I have a cousin who lives in Washington DC and she offered to let me take some time off trail with her. By this time, I knew I wouldn't finish the AT in 2018, so I had more time and since my back still gave me problems, I decided to take about a week off the trail. During that time, I replaced my backpack and added some more gear so I could handle colder temperatures since I noticed that my elevation was about to increase.
My backpack made it about 7,000 miles before I replaced it.
My knees went bad on my first day back on the trail. I don't know if the rest allowed them to stiffen up, or the new backpack changed how I was walking just enough to cause knee pain, but soon I found myself road hiking again. This killed my dream of completing a White Blaze of the AT. My plan at the time was to White Blaze the rest of the AT and then go back to New Hampshire where I could join Low and hike the portion I road hiked around. From this point on, I treated the AT like it was the CDT and took whatever route made the most sense to me.
In some ways, road hiking improved my hike. I saw more interesting things than I had been seeing on trail since Maine, like Natural Bridge State Park. Road hiking also allowed me to hike faster on shorter routes to get to the same places. I went from hoping to reach Springer Mountain by the end of January to expecting to get their by the middle of January.
Creek coming out of a tunnel at Natural Bridge State Park.
I did try to catch some of the highlights on the trail such as the Tinker Cliffs and McAfee Knob. However, tree blow-downs, the Government Shutdown, and weather that made me frown caused me to skip some of the highlights.
Slot at the Tinker Cliffs.
McAfee Knob was one of the few times I had to share the trail.
In town, I met Code Red who hiked the AT in 2015 and gave me a place to stay for a couple nights while allowing me to slackpack. She gave me the highlights I needed to go see and even went on a dayhike to Dragon's Tooth with me.
Code Red at Dragon's Tooth
Also, I finally had some green on the trail. Since my early winter storms, I basically only saw trees without leaves. Virginia showed me why the AT is sometimes called the "Long Green Tunnel".
The Long Green Tunnel.
After my friend Prodigy finished the AT, he told me how Georgia was warmer than the rest of the trail. That wasn't my experience.
Ice in Georgia.
My dad wanted to finish the AT with me so I estimated when I would finish. Instead, I got ahead of schedule and was only a couple miles from the Southern Terminus when I turned around and went to town to meet my dad. It actually took more effort to turn around than it would have been to go over the mountain.
We drove back up the next day to where I left off and hiked through ice, some rain, and consistent fog to get to Springer Mt. I figured that since I started my hike in Southern Utah with a rain storm, I started the SYTC on a dreary misty day, and I started the AT in the fog, I might as finish on a day with fog and rain.
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