The Final Days of Hiking (September 1-4)
Of all the days of this journey, this is the week I really embraced the oft repeated trail mantra, “Hike your own hike!” I definitely chose a different kind of ending to this journey than most. After summiting Katahdin, I decided to turn around and re-enter the 100 Mile Wilderness, hiking southbound to Monson, where Mom and Dad could pick me up. I had several reasons for it- killing time until Mom and Dad could get up here, wouldn’t have to pay for lodging anywhere, good time for reflection on the trip, and the chance to see some friends behind me.
Within a mile of entering the 100 Mile Wilderness, I looked up the trail at an approaching hiker and recognized my old friend Grey Eagle. This meeting in itself was enough to make me feel the decision had been a good one. It was such a good feeling to see him on trail one last time and share congratulations on having come so far. When I told him what I was doing, he shook his head and said, “I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it!” I think he thought I was crazy. I kind of thought he was crazy- he told me he had done 35 miles that day! I feel so proud of my old friend- 75 years old and keeping up all the way with the young kids! I wish we would have run into each other more often on the trail, but for the longest time, he was ahead of me and I couldn’t catch up! What a hiker!
There was something so comforting about camping that first night after summiting Katahdin. I went through all the motions that had become so automatic- setting up my tent, eating dinner, filtering water. I have an appreciation and fondness of this routine and the new skills that have become so familiar to me. In the days to follow I looked ahead to mountains I would soon summit and thought about how conditioned we’ve all become. As tiring as the climbs might be, I had no doubt I would make it up those mountains. I can literally hike all day now, where once I hiked a few hours until noon, and then trudged through the rest of the day.
The week was a week of much thought and reflection. It was a completely different experience hiking through this section alone, after having hiked through it with friends. I was much more aware of the scenery around me, noting how often the trail runs by lake or stream, particularly in the northern half of the wilderness. I couldn’t believe how much I had missed or been distracted from on my first time through. I guess there had been so much anticipation for Katahdin, and I had been distracted by my hiking partners, so my attention was on different things. No less worthy things, but it was nice to experience it a different way this second time through.
The trail itself was beautiful. Just as there were a few rainy times, there were other days that were absolutely beautiful with clear skies and sun. The leaves changed more each day, covering the trail at times with pretty reds and yellows. I often had to stop to pick up the prettiest leaves, nature’s brilliant artwork.
Some moments were melancholy. I passed spots on the trail that had good memories from the last week, like, “That’s where we all camped together and heard the coyotes!” or “We took a nice break here”. I often stopped for a moment there to dwell on that memory, but tried not to get too caught up in the past. I wanted to be open to making new memories this second time through. There were many good, new memories. Often in the evenings I sat by campfires with other hikers, all of us talking about the hike ending soon or other hikers we had met along the way. I was very interested by the southbound thru hikers I met- their nights will only be getting colder with time, something I would dread!
It was neat to hike southbound and watch northbound thru hikers approaching, sometimes struggling, towards their goal. There were a few I recognized, but many who I didn’t recognize. I saw so many hiking alone, which surprised me. When I was hiking alone, it was often easy to imagine everyone else hiking with friends or in groups. I felt so inspired to see these northbound hikers. Many looked tired and weary, but they all looked deeply determined. Even though I didn’t know them, I felt so proud of them for having come so far.
The nights were definitely getting cooler, and some days were rainy during my time out there. I felt less resilient and patient about adverse weather in my last week! I was worn out, hiking long miles in order to meet mom and Dad within 5 days. There was also a necessity in this, as my food supply would only last so long. I ate more in this week than any other week on the trail! I laid in my tent my final night, listening to the rain beat down on the tent and hoping nothing leaked too bad. I was warm enough in my sleeping bag, but the temperature outside was cold! I called Mom and Dad to see if they could pick me up the next night. (They were attending a wedding, then driving up from that). I said, “If I hike all day tomorrow, can you pick me up?” Dad said, “We’ll come get you!” I said, “Ah, I can’t wait to take a shower and stretch out in a motel!” But they didn’t say anything for a minute and then laughed and laughed. Dad said, “I brought the camping gear!” I laughed then too, but I thought, well, maybe they’ll change their mind when they smell me and my gear!
I hiked all day the next day, enjoying the change from rain to sunny warmth in the afternoon. When I took breaks and sat, it was very hard to get moving again. Eventually night fell, and I had to dig out my headlight. I thought it was kind of funny that this was the first time, on the entire trip, that I had hiked alone so late into the night. I hiked for a while, eventually giving in to the suspense and calling Mom and Dad. They were hiking in towards me, their own headlights in place! Eventually I saw headlights approaching me, and we were reunited on the trail! Mom brought me a sub and Dad said, “Want to find a nice rock to sit on to eat? You must be hungry!” I was so happy they did that! We all relaxed on the trail, in the dark, while I ate. Mom said, “It’s so neat out here! We’ve been turning off our lights once in a while to take in the moon.” The moon was really beautiful. On the way back they remarked about different things along the trail, the White Reindeer moss, the roots, the lakes nearby. It was neat to finish that way. I was so exhausted that before meeting them, I couldn’t truly appreciate the surrounding, and now familiar, scenery. But it was good to see the trail through their fresh eyes.
So I finished the trail just as it was started- with Mom and Dad. I told them, “If you think about it, now you’ve basically driven the Appalachian Trail- twice!” They laughed, but I could sense a weary undertone. It’s been a lot of driving for them, but I’m glad they picked me up. My journey has been a journey for all of us, in a way. I’m so thankful for them, and all the friends and family who have been a part of it!
This was a good week, and a good way to think about the trip and start transitioning back to off trail life. May we all find ways to reflect on our journeys and what they have meant for us.
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