Kayla “Popeye” McCarthy continues her story…the day has finally arrived.
Finally the day we had been waiting for arrived- on March 25, 2014 we got in our rental car with only the things we would carry on our backs for the next six months and headed for Georgia. I can remember the feeling of excitement mixed with the nervousness. And I had an approximately 14 hour car ride to feel said feelings but all I wanted to do was get out in the woods and get a taste of what life was going to be like for the next six months.
On March 26 we had shuttle driver, Ron Brown, take us to the parking lot one mile from the summit of Springer Mountain. We left our packs in the parking lot and hiked up Springer. It felt surreal to finally be on the trail and seeing my first white blazes. We got to the top and met some other hikers. Of course everyone wants to know who else is a thru hiker. It felt a bit strange to say I was going to hike the next 2,185.3 miles when I hadn’t even hiked with my pack yet! But we answered, yes we are thru hikers.
The first few days on the trail there was a lot of learning to be done. Everything- filtering water, using our stove, setting up camp, packing up in the morning, going to the bathroom outside- was all foreign to us. But when you have no choice but to learn, you learn quickly! We fell into a routine fairly quickly and worked well as a team (usually!). Being on the trail felt very natural to me and I was glad to find in the first few days I had not a single thought of wanting to go home or wishing I was somewhere else.
Out on the trail, you learn to listen to your body. You can feel when you start running low on energy and need to eat something. Even though we didn’t love eating all the processed food, I loved feeling like I was actually eating to fuel myself. In today’s world, we’ve gotten so used to eating because we’re bored or because we just feel like eating. It was a nice feeling to know what I was putting into my body was actually being used as energy to get me from point A to point B.
You also learn to listen to your body when it tells you it needs a break. There are days you feel really strong and days when you feel like you can’t hike another step. There was a day in Connecticut when I just felt completely depleted of energy. I was dizzy and just plain exhausted. We only hiked about 4 miles that day and ended up calling a hostel to come get us. We spent the rest of the day relaxing and had a couple good meals and the next day I felt 100% better. It’s amazing how much recovery can happen overnight and after some good food when you listen to what your body is telling you!
One of my favorite aspects of the trail was being outdoors all the time. Drinking water from springs and streams, sleeping outside, seeing the stars every night, sleeping and waking with the sun, and all the fresh air. These are things that I wasn’t used to at all before the trail but they became the new norm and are some of the things I miss the most about the trail. From all the books I read, I had a pretty good feeling that I was going to like being on the trail but I never could have anticipated how quickly I would fall in love with it.