All Good Things Must Come to an End: My Final 2 Weeks on the Appalachian Trail

I’ve done it! I hiked the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. I could just post my summit photo and jump right to next adventure (or, working for the man, ugh), but I think I’d be a little remiss if I didn’t share with you my experiences and pictures during my last two weeks on the trail leading up to my Mt. Katahdin summit.

In my last post, I’d left off in Rangeley, ME, and since then I completed the Saddlebacks and Bigelows, the 100 mile Wilderness, and summited Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

Maine is a Water Wonderland

The trail in Maine leading up to the fantastic finale atop Mt Katahdin is a beautiful, fitting end to my time as a homeless woodsman. I left Rangely after an awesome stay and day of rest (ok mostly just eating) with my hiking buddy’s friend Xavier. Big shout out to X for taking us in and cooking for us!

The Saddleback Range

The Saddleback Range was one of my first tastes of just how beautiful this state is. Dozens of lakes and ponds dot the landscape from the rugged mountain tops. The Saddlebacks are above treeline, so even though there’s a big climb and drop in elevation, with such great views I didn’t even notice. Oh, and wild blueberries at both peaks made the climb even more enjoyable! Put those blueberries in my mouth!

Ponds, Lakes, Rivers. Whatever you call them, I’m down for a swim

Forget crushing miles, I’m crushing these beautiful little hiker treats

My Favorite Day in Maine: The Bigelows

For five months, I’ve been working towards one tangible goal. On a beautiful day in central Maine, I caught my first glimpse of that goal in the distance, and I couldn’t help but just stare at it in disbelief for much longer than I’d planned.

I’d started the day camped with Chiclet right near the Horn pond, having fallen asleep to the sound of loons, my all time favorite bird call. Maine’s mornings have been quite chilly, so it motivates us to start climbing mountains just to warm up.

Looking down at the Horn pond and the North and South Horn

We climbed Bigelow West Peak, and the views back to the Saddlebacks, Avery Peak, Little Bigelow, and down to Maine’s many ponds, lakes, and rivers wer breathtaking. Both Bigelow peaks were above treeline, so I stopped constantly to take all the views in during the hike from West Peak to Avery Peak.

Above treeline is always best!

The view from West Peak to Avery Peak and Little Bigelow

Chiclet loves water!!

From Avery Peak, I spotted Mt. Katahdin far off in the distance. My first sight of the end was incredible. After so many days toiling on the trail, I could physically set my sights on my goal. It was an exciting, beautiful moment, but also a little melancholy. Chiclet and I sat on the Peak for over an hour, staring at the view and eating all of our snacks for the day (since hiker hunger is real and I have no discipline when it comes to chocolate anymore).

Surveying all of the peaks I’ve conquered

I loved this day. And this view. You can’t see it in a picture, but this is where I first saw Mt Katahdin

The Beginning of the End: the 100 Mile Wilderness

After finishing the Bigelow’s, a stay in the town of Caratunk, ME (population 50), and easy, boring two days into Monson, Chiclet and I set off into the abyss of the 100 mile wilderness.

Whoops. Only brought 5 days of supplies. This sign is for newbies

The 100 mile wilderness is billed as one of the most remote, rugged, and beautiful sections of the entire Appalachian Trail. In reality it’s not quite a wilderness and not quite 100 miles. In my 5 days in the wilderness, I was rained on for 4 straight days. As a result, my opinion of the 100 mile wilderness is a bit skewed. Luckily, the terrain is comparatively flat, some of the flattest on the entire trail.

One of the few post rain views from the wilderness

There is beauty in the 100 mile wilderness, but the trail and the campsites were so busy at times it reminded me of the early days in Georgia where every shelter was swarmed with thru hikers. I think I passed at least 5 separate groups of 10-15 teenage girls out for an “adventure camp” in the wilderness. Lots of section hikers were out as well to tackle the wilderness. Maybe I hit this part of the trail at the wrong time of year, but it certainly lacked the remoteness I’d been led to believe it possessed.

Beaches make for long impromptu breaks

The wilderness’s redeeming qualities were a plethora of beautiful ponds and lakes and my first up close views of the big K. It didn’t rain all day everyday, so I did get to savor some of my last few days on the trail drying myself out temporarily while stuffing my face with wild blueberries. The terrain is flat but rocky, but in comparison it’s really like the red carpet to Katahdin for a northbound hiker.

There’s not a lot of mountains to climb in the 100 mile wilderness, but there are a lot of ponds to camp at!

First up close view of Mt Katahdin shrouded in clouds

Staring at the End in disbelief

Disbelief in Katahdin’s Shadow

All in all it took me 5 days to complete the 100 mile wilderness. The feeling I got as I crossed the Abol Bridge and was greeted by a stunning close up view of Katahdin was of utter disbelief. Only 15 miles separated from the summit. I’d made it to my goal. There she was in all her beauty. I celebrated at the Abol Bridge Restaurant with ice cream of course. I was joined by several other thru hikers I’d had the pleasure of meeting along the way. We all shared stories and beers and did the hiker trash thing by camping next to a free dirt mountain rather than paying to stay at the either of the campgrounds adjacent to our dirt mound home.

Soaking in the views of Katahdin. I walked a long way to get here!

A beautiful sunset from the Abol Bridge with a view of Katahdin

Due to Baxter State Parks camping restrictions and my desire to have a shorter summit day, I only hiked 10 miles the next day in order to camp at the base of Katahdin. We got there by noon. With nothing to do, the group of us summiting the next day wasted the day lounging in Katahdin’s shadow and sharing our Last Supper on the trail. When I retired, I couldn’t sleep, anxious like a kid before Christmas for the morning’s climb.

The Big Niagara Falls

The Last Supper with tornado, train wreck, hoochie mama, tugboat, and chiclet! I think I’m the only one who went for the appropriate 12 disciples look

Last fire on the last night (and beautiful hair)

Summit Day

In order to beat the swarm of day hikers that attempt Baxter Peak every day, Chiclet and I got an early start, filled with nervous excitement about our final climb. After nearly 5 months and 2200 miles of hiking, today was the day we were to end our journey. The whole day felt utterly surreal. We’d planned on a 9th of August summit due to the better chance of a clear weather day. We started our 5 mile, nearly 5000′ elevation gain climb with a beautiful clear sky.

The Katahdin Stream Falls through the trees

The first mile of the climb was beautiful and flat as we followed the Katahdin Stream up to the Katahdin Stream Falls. Chiclet and I kept asking each other, “Is this real? Can you believe we’re actually climbing Katahdin?” Once we got past the falls, we began our climb in earnest. The bulk of the climb is in the middle 3 miles. And boy what a climb it was, with near technical boulder scrambling, climbing, and big views.

Enjoying the steep climb and awesome views from Katahdin!

Look at all this land I just walked!

I hope you’re not afraid of heights out here

The view up the Gateway, which looks a lot less steep in a picture than it actually is

The Gateway, the last steep portion of the climb, is all above treeline with far reaching views back into the wilderness and an ominous view of the extremely steep climb to come. Unfortunately, the wide open view revealed the ominous incoming clouds. Despite my pleas for the sun to burn off the clouds, Baxter Peak on Katahdin and the Tableland was completely socked in.

No clouds please go away!

Fog out in the Tableland

Once we passed the Gateway to the Tableland, the easy last mile and a half to the end, we walked in a fog. Every step was propelled by the idea that the sign on Katahdin, the end, would appear out of the clouds at any moment. I passed a few fellow thru hikers on there way down, we hugged and congratulated each other on our feat. As we kept walking, for 10 brief, magical seconds, the sun partially cleared the fog, and I saw the sign atop the peak not 50 yards away. It’s real! It exists!

Omg I can see it!

Pumping my fists, and yelling, I quickened my pace till I reached the sign, bent down and kissed it, then jumped atop the sign, raising my fists and yelling at the top of my lungs in victory! My long trek was over!

Perseverance and Victory!

Now that’s a happy Blue Steel!

Chiclet and I’s “Titanic” pose! We ended up hiking about a quarter of the trail together by the end of it. I gotta credit Chiclet, who’s only 19 and had never backpacked a day in his life, for finishing this thing with me against all odds! I’m happy to have summited with you, and thanks for keeping me sane!

Miles Hiked So Far:

All 2190 of Them! Now What?!?

Thanks everyone for following along with my journey! It’s been incredible and life changing. If you any have questions about my experience or think it would be cool if I wrote a little bit more about my reflections, gear, advice, etc, comment below and let me know! Until then, this is Blue Steel, signing off. Follow my Instagram for any future (but probably less epic) adventures I go on.

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Comments 18

  • Teresa Voorheis : Aug 12th

    Well, A.J., I am your mom’s cousin, just to let you know.
    I think your accomplishment is outstanding and wish I could have been with you.
    How exciting!!
    Did you ever run into any wild animals or scary people?
    Did you have a weapon with you just in case?
    Good to know you weren’t alone.
    You weren’t alone in the beginning, were you?
    I heard you talk about “Chiclet.”
    Congrats on your accomplishment, you should be very proud.
    How did you get back home?


    • A.J. Matthews (Blue Steel) : Aug 14th

      Hi Teresa! Thanks for following along! I saw lots of wildlife, everything from bears to snakes to porcupines. Didn’t see any moose though. There’s a few weirdos on the AT, but few and far between.

      I walked most of the trail alone. I met Chiclet along the way and we walked together on and off for about a quarter of the trail. I didn’t carry any weapon since the AT is really a very safe trail and there’s just no need to carry extra weight.

      Just got home yesterday after a quick stop in Rhode Island and Boston!

  • Elizabeth : Aug 12th


    I have to tell you that my husband, Bob, is 71 and hiked about the same time as you through parts of the trail. He’s started in Harper’s Ferry to Great Barrington and has done sections for weeks at a time. The day I picked him up in GB you had just reached the summit of Greylock. He has been home, tired but thrilled for what he did, and now holding our first grandchild with the hopes of taking him to the Delaware Water Gap one day, we live in NJ. He plans to reenter the trail in Harpers Ferry and head south after Labor day, and God willing restart in GB next spring.

    Just by fluke, totally random, I fell across your blog. I was looking to follow a few people on their quest north and your writing grabbed me, you explained the trail clearly as if I was there. You allowed through your thoughts, pictures and explanations to feel the thrill and emotions. You should use these writing and storytelling talents in future endeavors, be an adventure writer or travel blogger – you are an excellent writer. I traveled the trail with you and when you went from Harper’s Ferry to GB, I knew from Bob’s experiences, pictures and trials on the trail where you were. I shared your blog with him and we are both so thrilled and excited for you to accomplish such an amazing life goal. I also loved how you came upon new friends, their trail names and that you accomplished your goal with Chiclet. Not sure why but you crossed paths so much that when you made it to “the big K” together I was cheering you both on.

    Congratulations, enjoy life and seek new adventures

    Elizabeth Carlson

    • A.J. Matthews (Blue Steel) : Aug 14th

      Thanks Elizabeth! Thanks for followingn along! If your husband gets back out there on the trail, he’s in for a real treat! There’s a lot of beauty out there!! I’m glad you were able to see a little bit of what he’s gone through by my writing!

  • Bob : Aug 13th

    Congratulations A.J! I have enjoyed reading your posts on “The Trek” from the beginning of your journey. Awesome job! What’s next PCT, CDT? I am sure that whatever path you choose in life, you will be successful.

    • A.J. Matthews (Blue Steel) : Aug 14th

      Thanks for following along Bob! I don’t think I’m done hiking, that’s for sure. I think I’d like to another long trail eventually, but right now I’ve got my sights set on the Wonderland Trail (93 mile trail that circumnavigated Mt. Rainier in Washington State where I live) before starting another job, whatever that may be.

  • Daddy Longlegs : Aug 13th

    Congratulations on a significant accomplishment by an outstanding young man. I am so proud for you and thankful for the opportunity to have walked with you a little on this amazing journey. Best wishes to you on your future endeavors and, if you ever find yourself in the ATL, give me a shout… beers on me.
    Best wishes and safe travels,

    • A.J. Matthews (Blue Steel) : Aug 14th

      Thanks Daddy Long Legs! It was a blast hiking with you for the section we did! I’m hoping for a speedy recovery for you!

  • David Odell : Aug 13th

    Congratulations on finishing your AT hike. Enjoyed your excellent journal. David Odell AT71 PCT72 CDT77

  • Toni : Aug 14th

    Dear Blue Steel,
    Our son is in the Whites now with a few weeks to go…we feel the thrill and awe by seeing your photos and reading your posts. Thank you for sharing this awesome experience with us. You take us on the trip with you. We can feel it. Knowing our son is there gives us goosebumps and can feel as much as one can the excitement, awe and emotion.
    I do have a question however, how does one return afterwards? Are there family members picking them up or do they fly back take a train? We are so proud of your accomplishment and our son. Do we meet him to share the joy? Or step back? How do folks get back to their home state in general I know it’s personal to each one just wondering?
    This is an amazing accomplishment of a lifetime, changing one forever. Congratulations BlueSteel!

    • A.J. Matthews (Blue Steel) : Aug 14th

      Hi Toni, thanks for following along! It truly was a life changing adventure!

      As far as meeting your son, every situation is different. Unless you’re a strong hiker, I’d suggest not making the climb up Katahdin since he’ll probably be so much faster as a hiker. But if he wants you guys there for the celebration, by all means go for it!

      Every one is able to find a way home relatively easily. I was able to get a ride to Bangor, ME from another thru hiker’s mom who’d come to pick him up the day after our summit. From bangor you can fly anywhere (or get a bus to Boston where it was much cheaper to fly anywhere)!

      Thanks again and good luck to your son!

      • Toni : Aug 15th

        Oh thank you so much for your reply Blue Steel it means a lot that you took the time with my concern. That all makes sense. We made the offer now we will see what will happen. It’s his call and we 100% support whatever is his wish.
        We have so much aww and respect for you folks and so proud for you. With what you have all accomplished I know it is life changing and you will never be the same. Just more wonderful!
        Blessings in your life,

  • Glenn : Aug 16th

    Congratulations A.J. – what an awesome accomplishment. As others have posted, you did an excellent job describing and photographing your adventure. I accidentally came across your post while surfing some articles on the AT, and haven’t had a chance to read all of them but was particularly interested in your time in the White mountains. I’ve hiked all the 4000s in NH and about 6 or 7 in Maine (albeit about 25 years ago), brought back some great memories. Have often thought about hiking AT, but I’m pushing 60 and not sure knees and back would hold up.

    A few questions, if you don’t mind:
    – thoughts on tent vs hammock (having been hearing more about folks using hammocks)
    – did you see many 50+ thru hikers?
    – Any changes in your gear that you would recommend now?

    Good luck with your future endeavors.

  • lorrie hess : Aug 18th

    Congrats! You write so well it seemed I could feel your excitement and strong emotion of finishing coming through. I can’t wait to be the one experiencing some of the same next year.

  • Doug Martin : Aug 20th

    A.J., I have followed you all the way!!! All I can say about you is You Just Did It!! No whining…just did it. Congratulations. You should be very proud and happy!

  • Benjamin Lohrengel : Oct 6th

    AJ, thanks for all your writing and pictures here, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading them as this summer has gone on! Congrats on completing the whole trail, people like you , inspire the heck outta me!

    Thanks again!!


  • Mills : Jan 30th

    Hi. I’m building a website on the history of the AT and would like to use one of the images here — you alone standing on the sign in victory pose. Let me know if that’s ok with you. Thanks.

    • A.J. Matthews : Jan 30th

      Hi mills, I wouldn’t have a problem with that if you could credit me with the photo (either to my instagram or to this blog). I’d love to see your website when it shapes up!

      Blue Steel


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