March 2, 1998

Getting ready for the AT

Living in Kansas City and getting ready for the trail.

I'm not sure if I ever thought much about the Appalachian Trail before that fatefull fall day in 1996. I think someone I worked with did a working vacation on one of the AT trail crews once. And I'm not sure why I picked up this particular book, "Walking the Appalachian Trail" by Larry Luxenburg. It kind of had a cool cover. After 30 minutes of reading it in the bookstore, I had to have it.

Once I got home I learned all about the Appalachian Trail and those hardy souls called 'thruhikers' that carry a backpack the whole 2160-mile length in 6 months. I found what seemed like kindred spirits in these hikers. The seed of doing a thruhike was planted.

Also in the same week, on an episode of "TRAILSIDE" on PBS, the show had given several AT thruhikers cameras to make a video diary. I was captivated. By the end of the week I had decided to actually do a thruhike. I had no financial obligations hanging over me and I was single. My supervisor at work agreed to let me take a 6 month personal leave of absence to do this 'trip of a lifetime'. I mean, if I was going to do something like this, now was a great time.

After my initial research of planning a thruhike, I decided I didn't have enough time to prepare for a spring of 1997 departure, so I set my sites on 1998. Throughout the following months I poured over product information and camping catalogs, read everything I could find on hiking and the Appalachian Trail, examined every piece of gear at all the local outfitters, and immersed myself in the Appalachian Trail cyber-culture. I have to admit my best supporters came from hiker friends I met through the internet.

One of the best sources of AT thruhiking, especially if you don't live near the trail, is Trailplace.com by Dan "Wingfoot" Bruce, himself an 8-time thruhiker. Besides tons of information about planning a thruhike, I was able to join a daily email list in which I could ask questions, read comments, or met other AT hikers. It was through this list I met Pat "Give Me Chocolate" Villeneuve who happened to live in nearby Lawrence, KS. She became my biggest supporter and dispenser of sage advice about thruhiking.

I had originally planned on starting on March 1st, but because I wasn't finished packing and moving out of my apartment, I missed my flight. I finally arrived in Atlanta on Saturday, staying with Wayne and Peggy Johnson, relatives of mine I hadn't seen in decades. The plan was for me to meet up with a old friend I went to grade school and high school with, Jesse Medina, who also lived in Atlanta, and who was going to hike a few days with me.

So after a long goodbye to family and friends, we left the city late Sunday night for the 2 hour drive to Amicalola Falls. As my luck was going, we got lost and the weather got worse. We didn't arrive at the park until well after midnight. Not sure where to go, we settled in for the night inside the car.