Finally Finishing (the Blog, That Is)
A Really Poor Excuse for Why This Took 2 Months to Write
If you’ve been following along, you’ve probably figured out by now that I have finished the trail. I apologize for the enormous lapse in time between actually finishing and writing about it. When I lost my phone in PA, I also lost my ability to keep up with posting. Once I got it back, I found it impossible to catch the blog up to where I was. So I’ve finally decided to sit down and hash out the rest of my experience, starting from where I left off. This won’t be quite as detailed as some of my previous posts to keep length down, but hopefully you’ll still get the gist of it.
Granite State of Mind
Returning to my home state was the most incredible feeling. New Hampshire treated us fabulously. When in town, we stayed at the Hikers Welcome Hostel (Glencliff), The Notch Hostel (Lincoln), The Libby House (Gorham), and The White Mountains Hostel (Gorham). Clearly, we stayed in town as often as we could.
Everyone knows going into NH that they’re going to have to dial the miles back. So we did. We decided instead of 20 mile days, 16 mile days would be fine.
Boy were we wrong.
Our first day in the Whites we planned a 16 mile day. I left at 7 am and got to camp around 8 pm. Mind you, this hike was up over Moosilauke and across the Kinsman Ridge Trail. I relished every inch of the 3 mile ascent of the states first 4000 footer. But when I got to camp that night I knew we’d have to reconsider how we tackled this range. Single digit mileage days? Yes please. Might as well enjoy my favorite state right?
For the most part, we had good weather. I always got really lucky and showed up to the tops of things just as the clouds were blowing off. This meant that Peregrine and Inasias got to all the cool places and were surrounded in clouds. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that faster is better. On the plus side, this means they both have to come back someday and do things like Franconia Ridge again. With me.
If any place along the hike deserved its own heading, it’s the Presidential Range of the Whites. This is really a place you have to see to fully appreciate just how massive it is. The range includes Webster, Jackson, Pierce, Eisenhower, Monroe, Washington, Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison. Not all of those peaks are strictly on the AT, but I decided to blue blaze a bit and tag them all.
I felt amazing, the whole way across the ridge. Sure, the southern half was engulfed in clouds. Once I hit Washington, the clouds blew off and I could see EVERYTHING. From Washington to Madision, I basically skipped across the ridge. Hopping from rock to rock, passing hikers that were normally faster than me. I was on top of the world and nothing could stop me!
Nothing, that is, except for a footwear malfunction.
On the descent of Madison, the final 2ish miles of the day, my boots decided they were hungry and commenced eating my feet. I went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in about ten minutes. Just to get to camp, I had to continually tell myself that I am Spitfire the Mountain Climbing Machine and machines don’t cry. When I finally did drag my sorry ass into the Osgood tentsite, I set up my tent and went to bed without speaking to anyone.
Luckily for me I replaced my boots five miles later, so this does sort of have a happy ending.
The worst part about getting to New Hampshire was knowing I’d have to leave it again eventually. In spite of all my protesting, I did, in fact cross the boarder into Maine.
The Maine Event
Although I’ve lived in New Hampshire all my life, I’ve never hiked in Maine until now. I had heard from numerous southbounders that Maine is “otherworldly” and now that I have seen it myself I can attest to the truth of that statement. The subtle differences between Maine and New Hampshire are difficult to describe. I think most of it stems from the fact that there is just SO MUCH water in Maine. Seriously. I think 70% of this state is water. There are lakes around every corner, and even little ponds near the summits of mountains. There are mud bogs so deep and wide, if you fell in they would never find you.
That’s not to say that one is better than the other. I don’t think I could fairly compare the two. Both are beautiful and were a privilege to hike.
Similar to how the rocks don’t just disappear once you leave PA, the trail doesn’t get easier once you leave the Whites. The next best thing is Mahoosuc Notch, the most fun (in my opinion) mile on the AT. Basically, it’s a mile of massive boulders that you must crawl under, climb over, or scamper around. It took me one hour and sixteen minutes to get through it, and I only got lost once!
The actual climbing in Southern Maine is just as formidable as the Whites. We had to tackle mountains such as Mahoosuc Arm, Old Speck, the Bigelows, Saddleback, and the Crockers. Through all of this, I was having the hardest time staying healthy. Somehow I caught a cold just before Andover. I developed a fever and had to push through a lethargy I have not known since Lyme disease. Although colds are familiar and easily dealt with, mine lead to other complications.
My feet normally sweat a lot. It’s something I dealt with the whole trail. As long as I dry them out properly overnight, they’re good to go the next day. Well, poor circulation due to being sick lead to a decreased ability for my feet to bounce back. The day we left Stratton was the breaking point. My feet failed to dry out, and to be brief, they were in a whole lot of pain. Thanks to some expert advise, I was able to manage it well enough that it didn’t get worse from Stratton to Monson, but it also wasn’t getting any better. A zero day was in order.
We took our last zero of the trail in Monson at the Lakeshore House. I cannot say enough good things about the owner, Rebecca. She is just an incredibly likable and friendly woman who genuinely cares about every human that walks through her door. I’ve met hundreds of people during my hike, and very few of them have as much compassion and heart as Rebecca does. She was ready to have me do work for stay for as long as I needed to recover and then drive me out to the 100 mile wilderness to meet Peregrine and Inasias wherever they happened to be so I could finish with them. All that for a hiker she’d barely met.
Fortunately it didn’t come to that. After the zero, my feet were feeling a million times better and I was able to hike on with my friends. Special thanks to Peregrine who carried me around on his back all day so I didn’t have to walk, and to my mom who drove 4 hours to Monson to hand deliver me extra pairs of socks.
The 100 Mile Wilderness
Compared to the White and Southern Maine, the 100 Mile Wilderness was cake. In fact, the most difficult piece was trying to avoid the rain. After having trench foot, the last thing I wanted was my feet to get wet. There was one day that I ran 11ish miles after 5:00 pm just so I wouldn’t have to hike as much in the rain. Let me just be clear, when I say “run” I mean a glorified hobble. I feel like I probably looked like one of those mini ponies trying to gallop. Nevertheless, I covered the distance in 3 hours and actually managed to get a decent nights sleep.
At this point, we are so close to Katahdin that you can see it. The first time I saw Maine’s Greatest Mountain was at a lake just after Antlers Campsite. After five months, there it was. Looming in front of me like a sleeping giant. I felt so small and insignificant in its massive shadow. Most people would shy away from that kind of enormity, but for some reason it made me feel more secure. There’s something reassuring about being small. Sometimes you need to be reminded that the weight of the world doesn’t actually rest on you alone.
I summited Katahdin on September 8, at about 10:00 in the morning, in the company of Inasias, Peregrine, Big Al Dente, and my Aunt Jodi. It was a beautiful day until we got above treeline. At that point we were engulfed in cloud cover and buffeted by high winds for the rest of the trek to the summit. Still, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Bad weather or not, we were getting there.
I cried when we summited (heck, I’m crying just writing about it). No shame.
We took lots of pictures. Peregrine had decided long ago what his summit picture would be; him drinking tea on the sign. He was just going to make tea in his camp pot, but Inasias and I had other ideas. I contacted my aunt and asked her to get us the prettiest tea cup and saucer she could find. She happily obliged. We presented it to him at the summit and he was speechless. Inasias insisted on taking a picture of her back so everyone could see exactly how tattered her shirt was. I didn’t do anything quite as creative.
“So how was it?”
You ask me, as if you expect me to surmise the past five months in a single word.
“It was horrible.” I’ll say.
There, that got your attention.
“It rained, snowed, and hailed. It was freezing cold, and sizzling hot, and the winds tried to blow me off the mountains. Everything hurt all the time, especially my feet. Nothing was ever dry or clean. I missed my family, and I missed all my friends. I got sick multiple times.
“But you know what? For every shitty day, (and yeah, there were plenty) there were days that were so beautiful you could cry. Days when the sun would shine through and you wouldn’t rather be anywhere else. Like that one week in Virginia when it just didn’t stop raining, I was freezing, and I had a lake in my tent. However, there’s nothing like that in the real world to make you appreciate blue sky, or a dry shelter.
“Oh and the shelters! Mice infested harbors of disease that they were, on a rainy day there was nothing better. You might have to deal with everyone snoring, but being dry at night is priceless. Besides, a good old White Mountains thunderstorm will drown out even the loudest of sleep apnea.
“Yes, no matter how bad things got I could always find a bright side. Sometimes it was as simple as ‘at least I’m not sitting behind a desk staring at a computer screen,’ or ‘at least I’m not sitting in traffic.’ Rainy day? Water sources should be super reliable tomorrow. Cold? At least you’re not getting sweaty and stinky. Hot? No chance of hypothermia. When people ask how I’m doing, my standard response has simply become ‘could be worse.’ It could always be worse. I could be somewhere else, but instead I’m out hiking the freaking Appalachian Trail. I have never felt so alive, so free.
“Of course, I wasn’t alone the whole time. There were so many other hikers. Sometimes I didn’t get along with them, but for the most part I did. I made some of the best friends I didn’t know I was missing. Elmer Fudd, River, White Walker, Inasias, Peregrine, Monty, Torch, Bird, and Hybrid to name a few. There are so many others. So many hikers that impacted me and my hike, it would be impossible to name them all. Now that I’m done, I think I’ll miss the people the most.
It was horrible. Horribly wonderful. I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. I will miss waking up to sunrise, having a hot chocolate after a 20 mile day, the freedom to be as filthy as I pleased, how accepted I felt in the trail community. I’ll miss sunsets on mountain tops, eating enough for four sumo wrestlers, the silence of the forest, and meeting new people each and every day. I’ll miss the rain, the snow, the cold, the heat, the wind, and the satisfaction of being sore after a long day. I loved every wonderful, horrible mile of the Appalachian Trail.”
How was it? It was the best thing I’ve ever done.
“So you were born, and that was a good day. Someday you’ll die, and that is a shame. But somewhere in the between is a life of which we all dream, and nothing and no one will ever take that away.” -Toh Kay