And In The End…..
We made it! We walked 2189 miles and now its over.
Georgia was beautiful, but also rainy, wet and cold. We got to the NC/GA border on November 30th and stopped at the Top of Georgia Hostel in Dick’s Creek Gap to get out of the rain, warm up, and resupply our food for the final push to Springer. We were picked up at the Gap trailhead by Buttercup and shuttled to the hostel. Top of Georgia was wonderful and Buttercup was really nice. After a snack and showers, we were shuttled into Hiawassee, where we continued to eat and also went to the Ingles to get 4 more days of food. When we got back tot he hostel, our laundry was already done for us (what a great service!) and we watched Elephant Man before retiring for the evening.
The next day, we headed south again. The stretch from Dick’s Creek Gap to Unicoi Gap was a bit of work. There was a lot of elevation change in that stretch. We passed through Unicoi Gap to the Blue Mountain Shelter after dark. Ian and I were the only ones there. It was still cold and rainy, and we were thankful that there was a tarp covering the opening. We were starting to get really excited about finishing, and it was getting hard to sleep.
The next day, we reached Neel’s Gap and Mountain Crossings. It was still raining and it was going to be below freezing that night, so we were disappointed that the hostel was closed. We thought seriously about seeing in the bathroom at Mountain Crossings because (1) it was warm in there, and (2) it would confirm our standing as hiker trash. But we ended up staying right next store at Blood Mountain Cabins.
While at Neel’s Gap, a fellow hiker we met in Maine, Lt. Dan, picked us up and took us into Blairsville for dinner. We had AYCE pizza. It was wonderful and got us all fueled up for our final two days. It was great seeing Lt. Dan and catching up on mutual friends from the trail.
The following morning we stopped back in at Mountain Crossings before heading up Blood Mountain. Out last two days, Thursday and Friday were sunny and clear. Plus it got warm by the afternoon. Blood Mountain was really nice. My knowledge of it was only from books written by north-bounders. Because it was their first relatively big mountain, the difficulty was somewhat exaggerated. It was some work, but not quite the horribly difficult experience related in the books. Of course it helps when you have 2,150 miles to warm up! That said, Blood Mountain was beautiful and the view from the top was great. With the open rock ledges, it reminded me a lot of Mt. Cardigan in New Hampshire.
Our last night was spent at Gooch Mountain Shelter. We shared the shelter with two other SOBO hikers from New Zealand, KiwiBrucie and Mollywoppy. Thinking about finishing the next day, neither one of us slept that well.
Its funny, you lie awake for most of the night, then tell yourself that you’ll get up and start early. I decided I’d get up at 5 and get a jump on the morning, then promptly fell asleep until 7:30. Why is that? Our last day was a pretty easy 15 miles. The weather was nice. Initially it was cold but it warmed up and eventually we were hiking in kilts and base layer. No coats were necessary.
Everyone we passed could tell we were thru-hikers and were close to our destination. We got lots of congratulatory comments and positive reinforcement. That, plus the ease of the terrain, plus our own excitement propelled us to pick up our pace. Usually we average about 2 mph, but today we averaged over 2.5 mph.
We go to the parking area about a mile from Springer’s summit about 1:45 and started hustling up our last climb. We ran into some people on the way up and asked the expected question: “How much farther?” The answer was: “Not much, you’re practically done. Congratulations! You’ve got someone up there waiting for you.” That just egged us on to move even faster.
Our first sight at the summit was Linda’s familiar light blue coat. I must confess, I stopped and hugged Linda and completely forgot about the end of the trail and the plaque! Then we found the plaque and took our final pictures.
One more mile to walk with our packs – back to that parking lot. On the way down, we ran into another group, obviously another welcoming committee, making its way to the summit. We asked them who they were waiting for. They were relatives of Shredder, Noodle, Spike, and Kidz Bop.
One of them was carrying this great homemade trophy. It was a rock with a Ramen noodle cake glued to it. Glued on top of the noodle cake was a plastic Tyrannosaurus Rex. This is because most thru-hikers (us included) have large over-developed leg muscles and skinny spindly arms – just like T-Rex.
Once we got to the parking lot, we put our packs in Linda’s rental car. A couple we passed who were running the trail from Springer to Woody Gap earlier were ferrying back to their car and gave us a whole pizza to eat along with their congratulations. It was gone in 15 minutes.
The we saw Shredder and crew coming out of the woods. After exchanging high fives and congratulations to each other, we passed along the same answer we got: “Not much farther. And people are up there waiting for you.”
We then drove to Amicolola Lodge, showers and dinner. Linda bought me a new pair of pants – with a 32-inch waist. I hadn’t worn that size since college. They fit perfectly. Let’s see if I can keep my svelte new figure. It will be strange getting up tomorrow and not walking.
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