AND SO IT BEGINS…..
MY APPALACHIAN TRAIL LOVE AFFAIR….
“It just doesn’t get any better than this!” (My sister’s words upon reaching the summit of Blood Mountain.)
….and so began my love affair with the Appalachian Trail!
I’d never even heard of Dahlonega, Georgia until a little over a year and a half ago, when my youngest son decided his college of choice was North Georgia College and State University. We arrived in town on the afternoon of November 9th, 2010 so that he could attend an ROTC event that weekend. Since we had time to kill, we ended up at Amicalola Falls, which is where most Appalachian Trail adventures begin. The AT approach trail leads to the summit of Springer Mountain, a mere 8.5 miles from the gift shop where all thru-hikers are asked to check in. All I had to do was set foot on the start of that approach trail and the longing to walk from Georgia all the way to Maine took control of my heart and has become my obsession.
Our next trip to Dahlonega included plans to complete several day hikes, starting with the summit of Springer Mountain, where a meager plaque marks the southern terminus of the AT and the beginning of the almost 2200 miles journey for most. I turned my Toyota Highlander off the main road onto GA service road 28 and proceeded to make the harrowing ascent to the parking lot that marked the trailhead to Springer. After what seemed like hours, I finally put my car in park, grabbed my daypack and headed out, thrilled and filled with the anticipation of finally actually standing on the spot I’d only seen in videos or read about in books. It didn’t take long for me to realize just how out of shape I was, something I chose to blame on having lived in Florida where there aren’t even any hills, let alone steep ascents to mountain tops. Needless to say, I made it to the summit of Springer and the overwhelming sense of joy and accomplishment filled my heart. I felt a closeness with so many I’d never even met as I made my own small entry into the journal that was safely tucked away in that metal box. I felt like kindred spirits with those who had been there before me. I finally felt as if I was exactly where I was meant to be….like I’d finally come home.
It’s been said that time on the Appalachian Trail “changes you” and it “fixes you,” and I have to say that for me, no truer words have been spoken. That first 7 or 8 mile hike was all it took for me to know that one day I will walk the entire length of the AT. It’s hard to describe how it makes me feel to simply “be” out there on the trail. In order to prevent certain stumbling, I walked on with my eyes on the ground…but doing so opened up a whole new world for me as I discovered all kinds of new things: mushrooms in colors I never knew existed; bugs I’d never seen (and hope to never have on me); tiny flowering plants, animal tracks….the list goes on and on. Then there’s the smell of the woods. There’s something about that smell that takes me back in time. I love to take deep breaths of the crystal clean air…..it seems to fill my lungs with a new vigor and I find energy I never knew I had. Often times, I’d simply stand in the silence of the deep woods, listening to the wind rustling through the tops of trees so tall they seemed to touch the heavens. I can honestly say that my soul has never known such peace.
I can agree with what’s been said about how time on the AT “changes you” and “fixes you,” but I’d have to add one more attribute to that list. My time on the Appalachian Trail is what saves me. I’ve been through some extremely emotional times and whenever I feel that pain becoming more than I can bear, my spirit returns my heart to the AT….because when I’m there, my heart doesn’t hurt. All my troubles seem to fade away. The woods seem to wrap its arms around me and take me in, welcoming me back with total acceptance and no questions asked. It doesn’t matter if I can only walk a few steep steps before I have to stop and catch my breath. There’s no one out there to tell me I can’t. In fact, there’s always something waiting ahead of me to reward me for a job well done…for not quitting or giving up, even when my body feels like it’s at the edge of exhaustion and I am certain I can’t haul my rear end up one more rock. I can…and I do….and when I finally reach the top, no greater reward exists than the view!
To date, I’ve only been blessed to have hiked short sections of the AT, to include some of the approach trail, Springer Mountain and the Benton McKay Trail, and up to the summit of Blood Mountain (which was by far the most challenging thing I’ve ever done), but the passion to complete a thru-hike has overcome me and become my life’s goal. I may only be able to do so in sections, but my personal challenge has become to one day have my picture taken behind that sign posted on the summit of Katahdin. I’m often quoted as saying that one of these days, I’m simply going to disappear into those woods and emerge some 2100 miles later a changed woman. I can think of no better way to end my story that’s just beginning than to quote a piece of a song lyric: “I walk this walk for me.”
Lori Domingo, Trail name “Dreamer”
(the piece above is the article I submitted to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's publication, 'AT Journeys' for consideration for their 'As I See It" column.