Eight days. That’s how long it took for me to comfortably go up a flight of stairs two at a time without considerable discomfort. With a flight home from Maine already booked, time was limited, and I had to decide how to approach the final 281 miles.
Southern Maine is considered the second hardest section of the Trail, behind The Whites. Directly after Southern Maine is The One Hundred Mile Wilderness, and while mainly flat, there is nowhere to buy anything, so your pack is at it’s heaviest weight of the trip. Those two factors alone are intimidating enough without adding in a fresh injury to deal with. The last thing I needed to do, was to get hurt and really end the trip. I still really struggled descending, and the day I decided to leave expected rain throughout.
In the end, I decided to skip twenty four miles, passing the Mahoosic Notch, the single most dangerous terrain on the entire Appalachian Trail. You have to be a little masochistic and crazy to make it this far on the AT, but I’m no idiot. Conveniently, I had no choice in the matter.
In my time off injured, I acquired a shadow. A living shadow, just like Peter Pan’s, except mine’s banter was insufferable. This kid just appeared out of thin air, In five and a half months, I’d never seen him or heard of him, and all of the sudden he is matching every decision I make. Over the course of eight days, I stayed at three different hostels, and hiked zero miles. This kid stayed in the same three hostels and also hiked zero miles, despite no injury. Every morning, I would try to warm up and get up the stairs with my pack on, and sure enough, he would magically appear whenever I told the hostel owner if I was staying another day or hiking with the exact same answer. Yes, my shadow inexplicably skipped the twenty four miles just as I did.
Finally, one morning, I told the owner I had to get out of there, alone. He understood the feeling. The Human Nature Hostel(http://humannaturehostel.com) is owned by Ryan Holt, a former Marine, AT Thru Hiker, and Naked and Afraid veteran. My shadow was obsessed with the show, and consequently, Ryan. When I told Ryan I had to get out of there alone, I got an early ride out and hoped for the best.
I left without testing my leg but I felt pretty confident that once it warmed up I would be ok. My friends Mona, WolfDog, and Call Me Daddy, all were hiking out with a similar schedule as myself. We all needed to finish within 15-17 days.
We needed to hike eighteen miles/day to make it, so we did.
Every morning, we all left, separately, by the time the sun came up. We would see each other for lunches or on breaks at the top of mountains. I can honestly say these ended up being my best friends on the Trail. Not necessarily the closest, but that was the beauty of it, there was no smothering, no lingering, no forced conversation. We spoke when we saw each other and we went about our business. Nobody was loud at night, and the conversation flowed. Call Me Daddy is a successful tax attorney in the UK. I want to say he was in his upper forties, and planned to go home to his families dairy farm in the hills of Scotland. After a couple days, Mona and Wolfdog fell back a bit, so Call Me Daddy and I spent a fair amount time at campsites hanging out. Great guy. The downside of hanging out with him is he makes legitimate meals. Real deal meals. I’m talking Bacon and Eggs for breakfast and Steak and Veggies for dinner.
I had to watch him make that shit with a GD Pepperoni and Cheese wrap in my hand. It made me sick in envy, and the prick never offered to share once, so I would watch him cook and hope a rogue bird would swoop in and take a dump in his skillet or something but it never happened and much to my chagrin, he enjoyed every fuckin morsel.
Two posts ago, I begged Mother Nature to quit pissing on my parade, and believe it or not, it worked, for the most part.
It did not rain once during the final sixteen days. It got cloudy, and extremely windy, but no rain. The terrain was still a mess from the previous week’s consistent rain, but nothing new fell. The days were in the sixties to seventies, which were records for September in Maine. While that’s nice, it means sweat overload. Everything I owned was not only soaked through in sweat, but all my clothes were on their last leg. They just sort of refused to dry. It didn’t help that the nights were getting down to thirty degrees. No clothing can dry in that weather.
I shivered throughout mostly every night. The beauty of being awake all night, cold and restless, is when it’s finally time to hike, you’re hyped to do so. Aches and pains aside, anything beat the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in darkness and cold, nowhere to go, with no hope of sleep. Eventually, a night or two of no sleep would lead to a crash, and I would sleep from six pm to six am with no interruption and reset myself.
Each day I woke up with no idea where I would sleep. The plan was to hike as far as possible by three pm and then choose the most hospitable spot. A couple times, that ended in a stealth camp spot next to a beach, but mainly ended at a shelter/lean-to near a pond. The pictures of the views speak for themselves.
The sleeping spots in the Hundred Mile Wilderness collectively, are second to none. Nothing beats the views, the setup, the aesthetic, or the feel as a group. They all have a pond, beach, shit-stain free privy, mountain view, or some combo of that. There are plenty of campsite and hammock options, and despite the crowds of clean and optimistic SOBO’s, I have still managed some isolation and quiet time when setting up at night.
Around mile 2,000, I internally realized with one hundred percent confidence, that I was going to finish the hike. I don’t remember the exact moment it became a certainty, but I look back and know that’s what kept me warm at night. It made my pathetic dinners edible, and turned me into a robot.
Sure, there were a thousand miscues. I fell another half dozen times. Wet clothes caused blisters and jock itch. My bag for the first time in 6 months rubbed my sides absolutely raw.
Oh, yeah, and I ran out of food. Not completely, but I had to ration out food in alarmingly small amounts. I didn’t stress much though, Katahdin was near, and I knew nobody around me would allow me to starve. Plus, there’s nothing to do. There is one shop in the last 115 miles and I showed up the day after they closed for the season. I was able to buy a Mountain Dew and some Dorito’s.
On an empty stomach, I booked it through the last nine miles into Baxter State Park.
It was like a reunion. So many people end up staying in the campsite with family for a couple days or taking their time as they finish that the park fills up with hikers you’ve known for weeks.
After I set up camp I walked around the campgrounds for a couple hours poking my head in campsites to see who I knew. Before the end of the night, I caught up on a couple thousand miles of hiking with the hiker friends I hadn’t seen and caught up on a couple thousand calories in free food. Win/Win.
I woke up on September 26th, 2017, at four thirty in the morning, in the pitch black, damp, and cold morning. I put my wet shorts, and wet short sleeve t-shirt on, and packed up my hammock for the final time. My eyes teared up and my nose ran, partially from the cold wind, but mainly in realization. Realization that I did it. I set out to do something beyond my realm of possibilities, something completely outside of my comfort zone, and I did it.
Whenever I look back on the past, certain positive, life changing events come forward. I see a three pointer going through the net at Cameron Indoor Arena at Duke, running back down the sideline with the Cameron Crazies breathing down on top of me. I remember my Dad went back to the local ballpark with a friend of his after one of my travel baseball games to find a Home Run ball I had hit. When he told me how far into the woods he found the ball, he looked completely shocked. He had such genuine pride in his face and I’ll never forget it.
This entire summit day is now at the top of that list. The five miles up Katahdin seem to never end. The terrain changes, and there are at least a half dozen false summits. At one point, the blazes become useless and you’re left to just hike in the general direction of ‘UP’ in the safest manner possible.
Halfway up, in every direction, you can see 360 degrees. It’s magnificent.
After about three hours of nearly vertical ascension, you clear a false summit and there it is.
The sign I woke up thinking about and dreamt of while I slept. The sign in every Thru-Hiker’s picture announcing their summit. The sign that kept me going through all of the trying times. The sign that kept me from losing my mind. I desperately wanted to see this sign in person, and now there it was, just a couple tenths of a mile away.
It sunk in as I approached. There were hikers standing around the sign as I neared, so I slowed down to arrive to an empty sign. Finally, it cleared up, I threw my poles in the air, dropped my pack, and basically ran the final twenty feet, howling and screaming as I beat the sign with a frozen hand, easily masking the pain in adrenaline.
2189.8 mile thru hike of The Appalachian Trail, on wax, set in stone, in the books.
I did it.
Actually. We did it.
Sure, I did literally all the work, but there was a lot of help.
Without my Mom, the trip doesn’t happen. Not even close. She isn’t just a Trail Angel, but a real Angel.
The people that kept up with my blog and gave me feedback kept me going at times. They held me accountable without realizing it.
All of the Trail Angels over the course of the 190 days giving up their home, resources, time, and love for individuals they have never met and likely will never meet again. They’re inspiring.
So. This journey comes to an end, and so does this blog. Thankfully, I will be moving it from http://www.MouthyMountaineer.com to WakeAndTake.Blog where I will continue to blog about an assortment of topics, from Basketball and Movies, to TV and Pop-Culture, sometimes mixing them all.
Follow me on IG to keep along.
Signing out as an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker for the first time,