I could not believe the day was finally here! For the last year, we talked about it and planned for it, and now the day had arrived. My friend “Overcomer” and I were about to embark on our first overnight backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail.
Our first section was a short one. We wanted to ease ourselves into it, and Overcomer had work to get back to, so we strategically planned a weekend hike that had more miles the first day than the second day. This would give her time to drive the four hours back home.
Day 1: Our destination was 10.2 miles to Abingdon Gap Shelter. We started in Damascus. After spending 30 minutes in town trying to figure out where the trail head was, we finally had a general idea. So, with our huge backpacks on our backs, we walked through a community park, feeling quite stupid with cars driving by and upon seeing people with nothing on their backs. But we confidently studied our map and finally found the road that led up to the trail head. It was so oddly located, as it looked like it was right in someone’s backyard!
The first 2 miles was a steady incline. We were not expecting this based on what we read about the trail online. I guess we should have looked closer at the elevation numbers in my data book. Overall, that first day, we climbed a total of 1,857 feet!
Our first waypoint was a spring, but it was a ways off the trail, and we had just started out, so we didn’t need any water. We continued on, and 3.7 miles from Damascus, we hit the state line! How excited we were to be hitting two different states on our very first AT section! It was right here that we met an amazing couple (Read more about them here). We took their picture, and they took ours, we made good conversation, and then we moved on our separate ways.
At this point, we had 6.5 miles left. We had been doing alright so far, but once my cheap pedometer stopped being accurate, we struggled. My pedometer told us numbers like “.2” when I was sure we had gone at least a half mile. For sure, I was tired enough to have gone a half mile or a mile. We finally realized we couldn’t trust it anymore, which put stress in our minds. What if we don’t make it to the shelter before dark? What if we passed it up and just didn’t notice somehow? The doubts flew at me, and it was all I could do to stay calm and focused. We were also sore all over. Both of us were out of shape, and it showed. Our shoulders could barely handle the heavy packs, and my left knee and Overcomer’s right thigh decided they didn’t like us anymore.
At least we brought plenty of food. We stopped every so often to refuel. I always had mixed feelings about the stops. I loved pausing to take in the beauty of the nature and to have a chance to eat something, but I also stressed more because I worried about reaching our shelter in time. I need to learn how to relax on these trips! Maybe if I got a reliable pedometer…
We had so many physical, mental, and emotional experiences during those short 10.2 miles uphill. Renegade and Leftie (my shoulders… yes, I named my shoulders) grew stronger the more we hiked. Bad Knee (my knee) and Hurtzie (Overcomer’s thigh) continued to hate us. We felt stronger and weaker. We felt determined and ready to give up. We wondered what made us think we could ever do this. We marveled at the beauty all around us. We tripped and stumbled. At one break, we prayed for strength to carry on, and we remembered the God who has done everything for us. As we continued on, we reflected on how our hike is a lot like life. Sometimes in life we feel like giving up and sometimes we stumble. God never takes the challenges away from us, but He will help us through them.
When I noticed a picnic table a short bit ahead of us, I stopped right in my tracks. On a closer look, I saw the shelter right next to it. I was ready to cry for how excited I was, and Overcomer didn’t believe me at first when I told her we were there. I couldn’t believe it myself. We had made it! Eight hours after we started, we made it.
After a short rest, we climbed a steep .3 miles down to the spring, filled up with water using our new filter, and hiked back up the steep incline. That night we pitched out tent in the shelter, made a fire, and enjoyed some relaxation time before heading to bed. Sleep was rough, of course. It was my first time camping in years, and we heard rats all night. They were noisy and our legs couldn’t rest as we kept pounding to keep them away! But we both managed to get some rest, and other than the rats, it was very peaceful.
Day 2: The next day was an easy 4.8 miles. There were a few steep hills we had to hike up or down. Down really wasn’t any easier than up. In fact, Bad Knee told me he would much rather go up than down. But we struggled on. Along the way, we saw a spring and crossed a road at McQueens Gap. Four hours after we left, we reached our destination – the road at Shady Valley. Less than five minutes later, my brother arrived to pick us up. Perfect timing!
Reflections: Really, it was a short section of the AT and a short two days. But to us, we accomplished something big. We are not professional backpackers and had little understanding of what we were getting ourselves into. But we pushed through the pain and the fears and the struggles, and we came out on the other side stronger than ever before!