"After" - Part 1: Looking Back at Southern Maine

Tight spot! Tight spot!

Tight spot! Tight spot!

Let me start by thanking everyone for the well wishes and congratulations! I've been on an emotional high for the last week that's really kind of hard to process. I've gone abruptly from wind in the trees and rushing water to honking horns and flashing lights everywhere. My body has been through a lot, my feet hurt, and my intestines are having a hard time figuring out what to do with real food. On top of all that, every inbox I own right now is flooded with messages from people saying, "Hey, we saw you in your underpants on the internet!" It's enough to make a guy want to go hide in the woods for a while!

Well, I'm glad everybody seems to like the before and after stuff, because I do too! I took a selfie every day and plan to compile those into a time lapse. I also did this:

Okay, now that all that silliness is out of the way, I'd like to take you back with me to Southern Maine As I mentioned before, this is right around the time when most hikers' blogs seem to disintegrate. Which is too bad, because Southern Maine is where things start to get interesting. But it happens for good reason; it's tough terrain, and it's not exactly the most "connected" place in the world. Trust me, I'm not complaining.

You would think that by the time we'd finished The Whites, we'd have learned not to expect high mileage days ever again. But still, many of us would proudly announce at night, "Tomorrow's going to be the day, fellas. I feel a 20!" And each following evening we'd all gather eight miles north, only to repeat the same hollow cheer, this time with less energy and conviction. A lot of people really let this get to them, and it messed with their heads. I know, because it messed with mine.

Thru hikers tend to be goal oriented people, and by the time we've hit a thousand miles, we tend to take it for granted that we're going to continue to hit our mark. And then one day the trail kicks you in the ass with a giant moss covered boot and now your daily routine consists of steady failure. After a while it just feels like banging your head against a wall, so painful and futile. Eventually I took the hint and lowered my goals. "Tomorrow's going to be the day, fellas!" I'd proclaim. "I'm going to get up before sunrise! I'm going to be packed and hiking by first light! I'm not going to take long breaks, and I'm going to finish with my headlamp blazing! Guys... I'm shooting for a TWELVE!" 

That night, all of New England encountered a cold snap that the locals called "surprising" and "unusual." Of course, we didn't know that they were using those words because we were out in the middle of nowhere, so when the temperature dropped to 28 that night, many of us feared that this was how it was going to be for the rest of the trip. My cold weather gear was waiting for me at the next post office, so I spent that night (as did many of us) wrapped in every piece of clothing I owned. Still, I awoke every 15 minutes, uselessly turning in my 45 degree bag, exhausted from shivering but too cold for real sleep. In the morning, someone made a fire and we all huddled around it, drinking coffee and not talking. 

Life, ah, ah, ah... finds a way.

"Well..." someone started, "I always told all my friends that I was walking from Georgia to Maine, so technically, I can be done here, right?" It wasn't obvious whether this person was joking or serious, but I'd recognized his demon, having recently wrestled my own. 

This was how we began our day at Mahoosuc Notch, which the AWOL guide describes as "the most difficult (or fun!) mile on the AT." The Notch is a tremendous boulder jumble at the base of a mile long sheer vertical cliff. The rocks are as big as refrigerators, cars and houses. They lie about at every angle while trees cling impossibly to their sides and tops. Water flows beneath them, mostly unseen, a murmuring gurgle from somewhere below. "If I fall off of this," you think, "I'll bash my head on that pointy bit right... there. Or... Or, if I'm lucky, I'll slip past it and just drown in the dark. Okay, here goes!" 

I enjoyed The Notch. I took me about ninety minutes to travel one mile, but I got to climb and jump on rocks that reminded me of McConnell's Mill back home in Pennsylvania. Of course, it was tough, but it was also beautiful and amazing. And it was warm enough by noon that we all were covered with real sweat. 

Southern Maine really did a number on a lot of us. That whole area leading up to the Hundred Mile Wilderness is known as one of the "yellow blazing capitals" of the AT, meaning that a lot of people get into cars around there. Most will just jump up to Katahdin, but some actually just go home. I'm definitely glad I stuck with it, because what came next was hands-down, my absolute favorite part of the entire hike. 


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Day 153: Mt Katahdin - 2,185.3 miles

This afternoon, after walking for nearly five months I summited the northernmost mountain on the AT! I was joined by my wife and trail boss, Katie. I was lucky to have relatively good weather and the company of two awesome trail friends, Lemmy and Voldemort who I met back in the very first hundred miles, a lifetime ago in trail terms. 

Voldemort, Green Giant (me) and Lemmy

Voldemort, Green Giant (me) and Lemmy

Katie and I will take a couple of days to drive home, where I will eat and rest and eat and wash and eat. After I eat some more I will finally have time to go back and fill in some more details missing from the last few short updates here. I'll take a few days off and then begin working full time on the book. For now, sleep calls and will not take "no" for an answer. 

Mt Katahdin as seen from Hundred Mile Wilderness. 

Mt Katahdin as seen from Hundred Mile Wilderness. 

Day 144: Monson, ME - 2,070 miles

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Three days ago I had what could've been one of the best days on the trail this season. After a spell of unexpected and unusually cold weather, the temperatures in Maine finally shot up into the 60s and even the 70s. In time to climb the Bigelows. 

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After a tough climb I spent several miles above the tree line. The valley below was filled with every color: red, yellow, and orange deciduous trees mixed with green pines and blue ponds. 

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After descending back into the valley I had a campsite all to myself on the eastern side of Flagstaff Lake. That night I camped by cool water to the sound of gently lapping waves and the occasional singing loon.  The Milky Way blazed overhead while I made a fire and had my dinner by the lake. 

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Now I am in Monson, and tomorrow morning I will begin the 100 Mile Wilderness. Once I emerge on the other side only Mount Katahdin remains. 

 

Day 136: Rangeley, ME - 1,964 miles

Lemmy. Still single. 

Lemmy. Still single. 

I've been reading AT through hiker blogs for years, and I've always noticed one thing. Toward the end, they all stop writing. Now that my hike is nearly finished, I understand completely. 

I rise with the sun. I eat breakfast while I pack as quickly as I can. I walk. Even though I am constantly struggling against roots, rocks, and mud, I take very few breaks. As soon as I stop walking my body temperature drops. The uphills kill my thighs. The downhills pound my knees. ("Downhill" means something completely different in Maine. To descend 500 feet here you must do the following: climb 1,000 feet, then descend 1,010 feet. Repeat this process 50 times.) 

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The nights are quite cold, but the stars are beautiful.  

Within the next two weeks, I will be entering something called the Hundred Mile Wilderness. There is definitely no cell phone coverage there.  When I emerge from the Wilderness my last task will be to climb Mount Katahdin. 

There will be precious few opportunities for me to communicate with you all between now and that day. Please do not mistake these long periods of silence for lack of adventure. I'm taking careful notes, and I can't wait to share.  

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