How to End Your EPIC Hike
The end of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike was one of happiest and saddest moments of my life. Is it possible to laugh and cry out of happiness and sorrow at the same time? Thinking about my experience on the trail fills me with the deepest emotions I have felt in years. While being home and returning to work, my raw and unprocessed emotions would catch me often, swinging me back into a deep emotional state. To clarify, not necessarily one of depression or extreme joy, but something new and something profound. However, to keep up with the theme of my sarcastic blogposts, let me give you some silly suggestions of how to end your hike, and afterwards, I’ll tell you all about my epic ending.
How to end your Thru-Hike:
- Stop walking. That’s the easiest way. You can do this at any moment along your 2,189 miles. I did this many times, in fact. Due to the fact, however, that I eventually continued walking again (perhaps because I really did not know what else to do) this was not the way I chose to end my hike.
- Get blown off a mountain by 65-80 mph winds. If you can find the wind, this is also an easy, albeit, terrifying way to go. My hike almost ended this way while I was crossing over Avery Peak in the Bigelow Mountain Range up in Maine. Thankfully, as my body began sailing away in a massive wind gust, (literally, it was as if I were a feather), headed towards one of the many steep cliff edges, my friend, Dane (a delightful Danish man section hiking New Hampshire and Maine), grounded himself and caught me by my backpack. Thus, my hike did not end there and I was given the chance to continue walking through Maine. You can guarantee you won’t see me on a mountain again if I get wind (hah!) of forecasted high gusts above treeline.
- Get swept away in one of the dozens of river fords in Maine. Although I have been swept away in high water before, luckily, on my thru-hike, I managed to avoid this. I made it through the hundred-mile wilderness before the terrible rainstorm that hit September 29-30, which flooded hundreds of towns in Maine. Unfortunately, many of my friends and fellow hikers did not, leaving them stranded at river crossings, waiting for the water to go down, sometimes requiring helicopter assistance!
- Get stomped on by a moose. Not my preference, personally. In Maine, there are plenty of Moose that will unknowingly help you end your hike. They are not very bright, so if you put your tent up right in their path (you can usually see their paths which are heavily marked with moose prints and moose poops), you have a good chance they’ll just walk on and over your tent during the night. There were several times I was forced to look for a stealth camp spot (sometimes the sun would set a few miles before the shelter, and you could either look for an elusive flat spot where you were, or try to hike over the slippery boulders and roots in the dark). Sometimes, the only flat (let’s be clear, that’s a relative term here), spot would be clearly in a moose trail. In those cases, I walked around a bit longer to find a spot without moose prints, sometimes preferring to sleep on some roots that seem to have been crafted solely for the purpose of cutting off circulation in my hips.
- Summit Katahdin (or Springer). I may be biased here, but given the previous options, this was arguably the best way for me to end my hike. Common side effects include: elation, inability to talk, singing of odd songs, extreme hunger and the potential for depression, frostbite and beards. Luckily, I only experienced a few of those side effects.
I have a ton of stories that I would love to share about the last portion of my hike (Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine). But, there are far too many stories, and they are far too crazy to share here. I’m afraid you may lose bladder control if you combined the fact that you would not be able to stop reading it with the fact that they are hilarious. I think the only fitting way to share them all would be in book form. I know, however, that clearly my hike-ending-drama is the most pressing thing in your life at the moment, so I’ll give you a nice recap:
Vermont was beautiful. I finally recovered from the extreme muscle fatigue caused by the cryptosporidium by end of Vermont. To be honest, I’m so grateful I recovered because there were many times I did not know if my body could continue. The cryptosporidium left me in an exhausted state. I was so fatigued, I would have to go into town and just sleep straight through the day and night to feel like I had enough energy to keep going. In fact, for weeks I felt like I could set my tent up anywhere and on anything and sleep for hours. Little hills felt like giant mountains and I was afraid my muscles would not be able to handle the White Mountains coming up. My friend from home, Phil, had brought me my car so I could try slackpacking myself through parts of New Hampshire in an attempt to give my body a little break to better recover and heal.
At this point, the beginning of New Hampshire, my trail family was broken up into bits and pieces as people began to branch off due to different desired finish dates. Some people had to jump way ahead in order to make it in time, while others decided they wanted to slowly make their way to the end of the trail. Regardless, I found myself alone again in a forest of people I more or less knew, but did not consider my trail family. Although, I did not necessarily want to hike alone, I enjoyed the independence. In the morning I drove my car ahead, hiked south, and hitchhiked back (or found another hiker to drive my car back). I slept in my car and occasionally hiked with others. It was a wild time.
One day (because, I had mistakenly decided I was suddenly in great shape again and should do 25 miles over four mountains in southern NH), when I wanted to attempt to fit 14 more miles in after already completing 11 miles, I was dropped off by a willing hiker up north. He then brought my car back south, 14 miles. All I had to do was hike the extra 14 miles south to my car… over two large mountains. Now, this was going to be a big day, but my body felt great. It probably would have been fine had it not been 4:00 pm at the time I was finally able to get a ride up north. I booked it up the first mountain, quite impressed with myself and feeling cocky. I probably should have foreshadowed my terrible evening when I passed the Hiker Family (an entire family… with many children… all hiking the entire trail). They said they had been working on that stretch the entire day. This is a fast family and that was not good news. I continued on to summit Mount Cube and was dismayed to find that the way down was rocky, steep and slick. I saw the next mountain far in the distance and cursed myself for taking on this adventure. It was going to be a dark and long night. I had hoped to summit the second mountain before dark, but the slick terrain meant I only reached the base of the second mountain at dark. There was no road out and the only way forward was to keep going. I was nervous about the battery life in my headlamp, not knowing if it would be able to last another 4-5 hours of night hiking, so I climbed for an hour up Smarts Mountain in the dark. Luckily, there was a full moon that night, and the path up was relatively smooth. I pretty much ran up the mountain, making it to the summit at an impressive speed, arriving around 8-9. I figured I would be back down the other side in no time. Hiking in the dark, however, can be very tricky when the way down is all granite cliffs, precipices and boulders. Did you know that quartz looks an awful like a white blaze in the dark? Unfortunately, I was out most of the evening, circling around rock cliffs, looking for the trail. Eventually, I learned to look for the slightly more worn looking fungus growing on the rocks. This, apparently, was more useful than looking for white blazes.
Night hiking for some is a pleasant experience. It might have been for me if I had not just happened to read an article about mountain lions returning to New Hampshire. To put it lightly, I was a bit on edge. At one point, I was coming around a corner of one of the many exposed rock cliffs, and was spooked beyond belief when I heard some animal sounds. I called out, in an attempt to scare them, only to hear some people respond in return. I had never been so relieved to hear people before. Two thru-hikers were camping out near the cliffs and had heard me walking. We both thought we were scary animals and were both relieved that we were not the dreaded mountain lion. At this point, I figured that although I was high up, I had been out so long that I had to be close to the finish. The thru-hikers informed me that unfortunately, I still had a least a couple miles of rough tricky trails to go. Oops.
I said farewell and continued on, knowing that the only way down was… to keep going. I sang loudly the entire way to spook off any possibly mountain lions. I checked behind me several times to make sure the mountain lions were not following me (at this point, I’m pretty sure I thought a pack was stalking me). Every squirrel was lion.
And bam, hours later, just when I think I was about to lose my cool (debatably lost it a few years ago), I spotted the rarest and most beautiful sight… my car. I opened the door, hopped in and fell asleep. In the morning, I was woken up by a crowd of neighborhood school children getting on the bus for the first day of school. At least the sight of a crazy mountain woman sleeping in her car must have given them something to talk about. You’re welcome, cool children.
I went through the rest of New Hampshire, flying up mountains I had struggled up so many times before. I kept pushing the miles until, finally, I developed a terrible case of achilles tendonitis that took me off the trail for five
days. This was frustrating, and according to the doctors, I had a very high risk of rupturing my achilles. If it didn’t begin to feel better in a couple days, I was heavily advised to end my hike. While I waited to determine if I could hike on or not, I stayed with a friend in Randolph, NH and helped drive around all the hikers coming off of the Presidentials. It was a lot of fun to see all my friends again, and meet so many other hikers I had never seen before. After a few days, I could walk around without feeling like my achilles was going to burst, so I felt that meant I should probably keep hiking. At that time, one of my dear hiker friends from my original hiker family, Kyley, was coming out of woods and we hiked off into the Mahoosuc Mountain Range together.
Now, northern New Hampshire and southern Maine are the toughest part of the trail. My cocky self got humbled every which way out there, to the point where eventually I had to get off the mountain and have the trail angel, Miss Janet, come and save my butt. My achilles was hurting so bad and I was about to do the infamous Mahoosuc notch (the hardest mile of the Appalachian Trail). Kyley suggested we stealth camp that night between the off trail and the notch so I could turn around and get off the mountain in the morning if my achilles still hurt. Between the cold rainy storm and my throbbing achilles, I did not sleep and realized I was going to have to get off trail in the morning. Was this the way my hike was going to end? In the morning, Kyley told me that if I wanted to continue, he would loyally carry me off the mountain when my achilles inevitably snapped (Kyley was a big and strong woodsperson who undeniably could do this). But, luckily, he did not need to carry me off the mountain and I was able to walk enough to take the blue blazes off the mountain by myself. Miss Janet picked me up in the morning, along with several other hikers who were wounded by the notch and scared off by the rain. I was sad to have left my last hiker-family friend, knowing that even if I was able to keep hiking, I would probably be alone the rest of the journey.
But, oh, how the trail provides. One of the hikers Miss Janet also rescued off the mountain that day was a young man with the trail name, Dane. As we went to go get him, Miss Janet told me all about this wonderful man, Dane, a Danish man who was section hiking and had probably been only a few miles ahead of me for a while. As we pulled up in the pouring rain, Dane looked up at Miss Janet’s van as if it were a chariot to heaven (which to be fair, is how I looked at it that morning as well). I rolled down the window and yelled out, “Welcome aboard, Dane!”. Together, we picked up the remaining hikers and eventually ate some lunch. As Dane and I chatted through lunch, we both agreed that due to weather and injuries, we were going to have to skip this notch for now if we wanted to be able to keep hiking. Miss Janet dropped us off back at my car, and I agreed to take Dane however far north he wanted to go… after the rain. We waited out the rain by adventuring throughout Maine for the day. That is, we drove around roads with nothing on them until eventually we found a small town with a movie theatre. We sat down to watch, “A Walk in the Woods”, laughed at the hilarious inconsistencies and camped out for the night in a random town named after a country (they have a lot of those in Maine).
Although we were from different parts of the world, Dane and I had a lot in common and when he asked to continue his hike with me, I figured, why not? I could always use a new best friend to carry me off the mountain if my achilles snapped. Ironically, the conversation with Dane was so rich that the difficult terrain felt easier and went by faster in his company. My achilles hurt, but Dane was patient, kind and happy to have shorter days, or take breaks in town more often. Without his help getting over difficult terrain, I don’t know if I would have made it through the rest of Maine. My achilles pain was frustrating and depressed me, but Dane’s incredible stories from his travels around the world, along with his excitement to explore the woods of America, completely distracted me from fearing that I might have to end my hike early due to my achilles. He encouraged me to stop at all the views, to take long breaks in beautiful places and to swim at the majestic and isolated lakes. While I stretched and warmed up my achilles for an hour every morning, he made me tea and cheered me on. At night, when my achilles throbbed and I shivered from the cold, he read out loud, “The Little Prince” with a soothing voice that would escort me into a gentle sleep. When the woods became more desolate, Dane’s company saved the day. I could probably write a book at the silly adventures of Squirt and Dane through Maine. Maybe it will rhyme and have a rose of its own!
Eventually, thanks to the help of pretty much the entire Universe, somehow, my achilles and I made it to the base of Katahdin. My brother-in-law, Joe, and my nephew, Carter, came out to summit Katahdin with me. Due to the randomness of life, I ended up also summiting with a few people I had hiked on and off with (and loved dearly) for the past five months. With a few exclamations of, “How the HECK am I going to get down this mountain” and, “Could someone please just push me up this boulder?”, I eventually made it up and touched that beloved and most adored sign. And that, was that.
Coming soon: How to walk down stairs like a normal human again.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.
Dude. It took me a month before I could walk down the stairs without having to go sideways/backwards.
Congrats on making it to the end!
Congrats! Did Whoopie finish as well?