That’s all, Folks.
That’s it. It’s over. The other half of the 2,149.3 miles are complete. It’s a bittersweet feeling, but thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is the most rewarding thing I’ve pushed myself to do. The remaining half of the trail continued to amaze me.
After crossing the Mason/ Dixon line, my trail family (“tramily”) and I took a much-needed zero day at Cross Trails Hostel. It was a true hiker hostel where things were laid back and weird in the best way possible. Rocky’s parents drove out to spoil us with a BBQ breakfast trail magic and took us to the ATC in Harpers Ferry — the unofficial, symbolic halfway point.
West Virginia/ Virginia:
The trail weaves between West Virginia and Virginia in the beginning. There were so many key memories made in these states and Virginia is, without a doubt, my favorite one. I left Harpers Ferry on a rainy day and ended the hike at an enclosed shelter, where a caretaker offered to make us a delicious spaghetti dinner. The rollercoaster section began the next day and my tramily and I had intended to complete it in one day but made a pit stop at Bear Chase Brewery (minus Syrup). We ended up staying at Bears Den Hostel near the brewery and decided to finish the rollercoaster the following day. Entering Shenandoah National Park was magical with consistent views. Devil’s Backbone Brewery offers a campground for hikers to crash at for free, so we didn’t snooze on that opportunity; in fact, we slackpacked the next day and stayed a second night. We met the famous Fresh Ground, who is truly one of the most compassionate humans on earth, and ate his delicious food from his mobile cafe, Leapfrog Cafe. The triple crown — consisting of Tinker Cliffs, Dragon’s Tooth, and McAfee Knob — was a top hiking section for me. If you’re looking for a beautiful, wholesome place to stay, look no further than Woods Hole Hostel, they serve homemade dinner, dessert, and breakfast using produce grown on their farm. Unfortunately, I didn’t stay for breakfast the next morning because I planned to hike about 33 miles to get ahead of my tramily so we could link up in a couple of days. I spent the following day hiking with my partner, who came out to visit me, and took a well-rested zero day before we parted ways. The wild ponies at Grayson Highlands were a fun sight, they were such sweet and docile creatures. I caught back up with my tramily in Damascus, which was our last stop before entering Virginia. We celebrated with Cowboy’s parents who treated us to some trail magic in the form of a cozy hotel room and breakfast the next morning.
Similar to West Virginia and Virginia, the trail weaves between Tennessee and North Carolina. The stunning views continued: waterfalls, ridge walking, fields of farm animals, Max Patch, Smoky Mountains, and Clingman’s Dome. It was filled with exhilarating moments: sleeping at Roan High Knob Shelter (the highest shelter on the Appalachian Trail) on a freezing cold night; spotting a mama bear and her three cubs with Cowboy and having to find an alternative route to avoid them; saving dogs and turning them into an animal rescue site; having my feet decide to crap out on me, experiencing the worst pain ever; facetime my siblings with big news from each of them; and eating my first ever Mountain House dinner. Guide’s family came out to visit again at Hot Springs and to no surprise, they made sure we had a fun time. Sadly, a family emergency arose that kept me from enjoying the remainder of the trail, so I decided to step off for a bit to be with my family. I returned to the trail shortly after leaving and it felt familiar, yet different.
This is the last state and it was spent in solitude. It was difficult on many levels, but when adversity hits, it’s helpful for me to think about the positives if I want to get the job done. I may have lost my tramily, but I was able to see hikers I hadn’t seen in a while and meet new hikers. Sure, the weather was uncomfortable and the sun set much earlier, but I continued to push limits I didn’t know existed. Yes, I may have summited Springer Mountain by myself, but it allowed me to reflect on what a spectacular, life-changing journey this has been. On my last day, there were many day hikers enjoying their Sunday on the approach trail. Each person I passed had no clue what I had just accomplished, the disconnect and lack of understanding were apparent. My biggest fear was approaching — the beginning of post-trail blues. Although, those feelings of fear and disconnect disappeared for a bit after crossing the arch where my partner greeted me and had a special surprise waiting just a few feet ahead. I walked toward the picnic area where I saw a few of my close trail friends (Guide, Taylor, and Caleb) and my mom. This was a heartwarming and unforgettable way to finish a beautiful and difficult journey.
If I were to do this over or suggest a direction for future thru-hikers, SOBO or no-go. Of course, a bit of bias is playing a role here, but imagine starting off this adventure filled with excitement going through the rugged terrain in Maine; climbing multiple 4,000 footers in New Hampshire; quickly knocking out the smaller states one after the other; and having so much daylight to appreciate the stellar views. Regardless of whether thru-hikers decide to go north, south, or flip-flop, the point of this whole thing is to see the beauty in the moments and feel the challenges by persevering. Whether your finishing on Springer Mountain, Katahdin, or at Harpers Ferry, it’s not the location in and of itself that makes the end feel grand, but rather everything that happened before reaching that point.
If you’re curious about trail life, I 10/10 recommend checking out a couple of these channels from my trail pals:
Noah Wood “Guide” who hiked SOBO: https://www.youtube.com/@noahwood246
Jordyn Sak “Slice” who Flip Flopped in Harpers Ferry: https://www.youtube.com/@jsakandabackpack
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