The Last Section Part 13: Out of the 100 Mile Wilderness!

This is part 13 of a 188-mile northbound section hike of the Appalachian Trail in Maine in September 2023. I started hiking at the road crossing near the town of Stratton, ME and finished at Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park, the northern terminus of the trail! Day 18 of the hike where this post begins is my 9th and final day in the 100 Mile Wilderness.

Catch up with part 12 here!

Day 18: Rainbow Spring Campsite to Abol Pines Campground

It was the 9th and final day of the 100 Mile Wilderness, which I’d heard is a pretty average amount of time to take to get through it for section hikers or southbound thru-hikers at the beginning of their hike. Since I feel like I’m a relatively average hiker, this makes sense! 

I can definitely say that the state of the weather could easily speed this pace up or slow it down by a day or two in either direction, so keep that in mind if you’re planning to hike this section! For me, the tough first few days of rain after leaving Monson were balanced out by nearly perfect weather for the last few days before reaching Baxter State Park. With the mileage of shorter hiking days and longer hiking days spread out evenly over those 9 days, I averaged just over 11 miles per day. 

Leaving Rainbow Spring Campsite

I had hoped that this day where I was to emerge from the woods would be a very short few miles in the morning, leaving me the rest of the day to relax. But I still had 12 miles to hike, after I stopped early the previous hiking day when the terrain had been tougher than expected. It turned out it didn’t really matter though – this was no different than the rest of the trail. And what I mean by that is that there’s something about town coming up that can cause hikers to get some sudden surge of energy and push to get there fast. 

The entire hike of the morning was just a speedy blur of being destination-bound, except for one stop I knew I had to make 8 miles into the day. It was Hurd Brook Lean-To. This was the very last shelter on the Appalachian Trail, or the first for southbound hikers. 

Sure, I’d be heading into Baxter State Park, or up Mt. Katahdin, as milestones at the end of the trail. But those things are still new and unknown in the hike. These shelters had been there the entire way. They were like old friends, sometimes frustrating when I could have used one and it wasn’t there, and sometimes right there when I didn’t even know I needed one. They kept me dry when it was downpouring, helped me face moments of shyness head-on as they brought weary hikers together, and were my companion when I challenged myself to sleep alone in the woods for the first time. Their logbooks told stories, jokes, emotional outpourings, and guarded drawings left behind by those passing through on the trail. 

Nostalgia for Springer Mountain

I was flooded with memories of reaching Springer Mountain Shelter in Georgia. It was 2019, and I had just huffed and puffed up the Approach Trail at Amicalola Falls State Park way faster than was necessary. I hadn’t quite figured out that on a trail this long, it was ok to pace myself slower and spread out the hiking day. I had signed my name in the book at the visitor center that morning, writing down my intended endpoint as Damascus, Virginia. The friendly man who handed me the pen gave me a red thru-hiker tag anyways, which I never quite felt comfortable putting on my pack, but still have as a token of where it all started. 

Getting Nostalgic for Springer Mountain in 2019.

I met a hiker named Caleb and his dog on my way up the approach trail, followed by another hiker who’s name I sadly can’t remember. The three of us made our way to the shelter, where we met a hiker named Miles. In the next week, Miles would earn the trail name “Skywalker”. There were only a handful of hikers there at Springer Mountain Shelter that April night, and not many of us actually slept in the shelter. We all set up our tents spaced far apart from each other, made a campfire, and talked at the picnic table while I tried to pretend I had a big appetite for my packet of tuna that I discreetly forced down. 

Looking back down Amicalola Falls while heading up the AT approach trail, 2019

At the time, I was worried that people might take me for someone who didn’t really know what they were doing. I still worry that people might take me for someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, and it’s actually happened once or twice. But now, I know that no one really knows what they’re doing, even the ones who do. Just days prior, in Maine, I had watched two extremely experienced hikers go completely the wrong way while trying to find their way out of a shelter area and back to the trail.

The AT in Georgia, April, 2019

Hurd Brook Lean-To

So coming back to reality, now here I was, finishing the whole thing out a few years later. 

I got pretty nostalgic as I signed the logbook at Hurd Brook Lean-To. I called my entry “The Anatomy of a Completed AT Section Hike.” Part of me wishes I took a picture of it, but part of me is glad I didn’t. It belongs in the lore of shelter logbooks. It’s for the eyes of hikers passing through until the logbook pages fill and it finds a resting place in a pile of logbook history, possibly never to be read again for a long, long time until someone in the future goes poking around. 

I thought that these final few days of the hike would feel entirely emotional, but it was really only for short moments like this. My attention turned right back to my hunger reminding me I needed a snack. A few other hikers walked up, and I chatted with one of them while I filtered some water from the brook near the shelter. The only thing anyone talked about at this point was figuring out the logistics of what to do when we entered Baxter State Park. A little bit of stress set in, and upon leaving that shelter, any “in the moment” hiking was gone and completely taken over by the various possible scenarios of how I could plan the next couple days. 

Some Things Never Change

In the final miles before arriving at Abol Bridge, which is where a road runs over the West Branch of the Penobscot River and marks the end of the 100 Mile Wilderness, I was once again surprised to find that things felt exactly the same as any other time I came close to a town on the Appalachian Trail after being in the woods for several days. I started hearing cars. Sure, there was that gravel road where I had gotten my food drop a few days prior, but even as I had sat by the road taking a break that day, I only saw the occasional camping trailer or truck. 

Here, through the woods, I started hearing the more frequent swoosh of vehicles at steady intervals, a sound I hadn’t heard in over a week.  After being conditioned throughout the rest of the trail, my reaction at this point was involuntary. The sound of the cars always makes them seem closer than they actually are, and it’s still usually a couple winding miles until actually reaching the road. As usual, I picked up the pace even more as if the road crossing was just feet around the corner, and sustained it for a little while until I finally emerged, only coming to a halt at the edge of the trees for a minute to prepare myself for the change in scenery. 

Looking back before moving forward into Baxter State Park

It’s always as if one foot takes a step and wants to lead me out of the woods to a shower and food, and the other lingers, unsure if it’s really ready for all of the interaction I’m about to face. But there’s no choice in the matter, food always wins. We’re human, and after all, it’s necessary. 

So I walked into the blinding sunlight of the open road and stopped short of the other people taking pictures on the bridge so that I could take my own. Despite hiking twelve miles that morning, I still had so much daytime left, and the shift in gears now that I was entering Baxter State Park almost made it feel surreal that I was still part of the same hiking day that I woke up to that morning. 

Read part 14 here!

Although my hiking day was goal-oriented that last day of the 100 Mile Wilderness, I still paused to take a couple pictures at Rainbow Lake.



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Comments 4

  • lost and found : Mar 5th

    great post! I camped at the Osgood tent site in 2021 with you and Second Chance, Spirit, and Trippin, as well as a few others. You set up after we had already arrived, and it seemed like you had your tent up in an instant and had your dinner ready just as quick. I remember thinking that you must be a highly experienced backpacker!
    lost and found 2021

    • Sarah Lesiecki : Mar 5th

      Oh my gosh, I totally remember that night! Hi!! What’s funny is I remember being intimidated by you all! I remember thinking wow, they all know what they’re doing and I’m just struggling along. I will say though, I remember that particular stretch of trail being a very awesome yet super difficult one for me and by that night at Osgood I was very ready to get to Gorham. Thanks for the comment and I hope all is well 🙂

  • Jingle bells : Mar 7th

    Love that sensation/curiosity of starting to hear society again when approaching a road after days in the wilderness. Indeed winding miles- always feels like forever to finally get to the road. You are my section heroine. Trek needs more sectioners. So much more practical and common for most.


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