The Last Section Part 15: My Last Night on the Appalachian Trail

This is part 15 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 19 where this post begins is my last day of hiking before climbing Mt. Katahdin. 

Catch up with part 14 here!

Day 19: Abol Pines Campground to The Birches Campsite

Waking up that morning at Abol Pines to add my name to the sign-up sheet for The Birches Campsite turned out to be far more chill than various rumors had made it seem. I guess like anything else, not every day or experience is the same, depending on the number of hikers around. 

I initially thought I’d have to pack everything up early and be on my way, but as I observed a few others poke their heads out to see what the trend was, and then crawl out of their tents and begin strolling in the direction of the trail to the sign-up kiosk, I followed suit. I guess I didn’t have to rush after all, I could just walk the quarter mile back to my tent after signing up and take my time getting ready. 


So it was on this little quarter mile journey right after dawn that I was greeted with a surprise – a moose! 

It ever so casually stepped out onto the gravel path and paused, alternating between gazing in my direction and at a few hikers walking back from the sign-up kiosk, as if we were each waiting to see who would make the next move. From my standpoint as a casual observer without knowing much about moose, this one didn’t look to be fully grown yet and had relatively short antlers. It was only the second moose I’ve ever seen, much smaller than the first time I spotted one when I was on the trail in southern Maine in 2021. It was a majestic moment, a sudden reminder that I was still in the woods of Maine, and to notice my surroundings for a second before getting back to business. 

I was a little too excited to get a focused picture

The Infamous Sign-Up Sheet

Well, back to business I was, as soon as it wandered off. I was number five of twelve allowed to sign the sheet that morning, meaning I had secured my spot at The Birches campsite for the night. It took the edge off a little bit, now I didn’t have to worry about anything. Except, I still wasn’t totally calm. Being at a shelter with 11 other thru-hikers on my last night of the Appalachian Trail was anxiety inducing for me. It was definitely a night where I would have just rather been alone, not in a sea of people who were ending a six-month journey, which I knew would leave me self-conscious and shy.

I kept telling myself to just be thankful, as I went back to pack up camp and grab a snack from the Abol Bridge camp store before heading off. A few more hikers showed up, and not all of them made the list for The Birches. They would have to begin the process of figuring something else out, and I could see the stress in a couple of their faces. 

The Last Hike Before Katahdin

So just to get the nine miles of hiking over with, I set off. I would have loved to slowly take in the last day of hiking before climbing Mt. Katahdin, but I knew that I could sacrifice doing that to instead be at The Birches early and have my pick of a tent spot. I knew I’d have a harder time if I showed up after most people were already set up. 

Those nine miles on the Appalachian Trail in Baxter State Park were a total breeze. It was more like a swift walk than anything else, and I kept up the pace as if I were doing a small workout.  Once again, the hiker named Cloud and I had the same idea. We both reached The Birches around the same time and were the first two people there. 

The Birches

Both of us had already stopped at the ranger station nearby to inquire about any open camp spots at the Katahdin Stream Campground that night, hopeful that we could each camp somewhere on our own and open up two spots at the shelter for other hikers in our place. The campground was completely full though, as is typical. I continued to let the voice saying “Be Thankful” ring louder than any other thoughts in my head, as we each set up our tents at The Birches in our first respective choices of a spot. 

“The Birches” was very similar to any other Appalachian Trail shelter area, except there were two shelters side by side. We had heard that everyone would have to sleep in the shelters, minus one or two tents, but this also turned out to be a rumor. Everyone was allowed to set up a tent if we wanted to, as long as we kept our tents within very close proximity to the shelters. 

Gosh, I was starting to wonder if gathering up as much information from other people as possible hadn’t been the right idea. So many of us had listened to and shared a lot of different information, and only half of it was true. The experience in Baxter State Park definitely varies, depending on the particular situation of any given day. 

It took a little while, but by that evening, my anxieties finally almost fully calmed down. All twelve of us hikers were set up at The Birches, and gathered on the benches around a fire pit to eat our dinners while a friendly park ranger came by to sit with us. She collected our fees for the campsite and gave us some information about climbing Mt. Katahdin with her young, enthusiastic demeanor. 

For some reason, I had in my head that all of the hikers would know each other and I would be the outsider. But that wasn’t quite the case. Although they were thru-hikers and I was a section hiker, some of them had only started seeing each other a day or two prior. Although they were completing a thru-hike, I was also completing the trail. We had all done the same number of miles, just on a different timeline. I had some genuinely enjoyable conversation with my campfire mates on either side of me, and finally, it was like I was back. 

Here was the Appalachian Trail again, after getting lost for a little bit in the last two days of solving the logistical puzzle. Silly me. She had been right there the whole time. I just had to notice. 

I had been worried that some of the hikers in the group might stay up a little later than I hoped in celebration of the last night, but that image had also been concocted in my head. After that easy-going dinner time around the fire, everyone retreated to their nightly chores, anticipation of Katahdin looming. It was hard to pinpoint the energy – Were people nervous? Excited? Just wanting to get it over with? It was a little bit of everything. 

I only knew one thing for sure. I was going to go completely out of character and wake up very, very early the next morning to climb Katahdin. It was going to be worth it. 

Read part 16 here!

Morning walk to the sign-up sheet in Baxter State Park

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Comments 1

  • Бетон завод : Mar 20th

    It was a pleasure to read. You are a very good author. Awesome article.


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