The Appalachian Trail stayed true to the end, I feel justified in saying that the final moments of my thru-hike were the absolute best.
I ended up taking about 5 days to make it through the 100-mile wilderness, and those 5 days were very enjoyable. I met a lot of Sobos settling into the trail after their intensive first few days. Now I think back to my first few nights on the trail, cringing in pain every time I took a step or slightly adjusted my position on my ground mat because I was an idiot to hike without underwear my first few days and had a terrible chaffing situation going on. 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 that piece of shit shelter on Blood Mountain and bumping into Darrin, who not only encouraged me but sent me many fantastic care packages on the way up. I made it a point to send good vibes to those going through the bull shit all of us endured on the way.
The whole “trail karma” thing 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 you will 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 you when you pass them. On the trail not a soul would pass me without at least saying hi, some of them wanted to know everything about you. 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 crash. 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 was a very enjoyable hike. There were lots of stream crossing to get wet in, some of them more intense than others. Of course, 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. I was pretty fucking stupid growing up, and I still don’t know anything.
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 whatever. 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 it with my parents. I went on my first backpacking trip spring break my senior year of high school with my very good friend’s Kevin and Wil. 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 what I loved most with the people I loved most.
It worked out 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? So 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. This of course worked out Maine because not only were they coming to hike with me but I now had a ride out of Baxter State Park which, if you look on a map, is in bum fuck nowhere.
I ended up planning to summit on the 26th, but due to rain I decided to stall a little bit to wait for a nice day. It wasn’t much of a problem since my parents originally planned on being out there on the 26th to hike with me but since it was raining had a hotel in Millinocket. “You didn’t think to stay on the trail your last night of the hike?” I did think about it, but I didn’t care that much and wanted to hang out with my parents so I decided to go 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 I saw him 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 tried to talk to them, a sure sign that some of them probably wouldn’t make if only because they would end up getting sick of each other. I was pretty amped when I saw the sign directing me up the trail to the summit. I put on tunes and headed off.
My pace was quite awesome. 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 pretty good. I passed a shit ton of people on my way up, a couple 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 stare 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 dots in the distance that were my parents. I jogged ahead, remaining careful about stepping on the uneven rocks since it would totally blow 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 caught 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, mountains I had traveled through far in the distance. To the northwest was the seemingly infinite Allagash wilderness, a place cars don’t go. Before us was the mountain, scree and alpine vegetation all along the table lands. 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 it that I can’t remember what I was thinking about. I had assumed there would be a few hundred yards of hiking until I hit the finish line (which actually ended up being the infamous Knife’s Edge of Katahdin, which speaks for itself), so I wasn’t quite mentally prepared 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 asked to answer. 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 folk, and explored the summit. This one old fart trying to impress his kids wouldn’t shut the fuck up about his numerous vacations here and there, but 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 all 4000+ foot peaks in New England or some badass gnarly ambition like that. I was beyond stoked to meet her, not to mention she gave me some apple sauce. We had to make our way off the mountain sooner than later unfortunately, we had a long drive to New York yet to come. 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 and occasionally fall into fits of hysterical laughter, amazed and highly amused 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 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, for 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!