Day mileage: 11.4
AT total mileage: 2,178
AT mileage remaining: 7.3
Time: 3.5 hours
Excuse my language, but holy shit. I'm here.
It's quite interesting to wake up and know that it is your last full day on the Appalachian Trail. I had slept rather poorly, a combination of feeling horribly sick and the uncomfortable feeling that my feet were experiencing, much alike squeezing the tip of your finger as your pulse becomes more apparent, a result of extremely tight duct tape keeping my shoes in one piece. Despite these challenges, I felt somewhat rested and rewarded myself by sleeping in a bit. By 5:45 I was awake for good and struck up conversation with the older gentlemen next to me, the only other person in the shelter to be awake at that hour. Speaking for nearly half an hour before introducing ourselves, Cheyenne Walkingbird has been section hiking the Trail for five years now. A native of the midwest, he's a general contractor who works on small projects in people's homes building custom cabinets and the like. He used to be employed in corporate America but after his first section hike he realized that he wanted more out of life and left his job to work for himself doing something he loved. He operates a wood shop out of his garage and though he "makes half the money" he has "twice the possessions and happiness" including two lakefront cottages that he rents out. He would be finishing the 5th leg of his thru-hike, having started a month earlier in Dalton, MA. Despite yet another night passing by I was still feeling rather sick, and knowing that my mileage for the day would be relatively short I decided to stay in my sleeping bag for quite a while. As the other residents of the shelter woke up I was introduced to them, a group of active duty military guys from Maine who were doing a walk for their fallen comrades. Their trek would span the 100 Mile Wilderness and Katahdin's peak, with each man carrying not only a pack of their own gear but also a large rock with the name of a deceased soldier engraved. The rock would be left atop Katahdin as they finished their trek. We spoke for a while as I lazily sat around, at one point taking quite a bit of time to sign the shelter log book - the last one I'd sign on the Trail - with a very long and deeply reflecting entry. Writing to Crusoe, Keegan & Papa Doc, Wild Turkey, Whitey, Soleil, Moe, Pneumo, Jellybean, and the whole gang that have been such a huge part of my life over the last month, I scribbled words for a few pages of the log book thanking everyone for the influence they each had on my hike. It was incredible to look back at just how far I've come and to realize that each one of those groups represented a totally different part of my thru, all combined to make for one amazing experience over three and a half months.
I left the shelter just after 8:30 AM, with a few short miles to go before reaching the Abol Bridge Campground, the first piece of civilization out of the Wilderness and a place known to hikers for their breakfast sandwiches and big refrigerators of cold drinks. Still not feeling anywhere near 100%, I took a surprisingly short amount of time to hike the 3.5 miles of trail to the dirt road where the A.T. passed by the campground store. A mile or so before the store was a sign marking the northernmost point of the 100 Mile Wilderness, meaning I hiked this famous section of the trail in 3 days and 3 hours time... half of the time a NOBO hiker spends there, and almost 1/4 the time a SOBO hiker would take. Despite the state of my existence in this moment, I'm still rather proud of this accomplishment. The terrain was absolutely fair, relatively level and void of an excessive amount of rocks or roots. Arriving there an hour and ten minutes after leaving the shelter I was greeted by half of the military hikers who had already raided the breakfast sandwich supply. Disappointed by the thought of not having something yummy for breakfast I ventured inside to see what I could find to eat. Despite my lack of real hunger I knew I needed to be eating something, though all of the food I was carrying seemed horribly unappetizing likely due to 112 days of eating the same stuff. I found a ham and cheese sandwich and bought a few Gatorades to go along with it, hoping to replenish any lost electrolytes. I ended up sticking around the general store for quite a while after discovering a Wi-Fi network that I deemed well worth the $2/hr cost. After sitting for a while reading through iMessages and emails, I learned about the status of a few hikers, most importantly Santa's whereabouts. If you remember, he and I parted ways on Monday when he got sick. Having not seen from him since then and having limited communication, I wasn't entirely sure where he was or whether or not he'd be summiting Katahdin with me like we had planned for weeks. The last text he sent me was one saying 'I'll be there.'' - I'd anxiously await his arrival as it had become a thought in my mind that he might not make it to summit with me. After being adequately updated on the state of my world by the technology of the Internet, I packed up my gear and continued on the 8 miles towards Daicey Pond Campground where my parents had reserved a cabin for the night. It was about this time that severe symptoms of giardia really set in. The remaining mileage would be absolute hell for me, struggling with being sick and suddenly even more exhausted than I already was. Sparing you the details, I'll simply say I had a tough time on the exceptionally simple terrain, but did my best to stop and take in the gorgeous views as I closed the gap between myself and Katahdin.
Somewhere around 1400hrs I found myself passing by Little Niagara Falls in Baxter State Park, and subsequently finding myself in the presence of many tourists. I did my best to not become frustrated by their presence and lack of etiquette on the trail, answering questions when asked and trying to keep a half-assed smile on my face. I found myself in the parking lot for Daicey Pond campground 15 minutes later only to discover a family comfortably moved into the cabin my parents had rented. Speaking with the park ranger he informed me that our cabin had been double booked, and that we were not the first people to have this happening to them that day. Calling around on his radio he secured us another cabin at another campground inside Baxter State Park, first assuring me it was an easy walk before offering a ride in his ranger truck. Loading myself and my gear up in the bed of his Chevy I then held on for the most spirited and slightly horrifying 'hitchhike' of my entire journey. We flew through the narrow dirt roads of the park, passing over 3 or so miles of ground before arriving at Kidney Pond campground. I was pointed in the direction of my new cabin, where I went and promptly laid out my sleeping pad and bag. It didn't take me long to fall asleep, but I spent a fair amount of time worrying about whether or not my folks or Santa would be able to find me. I left a note for Santa with the park ranger which he said he would deliver to the cork board at the A.T. trailhead where the road crossed, which unfortunately left me with very little assurance of Santa's receiving my heads up about the location change. I woke up some 4 hours later to my parents and family friend Dana arriving at the cabin, greeting me with lukewarm pizza carried in from the town half an hour away. As we sat around talking, the three of them settled into the small cabin, keeping a safe distance from me and the undoubtedly horrible odors my body was emitting. Mind you at this point, keeping in mind how quickly I had hiked in the last 11 days, I literally had not showered since Gorham, NH... I hated how badly I smelled. Dana braved the odors and sat next to me enthusiastically asking about the trail. Shortly before 2010hrs there was a knock at the door of the cabin which we called out to enter, assuming it was a park ranger. I literally sprung to my feet (something I didn't even do when my parents arrived) yelling Santa's name when I realized he was the visitor at our door. After 5 days and nearly 150 miles separated, we were reunited and would summit Katahdin together.
I'm exhausted. Physically, emotionally, and every way in between. I hiked quite the distance in not much time to make it here on the day my family could meet me, and to summit on a reasonably low numbered day. My biggest fear in the end was that Santa wouldn't make it and I'd summit without any other thru-hikers, but after hitching a ride with the empathetic ranger he landed on my doorstep equally exhausted just before dark. We'll sleep next to each other on the floor of this cabin in the same way we've shared shelter floor space for well over a month now. Tomorrow we will climb to the summit of the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, an epic 5,200 feet above sea level atop a mountain worthy of the final climb. I'm unbelievably uncomfortable with this water borne illness and have depleted every ounce of energy in my body, but tomorrow the finale is literally attainable. I look forward to this magnificent end with baited breath. Hopefully it will be attainable after a decent night of sleep.
Until tomorrow, when the journey will end.