The Appalachian Trail blows you a kiss goodbye

So. The end game.

I ran out of words early in the Hundred, and I didn’t have a cell signal anyway, so I stopped taking pictures or even thinking about updating. I was also deep in my head. It was rainy, cold, and dark. Even though there are still tons of hikers summiting (the AT Lodge was ‘no vacancy’ last night), I was rarely seeing another NOBO. The shelters were empty and silent except for the mournful cries of the loons, and the lapping of water at the ponds, and the perpetual dropping of leaves from the yellowing trees. No moose. My lungs were starting to feel like they were growing mushrooms, from the constant wind and dampness. It was a muddy, slippery, funereal slog. With mosquitoes.

I had to pick an end date for work and because Baxter, so I knew I’d be finishing on the 17th, but I didn’t mention it to anybody because I didn’t want to jinx it. I was only managing mediocre miles (12ish), and that only by immersing myself in podcasts and pretending I was back in the front country. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish at all. Lucky I picked up that extra battery back at Shaw’s!

At one point a couple of weeks ago, I saw a long-range forecast that said the 17th on Katahdin was going to be terrible—45 mph winds, wind chill 21. And I had this come-to-Jesus talk with myself. If it’s that bad, I thought, if it’s dangerous like that, I’ll just go up as high as it’s safe, and that’s that. If I don’t get to the sign, then that’s just what happened this year.

Long-range forecasts are funny. If they say what I want, I totally believe them. If they predict lousy weather, then obviously they’re full of shit. 😁

As time slogged on, with all those slow days like hiking through molasses, the forecast started to improve. And eventually I was like… Oh, crap. I think I might have to summit after all. At which point I laughed and realized I’d been pre-fearing myself into quitting. Because let me tell you: I was filled with dread about Katahdin. Since Springer, I’d been filled with dread.

A few days out, though, my mood started to improve. I was thinking again that maybe, just maybe, I’d at least get higher than I’d thought I could.

But when I reached that road at the end of the Hundred, it was like the sky opened up (even though it was still cloudy, cold, and dank). Joy filled me like three cheeseburgers, a pizza, a gallon of ice cream, and two ginger ales. I was out. Out of the Hundred! And hell yes, I was going to summit!

I stayed at the campground overnight to set up my bowling pins. And slowly, my fellow 17ers started to filter in. Not only was I not alone, but 20 hikers had gone up the day before, and there were a bunch still going up every single day. My bubble! My people! Class of 2019!

And I ran into someody I’d met before—Double Shot (of coffee), from Seattle. He was nervous about getting a spot at the Birches thru-hiker shelter, and I remembered that my tent site at Baxter was good for six people. I was like, “Hey, if you can’t get a spot, you’re welcome to tent at site 25.” And he took me up on it.

I’d chatted with the trail manager about taking an alternate trail down from the summit, and he remembered that I had capacity at my site. So later, when I was cruising through beautiful Baxter on the last full day on the trail, a guy caught up with me. He was a big guy with a blue beard, and his trail name was Beast, and the trail manager had told him to look for me about sharing the site, and Ohmygod, it was a hiker I hadn’t seen since the hostel at Neels! He lost 103 pounds! It was like a reunion, and a little who’s who of what happened to the other hikers from Neels, and it was so much fun. And the three of us at site 25—me, Double Shot, Beast—became a tiny trail family for just that last day. We reached the summit together, and we screamed and cried and hugged. Beast pretended to pee on the sign, and Double Shot took my summit photos. 😄

The weather was cold and blustery and foggy, up in the clouds—but it wasn’t the worst wind or the worst cold I’ve experienced on this hike. I went up the AT and came down the Abol Trail, and I was finally a NOBO thru-hiker.

And that’s that! I’m in Millinocket eating like a hiker for the last time. I’ll fly home tomorrow and start working and looking for work on Monday.

I won’t be thru-ing the AT again. The thirst seems satisfied. Next time, after a thousand zeroes, who knows? Finish the PCT, probably. Double Shot’s in Seattle and offered me a zero. 😁 Or maybe the CDT. Who knows?

Thank you all for your support and encouragement. I love you. 🙂

And here’s the Appalachian Trail, blowing you a kiss goodbye.

Happy trails.

Chairback

Chairback! Not as scary as I remembered! Yay!

People keep asking if I’m a section hiker, then doing a weird double-take when I tell them I’m a thru. It makes me defensive, so I keep having to have a chat with myself.

Did that wide ford this afternoon. Mid-calf, gentle current. I really really hope that one was the last! Forgot to take a picture!

Mostly sunny today, mostly sunny tomorrow, but big rain tomorrow night.

No moose. I did see a frog, but I was all whatever about it. 😁

And that is all.

The final shrine

2100!

There’s apparently one more ford, dammit. A hundred yards. Tomorrow (I hope). And I’d just gotten my foul-smelling Sealskinz relatively dry!

I got nothin’, really. It’s a cold wet slog. Today and tomorrow are the hardest days in the Hundred (the Chairbacks, Whitecap). I’ll be glad to see the back of them,

These fords!

Mile 2091.8

These fords, man. These fords.

I think I must be sensitized from the Sierra, because these fords are really messing with my head. Scary! Even though, fechnically, they’re not really deadly except in the most general sense (ie, you can drown in a bathtub). They feel a lot scarier than the danger warrants. It’s the loudness, I think—at least in part. I wear earplugs to deaden the effect of the water’s roar, but I’m not sure it helps. It’s also a balance issue, like on the Knife’s Edge. I don’t want to fall in entirely and be soaked and cold, and have soaked gear. And under the water, the rocks are round and slick as oiled mirrors. Your feet just whoosh right off them, and the current can knock you off your feet. But the depth’s been OK—mostly knee level or a few inches higher. Two more inches, though, and I’d have a problem vis a vis my center of gravity.

I did two big fords today (by AT standards), and… although I don’t really trust my memory… I’m pretty sure the big fords are done now. Fingers crossed.

So. Rain. I passed Treetrunk going SOBO. He’s sleck-pecking because of his injury. But his situation’s taken a turn, like they do in Maine. His sister’s been hospitalized, and it’s very serious. He may have to fly home. And regardless, his injury’s acting in a way he doesn’t like; he’ll get that checked out during his follow-up tomorrow. Good luck, Treetrunk!

The one bit of news he shared was the weather. He said the hurricane’s supposed to be hitting Maine after 1 PM, and we’re supposed to get massive rain. I happened to have grabbed a forecast this morning, too, and it doesn’t sound nearly as dire. I’m wondering if he heard a coastal forecast, or some local TV fear mongering. Just to be safe, I stopped as soon as I finished up this last ford. I’m battened down in my tent. I was freezing anyway. Walking through rivers will do that.

I really need some warm, bright, sunny days. I know it’s late, but it’s still summer. It won’t get up to 80, but high 60s would be nice. It feels like it’s been forever since there was a stretch of days when the sun wasn’t patchy or wan, or the sky wasn’t gray. Everything’s damp and cold, all the time. Mostly, my New England’s been rainy,

But I’ll be home in less than 2 weeks! Can’t wait!

First day in the Hundred

Mile 2084.4

First day went pretty well! Until it didn’t. 😆

It was a great last morning after my last zero. Poet quoted some poetry, and I met an old hippy Buddhist (Plum Village) who’s on his way to Bodh Gaia after this. (I think I butchered the spelling of that, but I don’t have a signal to look it up. It’s where the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree.) We did a little bell ceremony like they do at Plum Village, inviting in the day. I think Plum Village would be a tremendous place to visit. Anyway, this guy’s name was, I think, Hollywood, but he’s open to a new one. After Bodh Gaia.

Miscellanea: Treetrunk is apparently an extremely accomplished water colorist! Also, it looks like J.Rock and Unicorn summited on August 27. I saw their pic on The Trek. Also, Rocket’s pic. I met her at the Mohican Center. Her summit photo is fantastic—all tattoos and emotion.

So. It was a muddy, rooty, Mainey day! I knew it would be a short one because my pack must weight 35, 40 pounds. I’m carrying a massive amount of food—eight high-calorie days, which I could easily extend out to 10 if necessary. One day at a time. It’s not painful because fhe pack’s designed for those loads, but I’m really top-heavy!

There was a ford today, so I wore my clean Sealskinz. The blazing’s pretty confusing in spots, and Another hiker and I inadvertently crossed a creek we didn’t need to. The slate was slick as a greased bowling ball, and I slipped and went into the drink! It wasn’t deep or terrifyingly fast (it’s not the Sierra!), but it’s still a little hair-raising. My pack stayed dry. The other hiker, Guardian, took my pack for me so I could finish crossing. How amazing was that?! But of course, we realized we hadn’t needed to ford at all, so we had to go back. I sloshed across at a different spot.

But then I got to Little Wilson Creek, which I thought I wouldn’t have to ford… and I did! Slippery as hell, about knee deep. And my hipbone (or whatever your sitting bone is) had taken a big hit when I sat on the slate at the earlier crossing, so I called it a day and stealthed. It’s not a great site, but it’ll do.

There’s another ford in three miles—Big Wilson Creek. Blah. My socks are now soaked. But what can you do? Maine is Mainey!

Lots of ponds today. No moose. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, I think, and maybe tonight. Just a bit of rain, no huge storms or downpours.

Treetrunk update

Treetrunk’s back! He’ll need a little reconstruction on his thumb, but that can wait until he’s home. And since he’s had rabies already, he only needed a couple of boosters, and a tetanus, and some antibiotics.

Keep an eye on The Trek for the next few days (or hours) if you’re interested. They’re apparently running the story.

Funnily enough, he’s horrified to have to slackpack tomorrow, because “I nivah sleckpeck.” 😁 So he’ll be doing Chairback with one arm in a sling. That’s seriously hardcore.

One Hundred

Well… I’m packed up and ready to go. Last hundred miles and change, with a very big food carry. Let’s do this. (Tomorrow, after breakfast.)

I’ve worked out my post-Katahdin travel logistics as best I can. I’ve had long discussions with various people, and most of them seem insistent on answering the questions they’ve decided I’m going to ask, rather than the ones I’m actually asking. When I finally get direct and say “But that doesn’t answer the question I’m asking,” they slow down and listen, and the answer is always “Oh. I don’t know that!” So it goes, with humans! So I’ll put off buying my Amtrak ticket until the day before I need it, fingers crossed, and I’ll hope the whole shuttle situation from Katahdin works itself out, fingers crossed. Logistics make me ridiculously antsy. Plus, there’s the whole Katahdin thing, lol. I’m pointedly ignoring that. I refuse to even look at the views of it. I’m pretending it’s not there. Neener! 😝

Word on the street is that Treetrunk’s hand got worse and he went to the urgent care. The current informed speculation is that the beast was a fisher cat.

I’ve been seeing tons of hikers I recognize, or I think I do, and some recognize me, but it’s mostly just ‘in passing’ stuff. Siren and Pokerface were here yesterday. (I met Siren back in May.) The three of us are Phillyites. The weird leap-frogging contines. And there are flippers, too… and so many people slackpacking that it’s impossible to tell who’s actually where.

Somebody a while back… oh! It was the Kiwi from Human-Nature… he said that as time’s gone on, people are more boasty about not having slackpacked. Personally, I haven’t slacked, but I also haven’t boasted, or considered it boastworthy. I don’t generally mention it, because who cares? But you know, I realize that while I’m not exactly proud of it, I’m happy that the journey’s been continuous and always NOBO. I think if I started to bite off pieces every town stop and do some bits SOBO, some NOBO, and other bits other ways, I’d lose this massive sense of epic. It’d just be a bunch of little day hikes. Sure, I could get the merit badge at the end, but it’d be a different hike entirely—one that doesn’t really interest me. I like my continuous footpath. I like the progression that led from Georgia all the way to the Hundred Mile Wilderness, one northbound step at a time.🙂

Tomorrow: Into the Hundred. I’m not sure I’ll be posting again until the end, because of battery issues, but we’ll see. I wish battery packs weren’t so damn heavy!

Update: I bought another small battery pack in Poet’s Gear Emporium (which is actually a fabulous outfitter), so I’ll hopefully be good for the whole 13 days, if necessary. Lets me listen to a little pod, and read a little, without worrying so much.

Also, I hear Treetrunk’s on his way back from the hospital. Hope he’s OK!

The whole of it all

Shaw’s just summarizes the whole AT shebang. Noisy, friendly, raucus… and it’s still only 5 PM. Poet, the owner, is great. The windows won’t close, so I get to listen to motorcycles, which is fine, because here you wallow in AT-ness. It’s all AT, the crazy, loony, moving sideshow. And we’re the freaks. I love this community.

So. Here’s a story that symbolizes the whole. There’s an Australian NOBO thru here, name of Treetrunk. Poet met Treetrunk back at Trail Days, where apparently Treetrunk overindulged. Vomit was involved. (For what it’s worth, Treetrunk is 60-something.) A couple of nights ago, Treetrunk was bush-camped near a highway. The sites were mentioned in Guthooks. (I’d been aiming there myself when I was in the neighborhood, but didn’t get that far.) Late that night, Treetrunk heard something. There was an animal, or the head of an animal, in his side vestibule! He shouted. It didn’t go away. So he whacked the side of the tent. It didn’t go away. Ao he whacked again, harder, only this time his thumb must have been extended, and the animal
bit off the tip of his thumb (tearing a great gash in the tent mesh in the process), then ran like hell. Blood was apparently spattering everywhere, inside the tent and outside. He didn’t see the critter. He doesn’t know what it was. And his current plan is to finish hiking as quickly as possible so he can get back to Australia where he can get it treated. The weirdest part of the story is that he’s been treated for rabies before, when a wolf bit him while he was hiking in… I forget. Somewhere exotic, that has wolves.

That’s the Appalachian Trail. That, and the fact that I just found yet another slug on my tent, after it’s been balled up in my pack all day.

And the sound of the loons crying across a sunset lake.
And a banjo played by a scruffy hiker with a scruffier dog.
And gifts of food from smiling strangers.
And trail legends who decorate their resupply boxes with playing cards. And hikers from New Zealand, and Germany, and everywhere else.

And rain.
And pain.
And Maine.

Rolling like a river

Well… today I could have done 16! But because I reserved at Shaws for Wednesday night rather than Tuesday, and there’s no phone service, I have to slow my roll to short miles even when I can do bigger ones because the trail’s nice. Murphy’s law! Or Catch 22 or something. The law of oppositeness.

The trail was nice today. 🙂 Frogs +1.

At the hostel I met two hikers I’d met back in Erwin at Uncle Johnny’s. The guy is Captain Insano, and I forget his partner’s trail name. There’s a funny story I never mentioned because it was awkward, but Captain Insano and I had a laugh about it today, so it feels alright to share now.

So. There’s a group of hikers called the Wounded Warriors. It’s a nonprofit that sponsors a number of combat veterans who are thru-hiking to reacclimate and heal. (You can google them for more information.) At Uncle Johnny’s in Erwin, the group was interviewed by the local paper. It was pretty chaotic—cameras, newspaper staff, hostel staff, reporters, the WW group, a ton of other hikers. I tried to stay out of the way while I sorted out my resupply. So I was in the corner, like, hiding, and splitting my food up by days. I tiptoed out to put the box in the recycling, and when I came back, a hiker was poking through my resupply and taking things. I was shocked—and a little irritated, because I thought it was a jerk hiker. (Hard to believe, but they exist!) It was Captain Insano. He was so sweet and apologetic and embarrassed, and it was clear instantly that it was just a weird mistake—like, he’s there being interviewed! The Luna bars all laid out like that did look like some sort of a freebie situation! 😄 So we laughed, and I felt bad and he felt bad, and I wasn’t sure he was entirely over his embarrassment, so I was so glad to run into him today. Super nice guy. He said he’s having a great hike. I hope it’s been everything he was looking for. And best of luck to all the other veterans involved with the project.

What else? Saw Little Blade today. She was hiking with the vets. That wolfpack of hikers I mentioned a couple of days ago are all 18 and 19. There’s one 20-year-old; they call him the old man. 😆

Like the fabulous art of decorating resupply boxes, the post-hike poscards have gone the way of the dodo. So many traditions, gone—and that’s just in six short years. I haven’t decided if I’ll do postcards. Depends on my finishing photo, lol.

Rain tonight. I think I’m in an OK spot. I was supposed to hit my first ford today, but it was a rock hop. Tomorrow, though, there’s at least one, maybe two. Even with the rain tonight, they should be fine. It’s not like the PCT. And every stream I’ve remembered has been substantially lower than in 2013.

So, I have 3 days to do 26 miles. Then a zero. Shit. 😁 Of course, Maine can get Mainey in the blink of an eye.

I’ve gained some weight back with the recent zeroes. These scales are all seriously old and busted anyway.

Water!

Mile 2068.5

It poured yesterday. Today was the second time in Maine that I’ve stopped early because all my stuff was drenched. I hope this is just a weather front, and not the shape of things to come! I’m not really geared up for constant drenching rain, and with 2 weeks left, I don’t plan on buying anything. 😁 The mushrooms, though, love it. I saw a couple today that were as big as dinner plates.

Two weeks!

Forded my first stream today. It was the big one I’d been somewhat dreading, but it was fine—much lower than ‘13, even with yesterday’s rain. I saw Doc, whom I met way back in Hot Springs! Fabulous guy. We had a lovely chat, and he took my pic while I was poking across the river.

Frogs +3. Honestly, I’m not sure why I still count, except that it passes the time. So many frogs! (Yes, toads, I know.)

Nine miles to Monson tomorrow. I’ll zero on Thursday and work out the end game. I hope Shaws still lets you take your pack inside. I want to really shake it down for the final time, and dry things out for the Hundred.

The Hundred on Friday!

Find the frog:

Rain in Maine

Mile 2059.6

“No rain, no pain, no Maine.” The adage kind of falls apart when you’re already in Maine. 😉

It rained overnight, it rained all morning, and it’s still raining. For the first time this hike, I had to both strike and set up in the rain. The tent’s wet, my pack is utterly soaked, and everything else is on a spectrum from a little wet to dripping, and it’s all cold. I’m counting on yesterday’s forecast, which has it stopping this afternoon. I had to stop and get into dry clothes because I was freezing, like you get when it’s chilly and blustery and raining in Maine. And anyway, I’m only 19 miles from Monson, and I have two days to get there. Ridiculous. 😁 (Although Maine can turn technical on a dime, and there’s at least one legit stream ford, maybe two. I’m currently anxiousing about the leeches. lol.)

No pics today. Too wet.

I took a bad weather blue-blaze alternate around the Moxie Bald summit. Nothing to see in the fog, and I’ve done it before, so I figured I’d look at something new and maybe see an animal. No moose! Lots of poop, though.

Speaking of animals, yesterday I saw a very fat raccoon. It was 3:30 in the afternoon. The thing was hanging at a stream and didn’t do more than lumber behind a tree when it saw me. Rabies much?

What else? Nothing, I guess. I’ve been eating Nutella. I’m not a fan of chocolate, but I keep telling myself it’s hazelnuts. 😁

Caratunk

So. I think I have a new favorite hostel. 😀 (I say that for most of them, lol.)

There are two kinds of hostels on the AT—or, rather, those two are at the extreme ends, and everything falls on a sliding scale somewhere in the middle. There are the dumpy, loved places that are falling down, need work, well swept but well worn, where the priority is clearly the hikers over the property. And there are the picture perfect, magazine-type places, with lots of comforts but that tend to prioritize their property investment over the hikers. There’s nothing wrong with the latter; it’s just an observation that these places exist. Examples of the former: Glencliff, Shaws. The latter: 19E, Rattle River, Top of Georgia. I’ve come to realize that I like the seedy, hiker-friendly ones the best. Not coincidentally, they tend to be run by former thru-hikers. (The hotel-type ones are courting other outdoor types, as well.) Thru-hikers have pretty low standards; thosr higher-standard places tend to have a lot of rules that don’t mesh well with what thru-hikers need, pragmatically speaking.

This Caratunk B&B is one of the homey, comfy, gently used ones, and Paul (PCT x2, AT, many others) is amazing. No bells, no whistles, but bring your pack inside and make yourself at home.

Hiking today was magical. That whole area by Pierce Pond was one of those Maine places I wanted to spend time with, but after a night stealthings in a creepy little spot, I had 7 miles to hike and a canoe to catch! (Frogs +5, I’m not even kidding!)

I got to the Kennebec by 9:30, and there was a line 12 deep for the canoe. But listen! While we were waiting (Little Blade was there, whom I met at the Half Gallon, and Aria from Virginia), three eagles started to duke it out over the river! It was amazing! I took a pic of one of them perched in a pine tree, but you probably can’t see him. The canoe guy said they’re after his dog.

And here I am. No phone service, but they let me use their land line to make my arrangements with Shaws—my last town stop. I’ll take a full zero there to get ready for the Hundred Mile Wilderness.

My resupply is here! I supplemented with some stuff from the hostel.

And I think we’re good to go. I probably won’t have phone service until Wednesday, so expect a gap.

Oh! And when I went to recharge my headlamp, the entire recharging piece has pulled entirely out of the headlamp. Unexpected! Honestly, Black Diamond has been less than stellar this hike. The thing still takes regular batteries, though, so I’ll be going old school for the last couple of weeks.

The resupply here has Crocs. I’m trying to resist the urge to buy them. Sure, there are a couple of fords and two hostels to go, but do I want to add the weight for the Hundred? I’m trying to resist! (I have Sealskinz for the fords.)

Nero day! I think I’ll eat some ice cream.

Kennebec

Frogs +3! Must’ve been the rain!

Trail was beautiful today—ponds and pine. I managed about 14 miles. Kennebec tomorrow, I hope!

All my peeps who were aiming for an August finish would be summitting tomorrow—Sneaky Pockets, Hufflepuff, Kiwi, maybe True and Unicorn and J-Rock. Best of luck to all of you! It was a pleasure and a privilege sharing the Trail with you this year!

No cell today, or pretty much for the next 60 miles, unless I can get a room in Caratunk tomorrow. I’m anxious anxious anxious about all the various logistics for the next 2 weeks. Kennebec, Caratunk, Shaws, Baxter, Katahdin, Millinocket.

No moose yet. But frogs!

The tiniest frog

Frgs +1! It was the tiniest frog! Like… the size of my little fingernail!

Last night’s storm was epic. I woke up at 10, and it was raining so hard that the inside of the tent was a river, and everything was soaked, including half my sleeping bag. I stuffed the bag to minimize the damage and put on all my layers.It wasn’t enough, even with the puffy, and I never got warm enough to fall asleep (with the additional worry about whethet the pitch would hold—which it did). So here I am at the next shelter, drying things out.

I’m pretty sure I’ll hit the Kennebec on Saturday. Labor Day weekend!