On the Appalachian Trail, Just off GA Hwy. 52

By Linda Mosely

My amazing sisters and I made a pact as adults to get together on all the “big 0” birthdays.  My oldest sister chose a visit to New York City, complete with the bright neon lights, shows, luxury hotels, and fine dining.  A few years later I picked hiking the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail, complete with a deep black sky filled with twinkling stars, fleeting deer, filtered water from bubbling streams, trail mix and sleeping bags. Raised to be true to ourselves and celebrate our differences, we take pride in experiencing life from different perspectives.

Though my sisters were happy to embrace my itinerary, they did not hide their fear of running into a bear on the trail.  I informed them that only 25-27 people have died from encounters with bear in all of North America in the past 20 years. And none of them were in Georgia.  They were not impressed.

They showed up with bear bells to hang on their backpacks and an overpriced canister of bear repellent spray.  Being the more seasoned hiker, I brought the bear bag to hang our food in at night, and off we went dingaling down the trail.

For the first three days of hiking the only “animals” we saw were ants, spiders, and lizards and a single, apparently deaf chipmunk.   We didn’t see one possum, rabbit, raccoon, squirrel, deer or even a bird.  And every time we saw any brush disturbed they just knew it was a foraging bear.

As we sat around the campfire that third evening, I took a deep breath and in my sweetest sister voice ever told them I was going to hang them up by their toenails if they didn’t disable the bear bells.  I reminded them we came on the trail to see wildlife, not scare it away.

After a good night’s sleep, we started the hike from the Springer Mountain Access off of highway 52 between Ellijay and Dahlonega. We weren’t sure how many miles we would average a day, but our research suggested between 10 and 20. As a runner, I scoffed.  How could we only go 10 miles a day? 

We had seven days and six nights to complete the 78.2 miles of the Georgia section of the A.T. So, with fifty-pound packs and matching straw hats courtesy of our Dad, we headed off excited about the weight we would lose.

My older sister decided to leave her glasses at home. She would not need them to read and felt confident she could see the six-inch white trail markings.  And since I have “direxia”– dyslexia for directions–we left the navigating to our younger sister.

 A gorgeous day ushered us off on our easy level, downhill trail.  We had a blast catching up on life, solving the world’s problems and singing silly camp songs.   We took off our boots and wiggled our toes in the gurgling streams as we filtered our water for the next leg. We stopped to picnic and to look at flowers and colorful fungi  The highlight of our day was a long refreshing shower in Long Creek Falls. Before we knew it dark clouds were gathering.  No problem, our younger sister, cum astute navigator, assured us we were almost to the Hawk Mountain Shelter

 We walked rapidly toward the shelter.  Twenty long thunder filled minutes later we decided we must have missed the shelter and decided to set up camp before the rain hit.  Within five minutes the tent was up and we dove in just as it deluged.  We had a blast.  My sisters were convinced no bear would come out in the rain making us safe for the night.  In the safety of each other’s company, shared a lantern-lit dinner. After which my bear canister carrying younger sister ran through the rain to add our supper remnants to the bear bag we strung high across the tree branch.

The next morning we woke up early, packed our tent and started our day. Within twenty-five steps, we looked at each other and rolled over laughing.  The shelter was right around a slight bend in the trail, less than 100 yards away from where we had pitched the tent in the rain.  Only 70 miles to go!  So much for averaging 20 miles a day. 

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