Day 155: Carter Gap Shelter, NC to Hiawassee, GA (24.3 mi)
Omg the crew of section hikers (Brandon, Gary & Steven) who built the AMAZING fire last night woke up multiple times in the night to stoke the fire so we had a nice warm fire in the morning to enjoy! WHAT LUXURY!! It was 20 degrees last night and SO windy that Fresh Feet and I had our coldest night! I used THREE sleeping pads to add warmth (I am carrying a z-rest and an air mattress and so is FF). I made an air mattress sandwhich with the two z rests.
FF was up pretty late hanging out at the fire and was moving a little slower this morning, but I knew we had a big day ahead so I left around 7:40. Eventually he caught me and we had our lunch Soylent at the Muskrat shelter, 12 miles into our day. It was starting to warm up, but I still made my smoothie warm and with chai tea. It was amazing and helped keep me warm during the break (usually I cool down so fast!)
After lunch we had an easy, downhill 3 mile stretch until we reached the GA border! Wooohoo!! And RIGHT on the other side of the border MY PARENTS surprised us!! They came out to surprise us and had hiked out 3 miles (which is a lot for my mom with a broken arm!).
We hiked back towards their car together for 3 miles and then continued on an additional 6 miles to meet them at Dick’s Creek Gap. We decided to stay in Hiawassee with them so we could eat a nice hot meal and shower and be warm. We finished in the dark and went straight to a Thai restaurant and feasted!
We then went to the hotel and showered, did laundry, and went through our last resupply box. We realized that we could stay with my parents the next few nights and only carry what we would need for the day. This is called slack-packing, and something we have not done yet (most thru hikers slack-pack sections of the trail and it seems like practically everyone does it towards the end). We had carried everything up until now, but it just made sense to meet up with them and not have to carry our tent and sleeping bags and extra food etc.
We stayed up too late chatting and looking at a photo book my mom made for our birthdays of the first half of our trek. It was so wonderful to be around family! My parents think this is the longest they’ve gone without seeing me!
Day 156: Hiawassee, GA to Unicoi Gap (16.7 mi)
Slack pack day 1! We were on trail by about 9 am and cruised through the day with so much ease thanks to the slack pack opportunity! We saw a bear hanging out in a tree in the morning. He seemed like he was just resting and didn't seem bothered or startled by us.
I had a warm chai Soylent for lunch and we ran the downhills in the afternoon. We passed some fellow thru hikers (Johnny Five, Pulitzer and Jester) who were slack packing in the Northbound direction and they said they planned to summit on 11/21 as well.
We rushed towards the end to get to the car as early as possible to make it to the clinic before 4:00. We decided my “spider bite” needed to be looked at by a Dr. It seemed as though the smaller satellite bites were now popping up on my left thigh so it was questionable as to weather or not we were dealing with a bite. It seemed to only be getting worse and the lesion area was about the size of a quarter. We got to the car by 3:15 and were able to make it to urgent care before 4:00. PHEW!
The Dr. determined I had chillblains: localized inflammatory lesions caused by prolonged extreme exposure to cold. Typically wet and cold conditions are what causes this condition and she referred to it as frost bite for people with autoimmune diseases. Chillblains is mostly found in people with autoimmune diseases. It more commonly occurs on people’s hands and feet, but I have been able to keep those decently warm. The skin on my thighs are so insulated since they are the fatty part of my body that the blood doesn’t circulate well to warm up the skin and this outer upper thigh region tends to always be the coldest skin on my body. As is with autoimmune diseases, my body overreacted to the extreme conditions of the cold environment and flared up in a pretty dramatic way. The steroid cream was just thinning the skin around it so I needed to stop using it immediately. The inflammation was also worsened when I changed environments from cold to hot too quickly because that caused the capillaries to pinch and itch. I had to be careful when taking hot showers and after a day of hiking in the cold and use a wet towel and dab the skin so that it wouldn’t get too hot and start itching like crazy.
I was so relieved and glad to have an answer about this and hoped that being out of the cold in the hotel at night would help some and prevent it from worsening.
We ate Mexican food and it was SO delicious! Then we came back to hotel, showered and relaxed. Stayed up pretty late again but will slack pack again tomorrow.
Day 157: Unicoi Gap to Neel’s Gap (21.2 mi)
Slack pack day 2. We got on trail by about 7:40 am and started out with a pretty big climb up Blue Mountain.
We ridge walked for most of the day and had more elevation gain and descent than yesterday. The day wore on. I was feeling ready to be done. The final climb was tiring and I got to the top with a rocky outcrop and Fresh Feet was waiting for me. We took our packs off and took a short break. We hadn’t really been taking many breaks lately, so it was nice to just soak in the view and relax for a few minutes. We had 5 miles left. Then, with 4 miles to the end I ran into my parents!! They had hiked in! We then hiked back the last 4 miles to Neel’s gap.
Jamie left his wallet at the Mexican restaurant from last night so he and my dad drove back 45 mins one way to retrieve it after we ate dinner in the cabin from our trail food. My mom and I hung back and chatted. I can tell my Chillblains are not getting any worse and I think spending the night indoors is helping to stabilize them.
Day 158: Neel’s Gap to Hightower Gap (22.5 mi)
Slack pack day 3. We got a pretty early start at 7:30 considering we were staying practically right on the trail at some cabins at Neel’s Gap. Neel’s Gap is about 30 miles from Springer Mountain and is said to be where a HUGE percentage of NoBos quit their thru hikes. There is a big Tree with tons of boots hanging from it from hikers who have quit their journey.
We climbed Blood Mountain right off the bat - our last 4k footer of the trail. In true 4k feet plus fashion we were in a cloud and had no views. There were a lot of nice rocky outcrops and I could tell that our climb would be difficult for fresh NoBos to descend.
After Blood Mountain we had some rolly climbs and descents. Some steep ones too. The sun came out once we got below 3k ft and stayed out the rest of the day, but the wind was BITTER and loud and howling most of the day. Not my favorite. I plugged in to listen to music for most of the time to cancel out the stressful sound of the wind ripping through the trees. Mentally we were just ready to be done. Getting off trail and staying with my parents had helped us begin the transition back into the other world.
My parents surprised us at Woody Gap so we had lunch in the car OUT OF THE WIND! It was nice to take a break and visit AND they had a bag of chips for us to devour. Crunchy and salty hit the spot compared with the sweet and chewy bars we have each day.
We pressed on as we still had 12 more miles to cover that day. We needed to decide if we wanted to get our stuff from my parents at Hightower Gap and sleep at the shelter for our last night on trail, or if we wanted to get off trail and sleep inside with my parents. It was a tough decision and ultimately I decided I would be ok with whatever Fresh Feet decided or was leaning towards. He was having a much harder time with the transition of trail life coming to an end. He didn’t want it to end, but at the same time was ready. He likes to compare it to his college graduation - bittersweet.
Then as we passed Gooch Gap I saw a car that looked like my parents’ rental car, but no m & d in sight. Then about 1.5 miles down trail they surprised us AGAIN! We quickly visited and then continued on. Only 7 miles left until Hightower Gap!
Depending on what side of the mountain we were hiking on there was either ripping wind or calm and sunshine, so lots of layer changing with hat, gloves and buff.
We finally met my parents at Hightower Gap and at this point FF had told me that he was leaning towards staying with them out of the cold. I agreed. The low for the night was 26 deg and I didn’t feel like I needed to aggravate my Chillbalins by sleeping in the freezing cold one more night. The hotel was about 35 minutes away.
We ate Asian food right next door to the hotel, showered and enjoyed the warm indoors and comfortable bed and pillows!
Tomorrow would be our last day on trail! We needed to decide if we wanted to hike the approach trail down to Amicalola Falls - an 8.8 mile blue blaze trail AFTER summiting Springer mountain. This would be a 17 mile day instead of an 8 mile day and then an additional 2-3 hour drive to Atlanta. We ultimately decided we didn’t need to do the approach trail and that we felt complete just getting to the top of Springer Mountain. The car would be parked at the parking lot 1 mile from the summit, so we would only have a 1 mile descent to the car instead of 8.8.
Day 159: Hightower Gap to Springer Mountain (8.6 mi)
We slept in since we had made the decision to only hike the 8.6 miles to Springer mountain. We attached our beautiful patches that my sister Shelley made for us to our packs (we didn’t want to ruin them or get them dirty so we waited until the last day).
The morning was chilly and beautiful. There were a LOT of section hikers and day hikers on the trails. I felt so funny with my slack pack because I felt like I blended in with the day hikers, but in reality a 5 month hike was culminating on this very day and none of them had any idea!
It was pretty exhilarating to see the signs for Springer Mountain saying only 4.25 more miles! Had it really come to an end so quickly? It suddenly felt unreal and anti-climactic. It certainly was no Katahdin. The terrain was very manicured and well traveled and the inclines were gradual and easy. I think in many ways the trail had felt complete after the Smokies and these last 150 miles were just icing on the cake to ease us out and slowly transition out of our “survival” mindset.
I finally reached the parking lot that was 0.9 miles from Springer where my dad was waiting as well as a crew of other thru hikers and their families that had just summited moments before. We chatted, waited for Fresh Feet to arrive, and then my dad took off. My mom was already waiting at the top. Fresh Feet and I gathered some of our belongings to put into our backpacks to bring up all our stuff for the last mile. Fresh Feet decided to walk the last mile barefoot - which he claims wasn’t that bad, just cold.
We got to the summit and took a few pictures. The feelings had already been taking me over when I saw the sign for 4.5 miles or even 30 miles from Springer. The actual end point didn’t seem particularly grandiose, but there it was. After taking some pictures and answering people’s questions about being thru hikers (which at this point I had grown a bit tired of), we headed down to the car.
We drove down some very windy dirt forest service roads with no cell service so we had to have our map fully loaded from the parking area. We drove to the visitor’s center at the bottom of the approach trail and signed the log book to register our hike as completed. Fresh Feet bought a few souvenirs and we headed to Atlanta where we stayed at my cousin’s house (although she was out of town). It felt like a daze being done. We were both kind of in a zombie state and didn’t really know what to do with ourselves. Being done was especially hard on Fresh Feet - the trail ways were certainly easy and “natural” for him and I think he was mourning the hike being over and feeling overwhelmed with the prospect of entering back into society.
As our re-entry to civilization awaits us I feel energized and inspired to re-engage in being a change-maker. I feel more ready than ever to immerse myself into society and bring a new perspective - perhaps a more simple perspective to my way of engaging and hopefully make a difference wherever I can. I know that disengaging for this time has been like a hard reset for me and I will see things with a new mind. I think sometimes it is important to distance oneself from the status quo and re-train your brain to focus on the present moment because I feel more ready than ever to take on the issues that plague my heart: the incredible social injustices in our country of abundance and wealth, the unconscious brutality to non-human animals, and the complete destruction to our ecosystem.
In the short term, it will be a slow and gentle transition back to our home and lives and we don't have a plan. Everyone always asks us "what's the next step?" and we need to take a month or two (or three?) to intentionally figure that out while also processing the life-changing 5 months we took to live and walk in the woods.
I feel overwhelmed with gratitude and love from all the support we had along the way from our community far and wide. I can't begin to express how awe-struck I am at how many people followed our journey and read this blog. It touches me to the core and I am beyond blown away from all your support. PLEASE message me if you have been reading my blog. I would like to know who I have reached :) I hope to continue to write after we get home from the trail with regards to gear summaries and the grand transition. Let me know if there are questions you would like me to address in my post-trail reflection blog posts. You can message me from our website: www.jackiejamie.com or on Instagram: @jackiejamieseethings or any other way you know how to get in touch!