There are a few reasons the first day of an AT backpacking trip is one of the most challenging. Your pack is loaded with food. The specific conditioning of hiking with the pack is lacking. And finally, AT trailheads are at the low points of the trail.
Case in point - Erwin, TN is nestled in the Nolichucky River valley, at 1770 feet above sea level. Right off the bat you're looking at a 1500' climb.
And so the course of the day was set. As the trail wound south from Erwin the sounds of town and highway faded away, replaced by the sound of my steps and the rustling of leaves in rhododendron-filled secluded coves.
Always, though, was the realization that I was moving further into, and further up, the mountains. The last six miles presented two stiff 1000'+ climbs, accompanied by rough trail conditions. So it was a relief to see the side trail to the shelter and have a chance to clean up, fix dinner, and regroup for tomorrow's hike.
It's been quiet on the trail so far, with only a handful of northbound section hikers, so it looks like I've got the shelter all to myself.
Total time on trail - 9:15
Total distance. - 16.8 miles
Avg speed - 1.8 mph