There is a wanderlust spirit hovering inside me. The organized, rational, and methodical person overrides her grandiose ideas. And I like air conditioning a lot. But sometimes I feel that bubbling spirit when careening through woods and I can't help but feel attune to moment. Creature comforts seem to be an easy trade when the world is dripping with green and humans are sparse.
I'm falling a bit harder and faster for trails these days. It's really a perfect storm. Ultra training requires more miles and the tediousness of the same spot was wearing even on me. Ultra training also requires more practice on uphills, downhills, on dirt, and over rocks and roots. Summer has me seeking the shadiest paths in the closest 5 counties, despite actually rising early to avoid the midday heat. And lastly, I have trail lust while firmly entrenched in Cheryl Strayed's Wild. The verdict is still out on the piece of literature itself, but it's incredibly easy to fantasize about hiking the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) for months at a time.
So I scour Google Maps in my down time. A lot. Looking for new and interesting places to get my trail fix. I prefer closer, longer, and beautiful. Obviously. Last week, after feeling delightfully and oddly great after 39.3 miles on Friday, I racked up a few more miles early in the week. 4.1 miles Monday, 7.3 Tuesday, and 7.5 on Wednesday. Deciding my body was oddly feeling up to the challenge of a longer run, I found the Appalachian Approach Trail was just about an hour's drive from my house.
I packed up my wares early Friday morning and scooted out as the sun was rising. A quick stop for gas and cash, I watched the buildings of suburbia become replaced by the winding forested roads of North Georgia. As I pulled into the Amicalola Falls Park, I realized I had beaten the attendant taking money for parking. Needing change for my $20 to use the "on your honor" pay envelopes, I drove to the top of the falls in hopes that there would be someone at the Inn that could help me.
I put on my pack and wandered into the Inn where a hostess happily obliged to change out my $20. I stopped briefly at the visitor's desk to situate my money and looked around for a trail map. A backpacker beginning a 2-week journey was talking to a ranger nearby and the 3 of us started chatting. The ranger provided us trail maps and told us to be on the lookout for bears and copperheads. I instinctively touched my new knife tucked away in my shoulder pocket hoping that Murphy's law meant that I would have no use for it.
The backpacker (who looked like more-svelte Santa Claus) and I chatted a bit more as I explained I was just going up to Springer Mountain and heading back. He said he'd look for me on the way back as he was going at a much slower pace. I started for my car to put my extra cash away, but then I decided to just stick it in my pack and hit the trail. As I was walking down the stairs just outside of the Inn, I tripped over nothing and tumbled down the stairs.
I shake myself like a dog to get the bad voodoo away and carry on.
I knew I'd be climbing for a good portion of the first half. There were some descents and a few flatter sections that made me feel like I was progressing, but I watched the miles tick off in practically twice as much time as my road miles. Which was actually okay. I was enjoying the views, the silence, and the ease of the morning.
I stuck an extra water bottle in between the bottles on my pack with a bungee cord. But it kept slipping down and I eventually took off my pack to rearrange it.
The climb to the top was rocky and full of steep sections, but I was still full of energy and climbed with relative ease.
As I approached the top of Springer Mountain, the trail started to spread out a bit and was full of huge rocks. I noticed a few trails that led off to campsites, but the main trail went right up to the lookout and the beginning of the Appalachian Trail.
A trio of backpackers headed to North Carolina stopped me at the top once again and asked if I could take their picture. I stood around for a few minutes talking to them about their journey and ate a package of Fig Newtons. Though I didn't really want to make the trek back to reality, I eventually tucked my trash in my pocket and went back the way I came.
Going down was almost as tough as going up. Though I wanted to fly, the roots and rocks made getting footing rather difficult and so I just kept at a pace that would prevent me from drawing any more blood.
The trail started to fill with more and more day hikers and though I tried my best to make noise as I approached from behind, I scared most people as I came running up behind them. One girl, laughing, said she didn't really expect anyone to be running out here. Apparently, I'm a nut everywhere I go...
I was so excited that I smiled for a near half mile after we parted ways with well wishes. Trail magic! It definitely made the next few miles much easier and I patted my wrist over and over to make sure it was still there.
As I neared mile 15 and the start of my journey, I looked around for the sign that I remember seeing on the way out.