My Appalachian Trail Experience By Kendra Wade

Growing up as an outdoorsy tom-boy in the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina, hiking the Appalachian Trail has been a dream of mine for many years. Recently I took the first step to making that a reality. 

This past December, Taylor, Stephanie, and I signed up for a 3 day, 2 night AT section backpacking trip with Iron Braid Adventures. It was an exciting and slightly intimidating plan, but we had a lot of support from friends and family.  

Michele from Iron Braid gave us a list of items that we needed for our adventure, which was a little overwhelming... but she also gave us tips and tricks to make our experience better. We took a trip up to REI in Atlanta and got fitted for our backpacks, and slowly started gathering up our gear. 

Some of our other friends joined us in our relentless training on the Pine Mountain trails almost every weekend for the last 5 months. And Stephanie and I tried out our new tents one night at the Whiskey Still Campsite on the PMT. There were a few times when we doubted our abilities, especially when we first tried hiking for several miles with our weighted packs on. 

As the days got closer, our anxiety grew - we were super excited and nervous... The Pre-trip Meeting two weeks prior revealed that our packs were too heavy - they needed to be less than 25 pounds. Michele helped us lighten our loads by removing packaging. 

On May 31st, our adventure began... We loaded up my SUV and headed up to North Georgia. We parked the car at Woody Gap, and took a shuttle with the other women to the beginning of our trail section - Three Forks. 

The first day was a 4 mile hike to Hawk Mountain Shelter. It was a nice hike with a beautiful waterfall and a gradual incline to warm up and get our bodies accustomed to the altitude and the weight. Sharon, Rachel, and I took a little detour to check out an old cemetery and play on a teeter totter.  We got to the shelter with plenty of time to set up our tents, filter water at the nearby stream, and eat. Sleeping with the night noises was a little difficult though. 

June 1st - National Trails Day 
The next day was the hardest! 7.7 miles up and over Sassafras Mountain. That day tested our limits! Every muscle in my body was aching, including the joints in my legs. I learned that going uphill works your muscles, and going downhill strains your joints (I should have done more stair-stepping beforehand)... And trekking poles are a lifesaver! Another savior of the day was dipping our tired aching feet in a stream halfway through the hike... We made it to Gooch Mountain Shelter, filtered more water, ate, and crashed for the night. A couple of owls, hooting to each other, woke me up in the middle of the night. 

Our last day started a little rough... I had to take some Ibuprofen... The remainder of our trail section was about 5 miles, but it sure seemed like it was longer. However, it was beautiful! The views were spectacular and we got to see a black snake cross our path. 

We made it back to Woody Gap around lunch time and said our bittersweet goodbyes to our trail friends. On our way home we stopped by McDonald's - that was the best double cheeseburger I've had in awhile! 

The trip was amazing! It was beautiful... and hard... but even the points when my whole body hurt, I still loved it... I will definitely be doing more "AT section hikes", and hopefully one day find the time to do the thru-hike...  For us new backpackers, it was great to go with a group of strong and supportive ladies... And Michele was an great leader!  

~ Kendra Wade