End of the Trail

Michelle EllwangerMichelle's JournalLeave a Comment

Days after getting home from Europe and China, I strap my backpack on and head for Georgia. Georgia is the end of the trail for me.

It’s amazing to me how I started this hiking adventure in the cold of spring and am now finishing it in the cold of fall. It feels full circle.

Earlier in my hike, an older male hiker told me to skip Georgia claiming it was boring. I didn’t take his advice and I’m glad. Georgia mountains are classic. The beauty is simple and the vistas are sprinkled apart. I like working for a beautiful view so maybe the PUDs (which stands for Pointless Ups and Downs) aren’t so pointless after all.

I also think it would be a shame for anyone who has hiked a decent amount on the Appalachian Trail to miss seeing the southern terminus- Springer Mountain and also Amicalola Falls where there is the approach trail.

I am surprised when I find myself often alone at night seeing only a handful of hikers during the day. It’s much quieter than I expected but this suits my mood. Also, I have done more stealth camping on this section than other parts of the trail. One night, I camped on a ridge. It was a great location for watching the sunset. By 6:00 it was dark and I was in my tent listening to a coyote a few miles away. By 2:00 am, the coyote was outside my tent on the ridge I was on.

I also appreciate the rich history of Georgia mountains. Much of it is sad and violent. I have noticed that most historical sites are connected to violence. This is a sad commentary about our past.

Hiking Blood Mountain is memorable. There are boulders and rocks all around. It is here that the Cherokee and Creek Nation fought each other resulting in much bloodshed. Ultimately, the Creek retreated further south and the Cherokee remained until the federal government forced them to relocate. This infamous removal later became known as the Trail of Tears due to the many lives lost as a result of exhaustion, disease and starvation.

It’s easy here to imagine their stories. This was their home. It is beautiful. My mind sees warriors, women and their children. There is a presence you can feel if you are quiet. It’s powerful and it surrounds me. My silence is offered as a peace prayer.

There are only 40 remaining miles from the top of Blood Mountain where an old stone shelter sits to Amicalola Falls. For the first time it fully dawns on me that I am almost done with my hike. I don’t know how I feel about this.

I do two 10-12 mile days and then plan on ending with two easy 8 mile days. That plans goes out the window when I decide to combine my two final days into one 16 mile day. This is nothing of course for a south bound thru-hiker. But for me, it will be a long final push.

I wake up early and start hiking while it is still dark. I hadn’t used my headlight for hiking yet so this is first. I manage to stay on the trail only to get lost after the sun comes up. This adds about a mile to my already full day.

My spirits are high as I see signs for Springer Mountain. I get there by late morning and am surprised that no other hikers are around. I see one person heading northbound towards the Springer parking lot while I head south to Springer Mountain but that’s it.

I take my time taking it all in. The view. The rocks. The plaques. The sign-in log where a lady who obviously did not hike more than the mile up from the parking lot complains that the trail should be graded better. I laugh. She doesn’t get it.

I eat my final lunch alone. The lentils and rice taste pretty good when I add double seasoning to them. I linger until I sense it’s time to leave. I still have 9 miles to go and my pace always slows as the day wears on. As I head down the approach trail towards the falls, I see a large group of day hikers headed north to the top of Springer. I say hello then push on.

I struggle during my last miles. I’ve decided I will stay at the Lodge as a reward but know I must first get there. I run out of water with 5 miles to go. This shouldn’t be a big deal but there was a ton of sodium in my lunch and just knowing I don’t have water makes me parched.

I come down the final stretch to where there are signs of civilization and pointers for the Lodge. There is a footpath over water.

I feel a rush of emotions. I know better than to analyze them so I instead allow them to be. I throw my pack off, sit down next to the water and start to cry. My sabbatical has come to an end.

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