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Today was a good day but a tiring day, I was in bed by 7:30 pm. My friends and I set off for a 22 mile day and climbed Pleasant Mountain and Moxie Bald Mountain. We had service at the top of the mountains and got the news that one of our friends was diagnosed with pneumonia and therefore had to suspend the end of their hike. When coming down Moxie Bald Mountain we ran into an old friend, The Wonder Twin, who flipped and is now going southbound. Immediately upon saying hello my nose started gushing blood. I bent over to prevent blood from getting on my clothes as my male companions went through my pack to get what I requested, “toilet paper! Tampons!” It was hilarious to watch Pusher attempt to unwrap an Obi tampon (they do not have plastic applicators and are wrapped in plastic). I don’t think Pusher will ever have to do that again. Two tampons later and I felt like I got the bleeding under control. I washed the rocks which were covered with my blood, we said our good-byes to our friend and continued down the trail. As I was descending I felt my other nostril start to bleed. The amount of blood I was losing looked like a horror movie. Pusher was a really big help, as I bent over trying not to drip blood down my face a second time, he went through my pack and got whatever I requested…toilet paper, baby wipes, trash bag. I’ve been very fortunate to have great friends and great hiking partners. We hadn’t pulled a 22 mile day in over a month. The familiar aches and pains felt good because it meant a day well spent and good sleep.
We woke up and walked a pleasant 9 miles to Shaw’s Hiker Hostel. This stop in town was just for resupplying and picking up packages but well…we got sucked in. After lunch we went to the ATC office in Monson to learn about camping in Baxter and our Katahdin summit and I was immediately overwhelmed. I was so on edge that when I met Shaw’s owner, Poet…he asked me my name and a fist bump and I answered with my full name and shook his hand. This was the last hostel that I stayed in on the AT. I tented as usual. I called my family and we watched children’s movies. Since I have to carry 6 days of food (12+ lbs) I went through my backpack and got rid of everything unnecessary like I have done so many times before. Unfortunately Charles the Unicorn did not make the cut and he had to stay behind at Shaw’s. I wanted to semi inflate him and keep him sticking out of my backpack the rest of the trip but it rained for the first week Maine and he just ended up at the bottom of my bag. I tried cutting down weight everywhere I could.
Shaw’s has an amazing hiker breakfast of bacon, eggs, and blueberry pancakes! I ate my fill and then quickly packed up my tent. I usually tent outside of hostels if the weather does not call for rain…it is cheaper. I also just really like sleeping outside. The owner Poet gave us great advice and encouragement when driving us back to the trail head. He said that when we see Katahdin for the first time, the ice within our hearts that was placed there by our arduous journey would melt and that we finally would understand that it is the journey…and not the destination that made our thru-hike. He is so right. Will I always remember seeing Springer and Katahdin? Yes. But it is the inbetween parts…the memories and stories I share and reminisce with my friends- that counts the most. We’ve been doing a lot of that…reminiscing. We stayed at Long Pond Shelter for our first day in the 100 Mile Wilderness. It was a fun day that consisted of a river crossing with water up to my knees. I was able to wear my flip flops and walk across without issue because the current was not too strong. My shorter companion Puma, also did not have an issue, but she is a badass woman. Big miles are coming up but not today. Today our feet hurt from our heavy food carry. We are trying to have enough food for 6 days. Let’s see if we do it.
My friends and I successfully pulled out a 20.8 mile day to Carl Newhall Shelter after a long day of climbing mountains. From the looks of the AWOL guide, we only have one more day of tough mountains and then the terrain is fairly flat. I always thought that the 100 Mile Wilderness was remote, and that for the first time we would truly feel like we are in the backwoods. Yet yesterday and today we passed gravel roads, gravel roads with cars parked on them, and…muggles! Five miles before the destined shelter I had to take off my shoes to ford a low tide river and I was so confused to see over 8 muggles! Turns out there is a 5 mile loop that conjoins with the AT and obviously a parking lot nearby. It felt comforting that “help” potentially is not as far as the ATC made it seem but also disappointing at the same time.
I sit in my tent getting ready for bed and see a spider crawling on the screen above my head. I reach for my wet wipes and try to have the creature crawl onto the packing so I can take him outside but itself he falls…possibly onto me. I search for him but cannot find him. In the past this would freak me out but not anymore. I’m too tired to care. He wasn’t too big. I then find two smaller spiders but leave them be. As long as they don’t bite me, we can share this space. Honestly the last couple days of hiking has been the hardest of the entire trail. Besides making big miles over tough terrain, I’m also battling the bitter/sweet emotions of wanting to be done but not wanting to be done. When I was hiking the White Mountains, I couldn’t imagine not hiking, not being with my friends, and this experience ending. But then southern Maine happened. Southern Maine in rain really kicked my butt. Because of southern Maine in the rain, fog, and gloomy weather…I now feel like I need a break from hiking. We climbed White Cap Mountain today and saw Katahdin for the first time for real. It looks different than I imagined it. I’ve always said that hiking the Appalachian Trail was more about the journey and less about the destination for me and seeing Katahdin only confirmed that. My friends saw Katahdin and couldn’t take their eyes off of it. I on the other hand focused on the beautiful fall foliage covering the surrounding mountains, beautiful oranges, reds, and yellows. Katahdin is a stunning mountain do not get me wrong. I just don’t think I’m ready to see her yet. The journey is still in motion. I don’t want to see the end.
Whoot!! Trail magic in the AM. We met a couple of hikers who we never met before last night and they did not leave a very good first impression. I was having a joking conversation with Buttahz about food storage and one of them butted him and kinda admonished me…or at least that is what it felt like, “bear hanging is the only good method! NOBOs are lazy and that is why bears are dying in Vermont!” He went on to say other things but I tuned him out. To be honest my friends and I have mostly been sleeping with our food since Pennsylvania. It started as necessary because there were no bear hanging trees among pine and we happened to be tenting during a torrential downpour. Which leads to an interesting discussion. What do you do with your food? There are certain areas of the trail where the bears are more active…Smokies, Shenandoah, all of Virginia. The shelters there tended to always have a solution for protecting hikers and their food like bear boxes, bear cables and bear poles. We always used them. We continued to use them when we were at a shelter from PA-ME because they were an easy method for keeping food safe and bear safe. The first bear I saw on trail was in northern PA. It was dusk and I scared him away. I then hiked past the stealth camp of a family that was completing their triple crown (they already hiked the PCT, and CDT two other long trails). I knew them and warned them about the bear and the Dad pretty much laughed in my face. “We’re sleeping with our food, it is just a black bear.” Huh?? This family had been through grizzly territory on the CDT yet they were confident in sleeping with their food. The Dad explained to me his reasoning, “bears stay away from people in states where they are hunted because a friendly bear is a dead bear.” Everyone justified their method for food storage. Pusher used to always throw a line for us, he was good at it because he used a method we called, “the lasso of truth.” We then all would help him hoist it up. I never liked sleeping with my food, but I never was approached by any creature probably because I always tented with other folks. I was more likely to have my food eaten by mice that bear. I read an interesting article about how bear hanging is killing bear because most people do not do it properly and I can say that in VT, NH, ME it was near impossible because the only trees around were pine trees and their lower limbs would bend and break. I’ve seen Ursacks torn into and bear cans compromised. If there really is a bear problem then honestly the shelters need a bear box. Are they expensive and difficult to bring up? Yes. But I would definitely donate money and time to this cause. Hikers need to do what is safe for them and the bear and the other people in camp with them. A bear was shot and killed in Vermont this year.
I digress. The trail magic was given to us by the hikers that did not leave a good first impression. This has happened multiple times on trail, we meet a hiker for the first time and at first we don’t think very fondly of them. But after talking to them more extensively the next time we see them, our views change and I think to myself, “they are alright.” I say “we” because my other tramily members agreed. Sometimes first impressions were poor but we grew to like the hiker. The guy who was adamant about bear hanging was one of them. We sat down for trail magic and we laughed and joked. Okay this guy is okay after all. He isn’t an opinionated butt after all. We had a beautiful view of Katahdin during lunch. Then beautiful trail magic at the end of the day. The first person I met on the trail was Moxie. After completing the Approach Trail, I walked to Springer Shelter and saw a fellow female hiker camped on the outskirts. I thought she looked nice and camped next to her. She is another one of those badass women out here, at 18 years old she graduated high school early just to hike the AT. For the majority of the trail my tramily tried catching up to her but we just couldn’t. She was fast, didn’t use trekking poles, and stealthed alone a lot. I was very lucky to be able to hike the majority of the 100 Mile Wilderness with her. But today was the day she was leaving us, we got to the final road crossing of the day and her friend, Jason, met us there. They were watching over a camp down the road. We thought she was leaving us but they invited us to the camp and I convinced Pusher that we must go. After walking about 20 miles off trail we came to a beautiful lake and took a boat the rest of the way to Debsconeag Lake Wilderness Camps. Jason SOBO thru-hiked the AT in 2001. He knew about hiker needs and he and his girlfriend were wonderful. We all pitched in to cook a massive hiker meal, showered, sang songs at the campfire, swam in the lake, and stayed in a camp with a real bed. I wasn’t sure if I should be disgusted or impressed by the amount of food I consumed, two whole serving bowls worth of dinner and then two more for dessert.
Since we had to take the boat back we started late at 9:30 am but we were determined to make a good day and we did. 18 miles later we set up camp at mile marker 2169.1. We were exhausted. I slept poorly the night before and was ready to hit the hay. It was off and on rain, pouring rain called for at 10 pm. I set my tent up but every spot was slanted. I worried about rain in the tent but in the end it doesn’t matter, tomorrow I’ll be in a lean-to and the next day indoors. There was Wifi at the camp and we made online reservations for a lean-to at Katahdin Stream Campground. Hikers can stay at the Birches for $10 each but the lean-to cost $8 each. With a reservation we didn’t have to worry about waking up early and running to Abol campground to sign up for a spot.
Today called for rain but fortunately the all night rain stopped at 6am so we could pack up our stuff. I’ve survived 6 months of rain, I can do two more days. But! I cried today, really sobbed. I bumped a rock with my shoe and my ankle rolled. It felt like a personal assault. I’m so tired of rolling my ankles. Shouldn’t they be stronger now? I felt better in the afternoon. My emotions are everywhere. I stared at my pot tonight at dinner. 6 months this was my routine and I loved it. I loved the routine I quickly developed. I’m trying to enjoy the world around me and my friends but it is hard. Two days left…I never knew I’d experience emotions like this.
Yup it rained. I was cold and it sucked because my Frog Toggs rain jacket no longer was water proof but I hoped for the Abol Bridge Restaurant and warm food. Honestly the idea of hot soup and a chance to dry off for me through the morning’s 5 miles. When we arrived at the restaurant we found out that it was closed for the season on Sunday…it was Tuesday. We bought snacks for Katahdin and one of the most disappointing cold sandwiches I have ever eaten. With blue lips and shivering bodies Puma and I sobbed when we had to walk back to the trail in the rain. I’m very glad we made a lean-to reservation…Birches was full. We had to walk through puddles up to our knees and I couldn’t help but scream “haven’t I gone through enough? Haven’t I proved myself enough?” I then screamed with exhaustion when crossing into Baxter State park over the red line. I didn’t notice but the rain slowed and eventually stopped. I then felt a sense of calm and a bunch of church hymns flowed into my head. I was happy the rest of the day. We got our permits at the ranger station. There was free fire wood at the ranger station so we all filled our arms and staggered to the lean-to, it took us over an hour to get a fire started and when the wood finally caught…it started sprinkling. But nothing matters, I’m with my friends, we are dry in our lean-to, camping at Baxter worked out great, my belly is full and this is our last night on trail…the last night before Katahdin, Mama K, Kataña…whatever you want to call her. We reminisced about our favorite moments, our not so favorite moments, things that almost broke us, Trail Magic, how we looked at the beginning and end of the trail…everything. We laughed and laughed and laughed long into the night.
My friends and I took our time breaking camp and our friend with pneumonia came back to complete the final climb. Early into the ascent we found out that a bridge was taken out but flooding but the river looked lower this morning so we decided to ford the river. I’m glad we did, the majority of the trail leading up was a river anyways. The boulder field of Katahdin was the most difficult boulder of any mountain climb I’ve been on. There are a few puny hooks of rebar placed into two rocks, you get to them and think, “what am I to do with this?” The guys had to lift our smaller companions a couple times because the rocks were slick with moisture, our feet also slipped because there was sand everywhere. I’m fairly good at boulder climbing but a couple times I just couldn’t see the vision of the trail designers.
Once we got up to the two lanes I couldn’t help but feel angry on the way up. It turned out to be a nice day and loads of people kept passing us. I thought we would be all alone up here. I didn’t want our summit to be like McAfee Knob where we had to wait for muggles. The anger I felt was probably just one of the stages of mourning.
At noon we summited Katahdin. Hikers who arrived before us waited to take pictures so we could at least touch the sign. I went last, as I stood over the sign I started to sob and then really sob, “I’m sorry give me a moment.” It was a feeling like I had never felt before. For 16 years this was my dream, I thought about it every day. I never knew if I actually was going to get to experience this…an AT thru-hike. I never knew that I was actually going to see this brown sign and here it was. It was actually in front of me. I kept touching it and outlining the words. It was like a mystical creature that came to light. I wish to always remember this moment, always to the end of my days.
In the end it was no problem taking pictures. We all took turns, I went up a couple times because who knows what when I’ll be back. We had a fantastic day and a great summit. Most of my friends wanted to take Knife Edge down. It was a long descent but so much fun. You literally are on a sharp edge and could plummet to your death and either side. At Roaring Springs campground we smooshed into a Chevy Malibu and got Lobster Rolls at a local restaurant. We originally wanted surf and turf but when the waiter said $60 we all realized our unemployment status. I was so tired. I felt relieved, like I have no more fears. I’m done. Nothing matters now. I’ve achieved my life’s goal.
Well I did the thing. Now what? In two hours I had to figure out how to get from Maine to New Jersey (eventually back to DC), and say good bye to my friends that are family. It was heart wrenching as if someone removed one of my appendages. I’ve stayed in crappy hotels the entire trip and loved every one of them. But I hated the hotel in Bangor. The blankets were scratchy, the carpet was gross, the bathroom was gross, the beds were uncomfortable. The continental breakfast was meh and everything seemed like too much. The blaring news tv at breakfast was annoying – I wanted it off. I never realized how much advertisement there was until I reentered society. Did I go into towns on trail? Yes but now I’m staying. Geez advertisements everywhere. I walked to the bus station with my friends 2.3 miles in 45 minutes…that’s nothing. We then had to say goodbye to Pusher. Yes it felt like someone severed my appendage. I hiked with him since day 1, Springer Mountain. We both had similar chill personalities, went about the same speed, had about the same endurance, and wanted to do about the same amount of miles. It just worked. I hated saying goodbye to my friend. Then I took a Concord Line bus to Boston and had to say goodbye to Buttahz and wondered as he walked away, is that the last time I will see him? Puma and I then got on an Amtrak train to New York and New Jersey. Puma got off before me. I started on Amtrak alone and ended my journey on Amtrak alone.
What do you do when you achieve your life’s biggest goal? I’m not sure. I guess I’ll be figuring it out. I’m a bit overwhelmed right now but I want to think of this next phase of my life as fun. I was determined to enjoy my thru-hike and I am determined to enjoy my life post trail too with limited post trail blues. While on the trail, I’ve realized what I want in life. I want a life of love and laughter. Good fellowship and adventure. But first, my family made me a cake. They stuck cake on top of cake to resemble the modest Springer Mountain and then Katahdin in all her chocolately glory. I think this is a good spot to start. It was a privilege to hike the trail and it is a privilege to be able to call myself a thru-hiker. I couldn’t have done it without the support of the ENTIRE COMMUNITY surrounding me and the trail. I was so thankful to be apart of an amazing tribe of people.
“Are you hiking the trail?”
For six months I identified as a hiker.
That was job and my livelihood.
People purposely sought me out. They enjoyed my company, I enjoyed theirs. They wanted to make my life easier.
I had no idea what world I was about to enter into but when I did I loved it. I belonged, I was one of them.
People could identify me by my clothes, my shoes, my stench, my pack, my happiness.
I was blessed with terrific weather for the majority of the trail.
I was blessed with good company and beautiful scenery.
It was the best six months of my life.
I am signing off as “Drop Sticks” and reentering the real world. Thank you for following my journey. My blog posts were long but they were the truth. The things I wanted to remember, the emotions I felt. Maybe you’ll see me in my white shirt doing trail magic in the VA/MD area. But first there’s cake.