We are beyond thrilled to share the twelfth and final update from Gerry and Rex Leonard who have successfully completed hiking the Appalachian Trail! WOW! Their 161 day, 2192 mile adventure from Maine to Georgia focused on raising funds and awareness of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) and the disabled veterans we serve. Join us in congratulating them on this absolutely incredible accomplishment. Check out their final dispatch, trail highlights, and photo gallery below.
You can show your support and thank Team Leonard for completing this courageous feat in support of the many disabled veterans whose lives will be changed as a result of their sacrifice.
You can read all their dispatches from the AT here: Gerry and Rex Leonard Hike to Heal Veterans
Family & Friends,
Greetings from Jamestown, Rhode Island! We kept our promise and made it home for Thanksgiving. The final 164 miles of our journey was a whirlwind as we raced through North Carolina and Georgia in order to make it home for Thanksgiving. We averaged 23 miles a day during our last week on the Trail. We climbed Springer Mountain on Saturday, 23 November, exactly five months and one week after we started. The weather on Springer was windy, wet, and cold…but for us, it was a beautiful day. When we reached the final white blaze (or the first for NOBO hikers) and famous AT Hiker’s Plaque at the peak of Springer Mountain, we were overcome by emotion. We threw our hiking poles in the air, ripped off our packs, and hugged like we had just won the Olympic gold…and we may have shed a tear or two. One week removed and it is still hard to believe we walked 2,200 miles through fourteen states, beginning in Maine and finishing in Georgia. In fact, it feels like a dream. We made memories to last a lifetime. And while we’re excited to be home with family, we miss the woods and the people we met along the way. Here are some highlights from the final leg of our journey and a summary of our overall experience:
– Final Leg: North Carolina. The final leg of our journey took us from Fontana Dam, NC to Springer Mountain, GA. The southwestern corner of North Carolina reminded us of Maine. It was pristine with no roads or towns within view. The only thing we could see from our mountaintop vantage points were other mountains as far as the eye could see. Beautiful, sweeping views. Many 4-5K mountains. The only complaint we had against North Carolina was that the trail itself was poorly maintained in some areas, which resulted in me gashing my head on a low-hanging tree limb. Overall, however, the groups of volunteers who maintain the AT do a phenomenal job and we hikers are forever in their debt.
-Final Leg: Georgia. The AT stretches through Georgia for 79 miles. We hiked through it in three and a half days. It rained a chilly rain for two of those days. Besides Springer Mountain, six things stood out about Georgia. One, the Georgian volunteers who maintain the AT in their state do an awesome job. It was the best maintained portion the Trail. Two, Georgians love to hike. Despite the poor weather, the Trail was packed with friendly, upbeat hikers. As we passed them, they all congratulated us on our soon-to-be-complete journey. Three, while not huge, Georgia’s mountains were steep and demanding, with very few switchbacks. Four, in Georgia, the AT actually runs right through a hiking outfitter store! The outfitter makes a killing off hikers, particularly NOBO hikers because it’s the first outfitter and resupply point they reach after leaving Springer. Outside the store is a large oak tree with thousands of boots hanging from its limbs, thrown from NOBO hikers who called it quits shortly after departing Springer. Six, mice! Though we heard about mice problems in the many shelters along the AT, the first mice challenge we encountered was in Georgia…on our last two nights. Trying to sleep with mice crawling through your clothes or running across your sleeping bag is difficult at best. We will NOT miss the mice!
– Springer Mountain and Amicalola Falls. Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, sits 2,192 miles south of Mount Katahdin. Unlike Katahdin, which is the tallest mountain in Maine, Springer is not the tallest or most challenging mountain in Georgia to climb. Standing about 3K feet high, it is unimpressive in size and it lacks great viewpoints. What makes Springer special is its status as the southern terminus, complete with the white blaze and AT Hiker’s Plaque. Eight miles south of Springer Mountain, is the stunning and beautiful Amicalola Falls, which, in our opinion is the prettiest waterfall on the AT. The eight-mile path between the two is called, “The AT Approach Trail”. When we set out on our journey, we told you we were hiking 2,200 miles. The eight-mile Approach Trail, combined with the 2,192 miles before it, gave us those 2,200 miles. At the end of the Approach Trail (the beginning for NOBOs) sits the famous Arch, which serves as a photo-spot for thousands of thru-hikers every year. Here, Pony Express and I took our last AT picture!
– Fontana Dam. We’d be remiss if we did not mention Fontana Dam, which grabbed our attention because of its size, design, and relationship with our efforts to help heal disabled veterans. Built between 1942 and 1946 at the request of President Roosevelt, Fontana Dam generated massive amounts of electricity needed to expand and accelerate war production. Apparently, the electricity generated at Fontana powered Tennessee’s aluminum plants and resulted in the production of over 50,000 aircraft that helped tip the scales in our favor during WWII. When completed, this engineering marvel (2,365 feet long and 480 feet high) was the second largest dam in the world. Besides its connection to WWII, Fontana Dam has a connection to our more recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the veterans who served there. According to a local citizen we met, Mohammad Atta, one of the 9/11 terrorists, reconnoitered Fontana Dam before September 11th. Fortunately, the terrorists did not succeed in targeting the Dam, but as we walked across it, we were reminded of why we chose to raise awareness of and money for Project Healing Waters. Many of the younger veterans who participate in PHWFF programs selflessly answered our nation’s call following 9/11. They volunteered–many right out of high school–to fight those terrorists in the darkest corners of Afghanistan and Iraq. Many came home mentally and physically wounded. As we crossed Fontana Dam, we reflected on their sacrifice…and our journey. We hiked to help them heal from the injuries they sustained wearing our nation’s cloth. Never Forget.
Summary of Highlights:
– Favorite State: Maine (Diesel); Tennessee (Pony Express)
– Least Favorite State: Pennsylvania (Diesel); Pennsylvania (Pony Express)
– Favorite Mountain Range: Roan Highlands (Diesel); Franconia Ridge (Pony Express)
– Favorite Town: Hot Springs, NC (Diesel); Warwick, NY (Pony Express)
– Favorite Pit Stop: Lazy Hiker Brewery in Franklin, NC
– Best Beer: Anything at Lazy Hiker Brewery
– Best Food: Little Red Hen in Andover, ME. Awesome owners; awesome breakfast!
– Favorite Hostel: Woods Hole Hostel, Pearisburg, VA
– Favorite Trail Name: “Baby Milkshake” (Diesel, see Update #2); GoGurl (Pony Express)
– Most Challenging Climb: Mount Madison (Diesel); Mount Garfield (Pony Express)
– Most Challenging Moment: Arguing with Pony Express about me trying to go too fast (Diesel); Trying to keep up with my Dad! (Pony Express)
– Worst Decision: Getting a pedicure to reduce calluses on my foot (Diesel), which resulted in a second degree chemical burn on my big toe! This set us back a week as it healed.
– Biggest Disappointment: Not finishing the hike by Veteran’s Day and under five months.
– Most inspiring moment: Seeing a blind man hike a portion of the trail without assistance
– Number of days on the Trail: 161.
– Miles per day: 14
– Number of Zeros: 30 (high number due to hike-related injuries)
– Miles per day (without the zeros): 17
– Number of pounds lost: 35 lbs (Diesel); 15 lbs (Pony Express)
Thank you for all the love and support!
Diesel & Pony Express
Let’s show our support and thank Team Leonard for completing this courageous feat in support of the many disabled veterans whose lives will be changed as a result of their sacrifice.