The Home Stretch
I made it!
I’ve sat down to try to write this post half a dozen times now, and I don’t know what to say, I did it! It was awesome. I miss it already. Is it really over?
It’s been 400 miles since I posted, and wow, New Hampshire onwards was a real game changer. In my last line of my last post I mentioned the saying about New Hampshire–when you get there you’ve done 80% of the trail but 20% of the effort. That might be an exaggeration, but yeah the last two states are hard. Really hard. When I got back to the trail after my last post, Ferris, who was a few days behind after getting off trail for a music festival, had caught up with me and we hiked together until we reached Katahdin. When the whole group was together the two of us were dubbed “Team Bad Guys” because we were the two who would always try to encourage one more zero, or one more drink, or one more hour in town. When they found out we were reunited they gave up all hope that we would ever catch up; Easy Rider texted “see you in Maine…Or never.”
New Hampshire was hard in a rewarding way, there would be challenging climbs up to magnificent views. My favorite day of hiking was here, Ferris and I southbound slack-packed 27.7 miles from Crawford Notch to Franconia Notch. “I love my life, I love my life, I love my life” continually looped through my head. When we got to Mt. Lafayette and Franconia Ridge I was astounded. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that this exists every single day.
The huts in The Whites were not what I was expecting at all. I pictured primitive structures, or really, just glorified shelters that probably had 4 walls and a kitchen. In reality these huts are massive and really nice. A few have been recently renovated and are million dollar operations. Each hut allows a couple of thru-hikers to sleep on the floor in the dining area each night and feeds them all they can eat leftovers from dinner. In return the hikers do some work around the hut. We stayed at Madison and Carter Notch Huts and our duties consisted of setting tables and doing dishes—not a bad gig!
My friend Kate, who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail southbound last summer met up with us for a couple days at the end of New Hampshire and the beginning of Maine. It turns out she picked 30 of the hardest miles to do with us, and she was such a champ. It was so great having her there, and she definitely provided a much needed morale boost. 1900 miles in we were pretty sick of hiking, in the same breath we’d talk about wanting to take zeros for weeks and then we’d be planning our next thru-hiking adventure. She completely understood the love/hate contradictory relationship that a thru-hiker has with the trail when the end draws near.
Maine was hard, but not in the way that New Hampshire was hard. New Hampshire gave rewards for its challenges, Maine did not. While New Hampshire challenged you in a way that was good for you, Maine just spent the better part of its 281 miles trying to kill you. The trail was a river most of the time, roots and rocks were always taking you down. Or… well, taking me down, and it was completely unrelenting. I met Zachsquatch and his group just outside of Rangeley ME and they explained that they envisioned Maine as a disapproving father figure; he pushes you too hard and you don’t like him, but you respect him. Then they reasoned that ME is probably a woman though, because it’s a complete bitch.
Don’t get me wrong, Maine was beautiful. By the time I got there though my body was physically wrecked and ready to be done. At the same time I was trying to enjoy the last of the trail and come to terms with the trail ending and having to say goodbye to the hiker lifestyle and all my new friends. Whenever I’d get down on Maine I’d tell myself that I’m in the final week of the adventure of my life, I’ll miss this more than I can imagine sooner than I know, so bring it on Maine! And then…. it did
We finally caught up to everyone on the second to last night on the trail. Ferris and I finished off the 100 mile wilderness with an epic 35 mile day into Abol Campground and got a ride into Millinocket. Chef, Bones, Giggles, Chuckles, and Breakfast had made it into town early in the day. Rocky and Easy Rider had summited Katahdin that morning (the 13th) and were heading home on the 14th. We saw them all morning of the 14th and said our goodbyes to Easy Rider and Rocky. I really wish they could have summited with us. The weather predictions that week were all over the place, and they went up on the day that looked like it was going to be the best. Unfortunately their summit day was rainy in cold, but hey, badass points to them for that!
On the 14th we hiked the 10 miles to the Birches Lean-Tos at Katahdin Stream Campground. Ferris and I showed up fashionably late after having a long lunch at Abol Campground before hitting the trail—we had to get one last night hike in! In the morning we all woke up at 5:10 and by 7ish we were starting the 5 final miles to the summit. As mentioned above, the weather reports were all over the place. We thought for sure that the day was going to be horrible and rainy, we were all prepared to have no view and essentially tag the sign and climb back down. To all of our surprise, the day was perfect. We got to the top around 9am after what was definitely the toughest (but most fun) climb of the trip, there were all kinds of rocks to maneuver over. It was a perfect summit. Champagne bottles were popped, the sun was out, there wasn’t even much wind. By the time we started hiking back down around 11, there were over two dozen other thru hikers at the summit.
And now what? A friend from school picked me up from Katahdin and I had a great day on the coast of Maine before coming home to Vermont. Once home I spent about a day watching Law & Order with wine in hand from a Jacuzzi tub–as I had imagined for miles on end–but that got old pretty fast. The best part about being home is waking up late every morning, pulling myself out of bed by 10 or 11, thrilled that no one is waking me up at 5am with a “Sparky we’re walking!” and me groaning back “whaaaat?! whyyyyy??? It’s not even 6 yet!”
I leave for grad school in two weeks and I’m trying to keep my mind on that, but, being stationary is hard. Two days ago I decided to hike up my favorite mountain in the area. A climb that used to take me 1.5-2 hours took me 55 minutes. It felt good after four zeros to get on a trail again, even if it wasn’t the trail. A full week later, my feet still throb when they hit the floor in the morning, and if I sit for an hour or more at I time I feel like an old lady when I get up and my knees ache with each step. For now though, those pains, the healing scrapes on my body, and the thousand pictures I took are what reminds me that I just completed something huge and it wasn’t all a dream.
Since getting back I’ve run some numbers:
-The entire hike took 146 days
-I took 28 zero days
-Just looking at days I hiked I averaged 18.6 miles/day
-Zeros included it was an average of 15 miles/day
30+miles: 6 days
25-29.9 miles: 15 days
20-24.9 miles: 29 days
10-19.9 miles: 57 days
<10 miles: 11 days
-Longest continuous stretch in the woods: 5 nights
-Longest continuous stretch indoors: 6 nights
-I slack-packed on 13 days for a total of 233 miles (though surprisingly none of those slack-packs were on my highest mileage days, the most I slacked in one day was 27.8 miles)
-I spent the most time hiking with:
Rocky: 102 nights
Chef: 82 nights
Ferris: 68 nights
Easy Rider: 48 nights
Bones: 26 nights
-But in miles that looks like this:
Easy Rider: 755.3
So, I guess all that’s left to say is thank you Appalachian Trials for following me throughout my hike! I’ve had a great time blogging my experience out there and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading along.
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