing that there was an area about two miles into today’s hike with a picnic table under a pavilion, I decided to forgo cooking any breakfast until I arrived there. Breaking camp went well and I was on my way in just over an hour. Despite a now wet tent, the ULA Circuit still felt comfortable as I traversed the .2 miles back to the main trail.
When I arrived at the area with the pavilion, I set up my stove and made a cup of tea. I also considered cooking up some oatmeal but opted for an energy bar instead. Before leaving camp I had eaten three of the chocolate cookies I had baked. Due to a chilly sustained wind, lighting the super fly proved to be challenging. In fact, I don’t think the weak, tasteless tea was really worth the effort. It was also about this time that I remember, just like not liking to read while backpacking, that I really don’t like trying to cook either. So at about 9:00 on Saturday, February 16, under cold windy conditions just off the Pine Mountain Trail in West Central Georgia, I made the decision to begin the Appalachian Trail thru hike stoveless. I know there are those who are already questioning this decision; however, if I change my mind I can buy one alone the way.
After finishing my tea, I headed on up the trail. Although very cold and windy, the sun was out and I was dressed in just enough clothing to hike comfortably. Needing water, I also made a decision that I’ve often made when section hiking the AT. If there is a spigot nearby, there’s no need to retrieve water from a stream and have to treat it. Knowing that the Trading Post at a nearby campground was within a couple of miles, I sipped on the one bottle of water I had remaining until I arrived there. After filling the bottles from a sink behind the counter, I also chatted briefly with the proprietor, whose name I failed to get, before leaving. I rested for a few minutes at another picnic table in front of the store, ate some more cookies, and briefly entertained the idea of practicing yogi-ing some real breakfast from a couple grilling what smelled like sausage nearby. Needing to get on my way, I decided to wait until I arrive on the AT before I try my hand at that tradition.
The hike today continued to go well. I met numerous day hikers as I strolled along. One couple walked with an unleashed, yet extremely well behaved, dog. A young female runner startled me as she passed, reporting back over her shoulder, “I didn’t think I was that quiet,” after I gasped a “you scared me,” when she went by. For a few seconds I kind of wished I had had on running clothes and could have joined her. Her effortless movements briefly increased the weight of my pack. There would be other days to run. Today I was hiking.
A little later I stopped for another break, again where I found a bench on the trail. It came complete with a medal plate noting the Eagle Scout project for which it had been completed. As I rested and ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a tortilla, a young military gentleman stopped to ask directions. Proclaiming that his map was not substantial enough, I shared mine with him and offered help. He thanked me as he strode into the distance with camo daypack on his back.
As I approached the end of today’s hike I saw in the distance three young men sitting atop a rock outcrop. Getting closer I recognized one as the son of one of my good running buddies. Bailey, at only 15, has become quite the runner and outdoorsman over the past few years. He even joined a group of my buddies on a 6 mile run to celebrate my 60th birthday in 2011. Out for an overnight camping trip with his younger brother, Bennett, and a friend, Bailey exhibited that youthful zest for adventure as he told me where they would be camping tonight. Before hiking on—in my best fatherly voice—I reminded them to stay warm since the temperature was going down to the 20’s tonight.
The last day hiker I encountered, before arriving back at my vehicle, was another young man that I’m pretty sure was in the service. He wore an orange University of Tennessee T-shirt and shorts even though it was still cold on this sunny early afternoon. Stepping aside for me to pass, he called me sir three times in about fifteen seconds when I told him he didn’t have to do that. He reminded me of just how fortunate we are to have such polite, thoughtful young folks in our midst today. I thanked him in turn.
When I totaled up today’s miles, it only came to 11.6. I had originally planned to walk farther, but still it had all in all been a good overnight shakedown hike. Other than deciding to leave the stove behind, I also make a couple of other significant decisions regarding gear that I think will go a long way to making my attempt at a thru hike become a reality. There will be many nights on the AT when I will hike to a shelter and set up camp for the night. There will also be days when I will hike to a town where there is a shower and a hot meal awaiting. Today was one of those. It had been a good two days on the Pine Mountain Trail, just as I’m sure there will be many beginning next month as I make my way northward on the Appalachian Trail.