Final Journey – Day 10 – October 28, 2013

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Day 10

October 29, 2013

Nimblewill Gap to Amicalola State Park

North to South

6.0 miles

Amicalola Falls The last day of a trip is a wild mishmash.

On the one hand, you are in trail shape. Your pack feels (and is) lighter. You have let go of the tether that ties you to the harried ways of the world.

On the other hand, the harried ways of the world await you at the end of the day’s hike. There you must confront the real need to get from the trail to the train station—a challenge that held even more urgency today, for we didn’t have a clue who would heed our call.

One predictable manifestation of “last-day-on-the-trail-itis” is that I want to hold onto the present for as long as possible.

I awoke before light, sat up in my ground pad/lounger and replayed the trip in my mind, starting with our arrival in Georgia nine days ago. These recaps bring me another round of joy and help etch trips in my mind, much like reviewing your notes after the professor has left the lecture hall.

Part of this exercise is noting the takeaways. For this trip, it wasn’t hard. Lesson one: I’m not young enough to get up from behind a desk, get on a mountain trail and not feel it for several days. Lesson two: despite that, I absolutely still love life on the trail.

Wayne began stirring, so I fired up the coffee and oatmeal water. The food bags, once overstuffed, were now like empty holiday stockings. Oatmeal, coffee and a rogue package of ramen or two.

The conversation was about as sparse. We seemingly packed in seconds (on the last day, knowing exactly where everything is in the pack isn’t nearly as important). Won’t need to access the tent or smelly clothes for a while. The only thing you need at the ready are your wind shell and your wallet.

We climbed up the first hill and found the perfect campsite. Oh well, water under the bridge. Last night’s was just fine.

The next five miles would be a beautiful jaunt through the woods that was mostly downhill, but there would be two small climbs first. As I hiked along, I thought of a promise yet unkept. The wife of a childhood friend asked me if I could hold up a sign that simply said, “Hope” in support of her husband, my buddy, John, who has ALS. I was running out of time.

IMG_0341On the summit of Frosty Mountain, the last significant summit of the entire AT, I held up my sign, had Wayne take a photo and posted it to my Facebook account. Promise kept.

The trip was winding down — this truly epic, 28 year hike with half a lifetime full of memories that I will carry with me every day until my ashes are tossed into the mountain summit winds.

As we walked down toward the state park, we started talking about next adventures. Not surprisingly, they included an AT reunion.

No trail, including the AT, is ever the same trail twice. Yes, there are re-locations, but the variables are much greater than that. The weather, the season, your age, your mental state and your direction of travel all combine to create a completely different experience.  Then there’s your overall approach. We discussed how much different it would be to travel ultralight and have a support van meeting us 2-3 days apart at road crossings.

So…maybe we aren’t quite done with this trail after all…

We also discussed other trails and adventures that might not involve carrying packs on our backs, but that’s for another day. For now, it was all about feeding the vision…and the stomachs.

About one mile from the Amicalola State Park visitor’s center, the trail crossed a wood road leading to Amicalola Falls Lodge, a spectacular hotel with (drum roll please) an all you can eat buffet! All I can say is that we skewed the numbers for the 55+ segment’s eating abilities.

IMG_0354I started with a large salad, then followed up with two plates of chicken and pork roast with baked zucchini and a piece of German chocolate cake. That package of ramen buried deep in my pack was the farthest thing from my mind.

After the feast, we descended an incredibly impressive 604 step staircase along the highest waterfall in Georgia. In less than 1/2 hour, we crossed the park’s approach road and walked toward the entrance of the welcome center — some 2,150 miles and 28 years away from the beginning of our adventure. What a surreal feeling – one that continues to reverberate through me even as I write about it.

We made that last connection from the state park to Gainesville, in fine fashion. The friendly folks at the visitor center first handed us Ron’s business card (the third time he came up in four days – his promotional efforts are working well), but we already knew he couldn’t help us out. So, we ended up calling a cab.

As always, switching from foot power to highway speed is a bit of a jolt, even if you aren’t driving. Rather than the train station, we asked to be dropped at the nearest rib joint. Time to really celebrate until that 9:00 p.m. train came roaring through to take us back to New England.

Fittingly, I was able to listen to my beloved Red Sox win Game 5 of the World Series on the train ride. Well, I was able to hear most of it anyway. I was streaming the game on my phone and whenever we hit a rural stretch, which was often, I lost contact. Fortunately, the rural stretches seemed to coincide with ad breaks.

I barely slept after the game ended — 1.5 hours was all I would get the whole way back to Maine, 42 hours after I awoke in the tent in Nimblewill Gap. I was still too wound up from the realization that we had both reached our 2,000 mile goal.

A tribute to Gladys Knight and the Pips

I’ve always loved the song, “Midnight Train to Georgia”. Everything about it appeals to me, the melody, Gladys Knight’s incredible vocals (not to mention those of the Pips), the piano, the brass and, of course, the story.

For obvious reasons, it became something of a theme song for this nearly three decade adventure. Someday we would be leaving on the midnight train to Georgia to complete our hike.

And so, it was only appropriate that on the last morning of the the last day of our AT adventure, as the coffee water warmed, we were tuned to a radio station that announced it was the 40th anniversary of the release of Midnight Train to Georgia.

It was meant to be. Here’s to Gladys Knight and the Pips!

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