Hello from my couch (Redux)

What’s up everybody, and sorry about the delay.  I finally heard from enough people that I needed to finish this up and learned what it feels like to be George R.R. Martin, so I tore myself away from Netflix and focused on this one task to give you one more good post.  I finished, it’s over, I’m home, I’m not stuck somewhere between here and Hot Springs, I lived my dream, walked home from Maine, etc. you get the picture.  And when I got back I found an email inviting me to try Netflix for free for another month, so that timing could not have been any better.  Last week I finally finished Breaking Bad which has been three years in the making for me.  With that, the trail, and college, I am just on a roll of accomplishing long, lonely, arduous journeys that test my mental and emotional strength.  I used my momentum to launch into the Walking Dead.  Wish me luck.  I won’t be blogging that undertaking.

The last stretch of the trail was mixed emotions for me.  I was already basking in the triumph, since I knew without a doubt that I would finish the trail once I made it past Gatlinburg.  I thought back a lot during that last week to the times when Dad and I told people in Maine that we were thru hikers.  I could hardly convince myself that we were legit back then, so I doubt a lot of the hikers really believed in us.   Even halfway through, telling people we were thru hikers just meant we still had a thousand miles to go.  But now I could tell people I had walked from Maine, and they were congratulating me.  And although it was a fact that I would finish, it had been such a long trip, with so many characters entering and exiting, and so many backdrops (it wasn’t all just leaves, ok) and intermissions in towns here and there that I could hardly believe I had walked it all myself.

Furthermore, having already hiked GA, seeing the places along the trail, hearing the names, and meeting people who actually knew where Dacula is was just…. well, I guess I can’t use the phrase “like coming home” to describe it because that is actually what it was.   I almost teared up when I saw the sign at the NC/GA border, except there was this couple sitting in front of it with their dog, so I had to act like it was no big deal or whatever.  I had been dreaming of this spot, and of walking into Mountain Crossings at Neel Gap like a rock star and eating all of their ice cream and stuff.  But those times were just like the rest of the trail: you’re there for a minute or two or however long you want to sit around, but eventually you just have to keep silently walking on.  No rock stardom.

This of course is true up until the point where your friends and family plan to surprise you at the Springer Mountain trail head with a mile left to go.  10 minutes before I had been cruising along, talking out loud about nothing important to nobody in particular as I had been doing for 800 miles, and suddenly I was surrounded by people who I knew by real names that smelled clean and were actually interested in talking to me.  It was really overwhelming, to be honest, to have 30 people suddenly there all asking me stuff.  I was embarrassed about how rough I looked and smelled and how rough my social skills must have been at that point.  But I guess they got over it, because we all walked the last mile and took the party up to Springer’s normally less-than-exciting summit, where Dad was waiting with a banner and some day-old Chick Fil A sandwiches for me (it was Sunday).

What is somewhat frightening to me is how quickly I fell back into my lazy routine that I usually have when I come home from school, which wasn’t helped by that free Netflix.  On the trail I had been thinking about all of the things I wanted to do and try and make when I got back, thinking that I would have the same drive and focus that I had honed out in the woods.  Instead I am just overwhelmed again by how much is going on all the time around us.  I don’t miss walking for 8 to 10 hours a day, but I do long for the simplicity.  In a way, everything was better in my memory, and when I got back was a little underwhelming. I plunked around on the guitar for a few minutes before remembering how boring it is to play by myself, and couldn’t even muster up the motivation to play Xbox like I had been looking forward to.  Instead I built a new alcohol stove out of some Coke cans.  The most noticeable difficulty I’ve had is adjusting to the food situation.  I’m still wanting to eat 5000 calories a day even though I could survive on 2000.  Is it pointless to hope that I just get tired of eating ice cream and bread?

Otherwise I don’t feel too much different.  In fact, a week later, the trail doesn’t really seem like it happened.  I feel like I just woke up or bumped my head and forgot the last 5 months. Now it’s October and I’m living it home and I’m not sure how I got here.  I know that this hike changed my perspective on things because it would be impossible to come away unaffected, but all I can do right now is pray that I was changed for the better.  I’d also like to actually see the changes but, shoot I just got to hike the AT, I guess I should stop asking for more.

Although, I think I’d really like to hike the John Muir Trail one day.

But just to answer what a lot of people have already asked, I’m not planning any thru-hikes in the future.  I hope to make it out for a full week or two when I can, but there are still too many good places to hike that aren’t part of a long trail.  After being out there for long enough, hiking for 8+ hours every day often seemed to me like as much of a grind as doing anything else for 8+ hours every single day.  In fact if you don’t stubbornly have your mind set on doing it all at once, as I did, then you could enjoy the trail itself just as much or maybe even more by section hiking it all.

Anyway, these are all just thoughts and feelings that are hard to explain and even harder to relate to, so let’s talk about the journey itself.  I got to see more of the country than I’ve ever seen, in terms of states and cities and geography, and slept in some weird places along the way, such as a croquet court; some guy’s garage in NH; a Shaker village ruin; the backyard of a trendy clothing boutique; a plant nursery; a Franciscan monastery’s softball field; a church basement; a senior citizen’s resort; a 34 year old murder scene; a barn; and an observation tower, to name a few.  After I got my hammock mailed to me in Pearisburg, I mostly stayed in shelters because I actually don’t like the hammock but just needed a lightweight backup.

I think my favorite parts of the trail were all of New Hampshire for the huge mountains; Shenandoah NP for the easy hiking, cheeseburgers and beer; Mt. Rogers High Country for the wide open space and the “wildlife;” the Great Smoky Mountains from Davenport Gap to Clingman’s Dome, because they were stunningly beautiful and reminded me of Maine even though I was so close to home; and the last 60 miles of NC, from the Nantahala River to the GA border, for some amazing fall foliage.  Of course Georgia goes without saying, but for different reasons.  One of my favorite days on the trail was still my last day in Maine, crawling through the Mahoosuc Notch first thing in the morning before climbing Goose Eye’s three peaks, crossing into New Hampshire and climbing over Mt. Success, and finally camping beside Gentian Pond.  I also found a Snickers bar on the side of the trail for no apparent reason that day.  I’d like to go back and hike that again some time.

Well, that about wraps it up for what I want to write, but as always, feel free to ask questions since I am much more available to answer them now.  Thank you all for reading, praying, commenting, hiking with me, and helping me make it home.  I think this picture of the sunset from Blood Mountain should be a fitting ending.  I’m going to go find some lunch.

blood sunset 1

I was bored, so…

…I decided to upload a few more pictures.

Bench in the cow pasture on Cross Mountain, TN. Also. the half mile of trail from here down to the next road is apparently ADA compliant?

Bench in the cow pasture on Cross Mountain, TN. Also. the half mile of trail from here down to the next road is apparently ADA compliant?

Watauga Lake

Watauga Lake

Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls

Exciting times on the AT

Exciting times on the AT

See you soon.

See you soon.

Coming at you from Hot Springs, NC

Unfortunately right now, this post is the only thing that will be heading your way from Hot Springs, as I am going to be stuck here for at least the rest of the day.  But more on that later.

I believe my last update was from Damascus.  I was excited to have less than 500 miles to go; now I have less than 300 to go, and my feelings are much more mixed.  My desire to be done and home is well beyond excitement, and yet it is sad to think that this adventure is getting close to an end.  I stayed a night in Erwin, TN, about a week ago, but after getting some food and drying off I was actually really looking forward to heading out into the woods and setting up camp at the next shelter.  I’m not sure what the draw to that is now that I’ve been doing it for 4 months straight.  You would think that the magic would have worn off after 1800 miles.  Maybe it was the fun of camping, the peace of being out in the woods, the feeling of being that much closer to Springer, or maybe that I just function better eating ramen and sleeping in a bag in a mouse-infested lean-to than I do in society now.  Regardless, when I am hiking I long for a break, but when I’m sitting in town it doesn’t take long for me to refuel and want to be back out on the trail.

While we were waiting for his ride to Roanoke, before he left, Dad mentioned something about me being able to finish this task.  “Task?!” I said, hoping that was not all that this had become.  He amended his statement using the word journey, probably just to appease me.  But I have reached that point where I’m beginning to see it as a task as well.  The last week didn’t help, either.  The weather was much the same as was back home, I believe – gloomy and foggy and rainy every day. I think 2 of the last 11 or 12 days since Damascus were sunny, which meant I haven’t seen much of anything from the cloud-encircled mountaintops.

The last day of decent weather saw me ascending up into the Roan Highlands, which are one of the highlights of the southern quarter.  Late in the afternoon, with a 360 degree view from the meadow atop Hump Mountain, I thought for a moment that with such beautiful views and trail, the weight of the “task” was gone.  It sounds a little cliche, but with scenery like that, I stop thinking about how long I’ve walked that day, or how far I have left to walk, or how late I’ll get to camp.  Even the steep climbs and heavy pack seem to fade from my mind.  I wish every day could be like that, but unfortunately, it isn’t.

That’s why I’m stuck here in Hot Springs today.  Whatever storms are brewing down in the Gulf and sending all this rain across the Southeast have put a flash flood watch on the area, with feet of rain being predicted over the weekend.  I’m torn between wanting to get home so badly, and not wanting to hike through the Smokies soaking wet, cold, and miserable.  The hostel where I’m staying may have some work-for-stay opportunities, so that at least could keep me occupied, but I may just get bored tonight and decide to make a sprint for Gatlinburg starting tomorrow.  But the Smokies are the last big thing on the trail, and I’d hate to run up to the top of Clingman’s Dome, see nothing but gray, and have to run down to the next shelter to dry off and warm up.  We’ll see what happens.

In any case, I am 275 miles and about 2 weeks from finishing.  I’ll see you all soon, and this time I’ll actually put the pictures up like I said I would (although my camera has been in my pack for most of the past week to keep it dry).  Thanks for reading.

A-Town

Dad and I on the famous McAfee Knob

Dad and I on the famous McAfee Knob

Climbing up through the Mt. Rogers high country (Rogers is the green bump on the left)

Climbing up through the Mt. Rogers high country (Rogers is the green bump on the left)

Buzzard Rocks, on the side of Whitetop Mountain

Buzzard Rocks, on the side of Whitetop Mountain

Roan Mountain from the north

Roan Mountain from the north, and the last day of sunshine