Shortly after lunch on Thursday (07/31) I left Boston and drove up to Wells, ME to pick Santa up. The plan, as I'd so concocted nearly a month prior, was to drive up to Baxter State Park and re-summit Katahdin with Rocket Girl, Dorothy, and Legs when they finished the Trail. It was hard to imagine that this was now a reality, all that time had passed, and even harder to imagine again driving the 6 hours north into Maine where the gargantuan mountain resides. I had packed up the basics of gear: a sleeping bag, my backpack, basic food, my camera, and trekking poles. Oddly enough I had a hell of a time picking this gear out, going back and forth with myself over what was necessary to bring. After having spent 3 and a half months hiking I couldn't even decide what to bring on a day hike without debate. Doing my best to occupy a minimal amount of space in the trunk of my sedan I headed off to the Maine coast to retrieve my partner in crime from his family's summer beach house. A quick hour drive up on relatively empty highways, windows cracked and listening to upbeat music on a gorgeously picturesque summer day, and I was standing in the front yard of a 130 year old home that once was once the last home before the ocean, since having been surrounded by new developments as is such with most beach houses. I met Santa's family and was served a delicious cheeseburger he had cooked me as we sat on the front porch in rocking chairs and watched some stormy clouds roll in. Santa packed up and we departed a half hour later with the GPS set for our destination nearly five hours further north.
The only benefit to the drive up to Millenoket, the town just outside Baxter State Park, is the highway itself. Just outside of Bangor the road becomes two well paved lanes, nearly perfectly straight with few elevation changes, and a 75 mile per hour speed limit. Enthusiastically falling back in love with my car we cruised along at a comfortable speed for hours. Our intention was to find a parking lot just outside the park, fold down the rear seats, and sleep in our down bags stretched out into the trunk. At some point Legs called and informed us of a campsite they had reserved, meaning Santa and I could actually get into the park that night instead of waiting for the next morning. It took us quite a while to get there, arriving shortly after 2015hrs at Abol Campground's sight #24 where a half dozen wet hikers were sitting out in the rain. We greeted them, undoubtedly looking strange as Santa and I were dressed in jeans and khakis, a stark contrast to their soaking wet and stinky polyester layers. Hugs were exchanged by everyone, and comments were made about how gaunt Santa and I look after our physically demanding and detrimental push through the last 300 miles of the trail... mind you we haven't seen any of these people in nearly three weeks. As everyone retired to their tents Santa and I made ourselves at home in the back of the Audi, stretching out in the completely dry place where we would spend the night. Literally car camping, I had also packed along my iPad and we watched the quasi new Liam Neeson movie 'Non-Stop' before going to sleep. It rained intermittently throughout the night, but by the time we woke up the clouds had dispersed and solely blue skies remained. Eating a pop-tart breakfast in true hiker style, Santa and I then drove to Katahdin Springs Campground where the A.T. begins to climb the mountain, meeting the group as they got dropped off in the back of a park service truck.
Just like that, we were at the base of Katahdin again. With six days having passed, a decent amount of medication, and time to not be physically exhausting myself, it was almost exciting to be back. This hike would be a completely different summit than the first time, and between feeling healthy and being with friends, would likely be the one I'll choose to remember for years to come. If my dad could have been present, it'd have been an absolutely flawless day. We began the ascent with a steady speed as my knees reminded me of their recent discomfort, a sign I was nervous of this early in the day. Regardless I hiked on while listening to Rocket Girl joyfully provide a narrative of the trail. The excitement level of the group was unbelievable, and the miles passed quickly. Compared to the 4 hours it took me to summit Katahdin the first time, the group would find ourselves atop the mountain in just 2 and a half hours this time, having departed the base at 8:00. We passed by nearly a dozen separate groups of hikers ranging from families, Boy Scout troops, and couples out for day-hikes. If you remember, we were also planning on meeting Joules, Canary, Violet, Mary Posa, West, and Gentle Spirit to summit. They had left at 1 AM Friday morning to hike the trail in the dark in order to watch the sunrise from the summit. Meeting them at the top we took a million photographs in front of the Katahdin sign, ranging from individual photos to a group photo with nearly 20 completed thru-hikers. We hung out for nearly an hour and a half atop Katahdin, basking in the sunlight and jokingly cursing at the beautiful and occasional whispy clouds that would cross overhead. It was a beautiful day to (re)summit the mountain, and the company we shared was phenomenal. We began the hike down at noon and after a challenging descent over the same boulder fields we came up, as technical of a descent as it is a climb, and arrived back at the car shortly after 1430hrs. We were greeted by a group of NOBO finishers from the summit who were gathered around a picnic table with the aunt of a hiker named Guy On A Buffalo. We hung out drinking lemonade and eating homemade cranberry apple crisp before packing up the car, a challenge with 5 hikers worth of gear, and heading out of the park.
Originally our plans had been up in the air over what we would do upon finishing the mountain. As it played out we decided to drive back to the beach house in Wells to spend the night. The benefit would be a relaxed day Saturday, with the only drawback being the 5 hour drive to Santa's place on the ocean. The roads into Baxter State Park were not paved, and as such (being an anal retentive owner) I stopped by the car wash on our way out of town to rinse the layer of dirt off the car. We pulled onto the highway shortly after 1700hrs and cruised some 120 miles before pulling off to get dinner and gas. A side note, I was thrilled with the average gas mileage on the trip: 39 mpg on the way up with 2 occupants and gear, and 34 mpg on the way back with 5 occupants and gear... not bad at 75 miles an hour the whole time. Refilling the tank and grabbing dinner at a Subway franchise, we continued on with 2 more hours to kill. I drove into the night as we played upbeat pop music of years past, more often than not being serenaded by Rocket, Dorothy, and Legs in the backseat. We got to Santa's shortly before 2200hrs and were greeted by his mom who had laid out a spectacular platter of veggies and brownies, awaiting our arrival. I had some serious hip pain at this point, likely from the strenuous use throughout the day. Taking a quick shower and getting into bed, my day came to an end an hour after we arrived at the house.
Waking up Saturday morning was amazing, the smell of French toast wafting up from the kitchen downstairs. Santa's mom went out of her way to prepare a delicious deep-dish cinnamon French toast sprinkled with sugar and accompanied by crispy bacon, as well as fresh blueberries and strawberries. Over breakfast we spent a fair amount of time discussing plans for the day: a visit to a thrift shop for the 3 who have no clean clothing, some time by the beach, a drive into Boston to drop Dorothy off at the Greyhound terminal, and meeting Legs' parents back at my folks' later tonight. Dorothy's taking a bus to Virginia to visit friends, and Legs is getting her car in order to drive back across the country as her parents drive up to Canada for a family vacation. Finishing breakfast we headed to the beach, an exciting time for Rocket who had never before touched the Atlantic Ocean. We then piled into Santa's SUV and headed to a local store where Dorothy, Legs, and Rocket shopped around for new clothing. Lunch at a small seafood restaurant included Dorothy's first lobster dinner, and we headed back to the beach house where I napped on the porch. We'll head into Boston after leaving here, then back to my parents house for a day or two before we begin the journey across the country.
In the next few days I'll write my closing blog post, a summation of my thoughts on individual moments of my hike and the experience as a whole. Knowing myself it will likely be a long post, and may take me a few days to formulate... a lot of care will be put into writing it. My second summit was an amazing experience that complimented my first summit in every way I could have asked for. Some time ago when I was debating sticking around with this group or hiking on, my dad and I had a long talk about the choice and repercussions of each decision. One of the most important things he talked about was my summit of Katahdin- whether or not I'd want to have photos and memories of being there alone, or look back and remember immersion in a group of close friends who had redefined the Appalachian Trail for me. While my interest in an impressive thru-hike time overrode my desire to stay with the group, I was able to have my cake and eat it too. My true 'finish' will be an amazing combination of two days, both gorgeously weathered and special in their own rights, seamlessly blended into one moment in my memory. For these people I will forever be grateful, and the experience I will always think fondly of. I look forward to attempting the unimaginably difficult task of summing this adventure up into words for you to read. Until then, enjoy some photos of a grand finale to an amazing journey.
Onwards we go. I'm working on the last blog and my stats blog, both of which I hope to finish over the weekend.
Happy Friday, folks.