The journey before the journey.
Landed in Atlanta at 8pm, about half an hour late. Cleared border control without issues and picked up my hold bag at 9. Had to get a bus shuttle to the domestic terminal as the international terminal has no link to my hotel. The drive took about 15 minutes and then I took the free elevated shuttle that goes to the car rental Center one stop where my hotel is right next to.
Getting to my room at 9.45pm was a relief. A long day (it was nearly 3am London time) was over but more importantly I Had Made It. I was in place to start the trail – ok, there was another day of travelling and general organisation still to go but that was all local and nothing could actually stop me now. 18 months of planning and training was now definitely going to come to fruition and I savoured that feeling for a while before bed.
I slept immediately and well, getting 8 hours in and waking about around 7am, avoiding any jet lag by being in synch with local time right away. The hotel had superb buffet breakfast with fresh scrambled eggs, waffles and all the usual stuff. I had a coffee, OJ, granola with fresh fruit and a small bowl of eggs while watching NFL Network. A great start to the trip!
I then spent more than 2 hours repacking all my stuff into their final bags and into the backpack. I had left some things (meds, food) in their original packaging to save any confusion with customs. When it was all finally squeezed into the pack and tried on it was a bit of a surprise how heavy it felt. I had practised at home with the correct weight but for some reason – I suspected food – it now felt heavier. I reasoned that most people would be carrying more than me and I would get used to it soon enough.
I left a note to the cleaners apologising for all my trash and checked out on the dot of noon. I took the airport train back to South terminal and quickly located the Marta train station. When you ask for a single ticket they add a dollar to the $2.50 fare for providing you with a mandatory touch card, like London’s Oyster. Since I tossed it at my destination it wasn’t as Eco a solution as the designers intended.
After a pleasant 35 minutes or so travelling 17 stops through the centre of Atlanta I got out a stop earlier than my shuttle pickup required, at Sandy Springs. The reason was that the outdoor shop REI was nearby, I had 4 hours to kill until my 5.45 pickup and I needed some fuel anyway. I browsed REI for a while, interested to see in person many products not stocked in London. Anyone could gear up for an entire thru-hike in there in a few hours.
Still with 3 hours to spare and with the weather a balmy 80 degrees I noticed a cinema a few minutes away from REI so strolled over to see what was playing. So unexpectedly I spent the afternoon sucking down a hazelnut frappucino while watching new teen flick Divergent. Not a bad first day.
After the movie i walked the 1.3 miles to the North Springs Marta station to be picked up by the Hiker Hostel shuttle but not before a slight 0.1m detour to get a Chick-Fil-A sandwich. One of my (many) favourite things about the South. As I munched it down I realised it would be 25 years since my first – exact same – Chick-Fil-A sandwich in about 2 weeks time. I first had one in Florida when I was 18. Sheesh.
Anyway. I walked to North Springs and immediately saw 3 other obviously-hikers already waiting, Cheryl from Buffalo, Noah up from Florida and Don, a Canadian who has lived in the UK for 25 years. Blake from Arkansas would soon join us and we all chatted away while waiting, and then in the van to the hostel.
Noah introduced several new concepts to me on the drive to the hostel including the benefits of holy basil and soul dollars (in which our hiking labour would be paid).
We reached the hostel just after 7.30 where we were quickly left to our own devices. Several other hikers were already sprawled around the hostel basement, some had arrived earlier and some were based at the hostel for several days tackling the AT by ‘slackpacking’ which means they get driven to a start point each morning near the trail, hike all day and then get picked up and driven back to the hostel. It means you only have to carry a light day pack.
Our original group of 5 stuck together though and ordered pizza since everyone else had already eaten, then hung out upstairs until curfew at 10.30. Lovely people to spend a first evening with.
Breakfast is at 7.30am and we will leave at 8.30. Blake is going down to hike the 8.8m Approach Trail and Cheryl is staying an extra day to get organised and consolidate her pack much like I had to this morning. But Don and Noah should start with me tomorrow morning.
It’s 11.30 now so time for bed.
Tomorrow is the big day. Bring it on!
[Updated with some extra pics at 5am since apparently jet lag did get me or it's just child-like excitement but either way I have an extra couple hours!]