Thursday, November 29, 2012

Trail beard!

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 And, our friend made a gif of the published photos:

Monday, November 12, 2012

AT Day 187 (final day!) Hawk Mountain shelter to Amicolola Falls!

November 12, 2012
Miles: 17
Total: 2014

Well friends, today was it!  We finished with our adventure!

We had stayed the night in Hawk Mountain Shelter, a mere 8 miles from the southern terminus of this wonderful American natural/cultural/geological/ historical asset, the Appalachian Trail!  We woke up full of excitement for the day around 4:45, but unfortunately we heard rain drops on the roof.  This generally means that we are not getting up early to hike, as we only can handle one over drawback to hiking at a time (hiking in the dark, fine, but hiking in the dark while raining: no! Hiking in the dark below 20: double no!).  So we got up at a more reasonable hour and realized that it was barely raining and perhaps was just super heavy condensation from low clouds rolling in.  Still not the beautiful weather we had put an order in for SIX MONTHS ago, but what can you do.

The shelter happens to be very close to an Army training facility and there was ranger training going on while we were there the night before.  Rangers literally walking through the campsite.  Shannon ended up in a cordon of them on her way to the privy!  In her pink rain jacket, she sort of ruined their color scheme.  We also had a helicopter fly directly over the shelter, what looked from our view to be about 10 feet above the trees.  We told ourselves it was part of the celebration for us finishing the trail!

There was one other person in the shelter and it was her first day on the trail, which we though was really funny.  Her name was Scout and she was with her dog Jasmine who was very entertaining.  She would follow us whenever we left the shelter at night and look over us as we laid back down to make sure we were OK.  Very cute.

We took a side trail .1 to this pretty sight, Long Creek Falls - worth it!
Anyways!  We finally got ourselves in gear and got hiking, as we wanted to spend some time at the summit and our friend Chicken Feathers was planning on meeting us in Amicolola State park around 3PM.  The hiking was very pleasant for the first 8 miles and we made really good time.  As I mentioned before, the weather could have been better but it wasn't cold at least and it was sort of a misty/sprinkling kind of mix for the first half of the day.  We were pushing it in high gear and were quite excited, so it felt like it took so much longer than usual!  The state park itself is really well maintained with smooth wide trails and lots of rhododendrons along the sides.  Quite gorgeous, and I can imagine it being a very nice place to start (but I'm sure if a hiker didn't have their "trail legs" yet it could be a little challenging - that kind of goes for the whole state of Georgia).  We started to come to signs with countdowns towards the end:

Well, finally we came to the parking lot a mile north of the summit - there was a kiosk with some history of the trail and some nice quotations.  I really liked this one:
"Remote for detachment, narrow for chosen company, winding for leisure, lonely for contemplation, it beckons not  merely north and south, but upward to the body, mind and soul of man"
Myron Avery

Southern Terminus of the AT, woot!
Our excitement just seemed to build with every step until we came to THIS:

Just look at those hiking machines!

Almost kissing - we must have made the photographer uncomfortable because they missed it :P
Another engraving marking the trail
Because of the weather there weren't a lot of people out despite it being a holiday (Veteran's Day), so the feeling of this summit didn't have the community spirit that our summit on Katahdin had where many people were finishing up on the same day.  Because of the hurricane that came through, most hikers who were north of the Smoky Mountains got held up and I believe we were the only people finishing our hike on this day.  BUT, we were not going to just sign the book and call it a day!  Jamie had carried a bottle of champagne 31 miles for this and we were determined to enjoy it, damn it!  So we ended up setting up the fly and footprint of our tent about 15 feet away and had a little party for two atop the mountain!

Exited hikers!  Our "style" of thru-hike is known as a "Flip Flop" because we started in the middle and hiked  both directions, and I happened upon this bottle of champagne.  Perfect, I know!
Springer Mountain, party for two?

After squeezing and savoring every moment out of the experience, we looked at the time and realized we had to get going.  We broke down the tent and realized that the mist had turned to actual rain and that we'd made it to the top before it really started.  We donned our rain gear and proceeded to walk the 9 miles of the approach trail to the Amicolola State park visitors center.  Now this trail isn't actually part of the AT - we were done with the AT!  But given the fact we were done and the weather, this was probably the longest 9 miles ever.  

The park and falls were quite beautiful when we finally got down, but it was so misty we couldn't really see the whole scope of them.  It is quite huge it turns out!  But we weren't really interested in seeing anything at that point (terrible, I know, but after 2100+ miles of views you sort of start taking them for granted), we were just pretty pumped to be done!  We made our way to the visitors center through the main park (we kept getting excited because there are many parking lots between the base of the falls ans the visitors center and visibility was low - "We're there!"..."Nope, another parking area...").  There Chicken Feathers was waiting and a very friendly park ranger congratulated us and gave us free ice creams and forms to fill out to register ourselves as thru-hikers.
Chicken Feathers, Whip-poor-way Lionkiller, and Jukebox Lionkiller at the end of the AT approach trail
We were soggy and a little chilly but we'd made it!  The final day of our trip done!  Only one thing left to do:
Shannon throwing away her hiking clothes of 2100+ miles
As with any major phase of life, when it ends abruptly the feelings and emotions that you think that you should feel don't often come right away and catch up with you randomly some time soon after and that is the case now.  We haven't had a chance yet to stop moving because we're sort of taking the long long way back up to Massachusetts (Atlanta to Charlotte to DC to Maryland to DC to New Hampshire to Massachusetts, WHEW!), so I suspect once we take a breather we'll really feel "done".  And as you may remember we missed the Smoky Mountains!  It feels sort of like a forgotten assignment on an otherwise perfect grade.  So we're thinking of coming back to do them and line it up so we can make it to Trail Days right afterwards - that would make it a 100% completion within a full calendar year since we started mid-May.