I entered Georgia with one goal: get to Springer Mountain by my birthday. It's about 75 miles from the border to Springer, and I had three and a half days, so I thought that I had a pretty good chance of getting there on time.
I needed to make one final stop in town before I got to the end for my last resupply. I got to the highway at about 5:00 and soon got a hitch into Hiawassee. 67.5 miles to go.
Hiawassee to Springer
The next morning, back on the trail with three days of food, I took an early break. I went to put my pack on, and the buckle for the hip belt broke! Some people with ultralight packs can hike without a hip belt, but I am not one of them (though I wish I was). For me, the hip belt is the thing that bears most of the weight of the pack and the shoulder straps are more for stabilization. In short, this almost rose to the level of an emergency. Had it been earlier in the trip, or if I had not set a self-imposed deadline for the end of the hike, I might have turned around and hiked back to the road.
There was no way I was going to do that though. I tried hiking without the hip belt for a little while, but it quickly became obvious that that wouldn't work. It was time for some out-of-the-box thinking. I seriously considered just leaving the pack behind and running the rest of the way to Springer. I know that people run that far in less than 24 hours all the time, and considering the shape I was in, I probably could have done it. However, leaving all my stuff in the back woods of Georgia seemed like something to do only as a last resort, and spending a night without my pack would be too awful to risk. Finally, I realized that I had my rope that I used to hang my bear bag. I cut about a foot from that and tied the straps of my hip belt together.
Thankfully, it worked. I soon got just as good at tying the hip belt together as I had been at buckling it. It looked a little funny, like a person with a rope for a belt, but in the woods there's really no one to judge that sort of thing.
The terrain was hilly that day, and between that and my hip-belt disaster, I didn't make it that far. I ended up on the top of Rocky Mountain with 52.2 miles to go and two full days of hiking left.
Fortunately, the hills were less steep the next day, the weather was great, and I was on a roll. With each mile that I got closer to the end of my journey, the better I felt.
Near the end of the day, I came to Blood Mountain. There is a shelter near the top, but it is 28.3 miles from Springer, so I kept on going. I walked for about two more hours to get to a small campsite near a stream 22.3 miles from the finish line. One day left, and within striking distance.
The final day was much like the previous 131. I got up early, had breakfast and walked. I did see a small family of wild pigs in the morning, but it was otherwise a day pretty much like any other. As I got closer to the end, my pace picked up, and I flew past some day-hikers.
Springer Mountain is nothing compared to Katahdin. I am willing to stipulate that much. Some will say that makes finishing a southbound AT hike anticlimactic, and that is one step too far for me. I had walked nearly 2200 miles in the wilderness to get there; it was pretty damn climactic.
I finished on my birthday, just as I had hoped. It really was a great way to spend it.
The terminus of the trail is the top of a mountain. There is no road up to there – to get home you must take another trail. I walked about a mile down that after finishing the AT, and camped one last time. I was out of fuel, so I made my only campfire of the entire hike and made supper over that.
I hiked out the next day past Amicalola Falls. At the end, there is a visitor's center, where I made sure to sign the final log book, and then I had to think about getting home.
Hitching in a tourist area is never easy, so in the end I resorted to asking for rides from people who wanted to talk about my hike. A nice older couple gave another hiker and me a ride into Atlanta, and just like that I was back in civilization.
That's it for the AT, but it's less than half of my long hikes. Depending on my mood, I might start right in on the PCT, or I might go a little deeper into the gear I used and other more general thoughts that I have about hiking.