The End of the Trail

Apparently the transition from the trail back into the world of easy distraction has not gone as smoothly as I originally anticipated, if it had this post that should be easy to write would not have been put off for as long as it has.  A large part of this has been I didn’t know where I am headed without the easy white blazes on every couple of trees letting me know I am still on my current path. The other part has been that I was reluctant to make this final recap of the greatest set of experiences I have yet witnessed, and didn’t want to feel like I was shutting the door on that stage of life. But enough about now, for now, we are here to hear about the trail and what it was like.

The last I checked in from the trail was while I was in the town of Stratton, ME. So I will pick up from there and try to not bore you with mundane details like, I ate, I walked, I ate more, looked out over mountains, ate more, I slept, repeat. That’s the summary of the trail for six months if it were not for all the majestic moments that the mountains provided.

The day I left Stratton I started the last lag of my adventure. I loaded up with food, ate a giant breakfast, hit the post office, and headed for the trail. I had to walk halfway back to the trail head (about 2.5 miles) before I got a ride. When I got dropped off I started climbing Mt. Bigelow (the last big mountain before Katahdin, at 4,090ft.) I was aiming for the first shelter in the middle of the range, about 12miles, but ended up running late and found myself night hiking.  Trail Lobster ended up catching me and we decided since we were already night hiking we might as well go all the way to Flagstaff Lake 18miles. We camped on a beach, we missed the campsite in the dark, and were serenaded by the loons all night. I awoke to the sun rising behind my back looking out over the lake, I would like to come back here some summer and paddle the 150mile canoe trail across the lake.

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Bigelow Mtn. East Peak


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Pond on the middle of the Bigelow's

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Bigelow Avery Peak

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Bigelow's view

Two days later I got to the Kennebec River, after having walked past a few more beautiful ponds with shelters right by the water. Pierce Pond Shelter was one I stayed at that had the shelter within 40 feet of the water, with a good swimming hole. I got to the Kennebec before 11am so that I could catch the ferry across the river to keep us from having to try to ford the unpredictable water. The river is 20 yards across and there is a damn that releases water with no warning system, causing it to be a dangerous ford. That is why the ferry is there, it is run by a Maine Canoe Guide who paddles two hikers and their packs across at a time. On the other side of the river is the town of Caratunk ME, where T-Mellow had moved his car to. I took the opportunity to unload some excess weight and leave it in Ted’s (T-Mellow’s) car so I didn’t have to send it through the mail. From there we took two days to hike the 40 miles to Monson.

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The Kennebec River Ferry

We camped at a side trail into town so that we could wake up early and hike to Shaw’s Boarding House to catch breakfast (one of the most recommended breakfasts on the trail.) The meal lived up to the reputation, and I filled myself with three eggs, bacon, sausage, coffee, and orange juice. Ted had to get back to his car to start driving home to Maryland, luckily Miss Janet was in town and I rode with them to reflect on shared experiences from the trail.  I used the time on the road to stich my pack up and make sure it would make it to the end of the trail (the spine punched through the bottom of the body.)  When I got back to town I got my resupply from the post office and repacked my bag. I plugged my phone in to make sure I had enough battery life to stay in touch with my father and plan how to meet him at Abol Bridge. My charging cables fought me for hours to charge my phone, so I ended up staying in town. I made plans with Hudson, Riza, and Thespian to skip Shaw’s breakfast and get a shuttle to the trail by 7am.

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Moose hunting with Miss Janet and T-Mellow

In the morning it was a cold start, but it gave good motivation to get hiking even at such an early hour. I crossed three rivers that day, one being an actual ford that ended up being shin deep, the rest were just rock hops. I camped at a shelter a quarter mile off trail, on a small pond with Riza, and Hudson. The Rough Riders (Hustle and Flow, Mac and Cat(2), Snorlaks, and JackAttack) came into camp and shared the shelter and fire with us around dusk. The next day I set out at 6am with Hudson and Riza again, but I let them go ahead of me when I started reflecting on my trail experience. Being so close to the end I had a few moments where nostalgia slowed my hiking speed to a crawl. I faced questions of what I could have done different, and I was overwhelmed by missing friends I had made and lost.

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I ran out of steam at 17 miles, and set up camp at the nearby shelter. The Rough Riders (plus Atlas) got to the shelter shortly after I did and I was glad to have the company. On the 2nd of October, the next day, I bounced around them and we all stopped to appreciate our first view of Katahdin from the top of Whitecap mountain. I decided to stick with the Rough Riders when we got to the Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to. It was a beautiful spot with a cascading stream 40 feet away in front of the shelter to lull us to sleep. I hiked with JackAttack and Atlas the fourth day in the hundred mile wilderness and deep intellectual conversations made the day fly by. The fact that the rest of the terrain had less than a hundred feet of elevation change till the base of Katahdin might have helped. We passed a dozen ponds and lakes (or the same ones from different points around them) and some of the springs I passed had the clearest water I’ve seen.

Unfortunately the following day sucked, it started raining on us just enough to keep everything damp most of the day. However I had my father and Cat coming to meet me at Abol Bridge. I pushed hard to make 23 miles and got to the road just after dark. Some hikers who were camped just inside the Hundred Mile Wilderness told me they had seen my dad and that he was driving some hikers into Millinocket, so I decided to wait outside the Abol campground store till they got back.

Once they got back, and reunions were over, the decision was made to make camp in the woods. I managed to find a flat spot big enough for my five man tent and proceeded to set it up in the drizzle that carried on all day. It wasn’t the driest camp I’ve made but at least it was out of the weather, except for what wanted to come through the tent walls.

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View of Katahdin from Abol Bridge.

I slack packed south ten miles with Cat from Katahdin Springs, back to base camp at Abol Bridge. We passed dozens of hikers, and ended up running late because of stopping to talk with half of them. Spent the night at base camp went into Millinocket for breakfast, then it was time to ascend Mt. Katahdin after months of work. We ran into Miss Janet at the parking lot at the base of the mountain, signed into the register and counted seventy hikers already on the mountain today.

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Cat, Miss Janet, Beans(me)

It was forecasted as possibly the last clear day for the season. The trail started up some gradual steps up to a waterfall, then kept climbing and gradually getting steeper. Once I got above tree line we started climbing up house sized boulders and started passing the first of the hikers we encountered. Some had already summited and were on their way down, spirits were high all around. Once I reached the tableland (4620ft) I got my first sight of the summit, which was covered by people. As I was approaching the final climb I could watch a ceiling of clouds form above the peak causing the temperature to drop.

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The trail we climbed

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Hikers on the peak

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Still climbing

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Sweet Victory!

When I reached the top (5268feet) the dozens that had been seen had dispersed and only a handful remained. I only recognized one other thru hiker (Indy) still at the top and got to celebrate with Cat and him. We didn’t linger long because of the cold, plus it was a bitter sweet feeling at the top. The trail was over, I still had to get down, but six and a half months of aiming at this and now it was done. Now I was set adrift, so long as I reach the bottom. I think the way down was far worse that up, having to climb down through the same boulder field we ascended (down climbing is always trickier.) When we got to the waterfall, Miss Janet was waiting there to congratulate hikers on the way down. It was good to see her one last time before leaving the trail.

At the parking lot a former hiker/trail angel was cooking up hotdogs as a send off trail magic. I miss the simple joy that comes from seeing complete strangers cooking for hikers on the side of roads. JackAttack and Atlas needed rides south from Katahdin, so we made room in the car for them and loaded in to hit the road. We made one last stop in Milinocket to say our goodbyes to fellow hikers and started the drive south. Atlas was heading back to Montreal and asked us to let him out on route 17 west so he could start hitching across Maine into Canada.

JackAttack was heading to his sister’s in Connecticut and asked to be dropped off at the train station in New Haven. We were happy to give him a ride and it was convenient, seeing as we had to drop Cat back off at college in New Haven. I was saddened by their departure as that marked the end of my thru hike experience, and it is unknown when I will get to see such great friends again.

The rest of the drive back to Baltimore was uneventful, fortunately and I threw myself into working my annual fall job harvesting pumpkins and driving hayrides for the Rodgers Farm. For the month I had work with them I kept myself distracted from the effect of reintegrating into society, and thought I was making easy work of it.

However once the season ran out I started to experience apathy towards what I saw as mundane things after having lived so freely and simply on the trail. Everyday wasn’t easy rainbows and butterflies, but life was simplified to base necessities and at that level it was easy to enjoy the good even during the bad. Once home I found myself easily distracted by all the things we surround ourselves with to take us away from the present moment. I settled myself to work on cleaning out my childhood home and packing away the things I couldn’t convince myself I don’t need.

Currently to get myself back into the stream of life, and advancing myself towards goals on the distant horizon, I have signed up to do some WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities Organic Farming). I learned of the program from friends on the trail who had done it and spoke highly of their experiences. One of the things that I gained from the trail was a desire to progress towards a sustainable lifestyle farming and bartering, opposed to slaving away for a mountain of money and insecurities about keeping it safe.

I have recently moved to Ware Shoals South Carolina to work on a farm here for a month, then I am scheduled to travel to a farm outside of Portland Oregon to work for a month or two. I am beginning to form plans to hike the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) in 2016 with a bunch of the friends I made on the AT. It is unknown what the road ahead of me will bring, but there is a bright horizon.