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There are more trail days behind me than in front of me. It is the beginning of the end. For many of my companions, they can’t wait for the trail to end. They are ready. They want to get back to their prior life, where there is comfort, showers, and stability. But for me and others…we don’t want it to end. We aren’t stalling but I really don’t want this to end. Is it getting colder? Yes. Do I like walking in cold rain? Smelly clothes? Staying in hostels with a million rules? Sharing noisy and dirty shelters? No. But I have honestly loved everyday of this experience.
One of my tramily members asked me the other day, “did you ever want to quit? Or did you ever consider quitting?” Honestly no. I never once considered quitting and going back home. I never fantasized about hopping on a train or airplane or hitching to a nearby town to go back home. Do I miss my family and boyfriend? Yes but I know that once I go home it is home forever while this experience is only temporary. I’ve not been in the mood to hike and have wanted to stop hiking for the day. But I never wanted to quit and give it all up to go home. I know I might sound like I am romanticizing it but thru-hiking honestly feels so natural to me. Like it was always something I was meant to do. I finally found my true “calling.”
September 1For my fifth anniversary on Trail I celebrated by crossing 1900 miles. I am really starting to hate climbing out of towns. I eat so much food now that I carry 2-3 pounds of food per day. I need the food but it makes for a heavy carry. We stayed at Gentian Shelter which was magical. I was able to get a spot in the shelter which over looked 3,000 foot mountains. There was a bear box (score!) and a side trail down to a beaver pond. It was a very relaxing and luxurious dinner. We were hoping to see moose but probably were too loud. Either way, the location of the shelter has to be one of my favorites. They are calling for non-stop rain tomorrow because of a hurricane. I’m not looking forward to the cold rain however we cross into Maine in 5 miles. Wow Maine. It is like the last frontier. It took me five months to get to Maine. Whenever people ask us where we started or came from we say “Georgia” and then they ask where we are headed and we say “Maine.” Wow…Maine.
I’ve hiked in all weather (but snow) but my hands never froze. In cold rain back in April I was always able to move fast enough to stay comfortable. Today was an odd day. It rained, it was 50 degrees, I wore my rain jacket and I froze. All of us, we froze. The terrain of southern Maine doesn’t allow you to move too fast. There were giant boulders that we had to skid down on our butts. We all slipped at one point, but I slipped and my left leg went into a rock crevasse. I felt the skin of my shin skid against a rock. When I pulled my leg out, my shin was covered in blood. I poured water on the wounds to clean it out and kept moving. By the time we got to the first shelter at 6 miles out I felt exhausted and I did not have strength in my hands. I couldn’t open many of my food packages. My one tramily member suggested we stayed at the lunch spot for the night. None of us could imagine going back out into the rain and hiking over more boulders. My shorter companions had a particularly difficult time with the climbs. Stay here the night? Let me break out the warm clothes. We only hiked about 6 miles this day but I didn’t care. Once changed, I fell asleep for the next five hours completely content. Hypothermia is no joke. Gone are the days of warm rain. The day was hard but we stuck it out together to laugh through the tough parts. We sang and created a billion new inside jokes. My tramily made this day better, we also crossed into Maine together. Buttahz ran up to the sign to hug it and nearly knocked it over. The pole is just propped up by rocks. We kept screaming, “we’re in MAINE!” Yes I walked from Georgia to Maine. MAINE MAINE MAINE!! It is surreal. No matter what happens now at least I can say, I made it to Maine.
It is pretty difficult to put on wet clothing. Wet cold bras are the worse. It took about 3 hours for my current tramily of five to pack out. The morning started slow. It was foggy. I carefully placed every step I took however still managed to fall three times on my back (saved by my pack). Twice both my feet slipped out from under me on rocks and once on a wet bog board. My right wrist is pretty sore from falling on it three times. Bog boards were a joke today, the mud was so deep that the boards sunk up to our ankles. Southern Maine is really hard. There are so many granite rock faces that you have to scale. It has been particularly difficult because the rocks are wet. I thought the Whites were the hardest part, but my largest mile day was 18 miles. I can’t seem to break 10 miles here in Maine. I am mentally and physically exhausted. I think my nerves are also drained. You spend 10 hours a day worried about falling.
One thing I was looking forward to was Mashoouc Notch. It is called the hardest/most fun mile of the AT based on your take of it. It was hardcore large boulder climbing. I loved it, but then again I was determined to like it. It took us 2 1/2 hours to go 1 mile. We kept waiting for our shorter companions, it was definitely more difficult for them. To hype ourselves up we listened to motivating songs like Mulan’s “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” and Panic at the Disco’s “High Hopes.” We had to take our packs off twice to squeeze through the “official” trail. There are plenty of stealth sights just north and just south of the Notch. We got into the stealth site early however some others came much later well past sun down. They weren’t in so good of a mood.
Today turned out better than we could have hoped. It was supposed to rain all day which none of us were looking forward to because the last rainy day was a really difficult one. However the rain held off until 7 pm. The forecast originally said rain starting at 8 am so this morning we woke up at 5 am to hit the trail early. Why? Because today we were climbing Mahoosuc Arm, Old Speck, and Baldpate. These climbs and descents are known for being solid granite. I can tell you that solid granite is terrifying to hike down. But like I said, the rain held off and we dried off. The rocks did not but we moved with expert precision. For SOBOs, I’m not sure that it is possible to climb down Old Speck in the rain, and for NOBOs climbing down Baldpate was terrifying. The rocks are so steep that you feel like you are going to lift off the trail and float away. One slip and you are tumbling…for hundreds of feet. The wind picked up when I summited Baldpate and was so strong that I had to crouch down by outcroppings of rock multiple times. The wind kept blowing my glasses off my face. Yes there are ladders to help you climb down. I always respected SOBOs but my respect for them has increased tenfold. I am a NOBO and I have hardened hiker legs and this is kicking my butt. SOBOs are just getting their trail legs. How do they do it??
The weather turned out nice, however today was the third day walking in wet socks and shoes. Bog boards again were covered in several inches of water and there just wasn’t a possibility to keep one’s feet dry. By the end of the day my feet were raw. Last night I couldn’t sleep due to itchy feet and at 2 am I gave into inching…which was possibly the worse thing I could have done. I took off my socks after a long hiking day and couldn’t believe how red my feet were, the skin on all my toes front and back were raw. The spots of athlete’s feet I’ve been medicating were back to looking nasty. The worst part was the arches of both feet, they were swollen and raw and burned when I walked around camp in my camp shoes. I also developed another ingrown toe nail. Unfortunately this time it was my left big toe. I’ve been trying to avoid ingrown toe nails but three weeks left of the hike and I’m falling apart. I tried to dig out the toe nail like I did the other day but the problem area was far down my nail. The last time I had this issue as soon as I got the toe nail out it felt better. My current situation does not feel better so I am worried that I didn’t fully tackle the issue. I haven’t had reception in the last 6 days but my phone updated on top of Baldpate mountain. My brother back home found a kitten and sent me pictures. As I laid in my tent with my face between my knees about to cry about my feet, my spirits were lifted to see my brother’s messages. I’ve been very fortunate to have good feet until this point. Most of my foot issues started in Vermont. If my friends could make it out of Georgia with feet issues, I can make it across Maine. Hopefully.
After a grand total of five miles we were able to hitch with the first truck passing by on a barely traveled road. We weren’t supposed to stay in Andover, but one of my tramily members needed shoes badly and her package was delayed. There was free tenting in the backyard of the Red Hen Restaurant with the bonus of reception in town. Another nearo, so there you have it.
Normal day in Maine. We left town and climbed Moody Mountain. Plenty of rebar in multiple spots. Totally a normal thing for Maine. But I have to say that the trails are very well maintained. There are rock steps ascending and descending multiple mountains. I often wonder how many man and woman hours it took to complete these master pieces.
One is my tramily members stayed behind near Andover to earn money and we continued on for a 17 mile day. I tend to mosey the last couple miles of a day. I like to think of them as my cool down laps. We passed so many beautiful ponds today that were outlined by straight pine trees. The environment was so quiet. It was cold the entire day because the sun never came out. I am starting to wonder if the sun ever comes out in Maine. At the shelter we met some of the trail maintainers, men and women who work for Americorp. I think it would be a great job for my brother.
I once again find myself sitting out back our motel room in Rangeley over looking the lake. Though I live outside 100% of the time, I still gravitate to the outdoors when I get the chance to be indoors. I’m starting to think about what I’m going to do after the hike. I talked with a former thru-hiker and I told him that I want my life post trail to be better and more exciting. He told me, “that would be great! The old ways will feel different. You are changed.” We ended the day bowling. It was an interesting experience doing a “normal life” thing.
My tramily and I are finding it more difficult to leave town. Ever since we crossed into Maine, the weather has been cloudy, gray, and cold. It is difficult leaving a nice warm bed. It is also difficult to leave because we don’t want the hike to end yet. Before leaving Rangeley we went out to breakfast and resupplied. I’ve never been a big drinker but in general, I can’t drink alcohol anymore. My body rejects it. I only had two drinks yesterday. Two drinks over a 12 hour period yet I woke up feeling dehydrated. It was easy getting a hitch out of town, everyone in Maine has a truck. But it was the coldest hitch we had ever endured. We sat in the bed of the pick up and froze over those 11 miles to the trail head. It was about 50 degrees in town so if you factor in the wind chill…let’s just say the cold took my breath away. But as soon as we hit the trail head, we were welcomed by trail magic. The climb today was really pleasant, the ascent up the Saddlebacks was not as treacherous as previous climbs. Either that or that we have just gotten used to the climbs now. Misplaced ladder and rebar stairs? These are no longer shocking. The surrounding views around the Saddlebacks of course were amazing, pine forests and alpine lakes in all directions. We walked a ridge once again. It was a similar feeling to being in the Whites however with less tourists and no huts. My friends and I went to bed early that night because we were not allowed to have a fire where we camped so it was too cold to sit outside and socialize. Buttahz keeps saying that we will get one more heat wave. I don’t entirely believe that so I asked my family to send me my hat, gloves, and third pair of socks. The leaves are changing up here in Maine. Fall has arrived. My feet are looking better and I now feel like a pharmacy. I have Neosporin, hydrocortisone cream, fungal cream, diaper rash cream, and Aquaphor. I use the Neosporin on all my cuts, I used hydrocortisone for bug bites that drive me insane, I used the fungal cream for the athletes foot I developed but had to stop using because my feet rubbed raw one rainy day. I then used diaper rash cream for the following week and my feet finally healed but peel everyday due to dryness which is where the Aquaphor comes in. I forever smell like fish now because the diaper rash cream has cod liver oil in it. I’ve had plenty of dreams about bears eating my feet. Let’s hope they aren’t into creamed up feet.
We actually saw the sun today! Spirits were much higher because we saw sun! Another challenging day but still loving it. We are deeply missing our friend who got off to work- but he is trying to catch up. Not excited for the rain predicted tomorrow. But! I saw Moxie at camp, she is the first person I talked to on top of Springer Mountain. I saw her tent set up and decided to set up next to her because she looked nice. It seems that my hike is ending how it began. My left big toe nail is still oozing a tiny bit of puss but I am not sure where it is coming from!! Ingrown toe nails be damned!
Every American knows this date as the date the Twin Towers were attacked and fell and we lost too many American lives. If I was home right now I would be watching news clips of that horrible day and memorial services dedicated to the victims. My tramily members and I talked about our memories of 9/11. Me and one other girl grew up close to NYC so we remember classmates being taken out of the classroom because their parents worked in New York. My other tramily members were too young to remember the events. As it turns out I’m the oldest person in our current group.
Weather today however was spectacular, it was like a heat wave being 70°. Though there was off and on rain, the rain eventually dissipated into the sun! When we were in Andover we met a past thru-hiker named Hobo and his wife who told us to call them when we got to Stratton. They were doing trail magic in Stratton! When we got to the road for Stratton, we called them and they offered us the best trail magic of the entire trail. Not only did they give us food but they shuttled us three different times and were happy to do so. I offered Hobo’s wife gas money but they refused. The next day they even invited us back to their campsite for a campfire. We don’t feel this deserving of such niceties. I currently live in a city where people won’t even look at me when I pass them on the sidewalk yet these strangers are willing to cart my smelly gear and self all over town just because someone else had helped them at one time. Honestly their generosity leaves me speechless.
We stayed the night at the Hiker Hostel of Maine. It was more expensive however it was honestly the nicest looking hostel of the whole trail. The place is immaculate, they make smelly hikers wait on the porch and don’t allow them to sit on the furniture until they’re washed. I met an interesting couple doing work-for-stay there, they weren’t hikers but they were honeymooning around the country while the wife sold her jewelry, Nymph & Nectar. Earlier in the day, I watched a fellow hiker struggle checking into the hostel. His name was Flying Fish and he hails from Japan with limited English. The owner kept telling him that he wasn’t allowed in the hostel until he was showered but he misunderstood and kept trying to get in the hostel. Later I was talking to the husband of the honeymoon couple and he told me that he spoke 17 languages. I asked him if he spoke Japanese. He said yes in Japanese and Flying Fish overheard. His entire face lit up and they conversed for about 10 minutes. I couldn’t imagine being in a different country and not being able to use my native language for 6 months. What can I say? The trail is magical.
I woke up to find out an old acquaintance from high school passed away. He was 26. He was one of those nice guys who you knew was going to be successful one day because he was smart, personable, and could talk to anyone. The news was shocking. Wow 26. It doesn’t make much sense. Though I am in a hiker culture bubble where all we talk about is miles, food, and poop…the world outside me is still turning. Friends are getting married, buying houses, and having babies. People are also dying. I’ve known plenty of hikers who have had to leave the trail temporarily because they had to attend a funeral. My tramily and I decided to take a zero and I spent the majority of the day sitting by the river outside the Stratton Motel thinking about my classmate. Nothing in life is guaranteed, not even your 30th birthday. It is such a privilege to be able to sit and enjoy the river before me, to watch the bumble bees pollinate the flowers, to watch the leaves turn, to smell fresh air. Even though I am merely walking in a straight line, this trail has taught me so much about life. How short it really is.
It was a bit difficult for us to leave Stratton. The owner of the Stratton Motel usually gave hikers rides however his car battery died this morning. We called the Trail Angel however he had to return home. A local church gave us their phone number but the pastor was not picking up and hitching with five people was not getting us anywhere. So what did we do? We simply just loitered in the Stratton Motel parking lot hoping for something to turn up and it did. Fellow AT hikers going southbound had a “mobile home” and they took pity on us and got us back to the trail. We were lucky to have good weather going over the Bigelows today. The mountains were beautiful with deep blue lakes in the valleys yet they just didn’t seem as impressive as the White Mountains. We saw Katahdin for the first time today. One of our tramily members had a peak finder app and he showed us the surrounding mountains. It was very surreal. We were lucky to have a fire at camp. It was so cold that it took three times longer to boil water.
Trail birthdays are special and today was Sweet Life’s birthday. The weather yesterday called for 100% rain at 8 am. We woke up late and were pleasantly surprised to find that we missed it. Sweet Life said that the ultimate birthday gift was simply for it not to rain today and guess what? It didn’t. We got sprinkled on for 10 minutes which barely got anything wet. The majority of the trail remained dry and I was able to take off my rain jacket. What can I say? The trail is magical. We camped at a shelter close to a pond that had excellent dried drift wood for a camp fire. Puma unfortunately has terrible luck with her packages arriving late in towns so we are only pulling 10 mile days to Caratunk so we can arrive on Monday and not Sunday. At the shelter we met SOBOs who asked us, “so you went all the way? You came all the way from Georgia?” We answered, “yes we did!” And then I got to thinking…wow I really did walk from Georgia. It doesn’t feel real…at all. Part of me feels like this has all been a dream but the other part is pretty proud of the transformation that took place over the last five months and therefore the hike had to be real. It almost feels impossible that I walked from Georgia. Me really? I couldn’t do a thing like that! All those big mountains? And carrying a 35-40 pound pack?! Yet I did, I did climb all those mountains and come all that way, and I did it one step at a time.
Hallelujah! HEAT WAVE! The sun came out and beautified the forest around me. We came across a pond with a beach and were able to SWIM and SUN BATHE because it was 73 degrees! And in perfect fashion, we’ve been going so slow that friends a week behind have been able to catch up. We ran into Buffet and Life Saver who we haven’t seen since Damascus. So many of my early trail memories involve their original four person crew called, “The Slow Patrol.” I’ve always wondered how they were doing and I hoped they were still on trail. Again, I felt the magic of the beginning of the trail…we reminisced and talked about the last couple of months. I guess I really am going to end the trail how I began…around the same people who made the trail for me.
I started reading biographies of thru-hikers when in middle school. One of the first books I read was called Southbound by the Barefoot Sisters. I remember reading the chapter about them crossing the Kennebec River in a canoe with a white blaze painted on the floor. I thought it was so cool that hikers got to take a boat ride as part of their hike. I’ve been looking forward to crossing the Kennebec for over 10 years. I got to the Kennebec River at 8:40 am and was present for one of the first canoe rides when the ferry service started at 9:00 am. I got to assist Rob, the ferry conductor, paddle across the Kennebec. There is now 150 miles left. The leaves are red, the mornings are cold, and the loons at night are LOUD! I am trying to enjoy this experience to the fullest but can’t help but feel the pre-post-Trail depression sneaking in. How long can I drag this out?