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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