Follow a Lone Hiker Tackling the Appalachian Trail – Update 21: End of the Line

Completing the Appalachian Trail is a huge personal achievement, so we’ll kick today’s post off by congratulating our lone hiker on making it to the end.

In update 21, the final instalment, we get tips and advice from a hiker who just finished the trail

Catch Up on Colorado’s Adventure Here

Going by the trail name Colorado, a friend of our esteemed publisher is tackling the length of the Appalachian trail, from north to south. The trail begins in Maine and terminates in the Great Smoky Mountains of Georgia, a distance of about 2,200 miles. It usually takes hikers five to seven months to complete the journey.

It may not be the exact type of off-roading you’re used to seeing on TFLoffroad, but getting into the wilderness under your own power is certainly one of the most enjoyable ways to do so.

So enjoy the latest update from the trail, and stay tuned for more:

Hello to all, in this my final update.  The AT is finished.  I’m back home now, cleaned and shined up a bit and trying to put a little weight back on my bones (I lost about 10 pounds over the last 7 weeks).  Actually, the real reason I have come back home is not that I’ve completed the AT – it’s that I’m finally kind of tired of instant oatmeal every morning.

Friday, May 17, The Final Day – After a rather restless night in camp, knowing that it was all coming to an end, I was on the trail at 6:45am.  I only had about two miles to hike to reach my escort party, who was being shuttled up from Amicalola Falls State Park to our designated meeting spot.  Then a short mile later, we all crossed the finish line together (seen here with Jill, niece Kim, Tim, sister Jeanne, Rocky and daughter Lizzie).  The understated plaque there (coupled with some morning champagne) confirmed that I was finished at last:

Well, almost finished. While I had officially completed the AT, we all still had to hike down the 8.5 mile approach trail to Amicalola Falls State Park, including the 604 stair steps along the spectacular Amicalola Falls: 

The final exit from the trail was through the iconic Amicalola Falls State Park archway, where the journey for most northbound hikers (including Robert Redford and Nick Nolte in the movie version of “A Walk in the Woods”) begins:

It was a perfect ending to a perfect adventure, and I can’t thank enough the terrific entourage who made the final steps steps with me – that was really special!

Little Takeaways From This Incredible Hike – While I didn’t have any earth-shaking revelations or grand epiphanies on the trail, and therefore no cultured pearls of wisdom to bestow on everyone, there were a few things that dawned on me over the course of the miles and months on the trail:

  1.  The key attribute needed to complete a successful thru-hike was not strength or endurance or backcountry skills – it was simply patience.
  2.  If your feet (or knees, or back, or intestines, etc.) aren’t happy, you’re not happy.
  3.  If your tent site is not pretty darn level, you’re not going to get a good night’s sleep.
  4.  The last five miles at the end of the day for some reason is a much greater distance than the first five miles at the beginning of the day.  I can’t explain the math.
  5.  Every time you lift your pack to put it, you subconsciously question why it’s so heavy.
  6.  Your pack is always heavier after lunch.
  7.  Wind in the treetops, a cascading stream in the distance, and rain on the forest canopy overhead all sound remarkably alike.
  8.  It was unfair of me to make a judgment about another thru-hiker’s likelihood of finishing.  Successful thru-hikers came in all shapes and sizes, lugging along an impressive variety of gear. 
  9.  The trail hygiene of other hikers was much better than I had anticipated.  There were only a couple of hikers I encountered whose trail scent made it truly necessary to stake out a position upwind.
  10.  I could (and would) generally disregard the unsolicited advice of passing hikers, especially when it involved dire warnings about how difficult the trail ahead of me was going to be.
  11.  “We don’t stop hiking because we grow old.  We grow old because we stop hiking.”  (Seen on a hiker’s t-shirt)
  12.  “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.”  (Theodore Roosevelt)
  13.  And lastly, my favorite quote from comedian Steven Wright, which I included in an earlier update but over the course of the trail became more and more relevant to me: “Everywhere is within walking distance….if you have enough time.”

Thanks to each of you for following this journey, and for your comments, encouragement, prayers and support the entire way.  May all your trails ahead be exactly what you are looking for.