Day mileage: 30
AT total mileage: 2,166.6
AT mileage remaining: 18.7
Time: 9.5 hours
I woke up at 5 AM and immediately decided against doing anything. Rolling back over and closing my eyes again, I was able to get another hour of sleep before the two gentlemen I shared the shelter with started waking up. The rain had stopped as the night carried on, leaving us with a damp forest and relatively clear skies. Speaking with Roman Goat and Owl, two section hikers in their mid-60s, they were eager to talk about my hike and equally excited to tell me about theirs. Per usual they had comments about my mileage, but at that point in my morning I wasn't too interested in in-depth conversation so I politely ended my involvement and went back to sleep. An hour later I woke up to an empty shelter, about the same time that hunger set in. Having eaten a minimal amount the day before due to the discomfort in my stomach, I was happy to find myself two Pop-Tarts to eat. I reluctantly packed up my gear and headed for the trail, wrapping new duct tape around my shoes to facilitate their staying put on my feet as I hiked. It was about this time that I realized the feeling of sickness the day before might not have been a one day thing and instead began wondering if I had a stomach bug of sorts.
The terrain for the day was relatively fair, initially comprised of nearly 10 miles of flat terrain before climbing up and over the 1,500' peak of Nesantabunt Mountain. Despite the level terrain of those first ten miles, I was frustrating the hell out of myself with my inability to hike at a decent speed. Between my body feeling exceptionally uncomfortable and the incessant presence of rocks and roots, I felt taunted by the trail, knowing I should be able to hike at over 3 mph and yet incapable of anything over 2. Negotiating the tricky terrain exhausted me, constantly analyzing each foot of trail and choosing the path of least resistance for my feet to tuck into. The Trail cut around lakes of all sizes, at some points walking down sandy beaches as the immaculately clear water washed up on shore . Shortly before beginning the climb up Nesantabunt I crossed over a sand and rock covered beach, disappearing back into the woods on the other side and coming across an interesting discovery as I went along. Hardly noticeable, nestled into a ditch on the side of the trail was what appeared to be some pieces of sheet metal. Being an investigative type, I wandered off the trail to look at whatever it was, discovering a flipped over flare-side pick up truck that likely has resided here for decades. The truck never appeared to have been torched, but was surrounded by empty Pepsi cans, a few beer cans, and random parts of the vehicle. The mature tree growth around it is what led me to believe it's been there for an incredible sum of years, as I don't physically see how someone could get it in there and flip it over with the state of the forest around it now. A pretty cool trip back in time, I snapped some photos and slowly hiked on towards the mountain's peak. Although the climb was only 1,000 feet or so it was rather steep, and I found myself taking frequent breaks to facilitate making it to the top alive. The driving motivation behind this climb is the fact that upon reaching the top there is a side trail to a vista where Katahdin can be seen for the first time. There are a few peaks further south on the trail that claim to have views, however with the cloud cover and storms I'd experienced over the past days none of them were visible to me, leaving this one spot and its 16 mile line-of-sight view to be my first glimpse of the mountain I've walked so far to see. Sure enough with the gorgeously blue sky as the background, I laid my eyes on Katahdin and had a bit of a moment with myself. Having chased this view for 2,150 miles and finally resting my eyes upon it, it was a rather amazing experience. I lingered for a while and tried to eat some food before carrying on, beginning the descent down and passing by a few SOBO section hikers.
The rest of the afternoon wasn't horribly difficult, again returning to more level but rocky terrain. I constantly struggled with keeping my shoes taped up well, and simply meandered on with the trail. I passed by many more small lakes nestled into the woods, some of which were sprinkled with "hidden" canoes that locals have hiked in with for remote access to the water when they please. Some have owner's names on them and are locked, while others just sit in the woods in decaying shape, awaiting the next person to take them out onto the water. Had I been with the group at this point, I'm almost entirely sure we would have stopped to go canoeing much like what we did in Vermont a few weeks prior, but as I was by myself I simply smiled at the thought and hiked on. I came across the Rainbow Stream lean-to around 1730hrs, a small 6-person that was occupied by one southbound hiker when I arrived. Situated next to a stream it was a great place to get water, and I took a while to sit and filter three liters while again trying to eat something before carrying on. The SOBO seemed to be a bit of a mess with his organization and gear, and I offered advice where I thought it was necessary. He wasn't entirely sure he'd be able to complete the trail either physically or monetarily, but I encouraged him to keep hiking as long as it made him happy, regardless of how many miles he hiked a day. Meanwhile I was preparing to trek on, still with 11 or so miles to hike before my day would be over. The interesting thing for me these past few days is the mileage I hike versus that of the SOBO hikers. Identical to how I was on my first day, they hike 8-12 miles. It has been eyeopening to compare that to how I hike now, more often than not hiking 10+ miles a day after dinner. The trail truly has built me into a machine of hiking, though at this point I wasn't exactly feeling up to snuff so I was more alike the Oz's Tin Man of hiking. Walking into the night would be inevitable, a fact I embraced as I knew it would be my last night on the Appalachian Trail. I was getting to the point where I'd be doing many "lasts", from hiking at night to spending nights in shelters, the realization that the trail would be ending soon was setting in. The terrain would continue to be fair for the next 8 or so miles, leaving me with one more climb up and over the Rainbow Ledges, a lovely rocky bald mountain of sorts - not to discredit it, however the ledges reside at a measly 1,500 feet tall - featured spectacular views of the mountains in Baxter State Park, and Katahdin herself. As I stood atop the Ledges, I had the delightful opportunity to peruse around and pick fresh blueberries from the plants that were scattered about the trail. Though I knew I should have been continuing walking in order to not hike too late into the night, I lingered for quite a while picking blueberries and staring up across the mountain to the summit of Katahdin. Knowing that tomorrow I'd be sleeping at the base of the mountain I'd walked so far to be at was a rather humbling thought. As dusk settled in over Rainbow Ledges I affixed my headlamp and trekked on towards the Hurd Brook lean-to. Nestled by a riverbed some two miles down from the peak of the Ledges, I arrived at the shelter shortly after 2100hrs and was elated to find space in the shelter to set my bed up.
Despite having walked another 30 miles today, I felt absolutely no urge to cook or eat anything, instead simply nibbling on some Combos pretzel snacks and retiring to bed. After a bit of finicking I was able to get a secure grip with duct tape to keep my shoes on. Although there's a fair bit of pain from the lack of blood circulation in my feet due to how tight the tape is, I'll actually be sleeping with my shoes on because I'm running out of duct tape. I unzipped my sleeping bag to use it more as a blanket, allowing my feet to hang over the edge of the shelter floor while I try and sleep. With 13 miles to hike tomorrow, I'll see my parents by the time I go to bed 24 hours from now. It should be an easy trek into Baxter State Park, but we'll see what the morning brings.
The end is near. Onwards & upwards for one of the last times.