It was great seeing Diane on Oct 4th. After breakfast on Thursday the 5th, Diane drove me to the trailhead at Dicks Creek Gap and I was hiking before 0730. As the morning progressed, I felt I was making decent time. Four hours after I began, I checked my distance and I had hiked 10.3 miles in four hours. I was very pleased with this, because I’m not sure I’ve ever averaged more than 2.5 MPH for any 4-mile consecutive stretch. This would have been impossible for me to do earlier on this trek. However, in the afternoon things changed. Either the Trail became more challenging, I became more tired, or both. In the afternoon I was clocking about 2.2 MPH.
The Trail in GA continued to be well maintained. I came across these Trail maintainers as they were manually sawing a pretty big tree.
This photo is taken from Tray Mountain, where I had lunch.
At the end of this 16.7-mile hike, Diane was waiting for me at the trailhead at Unicoi Gap, and we returned to our hotel in Hiawassee, GA. Later that evening we went out to a BBQ restaurant and enjoyed a meal on an outdoor patio overlooking a lake. It was a nice evening.
What a surprise! After I woke up on October 6th and organized my gear for the day’s hike, I went to the hotel breakfast area and my son Patrick was waiting for me.
He had driven in from Charlotte the night before to hike with me for the day. As far as I am concerned, this is the completion of a trifecta. Now all three of my children have joined me on the Trail. Diane drove us to the trailhead and we were hiking by 0730. The weather was cool and ideal for hiking. Our hike started with an 1100-foot ascent up Blue Mountain, and continued 15.2 miles to Tesnatee Gap.
We stopped for lunch at a shelter. Most of our day was spent in a canopy with this sole exception.
Patrick is a good hiker and did well. Even more impressively, he intentionally loaded his pack with heavy weights because he is preparing for an endurance and athletic competition. His pack weighed nearly 50 pounds! At the end of the hike, Diane was waiting for us and drove us back to the hotel. It was a special treat for me. I am so glad he made the effort to come and hike.
In the evening, we all went out to a restaurant and enjoyed a nice meal.
Diane drove me to the trailhead early on Saturday the 7th, and I was headlamping by 0700. The weather was misty, very foggy and at times drizzling. I hiked 20.3 miles to Gooch Gap, and the weather at the end was no different than it was at the beginning. There certainly were no nice views. I climbed Blood Mountain and stopped in this shelter at the summit for lunch.
Diane met me at the end of the day and drove me back to the hotel. At that point, I was only 17.1 miles away from the end of the Trail. I could finish in just one more day. But Diane indicated she would prefer I split the 17.1 miles over two days. She has never asked me for anything regarding this hike, so I agreed.
The morning of Sunday, October 8th, Diane dropped me off at Gooch Gap. It was raining, extremely foggy but warm, about 70 degrees.
I hiked in dense fog and pouring rain all day. The volume of water that was dumped on the Trail was tremendous. The winds — remnants of Hurricane Nate –were quite strong. I was even more concerned with trees falling on the Trail (and on me) than I was with the rain.
Diane picked me up at Hightower Gap. I could not have been more drenched if you had thrown me in a lake. I was fortunate the weather was warm, because even at those temperatures I was chilled to the bone. We drove to a condo Diane had rented in Dahlonega, GA. When I walked in the door, my daughter and three grandchildren jumped out and surprised me. I had no idea they were coming! Once again, I felt like I’d won the lottery.
My daughter told me she would hike with me the next day — the last day of my hike. Diane and the kids would join us for the final mile ascent of Springer Mountain. Now I understood why Diane wanted me to split a normal hike into two days!
On Monday, October 9th, we had an hour and twenty minute drive to Hightower Gap. We got the kids up at 0600 and were in the car by 0640. Diane dropped us off, departed with the grandchildren, and my daughter and I were hiking by 0830.
The weather was overcast, warm and misting. We hiked and talked along the way; she is always good company. We made decent time as we crossed various foot bridges and did some minor rock-hopping on swollen streams.
For a short period of time it rained and we put on our rain jackets. But just a half hour later, the jackets were off and the hike continued with much better weather. We even got a few glimpses of our shadows — something I hadn’t seen in days.
At the 7.6-mile point we met Diane and three of our grandkids, and I was greeted with this enthusiastic reception.
We all had lunch and then headed out to do the last mile together.
Unlike Mount Katahdin in Maine, Springer Mountain is not an extremely challenging hike, but it is rocky. Due to the rains the previous day, the last mile was quite wet and slippery. The kids had a few slips and stumbles, but overall they did quite well.
While hiking the last several miles I had trouble coming to the realization that this 2,190-mile journey was just about over. During the last mile, as I neared the Trail’s end, it was even more difficult for me to comprehend. At the summit, we took pictures, I signed my name in the thru-hikers’ book, and then we began the descent back to the car. My thru hike was officially complete.
I felt blessed that my daughter and three grandkids accompanied me and Diane to the summit. In many ways, faith, family and friends played an important role in my journey. I am thankful to so many people for my success, no one more so than Diane: my wife, my teammate, my manager and my everything. In addition to all her logistical support, she visited me in Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire, Maine (twice), West Virginia, Virginia and Georgia. Without her, I doubt I would have completed this trek. Some time will be required for all of this to sink in and come into better focus.
Diane and I headed home the next morning. I was on the Trail for 6 months. Now I have to figure out what retirement is, and how I am going to enter this new phase of my life. I will follow up with one final post within a week or two.