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March 1 2023, Springer to Hawk Mountain Shelter: Trail angel Susie Q from the Colorado Trail met me at the Walmart in Canton. She drove me through the windy Georgia roads and we arrived at the famous arch that was the start of the Approach Trail. It was notoriously known for its many steps and steep elevation gain, eventually meeting up with the AT in approximately 8 miles. Susie Q said she wouldn’t put me through that because it was what made most people quit.
We went inside the visitor center and the Ridgerunners gave me my official AT tag—number 614!! I was smiling with excitement as if I was starting my first thru-hike. In a way, I was. I was surprised by how nervous I felt. I heard stories that this trail would be a completely different beast. But even so, I knew that all that was required of me was willingness to walk and for my heart to be in it.
After getting my picture taken at the arch, Susie generously drove me up the mountain to Springer. She walked a mile with me to the official southern terminus plaque. We met a couple of thru-hikers along the way and two people who were celebrating their 10 year thru-hike anniversary. We walked back to the car and she gave me some hot pads, bug spray, a hug and sent me on my way as if I was leaving for my first day of school.
About a mile in, I met a couple of hikers named Cole and Larry Boy. We took a quick break at a shelter and had some snacks. Cole and I continued our walk together and vibed in conversation about God, manifesting and life lessons we grew from. He had the same understanding that the world was not real and that it was impossible to be a victim for everything was coming out of your own mind. I loved how natural it felt to make connections on trail and to talk about topics that normally one wouldn’t share so soon in an encounter.
During our walk, we met a guy finishing up his SOBO thru-hike named The Mayor who was so happy to see us new thru-hikers. He asked if he could give us a piece of advice and said, “Celebrate the milestones. Don’t think to yourselves, ‘I got 13 states left’, instead think, ‘Woo-hoo!! I got 100 miles done!” He continued, “I’m so happy for you guys.” I laughed, “But you’re the one FINISHING up your hike! That’s super badass!” He goes, “Yeah, I’m happy for me, too, but I’m still learning how to feel proud of myself. But I’m really proud of you guys. I’m excited for everything you’re about to experience. All the trail magic and the community. Enjoy every second.” Shortly after, we met a girl named Diesel who happily gave me her purple “ass pad” after I made a comment about how awesome the color was.
We made it to Hawk Mountain Shelter and made some new friends, Cuss Mustard and Pink. Pink had dark brown hair accented with bleached blonde streaks, still growing out from last year’s Trail Days. He also had a thick fluffy beard that he let me stroke. He took a hit of his joint and said, “We’re all just in a single file festival line walking from Georgia to Maine.”
We set up our mats and sleeping bags shoulder to shoulder in the shelter. Someone above us on the second floor played the harmonica. The remainder of hikers had tents set up outside—probably around 20. I felt some culture shock. I quickly saw how different it was compared to all my past hikes. I was used to stealth camping alone with an overlook of mountains or a lake.
We hung out inside the shelter as Colby lit some sage and I did some block therapy. Pink talked about how much he loved yellow-blazing—which from what I gathered meant road-walking and hitching rides in between trail. He goes, “You always get good experiences getting rides from strangers. The thing is they WANT to pick you up. They take you to their house and feed you quality food. Then, they let you do laundry and you know they have that FANCY laundry detergent. You come back to trail smelling like a day hiker!” I don’t remember the last time I heard myself laugh out loud. What a gift.
As an end of the night hoorah, Pink sang us some funny trail songs and gave us a laser light show on the backdrop of the forest. We stared at the green-lit trees in awe and, once in a while, Pink would make some beats to the flickering lights as though we were in a rave.