02 September 2016

Partnership Shelter to Someplace Near Davis Hollow (AT Day 1, Fall 2016)

Appalachian Trail, 13.7 miles

Woke up this morning before my alarm, and as I was getting my stuff ready, I realized that I never called my credit card company to tell them I was traveling. The last time that happened, they shut down my card because they noticed I had gasoline charges in multiple states and apparently that looked sketchy. Since Jay and the kids use the same card for family purchases (like groceries), I figured I better put a call in to the bank so that my fam wouldn't be caught unawares without a working credit card for the next 8 days.

Michael (one of the owners of the hostel, who was scheduled to shuttle me to Partnership Shelter this morning at 6am) waited patiently while I used his land line to call US Bank. There is absolutely no cell service anywhere around the hostel for literally miles, so I had to use his phone to make the call. As soon as I finished, I was eager to head out. It was still so dark outside that I needed my headlamp to load my pack into Michael's truck. The clock on the dash said 6:13am.

It was almost a two-hour drive. Michael dropped me off at the parking lot between Partnership Shelter and Mt. Rogers Visitor Center, and then... I was all alone. There was no one at the visitor center yet, and no other hikers around, and it felt a little surreal. I became keenly aware that I was more than 90 miles from my vehicle, and more than 550 miles from my home. Not only will this be my longest solo hike to date, it's the first time I've hiked totally alone since 2005. I'm not afraid, exactly, but I'm definitely more aware of risk than I used to be.

The first couple hours of hiking were brutal. They always are. I felt painfully out of condition, inadequate, greenhornish. Like I had no business being out here. At all. But this is just part of the experience. I knew the feeling was temporary, so onward I went.

At one point I dropped one of my trekking poles and when I scooped it back up, I realized too late that my entire hand brushed a swath of three-leafed vegetation that looked suspiciously like poison ivy. Oh well. Too late to do anything about it now. I hope it doesn't turn into anything.

Overcast but pretty view from Glade Mountain
Today was the first time (at least in my recollection) that the AT crosses a railroad track. I mean like in a primitive way. I know it crosses train tracks in some spots alongside roads, but today I was surprised to see the trail go right up a grassy berm i the middle of nowhere, to a not-very-legit-looking rail crossing. But this is actually something cool about the AT: stuff can be primitive and sort of hodgepodge but no one complains or files a lawsuit. I walked right over that thing.

Way better than a map!
I am using an AT data book this time instead of a topographical map. In fact I didn't even bring a map this time. So far, I'm really glad of that decision. This data book is awesome. It has a simple topographical profile on it, and also a list of milestones and mileage marks. I love it. Plus I'm feeling all smug and clever because instead of bringing the whole book, I photocopied onto Tyvek paper only the pages I need. I don't know why it took me so long to dump my maps. (Haha, those sound like famous last words - I hope I don't live to regret them!)

Not my favorite scenery
The trail went under I-81 today, which was not very pleasant. I had to walk along some paved roads and then follow an underpass to cross the highway. It all seemed so stark and ugly after spending most of the day in the woods. And I felt kid of vulnerable, walking along the shoulder of the road while cars were flying by. I was glad to get back under the tree canopy when the trail went back into the wild.

I'm at my campsite now. I finished almost 14 miles. I thought about going a little further, but I'm pretty wiped out and I'm glad I'm done for the day. It took me a while to set up my hammock. This is my first long-distance trip without a tent, and I still have to get used to setting up my hammock and rainfly. I hope I get better and faster at it.

There's no one here at the campsite but me. I saw only about 10 other hikers today, despite the fact that it's the start of Labor Day Weekend. I really thought it would be much busier out here.

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