The Appalachian Trail stayed true to the end. The the final moments of my thru-hike were certainly the best.
I ended up taking 5 very enjoyable days to hike the 100-mile wilderness. I met a lot of Sobos settling into the trail after their intensive first few days. I think back to first few nights on the trail, cringing in pain every time I took a step or slightly adjusted my position on my sleeping pad because I was an idiot and chose to hike without underwear my first few days. I was completely miserable at the time, and I would have thought that anyone who encountered me would highly doubt I would ever make it. I recall now making my way down from the rubbish shelther on Blood Mountain and bumping into Darrin, who not only encouraged me but sent me many fantastic care packages the whole way up. I made it a point to also send good vibes to those I saw going through the same shit I knew too well
“Trail karma” is what I miss most about the place. The AT is really it’s own world and the people in that world are unlike people I meet anywhere else. Walking around town back home I can’t help but notice how a lot of people make every effort to avoid contact with me when you pass them. On the trail not a soul would pass without at least saying hi, some of them wanted to know everything about me. More likely than not if I was ever really burnt out and needed a place to crash some of those people would even find a place for me to stay. If I ever ran out of money there were organic farms and hostels that did work for stays. The community took care of each other on the trail, here our neighbor throws diapers in the yard and calls the cops because she thinks we’re stealing firewood from her garage.
The 100-mile wilderness was easily one of the best sections of the trail. There were lots of stream crossings, some of them more intense than others, so having wet feet all day was common. There was always the thought in my head that at some moment I would turn around a corner or hit the top of a peak and finally see Katahdin. When I did, I could hardly wrap my mind around how far I had come and how little was left. I still can’t. I used to tell myself that I would never do the Appalachian Trail because I “knew I could do it” and assumed there were other things I’d rather do with my time. There was no way of knowing. I was so full of shit.
To be honest, I couldn’t have done it alone. When people ask me how I was able to accomplish such a huge task I never hesitate to say that it was because of the insane amount of support I received along the way, especially from my parents. I walked onto the bus to Atlanta with almost $2000 in my pocket, a friend, a full set of gear, my ticket, and no real plan other than to get to Springer and head north until I had my fill. I managed to leave the trail with some of that gear still intact, $600, and a ride. Considering how much food was sent and gear swapped out from home, I highly doubt I would have a cent in my pocket had my parents not helped.
What made the moment so powerful for me was that I was able to share the final moment my parents. I went on my first backpacking trip spring break of my senior year of high school. I never really did Boy Scouts or summer camp or anything, so it was really the first time I was truly immersed in a long-term natural experience. I was incredibly captivated by it, and pursued it quite intensely from there on by doing NOLS and organizing trips whenever possible. I have spent a lot of time in the wilderness with many different kinds of people, but until Katahdin had yet to share my most loved passion with the people I loved most.
Things came together quite perfectly. My cousin was having her high school graduation party in Mesena, New York on June 28th and my parents were driving up to visit. What’s another 9 hours to Maine, right? They decided that if I happened to be finishing around that time, they could head on up to meet me for the last part of the trail. The icing on the cake of them coming to hike with me was that I now had a ride out of Baxter State Park which, if you look on a map, is in the middle of nowhere.
I ended up planning to summit on the 26th but due to rain I decided to stall a bit and wait for nice weather. This wasn’t so bad considering my parents had a hotel in Millinocket to wait out the weather. “You didn’t think to stay on the trail your last night of the hike?” I did think about it, but more than anything I wanted to hang out with my parents so I decided to check out the town and spend the night in a hotel. I waited for my ride into town at Abol bridge for a couple hours with two other hikers I had met the previous day when Mike Carria showed up with my Mom. It was a pleasant surprise to see him again since it felt like a while since his visit in Vermont. We got all crammed into the car and headed into town.
The next day my parents dropped me off at Abol bridge and headed off to the base of Katahdin to start hiking when the gates opened. I had 10 miles from Abol to the base of Katahdin, so they got a pretty good head start on me especially considering I took a wrong turn across a really sketchy river I thought I had to ford. I jogged a bit during those last 10-miles, anxious to catch my parents so I could enjoy most of the hike with them. There were a lot of people at the base of Katahdin getting ready to go up. I greeted a large group of south bounders who were kind of rude to me when I stopped to say high, a sure sign that some of them probably won’t make if only because they’ll end up getting sick of each other. Properly stoked when I saw the sign directing me to the summit, I put on tunes and headed off.
I proceeded at an awesome pace. I had fantastic food the night before, didn’t hike too much the previous day, and got to sleep in a bed so I was feeling very energized. I passed loads of people on my way up, some of them fully aware of what was going on and excitedly congratulating me as I sped by. I passed Katahdin Stream falls and filled up on what would be my last nalgene of mountain water for some time. I broke treeline and was able to gaze up the steep ridge to the tablelands, a massive alpine plateau that extended to the summit. Some of the best scrambling on the trail was that last ridge, I was pleased I decided to do a Northbound hike… I felt as though Springer would be quite anti-climatic.
I quickly knocked out the scramble and upon reaching the table lands could see two small specks in the distance that were my parents. I jogged ahead, remaining careful about stepping on the uneven rocks as it would be pretty unfortunate to get hurt in the last half mile. I remember being so excited to see what I thought was the summit, rising along a sharp edge in the distance after a series of false summits. I met up with my parents, excited I was able to catch them before the top.
We had a chance to talk about the hike. My mom was tired but determined and I was impressed at how fast they were able to make it up. The day itself was second to none. It was in the high 70s, low wind, no clouds. To the south was an immense span of forest peppered by massive lakes, the mountains I had traveled through far in the distance. To the northwest was the seemingly infinite Allagash wilderness. Before us was the mountain, scree and alpine vegetation all along the table lands and a handful of folks out for day hikes. I was a few paces ahead of my dad when he pointed out that there was a sign at what I originally believed to be the first false summit of the peak. People were crowded around it, I understood that he was correct.
It was certainly one of the most intense moments of my life. There was a period between realizing that it was the summit and when I started sprinting towards where my primal being took over and I wasn’t really thinking. I had assumed there would be a few hundred yards of hiking until I hit the finish line (it ended up actually being the Knife’s Edge of Katahdin, which speaks for itself), so I hadn’t truly mentally prepared myself for what I would feel when I finally touched the sign. I can’t be sure if I was hyperventilating in excitement, breathing heavily from the sprint, or both. I yelled like a damned fool with tears running down my face, people around me were asking me questions but I couldn’t be bothered. I stepped away from the summit for a moment to catch my breath when my parents made it to the top. It was without a doubt the best day of the thru-hike.
We took pictures, talked to some other folks folk, and explored the summit. One older man kept following me to talk about his numerous vacations here and there and how he’s section hiked and understands. He was actually really annoying and I think he trying to impress his kids I think, thankfully he eventually buggered off. I had the pleasure of bumping into Chaos, another hiker who had been following my blog and was completing her goal of ascending every 4000+ foot peaks in New England. I was stoked to meet a reader, not to mention she gave me some apple sauce. We had to make our way off the mountain sooner than later unfortunately, there was a long drive to New York ahead of us. I wasn’t upset though, I know I’ll be back someday.
The way down was a lot of fun, it was great to hike with my parents. I occasionally fell into fits of hysterical laughter whenever I reminisced about the strange sort of overwhelming orgasm of good feelings and accomplishment I experienced when I reached the summit. I find it reassuring to know that there are things in life that can make me feel that way and people out there willing to help others reach their goals. I have learned so much about myself through my passion to spend time in real, wild places. I have observed its tremendously therapeutic effect on myself and others, and have realized how healthy it is to immerse myself in a place that constantly challenges me to be a better person than I was the day before. The strength of the community on the Appalachian Trail has restored my faith in humanity by never ceasing to amaze me with unexpected acts of kindness and generosity if only for the sake of being good to each other. Again, it’s what I miss the most.
For the first couple weeks I was keeping a list of names I planned on acknowledging in my last blog post but it ended up being quite a ridiculous thing to keep track of considering how many incredible people I have met over those few months. Endless challenges were overcome through both my determination and the support of everyone who has followed the blog and helped me along the way. Knowing people are rooting for me really does help, as does an ample supply of Snickers Bars.
For the rides to and from the trail, for the warm beds and couches I have slept on, for the unexpected warm meals when I needed them most, the occasional swigs of moonshire, for the good company on the shit days and extra snacks thrown my way, for the care packages that made every mail drop feel like Christmas and everything else, I thank you guys from the bottom of my heart for being a part of this. If any of you would like to keep in touch, feel free to comment and leave an email where I can get a hold of you or a blog address. I’d love nothing more than to help you guys along your adventures and live vicariously through you.
It all means the world to me, peace and love folks! Thanks for reading!