Thursday, October 27, 2011

Georgia off my mind

As we trekked through the last 70ish miles in Georgia, we got a little bit of everything. We planned a long time ago to slow down and take our time in our last state. I definitely enjoyed doing smaller-mile days, but Deal was more anxious with the goal being so close. In the end, we both didn't want the journey to end, so savoring every moment was important.

Here are some quick stats:
76.4 miles
6 days
2 nights in a hostel
1 night in a hotel
2 nights in our tent
6 dig-a-hole poops for Deal/ 1 for Steadee

We were without Fire Marshall for the first few days of GA, as he sped ahead to meet up with his sidekick Alex, who would finish the trail up with us.

We heard Georgia was hard and what we found was there were definitely lots of ups & downs, but we never went below 2,500 feet, so at least the climbs weren't too bad. You could tell lots of people use the trail in GA because it was extremely smooth and well beaten.

Weather was just about perfect for the 6 days we were in GA. Except the surprise we got when it SNOWED. Brrrr. One night for sure, it dipped into the teens. Our thermometer read 38 degrees inside the tent!

There were tons of people on the trail in GA...way more than we ever expected! As it has been for awhile, everyone gave us such great encouragement and praise. And of course, more people asked to take our photo. I wonder if NOBOs get the same "celebrity status" feel when they get up in Maine ...

It was also in GA where we met a blog reader! Tater thru hiked the trail in 2000 and had been reading our journal and predicted where we'd be, so he drove 100 miles to meet us & give us sodas!! The trail community and the random acts of kindness never ceases to amaze me!!

We ended staying in 2 hostels near the end of our journey. They were drastically different, which is always true about the hostels on the trail. We stayed in the one at the infamous Neels Gap, 30 miles from Springer. Neels Gap is where 50% of the NOBOs drop out. There is an outfitter at Neels Gap where the workers give you a "shakedown" to see what gear you are carrying that you don't need. As tempting as it was to get a shakedown, we didn't feel we needed it at this point. The hostel at Neels Gap has been run by Pirate for the last 21 years. To say he has dealt with a lot of hikers is an understatement. But I think he liked us because he shared Tequila shots with us!!

We had an amazing last night on the trail at Hawk Mountain Shelter. There ended up being 3 other SOBOs in addition to us 3!!

There was Fern Toe, who started June 1. We caught her in VA & have been playing leap frog since then.

But then there were 2 other guys (John & Daniel - they we adamant about not having trail names) who started June 8 & June 13 (they met on the trail & stuck together just like we had with Fire Marshall). They said, "you must be Deal, Steadee & Fire Marshall. We've been following you shelter log entries since Maine." Literally, they've been 1-3 days behind us the entire time!

So it was great to share our last night with other SOBOs. Plus, Daniel's dad hiked up and brought S'mores, so we had a big celebration around the campfire and stayed up way too late!

Our last 8 miles to Springer were bittersweet. Fire Marshall's parents drove the crazy forest road to meet us and walk the last mile with us. All of the sudden, we were at Springer Mtn. All the blood, sweat, shivers, good and bad days paid off. We made it. It was hard not to get choked up. But, as our good friend Forrest Gump would say, "I'm really tired, I think I'll go home now." Plus, at some point, all good things need to come to an end.

And like we've said many times before, we could not have done it without all of you!

After navigating the crazy forest roads, we reentered civilization. And of course, ate a great meal!

Fire Marshall's family then dropped us off at the train station and we said our goodbyes. It is hard to have the team split up. Out of the 141 days on the AT, we spent the good majority with Fire Marshall. I feel like I know him almost as well as I know my own husband! We know he does not like pickles, mushrooms, tomatoes...basically everything one would put on a burger. We know he prefers privies to digging holes in the woods. We know he would rather have a snake crawl in his sleeping bag than a mouse or spider. We know he will hitchhike anywhere for real food. So we will miss him, but this is not the end of team skin & bones...more adventures await.

Since Monday, Deal & I have been in a whirlwind of activity, taking an overnight train, then reluctantly learning to drive a vehicle again. But as we were making our way to Chi-town, we stopped at a trail crossing and left a little magic!

We are now in Chicago for all the wedding festivities!!!! Hopefully, we can clean up a bit and won't be confused as homeless people.

Location:N Larrabee St,Chicago,United States

Monday, October 24, 2011

We did it!!

2,181 miles
14 states
141 days
June 6 to October 24
Dream come true! Thank you for all your support and prayers - couldn't have done it without you all.

Bigger update to come later ...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Springer Mountain, Here We Come!

We have reached our 14th and final state, Georgia!

Theoretically, we have accomplished our goal: we hiked from Maine to Georgia.

But, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail is actually 67.5 miles south at Springer Mountain and that is where our journey will end in just 5 days, on Oct. 24.

For now, we are resupplying in Hiawassee, GA, about 9 miles over the state line! This is our last time to indulge in a town on the trail. It was a little bit of a difficult hitch into town (45 minutes & about 30 cars), but it is worth it!

So we just completed the 87.6 miles of North Carolina during these last 4 days!

The first part of this section was definitely more difficult than the second part, with long climbs. Our iPods helped tremendously! But, we were always rewarded at the top with panoramic views! There are a few more "balds" (open, grassy, treeless mountaintops) in this section, but the ones further north are still our favorites. And thankfully, we've had beautiful weather, with today being our first (and hopefully last) day of rain!

We also walked right through the Nantahala Outdoor Center-a really cool pitstop and food break!

North Carolina also has some funny signs ... In all fairness, it is supposed to read "Swinging Lick Gap," but someone had their mind in the gutter.

This section of the trail has been really crowded, even for midweek. But, it is leaf-peeping season! The shelters have been packed every night, except for one when we were completely alone!

I think I said this in my last post, but running into section and day hikers has been really fun in the South, as everyone realizes we are SOBOs on the AT before we even say anything and are so complimentary! We got our picture taken once again because of our thru hiker status. Most are now saying "congratulations" instead of "good luck!" We even got some unexpected trail magic the other day from a couple we were chatting with ... They said, "well, we don't have much to offer you, but we do have a soda & banana." That was perfect for us!

Fire Marshall is now a half day ahead of us. His girlfriend, Alex, is joining us for the last miles of the trail, so he jumped ahead to meet up with her. We will reunite the team in just 2 days, but it sure was weird being split up!

So here are the official stats for North Carolina:
87.6 miles
4 days
1 shower
1 night in a hostel
2 nights in shelters
2 nights in our tent
3 dig-a-hole poops in the woods for Deal, none for Steadee because NC has privies!!!
No wildlife to speak of (1 garter snake)

Just 5 days and 67.5 miles to go!!! Just a few more 4,000+ foot climbs ... Here we come Springer!!

Location:Big Sky Dr,Hiawassee,United States

Friday, October 14, 2011

Mile 2,018.4 - Recap of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Folks, we have walked 2,018.4 miles and have been out in the woods for 131 days so far. We have 162.6 miles and 10 days left. That all just seems unbelievable, doesn't it?

We resupplied tonight in Fontana Dam, needing very little after opening all our mail magic!

Something else monumental happened. Fire Marshall loves McDonalds and when we met him, we told him we haven't had it in at least 10 years. It was his goal to get us to eat at the golden arches at some point on the trail. Well, we finally succumbed to the evil! And it was so ... good.

Now for my hiking report. We just spent the last week hiking 72 miles in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

We are staying the night in Fontana Dam, which is the highest dam in the East at 480 feet. Well, we are not sleeping IN or ON the dam, just in town at a hostel ...

Our friend Bobby/Bolt (from the Great American Family - GAF - in Danville) came out and joined us on the trail for a second time. He is extremely active and a big backpacker, so we convinced him (reluctantly) that he could keep up with our mileage. The 5-day itinerary for him was 1 mile, 15 miles, 20.5 miles, 19.8 miles and 17 miles. We knew he could keep up no problem and he did. He even smoked us a few times!! Let's ignore the fact that he is now on long-term disability from work with a bum knee ... But again, it was fun to have a 4th Musketeer around.

Anyways, the Smokies. Notorious for bad weather. Well, I think we lucked out. We had 1 day of cool temps, clouds & threat of rain, 1 day of pure sunshine, 1 day of rain/cold and 1 day of semi-sun. It did rain hard every night! Mornings have been cool to start, so we are always playing the layer-up, layer-down game with clothing!

It was crowded in the park, even for midweek. I guess it was mostly because of the beautiful fall colors. We saw more people this week than we have in a long time! Some people were carrying supplies and backpacks fit for World War III.

And in the Smokies, you pretty much have to stay in the shelters. Most people have to make reservations, but thru hikers can't really, so we hope for the best. Well, the shelters were indeed crowded, but we always got space. The shelters were actually nice and critter-free as far as we could tell. I do believe Deal's faith in shelters may be renewed!

Running into day hikers & section hikers lately has been really fun. Most already assume we are thru hikers and give us some much-needed words of encouragement on the fly. We even got our picture taken three times because of our thru hiker status! Plus, someone asked to take a picture of my feet one night at the shelter. The added bonus of running into all these people of course is getting extra food!

But I have to say, the best trail magic came from within this week. Let me preface by saying we were a little "light" on food supplies in the Smokies. We resupplied in Hot Springs, but planned to stop at Standing Bear Farm, a hostel with a camp store, 2 days later. We called ahead to make sure the camp store was still open and the woman said, "yep! We have everything you need!" Well, that was an understatement. When we got there, the owner said "oh sorry. When Southbounders get here, I usually don't have very much in stock." We pieced together what we could and made do.

So fast forward 2 days and we were all hungry. We knew there was a road crossing in the Smokies. Fire Marshall decided a hitch to Gatlinburg (which is close to Dollywood) was necessary for survival. So off he went. He got to the shelter that night with 5 lbs of SUBWAY sandwiches! Plus extra food supplies! Our hero! The funny thing is, he left camp that morning the same time as us, hitched into town 16 miles, bought food, hitched 16 miles back to the trail, and got to the shelter just 30 minutes after us! Sometimes, I swear that boy has wings!

The Smokies were overall a great experience. We spent most of our time above 4,000 feet and ridge walking, thus coming across beautiful views around almost every corner. We also hit the highest point on the AT (6,643 feet) at Clingmans Dome. We couldn't see anything though because it was on one of the rainy days.

We saw no bears in the park! Between 400 & 600 bears reside in the park. And we saw none. Maybe they were all hibernating because of the weather?? In fact, we saw no wildlife, aside from a few wild turkeys and a bunny!

On a side note, before we actually hit the Smokies, we got a glimpse from Max Patch bald, where we camped. It was very, very windy up there, but the 360-degree views were so worth it!

So we are done with weaving in and out of Tennessee and North Carolina. Next up, 87.6 miles in only North Carolina (pictured below). Which also means there are definitely privies! It's the simple things in life that make me happy!

Like I said, we have a total of 162 miles left. We literally feel your support and feel like y'all are right there with us while we are on the trail, so don't stop now for the last 10 days! And let's hope all our gear and bodies can hold up!!