By William Byrd
Copyright 2012 William Byrd
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It started in 2008, for our summer vacation, we were going to spend a few days visiting my in-laws in Tennessee, then drive across the Smoky Mountains and visit my parents in North Carolina for a few days. I suggested that we make a stop in Georgia rather than the long days drive home to Central Florida. I reserved a cottage at Amicalola State Park for a night. Now you may think it rather selfish that a backpacker with a non-hiking wife, would make her stay at the park where the AT Approach Trail starts, but it really was not. We could stop and see the Gold Museum and visit the historic gold mines in Dahlonega – my wife, Anna, loves gold. We could also see the “Highest Waterfall East of the Mississippi” - Anna loves waterfalls, as long as she does not have to walk more than a half mile to see them.
Well, as luck would have it, Anna fell in love with the park and asked that for summer vacation 2009, we get a cottage in the park for a week. I reserved a two room cottage because Anna had invited our daughter Jenn (the one that we used to hog-tie to get her to go camping) son-in-law, Troy and three granddaughters to stay with us for a few days. The in-laws (parents and brother with family) also reserve a cottage in the park – oh joyful day, company for my quiet time in the woods, we schedule visits to mines, tubing on the river, dinner out at restaurants and shopping, I convince my wife to work a half day for me to hike into the schedule. I manage to do the stairs along the falls and most of the trails, excepting the AT Approach, Hike Inn and fitness trails, and work up a sweat and a bit of a burn before lunch. When I return, I find out that Jenn and family have also gone hiking, but packed a lunch. Curious, is this the same Jenn that would only walk as far as the springs or showers when we made her go camping as a teen? Jenn and family return, having done all the trails that I did, plus the fitness trail and part of the AT Approach / Hike Inn Trails. She also tells me about the sign at the visitors center and asks if I knew that there was a 2000 mile long hiking trail called the Appalachian Trail and that it starts just 8.5 miles from here. Anna told Jenn that I had done some backpacking, and had a couple of HUGE backpacks but that everything that went in them had to be tiny and light-weight. Curiouser, Jenn began asking questions: How far do you hike in a day? Where do you sleep? We went to the visitors center and looked over the AT exhibits and I showed her the shelter in the park. After dinner, more questions: What do you eat? How much do you carry? What if it rains? What about bears? We talk a while, I offer to send her a few books about backpacking. While in Georgia, Anna, our two sons, Sean and Dylan, and I visited a few other State Parks and tentatively planned to spend our next vacation at Unicoi State Park where there is a beach on the lake. When we get home I send Jenn some books: Colin Fletcher's “The Complete Walker III” and Ray Jardine's “Beyond Backpacking” as general introductions to backpacking, and Bill Bryson's “A Walk in the Woods”, the only book about the AT that I have at home. I assume that this will probably be the end of Jenn's questions about backpacking, after all, even though she seems to have become quite the day-hiker, I remember that: she does not like to camp out; she can't stand being dirty; does not care much for bugs or wild animals and is a picky eater.