We’ve all had those days that go to hell, and you’re sitting on your couch mulling in your own mistakes. This trip was that, but for five days straight in the Georgia wilderness. Two friends and I embarked on the Georgia Loop for our spring break trip. We had the maps, the trail explanations, and our hearty gear (hefty bear canisters included). I was just getting back into backpacking after years not on the trail, and this was the first trip I’d go on without the guiding hand of my dad (also the self-proclaimed Pack Mule). My friends were using this trip as an introduction to backpacking, so we were all decently naïve about certain aspects. But after the picture at the trail head, we were all smiles, not having any idea of what was ahead of us.
Georgia Loop Background
The trail begins at Woody Gap, a section of the Appalachian Trail, then moves onto the Duncan Ridge Trail, the Benton MacKaye Trail, and back to the Appalachian Trail. It’s around 55 miles in total and listed as “strenuous.” Being in decent shape at the start, I can still say that I was huffing and puffing, especially on the Duncan Ridge section. The Outcasts Hike Again said “The Georgia Loop Trail is the “toughest” trail in Georgia…it is also called the “toughest” trail this side of the Mississippi.” So, we were clearly in for a challenge.
Where am I?
All things were going well, until we hit a stream near dinner time. This is where mistake number one happened. To the left, there was a clearly defined path that seemed the obvious choice, but what we should have done was whip out the map and compass to justify our decision. We brazenly trudged forward until we noticed we were no longer passing the markers we had read about. If we turned around, there would be (embarrassed to say) hiking to our campsite in the dark. Down the path in front of us a bit, there was a road. We made our decision and plopped ourselves down on the road with our thumbs sticking in the air.
Lucky for us, a nice couple day hiking in the area took pity on us and threw our overpacked bags into the bed of their truck. They were surprised that we were making our way on the tough trail, and the man driving gave us his card to call in case we ran into another snaffoo. For all the scary stories my mom had told me in hopes I’d stay away from hitchhiking, this was the nicest interaction I could have had.
That night, we set up our tent too close to the trail. My friends were exhausted and done with the day which meant the steep uphill trek in front of us was not about to happen before bedtime. We nearly had room to sit between us and the trail. We were basically spooning the trail, and I don’t think it appreciated the unwarranted cuddles. It was a terrible choice, and we hoped to wake up before sunrise to make sure we spent as little time there as possible. We ate our Ramen as fast as we could and passed out.
Faints and Fire
The morning was breathtaking because of the gorgeous scenery, but also the intense ascents and descents. We took on a military-like determination and focused on each step. I no longer heard the crunch of feet behind myself. It was just me and the wilderness, and everything fell into the background; it was like one of those movie moments where everything is muted except the actor’s breathing and the intricacies of their face. But then I realized I wasn’t in a movie—there were supposed to be breathing and crunching behind me. I looked behind myself to find one of my friends passed out in the middle of the trail.
We ran toward her and started taking her vitals, giving her water, and handing her trail mix to scarf down (luckily she regained consciousness very quickly). As we tried to hitch a ride from the nearby road, a group of firemen pulled up and gave us weird looks. They seemed to unsure whether they should approach, but they eventually did. They more intensely checked out our friend’s health before explaining that we had to get out of this section of the forest immediately. The area was about to have a prescribed burn. So, I guess it was lucky she passed out and we ran into them or else we would have been chased out by flames.
Take two of hitchhiking, we got in the car and the man immediately broke the ice with stories of shrooms and “real-life” accounts of Sasquatch. The man was a gentle soul, though, and seemed to help out a lot of hikers in the area. He dropped us off at an easy entrance to the Benton MacKaye trail where we soon set up camp.
Why Everything Wrong Still Makes a Great Trip
Even though we shirked our duties as compass lovers, hitched a ride twice, and chose inopportune tent locations, there was an accomplishment at the end of the trip. We made it past those bad decisions and unfortunate situations. I was hesitant to write about this trip because I didn’t want everyone to find out that I was a complete mess (but also didn’t want to let my parents know about my hitchhiking escapades). But, moral of the story: LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES, PLEASE.
The trip was still amazing, fun, and well worth it. I’ve had quite a few more backpacking trips between then and now, and I’ve upped my skill set. Up next is a multi-month road trip to the U.S. National Parks and a March 2018 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. You have to learn at some point, and overcoming bumps in the road is key to building the confidence to let you do more rad trips in the future.