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May 15, 1983 Sunday From Gonzo!s Appalachian Trail journal

2138 miles to go!

Although the distance is just a fraction of what was to come, in order to hike the Appalachian Trail from South to North, one must hike 8.7 miles to the trailhead in order to begin the arduous 2100 plus miles along the longest continuously marked footpath in the world. But, since the trail begins on the top of Springer Mountain that is exactly what must be done. Springer Mountain, Georgia is where the trail begins, and Jim and I had been driven to Georgia by my brother Carl and his wife Cheryl, so that we could attempt to hike every last one of those miles, through fourteen states, to the Northern Terminus in Maine - Mount Katahdin. They took the time to begin the approach trail to the trailhead with me and my hiking partner Jim Triplett, my roommate from college. Although Carl and Cheryl did not hike the entire eight miles to the summit of Springer Mountain with us, they did hike to the head of Amicalola Falls located in the state park where the approach trail begins. Eating a fresh banana, almost the last of just about any fresh fruit that we would have for some time, we said our goodbyes while placing a couple more bananas into our packs for later. Determined to beat the odds, we headed for the beginning of our trail adventure. I had been in this spot before. I was somewhat aware of what I was getting into, but I don't think that Jim realized what was in store for him. He was like me two years ago when I attempted my first thru hike - my first ever backpacking trip. He was perhaps lucky in that he had a "seasoned" veteran along. But then again, that may have put him at a disadvantage because I was ready to get up and go.

Both Jim and I bought heavy duty Vasque hiking boots in Carbondale several months earlier; however, I had tried my boots out on a training hike that followed part of the route as the "Hike across America" trail used a few years earlier by a hiking group. Starting at the site of the Grand Tower Ferry, I had hiked only two days and made my way to Giant City State Park before calling it quits for the remainder of spring break due to an extremely sore Achilles tendon brought about by the stiffness of the new boots. With less than two months to go before actually setting out on the Appalachian Trail, I was beginning to wonder if I would even get to go since the injury plagued me for a few weeks afterwards.

I took the boots to the local cobbler who allowed me to use his bunion stretcher to expand critical areas in the heal area of the boots. I gave him the boots and had the ¾ length steal shank in the soles of the boots removed for a little bit more flexibility. They were really mountaineering boots, not hiking boots.

Having done all this, I chose to begin my hike with my old boots, the ones I used on my first trip, with the theory that I knew where blisters would form based on past experience. So, I was ready. I applied moleskin this morning over the spots where previous blisters had long since vanished and set out with confidence - and instead of my new boots, a pair of boots that were already broken in with 700 miles behind them from the previous trip. I felt great; I knew I could make it! Jim, on the other hand, had not broken his boots in, with the exception of wearing them around the campus. He did not take my advice from the beginning about putting moleskin on his feet to help prevent blisters from forming. By the time we arrived on Frosty Mountain he had his boots off and begun the daily ritual of applying the material around his already forming blisters. Moleskin is a felt-like material with an adhesive on one side that is applied to areas where rubbing is occurring, or around an area where a blister has already formed to help protect the area from further rubbing. Few hikers begin the trip without any blisters at all, so I felt lucky. I had bought those boots three years earlier in 1980 for ninety-nine dollars. (see receipt)

We only met a couple of other hikers on our way to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, and signed the register that was enclosed in a traditional mailbox nailed to a large oak tree on the summit. I dedicated my entry to Dave Giger, my best friend from high school, and gave a long, extremely loud war cry proclaiming that "Gonzo!" was back on the trail. Gonzo! became my trail name two years ago when I decided the spirit of the word suited the expedition. The name came about as a result of an expedition that Dave and I made to Chester, Illinois to locate fossilized ripple marks along the banks of the Mississippi River. Dave climbed above me on the bluff to look, while I searched below. While looking for the fossils, a bunch of prickly pear cactus came flying out of nowhere as I heard a loud "Gonzo!" being yelled from the adjacent cliff. In that spirit I chose "Gonzo!" as my trail name - going for it…. No holds barred! Whether self named or coined by someone else as a result of something typical about the hiker, everyone usually ends up with a trail name for use in the trail registers located at the shelters. Jim became known as the "Orange Crush" due to his bright orange t-shirt advertising Orange Crush soda. Together we chose to be called the "Biumvirate Pedestrian League" or BPL for short. (Original scribbling showing definition of the BPL, and some aspects needing to be hashed out between the two members)

On the summit of Springer Mountain, we met Rich Newday, another prospective thru hiker (one who hikes the trail in one season) and my head expanded since he was impressed with my knowledge of the trail. All the knowledge gained by having been on this first section once before. We expected to find Rich at Cross Trails Shelter, our first nights lodging just over a mile past the summit, but I guess he decided to hike a little farther. However, the shelter was not empty when we arrived. We met Tommy Tillman, and his girlfriend Kathy Parr, who were out for a short hike. Tom wet our appetites to reach the end of the trail by telling us about some of the good things that we would find in Maine if we made it that far, but was soon off to get his Volkswagen and drive to a spot close enough for Kathy to walk to and be picked up. He said he had hiked the whole trail in the 1970's. I guess she did not enjoy hiking as much as Tom did. We had a great conversation with Kathy while Tom went for the car. It was then that I learned that there was a way to come within two miles of the summit of Springer by car, thus cutting the eight miles of the approach trail down to two. I don't think you would want to take a nice car on that road, however.

The temperature at about 2:15 pm when we reached the shelter after traveling a mere 1.2 miles of the official Appalachian Trail was between 56 to 60 degrees, and I had to wear my sweat pants to keep myself comfortable. Traveling the 10 miles from Amicalola Falls headquarters to Cross Trails lean-to had taken us five hours, approximately two miles per hour. Not bad for our first day. We took a few pictures and then sat around and listened to rock and roll music coming out of Jim's miniature radio. Boy are we roughing it now! I spent the night comfy in my Northface Cat's Meow mummy style sleeping bag with the knowledge that it was supposedly comfortable down to 20 degrees. I purchased the bag from Shawnee Trails outfitters in Carbondale Ilinois in february of 1981 for my first journey along the trail. The blue nylon with synthetic fill cost me ninety-eight dollars at the time. (see receipt)

(For those curious about gear and weights, I recorded most of the equipment I started with on the front inside cover of my journal notebook as well as the weights o those things that weighed the most. I don't think I had a scale to measure the smaller thing that were only a few ounces. I also don't think that the weight of the rainjacket was .14, but maybe 1.4. I don't know how I weighed these items, and I assume that the decimal number is in 1/10th pounds)

Gonzo! Appalachian Trail Journals ©1983
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