Maine, Katahdin, and the People Along the Way
This blog post has been in my drafts for almost a year. Over the past year, I have spent countless hours reflecting on my thru-hike and yearning to be back on the trail. I think back to Maine, which was a rush of emotions over the span of 293 miles. Happiness, sadness, eagerness, and so much more. I didn’t want my thru-hike to be over, yet I couldn’t wait to summit Katahdin. I spent Maine swimming in every lake I hiked past, picking all the blueberries within reach, and cherishing the diminishing moments with my tramily (trail family).
Over the past couple of months, as the names of trail towns and hostels disappear into something mostly forgotten, the relationships I formed on the trail come into the front of my memories. So I want to tell the story of my tramily, and how we all ended up hiking up Katahdin together.
Morning Dove and Landfill
On a cold and windy day in Tennessee, I stopped at Boots Off hostel with Bug after a hilly afternoon. We had decided to stay here for the night in order to buy enough food to get into Damascus, Virginia where we would take a zero-day. I arrived an hour after Bug, and with only 45 minutes until the town shuttle was to leave, I hopped in the shower before throwing my dirty clothes back on. Bug and I loaded into the van along with seven other thru-hikers. The shuttle stopped at the grocery store, followed by McDonald’s and Subway.
The next morning, as I ate my leftover Subway for breakfast, two thru-hikers who had been on the shuttle the night before sat down next to me. They reintroduced themselves as Morning Dove and Landfill from California. We chatted through the classic hiker small talk: when was their start date, how did they get their trail names, and how many miles were they planning on hiking that day. They were friendly and funny, and although I felt an instant connection with them, I didn’t think twice when Bug and I left that morning. I assumed I would never see them again. I hiked into a snow storm, excited to cross the next state border.
Lady Bird and Lindsay
Almost 500 miles after meeting Morning Dove and Landfill, I entered Shenandoah National Park. The day before, I had taken a zero at Stanimals Hostel in Waynsbourgh, VA. I met two thru-hikers at the hostel. They introduced themselves as Aubrey (soon to be named Lady Bird) and Lindsay, cousins from Wisconsin. They were a couple of years older than me and seemed too cool to be my friend. We headed off the next morning with the same plan of hiking 20 miles to a shelter.
When I arrived at the shelter at 8 pm, Lady Bird and Lindsay had already eaten dinner. I was grumpy from yet another tiring day and quickly made my ramen and instant mashed potatoes for dinner. We talked a little, and they told me they were only planning on hiking eight miles the next day. I thought of the last time I had only hiked eight miles in a day, on one of my first days on the trail. I felt sad that I was going to have to leave them behind. As I fell asleep that night, I thought there was no way I was going to slow down enough to hike with these cool cousins from Wisconsin.
The next morning I left the shelter with another 20-mile day planned. But three miles in, something switched inside me. Why was I making myself miserable by pushing my limits and leaving friends behind? Why was I in a rush? I sat down on a rock and waited for Lady Bird and Lindsay to catch back up. When they arrived, I told them that I wanted to camp with them that night. This was the start of our tramily.
A couple of days into Shenandoah National Park, while enjoying trail magic smores, Morning Dove and Landfill showed up at the shelter after hiking 27 miles that day. I had seen them on and off since I had met them in Tennessee but I couldn’t help but run up to them and give them a hug. I introduced them to Lady Bird and Lindsay, and they enjoyed the trail magic while celebrating their longest day on trail yet. They were excited to hear about the lower mileage we had been doing after their tiring day and I was ecstatic to get to hike with them more.
Shaun aka Nav
The next day, we were hanging out in a shelter after an easy hike when another thru-hiker walked over. When we had arrived at the shelter, we had seen his tent pitched nearby but had thought nothing of it. He introduced himself as Shaun, who was also doing a flip flop thru-hike like the cousins. We spent the next hour laughing until we couldn’t breathe. Shaun instantly fit into our weird goofy group that was starting to feel like some of my best friends.
So we all started hiking together: Morning Dove, Landfill, Lady Bird, Lindsay, Shaun, and I. We got to know each other on a level deeper than friendship. They were now my family. They knew when I needed time alone and when I needed someone to hike with. I spent miles and miles talking with each of them about our lives before trail, what we dreamed of after trail, and everything in between. Somewhere along the way, we named our tramily “The Buddy Cartel.”
Throughout the next thousand miles, we didn’t always stay together. We sometimes took different zero days or hiked different mileage, but we always seemed to end up back together. We hiked our own hikes, but now our hikes included each other. It felt destined that even though we all started at different locations on different days, we would all summit Katahdin together. And the tramily continued to grow.
In Massachusetts, I took a zero day to spend time with my (real) family. On my way into North Adams, MA, where I was planning to meet back up with the tramily, I texted Lady Bird that I would be in town soon and asked to split a hotel room with everyone. She responded saying that she was already sharing a room with Shaun and a guy named Bucca. I was taken aback. Who was this guy taking a shared hotel room away from me? Once in town, I met back up with the tramily and Bucca. He told me that he was doing a section hike from New York, where he lived, to Katahdin.
Shaun, Lady Bird, Bucca, and I went to Mass MOCA, an art museum near the trail. After spending time exploring the museum, we went to dinner. As I talked with Bucca more and more, I realized how much I liked him. He had a good sense of humor but could also have meaningful conversations. He told me about his job as a professor teaching drawing and architecture and would tell funny stories in detail about his favorite students.
At this point, Morning Dove and Landfill had been behind us for a couple of weeks, after having taken a break to see family in New York. I missed them dearly and really hoped they could catch up with us in time to hike into Maine together. But we couldn’t wait up for them, we had to keep hiking. So Lady Bird, Lindsay, Shaun, Bucca, and I all crossed the Massachusetts/Vermont border together and continued on.
We finally all reached Maine together. Morning Dove and Landfill had finally caught back up. Lindsay was back from visiting her boyfriend. The days were sunny and warm with stunning sunsets and lots of rocks to take naps on and lakes to go swimming in.
On the third evening in Maine, I hiked to a shelter where I knew Shaun and Bucca had already arrived. Morning Dove and Landfill were just behind me. When I arrived, I walked to the stream to get water for the evening and to make my dinner. All I could find was a dried-up river bed. I walked back to the shelter where I wandered to the campsite behind it.
There was one tent set up with a guy poking his head out. He introduced himself as Scurvy. I asked him where the water source was and he told me the unfortunate news that there was no water at this shelter. I only had half a liter left and I really didn’t feel like hiking another three miles to the next water source. Scurvy could see the desperation in my eyes. He offered me his water, telling me that he had plenty. I gratefully accepted a liter of water. His mileage lined up with ours and he started hiking with us.
A couple of days later, I stumbled on a sign made out of sticks and dirt stating “Scurvy Town” with an arrow. I walked in the direction of the arrow and found Scurvy hanging out in front of his tent. He convinced me to stop for the day, especially since I wasn’t in the mood to continue hiking over the 4,000ft peaks of southern Maine. We spent the evening sitting by a creek eating dinner and talking about life. Scurvy continued with the rest of the Buddy Cartel to Katahdin.
Day 157: Katahdin
On August 3rd, 2021, I woke up surrounded by my tramily at the Birches campsite at the base of Katahdin. We were five miles from the end of the Appalachian Trail. I felt numb. It all felt like a dream. A moment I had been dreaming of ever since I met my first thru-hiker when I was twelve years old. The eight of us started hiking north together for the last time with a sense of eagerness floating through the humid air. We carried a canoe paddle that Lady Bird had pulled out of the river the day before. Written on it in large letters was “Buddy Cartel” along with each of our names and our signature. It was a symbol of our family that had grown over the past three months and thousand miles.
The hike was steep with lots of rock scrambles which made it go by slow and fast at the same time. I wanted to get to the top but also wanted these five miles to last forever. But of course, it had to come to an end. At 11 am, after five months and a week, I saw the sign on top of Mount Katahdin that would be the end of my journey.
I looked around at my tramily, who were blurry from the tears that had welled up in my eyes. The last hundred feet to the top were silent, with Morning Dove leading the way and the seven of us in a train behind her. We were all reflecting, this moment meant something different to everyone. Bucca had walked over 800 miles from his home state of New York. Lindsay, Lady Bird, Shaun, and Scurvy had walked over 1,000 miles. And Landfill, Morning Dove, and I had just walked from Georgia to Maine, completing the Appalachian Trail. Even though we had all started in different places, we finished together.
These amazing people who became my tramily picked me up when I was down, carried my backpack over steep terrain, and hiked southbound to come to find me. They encouraged me as I cried up mountains, shared their secrets with me, and listened to me as I opened my heart to them. Although we were all different ages and had come from different places, we had one thing in common; a crazy dream to hike 2,193 miles from Georgia to Maine.
On the summit of Mount Katahdin, it was hard to understand what had just happened. I wanted to tell my twelve-year-old self who looked up to thru-hikers with intense admiration “One day, you will do it too!” I wanted to say to all of the people who didn’t believe in me, “HA! I did it!” But instead, I sat on top of the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail eating a bagel, staring out at the stunning layers of mountains all around me, surrounded by my best friends who had become my family.
The best part of my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail was the people I met along the way. And the best part of summiting Katahdin was the fact that I got to do it alongside my seven tramily members. The Buddy Cartel will always have a special place in my heart. These seven people gave me hugs when I cried, laughed at me when I fell, and then stuck out a hand and helped me stand back up. Morning Dove, Landfill, Lindsay, Lady Bird, Shaun, Bucca, Scurvy, and all the other people who I hiked with on the trail; thank you for being the best part of my thru-hike.
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