Saturday, May 3, 2008

The End and a Beginning

Summit Day. Who wouldn't feel escatic on Summit Day? The morning was bitterly cold, but I didn't care. The snow during the night melted upon hitting my tarp, then froze by morning, leaving a thin layer of ice which I crushed and broke apart as best I could while packing it. The ice that was left would melt during the afternoon, I knew, and eventually I'd have to pull out the tarp for drying and long term storage. If all went well, I would no longer need it. =)

Springer Mountain was about 12 miles away, but the Appalachian Trail was a mere five or six miles away. The Benton MacKaye trail, I knew, would intersect the Appalachian Trail several times those last few miles.

Shortly before the first intersection with the AT, I started slowing down, looking for the intersection ahead rather than blindly running into it. It probably sounds strange, but I wanted to savor the moment I stepped onto the AT. At that point, I will have walked the complete distance from Key West to Maine.

Not to mention that I have a soft spot in my heart for the Appalachian Trail. I spent half a year of my life hiking that trail, and had never come back to visit since I finished.

So I crept up the trail, looking for those famous white blazes, a signpost, or an intersection. I wanted to take a picture of the footstep that would combine my two big hikes.

And I saw it. The trail I followed reached a T-intersection, and a signpost had been erected that read, "Appalachian Trail" with arrows pointing in both directions.

It was an emotional moment for me, and a rather anti-climatic location for it. There was nothing particularly noteworthy about this intersection, and in fact I didn't even recognize or remember it when I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail five years before. My eyes started tearing up, and I felt like a sap for it. I didn't expect this particular intersection to affect me as much as it did, and I was glad no one was around to witness my sentimentality. =)

I took out my camera and took pictures of my feet as I stepped that last footstep connecting my two hikes, and touched the sign marking the Appalachian Trail.

After a short rest, I continued south on the Appalachian Trail and on to Springer Mountain. The Benton MacKaye followed the AT for about a mile, then would veer off on its own, intersecting the AT a couple of more times before ending near Springer Mountain.

So for a mile, I got to hike on the Appalachian Trail, and I was positively giddy about it. =) I hoped I would bump into some thru-hikers heading north--a very real possibility at this time of year.

I only crossed paths with one other hiker, a section hiker from Florida using the trailname Back In the Day. He was a firefighter and hiking with three other younger co-workers, and I guess he always made references to how things were 'back in the day.'

They were out for a few days, but Back In the Day left the Springer Mountain shelter before his companions and was waiting for them to catch up, so we chat for the better part of an hour. It was the first hiker I'd seen since Mortis in Dalton, and I liked the company. =)

I continued on, noting a sign that showed Springer Mountain being 4.1 miles ahead. I was still following the Benton MacKaye trail, however, which my notes showed required a six mile hike to Springer.

Kind of ironic, I thought, since I always considered the AT an incredibily windy path that rarely went anywhere fast. Who knew there was another trail that was even worse?!

When the AT and Benton MacKaye split, I was torn. I wanted to continue following the AT. It was calling to me, but I followed the Benton MacKaye instead with a twinge of guilt and regret in my heart. I was anxious to reach the next intersection with the AT. =)

At the next intersection, I found four prospective thru-hikers taking a short break nearby and practically pounced on them to get their stories. =) There were three girls and a guy--an unusual sight on the trail and a very lucky guy! ;o)

They were all planning to go to Maine, and I automatically started sizing them up trying to guess which ones would be most likely to make it. Their packs looked respectable. Not extremely light, perhaps, but not shockingly heavy either. The guy seemed a bit heavy, but I'd seen people who overweight than him make it to Katahdin. And they all seemed young, strong, and healthy.

I suspected they were all physically capable of making it the whole distance. If any of them quit, it would be because they were tired of the hike. I didn't tell them that, however, and encouraged them in their hike.

When I told them about hiking in from Key West, one of them shyly said they felt a bit 'inadequite' compared to me, which I thought was amusing. "Not to worry," I told them, "you'll get there! I just got a head start! You'll be looking like me in no time."

Thinking about my thick, crazy beard, "Well, maybe not EXACTLY like me," I told the girls as I stroked my beard. "I hope not, at least!" =)

We eventually parted ways, and I headed up the Benton MacKaye once again.

The trail intersected the AT one last time, but I didn't see any hikers at this one, and finally dead-ended at the AT 0.2 miles from Springer Mountain. I'd reached the end of the Benton MacKaye. Now I could stay on the AT, which is where I wanted to be anyhow.

I started creeping up the trail again, like I did when I first reached the AT, wanting to savor that moment when I reached Springer Mountain and the plaque that marks the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

It wasn't nearly as emotional for me as that first intersection with the AT, however, although I expected it to be. I reached the summit after three and a half months of hiking, nearly 1,900 miles from Key West, with this point as my goal. My hike was officially over.

It was a beautiful day for a summit. Not a cloud in the sky with views that extended for what seemed like a hundred miles.

The only witness to my finish was a caretaker at the top. He held a little yellow notepad where he kept track of the thru-hikers leaving for Katahdin, but made a note of my arrival from Key West. He told me this was his third year as a caretaker, and I asked him how many others he'd met who had hiked in from Key West.

"None."

It didn't surprise me, but the answer did remind me at how utterly lonely most of my hike had been.

But I made it and was escatic--positively jubilant. My hike was over.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ryan,
We know you'd done it. We followed your journey day by day, mile by mile. But to read about the end, in your own words, was very moving. You are and inspiration to us and to many others. Thanks for sharing.

Grumpy Grinch

Anonymous said...

Ryan,
Thank you so much for all of your posts and updates. It has been a fascinating read. (Now, it is time for you to rest and get ready for the Pacific Crest Trail.) You know there are plenty of trail angels on the west coast ready to help you as well!

-One of your faithful followers

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! I've been a faithful reader as you started out fresh in the Keys and have loved the story you planted in my mind until the very end. I give you a lot of credit for reaching your goal!
Buggylou

Anonymous said...

You did it! Thanks so much for keeping this online journal--it's been fun for all of us!
--Amyrica

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! I've been reading your journals from Day One. It has been most inspiring to read them, almost like I was on the trail with you. I could never do what you did, both on the AT and the thru-hike from Key West. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

Music Woman

gollygee said...

Congratulations Ryan! What an amazing feat, to have hiked the entire length of the east coast of the United States! It's truly amazing!!! I've really enjoyed your blogging about your trek. Thanks for sharing the experience with us! :)

Anonymous said...

So good to hear you made it safely. I've truly enjoyed reading your journey from beginning to end. It was cool to hear you passing some towns I remember as I grew up in Florida.
Thanks for sharing with us.
A of JJJAKER

mississippimorning said...

What a wonderful ending. I'm kinda tearing up myself knowing this is actually the end (that ended several weeks ago, lol.) Thanks for sharing the trail with us GT! I throughly enjoyed it.

mississippimorning

mississippimorning said...

What a wonderful ending. I'm kinda tearing up myself knowing this is actually the end (that ended several weeks ago, lol.) Thanks for sharing the trail with us GT! I throughly enjoyed it.

mississippimorning

LadyLilacAms said...

Great Job Ryan!! Congratulations!!! I absolutely loved reading all of your posts. Thank you so much for allowing us to be a part of your trip. I'm glad you made it the whole way safe and sound, and especially now that you can rest. What an inspiration you are! Take care and I will be looking forward to more of your adventures in the future!

♥ Lady Lilac

Anonymous said...

Bravo!! Tremendous fortitude. It was a very interesting read, and you are to be commended for your effort and your achievement!!

Congratulations and thank you for sharing!

DC Stones

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Rayn! I've fallen waaay behind in reading your posts and now I've gone and cheated by reading the end first! But it was worth it! I, too, was tearing up just looking for that intersection of the AT with you. Thank you so much for sharing such a monumental event in your life with all of us! Hike on!
Mama Huntin Dog

Anonymous said...

oh ryan, i am so happy for you and proud of you. i can almost see and hear you at the first AT intersection.........when i reached the top of springer with my scouts and saw the plaque...the only way i knew i had reached the top.......no neon signs or anything else that lets you know this is it other than those plaques........i just let out the biggest yell........my youngest said mom relax........it was such an awesome feeling, and i had only hiked in from the parking area to springer and had hiked a bit in the smokies national park.......so after hiking the whole thing and then come in from the keys to the top ............. WOW.
thanks for taking us along with you. the journey has been awesome. the reading touching and memories to last forever......feel like i know you.....not just as our webmaster, but a friend.

condo

Anonymous said...

A goal reached. Far too many times I've stopped short of a goal, boredom, laziness, obstacles or whatever got in the way. Certainly you were confronted with those and more and kept on keepin on. Congratulations. May we all find something to keep on toward.

just4bees

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, once again, Ryan!! And thanks for finishing up your posts for us all to read. A grand conclusion to an adventure some may only read about. I for one.
Thanks, and hope to read of your next hike as well. Will it be listed as this one was on AQ my page? Hope so.
Okie Dog

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading about your hike and adventures. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Take care,
Ona Journey

Aimee said...

Congratulations, Ryan!!! Of course, you've been home a while now, but it's been incredible to read about. Thank you so much for sharing with us!

~Lady Buzz (Aimee)

W&MGrad said...

Woo-hoo! You finished! Not that I ever doubted you, but it is cool to say that I have a friend who hiked the WHOLE AT and now all around Florida!

wyzarrd said...

Ryan,

I know I'm late in wishing you congratulations, but this is the first time I've been able to check in for awhile. What an accomplishment! I have enjoyed reading every installment and feel like a part of me went with you.

Huzzah!!!!

Jaxx (Bobby)

yachtygirl said...

Ryan,
Congrats! I've been living through you and your hiking adventure. I hope to do it one day! Thanks for allowing us to "come along" with you.
Yachtygirl

Nancy said...

Sigh, I know just what you mean. I'm a 2001 AT NOBO, and nothing can compare to that trail. I keep trying, though...a long bicycle trip this year. Congrats on finishing another hike.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Wow! I had no idea you'd hiked the AT, too....and from Key West, no less!
You're an inspiration!

Hike on!
~Twinville Trekkers

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Finally finished reading from start to finish of your Key West-Springer Mountain hike. Wow. Goosebumps.

I know you're doing the PCT, but what do you have planned after you are through with that?

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers