Day 143 – Summit Day

I’m writing this the day after my summit day, but since I have a separate reflections post that I’d like to write later today, I’m post-dating this one.

Slept pretty poorly the night of the 24th. For the first time in a while I had a nice flat camping spot and it wasn’t horribly sticky and humid like so many Maine nights had been, but still didn’t sleep well. A mix of nerves and excitement kept me up. I woke up at 4:45 to a few friends breaking down camp to head up to the summit. We all had different plans on when to get up, the earliest was at 12:30 am to catch the sunrise on top, the latest being myself and 2 others who wanted to get up at the usual time. I thought about getting up at that point, but decided that more sleep would be better. Woke up again at 6 am to more people leaving, but figured that at least a few people would be around to keep me company when I got up at seven, so went back to bed again. But when I got up the only person left in camp was all packed up and just about to leave. He offered to wait for me, but was visibly shivering and obviously eager to go, plus I wanted to hike solo anyways, so I said I’d meet him at the top.

I rushed to pack up camp, stopped by the ranger station to drop off the bulk of my gear (so that my pack would be as light as possible going up), and started the climb. At first, it felt just like my first day in Georgia. I was nervous, excited, and pumped up all at once and was hiking pretty quick. Soon though the real climb set in and it became just like any other hard climb. I struggled with fatigue at first, then pushed through it and started feeling good. Kahtahdin has four main parts in my mind: the approach, a mile and a half or so of flat or nicely graded trail. The sub-tree line rock scramble, a section of rock scrambling that isn’t too difficult, but harder than a usual trail. The above tree line rock scramble, a very technical section of some of the toughest rock scrambling on the trail. And finally, the tableland, the last mile before the summit which is pretty much flat.

Once I hit the sub-tree line rock scramble I was feeling pretty good. A lot of people on the trail had told us how difficult a climb Kahtahdin can be, but I wasn’t impressed. I figured they didn’t really know what they were talking about and had exaggerated. The sub-tree line section really wasn’t that bad at all.

Then we broke out above tree line and the real climb started. Bar none, it was the most technical climb on the trail. We’re talking near sheer rock faces, close to 90 degree climbs at some points, and not much room for error. Plus It was a pretty windy day with 25-30 mph gusts. I was having a blast going up it, but it was more than I was expecting.

Right before the tableland I met up with my friend who had left camp just before me. He was really struggling with the climb. He doesn’t like heights and hates technical rock scrambles, so he was pretty unhappy and unnerved. I tried to make him feel a little better, but the hard stuff was over with by the time we met up so it didn’t matter all that much.

We climbed together from there to the summit. We chatted like it was any other day at first, but conversation eventually turned to the totality of our hikes. He asked me if I had achieved what I wanted to with this hike. I said I absolutely did, he said the same applied to himself.

Finally we hit the last crest. I was starting to get excited, so my pace picked up and he drifted back a bit. I had wondered for a while if I would cry when I reached the top. I’m not a crier by any means, but I thought the release of finishing might overwhelm me. As I started getting closer, tears started welling in my eyes, but in a good way. I tried to choke it back, to hold out to the summit at least. But then a shout broke out from the summit. All of our friends were already there and we’re cheering us on. It blew away the tears. Like a switch being flipped, in that instant I went from those deep emotions to just being happy. Oh so happy. I made it to the sign that marks the end of the trail, which I had seen so many times in other’s Kahtahdin cards, and just stared at it for a good long while, one hand pressed against it. Happiness melded with relief and a feeling of wonderful well being.

I stayed on the summit a good long while. We took a ton of photos. Group shots, individual shots, small group shots, jump shots, retakes of all the above, and more. It started getting crowded at the top with day hikers and we were obviously hogging the sign, but it was hard to care. This was the moment we had waited so long for and had envisioned time and time again.

Eventually the crowd that got up early left, they had been on the top for a few hours at that point, but I stayed up top with a few other friends who had camped elsewhere. I was getting cold and had all the pictures I could ask for, but I just didn’t want to leave.

Finally though I got too cold and started my way down. Going down was definitely more more nerve wracking than going up. The wind had picked up to near blow-you-off-the-mountain levels and the terrain did not lend itself to down climbing. Midway down the above treeline rock scramble, I stopped to take my windbreaker off and got passed by an older looking man. Up to this point I had been passing tons of dayhikers and so it was frustrating to get passed by someone I had thought I put behind me, particularly because the section coming up was a bottleneck and I’d have to wait for him to go through it.

Pretty soon though I realized that this guy was flying down the mountain. In truth I was struggling to keep up. After spending 4.5 months hiking I had devolved a pretty good eye for judging hiking experience and skill. It was clear that this guy was no ordinary day hiker.

I caught up with him and, during a break in the wind, casually asked him how many times he had done the climb. He replied “this is number 473. I’m 74.” I thought I had misheard, so I asked again, but no, I had heard correctly. I ended up following him down the mountain. I quickly realized he has the climb down to a science, he knew all the best places to put his feet and hands and there were times when I truly marveled at this grandpa’s dexterity. I chatted with him on the way down and got a lot of his life story. He’s 74, nearly deaf, going blind from cataracts, has cancer, agonizing pain in his knees, moderate blood pressure problems, and yet still summits about 5 times a month and can beat most thruhikers down the mountain. He decided 18 years ago, when he retired, to summit Kahtahdin 500 times before he dies and has been working on that goal ever since. He say’s he’s slowed down a bit recently, every climb takes a lot out of him these days and so close to his goal there’s less pressure, but back in the day he used to summit close to 50 times a year (during the ~4 month hiking season). To top it all off he’s the current record holder for most summits and has been written up numerous times by magazines and newspapers. It was great talking to him. Beyond all that he had worked on the mountain for years and had tons of awesome stories, like the time he snuck some thruhikers into the park after it was closed so they could finish their hike.

Through it all I had to marvel that even on my absolute last miles of the trail, it still had another awesome experience in store for me.

When we got to the bottom, a bunch of my friends were hanging out waiting for their rides or families. Old man of the mountain (the bad ass record holding grandpa) offered to give us a ride into town, but I wasn’t quite ready to rush off and had to turn him down. After a feast of homemade whoopie pies (I had five, enough to make even a thruhiker sick) we said our goodbyes to a lot of the group and parted ways. I ended the day at the hostel in town with my friend from the 100 mile wilderness and a few others.

All in all, the day wasn’t what I expected it to be. There was no big bang, no big moment of achievement, emotion, or revelation. It was a great day, of course, but not the end all, be all, day of days that might be expected. But it was fitting. In the end, doing the trail is not about the summit day, it’s about all the days before it. And besides, we had been, to some extent, reveling in our success for the past two weeks so, as one friend put it, it was hard to feel an order of magnitude more accomplished after summiting than before.

And so, that’s how my hike concluded. Not with a bang, but not quite a whimper either. After a night at the hostel I’m now riding home in a greyhound bus and will soon be home. I plan on writing a hike recap post that I’ve been planning for a while during this ride, so hopefully that will be up later.

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Day 142 – Last Full Day

One more for posterity.

Today was my last real day on the trail, tomorrow I summit. As of right now I’ve hiked 2,179.1 miles. Tomorrow I’ll do the last 5.1 to the top of Kahtahdin.

We (my hiking partner and I) did 21 miles today into Baxter State Park and to the base of Kahtahdin. We hit the entrance to the park, the end of the 100 mile wilderness, after 11 miles and pigged out at the great camp store there. Ten more miles brought us to the Kahtahdin Stream Campgrounds at the base of Kahtahdin where there is a “long distance hiker only” campsite called The Birches, where I am now.

By the end of the 100 my hiking partner had become a really good friend, definitely one of the best I’ve made on the trail on the trail. I haven’t genuinely enjoyed hiking day in and day out with many people, but I did with him. It’s a little sad to start such a friendship right at the end, but at the same time it made me really happy that the trail still had great things in store for me right up until the very end.

Being at the end is not quite how I imagined it. I’m more numb to it right now than anything else, though I expect it will be different when I summit. The phrase “this is the last X of the trail” has become somewhat of a bad personal joke. Yeah, we get it self, by all measures we’re done. I’m on my last guidebook page, my last rice side, my last night in camp, my last this, my last that. They’re all my lasts, but they don’t feel like it. Like I said, numbness dominates. But I don’t think that will be the case tomorrow. I’m interested to see what will happen.

Tonight there were about 12 thruhikers in camp. I’ve hiked with most of them a good bit since getting back on in NY, but none of them are from my original bubble. They’ve been hiking together, on and off, since the beginning. I’ve become pretty close to a few of them though, even though we don’t share quite as much history, and it was good to see them. They didn’t think I would be here, since I had to push a day earlier to make it here, so it was a nice surprise. It didn’t feel like the last night in camp tonight though. It was just another night bs-ing around the fire. Sure there were more end of trip jokes, and we all had a lot more food (and a few beers), but it felt pretty much like any other night. It was nice that even on this night of nights, the stuff we’ve done a hundred times was still pleasant.

Time for bed now, Kahtahdin tomorrow morning bright and early. They have a bad bear problem here, so fingers crossed that I bear bagged well enough.

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Day 140 – 100 Mile Wilderness

Quick update from the 100 Mile Wilderness. Odds are this won’t post until I hit Kahtahdin, but I’ll write it anyways for posterity.

I was worried I’d be all by myself for the 100 after taking two zeroes, but shortly after leaving town I met up with a guy who’s name I’ve heard a lot, but whom I hadn’t met. I wasn’t quite sure what to think of him at first, but he’s turned out to be a really nice and cool guy. He really wants to make Kahtahdin on the 25th to summit with his bubble (which means hiking the 100 mile in 4 days instead of the usual 5) and I’ve hopped on board with his plan, even though it doesn’t mean quite as much to me. We’ve done a 20, a 25, and a 23 so far and we have a 21 and a 22 left to do to make it to the base of Kahtahdin by the 24th, when all our friends will be there. If you had told me two weeks ago that I would spend the last 8 days on the trail pulling all 20+ days, I would’ve never believed you, but that’s what it looks like will happen.

My fatigue has come back a bit, although not quite as bad. We’ve been pulling slow, long days and have gotten into camp right around dark, which leaves little time for relaxation. At this point we’ve gone about 65 miles from Monson and have 45 to go to the summit. There’s one small chain of mountains, about 25 miles long, in the 100, which we passed over by the end of the second day. SOBOs like to talk up the hundred, so we were all a little worried about the mountains, but in truth they’re not much more than piddly little hills. From here on out its basically flat. I commented to my friend today that it’s almost like we’ve hiked into hiker Eden, the scenery is beautiful and the terrain is great. A few too many bugs though.

The 100 Mile Wilderness is wonderfully beautiful, but it’s not as wild as one might think. In fact, during my first two days in I saw more day hikers than I had seen in a long, long time. The Gulf Hagas Trail, which intersects with the AT is a very popular tourist spot (some call it the Grand Canyon of the east), so that definitely contributed to it. The ridgerunner counted 130 day hikers passing through by noon on the day we passed it. It felt more like a waterpark than a wilderness at that point.

Thats all for now, need to get some sleep. Looks like I’ll be summiting on the 25th now, weather permitting. Looking forward to a big hiker bash the night before. There’s a big bubble summiting that day.

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Day 137 – 2000 Miles and Monson

When the trail was still just 2054 miles long, the length at its conception, thruhikers were colloquially known as “two thousand milers.” While the trail is much longer now, 2184 miles officially, the terminology remains. When one completes the trail they still receive a two thousand miler patch from the ATC. Two days ago I passed my 2000th mile. It was at the end of the day, right after I passed through Stratton and about two miles before camp. It was a pretty big moment for me. I may not be a thruhiker quite yet, but I am a two thousand miler. That night we had a small tent city, 7 or so hikers collected together, and we were all pretty pumped up.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, lets rewind back to Gorham and my last entry. Since I last wrote I struggled pretty terribly with fatigue. My first few days after leaving Gorham were tough. By noon each day I almost felt like I was asleep on my feet and by the evening each mile was an agony. I started to worry that I might have lymes disease, or some other strange trail malady.

Three days after leaving Gorham, NH I made it to Andover, ME, my next resupply stop. With the fatigue it was no easy haul, but knowing I had to make it or run out of food was a pretty good motivator. It was a nice little town, my first taste of Maine culture, but my favorite part had to be the 6 dollar double bacon cheeseburger that I was able to get at the restaurant in town. I was still struggling with my fatigue at this point, but was able to call my mom and talk over the issues I was having. She thought it was just accumulated exhaustion and took a pretty pragmatic “just push through it” approach to it which helped a lot.

I ended up wasting a lot of time in town and didn’t get out to the trail head until 530. I only had 7 miles to camp so I thought I would be able to make it in before dark as long as I kept up a moderate pace. 4 miles and two hours down the trail I was still confident I would make it in time until I hit a sign that said I still had five miles to go. My guidebook was off in this section and was missing two full miles of trail. Those two miles would push me from getting into camp just in the nick of time, to getting in in total darkness. Up until this point I had never night hiked and had no desire to. But even though I basically sprinted from that point on, the sun eventually set on me and I had to hike with my headlamp.

It was a bit of an uncomfortably anxious experience, particularly because I had no idea how far I had to go at any point, but it was also kindof nice. The forest gets incredibly quiet just after dark, which was really nice to hike through. Eventually I spotted some headlamps in the distance which marked that I had finally made it to camp, much to my great relief.

The next day I found out that a friend from school, quite
serendipitously, has a cabin in Monson, ME (the last trail town before the hundred mile wilderness) and that she was thinking we could meet up there before I finish. However, due to scheduling issues, my comfortable pace into Monson wouldn’t have left us with very much time at all. I basically had a choice between pushing really hard to make it there a day early, on the 17th, or killing a ton of time to make it in on the 22nd. All day long I agonized over what to do. I must have gone back and forth 20 times. I was so tired that part of me wanted to take it super easy for a while, but the other side of me couldn’t bear to do ten mile days for a week with a few zeroes to boot. I also was starting to feel the need to simply be done.

Finally, that evening, I decided to push really hard. It helped that a trail friend said he would push with me, but in the end I decided to push as much as a fun way to get over my fatigue and do the miles as to have more time in Monson. It turned out to be a great decision. Having a concrete and ambitious goal really rejuvenated me and gave me something to fight through the fatigue for. The next few days were grueling mountainous sections, but it was easier than the prior section simply because I had something to fight for.

After Andover my next resupply was Stratton, three days past. I was planning to stay the night there, but to make my new goal I got in and out as quickly as possible (bu,t of course, found time for a good meal). After Stratton I had just 3 days Monson, but this was the real thrust of the push. I had to make it to the Kennebec river, which hikers have to use a canoe “ferry” to cross, by 11 am two days later. That meant that from the morning after leaving Stratton I had 28 hours to do 32 miles while also maximizing my sleep quality and length. That might not have been so tough except the first 18 miles were very mountainous, the last bit of southern Maine, and would’ve constituted a good day by themselves by most people’s measure.

I ended up pushing 24 miles the first day, then waking up at 5 the next morning to make sure I had plenty of time to do the last 8 miles by 11. Thankfully the terrain was pretty flat and I was able to make it to the ferry with plenty of time to spare. I no longer had a time deadline after making the ferry, which definitely made me feel more comfortable, but I still had another 14 miles to go until camp that night. The terrain was mostly flat, but with the accumulated stress of the push, and a general lack of sleep, they were still hard miles. By the end of the day it was all I could do set up camp and crash. A few pieces of chocolate saved my sanity for the evening and eventually I was able to settle in for a fitful, hot, and humid night of sleep.

The next day I still had 22 miles to go to Monson. The group I had been hiking with originally weren’t interested in my push, but then decided that it would be fun to have a full zero in Monson and caught up the previous night. I was really glad they did, I was so tired that it would’ve been really hard to do the miles if I didn’t have someone to chase. Also that day we had the first true river fords of the hike and it made me feel better to have to have some company during the crossings. The Maine ATC has a philosophy of keeping the Maine section of trail as wild as possible, which I really like. This means that in most places they don’t build bridges to cross over passable streams, which, in turn, means that hikers need to wade through them. We had really heavy rains the few days before the fords so river crossings that were usually knee high were hip height. We had heard all manner of bad things about the fords from southbounders, so we were all a little nervous, but they turned out to be not so bad and even kindof fun.

Finally, oh finally, I made it into Monson that night. For the last three weeks Monson has symbolized the end of the hard hiking of NH and southern Maine for me and all but the end of my hike in general. With my struggles with exhaustion and the hard push I had been pretty focused on each day and Monson inexplicably snuck up on me. It’s still a little hard to believe I’m here right now. From this point forward I have five or six full days on the trail left, plus my summit day. After 137 days and ~2070 miles it’s incredible to me that I only have five more to go.

Still though, there’s little comfort in that fact. On the one hand, I’m incredibly tired at this point and while I only have 115 more miles to go, they seem like a lot. Also finishing has become a big psychological burden. It’s not that I want to leave the trail, I love the lifestyle out here more the anything else, or that I’m sick of hiking (though I could use a break). The pressure of the hike, of completion, the drive that pushes each thruhiker forward has, a least for me, built up to a nearly unbearable weight. It’s hard to say why. Perhaps it’s the mere result of pushing every day near to the peak of one’s capacity towards a single goal for 137 days. Or maybe it’s just that I’m more tired than I realize. I just need to be done. Not done with the trail, done with the woods, or done with hiking, but simply done. Finished.

But on the other side of it, when I realized I only had six more nights left before bed the other night, the pang of sadness was so sharp that it was almost unbearable. I love it out here, I love everything about it. I don’t want to leave it, but the end will come whether or not I’m ready for it and I don’t have much say in the matter. Sure I could slow down, but I doubt that would be enjoyable and my friends would all pass me by. Plus the weight I mentioned earlier would keep building whether or not I want it to. The truth of the matter is, the trail is already done, all’s that’s left to do is finish.

When I made it into Monson on the 17th the second thing I did (as it usually is) after getting into town, was to go get food at the local hiker hangout. Much to my surprise, everyone was there. People I never thought I would see again had zeroed the day before and I pushed in hard, so we were able to unexpectedly meet up. There had to be at least 30 NOBOs in town that night, all leaving sometime over the next three days. It was really great to, for one last time, say goodbye. The goodbyes weren’t great affairs, even though this time they truly were goodbyes. Every friendship on the trail could last for months or end the next day, so I guess at this point we’re used to the bittersweet heartache of parting ways. But either way, it was a great surprise and made me really happy I pushed in.

Since then I’ve spent two nights with my friend and her mom at their cabin in Monson. As I told them last night, I couldn’t imagine a better way to end my trip. Coming into town I was super burnout and tired and even, for the first time, negative about the trail. But thanks to the great food, company, and rest they’ve given me I’m feeling a lot better now. While I’m still a little anxious about the miles left to do, I’m no longer dreading them.

Now it’s time to finish. Kahtahdin on the 25th, 26th or 27th, weather and energy dependent.

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Day 126 – End Of Whites, 1900 Miles, and Maine

I survived the whites! They really weren’t all that bad, but then again I wasn’t killing myself to go really quickly either. All in all they were a mixed bag in most regards. I had a few absolutely beautiful days above treeline, days on which I just couldn’t stop smiling because of how amazing the views were. But I also had days with 40 mph winds and fog so bad that I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of my face. Unfortunately the day I summited Mount Washington was one of those days, so I had no view. The fog was so bad I actually got a little lost in the parking lot on top of the mountain – I couldn’t see any of the sides. But it was a little cool climbing up in such relatively harsh weather. It almost made it feel like real mountaineering.

Some days were harder than expected, some were a lot easier. Some were highs and others were lows. My highs generally had to do with enjoying the views or the day’s hike, my lows generally had to do with the AMC. The AMC is the trail club that manages the section of the AT which runs through the whites. In my opinion they’re doing an awful job of it. I wrote most of a long blog post ranting about specific faults, but was too tired to finish it, and it wasn’t very interesting anyways. The long and short of it is their attitude toward thruhikers ranges from careless apathy to true dislike. They make no
accommodations for thruhikers and their management plans often actively hinder us. For example the spacing of their
shelters/campsites/huts are perfect for section hikers, but awful for people who need to do more than 8 miles a day. And when they do have campsites, they’re only tent pad (wooden platforms as opposed to the ground) campsites. Most thruhikers these days lean towards being lightweight and most lightweight tents can’t be pitched on tent platforms without a lot of work. This goes doubly for my tent, which can’t even be jerry rigged to stand on a platform. So even when there were good places to camp, I couldn’t. This forced me to stay in the huts every night in the whites except for the first.

I won’t go into quite as much detail as I originally planned to about the huts. They’re basically semi-fancy alpine hotels with bunks and hot meals for their guests. They cost 95 dollars a night, so they draw an upscale clientele. The AMC allows thruhikers to do work for stay (some amount of labor to sleep on the floor and eat leftovers), but they’re not a pleasant experience. The work isn’t bad, anything from sweeping up after dinner to giving a talk about thruhiking, it’s the general experience that makes it unpleasant. The hut staff is rarely very nice and asking for the work for stay often feels like begging. On top of that the guests go to bed at 930 and wake up at 630, which meant that we had to go to sleep at 10 and wake up at 6, which just wasn’t enough sleep. All around not a fun experience that really soured me on the whites and the AMC, particularly because I couldn’t escape it by camping. Oh and the camping costs 8 bucks a night, which is ludicrous considering the average thruhiker would have to spend 48-64 dollars just to make it through, a fortune in thruhiking terms. A popular joke became, “Why don’t the AMC shelters have log books? Because every entry would be ‘#@$& THE AMC’.”

But enough of that. I got into Gorham, the town right after the whites, 2 days ago in the evening. I ended up staying at a very nice hostel that night, probably the nicest on the trail, though not my favorite.The whites beat me up pretty bad and I woke up really tired, so decided to zero the next day. On the plus side, there was a Walmart in town, so I ate for really cheap, on the minus side the zero wasn’t that great. My body definitely needed the rest, but it was
unsatisfying and I ate way too much. When I got back on the trail today for the first few miles my legs felt like they were on fire and it was really hard to hike. After a while they sorted themselves out, but I only made it 12 miles today, a little less than I would’ve liked.

I’m camped tonight just 4 miles from the Maine state border, which is pretty close to the 1900 mile mark. It’s almost ludicrous how close to being done I am. I figure it will take about 18 days to finish from now, give or take a few depending on how I feel. I was just looking at my guidebook and I only have a handful of town stops and resupplies left.

With the end so close, changes in my fellow thruhikers are becoming more and more clear. A lot of people are really burnt out. There’s not a lot of love for the trail or enthusiasm going on in general. That’s not to say people are unhappy, just that their mindsets have shifted. I saw a friend yesterday that I hadn’t seen since PA. He’s so burnt out that he’s trying to hike the 280 miles left in ten days. He just wants to be done. He’ll probably do it too.

People have become more withdrawn as well. If they’re hiking with a group, they’ve withdrawn into that group, if solo, they’ve withdrawn into themselves. Not that people aren’t being social, just that it’s much more mellow now. I don’t blame them and I’m probably doing the same. Sometimes its all I can do to make the bare minimum of small talk when I meet some new just because I’m so tired. Also there’s an element of emotional pulling away. Each goodbye at this point is pretty much goodbye forever. With so few days left, unless you’re actually hiking each day with someone, there’s not a large chance that you’ll see them again. So it seems that people are naturally drawing back a bit. Yappy pointed this out to me 200 miles ago. I couldn’t see it then, but I definitely see it now.

As for myself, my feelings are mixed. Sometimes I’m moved almost to tears when reflecting on how far I’ve come and how much has happened. Others, all I can think about is being done. Sometimes the miles left seem like an insurmountable obstacle, other times I’m shocked by how little there seems to go. And sometimes it just feels good to be walking in the woods and that’s all that matters.

Finally, I’m currently in the midst of the southbound bubble. It’s provided a really cool opportunity to see more of the thruhiking community, as least as we were 300 miles in. I’ve been hiking with one subset of thruhikers most of my hike: light, fast, dedicated, and young. The rest have either dropped out or dropped behind (or for the people who go crazy fast, pulled ahead). But at this point in the SOBO bubble I get to meet all sorts. People who started early and are partying like crazy, people who started late and are flying by, and people just doing their best to keep going. The trail has distilled this milieu down greatly for us NOBOs, but the SOBOs are still just beginning their hike and they haven’t been mellowed or thinned out yet.

I had something else I wanted to write about, but I forgot it, so that’s all for tonight. I’ll be in Andover Maine in a few days, and Stratton after that. Just a few more weeks and I’ll be back home. Madness!

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Day 119 – Lincoln, NH and The Whites

Greetings from the white mountains! Ive survived my first day out, having done a resupply in Lincoln last night. I hiked about 16 miles today, which isn’t too bad considering I got started at 11 am. So far the whites are all they’ve been cracked up to be. When I previously heard that they were difficult, I assumed it was merely the length and grade of the climbs that made it rough. Accordingly, I thought I would be able to compensate without too much hassle by pushing harder. That has been partly true, the climbs are brutal, but the real pace killer are the trails themselves. So far they’ve been muddy, rocky, not very straight, and narrow. It makes it very hard to make good time. That being said, it was still a fun day, albeit a tough one.

The real reason I’m writing tonight though is that I wasn’t quite truthful in my last post. While it was a week of highs and lows, the lows greatly eclipsed the highs and the highs seemed tenuous and half fulfilled at best. After my long period without a bubble, I was finally with a group again. It was definitely nice in some ways, it was the most people I camped with since Virginia for a few nights which was fun, but in general I didn’t love the group. They’re good people, but of a different mindset and I just didn’t quite click with them as well as I have most other people I’ve met on the trail. So it was nice at times, but never felt quite right, and that brought on some really bad lows. In fact for the first time yet I actually lost hope that things would get better. I was beginning to think, with such little time left, I wouldn’t find a group I liked again. And that really brought me down.

But yesterday turned things around completely. I summited Mt. Moosilauke, the first peak above treeline for NOBOs, and the view was absolutely phenomenal. The group I had been hiking with made a conscious decision to split up through the whites to make finding lodging, camping, and free food at the huts easier, so I was on my own and really enjoyed the break. Then, that afternoon, I met a bunch of friendly SOBOs and stayed at a great semi-hostel. But best of all I saw three guys from my old bubble who I never thought I would see again and found out that some of my other friends weren’t too far away. It was a huge pick me up and was the cherry on top of a great day. The good vibes continued into today when I met an older man in line at dunkin donuts who ended up giving me a much needed ride back to the trail (it was a very hard place to hitch from).

So the past two days have been great and I’m looking forward to the rest of the whites. Would write more, but I’m falling asleep. More later.

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Day 117 – 400 Miles Left

The last week, at least I think it’s been about a week, since I last wrote has been one of great highs and terrible lows. It’s been a big reminder of the vicissitudes of life on the trail. In one day I was bummed out in the morning, elated by mid-morning, depressed by lunch, and happy again by the time I hit camp. It’s been a challenge to keep my head on straight, but it’s been absolutely necessary that I do so. With 400 miles to go its a problem of so close yet so far. Its close enough to seem like an insignificant amount, especially compared to what I’ve done so far. Its close enough to get pleasure about thinking about finishing, but far enough that it can also be a torture to do so. I still have a month left to go, and it’s going to be a tough month at that, so I’m by no means done, but it sometimes feels like I already am.

In terms of landmarks, I’ve finished Vermont and am now in New Hampshire. It’s been some really tough hiking. I’m definitely back in the mountains now, which is great, but it means every day is a really tough workout. It’s not constant climbing or descending, but more often than not the climbs are very steep.

That being said, I’m actually really enjoying it. The workout of the climbs is a great change of pace from the mindless slogging of the flat states. It was great being able to hike really fast and get the day done quickly back in Virginia, but it could be monotonous too. The climbs provide a welcome challenge, a chance to push myself, and more often than not, an awesome view at the top. Since leaving home I had been hiking pretty slowly during the day, not really having a goal to chase, but since hitting the mountains I’ve found my drive again.

In terms of daily pace, I had decided to slow down a bit, both because I wanted to take it easier and to enjoy the end. But as the trail has to keep reminding me, I really don’t enjoy myself unless I have a goal to shoot for, so I might start pressing a little harder again. Also, I was slowing down in the hopes that Chris could catch up (he was a day behind me when I left Dalton), but a delayed mail drop held him up and now he’s days and days behind. It doesn’t look like we’ll be able to meet up before Kahtahdin now, which I’m pretty bummed about.

So, with no reason to slow down anymore I’m going to push on a little harder. Coming up is the White Mountains, or “the whites.” They’re well known as being one of the hardest sections on the trail, and are second probably only to southern Maine which comes right after. From the very start of the trail any thruhiker hears about the whites and how tough, yet amazingly beautiful they are, amongst other things. Understandably a certain mythology comes to be built up around them. Two weeks ago I had the idea in my head that I wouldn’t be able to do more than 12 miles a day, that it would be bizarrely cold, and that it would accordingly be dangerous. Since getting closer and having more time to get a realistic picture of them, I’m not quite so worried. I’m going to buy enough food for a 15 mile a day pace, but I’ll shoot for 17ish. I’m getting some of my cold weather gear back, but I’m not going overboard with it. All in all, I’m looking forward to the challenge of it.

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Day 108 – Mass, Tom’s, and Vermont

A lot has happened since I last wrote. The day after the stressful night I last blogged about was much better, I went into Salisbury and was able to dry out and get some a few hours of rest before finishing my miles for the day.

Since coming to the north the character of trail towns have definitely changed. People aren’t quite so friendly, more often distant and reserved than happy to say hello. But at the same time when people are interested in helping or saying hello to a hiker, they definitely go out of their way to do so. In the past few towns at least one person has said to me “Hey! Welcome to X, we’re glad you’re here.” or some variation on that theme. As far as the general coolness goes I think it’s a combination of an unfortunate truth that northerners are less warm, that the towns have generally been much more affluent, and that they’re not quite so used to seeing hikers. Salisbury fit this general trend exactly, I wasn’t unwelcome but I didn’t feel at home either.

After Salisbury I had another good day, then a few very hard ones. I was once again all alone, I don’t think I saw even one thruhiker. All the days alone had really started to wear on me and it was almost as hard as my worst days in the Shenandoahs. I like to hike alone during the day for the most part, but with so little opportunity for socialization my own thoughts became claustrophobic.

Thankfully my schedule finally overlapped with a small bubble and I’ve had company ever since. I met a guy who I hadn’t seen since the smokies. I really didn’t like him back then, but I think the trail has mellowed him, or perhaps me, out a bit and we’ve been hiking together for the past 4 days or so.

Finally having company showed me what I was missing when I was alone that made it so difficult. With no one around I had no one to share the small triumphs and failures of the day, no one to debrief with. It took the pleasure out of the triumphs and made the failures harder to bear. But also I wasn’t fully experiencing the trail. It’s so much easier to knock on the door of that disconcertingly run down house knowing that a friend is already there or just passed trough than to do it alone.

By the time I had company again I was about halfway through Mass, about a day from Dalton. After spending the night 3 miles outside of town I walked in to do a quick resupply and then ascend Greylock, the highest peak in Mass and the largest climb since Virginia. I had to pick up fuel, but about half a mile into the road walk in town I realized I had already passed it and had to go back. At the time I was really frustrated, but it turned out to be a very fortuitous mistake. On my way back into town, retracing my steps, the owner of a house I knew you could camp behind was standing outside. I had taken some water from his spigot in my way into town, so I stopped and thanked him. Before I knew it I was sitting in his kitchen eating pie, donuts, bagels, and icecream.

I quickly learned that Tom, the owner of the house, not only let’s people camp behind his house, but when he has room invites them to sleep inside, gives them a shower and does their laundry, and often cooks them dinner. Not to mention offers almost all you can eat ice cream.

Many people along the trail do the same thing, but nowhere on the scale that Tom does, or with the same generosity. Most trail angels take in a hiker or two a season. Tom takes in almost every single hiker that comes through. He says that by the time the hiker season is in full swing word of his generosity has spread up and down the trail, so nearly everyone stops in. He only turns people away that he literally cannot house, though considering he has a 5 bedroom house packed with spare beds, that number is quite high. He’s not
unaccustomed to crowds of 25 or more. Because its so early in the season I hadn’t heard about his house and was quickly kicking myself for not going in the night before.

As I was preparing to leave, with a heavy heart because I was sad to leave such a wonderful place, Tom mentioned that he often shuttles people north of Greylock to slackpack back to his house to stay another night. I quickly took him up on his offer.

Long story short I ended up spending two days at his house and since he shuttled me to the top of Greylock, hiking down Greylock twice. It was a truly wonderful time. When I got up in the mornings it didn’t feel like I was waking up as a guest, but as a family member. As for Tom, words can’t describe his generosity. I’ve seen a tremendous amount of selflessness on the trail, and a good bit back in real life too. But all of it has been self interested selflessness. Sometimes in a bad way, but more often in a good way. Tom’s selflessness, while im sure he enjoys it, goes so far beyond any reasonable measure that it cannot be called self interested. If anything, he actively sacrifices his own comfort and standard of living to give to hikers.

I think perhaps my entry in his trail register says it best: “Words escape me. Perhaps there are no words. Without being overly sentimental I can honestly say that I did not think that people like Tom existed in this world. Never have I met someone so generous, so worthy of thanks, yet so unmotivated by them. These few days will be ones that I will remember and reflect upon for years to come, I’m sure. Tom, thank you for everything, the food, the shelter, the company, but most of all, thank you for the whole of all you do, which is so indescribably greater than the sum of its parts.”

After leaving Tom’s, I had about 4 miles to go until Vermont. I’m about 30 miles in at this point. On the one hand, it’s awesome. I’m finally back in a true wilderness area and the forest and views are beautiful, but on the other the bugs are TERRIBLE. The bugs started getting bad in Mass, but it was only mosquitoes and only in the low lying sections. Vermont is an entirely different can of worms. The black flies are here along with swarms of horseflies (I think that’s what they are anyways). If I stop for more than a few minutes during the day, I’m quickly covered with them. By the end of my walk today my legs were covered with scabs and rivulets of dried blood, thanks to the black flies. I’m hoping their season ends soon… But my hopes are not high. I suspect they might just get worse and worse. Oh and it’s really friggin’ hot too. That being said, it hasn’t been too bad all in all.

Looking forward, I’ve slowed down my mileage a bit. I’m aiming for 18s now instead of 20s and I feel less pressured to not take zeroes. I’m slowing down mainly because I want to enjoy my last month on the trail, but also in the hopes that Chris will catch up, so that we can finish up together. Only 560 miles to go!

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Whoops

Oops. Hit send reflexively, but I forgot to proofread. Hope it’s not too bad! Also, no service here so I’m not sure when this will post, but today is June 20th.

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Day 101 – CT and Difficulties

What a crappy day and a half! I had planned a long post about how the days since I got back on the trail have been nice and relaxing, not exciting, but good days all in all. However yesterday/last night/this morning have been pretty tough.

After leaving NY the first town in CT is Kent, about 10 miles from the first border crossing. When I did my resupply in Kent I realized that there were no great options for my next resupply until Dalton, MA, probably a little less than a hundred miles away. I decided to resupply for 4.5 days and make a hard push for Dalton, then slow down after that. It was a good plan I guess, but it just hasn’t worked out.

Yesterday was the first full day of that haul, a 22 mile day. I had forgotten just how heavy 5 days of food is! It was rough hiking in general and the weight added to it. As the day went on I passed by a lot of hikers talking about the big rain storm that would be starting in the afternoon and lasting all night. Most decided to stop early for the day, but I had to make my resupply, so I pushed on.

The rain was a bit of a bummer, but not that bad. What made the day a misery is the fact that I managed to eat my whole day’s worth of food before noon. That meant I had to hike 12 miles on two small packets of crackers, even though I was carrying another 9 pounds of food on my back (because if I broke into that I would be even more hungry the next day).

I figured I would be able to push through the hunger and be fine by camp. I’ve hiked into town hungry before and once I push past my first big “hunger bump” I’m usually good to go on minimal calories. But yesterday I just kept getting more and more hungry. By the time I got to camp I was weak with hunger and a little woozy to boot. But that wasn’t even the worst part. I wasn’t hungry any more, per se, but my stomach ached, along with the rest of my body.

At least I was finally at camp though. I set up my tent and tried to nurse my wounds a bit. I realized there was a resupply option I missed just the next day, so I was able to pig out a little bit for dinner knowing I could buy more food the next day.

By the time I got dark I was feeling a little better, but was still mad that I screwed up my resupply and now would have to change all of my plans. Right as I was going to bed I hear a loud crash off in the distance. It startled me, but I wrote it off as a tree falling down, which it probably was. I wasn’t worried about my safety, but when something gives me a bit of a fright as I’m going to sleep solo camping it tends to make me sleep poorly, so that made me more frustrated. I tried really hard to put it out of my mind, and it was all but gone from my thoughts when I heard another loud crash, this time closer to my tent. I wrote it off again as a tree falling down, but after 3 months on the trail and never really hearing one fall before, it was harder to put two in one night out of my mind. Then about fifteen minutes later I hear a gunshot, also not too far away. Now I’m even more anxious, but at this point all I can do is laugh. This had to be the worst campsite ever.

A litany of smaller frustrations plagued me through the night and this morning, but I won’t ramble on about those too. Suffice to say I’m here, everything I own is covered with slugs, and I’m very frustrated about how poorly this resupply is going. I’m not quite sure what I’ll do to get back on track. I think I’m going to wait for the rain to stop this morning, do a short day today and a town stop this afternoon, and then make new, easier days until Dalton.

Sorry that this is such a boring post, I needed to vent a little bit. In other exciting news, I just crossed the 700 miles to go mark, will be done with CT and into MA by tonight, and am getting more and more excited for the whites/Maine as time goes on.

More later.

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