Finishing My Southbound Thru-Hike

It’s been a week and a half since I summited Springer, so I figured it was about damn time I wrote a blog post about it. I climbed Katahdin on July 7, 2018, and Springer on Dec. 7, 2018. My thru-hike took me five months to the day. After Thanksgiving, I had two weeks to go. Here’s how it went.

From Thanksgiving to Georgia

When I started up the Friday after Thanksgiving, I started from Davenport Gap, the northern end of the Smokies. Despite a full resupply and a long climb, I felt light on my feet. The zero rejuvenated me. I welcomed the weekend warriors and day hikers in the Smokies, at least for the first half. After Newfound Gap and a trip into Gatlinburg, I didn’t see a soul for days. Well, besides at Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the AT, to which a road leads up most of the way. The view was beautiful, but I was overwhelmed by the tourists. I found that I appreciated the views I had to work for the most, the hidden gems out in no-man’s land.

One section of the view from Clingmans Dome.

Luckily, the weather cooperated nicely during my time in the Smokies, (where I passed my 2,000-mile marker) but that was soon to change. The forecast predicted a high of 27 during the day and a low of nine at night, with windchill up to minus three. Therefore, I stayed at the Cabins in the Woods for two nights and slackpacked a day. The owners were so nice and accommodating. This was one of my favorite little places to stay along the trail. I kept warm, and I even met some other thru-hikers—Puddles and Wind Eagle—during the slackpack.

My broken trekking pole, which ironically was the one with a good tip still.

Leaving the Cabins in the Woods was hard, and the day continued to fall apart on me. I hiked in snow, which wasn’t too bad and led to incredible views. On the first climb, I tweaked my ankle. On the descent, I fell and broke a trekking pole. Emotions were running high from the rapidly approaching end, so I completely lost my shit. Instead of hiking to the shelter six miles from Nantahala Outdoor Center, I stayed there. I was very bitter about it, too.

After that day, things started to get a little better, despite the weather continuing to get worse. In Franklin, NC, Puddles introduced me to Songbird, Galaxy, and River. New friends! The sky rained cats and dogs, but we embraced the suck and all slackpacked that next day. Since the weather was crap, I slept in hostels and motels more than I anticipated I would toward the end. Having other people around, even for just a day or two, brightened my mood. Before I knew it, I crossed the North Carolina- Georgia line.

From Top of Georgia to Cooper Gap

Back in Maine, I met many NOBOs getting ready to finish their hikes. Some were excited, some were nervous, and most were both. I felt both, but I leaned toward the excitement. I knew that as soon as I got home, I’d want to be back out there. However, I had hiked day in and day out for five months and was exhausted. My mind begged me to stop more than my body, but both were ready for a break.

I used my excitement to fuel my hiking over these four days. I also stressed. Leki sent replacement tips to the Top of Georgia Hiking Center for me, but the package never came. I later found out that it was held up in New York. Anyway, I did a slackpack with the hostel to try to see if it showed up the next day, the day that the woman told me it should be delivered by. It did not. I was livid. I threw off my schedule to try to get this package, and I couldn’t afford to wait around for it. Luckily, the trail provides… well, Vagabond at the hostel provides. She loaned me a pair of her trekking poles to use for the remainder of my hike and send back at the end. Thanks, Vagabond!

My mom and sister were flying down to Georgia to meet me for my last two days of hiking. Before meeting them on Wednesday, I embraced the last moments of solitude on the trail. I hiked to Neel Gap by 4 p.m. on Tuesday. I planned to stealth somewhere just south of the road, but I thought I should make my last night on my own special. Therefore, I climbed Blood Mountain for the sunset and sunrise the following morning. It was cold, but it was well worth it. A perfect last night in the woods by myself.

Sunrise from the top of Blood Mountain.

The next day, I walked to Cooper Gap, where my sister and mom met me. We had a glorious reunion, a delicious dinner, and a quaint cabin to cuddle up in. We made plans for the next two days, my last two days.

From Cooper Gap to Springer and Amicalola Falls

My mom had her hip replaced a year ago, so she did not want to do all of the hiking with me and my sister. However, all three of us hiked from Cooper Gap to Hightower Gap. We had fun catching up. Mostly they asked me about trail life, which I am always happy to talk about.

It was sunny and chilly, so my sister, Hannah, and I were tempted to go back to the cabin that night with mom, but I knew I would be disappointed in myself if I did not spend my last night on trail in the woods. After a short day, Hannah and I ended up at the campsite around 2:30 p.m. We made and maintained a fire for two hours, which killed some time. Neither of us slept well that night, but I am happy I had my last night in the woods.

The next morning, we hiked out to the Springer parking lot. My mom met us, and all three of us walked a mile to the summit. Holy shit, the summit! My heart thumped. No crying. Lots of smiles. We had a photoshoot. My mom brought my moose hat from home because my trail name is Wildlife, so I dressed the part.

Wildlife summits Springer Mountain, Southern Terminus of the AT.

But I was not finished yet. My sister and I climbed down the Approach Trail. Again, we were tempted to just hike back a mile with my mom, but I knew I needed to do it all. When we got down to the arch, I sighed with relief. Then we had another photoshoot.

Sighing with relief at the bottom of the Approach Trail.

Reflecting

I don’t know if it has really sunk in. I miss it to some extent, but I am mostly happy to be home. When people ask me how I feel, I reply that it seems like a dream. A long-ass dream that’s far, far away. I am proud of myself. I am a different person. Although I’m not sure how. It’s weird having so much crap. I don’t like it. I lost 25 pounds on my hike. I like that. Side note: the severe weight loss in that amount of time distracted my body from getting my period, so I only had one over the course of five months! It was awesome.

More existential lessons the trail taught me were to loosen up and keep an open mind when it comes to expectations. I burned myself out whenever I put too much pressure on myself. I’m still learning to go with the flow, but I am more aware of it now. Life is a constant work in progress, and I am always bettering myself. Another lesson was carpe diem. Seize the day. I know it’s cliche. However some of my favorite moments were ones of spontaneity and living life to the fullest. Cliff jumping in the Whites. Catching a sunrise along a ridge in New York. These will be the experiences I remember the most. My grandchildren will get to hear my Appalachian Trail stories so many times that they may very well get sick of them!

I do love to talk about my experience. I like answering questions, offering advice to aspiring thru-hikers, and talking about myself in general. We are very self-focused beings whether you are conscious of it or not. People ask me if I will do another thru-hike. The jury is still out. I think in a few years, I could get on board with the PCT or Te Araroa. Until then, Wildlife retires her reign to Emma.

Peach out. -Wildlife

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Comments 11

  • Bruiser : Dec 19th

    Mannny congratulations for completing the AT!!!!
    I loved reading about your hike; thank you so much for sharing your observations. May your journey continue to be as rich and fruitful as your last five months!

    Reply
    • Stefan : Dec 19th

      Congratulations wildlife. It’s been enjoyable reading about your hike. So glad you braved the cold weather. Thank you.

      Reply
      • Emma Rosenfield : Dec 19th

        Thanks!

        Reply
    • Emma Rosenfield : Dec 19th

      Thanks Bruiser! I’m so glad that I pushed my start date back to 7/7 or else I wouldn’t have met you, Blue, and Magnot. Hope we can plan a reunion sometime!

      Reply
  • Steve Clarke : Dec 20th

    Hi Wildlife,

    Congrats on your awesome accomplishment. I’m looking at doing a thru hike next year to celebrate an old guy birthday. A traditional NOBO or SOBO appeals to my old school ways but I think I’m going to do a NOBO flip flop starting at Rockfish Gap. Would appreciate your thoughts on the traditional versus flip flop options.

    All the best,

    Steve

    Reply
    • Emma Rosenfield : Dec 22nd

      Hi Steve,

      I was always set on doing a continuous hike myself, so I never considered a flip flop. However, I think it’s actually a great way to do it. A flip flop allows you to maximize day length and the best weather. Both things that were tough for me to deal with at the end and tough for NOBOs at the start. Actually a member of my tramily (trail-family) did a flip flop out of Rockfish Gap. I think he enjoyed doing it that way. I would have struggled a little with a flip flop because I really enjoyed having lots of other SOBOs around me for camaraderie at the start. Pros and cons to all options. Good luck!

      Happy trails,
      Wildlife

      Reply
  • Allison DiVerde : Dec 21st

    OMG I’m so jealous you only had your period once!!!!! Severly jealous of that! Happy Trails in your next chapter, Emma 😛

    Reply
  • Kreg Moccia : Dec 22nd

    Love this! Your writing has such honesty and candor. Also, excellent sunset pic on Blood Mountain. We scrapped that idea after we froze our butts off the night before.

    And congrats on finishing! I’m glad we kept in touch throughout the trip. For the whole second half of the trail, I was hoping you’d catch up and hike with us!

    Regardless, I was following the blog and rooting for you the whole way. Hope to catch you sometime in the future. 🙂

    Reply
    • Emma Rosenfield : Jan 7th

      Thanks Carrot Top! I loved following you guys in the log books. I greatly appreciated all the entries 🙂 Hope you are having a great 2019 so far!

      Reply
  • Pony : Dec 28th

    I’ll bite (so to speak): Care to explain the poop-rating scale?

    Fun, isn’t it, how utterly normal it becomes to talk about feces on the trail?

    Reply
    • Emma Rosenfield : Jan 7th

      I feel like it is now normal for me to talk about feces off of the trail, too, haha. The poop-rating scale can be found in my blog post about pooping in woods. Basically 3/5 is perfect. The lower the number, the more liquidy and the higher the number, the harder it is.

      Reply

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