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.