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.