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The End

Every week or so over the last several months, I have received maps in the mail. Each showed a line called the Appalachian Trail entering from one edge, winding across the paper, then continuing off the opposite edge. Until one day, last week, I opened a map with a line that did not run off the edge, but stopped in the middle of some concentric contour lines called Katahdin.

On Saturday, I walked to this place. Then, with nowhere else to go, I did something I had never done. I turned around and looked south on the Appalachian Trail.  I saw the ponds of the 100-Mile Wilderness and the peaks of the Mahoosucs. I saw 2,178 miles in the White Mountains and the Blue Ridge. 158 days through the New Jersey Highlands and the Great Smoky Mountains. Two pair of boots and countless granola bars across the Berkshires and the mountains of northern Georgia. I saw the same path that on March 25th from Springer Mountain lay before me, except now it was all behind me.

—-

People I met along the way often asked if I was hiking alone. The answer was yes, but not really. The journey has been as much about people as about mountains, bears, or boots. No one hikes the Appalachian Trail alone.

And so, to the countless volunteers and trail clubs who route and dig new trail, maintain the existing path, build and renovate the shelters, campsites, privies, and signs; to the caretakers and ridge runners who keep it safe and minimize the impact; to the state and national parks and forests for preserving this public wilderness; and to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy for protecting the land and connecting the pieces;

To the local businesses, organizations, and individuals who have opened their doors to hikers or dedicated themselves making our journey easier, like Mountain Crossings at Neels Gap; Ron Haven in Franklin; the Nantahala Outdoor Center; Standing Bear Farm; Uncle Johnny’s; Bob Peoples and the Kincora Hiking Hostel; the First United Methodist Church and the entire town of Damascus; the Barn Restaurant; Father Prinelli and the Holy Family Catholic Church; the Homeplace Restaurant; the Dutch Haus; Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church; the Bears Den Hostel; the Blackburn Trail Center; the Outfitter at Harpers Ferry; the Pine Grove General Store; the Doyle Hotel; the town of Port Clinton; the Palmerton Country Harvest; the Presbyterian Church of the Mountain; Gyp’s Tavern; the Mayor; the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center; Native Landscapes and Garden Center; the Inn at Long Trail; Phi Tau at Dartmouth; C&A Pizza; the AMC huts; the White Birches Camping Park; the Stratton Motel; the Lake Shore House; and Shaw’s;

To local libraries and to the United States Postal Service;

To the dayhikers and locals who share a snack or a word or encouragement; to the (friendly, non-scary!) strangers who offered smelly hikers a ride; and to the trail angels big and small who give their time and money to making hikers’ days with an apple or a feast, especially at Neels Gap, at the Fontana Hilton; at Newfound Gap; in Hot Springs; Rainman and Ahab; Saw Man’s dad; Rock Dancer; and Sun Child;

To the AT Class of 2009, my many trail companions during a snack break or for weeks, for keeping me company, sharing stories, making me laugh, motivating me, and for generally making the Appalachian Trail one of the very best communities I am privileged to be a part of;

To the friends and family who have supported me with gear, mail, visits, meals, or a warm bed; including Margaret and Erin; Diane, Joel, and Sam; Rick; Aunt Mel, Uncle Jim, Katie and Tommy; Grandma, Aunt Suzy, and Uncle Lowell; Marie’s entire family; Freedom; the Lillys; the Kelleys; Hallie; Maura, Bridget, and Kate; Meghan, AJ, and LillyAnn; Laura, who drove me to the trailhead, sent treats, and hiked with me across Maryland;  Ann, Mark, and Jess, who hiked with me in Massachusetts; Marie, who sent magazines, made many trips to visit, and climbed with me up Katahdin;

And most of all, to my parents, who not only introduced me to the outdoors and taught me to challenge myself, but also tirelessly tackled a five-month logistical challenge from Georgia to Maine without once missing a mail drop or sending the wrong supplies;

To all of you and more, thank you. Thank you for hiking the Appalachian Trail with me. You turned a simple walk into something far more memorable, meaningful, magical.

Thanks too to the readers of this blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed following me. I leave you now with 2,000 miles of trail wisdom distilled into three points:

  • Never take for granted the joy of a clean sock day.
  • Be nice to the trees. They have us greatly outnumbered.
  • Hike your own hike.

Good luck on your own journeys, wherever they may lead.

-Atlanta, August 31

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  1. By Read about my cool friends « Dog-eared page on 03 Sep 2009 at 11:34 am

    […] while on top of Katahdin=too much Wind speed on top of Katahdin=your kite would definitely fly away NB thru-hikers spotted (that means people hiking northbound from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail)=4 […]

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