Walking Home: From Gorham, NH, to Monson, ME
“Walking home, huh?”
Though I always responded with a chuckle and a nod, I resisted the near-overwhelming urge to roll my eyes.
From day one, I’ve been hearing the “walking home” comment from both locals and my fellow hikers. Sure, it was true; I was walking back to my home state after an extended time abroad. “Walking home” became so common on the trail that it nearly became my trail name (one I had swiftly rejected), and I realized I was in for a whole lot more whether I liked it or not. While I wasn’t necessarily annoyed by the comment, the idea of “walking home” weighed me down like a pair of cement trail runners; only a fool would walk 2,000 miles to get home.
Call me a fool.
After conquering the Wildcats, the Sauce spent the morning in Gorham, NH, basking in the glory of having officially completed the dreaded White Mountains. In all honesty, the Whites were as breathtakingly stunning as advertised; hiking above treeline will be forever etched in my memories. We left Gorham in high spirits, and quickly traversed the final few miles of New Hampshire with little difficulty.
Because we hike at different paces, the Sauce arrived at the NH-ME border at different times, though we made sure to wait for the whole group before taking our first steps into our last state. With hugs and a few tears, we entered Maine.
At long last, “walking home” became “walked home.”
Though I thought I was prepared for what awaited us in Maine, the reality check we all got was real. Maine is hard; the trail is jagged and minimally maintained, and the climbs/descents are unlike anything we had experienced before. At long last, we arrived at the southern terminus of the infamous Mahoosuc Notch.
The mile-long Mahoosuc Notch certainly lives up to its reputation, with blazes haphazardly painted throughout the boulder-strewn crevice as if to mock thru-hikers. I’d say the biggest challenge is having to utilize one’s upper body throughout the Notch, as a thru-hiker’s muscles have long since shriveled from months of neglect.
That being said, Mahoosuc is one of the most enjoyable sections of trail, and the memories of it will remain long after my arms have stopped aching.
Familiar Faces and Places
The Sauce opted for two nights at the Human Nature Hostel to recover, reassess, and celebrate our final few weeks on trail.
Andover’s Human Nature Hostel needs no introduction; it has quickly become a must-see destination for thru-hikers. Owner/survivalist Yukon is a welcoming and fascinating host, catering to anyone who loves and respects the trail.
My mom and her longtime friend/section-hiker Sandi met us at the hostel shortly after our arrival. They were a welcome sight for us weary-boned hikers; carrying trays of delicious food and much-needed supplies. We spent the next two nights gorging, laughing, and lounging under the star-dotted skies of western Maine.
Fresh off a slackpack day, the Sauce pushed forward toward the Kennebec River crossing. We stopped over in Stratton for a resupply before tackling the Bigelows; the last difficult climbs until the 100-Mile Wilderness.
I can safely say the Bigelows are more breathtakingly beautiful than hard; definitely worth the visit for any avid hiker.
After a particularly uneventful stretch of trail, we arrived at the western bank of the Kennebec River. We opted for a short day at the river crossing; the logistics involved in crossing the Kennebec via canoe service and the temptation of lounging at Northern Outdoors created the perfect storm for a low-mileage day. After spending the morning waiting for our ride across the river, we shuttled over to the outdoor adventure resort for showers, laundry, food, and a dip in the hot tub. Having been to Northern Outdoors in the past, I was ecstatic to see another familiar sight on my thru-hike.
Our day on the Kennebec reinforced my spirit; we were almost there.
A Monson Reunion
From the Kennebec, the Sauce pushed ahead to Monson. We conquered the section with our spirits high; there were only two relatively easy climbs and a whole lotta flat from Caratunk to Monson. As five months of exposure began to take its toll on my phone, I opted to complete this stretch with no music or podcasts to occupy my mind. I quickly found myself reconnecting with the sounds that echoed through the trees around me.
The miles flew by; I arrived at the road crossing to Monson almost by surprise.
Aside from being the last town before the 100-Mile Wilderness (and Katahdin), Monson was a welcomed and hotly anticipated stop for the Sauce. One thousand miles back, we celebrated our eponymous fellow hiker’s thru-hike completion. Ravioli’s departure was a bittersweet loss, so much so that our group adopted the glaringly hollow moniker “the Sauce” to mark his departure. Luckily, Rav agreed to return for the last leg of our hike: from Monson to Katahdin.
We arrived at Shaw’s Hiker Hostel and spent the day exploring the downtown area. As is typical of the Sauce, we split into smaller pairings to imbibe and resupply while we waited for Rav to arrive.
The Sauce celebrated Ravioli’s return, and immediately exchanged hugs and laughs around the fire pit. Looking around the circle, it was almost surreal to see how much our trail family had evolved since Springer Mountain.
We were once again Ravioli and the Sauce, and we were ready for Katahdin.
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