There is no better way to prepare for a long-distance hike than to hike a long distance. In hiker terms, this is called a shakedown hike.
From the start of my training this year I have been thinking about when and where I would do a long hike to test myself and my gear.
|Date||Sunday, June 19, 2016|
|Weather||Partly sunny with temperatures in the mid 70s to low 80s|
|Trail Conditions||Dry and dusty|
Those questions were soon answered.
The Boy Scout troop for which I have served as an assistant scoutmaster for the last 18 years decided to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail. Eventually it was decided we would hike the Approach Trail and the first 52 miles in Georgia.
I was excited, thinking this would be an ideal training hike. It was to be a full week and would be on a section of trail I have never hiked before.
Well, it could be ideal except for a few things. Summer in Georgia is not necessarily the best time to hike. It can be hot, muggy, or rainy, or it can be hot, muggy and rainy.
And I would be hiking with boys ages 12 to 15. The distances per day would be kept too short to gauge my endurance.
Thankfully, I should not have been so worried.
When we arrived at the parking lot of Amicalola Falls State Park to find it a breezy 75ºF under partly sunny skies.
Our crew was made of just six boys and two adults, besides me. Because the boys are minors and I have not secured permission from their parents, I will not use their names or show their faces in photos. The adults were Scoutmaster Andy Moehl and Assistant Scoutmaster Dave Duhamel.
The Approach Trail began just outside the park's visitor center, where a plaque and a stone arch marked the start. After gathering here for a group photo, we headed up the trail.
The trail took an easy meander past park facilities and parking lots before it reached a set of stairs at the base of Amicalola Falls. Towering above us were 425 steps rising next to and sometimes spanning the cascade. The falls were as spectacular as any you will find in the Southeast.
It took us a while to climb the steps, as well as navigate through the pack of tourists gathered at viewing points along the route.
At the top of the stairs, we found a spot to stop and eat lunch.
As we finished eating and were packing up to leave, Andy reached for his pack. That's when we spotted our first wildlife. A snake crawled from under his pack.
Leaving the falls and most of the tourists behind, we continued our hike on a trail of mostly gentle climbs with long flat stretches. The weather remained perfect, with a slight breeze to ensure the temperature remained moderate.
During this section, Andy had another encounter with a snake. This time it was a 2.5-foot long copperhead. Fortunately, this snake didn't try to crawl into his pack. It slithered away harmlessly.
As the trail climbed to the top of Frosty Mountain, the temperature seemed noticeably cooler. Perhaps that was only a subconscious sensation suggested by the location's name. Nonetheless, the coolness of the air made hiking easier.
Then the trail descended to Nimblewell Gap and a gravel road. Next to the trail was a bronze plaque, which I couldn't help but notice had two odd features.
For one, the plaque was mounted on a post nearly six feet off the ground. That made reading the text a challenge for anyone but the tallest individuals. I wondered if maybe when it was brought to the site it was intended to be sunk more deeply into the ground to make the mount more stable. Then when the installers arrived and found the area was mostly rock, they gave up.
The second odd thing was the text on the plaque. It was intended to memorialize a victim of a plane crash that happened nearby in 1968. The text mentioned just one victim by name.
That seemed to me like the dismissive "and the rest" at the end of the original Gilligan's Island theme song.
After a moderate climb and another flat section through a thick section of ferns, we reached our destination for the night, Black Oak Gap. This is the location of the only shelter on the Approach Trail. In fact, this shelter was originally placed on Springer Mountain near the terminus of the AT. It was moved a few years ago to discourage camping at the top.
I tried something new for dinner: bean burritos. They were made with whole wheat tortillas, dried refried beans, and Laughing Cow pepper jack cheese. It was tasty.
Later, the boys built their own fire, while Andy, Dave, and I sat around ours. The evening turned chilly, but the fire was plenty warm and we didn't have to layer up.
I called it a night at about 9:30, which was a little too late. I tried to start writing this post, but could only make it through a couple of paragraphs before I started nodding off.
Nothin' shakin' on Shakedown Street.
Used to be the heart of town.
Don't tell me this town ain't got no heart.
You just gotta poke around.