About 3 weeks ago, we summited our final mountain on the Appalachian Trail. Climbing Mt. Katahdin was the end to the hardest undertaking we have ever taken on. Sure, walking 15-20 miles everyday is physically strenuous but having the mental stamina to beat ourselves up repeatedly tested our will. As our friend Chatty Kathy put it, thru-hikers are simply some of the most stubborn people on the planet.
Our hike through the 100 Mile Wilderness put the cherry on top of our thru-hike. The terrain eased up slightly, our surroundings were beautiful and we had wonderful weather. Our hiking comrade, Fluttering Whisper Dick, and us (don’t bother asking about his name, he won’t tell us how he got it) made pretty good miles while simultaneously seeing and experiencing a lot.
On the last day in the wilderness, we decided to wake up extra early and do a ten by ten (that is to hike 10 miles by 10AM) so that we could set ourselves up well for doing 20 miles to the base of Katahdin. In order to take on this challenge, we woke up at 4AM and night-hiked for the first hour and a half. When made it to Abol Bridge, the end of the wilderness, we successfully completed our challenge to ourselves and walked straight to the campground store. Our spirits were high, not just from the impulsive celebratory beer purchased, but from the fact that this was our last full day of hiking on the AT. We ate a quick lunch and headed off to do our last 10 miles for the day. This is when things turned. Turned bad. Really bad.
|THAT'S a lot of food!|
We retreated to The Birches Lean-To, our final shelter on the trail, where we shakingly changed into dry clothes. Earlier in the day, we saw the ATC Ridgerunner that we met way back on Springer Mountain at the Baxter State Park information kiosk. On our first day, he gave Rob a book of matches and told him that if you carry this to Katahdin then you will be handsomely rewarded. Well, my dear husband did just this. Even though the matchbook gradually turned from bright yellow to black along the way, we were all given large slices of carrot cake. It was the most delicious carrot cake I have ever had in my life. This was our upward swing at the end of the day. Being able to warm up with dry clothes and a sleeping bag, eating yummy cake, and drinking some PBR lifted our spirits back up.
|Beautiful Glow from the Sunrise|
When we made it to the Tablelands, Katahdin eased up on us. Even though the winds were blowing at about 60 mph, we were able to somewhat walk instead of climb. We were so anxious to make it to the sign that it felt like eternity getting there. When we finally arrived, the frost caked a ½ inch white layer on the sign. I’m really happy that we left so early because we were the first people on the summit. We were able to enjoy a lengthy 10 minutes alone at the top before people started to pile in. Our long-pictured hour long hang-out session on the summit turned out to be a mere 20 minutes as the cold was too unbearable. As soon as I took my hands out of my gloves to take pictures, they started to tingle and were unable to be warmed up until halfway down the mountain. Even so, we ate some snacks and drank a PBR to celebrate our accomplishments.
Going back down, it felt like we dodged more people than rocks. I told myself that if everybody else is able to do this, I am certainly more than capable after everything I have done to get here. When I saw a guy climbing the mountain in jeans and flip flops, my confidence soared. I am NOT going to be the one to die on this mountain today… he is.
On the descent, we were finally able to enjoy ourselves once dipping back below the clouds. The temperature was bearable and we could see all the beautiful scenery that we had missed on the ascent. We finally could take a deep breath and eat the rest of our snacks.
|One of the many close calls on Katahdin|
Rob and I had rented a car to get back to Michigan from Bangor, ME. Since the route home went right through Boston, which FWD was flying out of, the three of us decided to embark on the road trip together. We decided to hitchhike for the last time to Bangor, ME. It was about an 1 ½ hour drive from Millinocket to Bangor so I was convinced that this wasn’t going to be an easy endeavor. However, Maine people are nice. Really, really nice. I will never question this statement again as we caught a hitch before we really even tried.
We had made a sign and propped it up while we were eating lunch in front of McDonald’s. As I was a few bites into my Daily Double, an older gentleman pulled through the drive-thru and glanced over at us. He yelled over “I have nothing to do today, I can take you to Bangor.” Excitedly, we shoved down our food and hopped in his car. Now pause to really think about his amazing act of kindness. He lives near Millinocket, was bored, and decided to take 3 TOTAL strangers on a 3 hour round-trip drive for free. It takes a truly extraordinary person to do this.
He chatted with us the whole way there about the local history, his family, and current happening’s in the world that we had missed out on (we quickly discovered that he was clearly Republican). As he was about to drop us off at the airport where our rental was, he said “Hey, did you know that Stephen King lives nearby?” After responding that we hadn’t, he drove us to his house for us to gawk and take pictures. Surprisingly, it wasn’t any more extravagant than the other houses nearby. It was a beautiful crimson red, Victorian home with an iron fence in front. The coolest part was the bat and dragon figures created with and perched atop the iron fence.
|Acadia National Park|
After saying goodbye to our new friend and picking up the car, we drove to nearby Acadia National Park. The shoreline was spectacular and Bar Harbor was hopping with people. We continued our drive on to Portland where we checked into a hotel for the night. The next day we explored the city where there was a great mix of old and new. The city came across as progressive but was set amongst Victorian-aged buildings. Perhaps it was just exciting to be immersed in different scenery but I loved Portland.
After spending a few hours there, we needed to continue our drive down to Boston. On the way, we stopped in Portsmouth and spent a couple of hours with Ranger Bill! We were excited to spend time with our friend that we haven’t seen since Virginia and question him about post-trail life. We enjoyed good conversation and beer and then continued on in our road trip.
|Rocket, a true angel|
The next morning, we had to wake up early to get FWD to his 8AM flight out of Logan. Once again, Rocket was the true angel that she is and cooked us breakfast at like 5 in the morning. We are so grateful for all of her kindness and generosity!
It was sad saying goodbye to FWD after spending the past few weeks with him. We made plans for the next time we were to meet again and headed our separate ways. Such is the trail that you meet so many amazing people that you become close with over a short period of time who will forever impact your life. It’s the community, not the actual act of hiking, which is what makes the AT so special.
We explored Boston as a way to stall from having to head home. The tour through Sam Adams brewery was fantastic! For just a $2 donation, we were taught the process of brewing quality beer, how to taste test it correctly, and were got quite a buzz off of deliciously fresh beer.
The rest of the drive home was long and tiring. It was nice to be able to have the time to readjust. But, as the miles increased between us and the trail and as the terrain became more flat, the more it hit that we were finished with this journey. It’s hard to put into words all of the emotions I felt leaving my new life, my new home, behind. The drive to Michigan and even now, three weeks later, my shift in attitudes continue to make me feel somewhat bipolar. I always feel accomplished for completing something of this caliber. But the rest of the time it’s a mix of feeling:
Sad to leave the AT and our new friends.
Excited to take on our next Katahdin.
Uneasy about what those next steps are going to be.
Relief to not have to wake up and hike.
Lost to not have to wake up and hike.
So, is that to say that the AT actually caused more harm than good?
Not in the slightest bit.
But that’s another blog post.