Katahdin, 100 Mile Wilderness & Start of Trail Life
As I write this, I am snuggled up in a well-made bed with the loveliest quilted pattern. In the corner there is an old wooden chair and on the far wall, 3 framed nature photographs have been strategically hung. There are four light green walls, a tiny wood end table and two beautiful old windows, one held open up by a tree branch. As I write this, I am wearing a long sleeve gray tshirt and a gypsy skirt that is slightly too big around the waist, both of which were found in the “Hiker Chic Collection”. Ladies and gentlemen of society, if you haven’t already figured it out, I am writing to you from a hiker hostel. Specifically Shaw’s Hiker Hostel in Monson, Maine. To me the word “hostel” doesn’t sound like the right word. It’s too… hostile? This is a place that I can only describe as the home of the hippie relative you wish you had.
As many of you know, Henri and I started our southbound thru-hike on June 1st and it’s been one hell of a week, starting with the hike up to Katahdin. To get from the base at Baxter State Park up to the summit where the Appalachian Trail starts, you must climb 5.5 miles. It starts in the dark enclosed forest alongside streams and waterfalls. Within minutes (actually an hour or two), we found ourselves scrambling up giant rocks with a few iron prongs sticking out where there was no other way up. I looked to the left as I planned to haul my upper half onto the next rock and saw the tops of all the pines below. It seemed to easy to slip and fall and it was either into the void between the giant rocks or onto the tops of pines. I had a bit of vertigo and realized that my fear was turning physical and there’s nothing worse when you’re hanging off a cliff than to start trembling. My love and hiking partner, formerly known as Henri, helped me up and after conquering the scramble and climbing up the spine, as they so appropriately call it, we walked a mile through table lands and finally reached the peak. Ethereal is the only way to describe it and getting choked up is the only way to express it, so that’s pretty much what I did for the next hour as we ate our lunch and officially started our thru-hike down the mountain. No, really… My initial thought was that my trail name would have something involving “sap” because of my snappiness. Luckily I was able to stop tearing up enough to see and focus on the insane downhill.
What happened between summiting Katahdin and arriving at Shaw’s was more challenging and also more rewarding than any week that I can recall. We just exited the most remote part of the trail known as the 100 Mile Wilderness. We are now 114 miles into the trail ranging from 11 to 21 miles per day, with today being our first day of recovery. I got the right-of-passage blisters on my feet to show it (despite my use of duct tape and trail toes) and that good ol’ hiker smell (despite my wearing of deodorant and use of face/body wipes). I’m doing great though.. No, really!
Little beautiful things happen when you’re deep in the wilderness on a barely maintained trail. For example, three baby woodchucks were playing on a tree and when I stopped to look, they ran onto the trail and started chasing each other between my legs and around my feet, trying to play. I could imagine I was the first human they ever encountered. Not only did I feel like I was living a fairy tale, but I received the trail name “Woodchuck” as a result. Henri was always the first up and kept having Sriracha cravings, making his name “Rooster”. For those of you who are concerned about the hot sauce cravings, they were satisfied as soon as we reached town.
It wasn’t all a fairy tale forest and all you can eat breakfast, though. We also forded 4 rivers, hiked through rain and mud and rooty, rocky grounds. We slept through thunderstorms and hiked out in the wet mornings with clothes and shoes that didn’t have enough time to dry out.
We met amazing groups of people- some that are still in the 100 mile wilderness and some that are here with us at Shaw’s. There’s Moldy Beans and Flash who read our entries in the trail journals and made it a point to catch up with us. Smurfette is a really awesome solo female hiker and Croc Fire is an equally awesome male hiker. Art student section hikers Abott & Costello just got off the trail. Then there’s Claw Hammer, who is hiking with his banjo and plays the best old time tunes for us to sing along to and fall asleep to.
Upon exiting the 100 mile wilderness, Rooster, Flash, Smurfette and I were greeted with our first bit of trail magic. A few guys saw us and could tell we were thru hikers. One immediately started giving us containers of candy, crackers, trail mix, cookies, baby powder, and moleskin. Minutes later, Poet, the owner of this hostel, pulled up to bring us into town. He promised we would have a beer in our hands in 2 minutes and he did not disappoint. A group of 8 of us went out for our first hiker meal followed by dessert. After our ice cream, the lady at the shop told us she made the cookies “too big” today so we could take those, along with a bag of muffins. So yes, we started out hiking 10 miles in wet, muddy shoes, but yesterday was a great day!
While I initially thought that this week was mentally and physically challenging, yet also extremely rewarding, I’m starting to learn that may just be trail life. It draws people of all ages and places, each with our own reason or a path that lead us to give this a go. It’s not an activity that can be weaved into your everyday life, but instead you have to allow it to be the center of your life. On the trail, when we cross each other’s paths and reconnect at camp, we take on the roll of friend, coworker, family member, and teammate. And even still, it can be lonely and difficult. I know it’s not going to be easy and I know the best and worst are both yet to come. But to the rest of Maine, to the White Mountains and the endless miles in Virginia, to hiker hostels and diners in between, and to Georgia… Here we come.
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