To clear my mind, I headed up to Amicalola Falls State Park. Even though Springer Mountain is the official start of the Appalachian Trail, for me, the AT begins behind the Visitor's Center at the arch marking the start of the Approach Trail. I'd hiked there countless times, but as I bounded along up the trail, I realized I'd never hiked here solo. Words are inadequate to describe to you the freedom I felt and the clarity I gained hiking at this special place. I was totally unencumbered, despite carrying my full pack (yippee!). I was soaring, despite the steepness of the trail (ha!). Even though this part of the park is normally busy, I was there so early that I was totally alone climbing up the Approach Trail from the visitor's center all along the stream and up the falls. It was absolutely magical, with ice formations along the falls, the smell of the winter air, the stillness. I was free to go my very own long-legged pace, and realized I usually don't allow myself to just fly.
|Empty trail, icy Amicalola Falls.|
And it was such a relief to just hike for the pure pleasure of it. Not to be in training mode, not to be thinking of my gear or technique or what I'd read about backpacking on a listserv or the internet, not to be scouting a hike. All my thoughts just fell away. I was just there, taking it all in, feeling the trail beneath my feet. I relished my freedom, skipping when I felt like it, twirling in happiness. It was a clear day, and there were plenty of winter views through the trees. I passed by familiar trees, and my favorite spot where all the pink lady slipper orchids bloom in the spring. I thought about them, lying there dormant, waiting for a different season.
I had planned on stopping for lunch at the Hike Inn, but when I arrived there, the place was teeming with people, and the warmth felt oppressive, so I escaped down the trail to eat by myself out under the sky on a cold log. Hiking along, mile after mile, hour after hour in solitude, I thought about the times I'd hiked this Approach Trail in early spring when it was crowded with thru hikers. How I'd cut short a backpacking trip then because I didn't enjoy having so many people around, and instead headed over to quieter mountain. I realized that it might suit me to delay my trip to avoid the bulk of the thru hikers.
It also was totally clear to me that I wasn't making the decision out of fear of change. I was choosing one path that brought me excitement and joy. I still feel committed to my long-distance hike, but I want to do it when the time feels right to me. And in the meantime, I will keep hiking.