My first morning on the trail found me at 2:30 a.m., wide awake and somewhat ready to tackle the day. I knew it was an insane hour, but my sleep schedule had been screwy for days, the first day’s hike had me knocked out pretty early, and I can rarely sleep for more than 6 hours.
I fiddled with my gear for hours, wishing I had left this or brought that. I went to find a restroom (read: closest tree not by another tent) and nearly got lost trying to get back because of the dense fog rolling in.
Despite the fog, eventually I just had to begin hiking. Shortly after 5 a.m. my tent was taken down, pack packed, and headlamp donned. I had hoped by this hour some pre-dawn light would begin breaking the fog, but it did not.
I was able to follow the trail easily enough, but my headlamp was only effective about five feet in front of me. I had camped the night before about a mile and a half from the top of Springer Mountain, where the register for thru-hikers was located, but it took nearly two hours to reach the summit, carefully navigating myself through the dark mist.
Signing the register was uneventful. There was one woman there whose family had hiked in with her for the photo op and to say goodbyes. I patiently waited for the register, decided it was too early for creativity, and simply signed my name.
Bolstered by the breaking sun and energized by having officially begun, I began to up my pace. I’m not sure if it was my newfound bravado now that I could see what was ahead or the pure dumb luck of the wet rock, but about two miles in I slipped, rolled my ankle, and fell to the ground.
The pain was excruciating, once I noticed it, but I was too busy with racing thoughts of ankle braces and doctors and failure. Would this be it, on the second day, just another hiker injured and headed home the first week?
I decided I was being dramatic… After all, I had determined months ago it would take two broken legs to send me home, and this was just an ankle. I slowly got up and cautiously put weight on it. Carefully hiking another few hundred yards, another hiker, “Wild Horse” came strolling along preceded by an excitable black dog, who she assured me was carring 12 pounds even with all his running around.
We both stopped in the first shelter, Stover Creek, and she chatted up the group of older gentlemen who were in the shelter eating breakfast while I sat down on a log and took a moment to evaluate my ankle. It was clearly swollen, but it seemed to stiffen more as I sat there.
So I began hiking. The more I hiked, the better it felt. I ended up continuing on for a total of 9.6 miles my second day. It was another early night, quickly cooking dinner, taking a look at my swollen ankle, and falling asleep.
I had learned a valuable lesson my first day actually “on” the AT: Every single step counts.
Author’s note: It has been days and 50+ miles, and my ankle is doing great.