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Appalachian Trail

Field Scout's Final Update on the Appalachian Trail

Our contributor makes the tough decision to step off the Appalachian Trail.

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AT signage

The AT is full of unique signs, this being one of my favorites I came across. [photo by Jonathan Olivier]

AT tree

This funky growing tree was an awesome sight, just shortly after crossing into North Carolina. [photo by Jonathan Olivier]

AT border

The sign marking the North Carolina and Georgia state line, the first border crossing for AT thru-hikers. Walking into another state is a cool feeling. [photo by Jonathan Olivier]

AT view

Just one of the many views of rolling mountains along the Georgia section of the AT. [photo by Jonathan Olivier]

Green tunnel

The “green tunnel” is slowly starting to envelope the trail in Georgia. [photo by Jonathan Olivier]

Hikers in line

Hiking with a group of people offers much-needed social time. Though I found that finding someone with the same pace is tough. Most people I met didn’t stop enough to drink, eat and rest. [photo by Jonathan Olivier]

Neel Gap

Neel Gap is home to the tree where hikers throw their hiking boots after buying new ones from the outfitter there. [photo by Jonathan Olivier]

Trail encouragement

Hikers are quick to encourage others along the way to keep pushing along. These morale boosters help, especially when hiking alone. [photo by Jonathan Olivier]

Georgia view

One of my first views in Georgia after several days of fog. [photo by Jonathan Olivier]

Trail magic

Trail magic, random acts of kindness from strangers along the trail, is a morale booster and welcomed by all hikers. [photo by Jonathan Olivier]

Spring along the trail

Through the cold rain and fog, spring is popping up along the trail. [photo by Jonathan Olivier]

Blood Mountain view

The view atop Blood Mountain, one of the tougher climbs in Georgia. [photo by Jonathan Olivier]

Appalachian Trail statistics are telling. Around half of the 2,000 or so hikers that begin at Springer Mountain only make it to Harpers Ferry, WV, with around a quarter finishing at Mount Katahdin.

Quitting is the norm on the AT, much more so than finishing, when looking at the figures. If you would’ve told me as I made my way toward my first white blaze at the beginning of April that I’d soon be quitting, I would’ve told you that you were crazy.

Yet, here I am, back home with a sore back, numb leg, and hurt psyche.

After my first week, I started feeling numbness in my left leg above my knee. Eventually it grew to encompass my entire thigh, with an accompanying pain in my back.

Trudging up mountains was becoming painful, both mentally and physically. It was the farthest I had ever backpacked and the miles were starting to wear on me. “I’m supposed to be having fun,” I thought to myself. Instead, I focused on my physical state and my mind drifted to home. Suddenly being alone in the woods wasn’t something that beckoned. If anything, being in those mountains started to push me away the more I pushed myself.

I made it to Franklin, NC, for a rest day to figure everything out. I always told myself I didn’t want to leave on a bad day. By the next day, I was still feeling banged up, and was worried about what was causing my leg numbness. My mind was made up: I was going home.

I rented a car and was home within a day. It was the strangest feeling being home when just two days ago I was climbing mountains all day. I can only imagine the feeling after 6 months on the trail.

After almost a week of rest my leg started to get back to normal and a strained back muscle is starting to feel better. Could I have rested up a week in Franklin, continued on and made it? Maybe. But I feel I made the smart move for my physical well-being and my wallet (hotels are expensive).

Putting a life-long dream behind you isn’t an easy one, believe me. It was more painful than any physical discomfort I was having at the time. I don’t look at this as a failure or the end of my dream of walking to Maine. Rather, I see it as the start of one day finishing. It just wasn’t my time, yet. I’m proud of myself for having the courage to undertake such a momentous adventure by myself and also having the insight to realize pushing on would be the wrong move.

The trail will always be there when I’m ready to give it a shot again.

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