Post-Hike Thoughts: Health and Wellness

Can I gloat a bit here? I mean, it’s my blog, so I can do whatever I want, but please don’t judge me too harshly. For years I read about the trail injuries, illnesses, and issues that plagued thruhikers on their journey to Katahdin. Every blogger or biographer I followed had their tale of woe to share … broken bones, sprained ankles, toenails falling off, infected blisters, poison ivy, Lyme disease, hypothermia, norovirus, food poisoning, even one account of West Nile!

But for Sharkbait, not a single health problem occurred while hiking the Appalachian Trail. I did have a couple bad spells of dehydration (one which cost me a zero day lying in bed with a pounding headache and nausea), but we won’t count that. Was it good luck or good planning that helped keep my record clean? To be honest, I’d like to think both. Let’s look closer.

Avoiding Foot and Leg Injuries: I has plenty of luck that the one “bad step” never happened to me. I never had the misplaced foothold on a wet or pointy rock, or snag on an exposed root that caused any serious damage. But besides luck, I believe this was due to good planning up front on realistic mileage per day (including low miles for the first 2 weeks), good evaluation of trail conditions / caution requirements, and HIKING POLES.

If you stop at the Outdoor 76 outfitter in Franklin NC, they will lecture you (at length) about keeping your daily miles under 20 until you hit Virginia. This is because your body needs time to strengthen the muscles around your weaker tendons and ligaments. Too much too fast will cause a rolled ankle to snap something painful. But build up that support and you can roll those ankles all day and bounce back (like I did in Maine, EVERY day).

And I have notoriously weak ankles, so I planned shoes and miles to ensure they were as strong as possible. I have been sidelined for weeks from athletics throughout my life from bad sprains, and I also have a torn ACL that never quite got back to 100% since repaired. I think the fear of re-injuring those areas kept me diligent on watching every step and daily mileage closely. So, although others would rush past me in PA, or log multiple 30-mile days in a row in VT, I took my time. And doing so, I finished injury free … yet still faster than planned. That is because I did not need as many zero days for my knees and feet to recover.

Plus, I massaged my feet with a pickle ball and stretched my legs and ankles notoriously each day for the first month, which helped significantly early on. Lastly, great shoes (and replacing them when necessary) was the final step to well-cared-for-feet. Besides a bad week of rain in northern Virginia, I barely even saw a blister. Even my wife agreed my feet looked great after 5 months of hiking (trust me, that’s saying a lot). Barely a sign of any wear or tear on them. 👍

Avoiding Mosquito/Tick Diseases: Again, part planning, part luck. Like everyone else, I hate ticks and feared Lyme disease most. I even went so far as to bring prescribed antibiotics from my doctor if infected on the trail. To deter these pests in advance, I treated my clothes, hammock, sleeping bags, and tarp with concentrated Permethrin. According to other smarter people, this is harmless to humans and deadly to insects … which proved to be right. I only found 1 tick on me (not in me) in my 2,190 miles of hiking.

And the mosquitos were bad, but I would only find a bite or two on me compared to the dozens I’d see scabbing the arms and legs of other hikers. I used 100% DEET on bad days, donned a head net when needed, and put on my “longs and longs” whenever the temperature allowed it. With this strategy in place, I only recall a couple bad days in MA and VT where the bugs infiltrated my defenses … thus limiting my exposure to insect-borne disease. For mosquito protection, one lesser-known gear item I recommend to future hikers is arm sleeves. The ability to throw on or off protective sleeves without taking my pack off to heat my torso with extra material was a great way to manage bugs vs. heat. 👍

Avoiding Other Issues: Honestly, this last category is just about good backpacking hygiene. I never shared food or water bottles with others, I cleaned and dressed any cuts I found, I used hand sanitizer after every privy and before every meal, I leukotaped hot spots on my feet long before they became blisters, I sponge-bathed and checked myself for ticks nightly … I even used KT tape on early signs of shin splints (which helped tremendously, all hikers would benefit to carry a couple yards of this for the first couple months of a thru). 👍

I realize I am no medical marvel, and had a tremendous amount of good luck while on my thruhike. But I also believe my long preparations greatly aided in my ability to understand and mitigate any potential issues before they became problems. Years of backpacking experience and AT planning helped keep me comfortably safe, not to mention a solid foundation of childhood learning from Happy in the wild woods of Minnesota.

Also, I’m pretty sure I’m among the 15% of Americans that are immune to poison ivy, so that helps too.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

Post-Hike Thoughts: Actual Cost

One of the most common questions among soon-to-be thruhikers is, “how much will it cost me?” Before my hike, I read many first-hand accounts to try and get a good estimate of what to expect. And, as usual, I thought that I’d be different. I’m a responsible 30-something adult that can manage my own family’s finances, not to mention those of multi-million dollar projects at work all the time … I think I know how to plan a hiking budget, right? Wrong again.

The generic advice I gained from former hikers and experts was pretty simple – expect to spend approximately $1000 a month. This estimate was based on the rudimentary costs of $20 a day on food, $100 for every town stop, and $1000 for replacing shoes and miscellaneous gear items. The basic math for a 5-month hike with approximately 1 town stop per week could then be: (20×150)+(100×22)+1000 = 3000+2200+1000 = $6,200.

The Process: That felt high to me, and I’m far too OCD to allow such a high-level estimate to be my budget planning process, so instead I went full crazy on it (as usual). For a guy that planned out every day’s distance and destination, I doubt anyone was surprised that my Hike Plan also included a breakdown of realistic anticipated costs each day as well. Pretty Hello Neiman! of me, if I do say so myself.

Long story short (too late), my initial plan estimated the expected costs each day for food (both my pre-packed boxes and town resupply), hostels/hotels, and meals when in a trail town. After hours upon hours of spreadsheet and data model building (fun for all ages), I came up with the much more detailed and accurate estimate of $5,066. Once I added the $1000 for planned gear/shoes, I came to a grand total of … $6,066.

Oh for f*cks sake! That was a complete waste of time, wasn’t it! Ah, who am I kidding, it was fun. Completely unnecessary, but fun nonetheless. See kids, you can use that high-school math for just as useless problem-solving in the real world too.

The Result:  Ok, so my budget broke down to approximately $1000 a month, just as I was told it would. But how did the actual monthly expenses compare? Let’s look at the results month by month…

  • March: $1,200
  • April: $1,500
  • May: $1,400
  • June: $1,700
  • July: $1,100

As was also warned by past thruhikers, I went over my budget. There are a lot of reasons for this … the allure of burgers and beer, extra zero days due to cold weather, expensive gear failures, etc. There’s no shortage of excuses, only the reality of my credit card statement. Hiking the Appalachian Trail for 5 months is an expensive endeavor, and every future hiker should be realistic about what it will cost them. Besides injury, the most common reason a hiker quits the AT is that they simply just run out of money. I saw it first hand, and now I understand why.

The Conclusion:  The truth is, I could have spent less. You always can, of course. But at what other cost? Sure, I could have spent more nights camping in the snow, I could have skipped restaurants for ramen, and I could have forced my gear to last with duct tape and thread, padding, and an excellent MacGyver’ability … but that would have made it a much less enjoyable experience. I desperately needed those Yuengs ‘n Wings, that stay at Mountain Garden Hostel, and a backpack that actually fit me.

The good news is, this hike has the magical ability to just let your neuroses go, and just enjoy the experience of walking. It would be a terrible thing to waste the joy of hiking this scenic trail due to fear of spending. Of course, not everyone is fortunate enough to have that luxury. My best advice is to be realistic and to do what every good management consultant does … add a contingency of 20% to your budget.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

Post-Hike Thoughts: Weight Loss

145 days of hiking the AT, 36 pounds lost

I’ve missed writing my blog, so as I finalize my plans to go back to the AT and hike the NJ/NY section in the next few weeks, I thought I’d publish a couple short post-hike reflection and realizations thoughts to keep me busy. First up … physical transformation.

Going into the hike, I read many first-hand accounts of hikers losing significant weight while on the Appalachian Trail. I even discussed my expectations early on in this meal planning post. Using the science and math outlined there, I expected to lose weight, and in the comments conversation with my friend Jeff, I had hoped to keep my total weight loss at 10-15 pounds … spoiler alert, wrong again.

The Process:  On average, it is expected that male thruhikers can lose up to 20% of their body mass by the time they finish. Although a thruhike is not a good weight-loss strategy, the science doesn’t lie. Because men tend to carry excess bodyweight in their torso, and a thruhike is basically just 150 “leg days” in a row … the upper body withers away while your lower body becomes a lean muscular machine. Women tend to carry more weight in their lower body on average, so this statistic is different for female thruhikers, most of which actually end up gaining weight. I’m not a dietician nor physical trainer, but in chatting on the trail, many women I hiked with validated this fact being true for them.

The Result:  Although I tried to plan for minimal weight loss, I knew it was coming and therefore “let myself go” a bit in the 6 months prior to my departure. When I took the before pictures above on February 28, I weighed 189 pounds. I never did a BMI measurement, but I expect it was disgustingly high at that point. Then it was hike hike hike hike. When I returned home and stepped back on the scale on July 24th, I weighed 153 pounds.  Whoa. After 145 days hiking the Appalachian Trail, I lost 36 pounds (or 19% of my entire body mass). Looking at the after pics, I am all muscle, skin, and bones. Can a BMI measurement go negative? I think mine would be.

Side note, I kept tabs in my blog posts throughout the hike, and recall most of the weight understandably coming off in the first half of the trip. By the time I reached the middle of Virginia, I lost 15 pounds and my waist size dropped from a 33 to a 30 (forcing me to buy a new backpack).

The Aftermath: It is generally understood that the weight lost on a hike comes back twice as fast. Unfortunately for me, my “hiker hunger’ only hit in the last couple weeks of the hike and it is painfully obvious now. Even without hiking at all, I am insatiably hungry.  ALL THE TIME!  I am trying to maintain a healthy diet and exercise regiment, but my 5-day drive across America did not help with this goal (oddly, there are no fast food salad restaurants along I-40). Now that I am stationed comfortably in the DC metro area, I am running a few times a week and desperately trying to hold off my desire to eat constantly. It’s nice to at least have healthy snack options now though (mmm, fresh produce…).

The Conclusion:  Looking at the “before” photo now disgusts me, as its the most I’ve ever weighed by far. Since college, I typically work out 3-4 times a week and weigh between 170-175 pounds. But knowing the hike was coming, I subconsciously decided to not care and let my fat reserves store up like a hibernating bear or an OCD chipmunk. #winteriscoming.  However, at 153 pounds, the after is also too skinny. This is unhealthy and unrealistic for me. Plus, none of my clothes fit! Seriously, future thruhikers should plan post-hike budgets for new clothes.

In retrospect, I had planned/hoped to not lose too much weight, but it was inevitable. And now I realize the hike provided a nice “reset” of my body, giving me the opportunity to get back to a more comfortable shape. I’ve always believed in a healthy lifestyle and diet, but damnit if I don’t still want pizza, burgers, and beer every single day. Sort of tough to justify a high-calorie diet when you sit on a couch all day catching up on all the Netflix shows you missed.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

Week 20 Recap Video

The final video! It Is really is the best video of them all, and worth watching with the sound cranked up. Not only is it packed with emotional Katahdin summit photos with new friends, but I saved the best music for last. I definitely could (and will) watch this video over and over again for years to come.

After posting last night’s video, I stayed up late in to the evening thinking and reflecting on the hike. While I was out there, I was convinced this was a one-time thing, and that I’d never want to thruhike another long distance trail again. The Appalachian Trail was great, but special in its uniqueness as a dream to me for so much of my life.

But now that it’s over, I guess I can’t say I feel that way anymore. The allure of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) began tugging at me almost immediately, as it offers more miles, bigger mountains, and arguably better sights. I’d be lying if I wasn’t daydreaming a bit about hiking that trail some day. Or perhaps even tackle the AT again…

Ok, maybe not the AT again. It could never be as great as it was the first time. But that romanticized thinking is part of the magic these trails create I guess. As soon as it ends, you long for it again.

Lots of life to live for now, but who knows. Maybe the PCT isn’t such a crazy idea some day. Maybe…

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

Week 19 Video Recap

The penultimate weekly video had some tough memories. Southern Maine kicked my a** and left permanent scars (mostly emotional). But it was also the gateway to some of the best hiking yet to come, and necessary to appreciate the majesty of the 100-Mile Wilderness waiting in tow.

And in that regard … I am finding it reeeeeeally hard to leave Maine. Sure, I finished my thruhike 2 days ago, but I’m just not that ready to leave this beautiful state quite yet. It’s unfortunate that the weather is only this nice a couple months a year, but I’m originally from Minnesota, so I think I’d be ok with the winter here as well. Of all the states I visited, walked through, and witnessed on my journey … this one leaves the most lasting memory. Some good ones, some bad ones, some horrific ones. But oh those good ones … it would be a dream to build a “camp” on any of the remote lakes I walked by, and live an off-the-grid lifestyle in my twilight years. New bucket list item? Hmm….

For my last full day in Maine, I spent the time in Bangor with a cousin of mine. She took me on a whirlwind tour of Acadia National Park, Echo Lake, and Bar Harbor. Everything was gorgeous and an extra bonus to the already incredible sights I experienced for the last two weeks of my hike. In Bar Harbor, you can eat whatever you want, as long as it’s lobster.

I fly out tomorrow afternoon and finally re-enter the world as I knew it for good. No more living the wanderer’s life, no more hiding in the green tunnel, no more eating without consequence. Time to get back to life. Lots to look forward to of course, and lots to be excited for … but still, I’m finding it hard to say my last goodbyes to the adventure.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

Week 18 Video Recap

Over the next 3 days, I am going to publish the video montage recaps of my last 3 weeks on the AT. Unfortunately, due to WiFi bandwidth and cellular service, I was never able to upload these when I wanted to. They are less timely now, but a great excuse to reminisce, now that my walk is (sniff) … over. Oh well. My apologies for the delays, but look on the bright side … now we have 3 new blog posts to look forward to.

This Week 18 Recap chronicles the journey directly following the White Mountains, from Gorham (New Hampshire) to Rangeley (Maine). It includes the 3 days of adventure in southern Maine with my hiking buddies from home, tackling the dreaded/exciting Mahoosuc Notch, brief stops in Andover and Rangeley, and one of my favorite hostels of the entire trail – The Hiker Hut.

Enjoy, and Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

Day 145: Baxter State Park Missed Miles

Day 145. “This is weird. I’m done … aren’t I? We climbed Katahdin yesterday, why do I have to hike again today?” Those were the thoughts going through my mind this morning as I walked the 10 miles from Abol Bridge to the base of Katahdin. With the myriad of emotions that flooded me yesterday, it simply didn’t feel normal to hike again today. But a thruhike is not complete until all the miles are accounted for, so off I diligently went.

After a massive town breakfast, of course.

The only hostel in Millinocket is called the AT Lodge, owned by the parents of Hippie Chick who owns and operates Shaw’s Hiker Hostel in Monson. It’s a typical hostel, quite large with beds everywhere and laundry available. They have a small gear store, a kitchenette, and big hiker box … but not much else.

However, they also own the AT Cafe in town, and that one is a gem. I didn’t think I could eat breakfast this morning, after the MASSIVE celebratory dinner last night, but then I saw raspberry pancakes on the menu and my hiker hunger immediately kicked in. Damn you delicious mountain berries, you are my edible kryptonite.

Side note, I waited 140 days to get that famous hiker hunger, where no amount of food can satiate you, and hunger pains envelope your every thought. It finally hit me in the 100-Mile Wilderness. I think perhaps because I knew I had no way to get more food, was admittedly a bit short on supplies, and was pounding out big days to an emotional finish. So yeah, I was starving all week and could have rated my entire rations bag in one sitting.

The AT Cafe is awesome. It is all about and all things Appalachian Trail. The coffee mugs are hiker logos, the wall art is hiker cartoons, the ceiling is autographed hiker signatures from each thruhiker class, etc etc. it’s a really neat place and the food was outstanding. I downed my pancakes, an english muffin, and many cups of coffee , then we piled in cars and all headed back the trail.

Honey and Moon’s parents dropped us back off at Abol Bridge and we hiked the next 10, wet, humid, buggy miles in 3 hours. It was easy terrain, but for some reason was slow going (hmm, I wonder if the brick of pancake batter in my stomach had anything to do with that?). The short trail meandered along the Penobscot River, up a creek, and past Daicey Pond. All were beautiful, but not too much time was spent lingering.

I did take a side trail with Traveler (we were the only ones willing) to an amazing waterfall called Big Niagara Falls, which flows down the Nesowadnehunk Stream to the Penobscot (photo above). This was not the largest waterfall on the trail, but it sure was impressive. I may have submitted Katahdin, but I still wanted to enjoy the little things along the way while I could, and this small detour was well worth it.

All in all, it was a nice and short hike. I was definitely ready for it to end, but enjoyed the miles walked one last time along those familiar painted white blazes.

Back in town, I searched for some sort of artwork to bring home, and found a woodworking gallery where a local artist makes trail sign replicas. I bought a small wooden plank describing the Katahdin summit, and a few other nick-nacks for home. We had another big group dinner, then I cleaned my clothing and organized my gear one last time (happily theoomg our much of it that was beyond repair).

It’s quiet in the hostel, as everyone is sad to go home and leave this trail life. But the real life is waiting for me, and it’s exciting too. I haven’t seen my wife in weeks nor my puppy in months, and I’m eager to reunite with my family and friends back home soon. Tomorrow I’m on a shuttle/bus to Bangor, a flight to LA, and then the trip is officially, officially over.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 2190.9
  • Start Time: 10:15
  • End Mile: 2190.9
  • End Time: 13:40
  • Miles Hiked: 9.9
  • Miles to Go: 0
  • Lodging: AT Lodge (Millinocket, ME)

Day 144: Katahdin Peak

Day 144. I awoke at 5am and rushed to pack up my gear. The last weather update we saw showed rain around 10am, but looking up from my hammock, the sun was out and crystal clear blue skies surrounded it. It was only 8 miles to Abol Bridge where Honey and Moon’s parents would be waiting for us, with Subway sandwiches and forecast updates in hand.

I was the last one to leave the campsite, but was still on the trail by 5:45. I speed hiked (sped hiked?) those 8 miles to Abol Bridge, hoping that a fast walk could mean a possible summit today. When I arrived, the group was all there and they quickly agreed with the thoughts running through my head … we were headed for Katahdin. Today. Now.

We now knew that the latest forecast showed rain starting around 2pm, continuing all night and into the late afternoon tomorrow. Abol Bridge marks the end of the 100-Mile Wilderness, but there are still 10 miles to hike from there to the base of Katahdin in Baxter State Park.

Unfortunately, it was already 10am and Park Rangers require all hikers starting a summit climb to begin prior to 12pm in July, so it was either now or in the rain tomorrow. That timeline was simply too tight; and they have strict rules like this for a reason, as it’s very strenuous and time consuming to climb Katahdin, even for a thruhiker. We all agreed it was important (and significantly smarter, safety speaking) to hike in the sun while we had it … so that was that.

Side note, the 10 miles we missed will be a footnote post tomorrow. This is my summit post, my hike conclusion post, but tomorrow I’ll hike those 10 flat miles in the rain and make my northern terminus official.

After our massive food binge, Honey and Moon’s parents drove all 9 of us in their Yukon to the Baxter State Park Ranger Station. I checked in as northbound hiker #151 and then started the 4.5 mile ascent to Katahdin’s 5,200 foot summit.

It could not have been more perfect.

The climb up was tough as nails though. The official Appalachian Trail white blazes require you to take the Hunt Trail up, but you can take any trail down after that … since technically your thruhike is over. And the Hunt Trail is a BEAST. In all honestly, I can not recommend this trail to any casual day-hiker. It is incredibly steep, with severely tall steps over house-sized boulders, and scrambling up a sheer rock cliff called The Gateway for 2 miles. After this it calms down significantly, but that 2 mile stretch is no joke. Ok fine, it’s doable for casual hikers, but call your insurance agent to re-up your polices first.

And let me be clear, it would be deadly if wet. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT attempt to hike the Hunt Trail in the rain. Choosing to hike up today in the sun was the smartest decision I’ve made these past 5 months.

All that being said though, I loved it. We left most of our gear at the bottom, and scaling those boulders without any weight on my shoulders was like walking on air. I felt like a superhero learning how to use his powers for the first time, as I sprung from foothold to foothold with balance and ease. After 2 hours of scrambling, I finally reached the base of the summit and a much needed rest. After that, it was just a smooth 1 mile slow climb up to the official summit and sign.

It’s hard to describe this last mile to someone who didn’t walk 2,189 miles to reach it. But let me try and explain what went through my head …

I walked this mile alone, letting silence spread my emotions out over the canvas of the panoramic mountain landscape ahead of me. Each step was like a thundering drum beat in my heart, parading me to this dream-like place I envisioned for so long. Everything I experienced these past 5 months rushed through me in waves of memories as I watched the sign get closer and closer. Theme songs of my life echoed between my ears, like my own personal documentary was being filmed before my eyes. I was surrounded by people, but fully wrapped in a bubble of personal solitude. I walked alone, but not lonely.

And then, just like that, I was there. The giant brown sign beckoned me to it, looking immeasurably more real than the thousands of photos I’d seen before. I walked up to the sign and pressed my hand to it. I laid my forehead upon it, I exhaled a deep long-held breath … and I smiled. I didn’t cry, I didn’t scream, I just smiled. As the weight of 18 years of daydreams rushed over me in a single moment, I felt entirely fulfilled.

A day hiker asked if I would take his photo for him. I politely said no, not until he took 937 of me first. I wasn’t trying to be rude … but this was my moment. He reluctantly agreed and I posed in every way possible atop that famous brown sign. Then I waited for the rest of the group to arrive, watching them experience their individual emotional moments as well: Traveler, Honey, Moon, Candy, Ben, Rose, Willow and Charley Horse. We took more individual photos, then group photos, then goofy photos.

And then it was over.

We climbed back down the other side of Katahdin via the Saddleback Trail as it started to rain. This descent was not as bad after the first mile, and we soon found ourselves at the bottom, where the cars met us again with more celebratory snacks and sodas. We drive into Millinocket, had a BIG dinner, and then crawled across the street to the AT Lodge hostel. As I lie in bed writing this, I am physically and emotionally drained … but I am still smiling.

Thank you all for following me along my journey! Your reading of my blog motivated me in ways I could never tell you. Each hit, each comment, each like … they were fuel for me to keep going every single day.

I will post a few more times while I finish up today’s missed miles and finally get 3 weeks of late videos uploaded. In addition, I’ll write some more reflective pieces on gear, planning, food, and hiking this epic trail in the coming weeks as well. And I still have some “epilogue” posts to publish when I go back and finish that section of NJ/NY.

Also! I do want to turn this story into a book, and plan to do so this fall. If you’d like to see that happen, please share with me via comments or email which stories, characters, and moments you liked best! I want it to be a fun adventurous read, similar to the one that started this crazy idea for me so long ago. So, what do you think would best inspire others to enjoy my tale?

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 2168.0
  • Start Time: 05:45
  • End Mile: 2190.9
  • End Time: 14:15
  • Miles Hiked: 22.9 (-9.9)
  • Miles to Go: 0
  • Lodging: AT Lodge (Millinocket, ME)

Day 143: Rainbow Lake Stealth Tentsite

Day 143. It’s hard to reflect all the emotions flooding my mind throughout the day in tonight’s update. After everything I’ve seen and accomplished these past 5 months, I simply don’t have the words to describe how important today was to me. Since I’ll be in Millinocket tomorrow, today was my last full day and night inside the Appalachian Trail. And that was tough to accept.

I stayed up late into the night watching the sun set and stars shimmer from our beautiful campsite on Rainbow Lake (photo above). Since it was a long and hot day of walking in this wilderness, and I’ll be back in civilization tomorrow … I wanted to savor the moment as long as possible. I sat there for hours after everyone else went to bed, the only sound being fish jumping and loons calling to each other from the middle of the lake. It was peaceful and perfect.

Although the trail was tougher today, it was an enjoyable difficulty. The rocks, roots, and mud were tough to avoid as I meandered for miles and miles around Nahmakanta Lake, Rainbow Lake, and the streams connecting the two. But, it was made easier by the majestic lakefront scenery and epic views of Katahdin getting closer and closer.

There was a small hike up Nesuntabunt Mountain, but again, nothing difficult. Even Happy would have welcomed that 500 foot climb in elevation, especially given the awesome view at the top (photo below).

Tomorrow is a short 8 miles to Abol Bridge Campground, where some of my group’s patents are waiting (Honey, Moon, and Rose). After some food (I hear a Subway party sub is on its way), we’ll continue on and finish the final 10 miles to the base of Katahdin. The weather forecast and a chat with Park Rangers will decide what happens next. Climb tomorrow in the rain? Wait until Monday, hoping to hike between thunderstorms? Or maybe even wait until Tuesday, in hopes of the weather clearing up completely? We shall see.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 2142.6
  • Start Time: 07:00
  • End Mile: 2168.0
  • End Time: 18:20
  • Miles Hiked: 25.4
  • Miles to Go: 22.9
  • Lodging: Rainbow Lake Stealth Tentsite

Day 142: Potaywadjo Spring Lean-to

Day 142. I had a lot of time to think today, more than usual actually. The 23 miles I hiked were basically all flat, with only a couple small mini climbs of a few hundred feet bookending the day. It was hot though, so any time the trail exited the green tunnel, the temperature instantly felt 15 degrees warmer.

Much of the trail walked around lakes and ponds today, so you felt the heat enough to notice it. I’m not complaining though, I wish this weather would last through the end of my hike. Spoiler alert for future posts, it won’t. The forecast calls for rain and thunderstorms all next week, starting Sunday. And my current schedule has me trying to climb Katahdin on Monday (sigh).

To combat the heat, we took many water breaks, and enjoyed a fantastic swim in Jo Mary Lake. By the time we got to the lake, it was late in the day and that swim was a life saver. The lake had a gradual entry along a spectacular sandy beach, and kept that sandy floor all the way out past the drop-off. The water was warm at the edge, and comfortably cool in the middle, so it was hard to leave. We swam there for a good hour, loathing the decision to eventually hike on.

It was only a couple more miles to the shelter after that, and by the time I got there, my shorts were dry again. Yeah, it was a hot day.

So anyways, lots of time to think. Perhaps a bit deliriously from the heat. While walking, I decided to rank the states of this hike from least to most enjoyable. I thought it would be fun to reminisce on my feelings over the past 5 months, and try to remember what I liked/disliked about the journey up America’s east coast. So, here’s my list, going only off the selected memories my partially dehydrated and heat exhaustion induced mind could recall:

AT States: Least to Most Favorite

  • N/A. New Jersey – Still haven’t hiked it, as I temporarily skipped those miles. But I’ll do them in late August and update this list with my to be determined opinions.
  • 13. Pennsylvania – No shock here, I wasn’t a fan. Even the nicer areas in the southern half (e.g. Boiling Springs) couldn’t outweigh the horrid rocks of the north. I had my worst day on the trail, coming out of Port Clinton in the rain, and dehydrated myself badly climbing out of the Lehigh Valley. The weeks of rain and rocks had minimal memorable highlights for me, and I doubt I’ll seek walking trails there again in the future.
  • 12. New York – I still need to make up some miles prior to Herndon State Park, but the majority of the section I did was rough. Steep staircase climbs, blown down trees EVERYWHERE from the recent tornado, and limited shelter options for comfort. It was great to have my dad out there with me for this, but the trail itself was relentlessly difficult. Maybe southern NY is better.
  • 11. West Virginia – It’s low on the list because I barely saw it. The 4 miles I hiked through and out of Harpers Ferry were nice, but didn’t add much to the weight of this trip so heavily memorable in other places.
  • 10. Connecticut – Not bad, but not great. I loved the small towns along the trail (e.g. Kent), but they were expensive stops. And although some nice mountain climbs were provided, the trail to the summits in this state were no cakewalk. I recall some tough descents on rocky ledges in this small section.
  • 9. North Carolina – It was a big deal when we first crossed into NC, but I don’t recall anything spectacular blowing me away in this state. Well, that’s not true. The Roan Highland area was amazing (and oh that Mountain Harbour Hostel!), and the many “balds” were fun to traverse in the strong winds … though I didn’t get to enjoy them too much, given how cold it was. It snowed too many times to count. I loved Hot Springs though, that was one helluva trail town. Maybe this one should be higher..,
  • 8. Georgia – The approach trail to summit Springer Mountain was ruined by rain, but the climb and summit of Blood Mountain made up for it. I made some good friends in Georgia that would become my hiking family for weeks, and loved the crowded social experience of meeting so many other hikers at once. The weather was great, and the top of Georgia Hostel was a nice way to end the section.
  • 7. Maine – I’m very torn on this one, so I purposely slapped it right in the middle of the list. I didn’t hate anything more than southern Maine. The only day I wanted to quit this trail was the one coming out of Andover (damn you, Moody Mountain!). I had some friends join, but it was tough on them, making it tougher on me too. But then you leave Rangeley (and the awesome Hiker Hut Hostel), and everything changes. It’s a beautiful trail, full of great swimming spots, spectacular views, and blueberry-topped summits. The 100-Mile Wilderness is legitimately the best hiking outside of Shenandoah National Park. I’m not sure why most books/blogs I’ve read in the past fail to highlight this so well … its probably because the authors have simply checked out by now. Plus, it has epic views of your final destination to guide you to the finish line. I like this part of Maine a lot.
  • 6. New Hampshire – Very difficult hiking, but countless rewards! The views from the summit of these rocky mountains outweigh the technical difficulty of the climbs to get there. The huts are a great asset, and a very fun experience … as both a guest and Work For Stay hiker. However, the Franconia Ridge, Presidential Range, and Wildcats are deadly in bad weather. I had some close calls, some painful falls, and some exhausting walks on those days where rain clouds covered you in a wet blanket of fog. Was Dartmouth in NH? I think so, and that stretch out of Hanover was great too.
  • 5. Tennessee – The Smoky Mountains are the real gem here, providing epic climbs and views from well-groomed trails and massive stone shelters. My first 3 days in the Smokies are some of my fondest memories hiking, with sunny skies and pleasant weather. Then the temperature fell 40 degrees and the skies dropped 2.5 feet of snow on us. However, the winter days were beautiful, and once I got a new sleeping pad, the nights were too. After the Smokies, the trail constantly criss-crossed with NC, but I can’t recall which day was where. Erwin had a nice movie theater, so that’s a tick in the pros column for TN too.
  • 4. Massachusetts – I loved the trails and shelters in MA. I don’t think I had as many issues with bugs here that others do, so I thoroughly enjoyed it. I really enjoyed Mt. Greylock, I saw my first bear, and I had great weather. I loved the half-day spent in Dalton (shout out to Huevos home town!), and who could forget my epic Climb of Insanity out of Cheshire.
  • 3. Maryland – Short and sweet. The civil war history was really pleasant to hike through, and the shelters were all very well maintained … most being fairly new. I loved the tiny stretch of trail in MD and plan to return to the many state parks and landmarks we passed through in the future.
  • 2. Virginia – Whereas most people quit in VA, I was re-energized by it. There were so many amazing areas in this 500 mile stretch, I barely recall them all! The Grayson Highlands, The Blue Ridge Parkway, McAfee Knob, Shenandoah National Park … the list goes on and on. I stayed at my favorite hostel (Woods Hole), and my least (Mountain Garden), and made many new friends along this stretch. And then there was lunch at The Home Place … mmmm, yum.
  • 1. Vermont – I loved Vermont. So much so that I want to come back and finish the rest of The Long Trail. I had some trouble with bugs, but the weather was mostly great and the trail was amazing. I never really experienced “ver-mud”, and loved traversing the many ski slope mountains. Killington and Manchestor Center were great town stops, and the walk into Hanover was beautiful. A+ time in VT.
  • And that’s the list! So much of this is based on the most prominent memories, the friends along the way, and the weather I experienced … but that’s ok. It’s all part of the journey and adventure that has made up this epic hike!
  • Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

    • Start Mile: 2119.5
    • Start Time: 07:05
    • End Mile: 2142.6
    • End Time: 17:00
    • Miles Hiked: 23.1
    • Miles to Go: 48.3
    • Lodging: Potaywadjo Spring Lean-to