It took most of the day before I realized why this day felt so unreal to me. It felt as though it wasn't really happening.
I finally realized that for more than 10 years, this was always a day that was coming "someday."
And now here it was, a real day. This was finally the day Kim and I had planned for, saved for, and thought about for all those years.
There will be no more somedays. There is only today and the beginning of many days to come as I walk on the Appalachian Trail.
Truthfully, the hiking doesn't start until tomorrow, but the journey began today.
Kim and I started by driving from our home to Chattanooga. We stopped there for lunch and a visit to a chocolate shop.
This was a leisurely day. There was no reason to rush.
Our first stop was the park visitor center. This was where I was to register as a hiker.
Before going inside, I saw a scale for weighing packs. I knew I had made my pack about as light as I was comfortable making it, but I was curious about what the scale said I would be carrying.
It showed my pack weighed 26 lbs. That included fuel for my stove and 2.5 days of food. I didn't need to carry more food than that because I had mailed a resupply box to Mountain Crossings at Neel Gap, about 30 miles from Springer Mountain.
I hadn't yet filled my water bottle, so there would be two pounds added to my pack when I start tomorrow.
All the years of testing and all the money spent to get my pack as light as possible had paid off. I felt confident what I assembled was dialed in for what I'll need for the next six months. It wasn't an ultralight collection of gear, but it was what I was comfortable carrying.
On the other side of the visitors center, we found a volunteer trail ambassador from the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club. He was registering hikers.
The only information I needed to provide was my name and hometown, plus my start date.
He told us his trail name was Blue, a name he earned after he discovered that blue-blazed trails in the northeast often lead to restaurants.
Blue usually offers to check hikers' packs to make sure they had enough food and warm clothing. When he learned about my backpacking experience, including already hiking the first 52 miles of the AT last year as a shakedown, he quickly shortened his spiel.
He did feel obligated to remind me to practice Leave No Trace principles. I assured him I would.
I registered as the 1,494th hiker of the season. Blue told me I was the 33rd hiker to sign in today, though I'm sure many of those started hiking today.
After signing in, Kim and I spent some time looking at the falls.
Amicalola Falls drops 729 feet, making it the tallest cascading waterfall in the southeast U.S.
A series of staircases allow visitors to climb the steep slope and get an up-close view of the falls.
The stairs are included in an 8.5-mile approach trail that leads to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail on Springer Mountain. Many but not all hikers begin their hike by following this route to the top of the mountain.
I hiked the approach trail last June. This section isn't considered an official part of the AT, so I didn't feel a need to hike it again.
As far as I'm concerned, the trail is plenty long enough. There's no need to add miles that don't count.
Kim and I stayed overnight at the state park lodge. It was modern and comfortable, but it wasn't the AT, which I came here for.
That happens tomorrow. Maybe then the experience will start to feel real.
That's the way it all should happen
When you're in, when you're in the state you're in
You've got your pen and notebook ready
I think it's about time, time for us to begin
"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.