OK friends, this is the last update of this blog (unless of course, I decide to hike it again...). Herein you will find an abbreviated account of my time spent on the AT from Hot Springs, NC to Springer Mtn, GA. Sorry for the delay in wrapping everything up, but I've been a bit caught up in my move back to Asheville. I'm back working at the Chocolate Lounge, living now at
25 Barnard Ave
Asheville, NC 28804
After dinner in Hot Springs, I got back on the trail and (tipsily) hiked out, just beating sunset to spend a night alone in an old shelter. Two days later found me breaking out of the tree-line at Max Patch at the exact second the sun crested the horizon. Forget sunsets - sunrise is where it's at. If you've never been there, make a point to do it soon. Having knocked out 15 miles by 1PM, I called it a day at Standing Bear Farm Hostel - a great place in the middle of nowhere at the foot of the Smokies, where I saw Butter and Six Toes again (NoBo's I had met just outside Salsbury, CT). Bun Yip and Greyson were there, too, but I managed to catch them again in Hiawassee, GA.
I caught the first half of the Smokies in beautiful weather. It contained the best maintained and constructed trails I remember from the whole trail, which was of course very pleasant. I met an amazing older couple, Gail & Tom, who gave me a lift into Gatlinburg and fed me lunch. Never before have I witnessed kindness like that towards hikers on the trail. For no reason other than they had the ability, they gave freely to a smelly, dirty hiker previously unknown to them. It's one thing for my friends to support me (as they did to no end), but another entirely to give to a stranger. I can't think of a more noble action given the circumstances. That being said, Gatlinburg was disgusting. It's sickening to see a place so beautiful marred with opportunists piggybacking on the natural surroundings and selling absolute crap. I will never return there nor send another dime and I encourage you to do the same. Though it was raining for the remainder of my time there and I now see why NoBos cringe at the thought of GSMNP in the springtime the rest of the Smokies was great: I met back up with Pluto, a fellow SoBo I hadn't seen since VT and had a great day by myself blue-blazing down the Eagle Creek Trail in a heavy rain. Little did I know that this particular trail crossed Eagle Creek 13 times from its headwater as a spring to a raging river down by Fontana Lake. It was still nice to hike sockless, trudging through roaring water. I almost lost it at some point, but recovered just before being swept downstream.
Cheoah bald was just gorgeous and the Nantahala was just gorges. Stopped into Bryson city for a beer or 8, where I ran into Rockefeller and Turtle (hadn't seen them since NY) who gave me a ride back to NOC in my blitzed state. Had my first coyote encounter at A. Rufus Morgan Shelter - they circled within a hundred yards of the shelter howling for a few hours before dawn.
Wayah Bald is just as gorgeous as it was last year. That's where I started my first adult hike with my Dad and brother about 19 months ago. Siler Bald was equally pretty. Then into GA:
Hiawassee is home to the theatre and bar closest to Woodruff Scout Reservation, where I worked the previous 4 Summers. I took a few days to relax here. My body is at the point now where it can't recover from all of the abuse I'm putting it through and my joints are almost completely shot. So I decided to rest up for the final 67 mile push. Good thing, because it gave Djangle a chance to catch up. With 4 days left, it looks like the two of us will finish together. Saw off Bun Yip and Mudd for the last time and hunkered down in the sleet and snow to wait for my Dad. Excitedly, my brother decided to join for the last few miles as well.
On the last morning, we awoke at Hawk Mtn. Shelter, packed up and headed out to meet Troop 74, my home scout troop wherein I got my start hiking just a few miles from where I was to meet them. An auspicious beginning or ending, depending on how you look at it. About an inch of snow had fallen the night before, providing the perfect setting for the sunrise on the last day. With boundless energy and excitement, our huge group of Scouts met my Mom and slowly made our way up the last mountain on a beautiful day: sunny, windless and with many of the people that I love dearly. I could not have asked for a more perfect ending to the greatest adventure of my life.
I spent months thinking about the precise manner in which that last day should unfold. I fretted about big and small details. None of it mattered. When i woke up that morning, everything fell into place and played out better than could have ever been planned. No ridiculous finish, no fireworks, no eloquently-composed register entry. Somehow I had been blessed with dear friends, family, weather and an atmosphere that could bear no improvement. All the right words flowed confidently and unobstructed from my mouth and my feet knew precisely where to land - neither with any conscious effort on my part. The pencil etched a simple, but befitting sentiment in that last register. Neither have I tasted a cigar so sweet, nor embraced others with such perfect sincerity.
To each and every one of you, I can only utter a woefully inadequate 'Thank You'. Know that from the depth of my heart, I will forever cherish every encouraging word written and package sent along the way. The sincere smile you wear is priceless, and though I've finished my thruhike, I will ever carry those images with me in everything I do. But rather than weigh me down, your support has helped to nimble my feet and lighten my load for all my life. Your kindness has no match and has served a much more important purpose than perhaps you thought: I have faith now that success is always possible due to that done by those willing, who are greater than you might imagine. My confidence in the great possibility of humanity has been bolstered by the actions of a few wonderful people. You have been truly awe-inspiring.