Springer Mountain, GA, Tuesday March 10, 2015 — It’s raining with liquid sunshine dominating the forecast for eight out of the next ten days. Yet on Springer, hope is not dampened. Hope is eternal.
This is the beginning of the great spring migration to Maine, that’s 14 states to the north of here. It’s five million steps, but what the hey!
On the first day everyone has a more or less equal shot, or so they think. It’s all about optimism and the anticipation of dreams long in the making.
For the next couple of days I’m spelling one of my colleagues who is the caretaker here. My job is to educate hikers on Leave No Trace, gather data and help the hikers.
On the first night I helped a woman who was setting up her ultralight tent for the first time outside of her living room floor. I asked how well she thought it would withstand high winds. The tremendous amount of slack in her rain fly and the obvious swayback in the middle was my prompt.
Later we learned how to hang food bags on the bear cables. Within that context, the opportunity was right, so we learned to throw a bear line and hang food without tying it off to a tree. That way a smart Yogi or Booboo wanna be can’t break the rope and score a meal. She survived the night intact.
Springer is a place of optimism and farewells. Fathers and mothers, grand parents, husbands, wives, even sisters and brothers trundle to the summit from US Forest Service road 42, just 9 tenths of a mile down the hill.
The nonhikers gaze deeply into their loved one’s eyes in search of doubt. You can catch them furtively glancing about for danger as they hug their dears and even blink back tears. Then they mug for photos, sometimes even asking the caretaker to be their shutterbug.
At the trailhead parking lot come the final hugs and tears. Then, with an adrenaline rush, the hikers are off on one of life’s great adventures while the loved ones return home to quietly worry and hope for success.
The hikers come by ones, twos and small clusters. It’s sometimes the first time they meet their fellow thru hikers. No matter where they’re from, their age or reason for hiking, they bond instantaneously in common cause.
Me. After introductions, bears are my first topic, followed by a bit on Leave No Trace.
I specifically mention “pack it in. Pack it out.” But I’ve learned to mention cigarette butts, cat holes and for the women, packing out their TP after taking a pee. I’ll mention pee rags, Diva Cups and Go Girls if appropriate. Believe me, most of them need to hear it. Charmin flowers are not appreciated.
My last mention is the large number of hikers on the trail. Crowding in shelters and at camp sites is to be expected.
Last I ask who participated in the voluntary registration program, the purpose of which is to help hikers self disperse. Almost everyone who’s heard about it registered. Only a small minority thinks it’s a bad idea.
At the end of the day I am humbled and reminded that a journey of 2,189 miles begins first with hope; and it’s launched with that first step on Springer Mountain.