A Dream Fulfilled (Day 175, Katahdin)
Start: Katahdin Stream Campground
Finish: Katahdin – Baxter Peak
AT Miles Hiked Today: 5.2
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 2,189.1
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 0
The final day dawned cold – It must have dropped down into the low-40’s last night at Katahdin Stream Campground. I woke at 4:30 when Reindeer got up to pee, and was too excited to fall back asleep. My parents tell me that when I was a kid, I would get overexcited for things like vacations and birthdays, and proceed to not sleep and vomit and poop everywhere because I was so excited. I managed not to spill bodily fluids this time, but I was still really, really excited. This is it – This is the day I’ve been dreaming of for years, this is the day I’ve been walking towards for 6 months! When my alarm went off at 5:30, Reindeer and I quickly packed up and headed over to the AT.
My Uncle David was driving in and meeting us at the base of Katahdin, so we waited for him to show up in the cold. A few other hikers were meeting drivers, and they were walking around to stay warm. Reindeer and I had hand warmers, which helped immensely with the cold! Hand warmers are a really cheap and light form of insurance for when it gets cold out on the trail. Future hikers, take note.
My uncle arrived around 6:30 and we headed up the mountain!
The trail started off easy enough. We were hiking in puffy jackets and winter hats. It was still above freezing, though, so we stopped about a mile in and threw our coats, gloves, and hats into our day packs. (Thank goodness we didn’t need to schlep our full packs up this mountain!)
The trail started to turn pretty technical about 2 miles in. Many hikers have said that Katahdin is the most difficult climb on the entire trail. I began to see why as we finally got above tree line.
The wind was biting above tree line, and it got really cold, really fast. We threw back on our warm clothes. I put on my gloves and winter hat. Reindeer didn’t have gloves, and was paying the price – His fingers were frozen, and the climbing was so technical above tree line that he couldn’t leave his hands in his pockets as he hiked. The hand warmers were the only thing between him and blue fingers.
The day clouded over (what happened to our mostly sunny forecast??) and the winds were gusting at 30+ mph (what happened to our 5-10 mph forecast???). The steep section of Katahdin was rough! Lots of climbing up and over boulders and carefully navigating handholds and footholds. It wasn’t a cardio challenge as much as it was a flexibility challenge. I can see how some hikers get overanxious, try to rush their ascent, and end up falling and really hurting themselves.
On our way up we saw many familiar faces who had summited closer to sunrise. Calves, Coach and Sunflower came by first, then Purple Mist and Optimist later in the climb. Each time we stopped to hug, high five, and back slap each other. Their grins could light up a room. Their journey was over, as would mine within a few short hours.
Once we got over the difficult ascent to the last mile or so (called “The Table”), the trail really smoothed and leveled out. We were still frozen and being buffeted by winds, but the hard part of our ascent was over. But, it was definitely below freezing. Ice everywhere on the trail. Ice in our beards. Ice in our mustaches.
On a clear day, we would be able to see the summit as we walked along The Table, but today, we were in the clouds, and could barely see 20 feet in any direction.
We began to see brief snatches of blue sky, and Reindeer and I started yelling “COME ON, SUN!” every time it would get a bit brighter. The sun actually made a few appearances as we excitedly walked the last half mile.
Then, there it was – The End.
It was over in a flash. Reindeer and I walked up to the sign together, touched it at the same time, and let out primal screams of joy. We started slapping the sign, hugging each other, high fiving everyone around us, and laughing like idiots. That’s it! No view? No problem! This was the happiest moment of my entire life.
We retreated to the east side of the summit rocks, where there wasn’t as much wind, and sat down. Then, all of a sudden, I was crying. There was no moment of “Oh shit, am I about to cry?” – One moment I was smiling and talking with Reindeer, the next I was bawling uncontrollably.
It’s hard to put the emotions into words, but I’ll try. The adrenaline of my last day on trail carried me all the way to the summit, and the excitement of finally seeing and touching the sign carried me through the photos. Now, resting out of the wind, with my 6 month journey behind me, I was left with nothing but an immense amount of joy and gratitude. The weight of a thru-hike had been lifted off my shoulders. There was no more “What If?” scenarios running through my head. No more worrying. I’m done. I’m going home. Relief was flooding through me. It’s over. I did it. I achieved my dream, and now I’m going home.
The clouds broke on our way down from the summit, and we were treated to some spectacular views.
My Uncle David brought us come Coca-Cola to celebrate our summit, and once we got below tree line, Reindeer and I got to sit and drink to our success.
The rest of the day was amazing. We drove back to millinocket where my family was waiting to celebrate with me. My mom and dad drove up from North Carolina, and my little sister flew up as well. My dog was there waiting for me. Reindeer’s mom had somehow, through pure luck, gotten the hotel room directly next to mine. We all sat and drank and celebrated. I finally showered after 8 days, tying my longest stretch of the entire trail. We all went out to dinner that night. Then, an early bed time. I doubt I’ve had a more emotionally-draining day in my entire life.
No more waking up and planning water sources. No more breaking down my tent and putting everything I own on my back. No more walking 20 miles a day over mountains. This is the end of an amazing journey. Am I sad or happy? I don’t know yet. I know I’m tired, though, so for now, I’m content to be finished and sleeping in a real bed for the night.
There will be another post in a week, or two, or maybe a month. Who knows? I think some time will be needed to really reflect on what the heck I just went through over the last 6 months. Truly, this is one of the greatest things I have ever accomplished. I am so happy to have hiked the Appalachian Trail this year. What an adventure it’s been.
Until next time, happy trails!
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