Rusty Miller (trail name – Beaker) from Morgantown, West Virginia, began his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail on February 26th by conquering the approach trail of 8.5 miles. This is no small task due to the rigor of the ascent and the challenging terrain beginning at Amicalola Falls, Georgia. Beaker made it to the top of Springer Mountain, the actual southern terminus of the AT, on day one and camped with seven other excited hikers ready to dream of Maine and 2,200 miles ahead.
Let me give you a quick fast forward and share some of Beaker’s adventures during the first week of his pilgrimage. Day two, he hiked 7.2 miles with a philosophy of keeping his mileage low until his trail legs begin to strengthen. He took his time breaking camp in the morning and hit the trail around 10:00. Before the day was over Beaker experienced a common phenomenon on the AT – RAIN.
Day three – his journal begins, “Rain. Again. Lots of rain. Everything is damp.” Despite the moisture, Beaker managed to walk 13.2 miles and ended up at Woody Gap. The rain let up for most of the day but around 2:00 pm the rain arrived accompanied by several claps of thunder. Beaker shares, “I slogged on and finally arrived at Woody Gap in the pouring rain.
Wednesday, March 1 brought a new month to the trail but the rain continued. It had poured all night and Beaker woke up to rain in the morning. To add insult to his dampened spirits, his air mattress sprung a leak during the night. On the up side, the day’s adventure took him up and over his first 4,000 foot mountain: Blood Mountain (4457 ft). The summit displays some wonderful views, but not for Beaker, “Didn’t see ’em! At the top – nothing but clouds.” The climb up Blood Mountain was strenuous but the descent on the other side revealed a rather unnerving, slippery slope of bear rock, “the wet rocks were slick. I had a couple scary slips, but managed not to fall.” The day ended at Neel Gap and a nice warm cabin just before a downpour with thunder, lightning, high winds and pelting rain.
Thursday, March 2 started with glorious sunshine, although the temperature only reached into the 30’s, and ended at a campsite at Low Gap Shelter. When Beaker arrived he found a tent city involving about 30-40 backpackers. Temperatures dropped in the middle of the night and Beaker discovered that his hiking quilt wasn’t going to be adequate. He recorded, “Even wearing all my clothes, I was very cold. I lay there shivering all night.”
Friday, March 3. After a 9.8 mile hike Beaker opted for a restful and warm bed in a room at the Budget Inn in Hiawassee, GA. He called his wife and made arrangements for an express delivery of a sleeping bag to replace his quilt to be sent to the Top of Georgia hostel in Dick’s Creek Gap.
I love how Beaker describes himself: “As you can see, it’s just me in a kilt with a ponytail, bushy white beard, and a funny red hat, carrying a hiking staff.” (He forget to mention the mobster shades).
End of day five = 52.6 miles. More of Beaker’s story to come.