Hiking the Appalachian Trail will in no doubt be a large task to accomplish, but before that can happen, I had to actually get to the trail. This wasn’t extremely difficult, but it’s more cumbersome than one might think, especially if you don’t live in the area. I came in from Wisconsin, so it’s not like I can just have a buddy drop me off. “Hey, wanna drive 2,000 miles round-trip to abandon me in a park? Do ya, do ya, do ya?! I’ll buy you lunch!” Any takers? NOPE!
First task: Getting to Georgia. This was fairly easy, as there is a Greyhound station not too far from where I live. I choose to take a bus because it was the cheapest option. The downside of being cheap is it was a very long, very uncomfortable trip, as I’m not exactly a short person. The other downside is it only got me as far as Atlanta – which is about 80 miles away from Amicalola Falls State Park, where I plan to start my hike.
There are two places you can start the trail in Georgia: 1) Springer Mountain, the actual southern terminus, which is only accessible via an unpaved forest road (Forest Service Road 42) followed by a mile hike or 2) you can take the “approach trail” starting about 9 miles south of Springer in Amicalola Falls State Park.
Conveniently, there is no public transportation to either of those two locations. So this means you have to either pay for a very expensive cab ride, find a shuttle service that might get you there for over $100, try to hitchhike your way, or rely on a “trail angel” to give you a ride. I’m not gonna try to hitchhike 80 miles and I’m just as uncomfortable with “trail angels”.
Originally, I had another Greyhound ticket that left Atlanta to go to Gainesville, which is as far as Greyhound will go and is still about 36 miles from where I needed to be. However, Greyhound only does two trips to Gainesville each day and my bus to Atlanta arrived just after the last bus to Gainesville leaves. That means that I’d have to spend the night in Atlanta, take the bus to Gainesville the next morning, and from there take a taxi to Amicalola Falls. All-in-all, it would take me two days of travel, plus about $180 dollars to cover the stay in Atlanta plus the taxi to the park, where I would arrive too late in the evening to begin my hike, forcing me to camp there for the night and start hiking the next morning – three days after I left home.
Then magic happened. I learned about HikerHostel.com which offers a “Thru-Hiker Special” (not sure if they do it every year). The special runs from February 24th until April 20th and costs $80. Not only do you get a place to sleep, but you get a ride to the hostel from the North Springs MARTA Station or Gainesville, a free breakfast, 8oz of white gas or denatured alcohol, and a ride to Amicalola Falls State Park or the Springer Mountain parking lot the next morning. Say whaaaaat?!
That was too good of a deal to pass up. Not only was it saving me money, but it was saving me an entire day of travel time. Getting to the trail a day sooner, now that’s just pee-in-your-pants fantastic! I ditched my bus ride to Gainesville and instead went to the Garnett MARTA station, directly behind the Greyhound stop, and took the Red Line to North Springs, costing a mere 350 pennies. The Hiker Hostel shuttle picked me up there and took care of the rest. There were seven of us that got picked up, and another seven that were already at the hostel ahead of us. They seem like an OK group, not sure how many I’ll keep seeing along the trail. Three people at the hostel flew all the way from Germany to do this hike.
By no means am I saying this is what you should do if you are hiking the Appalachian Trail, but this is what I found best for me. If you’re fortunate enough to arrive in Atlanta (or wherever) with time in the day to hitch or just take a shuttle directly to the trail, to me, that’s the way to go. If you live close enough that you can have someone just drop you off, even better – I’m totally jealous.