Day #140-It is finished (for now, anyway); Miles hiked: 8.1

This morning I woke up in what I’m going to call an ice cage. Everything that was wet from the rain was frozen solid, including my tent, pack, hiking clothes, and shoes. I had to crawl out from under my tent because the zipper was frozen shut. What a fitting last morning on trail!

Even if my shoes were too frozen to put on, I left camp in socks because nothing could stop me now!

I spent the last 8 miles of my thru hike in conversation with the Lord-what a walk we have been on together!I got to walk the last mile of the trail with a big group of Holston/ATOM folks, my mom, and my brother. It was pure craziness with so many hikers finishing, but I still managed to get pictures with the boys I call my brothers and of course a face plant picture that is a perfect representation of what my body feels like right now.My brother and I enjoyed a quick walk down the stairs at Amicalola Falls State Park where I officially registered my thru hike as complete! They say that less than 20 percent of those who start a thru hike succeed. I owe all of my thanks to the Lord, the chaplaincy crew who has supported me the whole way (as well as countless strangers), and a good dose of laughter on rainy days from my hiking buddies.Thank you also to all of the people (most of whom I’ve never met) who read this blog and pray for me accordingly. I’ve enjoyed sharing my journey with you here and hope it inspires you to get outside and minister in the simple things. Look for a more detailed reflection on my trail experience in a week or so if you want more details about what I’ve learned about the Lord and his people on my 2190.9 mile walk.

Ps-I’m considering a thru hike of the 800 mile Arizona Trail in April–it doesn’t rain in the desert! Stay tuned!

Day #139-I wouldn’t have imagined it any other way; Miles hiked: 20.6

Still damp from the overnight storm excitement, I left camp in a cold rain this morning. This is how my thru hike started, how it’s been more often than not in the middle, and exactly how I envisioned my last day on trail. At this point, I’m really good at hiking in the rain, so bring it on!

Knowing this was our last chance to be together like this, we hiked in a big group almost all day. The SOBO snowball has grown and it looks like more than 20 thru hikers will finish tomorrow. Hawk Mountain shelter this evening served as somewhat of a reunion for hikers I’ve been just a few miles behind for the past month. When we were all in our tents, we giggled about how it was like the night before Christmas (with excitement). I don’t think anyone slept well at all…

A cold front has also started to roll in for a chilly finish tomorrow.

Day #138-Crossing mountains and out for blood; Miles hiked: 21.2

Even though it rained again today, we got a wonderful sunrise from beneath the clouds.The rest of the day was relatively uneventful as we journeyed further south into the Georgia hills. I enjoyed the chance to bounce among small groups of hikers and hear what their thoughts are on finishing the trail.

By afternoon, we made it to an AT icon: Mountain Crossings. This outfitter and hostel at Neel Gap marks the only time the trail crosses under a roof. Mountain Crossings is also a very popular place for northbound thru hikers to end their hikes, as it’s the first major road they cross (right after the first big climb). There is a tree full of shoes of from hikers who have called it quits here.I chose not to hang my pair and instead journeyed up Blood Mtn.

The stone cabin on top was a wonderful place to eat dinner, but became less wonderful as the night went on. We had hung rain flys and tarps over the windows, but a windy 4 am storm brought all of our barricades down and a leaky roof allowed the water to pour in. I’m going to miss the AT, but not nights like that!

Ps-Rachel brought us more trail magic today, and we are very grateful!

Day #137-Georgia isn’t flat; Miles hiked: 19.1

This morning, our new friend Rachel was so very kind to bring us back to the trail (she even recruited a friend so we could do it in one trip!). Having Holston people around to help sure does help make a thru hike a little easier. Thanks for the ride!With the sun shining, we set off to go further up and further in to the Georgia hills. Let me tell you, there are quite a few of them!

I counted seven 500-1000 ft climbs today, which wore my poor tired legs out quite thoroughly. There is plenty of fear mongering about “hard parts” of the AT, but no one mentioned GA.

Nonetheless, I did make it as the final batch of rain of my thru hike (which will last 3 days) stares rolling in.With the rain came a beautiful rainbow that we saw from Blue Mtn shelter.

Springer, here I come!

Day #136-Isolated tornados and final trip to town; Miles hiked: 16.7

The weather that was predicted (isolated tornadoes according to the weather channel) really did show up last night. I was having an appropriately timed tornado nightmare when I woke up to my quilt blowing/peeling off my body from the wind. Even in a shelter with a 10 ft porch, everyone and everything was absolutely soaked from horizontal rain. As much as I’ll miss the trail, today is one of the days I wouldn’t have minded being a normal person in a house.

The wind eventually let up just a bit and we enjoyed our first views into Georgia. Just a few miles, we crossed the border and entering state #14. I have officially walked from Maine to Georgia. Crazy!By late afternoon, we made it into our last trail town: Hiawassee, GA. Once in Hiawassee, I had the privilege of spending time with a future thruhiker and chaplaincy applicant, Rachel. She blessed me with a resupply box and has been a wonderful sport to hang around in the crappiest motel I’ve ever seen with all 10 of us. It smells really nice in the Budget Inn with all of our wet clothes out drying. This is the definition of “hiker trash,” a term our community has claimed for itself proudly. Three and a half days to go!!!

Day #135-Welcome to single digits; Miles hiked: 23.6

This morning, Spork and I enjoyed a wonderful breakfast from trail angels Chris and Diane. I was sad to leave, but know that our next chaplain will be glad to receive their hospitality next in the spring.The miles today were a familiar section around Standing Indian Mtn in North Carolina. However, today they meant a little bit more because we passed the 100 mile mark! Yes, my 2190.9 mile journey is down to the single digits.Albert Mtn didn’t leave us without plenty of views. There is quite a bit of damage from the 2016 fires, but I’m glad that it’s rained way too much this year to worry about that now.Tonight we’re bunkering down for what’s supposed to be some pretty serious weather tomorrow-stay tuned!

Day #134-Carolina sunshine; Miles hiked: 21.6

The Lord was faithful to wake me up to pee three times last night. Why? I believe to marvel at his workmanship in the stars. They were just magnificent!

Clear overnight skies gave way to wonderful views from Wesser Bald this morning. I got to hike 1:1 with several members of the SOBO snowball today which was a tremendous opportunity to go deeper with these individuals the Lord has placed in my life. Almost all of them have a church background, but have walked away from faith. Please pray for the Lord to reawaken their hearts for Him and draw them gently to Him in these final days on trail.Two more balds and 21 miles later, we arrived in Franklin, NC where we were graciously picked up by a good friend of the chaplaincy, Chris. Thank you for the ride and the company you have provided!

Ps-we demolished the local Mexican joint again

Day #133-Look out below; Miles hiked: 19.6

It was hard to leave Robbinsville UMC and go into the frosty air this morning, but we didn’t leave without a wonderful breakfast from the hiker ministry. Thank you so very much! Nevertheless, our big dysfunctional family loaded up and headed back to Stecoah Gap.After a climb through beautiful snow that we were so very thankful to have not slept in, the SOBOs snowball reached Cheoah Bald.Up next was what seemed like an eternal 3000+ ft descent into the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). All of the slippery downhill had me a little low in spirits, but a veggie burger at the NOC restaurant made things all better!The climb down didn’t come without an equally tough climb out of the Nantahala gorge. However, the views back down into the gorge were simply amazing!I can sense some really strong bonds forming in the SOBO snowball in these last days and look forward to learning more about each member as an individual in the hundred or so miles we have left. Almost there!

Day #132-The Lord uses Wendy’s; Miles hiked: 14.9

After shotgunning sodas from the vending machine near Fontana Village this morning, it was off to what we thought was going to be a quick resupply in Robbinsville, NC.On the walk there, I was constantly humbled by the beauty of the fall leaves. Even though I love for the sun to be out, I really enjoyed the brilliance of the colors against the grey sky. The sun did come out for a few moments too while it formed a lake of clouds over Fontana. Father is such a good artist!Upon hitching into Robbinsville for what we thought was a quick trip to Dollar General to purchase enough junk food to get us to Franklin, things took an unexpected turn.

Step 1: hikers being tempted by the 4 for 4 meal at Wendy’s. For those of you unfamiliar with this amazing deal, you can get 1000 calories in the form of soda, chicken nuggets, fries, and a hamburger for only $4! For the hiker, this usually turns into 8 for 8, or even the highly sought after and revered 12 for 12 (I have yet to pull that one off).Step 2: the Lord sends Pastor Eric into Wendy’s to dine with a man he’s just met.

Step 3: since I haven’t changed clothes since June, Pastor Eric recognizes me and my entourage and invites us all to sleep in his church.

Springer isn’t going to spring away, so we gladly took him up on his offer to skip another cold night in a musty shed in the woods. We gratefully enjoyed pizza, mead, soda, and time to relax at the church. BamBam even prepared a “sermon” about the trail dedicated to Little Debbie, the maker of our favorite snack: Honey Buns.I enjoyed reading some of my favorite childhood Bible stories-especially the one from 2 Kings about a bear attacking some kids who wanted to make fun of a poor old bald dude. That was a camp favorite when I worked at Wesley Woods!

This sounds like fun and games (and indeed there were plenty of laughs), but I can’t understate what a tremendous testimony nights like this are to my friends. Some told me that they haven’t stepped in a church since childhood, let alone felt welcomed. The number of faith questions that they’ve asked me have multiplied immensely in the days since we’ve been having experiences like this. Every act of kindness counts!

Day #131-Goodbye Smokies; Miles hiked: 24.1

After saying goodbye to Wildcat and his entourage (he brought us plenty of friends), we had our work cut out for us to get out of the park. With bad storms rolling in and the wind raging, off we went!

Before the rain started coming down in sheets, I passed a very special place to us Tennesseans: Rocky Top! Even though the wind was strong enough to push me around, I did get out one chorus of our UT fight song. Go vols!At the end of a soggy, windy day, I crossed out of the Smokies and over Fontana Dam.Tonight the newly formed tramily (now called either the SOBO Snowball or the Blueberry Patch Kids) and I are staying at the “Fontana Hilton,” one of the nicest shelters on the AT. We even have access to a bath house with running water!

Goodnight from the other side of the Smokies.