9/11/17 Destination: Knot Maul Shelter, VA
Miles hiked: 2175.7 Miles Today 24.4 Miles to go: 14.6
Beaker was up at daylight. The forecast was for rain in the afternoon, so he wanted to get in as many miles as possible before welcoming the liquid sunshine to the trail. He had to bid farewell to Hoops (Courtney) thanking her once again for coming out to the trail. Dancing Bear slept in a little later but was planning on hiking to Knot Maul Shelter today as well.
It was overcast and windy all morning; but, the rain held off. Dancing Bear passed Beaker fairly quickly into the hike which reminded Beaker of the old days with the young guys blowing past him as he trudged up the hill. Beaker then settled into his steady pace, listening to an audiobook as the miles melted away.
About 15 miles into the hike, Beaker stopped for lunch at Chestnut Knob Shelter. He showed up just as Dancing Bear was heading out. The shelter was so nice, located in a meadow on top of a mountain. It was a fully enclosed shelter with windows, bunks for six, and a picnic table in the shelter. Beaker finished his lunch and reluctantly headed back out into the wind and light rain.
Another ten miles of hiking brought him to his destination, Dancing Bear was already there, reading. They had a pleasant dinner at the shelter, both grateful for the company of another thru hiker.
It still hasn’t quite sunk in that tomorrow is my very last day on trail. I have been doing this since February. Although I’m more than ready to be finished, I know that I will miss the simplicity of this lifestyle where all you have to worry about is putting one foot in front of another. I will also miss the easy camaraderie of the thru hiker community.
9/12/17 Destination: The Finish Line – The Barn Restaurant, Atkins, VA. Miles today 14.6
September 12 would be Beaker’s last day on the trail. Instead of summarizing his journal, I decided to quote portions of post in the hopes of better capturing his spirit and excitement of the end.
My final day on the trail was quite epic. The wind gusted all night and the rain arrived around 3:00 AM as the tail end of Hurricane Irma descended upon us. Since I only had 14.6 miles to hike, I slept in until 7:15 AM, allowing it to get light before I drug myself out from under my nice, warm down quilt.
After eating breakfast and packing up, it became apparent that the wind and rain weren’t going to let up any time soon, so I decided it was time to hike. Dancing Bear was still in his sleeping bag and was contemplating taking a zero day at the shelter to ride out the storm. So, I bade him farewell and good luck and headed out.
The wind was gusting and the rain was pelting as I climbed the ridge. There were leaves and branches down everywhere and I had to climb over a couple of downed trees. ….The trail profile was a little steeper than what I had hiked the past couple of days, with three pretty big climbs. Each time I descended from a mountain, I would have to climb over a stile and traverse a pasture.….The pastures were also much more exposed than the woods. At one point, I came around the hill as I was traversing an open pasture right into a strong headwind, with sheets of rain pelting me. The wind was so strong I had to tighten the drawstring on my hat to keep it from blowing off.
I was trudging up a long, steep hill at one point when Dancing Bear came bounding by like it was nothing. It really warmed my heart to be passed just once more by a young Twenty Something like I was standing still. It was just like the old days.
Eventually, I climbed over my last stile, walked under I-81 and approached the Barn Restaurant. As I walked up, Dancing Bear was on the porch, cheering me on. He said that he didn’t want me to “summit” at the Barn alone, so he decided to hike through the rain to be there for me.
After 2190.3 miles of hiking through rain, sleet, snow, wind, sun, rocks, roots, and mud, my hike was finally at an end. A casual observer probably would have said that the moisture on my cheeks was a result of the pelting rain. Any thru hiker would’ve known the true source and smiled, knowing that I had now well and truly earned the title of Brave & Fierce Thru Hiker.