Journey to the finish line – TN, NC and Georgia
And so I entered the final month of my hike…
Although I felt like I had been hiking forever, the last month still caught me by surprise. Time seemed to speed up as my trail-hardened legs covered a lot of ground every day. The distance to go, which I recorded in my journal every night, was decreasing at a rate of knots. However, I still needed to get up every morning and actually do the hiking to make it there.
My first Thanksgiving
After the freezing temperatures of southern Virginia, it was nice to have a bit of a warm spot going into Tennessee.
It was coming up to Thanksgiving, an American holiday I had never experienced before, and one I was looking forward to. Luckily, my planning had me arriving at Boots Off hostel on that day, who were hosting a thanksgiving meal. It was really lovely to come together with some of my fellow thru-hikers and other members of the trail community to enjoy the day. I also enjoyed trying all the traditional thanksgiving foods, including six different pies. I was intent on trying everything, regardless of stomach capacity, so was very full afterwards. It was worth it though. Everything was delicious, although I’m still not convinced that sweet potatoes with marshmallow on top belongs in the main meal section, and not in the dessert section.
Next stop was Roan Mountain, and the Station at 19e, a pub with a hostel on top of it. I was lucky enough to be there for the Saturday afternoon “jam session”. This involved mostly older members of the local community coming together to play mainly country music together on their guitars, harmonicas, double bass, etc. It was great to get to experience this local event, with a highlight being an elderly lady leading the group in a country song entitled “not every sperm deserves an egg”. I have not laughed that hard for a while.
Through Erwin, TN and Hot Springs, NC, I took advantage of the proximity to towns and hostels and enjoyed a couple of “slackpack” days (hiking with just a backpack). Amazing how light I felt when not hefting 17kg/35lb on my back! I also got to meet and stay with well known trail angel Miss Janet on this section. It was lovely to get to meet such a stalwart of the trail, and hear her stories.
I also got to catch up with a lot of my SOBO buddies in Hot Springs, for what was the final time I would see some of them on trail. Most of these people started around when I did in Maine, and we have been leapfrogging each other for the last four months. It was lovely to be able to see them all, and reflect on all the good times we’ve had so far.
The Smoky Mountains
The Smoky Mountains are known to have somewhat unpredictable weather, and I had many people along the trail ask me what I was planning to do once I hit the Smokies. I always replied that I would do whatever needed to be done once I got there.
My main fear had been that it would be freezing cold and icy once we got there, as it is the highest elevation on trail. However, instead of snow and ice, we had humid and rainy. So it was a return to a very wet trail, and days of wet feet from hiking through a trail that was indistinguishable from a stream at times. Luckily we got to escape to Gatlinburg midway through to dry our things, have a hot shower and sleep in a warm dry bed. We did manage to have some drier weather for our last day in the Smokies, so got to enjoy some nice views for a day at least.
Making to to Georgia
Once out of the Smokies, it was through Fontana Dam and the NOC, and then onto Georgia! I passed the North Carolina/Georgia border early one morning, and was overcome with emotion. When I was in Maine I was talking to a NOBO and he said how crazy it felt finally being in Maine, after having a goal of hiking to Maine for so long. I felt the same crossing this border. I had been telling people for more than 4 months that I was “hiking to Georgia”, when anyone asked me where I was going. Now I was actually in Georgia!
Our timing on leaving North Carolina and passing into Georgia coincided with the return to cold temperatures and sub-zero temperatures overnight (around 20-25F). Our last night in North Carolina was a very cold one, even with my fleece liner and 20F sleeping bag. We had already planned some hostel stays and a slack pack for our final days but when we figured out that we could actually stay inside in real beds for our last four nights, we jumped at the chance.
While sleeping outside in tents and shelters has been a fun experience, I’ve discovered I really don’t like camping in really cold conditions. We told ourselves that we had already proved that we were hardarses by getting this far, but really had no regrets about being warm and dry for our last stretch. Big thank you to Hostel Around the Bend and Your Home in the Woods for making this happen.
Our final day
After doing a literal slackpack marathon (actually 43km/23m) on our second last day, we were dropped off at the Three Forks trailhead the next morning for our final approach up to Springer Mountain. It was a cold morning, with overcast skies and rain looming. I wasn’t sure what my reaction would be on making it to the summit, which marks the end of the Appalachian Trail. I thought I might cry, but I actually laughed on seeing the sign for the summit. There was a massive sense of both joy and relief on having finally made it. I was lucky to share my summit day with two of my fellow thru-hikers (Not Yet and Moose Boots). In a really nice coincidence, Not Yet was actually the first other SOBO I met, way back in Bangor when getting the bus to the AT lodge.
It was a really special moment. However, it was also really cold, so once we had done a bit of celebrating, and taken some photos, it was time for the 14km/8m trip down the approach trail to Amicalola Falls. It was a bit anticlimactic to still have to hike for another 4 hours to actually get off the mountain, especially in suboptimal weather. Once we got to the Falls (which were spectacular), it was then down 600 stairs, a bit more walking, and then we were done! I couldn’t quite believe it that this was it – at the finish line with no more hiking to be done! No fireworks, no finisher medal, just time to go home.
I will share my post-trail thoughts and reflections in a later post, but for now it’s time for rest and relaxation.
18 July to 20 December 2022
SOBO AT thru-hiker
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