Thanks for reading this. I've received many nice comments and heard from people who say they couldn't wait for Part 2. Here it is!
Part 1 ended with my wife, Diana, and I "conquering" one night at Enchanted Rock State Park. We survived an "invasion" by Boy Scouts from near Houston, and lugged our packs the entire, mind-bending one mile back to the Chevy Suburban. We then drove in glorious satisfaction back to Austin, now being able to check off the prep trip. For sure, now we were ready for "the show."
Said "show" would be a first segment of the Appalachian Trail. Fortunately, Diana has a first cousin who lived (still lives) in Atlanta, so they would be our "base camp." After a day or two there, the cousin's husband, Richard, drove us to Dahlonega, GA and then on to the visitors center at Amicalola Falls, which is a rather spectacular waterfall near the state park of the same name. It was not a national secret, but we didn't realize that the visitors center itself is nearly nine miles southwest of the actual start of the AT! Nevertheless, we did a quick tour of the very nice facility, made our final civilized potty break, and strutted around the flood of normal people with our brand new packs and outfits. Already we were legends in our own minds!
Finally, and excitedly, we crossed the street and actually saw the sign: Approach trail to the Appalachian Trail; Springer Mountain, 8.8 miles. We said goodbye to Richard, and our trek actually started after a brief photo opportunity. Up the little embankment we went. We were on our way!
After a pleasant hour or so of hiking, albeit it being mostly uphill, we passed by the first major "fork in the road," the side trail to the Len Foote Hike Inn, a place to spend the night, which is a real "foot-tel" (a quirky relation to a motel on foot) that's an actual hotel. We continued on, with the elevation ups and downs providing serious hiking. North Georgia is rugged terrain for sure.
After three hours or so, we came upon a gravel road, which I thought must be a forest service fire road with limited public access. Wrong! I had no idea at the time that the AT crosses many roads, major and minor, in its almost 2,190 mile traverse of the east coast. Since it was nearly lunch time, we decided to stop along the road, and were seated on some large rocks opening our stuff. It was a pleasant break in the walking, and we were surprised to hear a distant motor. Within a few minutes, a late model pick-up truck appeared and seemed to be going rather fast. Two young men were in the truck, and they looked at us and pointed as they passed. But almost immediately, the driver hit the brakes and the truck almost slid to a stop fifty or so yards beyond us. At that point, the two just sat there. For some reason, the vibe was not pleasant at all; it was more like the eerie sense when I first watched the Burt Reynolds film, Deliverance. The gut feeling was hard to explain, but very real. After a minute of staring at us, and not in a nice way, the truck reversed and started backing up toward us until they were only twenty or thirty yards away. I looked at Diana and told her we had to get out of there and fast. We literally crammed our stuff back into the packs and were starting to get up. Of course we could never have out-run anyone with the packs, but I just knew that we had to leave. The door to the pickup truck started to open, and one unsavory looking guy got out and started our way.
At that exact moment, and I mean the exact split second, the heavens opened up and the hardest rain I'd seen in a long time started falling straight down! It was hard even to see the truck, only a few yards away, and we started to run, or more accurately, to stumble back on the trail and into the woods again. I was so afraid, and I'm sure Diana was as well, that I only looked back every minute or so, petrified they were after us on the path. I'm not a religious person, but if I were, it would be sure to me that some sort of Divine intervention occurred at that exact spot to protect us. We walked/ran/stumbled as fast as we could until after 45 minutes we were totally spent and could not go on another foot. It was only then that I was sure that no one was tailing us, and we could start to relax. Of course, after that adrenaline rush, we both were completely wiped out and could hardly walk at all. I'll never know, and don't want want to find out, what their intentions were back at the road.
The trail, not yet the AT itself, was an unbroken series of ups and downs, and finally we passed a landmark at Nimblewell Gap. After that the trail kept wending upwards and became a steep slog as the day wore on. We didn't see a single solitary person, and hadn't so far, with the exception of the possible Deliverance gang. The top of the long upward segment turned out to be the fabled Springer Mountain, where we came upon a large brass (I think it was brass) plaque, announcing "The Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail" for all to see. Whee! We had made it, at least to the start.
We were aware that a shelter was near that point, and lo and behold, only a few hundred yards on from the plaque, a sign on the trail (the real AT at this point) announced a well-worn spur path leading to the Springer Mountain Shelter. Yeah! At this point we relaxed, although we still had not seen another hiker, and frankly were anxious to have some compatriot company. But alas, no one showed up so we laid out our sleeping bags on the ground floor (there was a loft as well, up some vertical wooden steps) and proceeded to fix some hot food of some sort. At eight-thirty or nine, we were super tired and relieved, and fell asleep to the sound of hundreds of little paw pitter-patters, from the very numerous mice population.
At about nine-thirty, I was awakened by voices. Oh no, did those guys come after us? Panicked, I woke Diana up and grabbed my Bowie knife, ready to go down fighting. But it quickly became clear the voices were from excited teenagers, who piled into the shelter along with their LDS leaders from a troop in Atlanta. Never was I so glad to see other human beings! The boys quickly prepared some food, and soon we all were packed in side-to-side both on the ground floor and in the loft. I've never slept so well!