The Lure of the Appalachian Trail

Our Summer Vacation – Day 13 continued

On our drive from Valdosta, Ga to Amicalola Falls State Park, my wife and I passed through Cordele, Ga.  Inside the Amicalola Falls State Park Visitor’s Center is a display honoring a man from Cordele, Gene Espy.

In 1951, at age 24, Mr. Espey became the second man to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.  The display contains the equipment he carried, much of it military surplus.

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At 50 pounds, Mr. Espy’s equipment is 20 pounds heavier than today’s hikers carry

Here is a list of the items he took.  None were high tech or ultralight or carbon fiber.

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In 2008, Gene Espy published an autobiography titled The Trail of My Life: The Gene Espy Story.  Earlier this year I purchased a copy of that book on-line.  When I opened it to begin reading, I was surprised to find Mr. Espy’s autograph and the inscription “Best Wishes and Good Hiking to Eric”.  It was dated Sept. 10, 2009.

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I also have the book written by the very first A.T. thru-hiker Earl V. Shaffer.  Mr. Shaffer completed his hike in 1948 after serving in the South Pacific during WW II.  His best friend had lost his life during fighting on Iwo Jima and Earl Shaffer’s goal was to “walk the Army out of my system”.  His book is titled Walking With Spring – The story that inspired thousands of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers.  

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In 1955,  Emma Gatewood, aka “Grandma Gatewood”, became the first female to thru-hike the A.T.  She was 67, wore Converse All-Star tennis shoes and carried a shower curtain for shelter.  Prior to her hike she told her family she was “going for a walk”. Grandma Gatewood ended up hiking the A.T. multiple times and also hiked the Oregon Trail.  She once said “I get faster as I get older.”

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Speaking of fast, on August 28, 2018, Karel Sabbe (age 28) set a new speed record for hiking the A.T.  Mr. Sabbe, a dentist from Ghent, Belgium, completed his hike in 41 days, 7 hours, 39 minutes.  That’s an average of over 52 miles a day.  The previous record was 45 days, 12 hours, 15 minutes, set by Joe McConaughy in 2017.  The average successful thru-hiker takes about 5 months to hike the 2191 miles thru 14 states from Springer Mountain, Ga. to Mt. Katahdin, Maine.

You can find the link to his story here:

https://www.runnersworld.com/news/a22865359/karel-sabbe-breaks-appalachian-trail-speed-record/

When Earl Shaffer, the very first thru-hiker, started his hike in 1948, he encountered a family having a picnic in the Georgia countryside.  Seeing Mr. Shaffer carrying his backpack, the husband asked “Howdy, where you headin’?”

“To Maine” replied Earl Shaffer, eliciting shock from the couple and their small son.

Finally the wife spoke up.

“Y’all mean to say you are walkin’ all the way to Maine, over the mountains, all by yourself, and carryin’ that thing?”

“Yes Ma’am” replied Earl.

The woman shook her head, chuckled, and said “I’m glad I got sense, Mister. I’m glad I got sense.”

Since Earl Shaffer’s hike in 1948, over 15,000 hikers have successfully thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.

Earl started his book with a verse he wrote

There’s a lone footpath along the crest                                                                                                     of the Appalachian Chain,                                                                                                                 On the cloud-high hills so richly blest                                                                                                      with sun and wind and rain.

Today’s hikers typically inspire themselves with a shorter, less romantic verse”

No rain, no pain, no Maine.

Unable to resist at least a short hike before leaving, my wife dropped me off at the top of beautiful Amicalola Falls.  As she drove back around to the bottom, I hiked a mile thru woods, over rocks, and along ridges back to the Visitor’s Center.

Then it was west, winding through the hills & hollers of north Georgia, to I-75.

One more night on the road and we were home.

We had learned a lot, made some great memories, and lost a friend during our journey.

After 8 different beds on a 14 night road trip, it was good to get back home.

Without bedbugs.

 

 

Finding Our Way Across Georgia

Our Summer Vacation – Day 12

After a good night’s sleep in Doc Holliday’s hometown, Valdosta, Ga., my wife and I were ready to cover some new ground on our way back to Missouri.

But first, breakfast!

The last time I stayed in Valdosta (1967), my $8 room did not include breakfast.  In 2018, our $125 room did.  It was a good breakfast, but not worth the extra $118.  Still, in 1967 I was earning $1.35 an hour, so $8 amounted to about a day’s pay in those days and I thought it was an outrageous sum to pay for a place to sleep.  On that 1967 trip I covered 3000 miles and spent a total of $32 on gasoline which I charged on my new Gulf credit card.  Gas prices averaged thirty cents a gallon in those days.

My wife and I had two goals for the day:

  1. Survive Atlanta traffic, which was not new ground for us; and
  2. Find our way to Georgia’s Amicalola Falls State Park, gateway to the Appalachian Trail, which was new ground for us.
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Driving in Atlanta is not for sissies

We entered Atlanta well before lunch.  My heart rate increased as traffic thickened.  Atlanta traffic is notoriously bad.  And it has been my experience that if you do not drive AT LEAST 20 mph OVER the speed limit you risk being run over at worst or receiving multiple one-finger salutes at best.  I try to stay with the flow – that’s usually 25-30 mph over the posted speed limit.  Occasionally, an Atlanta police car will suddenly appear out of nowhere, lights flashing, speed past our car, and make a traffic stop.  How they decide who to stop is a mystery to me.

As it turned out, Google maps directed us through the bowels of Atlanta with a minimum of hassle and spit us out heading northeast toward the Chattahoochie National Forest, home of Amicalola Falls.

As the skyline of Atlanta receded in the rearview mirror the nice lady on Google maps spoke up:

“Exit right.  Then turn left.”

We obeyed to the letter.  We exited Highway 19, turned left, crossed over Highway 19 and awaited further instructions.

“Make a U-turn.”

Huh?  I HATE it when she says that.  But I obeyed, recrossing Highway 19 heading the opposite direction.

“Turn left”.

That put us right back on the same Highway 19 she had requested we leave a few minutes earlier.  Guess she thought a curly que would be a nice addition to our route.   95% of the time Google Map instructions are perfect.  The other 5% of the time is why we still carry an Atlas in our car.

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Not having had lunch, we stopped in Dahlonega, Ga., located on the southern edge of the Chattahoochee National Forest.  After a quick stop at the Food Lion grocery store for bottled water & snacks and a stop at Bojangles Famous Chicken for a carry-out box of famous chicken & biscuits, we were ready to explore Amicalola Falls.  As we pulled out of the Bojangles parking lot, I suddenly heard a siren and saw lights flashing in the rearview mirror.

Rats!

I pulled over.  The police car sped past me toward some emergency elsewhere.

Whew.  I am never quite sure if a Missouri license plate brands us as Yankees or fellow southerners in Georgia.

The scenery was gorgeous as we neared & entered the State Park.  We paid a small entry fee and received a guide to the Park and a permit to hang on our rearview mirror.  Parking was scarce, but we finally found a spot near a picnic table.  We exited our car to claim that picnic table which was located in a beautiful, shady area near the Visitors Center.

The Visitor’s Center in Amicalola Falls State Park near where we had our picnic lunch is where all thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail check in & receive their permit before officially starting their 2191 mile hike to Maine.  Registration for approval to hike the A.T. is typically months before you plan to begin a thru-hike.

This was the same place where, three months earlier, my brother had hoisted his 30 lb pack onto his back, crossed under an archway, and started hiking the 8 1/2 mountainous miles one must traverse to even get to the 2191 mile Appalachian Trail.

More than a few hikers have called it quits before even reaching the official A.T.

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I love to hike and found that standing in front of this arch is like standing on hiker holy ground.

But this day, under a threatening sky, I hiked from our car to our picnic table. Instead of a 30 lb pack, I carried some cold drinks and a 12-piece box of Bojangles Famous chicken and biscuits.  It was great.  I understand how it got famous.

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My wife, Val, awaiting our picnic lunch

The trail could wait.

It was  time for lunch.