The launch-off for these AT through-hikers, and the first few days on the trail, is really an interesting phenomenon. They gather from every corner of the world at Amicalola Falls State Park in late March and early April to begin the NOBO journey. They have their photos taken for the big board at the park, and are filled with excitement and optimism. Very few imagine that they might be among the 30% who don't even make it out of the state.
A few days down the trail many are ready to quit - usually after having their butts soundly kicked by Blood Mountain. Altitude is never an issue here, but the trails are rugged and steep. Switchbacks were not in vogue when many trails in the east were built. Coming down off of Blood Mountain, they arrive at another unique phenomenon - Mountain Crossings. Think of a Portal Store on steroids. Many arrive dispirited and ready to throw in the towel. Winton Porter
, the owner since 2001, and his staff rejuvenate a lot of these would-be quitters with a night or two in the hostel, a few hot meals, and a process called The Shakedown (see YouTube). His staff will go through your pack with you in detail, typically removing unnecessary poundage and shipping back home for the hiker. This exercise, and the advice he and his staff provide, has become legendary on the AT, and prevents that 30% figure from going even higher. He wrote an award-winning book a few years ago, Just Passin' Thru
, that I highly recommend.
Winton bought Mountain Crossings/Walasi-Yi a few years after Bryson had completed his hike, so A Walk in the Woods didn't reflect this dynamic. If Bill and Katz had had the opportunity to visit a Porter-owned Mountain Crossings, I think it would have merited a full chapter in the book.
Sadly, Winton sold the store in 2013, but the new owners are committed to carrying on his legacy of being the premier through-hiker haven on the AT.