Magic and Misfortune at Katahdin

After the 100-Mile Wilderness, I was ready to conquer Katahdin, but the trail had a few more challenges to throw at me. Here’s the video of my last days on the trail:

Day 138: The Last Supper

With the 100-Mile Wilderness behind me, I was ready for Katahdin. My phone was still broken after it fell in a river a week earlier. I had to rely on the others for any pictures to document the journey. I was hiking with six NOBOs in a ragtag trail family that formed in the 100-Mile Wilderness. We had decided to finish the last few days together. Relentless, Trademark, 2-Clicks, Honey Bear, No Shoes, Myagi, and I emerged from the wilderness and hiked an easy three miles to Abol Bridge. We were treated to an amazing early morning view of Katahdin. It felt magical; we were finally here! There was an electric energy in the air that cut to our cores. We were excited beyond belief.

We indulged in the AYCE breakfast buffet at the Abol Bridge Campground and scoffed at their dismal and expensive resupply options. Fortunately, we only had one night left on the trail and didn’t need much in way of supplies. Unfortunately, it began to rain as we left. Of course Mother Nature wouldn’t give us a break. At least it wasn’t our summit day. We entered Baxter Park in high spirits.

Since we were already wet, we decided to go for a swim in the river. It was frigid, yet refreshing. And then the mosquitoes came to feast. My body was already covered in bites, scrapes, and bruises from the last four months. What’s a few more? My infected toe was still painful but I just needed to get through two more days. The cold water numbed the pain.

At last we reached the Birches campground. I set up my tent for the last time. Honey Bear’s family stopped by with cookies, ice cream, fruit, and nuts. It was the perfect trail magic. When the rain stopped we hung our clothes out to dry and I started a fire. We hung around the fire until a second downpour forced us to seek shelter. After 30 minutes or so the rain ended and Honey Bear’s mom returned with eight pizzas! She was really spoiling us. We were extremely grateful and devoured six pizzas in short time. The rest of the afternoon was spent swapping trail stories and enjoying the fire.

Eventually the ranger stopped by and gave us our summit permits. I was NOBO number 106. I started the trail at Amicalola Falls on Feb. 28 as number 419. On May 3 in Harpers Ferry I was NOBO number 76, just before the halfway point. Now I would be the 106th NOBO hiker to complete a thru-hike in 2018. Crazy to think how far I’d come and how many people dropped out since I’d started.

I thought back on all I’d been through to get here, and how fortunate I was for the good weather ahead for our summit day, for all the amazing hikers I’d met, the trail magic I’d received, for the support from family, friends, strangers, and new friends. What a ride this had been and what a life-changing experience. It had been great spending the last week with six awesome hikers. No one else will understand the bond we formed from this shared experience; we thru-hiked the AT. Back in the real world I would go back to being Danny, but secretly, unbeknownst to everyone else, I will have gone on this incredible journey and Crazy Horse would live on inside.

Finally, I got into my tent one last time. I tended to my infected toe, rolled out my sleeping bag, hung my socks to dry, breathed in their pungent smell, got a whiff of my sweat-laden T-shirt, and crawled into bed. One day more. Another day, another destiny.

Day 139: Summit Day

I woke up at 1 a.m. and wished it was time to get up. I went back to sleep until 5:30. We all left and headed to the parking lot near the trailhead. 2-Click’s parents showed up with tons of trail magic to start our hike off right. I pushed ahead of the others, wanting to hike on my own and reflect on my journey for the last few miles.

The trail became steep and rocky as I ascended through the woods. I was on a mission and nothing could stop me. The weather was great: cool temperatures and mostly sunny. I was hiking past a group of day hikers when tragedy struck. As I climbed over a large, tall rock, I bent my arm backward while pushing down on my trekking pole to lift my body up. And then I felt it… a bone rolled out of place; I had dislocated my shoulder. It didn’t hurt but I was not a happy. This was the sixth time I’d dislocated my shoulder, but the last time was over a year ago. I’d come this far with no major injuries until now. It was as if the AT had one more misadventure it wanted to throw my way, one last obstacle to overcome.

I took my pack off and within 30 seconds my shoulder rolled back into place. Whew! There was nothing else to do but throw my pack on and keep climbing. The trail headed into the alpine zone above tree line. The rocks were huge and I was basically rock climbing. It was a tad scary and I was trying to go slow and baby my shoulder as best I could while still reaching, pulling, pushing, and stretching myself over the boulders. This was one of the hardest sections for me on the entire trail and I was terrified of dislocating my shoulder again.

I climbed and climbed in the sun, up higher and higher. I lost the trail for a moment but found my way. At last I reached the tablelands, a large flatland at 4,000 feet. The summit was just above them, a mile away. The final climb wasn’t that bad. It had taken me less than three hours to summit.

On July 16, 2018, after 139 days, I completed my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. I had hiked 2,190.9 miles of the Appalachian Trail, plus 8.8 miles of the Approach Trail back at Springer Mountain, GA, plus who knows how many countless miles walking through towns and to and from shelters. Let’s just make it a round 2,200 miles! I was 5,288 feet high, smiling, and looking down on the wilderness of Maine. I didn’t know how I’d gotten this far. The perseverance, the trials, the highs, the lows, everything had all come together and in that moment, I, Crazy Horse, had succeeded.

I relaxed and hung out with my trail family at the summit. After an hour of revelry, instead of going down the way we came, we all hiked across the Knife Edge, a steep and rocky traverse to one of the other peaks of Katahdin. It was an epic mile but also treacherous and technical. My knees were not happy with me. Slowly but surely we made it to Pamola Peak, where we descended down the rest of Katahdin. It was a long and tedious descent. I slipped off a large rock and a tree branch gouged into my thigh. It left a nice, bloody scrape. Oh, the challenges of the trail.

At the base, Honey Bear and 2-Click’s parents greeted us with a feast of snacks to celebrate our incredible feat. We continued the party in the town of Millinocket, 26 miles away. It was awesome having everyone together, drinking, eating, laughing, and telling stories. One by one we split off and went our separate ways. It was sad saying goodbye to everyone. I’ll never forget the experience we shared together.

It was surreal and hadn’t sunk in what I’d accomplished. I couldn’t believe it all had happened. Now the rest of my life was ahead of me. When I was little I read that Dr. Seuss book Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, but I never realized until now how far I would really go!

For a more detailed account of my day-to-day on the trail, check out my personal blog and YouTube for more videos from the trail.

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Comments 3

  • Ruth Morley : Dec 6th

    Congratulations! And thank you for the excellent descriptions of the final days of this epic adventure. You’re right, this will always be with you.

    • Danny Strayer : Dec 7th

      Thank you! I appreciate it. It was a helluva experience!


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