By Whitney "Allgood" La Ruffa
Springer Fever is that feeling of itchy feet that every long-distance hiker gets around early March. Right as the days start getting longer and the weather a little warmer those of us who have spent any length of time on trail, start to long for a return to that simple way of life on a long hike, where your only goal is to wake up and hike all day.
Crossing the North Carolina-Georgia border.
March is always a tough month for the long-distance hiker, especially if they are taking a year off a major hike to focus on whatever else they have in store at the current time in life. The hiker wakes each day with the internal struggle of going to work, doing their laundry, going to the store versus just saying, “screw this," and throwing their gear into their pack and heading for the woods.
Starting group takes off on the AT.
I must say that each year I hope my own personal case of Springer Fever would be less pronounced, but here I am about to celebrate 26 years since I first set foot on Springer Mountain on my own NOBO hike of the AT, and I long for a thru-hike just as much as anyone else I know. It must be something inside of me that remembers all the fun and challenges along the way. I remember being 3 days into my hike, only to deal with a record blizzard in GA of all places. I didn’t even know it snowed in Georgia when I started the trail. I remember frozen boots and gear, but also, I laugh remembering that 7 of us thru-hikers squeezed into the space reserved for 3 hikers in the shelters in the Smokies. I remember drinking coffee with friends before starting our day, walking for endless days in the rain, and I loved every single minute of it.
Pack weigh-in at the Amicalola Falls State Park Visitor Center at the start of the approach trail. My pack weighed 85 lbs.
While I can recall nearly every day in detail from my hike, from the weather to the hard terrain, what has always stuck with me are the lessons that hike taught me which have helped get me through life after my hike. Hiking long trails has been one of the biggest gifts in life for me. It instilled in me the confidence to know I can achieve anything I apply myself to. It has taught me to be a kinder and more patient person. It also taught me that, no matter how bad a situation is, if you take a minute to stop and breathe, you can find a solution and know that it will work out somehow in the end. A hiker’s ability to adapt to the current situation is very helpful for life after the trail.
Some of the class of 1996 thru-hikers. From left to right, "Marmot", "Inter Planet Janet", "Lonnie", "Allgood", Lilly, and Rob.
One of the best parts of my AT thru-hike (and any of the long-distance hikes I have done) are the people that I have met along the way. The AT in the 1990’s was a special time and place in the long-distance hiking world. One person years ago told me that I hiked during the “Golden Age” of thru-hiking. My guess is that person never carried an 85 lb. pack up the approach trail from Amicalola Falls State Park. Maybe they were onto something though. In 1996, we didn’t have cell phones. Instead, we would get to town and wait in line at a pay phone to call home. We only had trail registers and the hiker grape vine to know where our friends were on the trail. And, we all had film cameras, so taking a photo was a big decision when on the trail. But, I wander. Let’s get back to the people.
On my thru-hike and the two years after while I was working as a ridge runner for the ATC in Pennsylvania, I met so many great people from all walks of life. Being the days before social media, you would meet these great people and then lose touch. However, the story doesn’t end there. Over the years, I have hiked other trails and attended ALDHA and ALDHA-West gatherings, Rucks, and other trail events. Each time I go to something, I have randomly run into and reconnected with some of these people. It’s been so fun to meet someone 20+ years later and pick up right where you left off last time you talked. Our conversations always go back to the AT and how our first thru-hikes on that iconic trail have set the tone for the rest of our lives.
So, to the class of 2022, whether you are hiking one of the big 3 trails this season, or a shorter trail like the Wonderland Trail or John Muir Trail, cherish your hike! Please remember to take the time to unplug from your devices, listen to nature, and take in the wild scenery around you. Make time to form friendships with other hikers and don’t stress taking a few extra minutes to enjoy a view with your friends while out there. Most of all, have a great hike and know that each day spent walking is a gift to yourself, and no matter how tough a day you’re having in the end it will be OK.
I’ll sign off now and go for a short day hike so that I may find some reprieve to my hard-core case of Springer Fever…