Hello. We are Robert and Candice Fox. We created this blog for people who want to follow us as we thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. If you don't know what the Appalachian Trail is, we will let our favorite online resources tell you most anything you need to know. Just click on the blue stuff.

*** As this blog is a couple of years old, please follow our latest adventures via our new and infinitely more awesome blog here: ***

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Conclusion of our AT Journey

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.

Hardcore Thru-Hikers
Nevertheless, the wilderness was not the wilderness that I had expected. When one hears the word wilderness, let alone 100 miles of it, you don’t plan on seeing a lot of other hikers, some roads, or tourists BUT we were surrounded with all of that. We saw at least 10-15 other thru-hikers each day and the shelters ended up being mostly full. There were camp and logging roads tangled throughout. And, well, tourists were even taking pictures of us as we were fording a river like we were the wildlife (being halfway through, we probably smelt like it). Imagine FWD’s surprise when he yells back a word of caution to us while in middle of fording a river and sees 4 tourists taking pictures of him. Looking back, I think he should have mooned them.

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.

Pre-Katahdin Celebration
Remember when I mentioned that hiking the Appalachian Trail is emotionally equivalent to riding a very intense roller coaster? Well, just when you are elatedly hopping around on Cloud Nine, you are kicked in the face and plunge down to the depths of mid-state Ohio during election year. Easily the worst place in the US along with the constant annoyance of political ads. Well, this is what happened on our last two days on the trail.

THAT'S a lot of food!
The three of us were about 5 miles out from being finished for the day when dark clouds started to roll in really quickly. It started to get windy. Then sprinkle. Then rain. Then downpour. It stayed in the last phase for the remainder of the day. Now, we have hiked while soaking wet many times on this trip. The only difference is that this was happening in Northern Maine during a semi-cold front. Snow would have been better than freezing cold rain. We were all shivering as we very miserably arrived to the ranger state at the base of Katahdin. The ranger there was only as useful as to take payment to sleep in the shelter. She was unable to provide any insight into the weather for the next day or what to expect on the ascent. She may have been very kind and helpful but my state of agony led me to believe that… well… she lives in mid-state Ohio during election year. The only good thing that happened there was running into Franklinstein, one of the coolest dudes on the trail that we haven’t seen since the beginning of Virginia! He had just summited and kindly informed us that it was like hiking in the Whites… times 40. To our surprise, we ended up repeating this statement about 20 times the following day because it was just like he said.

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
The next day, the day of our summit, we woke up at 3AM to try and catch the sunrise atop Katahdin. While we didn’t manage to make it to the top in time, we did see the pink and red glow from the sun surround us and the valleys below. The first couple miles into the climb was pretty typical. This is when we over-confidently told ourselves, “I don’t know what everybody is talking about. This isn’t too bad.” Well, we might as well have thrown our hands in the air and started screaming because this is when the rollercoaster started to go back down. The rock outcroppings that we previously were able to take really big steps to get on top of now required rebar. My mental game dropped as I let my fear of heights increase. On top of this, when we hit about 4,000 feet, the rocks became frost covered, making them high up AND slick. Fortunately, I had two people with me that helped me work through my breaking points. I went up thinking that the clouds blocking my view would help by not being able to see how far of a drop we were teetering off of. Wrong! Going down was WAY easier after I realized that the likelihood of falling to my death was very slim. It actually became fun! Anyways, back to the ascent…

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.
One of the best (and coldest) feelings ever!

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
Once we made it back to the ranger station, the owner of the hostel we were staying at that night conveniently pulled up to drop some hikers off so we caught a ride with him to Millinocket. We stayed in town for two nights as Katahdin, and the couple of days leading up to it, kicked our ass. Recognizing that we completed this journey didn’t really start to set in until we said goodbye to our friends and could no longer say “See you down the trail.”

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.
Ranger Bill
Rocket, a true angel
Upon arriving in Boston, we went to our friend Rocket’s house as she invited us to stay for the night. She went out-of-her-way and cooked us delicious tacos for dinner and baked brownies for dessert. It was such a treat. We laughed over a game of Movie Scene It! even though she whooped on us J (she’s a media art major) and reminisced over good times on the trail.

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!
Mmm... Sam Adams

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.

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