My first stop in Georgia was Hiawassee to see Jim and Maggie, our first “Trail Angels” on the Appalachian Trail in 2012. They had met us the day that we started our Thru-Hike and told us to call them when we reached Hiawassee. It took them 1 hour to drive home…it took us 7 days to hike there. When we reached the highway Jim picked us up, helped us with laundry, drove us to a church dinner, and took us home where we could shower, have home cooked pie, and sprawl out in guest bedrooms for the night. The next morning Jim and Maggie made homemade breakfast before shuttling us back to the trail. We were so thankful for their generosity and have stayed in touch over the years.
I met Maggie for breakfast downtown. Jim wasn’t feeling well so it was just the two of us. We caught up on life, talked about traveling, and decided to go out for a quick adventure before I left town. Maggie’s friend had kayaks on the lake, so we picked them up, dropped them in the water, and paddled around for a few hours on a beautiful autumn day.
My next stop was Mountain Crossings at Neels Gap to see Pretzel. I had camped and hiked with Pretzel for a few days in 2012 on the Appalachian Trail and the last time I saw him was a rainy day in Vermont. Earlier this summer I had known Pretzel was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail but I figured there was no way I’d run into him. I stopped by the visitors center at Crater Lake and while walking to the building I saw some hiker trash, there he was! Over the next few months Pretzel finished the PCT and I drove from the Pacific Northwest to Georgia.
I met Pretzel at Mountain Crossings where he was working and as soon as his shift was over we changed into running clothes and hit the trail. We did a quick trail run up Blood Mountain to see the sun fading over the horizon and returned to the trailhead just before dark. We cleaned up and headed into town for burgers and beer and to swap trail stories. Back at Mountain Crossings Pretzel made hot tea and sat out on the patio looking over the city lights of North Georgia.
The next day I hung around Mountain Crossings talking to the employees, all of whom are highly accomplished hikers. After some time I realized that 3 years ago when I passed through the store as a novice backpacker I looked at the employees in awe of their accomplishments. Today, I was sitting here on the other side, an accomplished Thru-Hiker myself, with a few thousand miles under my hipbelt.
Eventually I said goodbye to everyone and headed out into the Georgia mountains to find the Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail on Springer Mountain. An hour drive along bumpy dirt roads lead me to the trailhead and the short 1 mile hike to the southernmost white blaze.
When I reached Springer Mountain I sat down, opened a beer, and reflected. It had been right here, just 3 years ago, when my life drastically changed. It wasn’t overnight, but it is hard to imagine the old me walking up from the south, and the new me leaving to the north.
Springer Mountain. This place changed my life. The first step, the first white blaze, the first mile, followed by thousands more. Since then my life has evolved organically in a natural progression. I began trading comfort for challenge, routine for chaos, and stability for adventure. Sitting here, I can see my old self approaching from the south, struggling under a heavy backpack, weighted down by material possessions and societal pressures. The new me trekked north, reducing my physical footprint, living in the present, redefining success, and venturing into the unknown. Taking that first step was intimidating, but it has made all the difference.
After spending some time on Springer Mountain I started meandering my way out of the mountains and toward Atlanta. On the way to South I reached out to Linda, my former step-mother who I hadn’t seen in nearly 20 years. She was still living west of the city and I made my way to her house to help with the big Trick-or-Treat Halloween night. My step-nephew Kaine was dressed up to hand out candy and scare the crap out of kids when they came to the porch. After the trick-or-treaters all went home Marty and I walked downtown to pick up pizza. The next morning we all had breakfast before I left. I hadn’t seen Linda in years and had never met Kaine and I was very thankful that I was able to stop by and spend some time with them!
From West Georgia I made a straight shot for Savannah and the Florida coast. I drove through pounding rain, a great day for driving. Somewhere along the way the van made a loud metal pop, and suddenly it sounded like a Harley Davidson. It still drove fine, but I’d have to get that fixed. I quickly explored the historic neighborhoods of Savannah, and being a Sunday, the city was packed with weekenders. I was happy to head out of town and toward the Florida state line. I planned to stop by a Volkswagen shop in Jacksonville first thing on Monday morning to get the van looked over. That night I slept in a truck stop at the last exit in Georgia. I drifted off to sleep excited to get to Florida and see the ocean again. It had been nearly 2 months since I left the saltwater in Oregon and I was itching to get sand under my feet!