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

    Day 141: Logan Brook Lean-to

    Day 141. It was peaceful and pleasant at our stealth site last night. For one thing, it was just us and no other sound. No creek, no roads/rails/cars/trains, and no other hikers. I pass a lot of SOBO hikers every day out here now, and they tend to be a bit loud around camp at night. Nothing to blame them for, as I remember when I was green and eager on the trail back in March. These first few weeks are so exciting and new, and i recall the desire to share it with new friends at night. I’m happy for them at the start of their own adventure, but the silence was also nice.

    In comparison, some kid tonight spent an hour setting up traps for mice and squirrels around the shelter. I didn’t have the patience to explain why this was inappropriate, nor the desire to ask what he’d do if he caught one. It was just loud and annoying and I did my best to ignore him. Hike Your Own Hike, I guess.

    Most SOBOs are very nice though. It is fun to pass them on the trail, as they are excited to chat and hear of what’s coming up. As Happy pointed out weeks ago, most NOBO hikers want nothing to do with friendly conversationalists on the trail … but not me. I still like to stop and talk, crack a joke, or ask about their first week. It’s just part of my personality, so it’s hard to turn it off.

    My hike today was tough but rewarding. I was warned this would be the most difficult day between Monson and Baxter State Park, and it didn’t disappoint. The morning consisted of climbing up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down the 4 Chairback Mountain peaks. They had some pretty rocky sections, sending painful memories of the Whites to my mind, but they were small and easily manageable in comparison.

    My feet and back were still beat up by lunch though, so I dropped my bag on the ground at Carl E. Newhall Lean-to and laid down exhausted. A quick 10 minutes of shut-eye, followed by a big calorie intake got me moving again around 3pm. Then it was up the quadruple peaks of White Cap Mountain. Not to be outdone by the Chairback range, they too offered impressively steep ascents and descents. However, this time the Maine ATC club had helped out, building some nice rock steps for most of the would-be difficult areas.

    Side note, most of the trail today was extremely well groomed. For most of the non-summit walking, it felt like easily the the best trail conditions in all of Maine. The 100-mile Wilderness … not really so wild after all.

    At the final summit of White Cap, we were greeted with a momentous view – the first up-close and clear view of Katahdin. We weren’t exactly sure if the giant peak in from of us was her, as it’s still 65 miles away by trail … but a group vote agreed it was too big not to be. Google maps swayed the vote by telling us it was only 25 miles away as the crow flies. So, if that’s true, it looks monstrous and beautiful. I tried pointing it out in the cover photo above.

    There was also another surprise atop most of today’s summits … blueberries! And lots of them. This time I filled up my cup and enjoyed a sweet afternoon snack in the sun. Man do I love me some mountain berries. Especially since I’m a bit light on snacks in my food bag this time.

    From here on out it is pretty flat and manageable, like gliding a plane in for landing. The last of the big challenges are behind me and only one more important one remains ahead. Over the next 3 days, I’ll get many more views of Katahdin from the small hills or lakes I traverse, as it comes closer and closer into view. Then, to the top!

    Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

    • Start Mile: 2097.0
    • Start Time: 07:15
    • End Mile: 2119.5
    • End Time: 18:30
    • Miles Hiked: 22.5
    • Miles to Go: 71.4
    • Lodging: Logan Brook Lean-to

    Day 140: Stealth Campsite

    Day 140. After a nice evening bonfire at Shaw’s last night, it started to rain hard. This was the 4th separate time it poured yesterday, confirming my wise decision to Zero at the hostel. But this morning was blue skies and sunshine, everything the soul needs for a great day in the trail. Well, that and a hearty breakfast … which Shaw’s also delivers well. Honestly, this may be a top 3 hostel from the whole journey. Up there with Woods Hole in Pearisburg and the Hiker Hut in Rangeley.

    As discussed yesterday, a small army of us NOBOs all descended on the 100-Mile Wilderness together this morning. I’ve talked about this section many times in the last few days, so let me explain. These miles are no more or less difficult than the previous, they just lack any public access. I thought perhaps the AT here would be overgrown and poorly groomed, but that is not the case. The trail is the same, with similar mountains, lakes, and conditions to the prior miles of Maine … the difference is, you can’t escape them. No way out but through. You still cross dirt roads at times, but they are private, and cars wanting to gain access need to pay a fee to do so. There are no towns to stop in, no trail magic to anticipate, and no good resupply options available. It’s just you in the woods until the end.

    There are two ways to resupply halfway through, but both are pretty expensive. The first option is to have a hostel in Maine drop food for you at a predetermined location, which will cost you between $50 and $80 dollars. The second option is an expensive private hunting camp hostel called White House Landing. You could stay there too, but most accounts I’ve read put any stop there at over $100/person when added up.

    Fortunately, most NOBOs can get through these 100 miles in 4-5 days, which is our plan. So we all packed the full food amount, with no need for either resupply option. Near the trailhead, an ominous sign warns you to bring 10 day’s food (photo above), but I’m guessing that’s meant for non-thruhikers. After 1 day hiking, I have no doubt we’ll get through this as quickly as expected, if not faster. We took a group photo at the trailhead, then jumped in.

    Today’s 20 miles were great in the cool sunny weather. It is a bit chilly at night while I type this, but the day was gorgeous. I managed to fall 2 more times on the slick slate rocks, bringing my total to 10 … but who’s counting? It was still pretty wet everywhere from yesterday’s rain. We also had to cross 3 different rivers. Each was about 20 feet wide and between calf and thigh deep in areas. I managed to carefully rock hop 2 of them, but did have to ford the other. That was a fun time, as it was pretty fast moving water and near a waterfall. Someone got a photo of me crossing but I need to get it from them.

    The only real challenge today was at the end, climbing up a pretty steep Barren Mountain. However, halfway up was a rest area with one of the most spectacular views I’ve seen in Maine. No Katahdin sighting (that comes tomorrow), but a breathtaking landscape over a big lake that would be a dream to live on. A friendly SOBO hiker walked up just as I arrived, so he took a fantastic photo for me (below).

    From there it was another couple miles down to the gap between Barren and the fourth peak of the Chairback Mountain Range we take on tomorrow (4 successive climbs). We are stealth camping near a stream/bog here because the other option is a shelter 0.4 miles off trail. and it’s plenty big to hold the 6 tents of our large group. We all sort of hiked together today, though everyone else passed by that ledge vista quickly, so I was the last into camp. I simply had a hard time leaving such a great view so soon, and wanted to take it in for as long as possible.

    Side note, less than 100 miles left!

    Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

    • Start Mile: 2076.4
    • Start Time: 08:15
    • End Mile: 2097.0
    • End Time: 05:20
    • Miles Hiked: 20.6
    • Miles to Go: 93.9
    • Lodging: Stealth Site (near Fourth Mountain Bog)

    Day 139: Monson Zero Day

    Day 139. Reflection Day, more accurately.

    Today was a typical town zero day, except for one thing. Everyone here was very aware of, and conscious of, it being our last town stop before finishing. There is still the town of Millinocket at the end, but when you get there your hike is over. Your thruhike is over. You are no longer a thruhiker. You are just a normal person again, day-hiking in Baxter State Park, and figuring out how to get home.

    That weighs heavily on all of us out here. We still have 114.5 miles left, and at least 5 days in the woods, but the magic of the journey is coming to an end. The reality of it being behind us now all too real. We hiked up Springer Mountain, the Smoky Mountains, the Green Mountains, and the White Mountains. We traversed the Roan Highlands, Shenandoah, and Rocksylvania. We visited Fontana Dam, Hot Springs, Damascus, Harpers Ferry, Duncannon, Delaware Water Gap, Fort Montgomery, and Hanover. We crossed the Potomac, Hudson, Delaware, Connecticut and Kennebec Rivers. We walked for over 2,000 miles through 14 states.

    And now we are at the end.

    The destination is vey real now and the allure of this experience that we have spent weeks, months, years or lifetimes preparing for is at its conclusion. Because of that, there was a lot of chatter around the hostel today about what’s next. People booking plane tickets, scheduling job interviews, coordinating family meet ups, etc. The real world is quite literally waiting for us on the other side of this 100-mile wilderness, and there’s no avoiding the impending entrance back to our former lives. We’ll be different of course, but the rest of our world won’t have changed as much alongside us.

    Because of those creeping thoughts, the typical eagerness and excitement to get moving was muted. None of us really have any reason to rush out the door and get on to the trail, and so few people did. Almost everyone took a zero day here in Monson … if for no other reason than to savor as much time in this alternate universe life we’ve been granted these past 5 months that we can. And to hold on to it for just one day longer.

    We watched a movie, walked around town, ate (a lot), took naps, resupplied food, packed up gear, sat around a bonfire, and did all the normal hiker things … just a step slower than usual. Wait, what? This is my last resupply?! I better go to all 3 stores in Monson and make sure I get exactly what I want for my meals.

    All that being said, we want to cross that finish line. We want to get there and triumphantly pose at the sign atop Katahdin for photos, to celebrate in Millinocket with friends, and to close out the last chapter of this book.

    I’ve spent the better part of 18 years planning, outfitting and preparing for this hike. It has been the only item on my bucket list for as long as I’ve had a bucket list. I read countless books, journals, testimonials, and articles about the Appalachian Trail. I watched movies, documentaries, and YouTube channels of past hikes. I planned out every day I would have when I get out there myself, and I have now lived 95% of that dream to its fullest. I am ready to walk into the woods one final time and come out at the base of my goal. I am ready to have my amazing experience come to and end, and I am ready to finish my thruhike of the Appalachian Trail.

    Side note, these thoughts may all be in my head and shared by no one else here, but I somehow doubt it’s just me…

    Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

    • Start Mile: 2076.4
    • Start Time: 00:00
    • End Mile: 2076.4
    • End Time: 00:00
    • Miles Hiked: 0.0
    • Miles to Go: 114.5
    • Lodging: Shaw’s Hiker Hostel

    Day 138: Monson, ME

    Day 138. I wish I would have taken a photo of my shelter setup last night. I didn’t think of it until I had already packed up, but it was quite the sight. Picture this: me warmly nestled into my quilt in the far corner of the Lean-to, two ropes hanging above my feet with everything hung up to dry. socks, short, pants, underwear, shoes, rain gear, backpack … everything. It’s a good thing I put my gear inside a dry bag within my backpack, because that was soaked through as well. A backpack rain cover can only do so much in a storm of that magnitude.

    But all is well! My extra clothes were dry, as was my quilt, so I slept great. Though, funny story … So, apparently I move around a lot while I sleep. I toss and turn often throughout the night, and doing so somehow causes my pad to shift down and to the left throughout the night. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night to find I am literally hanging a foot off the edge of the raised shelter floor, and gently rubbing up against the sleeping hiker next to me. I don’t understand how my rolling over can move me (and my bed) in the same direction every time, but it definitely does … constantly while I sleep. I’m usually able to reposition myself before any spooning happens with a neighbor, usually.

    Last night was a packed shelter, so I warned Traveler not to be surprised, and to push me away if he wakes to find me invading his personal space. And not to get any romantic ideas! It’s a funny phenomenon that I can’t explain, though it does strengthen my reasoning for hammocking as often as possible. I woke up and moved myself back to the corner about 6 times throughout the night.

    In the morning, i took my time getting ready. Everyone else was gone by 7am, but with such an easy day ahead of me, I casually packed and ate until 8. It was going to be a beautiful sunny day, and flat as a pancake as I followed a river to the town of Monson. I figured I would likely average over 3mph the whole way, so had no need to rush out early, and I was right.

    The trail was as easy as I had seen the last couple day’s, but now with almost no elevation change. Maybe a 30 foot climb here or there, but that was really it. I did have to ford the river a couple times, but given the day’s heat, I did not mind at all. The cool water was refreshing on my bare feet and calves as I walked across, and they quickly dried again in the hot sun. There were supposed to be many of these river crossings in Maine, but the water has been so low thus far that I really haven’t had to walk across anything deep until now. There was one other ford crossing, and that was pretty much the excitement for the day. I had lunch at a shelter, then reached the highway to Monson around 2:30.

    Monson is a small but heavily hiker-supported town. There are s few hostels, a general store/deli, gas station, and a couple restaurants (though both were closed today). I am staying at a huge hostel called Shaw’s, which can hold a couple dozen hikers indoors, and more in an overflow tenting area. And it’s full. I called yesterday to make a reservation and I’m glad I did, or I’d be tenting outside under my tarp.

    Since this is the first town and resupply stop for SOBO hikers, Shaw’s is also a makeshift outfitter. Their barn is converted to a storefront, with every hiker food imaginable for sale inside. They also sell every piece of gear you could need, including backpacks, pads, bags, poles and more. I’m guessing they make a killing from the SOBO crowd wanting to swap out poorly chosen gear for lighter (more expensive) alternatives. Similar to Mountain Crossings back at Neels Gap in Georgia, where I eagerly dropped $160 for hiking poles (best purchase decision ever).

    My bunkmates from last night’s shelter are also enjoying Shaw’s tonight, as well as some old familiar faces. We sat discussing the 100-mile Wilderness plan with each other and decided to all go through together. To finish this thing out as a group. Some of the group have been hiking together for most of the journey already, but me and some others decided to join in as well. In total, it will be me, Traveler, Honey, Moon, Candy, Mr. Perfect, and No Need. In addition, it seems likely Treefall, Stumbles, and Candyman will join as well, though they haven’t decided yet.

    In addition, we are taking a Zero tomorrow. Besides it being our last trail town to rest in and enjoy, it’s going to thunderstorm all day. No thanks on that one, I’ve learned my lesson. We routed out the last 115 miles and realized that we can easily arrive at and summit Katahdin on July 23rd. If weather is bad that day, the 24th.

    I’m looking forward to finishing with a group, as it was how I started this journey and it feels right to end it that way too. They are all very nice hikers, similar in style and age to me, so I’m glad to join them. I will likely still hike alone, unless our paces match, but there will at least be shelter company. We also agreed every dry night will be a campfire night … another thing I haven’t done too much since the start of this adventure. I feel good, I’m happy to be on the verge of finishing, but am very much looking forward to a last rest day tomorrow out of the rain.

    Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

    • Start Mile: 2058.5
    • Start Time: 08:00
    • End Mile: 2076.4
    • End Time: 14:35
    • Miles Hiked: 17.9
    • Miles to Go: 114.5
    • Lodging: Shaw’s Hiker Hostel

    Day 137: Moxie Bald Mountain Lean-to

    Day 137. That Sterling Inn was really nice. I had a tough time leaving this morning, and would have probably enjoyed taking a day off there. But by 8am I was antsy to get moving again, so I knew there was no point in delaying my departure further. Plus, there were scattered thunderstorms in the forecast today, and I thought it best to get ahead of any weather troubles out on the trail.

    In retrospect, staying off the trail and Zeroing at the Sterling instead would have been significantly wiser.

    The rain hit around 9am, a heavy and constant flow from the sky that saturated all my rain gear instantly. But I pushed onward, determined to get to the Pleasant Pond Shelter for a chance to dry off and snack. It was only a couple miles and I arrived around 10am, soaking wet but happy. To be honest, it wasn’t that bad hiking in the morning showers. The trail was nice and the rain helped mute the smell of fir trees that have been overwhelming me the past few days.

    Fir trees are everywhere in the NE. They look a lot like pine trees or spruce trees, and provide the soft needles that layer the trail so kindly up here. They don’t smell like pine or spruce though, instead they give off a strong scent like that of a persimmon fruit. I used to like that smell, but not so much after weeks of it being the only odor for miles a day. So, some rain to dilute that nauseating scent was welcomed.

    I took a nice long break in the shelter and the rain soon let up, so I walked on. Pretty soon, it clearer up completely, and the sun came out to greet me atop one of the 2 climbs in today’s hike. I laid my rain gear out to dry in the sun on the mostly exposed summit … and then I saw them.

    Blueberries! Ripe, fresh, sweet and welcoming blueberry bushes lined the top of Pleasant Pond Mountain, just waiting to be picked. Mountain berries have a special place in my heart, so this required some immediate foraging. It wasn’t enough to fill up a bottle or anything, but I was able to collect a couple big handfuls and enjoyed my treat in the sun (photo above).

    I walked slowly down the other side of the mountain (only a 1,500 foot elevation change over 5 miles), and then stopped for lunch at the next Lean-to before my final climb of the day. This was looking to be the nicest 20 mile day in weeks, I was feeling very good as I threw my pack on again, ready to head out. But then I heard thunder. And the sun very quickly fell behind grey skies.

    Now, a much wiser man than me would either wait out an impending storm in the comfort of that shelter, or just call it a night and setup a bed right then and there. As you can probably guess, I was not that wiser man. I thought to myself, “Its only 4 miles up and over Moxie Bald Mountain to the shelter on the other side. I can do that in an hour and a half and be safe and dry, long before anything hits.”

    I’ve been thinking I’d like to convert this blog to a book when I finish. If I do, I’m going to title it, “Wrong Again: What Not to Do on the Appalachian Trail.”

    I’m seriously sorry in advance to my wife, parents, in-laws, and future children for what you will read next. It was an ignorant and stubborn decision that could have ended very badly (even if it does make for a good story). Today’s lesson is a simple one kids, if you hear thunder in the mountains … DO NOT CLIMB UP TOWARDS IT!!

    It was just 2 miles up and 2 miles down. Easy peasy, I thought. It started to rain lightly about half way up, and when I reached the very exposed 2,800 foot summit, the thunder was much now deafening. The view atop the mountain was spectacular, and I could literally see the storm moving across the valley towards me (photo below).

    Just then, I saw a flash of lightning in the distant storm cloud. Using the tried and true method of counting the seconds until thunder, I estimated the focus of the storm to be 8 miles away. Still, seeing lightning scared me enough to het moving. Unfortunately, this particular mountain has a nice 1 mile stretch of exposed summit .. which under normal circumstances would be beautiful, but for my current situation felt deadly. To be on a high peak, above tree line, watching a storm approach .. and carrying aluminum poles in each hand, was about as dangerous a situation as you could put yourself in out here.

    I moved along the ridge, hastening my pace, but either my 8 mile estimate was way off or that storm moved fast. Five minutes later (still on the exposed ridge), the rain tripled its force, and added pea-sized hail to its now torrential downpour. I stopped to quickly put on my rain coat and looked up just as a bolt of lighting crashed through the sky, striking the ground not 100 feet from me. Thunder clapped at the same exact instant, and I knew without a doubt that I was now in very serious trouble. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen an actual lightning strike before, but I won’t forget that terror any time soon.

    Now I was running. Full speed down the ridge of smooth granite slabs, desperate to get below tree line immediately. I had no concern for slipping on the wet rock, and although I fell twice, bounced up instantly and sprinted on. I ran past continuous rock cairns marking the path, through nonstop puddles of collected rain and hail stones, and amidst countless more booms of deafening thunder. Someone had pissed off these mountain gods, and they were taking their anger out on me.

    After 15 minutes of sprinting, I was finally low enough to feel safe. Of course this was also when the storm started to clear, so I slowed my run to a light jog and tried to catch my breath. I had literally been on top for the very worst of it!

    A mile later I walked into the Lean-to campsite, soaking wet but ecstatic to see room for me under the dry shelter. Sitting under the comfort of the roof, I hung all my clothes and gear to dry while I retold my daring stupid story to Traveler, Honey, Moon, and Candy that were already there. They had come in long before the storm, and kindly made room for me to sleep. A few hours later, 4 more NOBO hikers strolled in (Stumbles, Candyman, and two I don’t know). I seem to be the only moron in the group, as everyone else was wise/lucky enough to avoid that climb in a thunderstorm. Oops.

    I cooked dinner and laid down to rest, thinking to myself that besides hiking through an electric storm, and nearly dying in the process … it was actually a pretty nice day. 🙂

    Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

    • Start Mile: 2039.7
    • Start Time: 08:15
    • End Mile: 2058.5
    • End Time: 16:10
    • Miles Hiked: 18.8
    • Miles to Go: 132.4
    • Lodging: Moxie Bald Mountain Lean-to

    Day 136: Caratunk, ME

    Day 136. This northern Maine terrain is something else. A couple days ago, I’m trudging up impossibly steep mountains with nothing to hold on to, and now I’m running down well-groomed trails of soft needles. The Appalachian Trail sometimes, I just don’t know. Do I love it or hate it? More often the former, though too close to call some weeks.

    My 10 mile hike today went way quicker than I expected. We didn’t actually get up in time for the sunrise, but I was packed up and on the go by 6:30. After that, it was a very casual and very swift romp through the woods in just 3 hours. I wasn’t even trying to speed, but I averaged nearly 3.5 mph the whole way by taking leisurely steps. It helped that most of the trail followed a flattened path around lakes and streams, providing almost no elevation change. And at times, there were even stretches with no rocks or roots to stub my toes on. I was amazed to realize I could look up and see the forest most of the time. That felt oddly unusual …

    After passing many beautiful ponds and waterfalls, I quickly arrived at the Kennebec River around 9:30am. I was even able to stop and appreciate many of the woodland and waterway views as well. I was especially amazed at a section of the trail that walked along a man-made dam on the edge of Pierce Pond (below).

    When I reached the river, I found a line of people all waiting for the ferry. At two passengers per voyage, it is not the most efficient vessel during rush hour. The ferry captain (canoeist) took people back and forth from one side to the other, battling the growing force of winds on the 500 foot wide river passage. The Kennebec is huge, especially where the trail crosses it, as it is the joining of both another river and an upstream lake. And it’s deep too, as I towed across, I saw the middle to be at least 15 feet deep. No, you cannot ford this river. And with the rushing speed of water and waves, you definitely can’t swim it either.

    Unfortunately, not everyone respects the danger of this river. In talking to our captain, I learned someone did die already trying to swim it this year. Future hikers, don’t be dumb, don’t try to cross this river on your own. It is so dangerous in fact, that you have to sign a waiver form just to get in the canoe for your lift across.

    One positive spin on this whole death trap thing though, the canoe ferry is officially considered part of the AT, as is signified by the white blaze on the bottom of the boat. If you want to be pure to every inch of the trail, the ferry is the trail to take. I had to get a picture of that (below) before thanking our oarsman and moving on (cover photo).

    After that, it was a nice leisurely walk up a short hill to “town”. The township of Caratunk is basically a few houses (one of which is a Hostel), a B&B, and a couple white water rafting companies. Each rafting company has a restaurant/bar attached to it, but all these structures are a few minute’s drive from each other. I tried to get a bed at the Caratunk House hostel, the one place within walking distance … but they were full. So, instead I am lodging at the Sterling Inn B&B a few miles south. Both were nice, though the latter is definitely a step up for roughly the same price. I decided to splurge and get a private room fo $45 instead of a bed in the shared bunk room for $30. The trip is almost over, I think I can pamper myself a bit now.

    The Sterling Inn is very nice, and has its own little general store for resupply to boot. They sell everything a thruhiker could need, and at decent prices, so I bought a couple days of food for my next leg of the hike. Only 2 days to Monson and the entry point of the 100-mile wilderness. After shopping, I took a leisurely nap, watched some TV, and jumped on a shuttle to the Kennebec Brewery for dinner. Decent food, fantastic beer … but crowded with rafting tourists.

    The night ended with a group viewing of the final film of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in the Inn’s living room … I won’t waste your time explaining why this franchise is an AT hiker favorite, as any of my readers can surely see the similarity of my hike to Frodo’s march on Mordor and Mt. Doom. Seriously, it’s a great comparison and every AT hiker knows it well.

    After the past week, Caratunk was a welcomed day of rest and relaxation. My ankles and knees needed a break to strengthen up again, and my soul needed some hot food and cold beer to recharge. Tomorrow morning I head out again, and I feel ready to take on what’s next. Only 150 miles to go! Inching forever forward, one day at a time….

    Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

    • Start Mile: 2029.4
    • Start Time: 06:25
    • End Mile: 2039.7
    • End Time: 09:30
    • Miles Hiked: 10.3
    • Miles to Go: 151.2
    • Lodging: Sterling Inn (Caratunk, ME)