My first hike on the AT felt like I stepped into a perfect postcard. October’s blue skies served as a backdrop as I plodded up a steep trail through gold and russet leaves. I was walking up my first rugged mountain: North Carolina’s Standing Indian (5,498 feet) with a group of six friends, and we told stories and sang songs along the way.
The path unreeled ahead, a dusty rut, wide enough for two of us to walk abreast. Grasses with dots of yellow, red, and purple wildflowers swiped against our knees. Fingers of buttery light reached into the trees, lighting the forest floor.
When the trail turned sharply, I’d reach out for a nearby tree trunk, and felt smooth places on the bark, created by countless other hands. At the top, the view made all the sweating and climbing worthwhile.
The AT met my expectations for beauty that day. I went on to hike along much of the Southern half of the AT: in North Georgia, North Carolina to the Smokies and beyond, and even in Virginia and Maryland.
The trail drew me back not too long ago to join the Konnarock Crew—one of the volunteer groups that rebuild portions of the AT every summer (appalachiantrail.org for more info). We camped along Virginia’s Mount Rogers, spied wild ponies, munched wild blueberries, and dug into some back-breaking labor (without a shower for a week!).
The biggest surprise along the AT is how populated it can be It’s more like a friendly pedestrian highway on weekends where hikers stop to greet, toeach other's , andto routeIn the eveningsthe and campgrounds fill with gabfests
No matter how beautiful and awe-inspiring the AT can be, at the end of the day, journeys here are all about story making and storytelling.
Have you hiked along the AT? Where are your favorite places? Mine feel more like mental snapshots I took along the way (both of these come from the Smokies):
–Crossing a rushing stream in winter where rhododendrons the size of school buses hugged the banks in thickets, their glossy leaves curled up tightly like cigars.
– Cool hillsides in summer’s midday with deer napping in the shade.
–A bear cub shimmying up a tree to hide (fun to see, but I knew momma bear had to be nearby too).