I was not Joedirt on Springer. I introduced myself with my birth name Joseph Hey to the handful of people I meet at Springer. We all had high ambitions for our journeys, mine where higher than most, and some’s were foolish.
One student from the University of Miami had never backpacked before, and hoped to make it to New York by August or the whole trek. His pack was large; filed with lamps, solar panels, a trauma-sized first aid kits, and only a small stuff sack of food weighing at most three pounds.
A woman who was a year older than I was hiking the trail to prove her “Migraines did not control her.” She had about the same outdoor experience as me, excluding 10+ mile days, but four consecutive nights in the woods.
Then there was Hardball, a recent high school grad and Friday night hero. He was confident, fit, and as far as I could tell resourced. Once Hardball caught wind that I planned to average 25 mile days on my way to Katahdin, I was doomed to be his partner.
“Hey are you the guy going to do 25?” He said to me, from behind as I resupplied water at Stover Creek Shelter.
“I’m gonna try.”
“Do you think it’s possible?”
“To average yeah, I talked to this one man in his 60’s who said he was getting 30+ miles through VA, and PA.” (This was several years ago at Wayah Bald)
“Cool sounds like me and you are going to be doing the same distances.”
Even though, I didn’t want him around Hardball became my first trail group. For the day.
Like most in those early trail days, Hardball was fascinated by my pack, and the solid machete I had strapped to it. I was half assing ultra-lit. The pack that day weighed nearly 30 pounds, including all my food and the dumb weight of my machete. This was the lightest pack around besides for Geronimo’s who would not get on trial till the next day, and I would not meet till day three.
“You plan on fighting off bears with that?” Hardball asked as we hiked with smooth steps before Hightower Gap.
“I’m mostly just carrying this out of tribute for Machete Mitch.”
“Who is that?”
“A thru-hiker and Iraq war vet I meet near the NOC a few years ago.” I then was forced to tell the story. (May tell it here another time.)
Besides the vista of Springer, no site really stood out and is worth discussing from this first day of hiking. The trail was closed up and green, the snow that had hit north GA the weekend before had melted and brought out the vivid green. This green was overwhelming almost as if I was wearing green tinted shades. You could smell and taste the humidity which was pleasant since the tempter was only in the low 70’s.
However I did sweet that first day. I had pushed myself hard up the approach trail reaching Springer’s summit in 2hr and 56min. By High Tower Gap, I had hiked 16 miles and it was around 3 o’clock, and my legs felt fatigued.
The sweet made my cotton Columbia cling to me. Looking back I don’t see how I thought wearing cotton was a good idea. Hardball teased me as all athletes do, in a friendly way, it was meant to be supportive and lighten the mood. However once we started to descend Sassafras Mountain all of Hardball’s humor was lost. That’s when the cramps started, and both of us realized we had made a mistake. We had forgotten to pack Electrolytes!
I had a half a tub of BCAA’s leftover from my gym times but no Gatorade.
Quickly we found that going uphill was a relief from the pain of going down; when the flex of a hamstring would send the leg into a tight spasm. I had had full body cramps in my life, but these intense leg cramps worried me more. They scared Hardball. Both of us knew with each cramp our mussels were being torn, and I wasn’t sure if I could recover and continue at my wishful pace by the next day.
Climbing Justus Mountain:
“Where were we trying to get today?” Hardball asked.
“Gooch Mountain Shelter” I said while looking in my Awol, (the most popular AT guide for thru-hikers.)
“Ahhh, fuck, shit,” and ect. Hardball cursed; it soon became obnoxious.
We finished climbing Justus Mountain, and started the downhill. Hardball made a show of his pain, tripping with several of his cramps, cursing and shouting. This only made me want to hide my pain in a way to first encourage him, but eventually to spite him.
I know I did him wrong. In my anger and depression at the time I felt he deserved this. But it being a year since, I realize I should have encouraged him. My opinions have softened regarding some I meet on the trail.
There was trail magic at the bottom of Justus. Five gallons of drinking water no filtering required. I drank all the water I had, and refiled, then suggested we rest and let the water move back in the muscles.
Hardball continued to complain, and my patience was running thin.
“Man, I think we’ve fucked up.”
“Your just siking yourself out.”
He didn’t stop he continued and told trivia of how people had died on the trail. All I could think was that would be a way to go. People would either think of me as a dumbass or a badass. But we weren’t in any danger; all I was worried about was my pace. My pace was how I was going to find my self-worth.
After close to an hour of resting we continued. Hardball didn’t talk much. I felt he would drop out but didn’t believe it. I couldn’t imagine quitting just after one day of hell, especially with someone watching.
We lasted barely another mile, when I abandoned the idea to make it to Gooch Mountain Shelter. It was close to 7 o’clock. I threw my pack on the ground after crossing the creek at Justus Creek campsite. The camp was two long paths of cleared dirt, soft with no rocks, that ran along both sides of the creek. Nobody else was camped. Just me and Hardball.
First I set my tarp tent. Then it was time to eat. I squeezed out filtered water from my Sawyer Squeeze into my Jet Boil to boil it. I decided on eating an Idaho potato with a gravy packet thrown in. The packaging said 4 servings, and I thought about sharing it with Hardball but once it was cooked I realized I could handle the portion.
While eating, my legs had locked up and I needed to hang my bear bag. Hardball also needed to hang his, but he had already curled up to sleep. It was dark and crickets began to chirp. I grabbed Hardballs food bag and headed to find a tree.
Hiking up the hill was excruciating, hurting both my legs, and core as I looked to balance myself on loose under brush. After attempting a proper bear bag I settled on a limb that hung just over my head. Throughout the night I would pray for my foods safety.
When I crawled into my tent I chugged my water bottle of BCAA, they worked for gym work hopefully they would work for the trail. I prayed for this as well.
Hardball was cowboyed besides my tent. When I clicked off my head lamp he told me his plan.
“Joseph I’m getting off at Gooch Gap.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m committed man, I’m going to Katahdin. Tomorrow I’ll have to go slower but I’ll keep kicking myself along.”
He didn’t respond, but in a few minutes I heard tears. In an hour I heard snores. At eleven I threw a mouse out of my bed. I saw every hour that night. My senses were heightened and I worried about my food and the damage I felt in my muscles. I prayed for both; probably every hour. This is what my mind was on.
It was a good day.