End of the Appalachian Trail
So how does it feel after walking 2,000 miles on the AT? Watch:
On Oct 16, we woke up at 3AM, just like we had 111 days before at the base of Mt. Kathadin. October 16, 2001 would be a memorable day - it would be the day we finished the Appalachian Trail.
We built a fire (something we avoided most of the journey to preserve nature's resources) to celebrate this great day. We set off, still infected with a serious bout of Summit Fever.
Summit Fever afflicts most AT hikers as they near their destination. We first learned about it as we met Northbounders in the 100-mile wilderness in Maine. They would come around the corner with a fire in their eyes and a determination in their stride that just screamed, "Get out of my way, I am about to finish the AT!"
Fortunately, the day before (Oct 15) we met two wonderful human beings: Doug and Evelyn. These day hikers were astounded after hearing our tale of walking 2100 miles. They offered to pick us up at Springer Mountain, take us to their home, and then drop us off by the rapid transit to the Atlanta airport. It was destiny perhaps, but trail magic blessed us the whole way: from the very first hitchhike by Dave in Maine to the first step off the trail.
Everywhere we went we felt like superheroes. Everyone who learned about our journey during those last miles congratulated us to no end. We felt blessed. Families told their children, "Those two people have walked from Maine to get here!" They looked at us with awe and admiration. They took our pictures, and we never felt so wonderful. We were superstars in this little part of the world.
Springer Mountain itself was a cakewalk. The easily graded trail reminded us of Blood Mountain and before we knew it, we turned a corner and there it was: the famous plaque marking the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
We celebrated as if we had won the lottery! Yet it wasn't luck that got us here, it was a lot of hard work. As George from Pennsylvania put it, "You couldn't have paid me to work that hard." And yet he (and we) did it for free. It was because of all the blood, sweat, and tears that it made standing on top of Springer Mountain so great.
It's hard to say that we conquered the Appalachian Trail. Yes, we were part of the elite 10% who complete the whole trail. Yes, we completed it faster than 99% of those who did walk it. But the AT will never be conquered. It will be there long after we are gone. No, we didn't conquer it, but we did conquer ourselves.
After celebrating on Springer, we met two wonderful women who took our pictures and celebrated with us. They offered to take us back to their lodge and feed us, but we told them that Doug and Evelyn had already invited us! Imagine that, double trail magic!
The ladies drove us down Springer, saving us the 8-mile walk down to Amicolola State Park. Later, Doug and Evelyn picked us up there. They took us to their beautiful home and Evelyn made the most perfect salmon dinner you can imagine. It was marinated in teriyaki sauce for two days and the side dishes were equally extravagant. The dessert was delicious: ice cream with raspberries, toasted almonds, caramel and chocolate. YUMMY!
The next day we took off to the airport to fly to New Mexico for a weeklong vacation. Many thought that the AT was a vacation. But after spending a few weeks (or even a couple of days), you learn that this ain't no vacation. It's hard work. So we looked forward to New Mexico to help us relax and transition back to the real world.
We eventually returned to San Francisco before Halloween and were swamped immediately. The world had changed: the job market was in the toilet, but the housing market was better than ever for buyers and renters. Then again, it's hard to buy when you're homeless and jobless.
Nevertheless, our friends and family helped us readjust. After a month of job searching, we have come up empty, but we know that January will bring good fortune on us. After all, the spirit of the AT is still with us, and will be always.
Final Thoughts - December 1, 2001
We hiked the Appalachian Trail during an interesting time. Sept 11, 2001 marked a major change to our global society. We felt the shock waves even on the AT, demonstrating how interconnected we have all become; even the AT couldn't shelter us from this world changing event.
The way Americans rallied together was a pleasure to witness even from our isolation on the trail. We were so happy to see that the Trail Magic that we encountered was not limited to the trail, although it was sad that a tragedy had to happen for the rest of the world to show that it was capable of the same selfless acts of generosity that happen everyday on the AT.
Many have asked us when we will hike the PCT and CDT. Someday, but not next summer like we originally thought. A thru-hike is an amazing experience, and should be carefully placed in the river of one's life. They are like high bridges along the river. They are parts where we get off the rapids, and observe the whole river from above.
Because they're such treasured moments, we want to save the PCT and CDT for a time in our lives when we will get the most out of it. In other words, when we hit a point of transition or when we're stuck in a rut. They're great when you're at a point where you're not sure what to do next. It's also a great way to detoxify your mind, clear everything out, and regain perspective. Since we just got a good dose of that, we feel it's best to wait until we do it again.
We believe that all humans should use something like a thru-hike every 5-10 years. It doesn't have to be a thru-hike. It could be a six month sabbatical in Asia; or a three month break in the Caribbean; or backpacking through Europe for 10 months. It doesn't really matter what you do, except that you get away to experience something you've never experienced before, and do it for at least one month.
It's not healthy to do the same thing all the time for 40 years. We all could use a break; and not just a two week vacation, but a two month vacation. The more time off, the better. Many say they can't afford it, but that's rarely the reason. The thru-hike didn't cost that much (less than $5,000 for Lisa and Francis). That's less than most couples spend on a two-week vacation in Greece or a cruise.
You can always come up with excuses as to why you can't do what you've always dreamed. People do this all their lives, and then, near the end of their lives, they are filled with regret. We don't want to suffer this fate, and we hope our journey has inspired all of you to do the same.
We want to give a special thanks to all our sponsors, especially to GoLite and Canon. All our sponsors were incredibly generous, but GoLite and Canon went to extraordinary levels of support. We will get a great chance to thank our sponsors at the two-hour clinics we will give at six REI locations in the Spring; REI expects that over 200 people will attend. Francis's mom, Lucia, also deserves special thanks for handling all the resupplies; she was marvelous.
Francis has so many thoughts and lessons from the journey that he has written a book about it. It's called Hike Your Own Hike: 7 Life Lessons from Backpacking Across America. It is a self-help book that draws seven lessons from the AT and how to apply them in everyday life. It is not a book for just AT hikers, it is a book for all humans.
Also, if you have specific questions or comments about backpacking, discuss it at our WanderLearn forum.
"We also came out here to learn about ourselves. The biggest prize in long-distance hiking is the gift of time. Time to look. Time to think. Time to feel. All those hours you spend with your thoughts. You don't solve all of your problems, but you come to understand and accept yourself."
November 26th, 2001
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