Nina Baxley: Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker
December 20, 2000
Amicalola Falls State Park, Georgia
Miles Hiked: 2,167.1
Miles Remaining: About 700 miles back to Louisiana (by CAR!!)
At 5:15 this morning, I heard Not Yet stirring next to me at Gooch Gap Shelter. I knew it was time. Today was the day we would summit Springer Mountain. Today we would complete our thru-hikes.
The night before, as I lay in my sleeping bag, I was a little sad. Although the past month had brought rain, snow, sleet, hail, thunder, lightning (yes, lightning!), and bitter cold, I was going to miss the AT. Cold or not (it was 18 degrees), it was my last night in a shelter. I missed my trail life already.
5:25 a.m. It was time to get up and get moving. Not Yet looked at me and grinned. "We're gonna make it!" she said softly, and I grinned back. We were going to make itnothing could stop us now!
But it was slow going from the start. It was so cold that it took tremendous motivation for me to emerge from my sleeping bag and prepare to hike. I checked the thermometer on my pack: It was a frigid three degrees below zero in the shelter.
Not Yet and I packed as fast as we could, but it took a long time because we kept stopping to put our hands on our stomachs to thaw our fingers, which were painfully numb with cold.
One of the most unpleasant sensations a thru-hiker experiences has got to be that of putting cold feet into frozen boots. I'd tried several methods of preventing my boots from freezing at night, but nothing has seemed to work with the cold temps we've had lately. I spent several minutes working those boots on this morning; they were frozen solid, and it was like trying to put on boots that were three sizes too small.
Finally, after more than an hour, we were ready to go. The cold nearly had me in tears; I had the familiar sense of nausea that I always get when the temps drop below 20.
We first hiked 0.1 mile to Not Yet's car. Her fiance, Macon Tracks, would drive it up USFS 42 and hike the final mile with us to the summit.
The two had planned to thru-hike the AT together; however, Macon Tracks started having foot problems in Tennessee/North Carolina. Although he had to quit hiking then, he's remained a big part of Not Yet's hike by slackpacking her the rest of the way. I joined them a week ago at Nantahala Outdoor Center, primarily so I could be with other people in the cold weather. But I must admit that I welcomed the chance to hike with a light pack for a week!
We stashed our excess gear in the car and started hiking. I was miserable with cold, but I was also excited about reaching Springer, which was about 16 miles away. Not only would Springer signify the end of my thru-hike and the reaching of a major goal, but it meant that I would be sleeping INSIDE that night. . .and the next night. . .and the next night. . . .
"Thru-hiking." I first learned of this phenomenon in 1990. A biology minor at Mary Baldwin College (Go, Squirrels!), I was on an ecology class field trip to North Carolina's Outer Banks. On that trip, I met Tina Seay, a new student who had recently taken a six-month honeymoon with her husband Greg. No, they hadn't gone to Europe, Nepal, or some other far-away place. They had thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail—a trail that Tina fondly referred to as the "AT," as if it were a nickname for an old, treasured friend. Not only was I impressed by Tina, but I was inspired, too—this sounded like the adventure of a lifetime! Thus, in 1990, my own dream of thru-hiking the AT was born.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication