This is the post I don’t want to write. This is the one that ends the hiking. But before I get to that, here’s the rest of the night at hawk mountain.
It was cold. It was really freaking cold. All of our water froze in minutes. If we’d been thinking ahead we would have poured some in our cups to melt in the morning, but we didn’t. Neither Gonzo nor I slept particularly well. We both woke up in pain at different parts of the night, knees for me, back for him. I couldn’t stop shivering at one point. Gonzo fell asleep so quickly once that I was worried he’d fallen asleep too quickly.
But we both woke up in the morning, even if it did take both of us a long time to decide to get out of our sleeping bags. The air was just too frigid.
We scrounged around in our food bags to see what we had left for the day. It was slim pickings without any water, but we managed. I packed up and headed out around 10:30 or 11, and Gonzo wasn’t too far behind me.
We both decided to hike the last 8 miles alone today. We started our adventures alone and wanted the time to reflect on it. Gonzo wanted to see how quickly he could get there, and maybe I did too.
When I left my co-op at Roper Corp., the factory where I worked on stoves, my factory mom Sheree made me promise that I would never stop going on adventures. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot since I left there. It’s easy to get sucked into the school and work and school and work and home to see the family groove. But I wanted more for myself when I was younger; I want more for myself now.
This trip was keeping that promise to Sheree. It was to put myself someplace that made me a little uncomfortable, to test my body and my mind and my instincts. In some ways they had failed (see: both knees). In some ways they had surprised me (see: both knees).
In my eight miles to springer, I thought about the mountains I’d walked up and the people I’d met and Stewart and Ginny coming out to hike with me. The mice and the cold and the creepy people and the rain– none of that matters. It’s playing cards at a hostel and hiking 21 miles when you thought 20 would kill you. It’s resetting what you believe you’re capable of. It’s getting good at hanging your food and learning to trust yourself and playing I Spy in the woods when everything is brown and gray and green.
I supposed, when I set off, that I would be alone in the woods the entire time. I knew I would pass some NOBOs and maybe share a shelter, but didn’t suppose I’d make new friends. I didn’t know I’d have some of the best laughs of my life on this trip.
I hiked along and enjoyed the day. I didn’t chat with anyone I passed, really. Most of the hike was beautiful and sunny. And the thought of it ending, of leaving these quick few days in the woods, that was the first time I had to fight back tears.
I lightened my load when I got to my car a mile from Springer. The trail was rockier and icier, but the sun was in front of me and I enjoyed the journey.
Shortly before I reached the top, I ran in to Gonzo. He had reached Springer 45 minutes before me, it turns out. I asked if he wanted to walk back up with me. He asked if I was sure I didn’t want to go alone. Oh no, I said. I’m embracing the way this adventure has changed itself despite my planning it in the depths of winter.
We walked together to Springer.
It felt…anti-climactic, if I’m being honest. There was a NOBO hiker there, so we chatted with her for a bit (speed stick, a triple crowner). Gonzo showed me the log where he’d signed it, and where friends of his he’d told me about had signed as well, mentioning him and others. As a section hiker, it made me happy for him and sad and jealous for me. I only got a small piece of that feeling and those relationships.
Can you see gonzo up there? That’s how I remember hiking with him. His long, easy steps, one pole that he hardly uses, and a stumble every now and then because he doesn’t have to concentrate on each step. Also because his shoes had no tread left by the time I met him.
We walked back to the car and, to add insult to injury, I slipped on some ice and I think that’s when something in my hip went numb. Maybe it was numb before. Who even knows at this point. 29 never felt so old.
At the car, Gonzo and I stuffed in our bags and then I made the most grievous discovery: the shelter mice had moved into my car. There was a nice comfy nest in the floor of the passenger seat, and a north face jacket I’d left there had a hole chewed through the sleeve. I saw the mouse run around the nest and then, I hoped, out the car. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry but laughing seemed easier so I chose that.
Gonzo was eager to drive and I was eager to let him, so he navigated the six miles of gravel and potholes and then figured out how to get to Amicalola Falls State Park, where we’d be picking up Carpenter. My original plan had been to drive home alone, as you might imagine. But fate meant that Carpenter and Gonzo had a train to catch on the same day I was planning on finishing my hike, so I might as well drive them (or let them drive themselves in my car) there. It meant another little bit of adventure, after all.
We only had to stop and ask one man on a tractor for directions. Gonzo’s well-ingrained sense of southiness (to be expected after 2000 miles of walking south) had served us well and we were headed in the right direction.
When we drove up and found Carpenter, hugging him wasn’t like hugging someone I barely knew. I had missed him, and wondered about him, and rejoiced in him finishing his hike. I was happy to see him again.
Gonzo signed the thru-hiker register, and then we drove up to visit Lyric and Heather. Lyric was a friend of theirs who had left the trail; Heather, his wife, worked at the park. We stood around and talked and they called another friend to let them know that Carpenter and Gonzo had finished. I saw pictures and heard stories and enjoyed the general bonhomie.
Carpenter, Gonzo, and I got in the car and drove to Gainesville, Ga. We had dinner at Chik-fil-a (or Chicken-fil-a as my poor Yankee friends kept calling it) and I got my first real “hiker trash” stare. I guess maybe we did look and smell a little colorful, but I was wearing Nike Pros and Patagonia! I’m a pretty fashionable transient.
I made it home at 11:30pm. My mom gave me the quickest hug ever, even quicker than when she’s mad at me. I didn’t think I smelled that bad, but my little sister wouldn’t even come close.
MVP: everything (actually I think I promised Gonzo he could be MVP for driving AND getting me to do a 21 mile day) so actually Gonzo