Wednesday, May 28, 2008


I've been bad, I know, neglecting all the stories that happened immediately after reaching Springer Mountain. I hiked down to Amicalola Falls, tried stalking Alton Brown (alas, he was out of town, but I did spend the night at his place with the rest of his family), and played what I call Airline Roulette. Before we took off from Las Vegas, they warned us we would land either in Bakersfield, Fresno, San Luis Obispo, or possibly just fly back to Las Vegas, but they wouldn't know until after we were already in the air for an hour.

Good times! =)

But I did finally make it to San Luis, and one of my first tasks was to "blend in" with the locals. Which did not include looking like a homeless person, a survivalist, or even an "Are you Amish?" as one person asked me while I was boarding my flight. It was finally time to take off the whiskers.

That's a lot of hair on me, and cutting it would be a big job. My mom, I'm happy to report, is a professional hair stylist, and was willing to do the job for free. For a big job like this, we decided to start with the hedge trimmers.

Okay, I'll fess up. That's a joke photo. We picked up a bunch of the hair that had already been cut off and staged the photo. We had a good time with the prank photo! =)

But seriously, for my first look, I wanted to try on a "respectable" beard. I call it my businessman look. Looks like I could be working out a multi-million dollar deal, don't you think?

What a difference a few hairs less did! I call this my child molester look. Sideburns, I decided are not for me.
This is my intellectual, "I'm wise because I have facial hair," look. Or maybe a, "I'm out on parole," look. I'm not sure which is closer. =)

This is my biker look. I don't have a motorcycle, and don't have any interest in acquiring one, but I do own some stock in Harley Davidson, so I'm very supportive of the biker movement. *nodding*
I'm not sure what this look is supposed to be, but I think it makes me look stuck-up. Or maybe a homosexual cowboy if you added a ten-gallon hat. =) But seriously.... no, I don't think a mustache fits me very well.

Yeah, that's me. That's what I'm supposed to look like. Actually, I was surprised it didn't look more like me. It looks like me, but more in an identical twin type of way, and it took me a few minutes to figure out why. I lost weight! My face was distinctly thinner than the last time I remember seeing it.

Speaking of which, I did weigh myself upon my triumphant return and came in at about 155 pounds--a weight loss of about 25 pounds. I was actually surprised I'd lost that much. I was down to 150 pounds when I finished the Appalachian Trail, a 30 pound loss, and I looked absolutely skeletal when I finished. I definitely looked thin finishing my hike this year, but nowhere near my concentration camp survivor look from finishing the AT. I'm not sure how I can look pleasantly thin at 155 pounds and look dangerously bulimic at 150 pounds.

And for you number folks, when I arrived at Amicalola Falls SP, there is a scale for hikers to weigh their pack on. When I started my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, my pack weighed in at 40 pounds. I knew it would be a lot less upon my arrival from Key West. First, I was getting off the trail, so I wasn't loaded down with lots of food and water. I had enough food left to last me another day or day and a half in the backcountry--about three or four pounds worth. Additionally, I finished off the last of my water minutes before my arrival, so my pack had no water in it. Total pack weight when I arrived: 22 pounds. I then took out all of the food from my pack to get just the base pack weight: 18 pounds.

I don't claim to have the lightest pack in the world--I had a number of luxury items including a book, a PocketMail device, and what might be the heaviest pot ever for a successful solo thru-hiker. I also had an abnormally large amount of cold weather gear, a necessary precaution given the fact that it snowed on me two days earlier! And despite all that, my base pack weight was 18 pounds.

I expect this to be my last post to this particular blog. Before I sign off, I'd just like to thank everyone who read my writings and left often amusing and uplifting comments. You have no idea how much I would look forward to those whenever I got into a trail town. =)

-- Green Tortuga, signing off

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.


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.