So far I’ve hiked for about five days and around 60 miles. I’ve climbed a couple of mountains, including one in the middle of a thunderstorm, had to run behind a tree to put my Diva Cup in, and gotten the privilege of hiking through countless clouds. Today was my sixth day out here and I went into Hiawassee to restock, wash up, and rest my legs before I hop back on the trail. There’s been plenty of low moments, but there’s also been a lot of moments of unparalleled beauty and freedom. I want to give a special shoutout to Carrot Quinn’s book Thru-hiking Will Break Your Heart (and my old roommate Alex for lending it to me) because Quinn’s experiences have given me something to reference whenever I need to push through something. I highly recommend that everyone read it whether or not you’re into hiking.
My normal day now looks like waking up at dawn or a little before, then immediately using the bathroom then pulling out my stove and making tea. If I’m out of clean water I’ll need to go to the nearest water source and filter some. Then I spend a little while reading a book on my phone and maybe chat with anyone who camped by me and is up making breakfast. After my tea I’ll have my breakfast, which is a protein bar along with a Carnation Instant Breakfast, before brushing my teeth and taking about 20 minutes to get everything back into my pack. Then I hike. I’ve been averaging 10-13 miles a day, but I’m planning to kick it up to 15+ after my town day. At the start of my hike my pack weighed 40 pounds. I usually finish hiking around 3 or 4pm (I hike fast), at which point I’ll set up camp and rest, maybe journaling or reading for a bit before starting dinner. I spend dinner hanging out with whoever I’m camped with. It’s usually different people every night, although a few people keep popping up. Whenever I’m ready to stop socializing I’ll hang my bear bag, which has all my scented items, from a rope in a tree or on bear cables to keep bears from getting anything or coming to my tent. I’ll then write some more and read until I’m finally ready to sleep, usually around 8:30 or 9pm.
One of the most interesting things so far has been adjusting to the social atmosphere of the trail. Although I’m hiking alone, there are so many of us out on the trail that I tend to see a number of folks every day, and there hasn’t been a night where I haven’t camped with several people. Everyone is very friendly and happy to strike up a conversation, but it’s also possible to take space when you want it. I’ve been trying to take a lot of alone time, but I usually greet everyone I pass for a couple of minutes and take an hour or two for conversation over dinner and sometimes breakfast.
Most people on the trail are in a similar position to me where they were in jobs or towns or just situations they weren’t entirely happy with so they quit to hike the trail and see what comes next. Almost everyone is white, with the exception of two black hikers I’ve met so far. It’s also a little bit of a boy’s club, which is taking some adjustment for me because I’ve managed to avoid being in male-majority spaces often for years. There are especially a lot of guys who were in the army and a lot of middle-age guys whose kids recently hit adulthood. The vast majority of people seem very straight, although I met a very sweet older lesbian couple who offer to help me out with something every time I see them. As far as class background goes, it seems pretty varied from poor to super rich, but probably mostly middle-class.
The best thing about the social atmosphere on the trail is that everyone is extremely willing to help each other out. When you have more than you need, you always give the extra to someone who can use it. If someone is lost or doesn’t know where to go, you do your best to help them out. Hikers kind-of necessarily have to have a lot of trust in each other since we’re all stuck out in the middle of the woods together, even sleeping next to each other in the shelters. In a way I think that makes everyone more invested in each other’s well-being.
My favorite thing about hiking so far is that time feels so much different. My time is entirely my own, and I can do whatever I want with it. One of the many, many horrible things about capitalism is that your employer owns so much of your time and takes it away from everything else in your life. I know I’ll have to go back to that, but right now I’m enjoying this short respite. I consider my time to be the most valuable thing I have because I can never get it back, so I want to own as much of it as I possibly can. One of the reasons I left New York was actually because it felt like the city was simply eating so much of my time away that I figured I’d be better off somewhere else.
The simplification of tasks also seems to gift me more time. Priorities out here are walking, eating, water, and shelter and because what you can carry is limited things really can’t get too much more complicated. Those things don’t take up the whole day, so there’s a lot of time left for other things like reading, writing, and socializing – some of the few activities portable enough to do out in the woods. Being literally unable to do anything else can actually feel incredibly freeing because you’re so much less tied up in the mess of everyday life.
Overall, I’ve been enjoying my hike a lot. Even just these five days have given me a lot of time to think and relax and open myself up to new experiences and people. I’m definitely looking forward to the next 2,000 miles to Maine. I’ve also been trying to take pictures whenever I can so that I can share the beauty I’ve been spending my days in with everyone who’s not out here. These are some of the best ones: