Thursday Nov 4th 2021, 0710-1730
Gooch Mountain Shelter to Amicalola Falls Visitors Center, SOBO AT mm 2193.1 plus approach trail
24 miles (15.8 miles to Springer Mt, Southern Terminus, then another 8.2 miles on the approach trail)
5030 gain, 5997 loss
Well, this journey finally had to end and unfortunately it took me months later to compose this last daily entry. Sorry for this incongruity, dear readers. It’s now 2022 and I guess I’ve just been struggling to get over some severe writers block. I ran into a blog follower at a holiday party, who thought that I hadn’t even finished the AT based on this missing post. Rest assured, I made it all the way to Springer Mt, plus the end of the approach trail, to complete my 2021 AT thru-hike.
In summary, my last day on this long trail was very anticlimactic, especially considering the prestige that finishing the Triple Crown is supposed to hold. I think I simply put too much pressure on myself to feel some grand sense of accomplishment and overwhelming tide of emotions. Between the dreary conditions and lack of anybody to celebrate with, it was kind of blah…my saddest ending to a thru hike ever. Then I rejoined “the real world”, only to suffer through some pretty severe post-trail depression.
Now that I’ve had months to reflect and get my head straight, I can write about this last day with a little more clarity and perspective. I’ve had time to go through all my AT blogs, cleaning up mistakes / omissions and adding a few pictures, while also reliving my adventures. It helped me to recall just what a fantastic journey it was. From a big picture standpoint, I can honestly say that I loved the AT. Just because my last day was so underwhelming, it doesn’t mean that the hike wasn’t everything I’d hoped it would be…actually, it was much better that than what I’d expected.
With all that said, onto the details of this day: Rain pounded the shelter roof all night. I slept well but was not very eager about beginning my morning in such wet conditions. But, the proverbial end was in sight and my trusty umbrella helped get me out the proverbial door. I passed all the tents just outside of the shelter, wondering how the occupants must be feeling about the sopping wet mess they’d soon have to pack. As crowded as the shelter was overnight, I was very thankful for its protection. I recalled being somewhat confined to the shelter’s upper deck the first time I’d stayed there in 2017, all on account of a large German Shepard that was rather protective of the family inhabiting the lower section. He’d been friendly enough when everyone was awake but I’d been afraid to get up to pee overnight, lest I startle him in the darkness. Fearing a dog bite, or at least a lot of disruptive barking, I’d had to hold it until the morning. I’d resisted the urge to pee overnight this time due to different conditions: the cold and wet. It just seems like there’s always some reason to be slightly uncomfortable on the AT but adapting and learning to live with such barriers and restrictions is what it’s all about.
I set off in the dark and light drizzle. I made sure to take a right turn (south) upon rejoining the main trail but for some reason, navigational doubts hounded me for hours. Naturally the darkness can be very disorienting, but the rain and fog make it even more so. I was constantly checking my GPS on my phone to put my mind at ease, even though taking off my gloves and pulling my device out of its protective coverings each time was a pain. The wet complicates everything. Oddly, the section didn’t have a lot of white blazes…at least not in the direction I was headed. It should’ve all been familiar, given that I’d hiked it once before, but I recalled none of the features or landmarks. It’d been a bright, sunny day in years past…a consolation that I’d previously experienced Springer Mt in good conditions and in the company of my friend Sofie, at least.
I left Mud behind at the shelter, still making his breakfast. He’d indicated that he wished to arrive Springer alone so that he had time for self-reflection. I respected his sentiments and his space, as I was feeling kind of the same. We’d meet at Amicalola Falls for a final celebration at the end of the day. The day improved slightly with the light, as the rain mostly subsided. The hike to Springer was easy but not very noteworthy. I ran into a few day hikers near the final road 1 mile from the summit. There was no one at the top when I arrived. Having been there once before, it didn’t hold much intrigue. I didn’t even take note of the fact that there was a register near the placard, so I missed out on officially documenting the end of my thru-hike. Oh well, I guess it doesn’t count. I didn’t recall signing a register at the top of Katahdin either, which ironically was experienced in even worse conditions than this day. It was fitting that my AT thru-hike began and ended in cold rain but nearly all the rest of the big highlights were experienced in nearly perfect weather conditions. In retrospect, I was pretty lucky. It was all about the journey in-between, and not the start or finish.
I took my pack off to take some pictures at the summit, but quickly caught a chill. I didn’t feel like setting up my phone to take timed photos, so I snapped some poor selfies and hurried on…no grand finisher pictures at Springer Summit for me. I will admit that one of the biggest disadvantages of hiking the AT SOBO is the finish on top a bland, wooded peak. Katahdin is so much better as a finish point for NOBOs. This dilemma just needs some re-framing, however. For SOBO’s, the very first day is one of the best! Isn’t it great to start on such a high note? After all, it’s a stroke of luck to even make it all the way to the end. Better to miss out on Springer than Katahdin.
Without any sort of celebration or strong emotions, I simply resumed walking down the approach trail towards Amicalola Falls. This was new territory for me, since I’d previously reached Springer from the FS road a mile to the north. By completing this 8 mile trail, I could say that I’d hiked a nice round number of 2200 miles (instead of the official 2,193.1) for this thru-hike. The approach trail is legendary for its schooling of many a newly hatched AT thru-hiker, but for SOBOs, it just another 8 miles. I walked along it in a sort of daze, numb from both the cold and and the uncertainty of how I was feeling. How was I supposed to be feeling? Everything felt off. Somewhere in-between happiness, sadness, elation, joy, grief, relief, and self-doubt, my default setting was to not really feel anything.
Arriving at the top of the falls, there were finally some noteworthy views for the day. The falls were indeed quite beautiful and the staircase that daringly leads visitors up and down the length of them very unique. This was a nice distraction from my otherwise dreary day. I can see why this is such a stand-out area, especially when it comes at the very beginning of most ATer’s experience. Signs warned of the “strenuous 425 steps” and also of bear activity…new hikers must feel pretty intimidated by all this. On this day, there were no NOBOs expelling their gear in order to drop weight to get up the many flights of stairs. Just some day visitors and one weary lady going down slowly and quietly with a small backpack. Likely not a single person was aware of my feat but perhaps a few were wondered why I was wearing a silly Burger King crown. Silly indeed.
I arrived at the bottom around 4:30 pm, where I immediately sought refuge in the heated visitor’s center. They had a variety of snacks for purchase and seeing as how I hadn’t stopped for a food break all day, I spent some money consuming needed calories…mostly chocolate and salty chips. The staff were really nice and told me about a shelter in the park that was free-of-charge for thru-hikers. The forecasted overnight lows were expected to dip into the 20’s, so I had no desire to rough it alone in said shelter. Mud’s parents were arriving shortly to meet him and I intended to get a ride to a nearby town and hotel with them. I relished the idea of a hot shower more than anything. Mud arrived about an hour later and it was nice to finally have someone to celebrate and take pictures with…though my somber mood from earlier persisted. We took some pictures under the famous archway but my heart wasn’t really in it. I wished that I could’ve been a better companion in the end.
Mud shared his stoic Springer Mt finisher picture with me, which is posted above. I later received several more finisher pictures from AT friends, which I’ll share in the next update. Mud’s parents arrived as promised, whisking us away from the trail and this amazing adventure. And that was it…the end of my Triple Crown! I later flew from Atlanta to Miami and began to warm up and decompress. And of course, start planning the next adventure. Stay tuned from more updates, summaries, stats, and gear reviews. And thank you for following along on my AT Journey.