The Mental Side of Maine
I thought hiking would get easier after the Whites. I was wrong! If Vermont is full of mud and the Whites are full of sheer rock scrambles — then Maine is a mixture of both.
The End of the Whites
Lovechild and I managed to hike over all the presidential peaks in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As I climbed over Mount Carter, I looked back in the rain at the peaks we had crossed in the sun and early morning fog. Mount Washington loomed like a hulking beast — and with all of my life so far spent on the East Coast — it was the biggest mountain I had ever seen and climbed. Their rocky ridge lines jutted up from the other rolling green mountains, stark white and foreboding as their name suggests. I couldn’t believe that just a few days before, I was walking along the ridge line between each one of them. I was so small… and yet here I stood, on the other side of them.
Earlier on, when I was climbing them, I had a dance party to Florence and the Machine while watching the sun shine over the valley below. After the hellish climb, I could have collapsed at the top, but instead I was overjoyed — elated that I existed inside a body that was strong enough to climb these peaks and match what my mind wanted to do. So instead of laying down, I started to erratically bounce around and dance, grinning and being overwhelmed by the massive mountains surrounding me. That I had climbed! With my own two legs! My heart thumped in my chest and I was glad to be alive. Lovechild arrived at the top a few minutes later and laughed, looking at me strangely. I was just happy to be there — and looking forward to all the climbs that awaited me in my life.
Walking the Line
Except when I actually got to them. I continue to be perpetually amazed by what my body can withstand (as far as steep inclines, long mileage days, miles of sharp rocks) and perpetually shocked at how much it hurts after doing all of that. Which shouldn’t be that surprising.
On this thru hike, my heels have been in pain since Georgia. My hiker hobble is alive and well. I remember crawling around on my hands and knees in a hostel in Damascus to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night because they were so messed up. If someone else had gotten up, they might’ve mistaken me for their sleep paralysis demon.
Back then, I thought my combination of stretching, icing my feet and resting would make the pain eventually go away. It didn’t. My heel pain is still alive and well even in Maine. I didn’t think of being sore all the time as a part of thru hiking — but when you’re pushing your body to the limit all the time and hiking long days, it makes sense. Sometimes, the journey is so romanticized that you forget how it’s also an intense athletic feat to hike the Appalachian Trail. The mountains are ethereal and otherworldly but are also extremely physically taxing. I don’t think my pain has ever lessened; I’ve just expanded my capacity for dealing with it in order to appreciate the trail. It’s still a strange line to walk — where is the line between too much pain, and where is not pushing yourself enough? It’s something I still figure out day by day.
The Physical Side of Maine
I literally slid from New Hampshire into Maine. The definition of trail has changed into suspiciously floating bog boards and slippery mud. You ca never trust a bog board. In the frequent alpine swamps, I find myself tapping the stagnant mud in front of me, searching for a submerged board that I’m not sure exists or not. Sometimes, I give up and step forwards blindly, missing it entirely. I have sunk all the way up to my knees in muck, throwing my hands up and chuckling — “oh well!”
The worst fall I’ve had so far happened a few days ago when I slipped on a rock and fell straight forwards — into a bunch more rocks. It knocked the wind out of me. I reached my trekking pole out in front of me. It stuck straight into the ground. And then snapped. I couldn’t think of much more to do because I couldn’t breathe. My ribs ached and so did my hip — both had stopped my fall. I sat up and started laughing at the noise I made when I fell, and also from relief at being largely okay. I stood up with half a trekking pole and a concerned Lovechild behind me, and we continued hiking.
The definition of a mountain changed from a bunch of rock stairs and a steep incline to a literal ten foot boulder that I’m meant to somehow scale although there are little to no hand holds. However, like every state, its an exciting and different change. As I begin each climb, my brain always switches from “wow another climb makes me want to curl into a ball and cry” to “oh this is actually super fun! Yay I’m using my body and it likes it!” (A transition I am grateful for.)
One of the sections I enjoyed the most was Mahoosuc Notch. Crawling through tiny wedges created by massive boulders and hauling myself up rocks was actually a fun change of pace. The lesser fun part was the Mahoosuc Arm — a straight up climb up more sheer rock faces. Even still, at the top, I was happy to have a body that could handle it.
And yet, despite the climbs and the bogs, I still don’t think there is anything more beautiful than the golden sunlight that gathers in pockets of mist in the mornings. Rays of light cascade through the trees and get caught in spiderwebs alongside the morning dew. It makes waking up early to hike worth it. No sounds except a few birds and the crunch of your feet on trail. Everything is more green soaked in droplets of dew. The air is sodden with the earthen scent of a deciduous morning. It remains my favorite thing to wake up to in the world.
The Mental Side of Maine
It was so strange entering into Maine. The entire thru hike, you find yourself saying things like “Oh I’m just trying to make it to Maine!” or “You know, I’m just out here doing this silly walk to Katahdin!” Then you find yourself actually in Maine. And all you can think is, “Oh shit!”
I thought I’d have more of my life direction figured out by now (as you always wish you did in your twenties) — but I don’t. And I also realize that’s okay. It’s enough at the present moment to have walked this far, seen this many mountains, and met so many interesting people. The trail so far has taught me that enjoying the present moment you are in is the best gift you can give yourself. Yes, you could be at the top of the mountain — but you’re in the middle of an awesome climb, so enjoy that. Yes, you could be at a fancy five star hotel (if you had the money), but you’re in a dusty bunk room, surrounded by smelly hiker friends, so laugh with them. Yes, you could have it all figured out — but you don’t! And you have your whole life to enjoy all the moments in between until the day you feel like you have. And isn’t it great to enjoy all of those while they last?
So yes, walking into Maine has been an odd mix of emotions. I’m excited to be done, but at the same time I know I’ll miss this journey a ton, so I’m trying to enjoy being surrounded by these incredible mountains and people every day. When you wake up looking at mountain ranges every day, it’s hard not to take them for granted (granite haha). I know I’ll miss them when they’re not at the foot of my tent and I wake up to the four walls of my room again. So I’ll look up at them, and be glad for where I am now — and for the next 250 miles.
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Abby- you may not have it all figured out but you’ve certainly grasped some of the big things- loving the mountains in the morning, dazzled by the sun and mist, embracing new friends, feeling secure in your strong body….to name a few. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog these past months, you’ve come a long way in miles and perspective.
There will be so many more mountains to climb. You’ve proven to yourself that you can reach the top of every one of them!
Hey lady! We met at the Davenport shelter in the GSMNP. Great article. You have captured the essence of Maine and the joys of the AT.
You are a powerful writer and I enjoyed your article.
I’ve learned from all of you wonderful, crunchy, strange AT hikers that we all get to hike our own hike. Thank you for that insight & good luck, wherever your feet take you!