#1 the 100-Mile Wilderness and Katahdin
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” — Lao Tzu
As it turns out, the journey of 2,180 miles begins the same way.
An Unusual Approach
Most AT thru-hikers begin at one terminus or the other. For hikers going south like me, Mount Katahdin would normally be the place to start, but this year the mountain was closed off because of dangerous conditions until the week after my flight landed. So we adjusted our plans and decided to start in Monson, 118 miles south of the terminus and hiked the 100-Mile Wilderness first. Here is the very abridged version of step one of my 2,180-mile journey.
Day One: Ten Miles Walked; Zero Progress
My amazing uncle met me in Maine. He took ten days out of an insanely busy summer to help make sure I didn’t die in the first leg of my first real backpacking trip. We hit the trail early, walked five miles or so before lunch time, and then realized we had gone south. We were able to laugh at ourselves and hiked back, but I’ll be honest, it’s funnier now than it was then.
Day Two: 9.9 Miles
My first day in the 100-Mile Wilderness was also my first day to encounter trail magic! We met a man named Happy Eric just before hitting the wilderness and when he heard I was a thru-hiker he pulled out a bag of trail mix and asked if I needed some trail magic. It’s amazing how something so small and simple can provide such a massive emotional boost. Also, we camped at the top of a 60-foot waterfall that night so overall, in spite of the rocks and roots and legs that were still adjusting to the trail, it was an amazing first day.
Day Three: 18.4 Miles
We forded our first river! Actually, Uncle Terry forded our first river and I took a bath after falling into our first river. I did a lot of falling because also, I started to fall in love with the horizon on this day. Growing up in Florida, I wasn’t exposed to very many views like the ones I was starting to get a glimpse of in Maine.
Day Four: 23.2 Miles
Rain. We hiked less than five miles. On a good day, the roots and the rocks are treacherous out here and I was already cold before I got soaked. When we stopped for lunch I had to change into dry camp clothes, pile on all of my layers, and crawl into my sleeping bag to try to warm up. We called it a day at 2 o’clock and set up camp. By 6 o’clock I was out of things to do except worry. I started to worry that I hadn’t packed enough food, that we were getting too far behind on schedule and wouldn’t make it through in time, that one of us would get lost/eaten by a bear/trip and fall off the side of a mountain, etc. Finally, I grabbed my shoes and my phone and walked down to the edge of Cloud Pond. I opened my Bible app and started reading about the 40 days that Jesus spent in the Wilderness and out of nowhere, the sun broke through the clouds. It absolutely blinded me so I just tilted my head back and literally felt the worry get burned away. It was crazy and powerful and a feeling I’ll never forget.
Day Five: 30.1 Miles
The worst night’s sleep I’ve ever gotten in my life. My uncle didn’t turn up at the shelter and after running back along the trail to the last ridge where I had seen him and nearly getting myself lost trying to find him, I finally had to accept the advice of a couple of other hikers at the shelter and just wait. I had a lot of time to imagine all of the worst case scenarios.
Day Six: 40 Miles
I found my uncle! At 5:30 a.m. I started hiking back along the trail and got maybe a half mile before running into him. As it turns out, he had gotten turned around probably within a couple hundred feet of the shelter and hiked back a mile along the trail before recognizing a brook we had already crossed. It was too late in the day at that point to try to make it to the shelter so he had set up camp and tried texting me, but didn’t have service. He was chagrined. I was just unspeakably glad that he was OK.
We also hit our first resupply point on this day so our packs got heavier from the replenished food and supplies, but I swear that by the end of the day I felt like my load was so much lighter. Worry, it turns out, is really heavy.
Day Seven: 47.2 Miles
We conquered three mountains: Gulf Hagas, Hay Mountain, and the infamous White Cap. Aside from Katahdin, White Cap was the mountain I had been hearing about the most. No one could stop talking about the views. So, of course, when we finally got to the summit, it was a complete a whiteout. It was still strangely beautiful and cool to be hiking in the clouds, but I was disappointed enough to have missed the views that I decided to hang out for a while in case the clouds blew over. And then the clouds blew over. I spent an hour and a half up there after that eating lunch and drinking it all in.
Day Eight: 58.9 Miles
I made a fire and I learned the true value of moleskin: my uncle and I met a hiker named Max Cracks at the shelter where we made camp. He was just a couple of days into his hike, but his shoes were breaking down already and he had the worst blisters I’ve ever seen. My uncle gave him moleskin and he was so grateful he readjusted my uncle’s knee through some sort of chiropractic witchcraft. I’ve never been to a chiropractor, but I’m pretty sure anywhere else but on the AT it would require more than a couple sheets of moleskin for an appointment.
Day Nine: 74.6 Miles
My first night on the trail completely alone. My uncle got picked up at one of the last roads in the 100-Mile Wilderness in the morning and the shelter that I made it to that night was empty except for me. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid, but it made me appreciate all the more the eight days that I had my uncle there to hike with me. Also, it gave me time to reflect on the conversations and experiences that I’d been able to share with him. If you’re reading this Uncle Terry, thank you so much again.
I met another hiker first thing in the morning! Wet Foot and her dog, Arry, came hiking up just when I was leaving the shelter so I got to enjoy a beautiful day of hiking with a couple of new friends. Arry even saved my life: I was leading our little trio when a grouse flew at us from out of the brush. Arry shot past my leg before I’d even registered what was happening and I think I was frozen with my trekking pole in front of me like a sword for at least a full 30 seconds. By the time I’d unfrozen, both Arry and the grouse were out of sight, but then we saw the chicks and we figured out that the evil bird was actually just a mama bird trying to protect her babies so we called Arry back and kept hiking. I can’t tell you how glad I was that it was a mama grouse and not a mama bear that we’d accidentally gotten too close to.
Day 11: 100 Miles!
My last night in the 100-Mile Wilderness. I stayed at a shelter just three miles shy of the road and the first NOBOs (northbounders) that I saw passed me in this stretch. I’ve noticed on some of the harder stretches that it helps to remember that others have done this before me so when I saw those other hikers that had started in Georgia and were within a day’s hike of completing the entire trail, it made me feel more confident that I could make it too.
Day 12: 113.4 Miles
I was out of the wilderness and standing on a real road again by 8 a.m. Real cars were passing me moving more than 2 mph and I was able to get my first good look at Katahdin. It was more than a little bit intimidating, but also breathtakingly beautiful and honestly exciting. I hiked with a NOBO named Flash the last few miles to the base of Katahdin and got to pick his brains for cheap and easy (and good) trail recipes, favorite hostels, favorite climbs, and close calls with hypothermia. It was cool to see that even though he’d been out here for so long and come so far he was still loving the adventure and reluctant for it to end. Another flip-flop SOBO like me, Over It, caught up to us at Katahdin Stream Campground and the two of us caught a shuttle into town. Our first priority was to get checked in at the hostel, second priority was to shower and do laundry, third priority was pizza.
Day 13: First Zero
This was the day I was supposed to summit Katahdin with my parents, but that plan fell through when their evening flight got canceled while I was eating pizza the night before. They managed to find a flight that would get them to Millinocket by the end of the day, but it would be way too late to try to do any hiking so I unexpectedly got a day to rest and hang out in town; my first zero. It was amazing. I got breakfast at the AT Cafe, walked down to the general store to pick up some supplies, dropped some postcards in the mail at the post office, swung by the library to work on my blog until it closed, and then headed back to the hostel to watch TV (a luxury!) until my parents pulled up. When they’d gotten settled, we grabbed dinner and then packed our day packs for Katahdin.
Day 14: 118.6 Miles
Katahdin. On a good day, this mountain is a monster. We apparently didn’t think that sounded like enough of a challenge so we went on a cold, windy, and rainy day. It’s a five-mile hike from the base to the summit with nearly 4,200 feet in elevation gain and it put everything else that I’d done in the last 13 days to shame. It took us eight or nine hours altogether and it flattened us, but at the end of the day I still had all four limbs, I got my summit pic and I walked away with an unforgettable experience with my parents.
Mom and dad, I know it was stressful getting there, but I hope you know how much I appreciate you making it happen and how much I loved getting to hike with you!
If this first step is any indication of what’s in store in the rest of this hike, I seriously could not be more excited.
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