Currently sitting in my cousin's apartment in the South Carolina upcountry...
Me and the plaque
Like a kid on Christmas morning, I couldn't sleep once I initially woke up. I lay in my sleeping bag until I deemed it appropriate to start moving. I grabbed my food bag from the bear cables, took my pack from the peg on which it was hanging, and got ready as the sun began to cast its light into the sparse Georgia forest. Anxious to get moving, I had to wear my headlamp for the first little bit of hiking. It was probably light enough to see, but there was no way I was going to risk rolling an ankle on a stupid rock at this stage. Just because the mountains were morphing into foothills didn't mean I couldn't do some climbing. All my work was just to go up a little, then down a little. Repeat, repeat, repeat. To be clear, I'm not complaining, just describing. I was actually pretty sweaty when I got to Hawk Mountain Shelter. I had been seeing streams of people heading towards me from that area all morning. One of the hikers told me that all the campsites were full last night. I was secretly glad that I didn't have to deal with all the section hiker riff-raff. The shelter itself was located a ways off the trail, and my case of Springer Fever wouldn't allow such a diversion when The Mountain was calling from less than ten miles away. I opted to sit on a log near the trail and to eat my standard snacktime favorites. Using the gift of cell phone service that I was afforded, I texted my parents to let them know I was on schedule. I also got a surprise text from Pink Leprechaun! He was checking in to see how I was doing, and it was just a coincidence that he texted to today. I started to think of all the hikers I've spent time with on the trail. Up until now, I could always vaguely tell them I'd see them down the trail. But today is different; now that I've been spit out the other end of this odyssey, there's essentially zero chance I'll just bump in to one of these people on the street as I could on the trail. I shook off my emotions; there was still hiking to do.
View from Springer
After snack, I decided that it was music time. Combined with the much smoother terrain relative to the earlier section, this made for some very quick hiking. I only ran into a couple more hikers after my break, so I was on cruise control. Despite my thunderous footfalls and the persistent clicking of my trekking poles, I managed to sneak up and startle a guy hiking my direction. Humans have been the only animals that don't hear me coming. Due to a slight miscalculation, I arrived at the parking area way before I thought I would. As it turns out, I was averaging close to four miles an hour, which is unheard of for me. What am I doing, talking about something so mundane as my hiking pace on a day like today? I guess my point is that I was a bit excited to reach my holy grail. I popped out of the trailhead into the parking lot and immediately spotted my dad. We embraced and talked like it was any other day. I realized that the end wasn't meant to be a huge emotional release. I have been processing my feelings for the past week, so today wasn't going to be a surprise. My mom pulled up soon after, and we three headed up the gentle one-mile trail to the summit of Springer. As we walked, I thought about how it compared to Katahdin, the other end of the trail. If I had been heading north, my final climb would have been a 4000-foot ascent over five miles that many hikers call the toughest single effort on the trail. Springer, on the other hand, snuck up on me. I was explaining to my parents how I could tell that we were near the top because I could see the sky through the trees. As I finished my sentence, I saw the plaque. The southern terminus of the trail is marked by a plaque on a rock. I might have missed it if I was hustling. I was pretty surprised to just...be at the end. It didn't feel real. I pulled out my phone, where I had written a list of poses for a photo shoot at the end of the trail. Ever the photographer, my mom snapped picture after picture. The results speak for themselves. I signed the logbook, which was located inside the rock, and then I was done. "I guess it's time to go?" I asked. And that was that.