I started my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail (AT) on April 15th at Springer Mountain, Georgia, and have now been gone for a month. I've hiked close to 300  miles and crossed from Georgia into North Carolina and criss-crossed Tennessee and North Carolina throughout the Great Smoky Mountains before leap-frogging from Hot Springs, NC, to Damascus, VA, to meet my partner Lynda and my two children for a brief visit.

I hiked most of those miles with a group of hikers I met while waiting for the shuttle ride from the Atlanta MARTA North Spring Station to Hiker Hostel, Dahlonega, GA.  It was a fun, diverse group, representing Germany, Maryland, Kansas, and Washington State; yet we all shared a common love for hiking and the outdoors.

Adam, a 10-year veteran of the  Bureau of Land Management "Hot Shot" forest fire fighting crew stationed in South Dakota, Alaska, and Nevada, was accustomed to carrying a 62 pound backpack with all his forest fire fighting gear and transporting a 90 pound water pump with the help of a crew member.  I was shocked to later learn from our co-hiker Rebekah that Adam unexpectedly left the trail after hiking for three weeks and flew back home to Kansas because, as he said, "hiking the AT was too much like work."  By that point, the group had disbanded, with the remaining hikers going at their separate pace. 

Jörg, one of the nicest persons you could hope to meet, was a German hiking machine and ultimately left me in the dust with his fast pace.  I struggled to catch up with him, but only did so after accepting a 6-mile ride from Garenflo Gap to Hot Springs, NC, to warm up my bones from the snow and freezing rain and to ease the pain in my knees.  

The first 273 miles were  accomplished in 22 days, which included three "zeros" where I simply rested (one at Fontana Dam and two at Gatlinburg). The relatively fast early pace and a wrenched knee from a fall on the very steep, muddy and slippery approach to Fontana Dam, led to my recurring knee problems. I am now forced to go at a slower pace.

Notwithstanding my knee problems, my greatest surprise and pleasure on the AT has been in discovering how friendly, good-natured, and helpful hikers and people in hiker towns are. I'm also amazed at how diverse the AT hiker community is. I've met people from all over the United States, plus  Canada,  Germany, Belgium, England, Crimea, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, to name a few.  And it's very interesting to learn about all the adventures and fabulous places these hikers have experienced.

In my next installment, I will discuss a divergence between some of my goals, proclaimed in my introductory article, and my actual experiences on the AT.

Robert Messick is hiking the AT to raise awareness + money for Talbot Interfaith Shelter. Read Robert's original MTP.NYC article here in which Robert announces his plans and discusses Talbot Interfaith Shelter.

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