The Fourteenth State

20/20 coming at you from Caratunk, Maine. I’m resting my knees and drinking a nice cold Moxie. I wasn’t planning on writing a post until the long drive home, but I figure I’ve got some time and energy right now. 



As you read in the introduction, I’m in Maine. It’s a little unbelievable, and I don’t think it’s hit me yet. I don’t know if it ever really will. A hikers relationship with Maine begins long before they ever set foot here. Spending months and months of the best and worst and hardest times of your life heading to this place creates an image in the mind. An expectation that is unavoidable. Luckily Maine is a beautiful and wild place (of course). 


When Can We Rest?

It’s funny, I remember hiking with another NOBO friend back in New York, and we felt so good about our progress then. We felt like we were already at Katadhin pretty much, but agreed on one thing: we weren’t in the home stretch yet. I said “to me, I think it’ll feel like the home stretch once we get to Vermont” and almost without hesitation he gaffed and responded “really? I feel like Maine is going to be the home stretch” and we reasoned with each other about who was right. Well with hindsight, I can confidently say that neither of us were right. 

Southern Maine was by far the hardest stretch of trail for me. At the same time it was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful, hands down. But I’m glad I had good friends leading up to it that warned me about the perils of it’s difficulty. It was like the White’s, just longer, harder, more ‘rugged’, and with less views. My opinion on it may be influenced by how hard I made it with my pacing, but it’s my blog and it’s my opinion.

In the end, it’s something that was always true since that first step: there is no home stretch until you’re climbing up the last mountain. It doesn’t get easy until you’re done. But that’s what makes this what it is, and it’s what gives all my memories of this hike so much potency. 


The Ultimate Wilderness

As is tradition now, I’m going to describe the natural beauty of the area I just went through. So far, Maines charm doesn’t come from sweeping views or distinct food or rich history. It comes from those simple moments of quiet, where all you can hear is the bird calls softly echoing through the woods and the wind rustling the leaves. Maine’s highlands are also so much more colorful than anywhere I’ve seen on the trail. The greens are so deep, and somehow the sky and sun just take on this incredible color for several hours at the end of the day. There’s mountain lakes and ponds that have that deep, almost saturated looking blue that looks so incredible when it’s behind the glowing green understory. When you’re at a view, there’s this purple haze that hangs over the mountain ranges in the distance.

And the smells, I heard about them before I got here but I didn’t realize how intense it would be. There’s these random smells you get in Maine while going through the woods, and to say that they smell really good would be a disservice. It hits you fast, but not in the way a smell from too much perfume or cologne does. I suffer from debilitating seasonal allergies, but these smells don’t affect it, they’re just the freshest, most incredible things you’ve ever experienced with your nose. I’m serious.


The Woodland Critters of the North

Well, since my last post I’ve seen quite a lot (like my standoff with a bull moose right before Glencliff). But today was by far the most ‘interesting’ day for wildlife I’ve ever had. I woke up at 3:00am to the sound of a loon calling across the lake, a beautiful, eerie, and nostalgic sound, but it woke me up when I didn’t want to be awake. I got ready in record time and headed for the Kennebec, a river that hikers have died in trying to ford. Theres a ferryman that runs across it in a canoe, and all along I thought I would just walk up and he’d be there. Well yesterday when I was going over the Bigelow range I saw a sign that said ‘KENNEBEC FERRY SCHEDULE: MAY 15 – JUNE 30: 9:00AM – 11:00AM’. This would have been good to know sooner, I should have researched more. I was going to be 20 miles from the Kennebec where I camped last night, and doing 20 before 11 was not going to be easy. I thought I was going to have to swim across the river and was mentally preparing for it. Well back to the loon. It woke me up early enough to have a reasonable chance of making the ferry if I rushed. I immediately recognized this and hustled to get my stuff together and get on the trail. 

I was making a good pace. The hours faded by as I enjoyed the flat, pretty stretch between Flagstaff Lake and Caratunk. I passed multiple ponds and got some cool boardwalk over some marshy stuff. Well as had been the case lately, the bugs were bad. I remember slowing down to walk at a normal pace for a moment and felt it: it feels like sand getting kicked onto your skin, but it isn’t. I took a second to look away from the rocks I was stepping around to see the backs of my legs, and there were so many mosquitoes it literally sent a chill down my spine. I broke out into a full sprint to shake them.  They were bad all morning but luckily it wasn’t like that the whole time. 



More hours passed and I felt a bowel movement coming on. It was right as I was getting into a fairly open section of woods. Perfect for digging a cathole. As I’m doing my thing, I hear something that catches me off guard. A howl, and very close. My head shot up to look around while I was squatted over my cathole. Then it started: a cacophony of howls and screeches and wails that sounded more like an army of demons than any worldly creature. A pack of coyotes, and they were close! I quickly finished what I was doing and went to my pack to hike out of there. I knew I wasn’t in danger but it was just not a sound that gives you the warm fuzzies. 


Aces High

All morning I had been checking what mile I was at because I’d heard something from a hostel owner a couple days before: “at 2045 look out, there’s a goshawk that’s attacking people”. When I heard that I thought “that sounds pretty cool” and didn’t think much more of it. Well I was getting close to that spot and thinking “wouldn’t it be funny if it was a boulder hop over a bog with giant blow downs at the stretch the hawk is at?”. I honestly forgot about the hawk for a moment, thinking about how I needed to speed up to not have to swim across the death river when I started hearing this really loud bird in the distance. The woods were pretty open, and I thought it was cool sounding. I pulled out my phone to look at the mile. “2041.3” it read. “I guess this is the hawk, cool!” I thought. I started walking and the calling continued: “KAW KAW KAW KAW KAW” over and over, incessant and loud. Then, it stopped for a brief moment. I was glad for the second of quiet, but before my brain could even think about how quiet it was I heard the “KAW KAW KAW KAW KAW” RIGHT BEHIND ME and each kaw was alarmingly closer than the first. It was right in my ear, and I turned my head on a dime, just in time to see a giant ass white and brown bird hurtling towards me at what just have been 60mph. acting completely on impulse and instinct I ducked down just in time to avoid it’s talons and yelled “HYAGUHAH” while sending a futile punch in the air. It swooped so close I could hear the wind whooshing across it’s feathers as it tried to sink it’s talons into my head. 

I looked up frantically to try to locate the devil. It started kawing again, the kawing now sounded like a GTFO alarm instead of something cool from a distance. I saw it high up on a branch. It was staring at me and kawing incessantly. That animal had the determination to kill me. I stared back and trying to do what had worked with other animals, I yelled at it to go away. In response I saw it jump from the branch and enter a dive toward me. At least I could see it this time. I raised my trekking poles and swung them around above my head as it came in for another attack. Fortunately it didn’t get me. I heard the kawing continue, but distant. I looked down to see if I could get my way out, and guess where I was. Standing in the mud of a bog with a boulder hop over it. I scrambled to try and escape. The kawing stopped, then it started again and I saw it perch on another branch near me. Fully prepared to fight back, I watched as the hawk came in for a third attack. I dove down and side stepped, swinging my poles toward the hawk as it barrelled towards me. It didn’t get me. Lucky again. I quickly walked, after a minute the kawing stopped, but I couldn’t relax. I nervously glanced over my shoulder and hiked at a break-neck speed. I safely got past it, but that birds ferocity really left a mark on me! 


Bitter Ends

No matter how in pain I am, no matter how homesick I get, or how much I miss my loved ones, the thought of this hike coming to an end hurts deeply. Every day I’ve watched Mt. Washington fade into the distance, and more conquered peaks popping up between me and it. It’s been a long, slow, painful goodbye to that range that was my favorite part of the trail. But just like my philosophy for this whole hike, I’m not letting myself get too sentimental yet. Every moment is a gift and should be experienced with the most vigor it possibly can. All these ‘lasts’ hurt, but they’re also joyous. The last 4000 foot mountain, the last view of Washington, the last resupply soon… The feeling of being at the end of a thru hike is a hard one to put a pin on, but one thing is certain: I have no regrets. 


Final Thoughts

I know it’s a lot to read already, unfortunately that’s just how my writing style is. I just want to say a word about the obvious elephant in the room. I’m about 150 miles from completing the Appalachian Trail. This will be my last on-trail post. I have so many more stories and experiences that I couldn’t fit into this blog during this hike. Hell, I’ve even got a LOT more just from the last post. It’s hard to sum everything up for a blog like mine. I want to tell y’all about the trail angels, the storms, the hitches, the views, the crazies, etc. but I guess you’ll just have to find me one day and buy me a beer. Thank you to everyone who followed along, and an extremely special thanks to everyone who supported me on this trek. 


I know it’s going to be emotional climbing that last big mountain next week, it’s hard to even think about right now. I’ll give y’all some thoughts after I finish my journey. Thanks again.


20/20 out.




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Comments 2

  • Philip Schramp : Jun 7th

    I’ve really enjoyed following you Jonah. You have an amazing ability to paint a picture with words. Thank you for sharing your journey with us!

  • Jenny : Jun 7th

    I felt myself jerk and flinch at the hawk attack….from the comfort of my couch. You have a vivid writing style and I appreciate your posts. Have a great ending to this epic hike.


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