Witnessing the AT: Two Stories of Completion

Atop Springer Mountain

Atop Springer Mountain

The Appalachian Trail runs for 2,160 miles along the East Coast. Beginning at Springer Mountain in Georgia, a northbound hiker will pass through 15 states before ending up atop Mount Katahdin’s Baxter Peak of the northern terminus. I’ve always been intrigued by the AT every since I hiked my very first (and very small) section in high school. Since then I have hit bits and pieces along the way, although nothing amounting to any real distance. The idea of a trail that runs continuously for so long and takes one through so many different parts of the country has always appealed to me.

Recently I went on a weekend camping trip that took in about 5-6 miles to the trail. Starting at the Three Forks reek valley,

Three Forks Creek Valley

Three Forks Creek Valley

we hiked to Springer Mountain and back before setting up camp at Long Creek Falls. The weather was beautiful, the views amazing, and the camping spot ideal. All that was grand, and waking up to an empty campsite and the sound of the falling water was fantastic.

One of the coolest things, however, happened on our first day shortly after making it to the top of Spring Mountain, the southern terminus of the AT. We arrived at the summit to find a family of four already there. At their feet was an empty box of pizza and they were in the midst of a champagne toast. While three of them were wearing t-shirts and jeans, a young man in his early twenties was decked out in what was clearly hiking gear, complete with a three-month old beard. It became clear that the young man had just completed a southbound thru-hike (in three months and three days, actually). His family had met him at the top of the mountain to help him celebrate what is a very difficult achievement.

As we were enjoying being a witness to this special moment, an older man in his late 70s crested the summit with four others. As it happened, this gentleman was finishing up the final section of his 38 year mission to section-hike the trail. The four others in tow were his three sons and one grandson. We came to find that Denny the Kid (the gentleman’s trail name, natch) had started the section with this two sons (one was too young that first year) and the three had joined him for portions throughout the next 38 years. As one said, “we started with him, and now we’re finishing with him.” It was a really cool moment to watch three generations of hikers (well, two and half, the grandson didn’t seem too enthused to be doing all that camping and stuff) come together to complete a years long mission.

There are two main reasons I love hiking and camping. The first is the chance to get out amongst some stunning beauty and to slow things down a bit, to “live deliberately,” if you’re a Thoreau fan. The second is the immediate camaraderie between those that have done any sort of serious hiking or camping. The great thing about this most recent trip is that we were able to experience both.

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