Springer Mountain is All Too Close
The day I crossed the Appalachian Trail northbound 100 mile marker in Georgia (100 miles left to hike, southbound mile 2093.4), my mind was elsewhere. I was back in Maine, Bio Diesel, Photo Op, and myself using sticks to spell out “100” on the ground in the Hundred Mile Wilderness. 100 miles 21 more times we told ourselves.
An Executive Summary of Many Miles
It was raining crossing 100 miles at both ends of the trail.
For a long time Georgia seemed impossibly far away. Then we were in the White Mountains, walking through summer drought in the Mid-Atlantic, celebrating halfway with the half-gallon challenge in Pennsylvania, ridge walking in Virginia, following the changing leaves of fall into Tennessee, and eating a half-stick of butter on top of Clingmans Dome in the Smoky Mountains. All of the miles spiraling like a big dream beneath our feet.
Now I’m in Georgia, relaxing in a warm hostel with my trail family after hiking a nero (nearly zero miles) in cold rain. Honestly we’ve had great weather going southbound, we needed some cold nights and rain to have a true AT experience.
I came out to the trail with many expectations. I expected to have more time alone, hike faster and more miles per day, take fewer zero days, spend less money, journal regularly, and have a greater desire to stay connected with the outside world.
Writings on southbound hikes typically highlight the solitary nature of the journey. Get ready to hike alone! Was the mindset I came to trail with. The mindset most southbound hikers start the trail with.
It’s a big year for hiking the AT, southbound being no exception.
My lunch breaks are now taken in the woods surrounded by folks I’ve met over the past five months and 2,100 miles. Food bags exploded on picnic tables or a shelter floor. Plastic bottles of packed out mayonnaise and sauces passed around as we prepare tuna wraps for the 100th day in a row. These are moments I will remember.
Within the bubble of hikers we are hiking around, sub-groups break apart only to meet back up in town. Familiar faces appear randomly in grocery stores, at a campsite, or a restaurant buffet.
I quickly determind I did not want this thru-hike to feel like work. Instead I focused on existing in the moment. I wrote things down when it felt right, hiked my own hike some days, and usually allowed others to plan.
I enjoy slower mornings and night hike often. Attempts are made to shower and wash laundry at least once a week, and most nights I fall back onto my yellow inflatable air pad – exhausted with a sigh of disbelief that I’m still out here.
The Final Stretch
I am planning to finish my hike on Springer Mountain with folks I met in Maine, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. As a group we’ve said tearful goodbyes to a few who’ve gotten off-trail, shared ridiculous amounts of laughter, played numerous rounds of Hearts, grunted up tough mountains, and filled shelters.
There are many stories to be told but I’m going to keep this post short. With the end in sight I’ll be focusing on living in the moment.
The Appalachian Trail Southbound thru-hike has been the journey needed and the one I never expected.
Ten miles two more times, Springer Mountain is all too close.
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