Georgia On My Mind

14 Dec

Day 166, Mile 2178.3

On December 12 at 1 o’clock in the afternoon Lightweight, GFog, and I summitted Springer Mountain and reached the end of our adventure on the Appalachian Trail! It was an epic last few weeks to top off an already amazing journey.


The 1212 Gang at the End

Before I get into the story of my last week on the trail though, I want to take a moment to give some much deserved “thank yous” at the top of my post, just to assure that these person’s names get read. First and foremost, I need to thank my Dad who has been the “ground-control” and foundation of my hike. He spent countless hours arranging mail drops, preparing food, and sending me gear–but most importantly he believed in me from the very beginning when the AT was just a far-off dream for me. Next, I need to thank the rest of my family for their support and encouragement along the way–Mom, Meredith, John–this is for you! Also, my gratitude goes out to GFog’s family and girlfriend Jess for all of their hospitality to the three of us during the last leg of our trip. My sincere thanks goes to the following people who gave me encouragement, hiked with me, provided a hot meal or a bed to sleep in, sent me letters and baked goods, and all the other countless ways you helped me get to Springer: John and Kelly, Aunt Donna, “Coach” Craig, Andrew, Rachael, Sarah, Heather, Julia, Christy, the trail angels who took care of me–Dave and Robyn, Dutch, Babu–the folks at all the great hostels I stayed in–Green Mountain House, Bear’s Den, Shaw’s, Wood’s Hole, the Amee Farm, Elmer’s–and anyone who has been part of my trail family–GFog, Lightweight, Treehugger and Petunia, Crow, Pilgrim, Lefty and Homefry, BB and Gastank, the K-Bob Sisters, Rocketman, and the rest of the gang. I know there are people on here who I am forgetting, so sorry! And finally, all of you readers out there–it’s been a pleasure to share the journey with you!


Sunset over Neel’s Gap

Whew–that was a long list. I hope you made it past that paragraph and are reading this one. And the story continues: It was a long and hard push to the end. I remember back in October worrying to myself that the end of my hike would be “too easy” and perhaps anti-climactic–and oh how wrong I was. For 12 out of the final 15 days of our hike we averaged 20.3 miles a day in some of the worst weather I have seen yet. Although the terrain was not as tough as it was in Maine and New Hampshire, the constant rain, snow, and cold added a physical and mental challenge that truly tested my capabilities.

We crossed over the border into Georgia on December 7. Words can hardly describe how that felt to have finally made it to my last state. To always be talking about how you are walking from Maine to Georgia, and then to actually accomplish it! The end was in sight! The 80 miles from the border to Springer looked like they would be a piece of cake–but the AT wasn’t going to let us just mosey to the end like a Sunday walk in the park, and the next day proved to be one of my most difficult of the entire trip.

The 8th was going to be our last huge day, and then we were planning on taking it easy for the last stretch into Springer. When I woke up that morning though, the 35 degree temperature and the threatening rain clouds told me that it was going to be an even tougher day than I originally thought. Sure enough, it started to rain and blow almost as soon as I hit the trail that morning, and I realized that we may have to stop short that day and try to make up the lost miles later. But then something happened that I can only describe as providential: as I was coming to the first road crossing of the day, I bumped into a couple who looked at me and said, “Are you Tex?” I stopped, and said, “Yeah…how do you know me?” They said, “Oh, we’re Dave and Robyn, we’ve been following you on Twitter and figured we might see you here today. GFog and Lightweight have already dropped their packs in the car and are slackpacking to Unicoi Gap. You want to slack with them?” Slackpacking refers to when someone takes your full pack and drives it to the next road crossing, so that you only have to carry a water bottle and some food and can move light and fast. I said, “Absolutely!” and before I knew it I was flying down the trail reflecting on how well things fell into place! Slackpacking to Unicoi Gap put us only 1 mile away from our original goal for the day, meaning we could stay on schedule and not have to play catchup later!

In my rush to get down the trail and catch GFog and Lightweight, I foolishly only brought some light gloves and my rain jacket. At first I was plenty warm, but as I climbed out of the gap and up to elevation, the temperature dropped and the wind started howling. After only a few miles the rain started to seep through my jacket and I was in what my first-aid book would call “classic hypothermia conditions.” The only way I could stay warm was to keep moving, and I practically sprinted down the trail trying to make it to the pickup point at Unicoi before things got too much worse. Somehow I made it through the 16 miles, but by the time the three of us made it to Unicoi we looked like a pack of wet rats. When we got there, Dave and Robyn were waiting for us and said, “Well boys, you have two options. You can either hike another mile up to the next shelter, or you can come back to our place and spend the night.” We looked at each other for about half a second and said, “Your place!” So we ended up spending the night at their house, enjoying a home cooked meal, a hot shower, and a dry place to sleep! The whole trip I had been lamenting how “Southbounders get no love” when it comes to trail magic, but after that day I changed my tune.

After that last “battle” with the trail, we really did cruise into Springer. The next day the sun came out and it was 60 degrees. We took a leisurely day and didn’t get into camp until well after dark, but it felt great not to be fighting the weather. We spent that night at the old Civilian Conservation Corps house at the summit of Blood Mountain, the highest point on the AT in Georgia. From the top we could see the lights of the Atlanta skyline, and in the morning we caught one last amazing sunrise.


Sunrise/Moonset on Blood Mountain

My dad came out and joined me for the last three days of my trip, which meant so much to me. He started with me in Maine and got to “bookend” the journey by summitting with me in Georgia. Our last days were really just about celebrating, and we had bonfires, cigars, and lots and lots of food! I told GFog and Lightweight that they had the right to give my dad a trail name. They settled on “Lava Cakes” after one of the “gourmet” deserts he brought along for us to cook one night.

And then, alas, the sun rose on Saturday December 12 and the end of my adventure was upon me. My dad and I left bright and early to get a head start on GFog and Lightweight, who caught up to us later in the day about 2 miles from the summit. When they caught us, I left my dad and hiked onward with them towards the end. In many ways it felt just like all the other days we had hiked together, but the knowledge that this was the last hung heavy on my mind.

And then, we were there. Springer is not a particularly difficult or spectacular mountain, but for what it symbolizes–determination, endurance, and the conclusion–it is the most significant of my journey nonetheless. A few minutes after GFog, Lightweight, and I hit the summit, Treehugger and Petunia summitted as well, so I had my entire “trail family” there to celebrate with me! We even had a bottle a champagne that I had carried since my last resupply in Franklin, 100 miles previous. There was one mishap on the way down to the parking lot. The trail was really icy that day, and my dad slipped on a patch of ice and really hurt his ankle. After getting some x-rays today we found out that it’s actually broken, so he’ll be on crutches for the next few weeks it looks like.


At Springer with Treehugger, Petunia, and the 1212 Gang

That night my parents and I drove to Atlanta and had a celebratory dinner at GFog’s house with his family and Lightweight. And then yesterday we got on the plane and now I am home. It’s strange being back; it really hasn’t even hit me that it’s over. Today just feels like a zero day and that I’ll be hitting the trail tomorrow–but I’m not. I went to the barber today and got a shave and a haircut as well. I’ve posted a before/after comparison below for your evaluation:


Before and After

I’ll be taking the next few days and weeks to get unpacked, sort through my pictures, and do alot of reflecting on what I’ve accomplished and what I am going to do next. It seems so long ago that I was at the summit of Mt. Katahdin at the start of my journey. One of the many things I’ve learned on this trip is to take things one day at a time, and I think that is applicable to readjusting to civilization as well. And so, as always, all I can say is “onward.”

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9 Responses to “Georgia On My Mind”

  1. IanApt May 20, 2010 at 4:40 pm #

    hey not sure if this is still an open blog, or if i’m goign to get a response but i was wanting to ask a few questions about this trip.

  2. Noonie April 2, 2010 at 10:17 pm #

    The before picture!!!

  3. Judy Maggard January 28, 2010 at 10:31 am #

    All I can say is WOW – what an accomplishment! Congratulations! I especially enjoyed all of your amazing pictures. Hope you are enjoying much needed rest and adjusting to life off the trail.

  4. tom mcdonald December 17, 2009 at 9:52 am #

    Bob, been following you and Will Robinson on Twitter since July. You both inspire me to do some section hiking with my son, starting in CT. Congrats,
    –tom mcdonald

  5. Julia December 17, 2009 at 3:03 am #

    Bob/Tex/Grandpa,

    I admire your determination and dedication. I can hardly imagine 1 day on your hike, much less 166. I just got in last night, and I can’t believe we are in the same state again! I want to hear all your stories! Or we can give your voice a rest, kick back, and watch The Office with friends. Your pick! 🙂

    Can’t wait to see you!
    Julia

  6. Marv December 16, 2009 at 4:06 pm #

    Congrats, Bob! You’re a terrific writer, obviously a great hiker, and a treasured friend to many. Welcome back to Texas.

  7. David L December 15, 2009 at 12:39 pm #

    I agree a lot with Christy.

  8. Laura December 15, 2009 at 10:00 am #

    Woohoo! Good job!

  9. Christy December 15, 2009 at 9:33 am #

    mm–Bob, this was a well-crafted post.

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