Day mileage: 12.6
AT total mileage: 2,185.3
AT mileage remaining: 0
Time: 7 hours (4.5 to summit)
I completed the Appalachian Trail.
Unfortunately, it wasn't an event full of fanfare, rainbows, and unicorns. Fighting a full fledged waterborne illness I had a tough time sleeping well, and would be faced with an exceptionally tough day of hiking. Physically drained of energy and in no mood whatsoever to hike (despite the end being so near) I slept in, rolling over and exchanging disinterested looks with Santa more than once. In this regard I was frustrated with myself; here I am with 7.3 miles to the summit of the finale of my hike, the last peak of a dream hike, and I had absolutely no interest in actually hiking. We meandered around the cabin for an hour or so slowly packing up our gear for the last time. The benefit of climbing Katahdin is that park rangers really frown upon thru-hikers taking their full packs, instead encouraging day packs or lightened loads. This may seem wrong to some of you, and initially did to me, having come all this way carrying everything to then summit the last mountain with less than all of my gear... but today, it was a blessing to not really be allowed to carry everything. Santa and I each filled up trash bag with our 'non-essential' gear, leaving only a few items each in our backpacks. I'd take along my sleeping bag, food (despite knowing I'd barely eat), a headlamp, rain jacket and insulating layer and a fair amount of water. Though it would be a quick hike of 'up and back', a weird concept given the fact that I've solely walked forwards for 3 and a half months, it was still crucial to carry enough gear to be able to spend the night or wait for medical help if necessary. Ideally, it wouldn't be necessary in any way shape or form.
Packing up the last of our gear and almost begrudgingly heading towards the car, my mom and Dana dropped the three of us off at the trailhead where I'd stopped hiking the day before. From the Daicey Pond campground sign where I got off the trail it was just over 2 miles to Katahdin Stream Campground where the trail began the ascent of Katahdin. Though it would have been tough to tell in the moment, simply due to my lack of interest in anything whatsoever, I was ecstatic that my dad would be hiking along with us for the day. This would be the fourth time total on trail he'd come out to hike along, a perfect bookend to having been there for my summit of Springer Mountain in Georgia some 2,185.3 miles ago. His eagerness was enough to partly counteract the horribly low moral Santa and I shared. We meandered over a picturesque little two mile section of trail between Daicey and Katahdin Springs campgrounds, and my dad was able to get a good idea of the rooted, rocky, boggy sections that Maine was comprised of. Crossing through KSC (Katahdin Springs Campground) we went by the ranger station in order to sign in for our thru-hiker numbers. It's common to register as a thru-hiker with the ranger station before beginning your ascent, at which point they'll assign your our thru-hiker number for the current year. Unfortunately the ranger station was locked and unmanned, and we were instructed by a passing employee to simply visit after summiting. We turned back around and headed back towards the trail, beginning our ascent of Katahdin at shortly after 10:30. The first mile or so of trail was relatively basic, rocky but gently sloped, and was easy for me to carry two miles an hour on although there was a decent gap between Santa, my dad, and myself. A mile in we passed by a sign marking 4.2 miles to the summit, Baxter Peak, and the trail began to be a bit more challenging. To clarify, Katahdin is comprised of 5 separate peaks, with the Appalachian Trail terminating atop Baxter Peak. We crossed a wooden bridge over the gorgeous waterfalls of Katahdin Stream, with picturesque blue water flowing rapidly beneath us. Making a quick pit stop at the very last privy on the Appalachian Trail, we then continued on up a rocky staircase that kicked off the beginning of the real 'climb'. After a mile of more moderate terrain with the occasional boulder scramble, we emerged above the tree line and were greeted with the first bit of what would become many hours of almost technical bouldering. In just one mile of trail we would gain over 2,000 feet of vertical elevation, scrambling over gargantuan boulders laid to rest who knows how many millennia ago when the tectonic plates were having a field day with each other. This part of the day nearly killed me. I couldn't physically go more than a few hundred feet at a time without needing to stop and almost catch my breath. The physical energy I possessed for the day was already low, but this climb was pushing me over my own limits. I cannot begin to tell you how frustrating this was for me. What made me feel a but better was the fact that Santa wasn't feeling that great either, so I wasn't the only one who was miserable on the trail. My dad made a funny but on-point comment, stating that Santa and I were at the same time the strongest and weakest hikers on the mountain. On any other day I'd have flown up this peak in no time whatsoever, but today was not my day. Literally climbing up for nearly an hour and a half we finally crossed over a southern peak of Katahdin, crossing into the Tablelands, a large and comparatively flat area of the hike that is comprised of large rocks to hop between for the remaining two miles of trail. By this point I was quite literally exhausted, moving lethargically and generally pretty miserable. It wasn't until I looked up and realized that The Sign was in sight that my mood completely flipped. In that one instant I yelled out to Santa to confirm what I thought I saw, and upon his confirmation I broke into a flat run towards the final point of the trail. Reaching the summit and bursting through a crowd of day hikers, I threw my arms around the 4 foot wide wooden sign and kissed it profusely. Although I'm sure a handful of day hikers knew why I was acting this affectionately towards the inanimate object, I do believe that the majority looked at me almost as strangely as the large masses barbecuing in Bear Mountain State Park (New York) back on that lovely Sunday in June.
This beautifully weathered piece of wood was the object of my affection, the focal point of dreams and aspirations, for well over a year before we actually met each other. Like a recurring dream it was simply the kind of thing I'd find myself thinking about randomly and anxiously wanting to see. Here in this moment it was right in front of me, a tangible object I could run my fingers over and be photographed with. This sign is the pinnacle point for hikers who complete the trail. The photograph next to those brilliantly carved words is the memento we all crave to have as our own. Here and now, this was a possibility for me. Every possible photo imaginable was snapped as we stood there, Santa joining me, shuffling around outfits and poses. As you'll see below there are a few great shots of us up there. At this point all the miserable feeling in my body was either subconsciously ignored or just completely forgotten. It's nearly impossible to tell you my favorite part of this time atop Katahdin. Drinking a cold Sam Adams in my Mt. Katahdin pilsner glass? Loudly playing Zac Brown Band's live rendition of America the Beautiful and Chicken Fried on my external speaker? Having Santa, a trail friend for life, there with me after all the debate as to whether or not he would make it? My dad, a driving force in my hike and an absolute inspiration to me throughout my life, standing there with me some 2,185.3 miles after standing by at the summit of Springer Mountain? The combination of these things truly made for the most picturesque summit imaginable, and though it could have been rainy or cloudy, we instead were accompanied by gorgeously blue skies and scattered whispy clouds. It was quite perfect.
Descending Katahdin was a lot better than climbing it. The honeymoon feeling with the Appalachian Trail continued on again as I climbed down, flying over the Tablelands and then dropping down into the steep boulder fields. Taking care with the negotiation of our bodies and packs between these mammoth rocks, we dropped below tree level relatively quickly. All in all we would descend the mountain in half the time it took us to ascend. We quite literally ran by most of the day hiking groups headed back to their cars, hearing comments after we politely passed by and thanked them about how fast we were. With my dad leading us down we were back at the campground shortly after 1700hrs where Dana, my mom, and Sue (Santa's mom) met us with open arms and congratulations. Lingering in the park eating homemade cookies and rehydrating we made plans to meet for dinner in Millenoket, the small town nearly half an hour outside of the park where we each had hotel rooms for the night. Before leaving we signed in at the ranger station where I was officially declared the 81st thru-hiker to finish in 2014. Not bad, if I may say so myself. Likely within the top 10% of the year when all is said and done, every NOBO & SOBO hikers completed and accounted for. We left Baxter Park and headed towards town, stopping by a pharmacy to grab some shampoo and body wash for me to use in the shower. This would literally be the first time I'd shower since New Hampshire, after hiking over 300 miles in 12 days through horribly humid days and more than a few rain storms. To say that I smelled like a mix of decomposing human body and cat pee wouldn't be too far off from the truth. A long shower wasn't in order as we had to meet for dinner, but the 5 minutes I got back at the Inn were quite possibly the greatest 5 minutes I can remember in recent days. Dinner was at a local place in town with the four of us along with Santa and his mom. Though I wanted to have the appetite of a thru-hiker, I was full after a cup of Clam Chowder, leaving me with more than one takeout box. I was back to feeling pretty horrible and as we returned back to the Inn I simply climbed into bed.
The Appalachian Trail is now over for me. In 114 days (109 of hiking, 5 zero days) I hiked 2,185.3 miles from Georgia to Maine. It was quite strange to hike down from the summit, all the while knowing that mileage didn't count... It sounds funny, but when you think about it I've spent just over 3 and a half months following maps and their exact mileage. The A.T. doesn't keep going from the summit down to the parking lot where you began, it simply terminates atop the mountain. The remaining 5.3 miles back to the campground don't count for anything. Those miles don't get me closer to anything except the reality of returning back to the world. I'm ecstatic to have finished, and though I wanted to be done under 110 days I think I got the best of both worlds. In the end I still summited over 5 weeks earlier than I originally imagined, and did it with a friend and my dad there with me. Think about that- I walked quickly enough for long enough that I shaved 36 days of hiking out of my trip. It blows my mind. In the coming days I'll be visiting the doctors and having blood work done to scan for any signs of Lyme or other diseases that may have presented themselves after my time in the woods. Medication will be started for gihardia, and hopefully that can be taken care of quickly. Though I have no interest in it right now, having just completed the mountain, I'll be returning in 5 days with Santa to resummit the mountain with the group we departed from 250 miles ago. I'll undoubtedly blog about that trip, and then of course the the finale blog post, a summation of my thoughts and experiences. There may also be one more with the statistics of my trip, for those interested in the breakdown of the finances and mileage of my trip - I like the numbers so I for one will be interested in seeing how everything worked out.
That was it. That was the Appalachian Trail. Thanks for tagging along, I truly hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I'll look forward to hearing from any of you interested in writing in when all is said and done and the Summation post is written. For now I'm going to rest, eat, and reacquaint myself with the real world.
Onwards & upwards... Sort of.