Jul 11, 2018 : Rachel Poole Appalachian Trail
A Peaceful Katahdin Summit and 100-Mile Wilderness Walk
Yes, you read the title right. Weird descriptor of a Katahdin summit, I know. Usually folks are beaming with excitement over their completed trek or amped about what’s to come if they are headed south and, if you happen to follow me on my social pages, then you might be even more surprised given my recent screaming at a leech snippet.
Ever since my decision to flip-flop I’ve been worried I wouldn’t be ready for the big K-100 (Katahdin through 100-Mile Wilderness). Flippers from years past have told me they wish they had waited, believing the trail would have gotten them ready. I’ve also read countless books and blogs about SOBOs limping their way through thinking they might die. So, yeah, I was a little scared, but mostly I worried my trail legs had melted to mush during my weeklong hiatus from the AT.
The AT Lodge in Millinocket runs a shuttle special for SOBOs coming in from Medway, ME. There were only three of us on it, but my nerves started to simmer before we even exited the parking lot as questions starting raining on the driver. I realize how silly it sounds, but some piece of me believed SOBOs were all born badasses that arrived at Katahdin with mental grit and chiseled muscles ready to go. I relaxed into my seat marveling at the flurry around me and knowing that even if my legs felt wobbly that with 1,000+ miles beneath them I had a little security compared to these newbies.
As we unloaded I noticed how my pack, Miss. Turtle Myrtle, looked pathetic stacked next to their sparkly new ones. As lame as it may sound my heart melted a tad when I effortlessly slung her over my shoulder – it was a true Velveteen Rabbit moment for sure. You see, Miss. Turtle Myrtle didn’t start off so dignified. She started off as just plain Turtle because she felt like an awkward shell on my back and she made me go turtle-slow. A couple weeks in, Turtle earned the last name Myrtle with Moaning Myrtle from the Harry Potter series being her namesake because I moaned every time I hoisted her over my shoulders. Then, at some point in Virginia, she shifted to Miss. Myrtle status after noticing that I not only no longer moaned beneath her weight, but I also kinda, sorta, almost missed her when she wasn’t around. Anyway, I digress. these SOBO packs hadn’t had the chance to be loved into “real” companions yet.
So, whew, I could literally rest assured with confidence in knowing I still knew my gear like the back of my hand, but with Katahdin looming large over the bunkhouse I tossed until I couldn’t take it anymore and went for a pre-hike walk at 4 a.m. to shake my nerves. By 7:45 a.m. I was walking for real and thought I was ready for anything with the first 2.5 miles under my belt. I bounded past a few groups, suddenly confident and grateful and enjoying the climb, even as it got more challenging as I inched above the treeline, but then I went from occasionally having to toss my poles up in order to use my hands to simply stashing them in the loaner day pack I carried, needing to take a literal all hands on deck approach. I think the guidebooks and rangers tell you the top of Katahdin is a rock scramble in order not to intimidate, but let me tell you, if you take the Hunt Trail up and Abol on the descent you are looking at an afternoon of bouldering, and guess what? It is so much fun. I had no idea how much arm strength I gained over the last few months. Of course it was challenging and sometimes a tad scary when I thought too much about how horrible it would be if my foot slipped or my hand didn’t grab hold in the right crevice, so I stopped thinking about it all together and hunkered into a focused and steady mind-set – hand over foot and repeat.
Upon summiting Katahdin I was a bit underwhelmed with it being a bit crowded and I felt a bit out of place with the moment marking neither the beginning nor ending, but once I found a quiet little post off to the west peace washed over me. I had already learned so much and I couldn’t wait to see what the trail had stacked for me next. On the summit I felt peace about the miles to come in the highly anticipated wilderness and knew I made the right decision for me in choosing to flip-flop. I saw timidness of the task at hand in the SOBOs around and full-on exhaustion in the eyes of the NOBOs desperate for the end of their trek and then there was me happily floating somewhere between the two.
And, so, filled with peace, I walked into the wilderness.
And then, on day two, I got a leech attached to my leg and screamed like a little girl.
Eventually I had a good laugh and thanked Katahdin for the humble reminder that 1,052 is still a lot of miles to walk.
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