Days 143-146 on the Appalachian Trail: Georgia

Hiking the Appalachian Trail Through Georgia

Making it to the final state was surreal and a little anticlimactic. Have we really walked all the way from Maine? Thru-hiking has become our lives. How could we possibly be reaching the end of the trail?

Big Reflections: 

  1. Much of the 70 miles of Georgia was filled with anticipation: for the end of the trail, for finishing something that seemed impossible, for what it would be like when we got back to our off-trail life. After finishing, we planned to stay with family for a few weeks over the holidays. While we were excited to see loved ones, we were also extremely nervous not to have our own physical space and to be around so many people with different priorities and needs than our own directly following the AT. Post-trail blues are real and we think everyone will feel them in some way. Along with the joy of accomplishment, there is also a sad sense of loss when you finish a thru-hike. You dedicate your entire being to this incredible feat and once you complete it, the abrupt stop is downright jarring. We tried to prepare for this by telling family what to expect and what we may need, by holding space for ourselves to feel and process all of our emotions, and by being gentle with ourselves and each other. Processing some of this together and anticipating the challenges we could face post trail was a helpful way to begin preparing for the end. 
  2. When we planned this AT thru-hike, we didn’t know what we were capable of. There were a lot of big question marks. Could we actually do this? Would we like sleeping outside each day? Could our bodies hold up for so long? Would we get trail legs? Would we get sick of each other? Now, we know what we can do. We know who we are as thru-hikers and are proud of who we have become. It took time to develop this level of confidence and understanding of ourselves and each other. The good news: we still like sleeping outside. Our trail legs kicked in. Our bodies grew stronger. And, we did not get sick of each other. In fact, we became even closer, if that was actually possible. Each day, we faced conditions, terrain, and situations that challenged us. And we kept figuring things out. We realized we could handle whatever was thrown at us. That’s something we should remember and apply with confidence off trail too. It’s not always easy, but we can and will figure it out and make things work.
  3. Nearing the end, we realized how much we love long distance hiking and backpacking. There is something remarkable about embarking on an intensive experience for which the ultimate goal is so far away. It almost forces you to live in the present moment. When we go out for shorter hikes or backpacking trips, it is difficult to be present and not focus on what we need to do when we get home. Most often, those worries and anxieties were about inconsequential things, but they linger in our minds when we know they will be upon us soon. But on a long distance hike, those worries became more distant and receded naturally. With the noise turned down, we could more appropriately assess what was important, what was extraneous, and what we could let go of. Long distance hiking sets the conditions for us to disconnect from distractions and more easily dwell in the now. There’s nowhere else to be. All we can hope is that we are able to translate some of these mindfulness practices into our lives post AT. 
  4. Thru-hiking requires immense flexibility and willingness to change plans. Usually, we made a rough framework for where we wanted to resupply and sleep each night. However, we adjusted these plans day by day depending on how we felt. With flexibility, we could move more miles when it felt right and listen to our bodies to rest when needed. And of course we changed our loose itineraries with shifting weather conditions—a must on any outdoor adventure. For example, we ended up hiking 50 miles in two days and ending our thru a day earlier than expected because of another impending hurricane. It took a while for us to hone our comfort with flexibility on trail and we will strive to apply it to life off trail as well.

Day 143, 11/7/22: Muskrat Creek Shelter to Addis Gap

17.3 mi, 4400 ft elevation gain

Aided by excited anticipation and daylight savings time suddenly making sunrise an hour earlier, we woke up around 6:15am. By 7:30am, all of us at the shelter were packed and ready to start hiking to the Georgia state line. The six of us walked in a line, with Frankie and Bjorn (Mountain Goat’s dogs) mixed in. Ducky set a fast pace and we followed her lead, at some points with haggard breathing and tired legs. When we passed the famous gnarled tree at Bly Gap, we knew we were almost at the border. We passed what felt like more random trail signs than we’d ever seen before getting to the NC/GA sign. It was simultaneously exciting and anticlimactic. Kind of like, “Wow, we’re actually here!” followed by, “Isn’t this supposed to feel like a bigger deal?” Is that how we’ll feel at Springer?! After a group photoshoot, we all hiked at our own paces and naturally parted ways.

It got hot and muggy in GA. We probably sweat more today than the past week to month combined. Motivated by the promise of a shower and laundry, we hiked quickly along the ups and downs of the AT until we came to Dick’s Creek Gap where Gordon, the owner of the Hostel Around the Bend came to pick us up. This beautiful and well-cared for hostel is relatively new. We wished we could have stayed, but it just didn’t quite work out in our plans. Instead, we did our chores, cuddled with their adorable cats, and arranged our final plans to get from Amicalola to Atlanta after finishing. We couldn’t believe we were at the point of making those plans for the end of our almost five month thru-hike! We signed the hiker bus and then Gordon took us back to the trailhead to hike about 5 more miles to camp. We ran into Forrest and Dirty along the way as they headed NOBO on a slackpack from the hostel. The climbs were steady and we felt tired at the end of the day and almost five months of backpacking. But a gorgeous sunset helped us remember why this experience is so special. Moments connected with nature and our surroundings do not get old and we are truly grateful for that. We rolled into camp and were greeted by Gravy searching for the perfect rock for a bear hang throw. Only four more days to savor out here.

Day 144, 11/8/22: Addis Gap to Poor Mountain

23.6 mi, 5700 ft elevation gain

When we emerged from our tent, Ducky and Gravy were ready to go and we said potentially our last goodbye since they are summiting a couple of days after us. No Kiddin gave us his extra water and also bid us farewell. It’s strange to think that we won’t see some of these people again on trail. As typical from the beginning, we were the last to leave camp. The first half of the day was filled with a fair amount of elevation gain over a couple of big climbs, one up to Tray Mountain, which had a beautiful summit filled with flora we hadn’t seen before. At the next peak, we paused for lunch and just when we finished eating somewhat sad tuna wraps, we got a message from Ducky that Fresh Grounds, a man who runs an iconic non-profit trail magic operation for AT hikers, was waiting at the next gap to feed us! We grabbed our packs and practically ran down the mountain. Fresh Grounds greeted us with a hearty yell up the mountain followed by two burgers each, freshly cut french fries deep fried on the spot, fruit, and cold beverages. There was so much food we couldn’t even finish it so we took some to go for dinner.

The climb out of the gap with heavy bellies was brutal, but we made it alright, stomach cramps and all. We ran into Dirty and Forrest slackpacking NOBO again and chatted for a bit before wishing them the best for their summit day. After digesting, we both got an immense boost of energy from the food and moved faster and stronger than we had in a long time. When we got to our planned camp spot, we felt too good to stop and added an extra 2 miles. During our final steps of the day, the moon was rising to our left as the sun was setting to our right – another magical outdoor experience. Cozied up in our tent, we checked the weather and realized that the rain forecast for later in the week was actually from a hurricane making landfall. The impending downpour would be torrential on our planned summit day. So we had to face the reality that it would affect our end date. How fitting that we needed to readjust our plans one more time to finish our thru-hike? We spent an hour debating whether we should sleep in a shelter in the pouring rain right after summiting or spend money for a second hotel night. We decided on the latter and then laughed about how you can’t ever expect your plans to truly stick on the AT, even at the very end. So now we need to hike two big days to finish ahead of the storm.

Day 145, 11/9/22: Poor Mountain to Stealth between Cooper and Horse Gaps

28.5 mi, 6500 ft elevation gain

Today was our second to last day of hiking, which feels unreal. With nerves and excitement mounting, we started around 7:30am. We ran into Gravy, Ducky, and No Kiddin along the trail for the last time and continued into Neel Gap. We stopped in at Mountain Crossings, an outfitter known for helping NOBOs with their gear and as a place where many NOBOs quit and throw their shoes into a sprawling tree. We made ourselves microwaveable food, grabbed our last resupply, and started hiking up to Blood Mountain. The first half of the ascent was gradual and the second half got steeper and rockier. A lot of the terrain today, with rock slabs and stairs, reminded us of local trails in Massachusetts. So it felt like home! After hiking over 2,100 miles, this climb was a breeze. We booked it up and over the summit, pausing only briefly to check out a viewpoint and the fully enclosed stone shelter.

We spent the rest of the hiking day in relative silence, both of us in the zone or deep in our own thoughts as we near the end. Anticipating the storm, we decided to hike even further than planned. When we reached the first potential tent site, we both agreed that our bodies were absolutely fine to keep hiking and we only needed to overcome the mental challenge of continuing. And that’s just what we did, hiking into the darkness with headlamps to show the way. Of course we had to haul water those 3 extra miles up 1,000 ft of gain to a stealth spot for our last night of camping on the AT. We ended up doing a 28.5 mile day – our longest of the entire trail! As flip floppers, we were in a pretty unique position to reflect on and compare the NOBO and SOBO finishing experiences. NOBO felt more celebratory and social, aided by natural pinch points where hikers gather at campgrounds around Baxter State Park. SOBO has felt incredibly joyful with the friends we have shared the trail with. Yet at the same time there is plenty of solitude so this finish feels like ours alone. That’s pretty fitting for us – alone together as usual.

Day 146, 11/10/22: Springer Mountain! (and the Approach Trail to Amicalola Falls State Park)

11.4 mi, 2700 ft elevation gain (+ 7.4 mi, 1100 ft elevation gain on Approach Trail)

Sleep was difficult to come by last night. We felt so much anticipation, excitement, and sadness about this adventure coming to a close. Every time we finished a part of our normal morning routine, like taking down the bear bags, heating up water, or rolling up our sleeping pads, we felt a pang of realization that this was the last time we’d do this task on our AT thru-hike. It was hard to comprehend or process, but we tried to let ourselves feel it all. At the same time, today also felt a little like every other day on trail. We just complete our routines, fuel our bodies, and move onward down the trail. Sure, we’d reach the end of it today, but that didn’t actually seem like reality. Starting the trail on June 18th felt like a bigger deal because it was such a departure from our typical daily activities. Today may be monumental, but it also isn’t anything new. Maybe that makes it all the more beautiful.

About 5 minutes after leaving our campsite, a hiker camped next to the trail exuded enthusiasm for us knowing we were about to get to Springer and accomplish this huge goal. That interaction helped it feel a little bit more real for us. The terrain was very hikable and mild as it descended into a valley with a creek where we ran into the Benton McKaye Trail. Then, we began the 6 mile ascent to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the AT. The trail started off wide and well traveled, then got narrower but remained very gentle. We meandered through rhododendrons down low and then leafless trees up to a parking lot with a 1 mile to Springer sign. Along the way, we reminisced about some of our favorite moments on trail, laughed at our most “hiker trash” moments, and kept walking together as we had for all 2,190 prior miles. When the trail started flattening out, we could sense we were close to the summit. Approaching an open rock slab with the southern terminus plaque embedded, we couldn’t believe we made it. Two day hikers who had all of their belongings strewn around the summit area felt so bad that their stuff was everywhere. They took our pictures and celebrated us, capturing our sheer joy at the accomplishment of our finish and making it feel really special. We teared up and hugged, took more pictures, and tried to let it sink in. Then moments later, Cast Iron, a SOBO we met back in Maine showed up! This is the trail: community when you don’t expect it. Then one of his tramily members, Gourmet, arrived. In this unexpected way, we got a finishing experience that felt both privately intimate and communally shared. We couldn’t be more grateful for that.

We bid the terminus farewell and began the 8.5 mile approach trail. Honestly, hiking more after finishing the AT was pretty hard. Though Stretch did write “The journey continues” in every log book, and that it did – even after “ending.” Lotus felt a bit melancholy, especially on sections that had elevation gain, but we started feeling a bit more celebratory as we kept walking. Then, fittingly, the rain came! Dripping wet, we laughed that this was how we ended our last day on trail. We came to the turnoff for the lodge and decided to go straight there instead of down and back the last mile to Amicalola Falls and the iconic arch since the weather was so miserable. We’d go back for that the next day. When we got into our room, wet and emotional, we found a bottle of Prosecco waiting for us sent by our best friends, Peter and Anna. Already feeling so many feelings, this certainly pushed us over the edge in the best of ways! Feeling so much support and warmth from family and friends, we spent the rest of the day basking in our accomplishment and ate more food at the buffet than imaginable. Treating ourselves to a luxurious hotel stay was the best way for us to end our journey.

Day 147, 11/11/22: The last part of the Approach Trail and Amicalola Falls

2 mi, 770 ft elevation gain

It was pouring outside when we woke up so we could not have been happier with our decision to stay at the Lodge. We enjoyed a long breakfast and lounged in our comfortable room all day, basking in the glow of finishing the trail. In the afternoon, the weather cleared enough for us to walk the last mile of the Approach Trail. This section included the stairs that descend alongside Amicalola Falls, the highest waterfall in Georgia, and ends at the iconic arch by the visitor center. It felt really nice to get out of our room and walk, even if it was only for a short bit.

The next morning, we stood on the balcony looking out at the mountains as waves of grief and sadness washed over us. While nothing can take away the incredible accomplishment of thru-hiking the AT, we could not help but feel like a part of us was missing as we walked away from the trail. This overall experience has been life affirming and that is going to lead to some life changing decisions. We make experiences a priority in our lives and our choices reflect that. We are so happy and fulfilled when we adventure and explore together, living our lives to the fullest. These past years galvanized our resolve to do just that and we will not compromise on our dreams. We left something of ourselves on the AT, which feels like a loss for now, but we will find that and more on our future endeavors for sure.

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