The last 300 miles
Amicalola Falls, GA to Hot Springs, TN on the Appalachian Trail
After sailing Avemar 4998 miles last year and then spending the winter onboard in Stuart, FL, while checking off many boat maintenance projects, in early March, I sailed Avemar to an inland marina on a canal near Lake Okeechobee.
Then, April drove me to the mountains of north Georgia–in a Tesla. (Choosing that particular type of rental car to go to the mountains could be a separate story!)
For years I’ve talked about backpacking the entire Appalachian Trail. For most of my first two decades here, I played, fished, and hiked along the AT in southwestern Virginia.
My grandparents lived next to the trail. My dad grew up there and hiked the trail.
I still share a property with my family along Whitetop Laurel Creek that runs down the Appalachians along a “blue blaze” in Taylors Valley, VA, just below the white-blazed trail.
My niece, a regular at backpacking, decided to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail and asked if I’d start the trek with her this year. I couldn’t say no.
Work was running smoothly. Avemar was safely inland, away from coastal Florida's early Summer storms.
I committed to hiking for three weeks from the Approach Trail at Amicalola Falls State Park, and we hiked together for 25 days until I was called back to the real world.
“Sparky,” on the trail, and I (“Uncle Bill”) walked under the arch and started up the Amicalola Falls stairs for the 8.8-mile approach trail hike to the first white blaze around noon on March 13, 2023.
For the next 25 days, we hiked nearly 300 “official” Appalachian Trail miles, and many more than that if you count the approach trail, blue-blazed trails, random vista trails and other side trails, and all of the walking to and from town to resupply, and other miscellaneous “nero day” adventures.
Day 26, the day I left, was to be our first “zero."
We met three young hikers, a chemist (“Tech”), a cross-country bicyclist/biologist/farmer (“Magpie”), and a philosopher (“Cyclo”), on the third day of the trip and quickly formed a tight “tramily.” That’s AT-speak for excellent hiking partners and the company you’ll likely keep for 2000 more miles up the trail to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
The five of us hit it off. We would walk sixteen-plus mile days or strategically plan sub-eight-mile days to arrive in the next town early to wash clothes, resupply, take showers, eat a good meal, and sleep well before hitting the trail late in the day to find a campsite or shelter and to avoid “a zero.”
Our group generally hiked at about the same pace or at least started and ended the days in the same camp. On most days, I’d arrive at the campsite or shelter after they had claimed most of the deck in a shelter or picked a spot and pitched their tents. They always saved a good place for me.
We were quickly named “The Moonshiners” because we decided that at the Georgia / North Carolina line, we should do a shot of moonshine together at the state line. We shared shots of whiskey as we crossed into Tennessee and discussed bourbon for Virginia, vodka for Maryland, etc.
Hiking was amazing. Other than icy cold fingers, I felt very healthy.
The Appalachian Trail is amazing! The vistas. The people. The other hikers. The food. The laughter. The camps. The shelters. The towns. The trees. The flowers. The scenery. The stories. The weather.
Well, overall, the weather was pretty good for north Georgia and southern North Carolina in March, but on two nights, I remember temperatures falling below 30 degrees. One other night, my thermometer showed a low of 17 degrees, and then later, on the day we summited Clingman’s Dome, we were in 50-60 mph gusts when we walked up the spiral walkway and hiked along the top of ridges. We hiked in the rain for at least three days too.
Since Avemar, my home, was floating and not secured on the hard for hurricane season because of a screwup at the marina two days before I left, I had already planned to return to Florida to pull her out of the water for the summer.
I had planned on heading quickly back to the trail to continue hiking.
As things in life often seem to pop up simultaneously, my work called as I arrived at the Hot Springs, NC, hostel. I needed to head off the trail for two reasons now.
The next day, I grabbed a shuttle to Asheville, NC, and headed for a flight to West Palm Beach, where April welcomed me back to Florida.
I immediately began thawing out two frostbitten fingers in the Florida heat.
Two days later, I was deep into work again, and Avemar was now on dry land with hurricane straps tying her to anchors deep in the ground.
Last Saturday, April and I drove to a local park and hiked in the heat, enjoying all the plants and wildlife before a quick mutual decision was made to turn around and head for safety.
The alligators were coming up from the swamp to use their trail for a tanning bed, which is fine, but that was blocking our path to the car!
We took many great photos, avoided alligators 3 feet from the trail, and had a good workout, adding six additional miles to the 2023 hiking logbook.
I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to complete an entire thru-hike this year. I will return a few times when I can and hike with my new AT tramily through Virginia and a few sections further up the trail.
Avemar has a decent to-do list waiting for me, too, with a new solar arch and two 420-watt solar panels waiting to be installed. The boat is secure, high, and dry, and I’ll use that opportunity to fix the prop shaft and replace the cutlass bearing. I’ll also give her a fresh coat of paint before putting her back in the water.
April and I decided that our next summer adventures would be on bicycles or a sailboat.
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