Katahdin. KATAHDIN! It won’t let me rest. I had to keep moving. Say, now that I’ve left New Hampshire and national forest land, how’s that trail looking?
Welcome to Maine: The Way Life Should Be*
If New Hampshire is home to the great storm spirit, Maine’s patron deity has to be the prankster god. The joke was on me straight from the start, as the trail immediately morphed into a series of rockslides. Most famous of these is Mahoosuc Notch (pictured above), a jungle gym of boulders that stretches out over an entire mile. Immediately following it is a steep 2-mile ascent that requires a lot of hand-over-hand climbing and trust in the little friction your toes can get on the slab. I don’t know if you’re legally allowed to call that a trail, Maine.
This state was three weeks of countless absurdities. In particular, I remember a few things:
- One in every three wooden planks over a stream or bog gave out from under me, completely soaking my socks and shoes
- A Northern Goshawk swooped at my head TWICE
- Horseflies and mosquitoes were constantly eating at me
- One campsite had a two-seater privy with a cribbage board between the two seats. Weirder still, a local earnestly claimed to have a bathroom just like it growing up.
Maine, I have now spent three summers in your borders and I still don’t understand why you are the way you are.
Damn it, I still love you, though.
Goblin and Company
After getting my ass kicked by the Mahoosucs and Baldpate Mountain, I knew it was time for a break. I ended up at The Cabin in Andover, an Appalachian Trail institution so old that the owner has pictures with OG Thru-hiker Earl Shaffer. In fact, she was celebrating her 89th birthday that week!
I ended up staying at the Cabin for 3 nights, although only one of those days ended up being a zero. It was packed every night with people: some old friends, some new friends, and some brief encounters with SOBOs I likely won’t see again. From there on out, I was in unfamiliar territory for the rest of Maine: I had a consistent group with which I was hiking. I had seen recurring faces over long stretches before, but this was the first time since Pennsylvania that I actively sought to stay with the same group of people. While I did get tired of them sometimes (as I always do with people. Trust me, friends, it’s not you, it’s me), I enjoyed having a ragtag tramily for a while. I suspect I’ll remain good friends with many of them.
One day, we stopped in Rangeley, a cute tourist town known for being equidistant from the North Pole and the Equator, as well as the home of Wilhelm Reich’s Orgonon Estate.
Wait a second.
That’s where the song Cloudbusting by Kate Bush is set.
Holy shit, we’re going Cloudbusting!
“You’re just in reach… when you and sleep escape me”
Normally, I would have approached the Hundred Mile Wilderness with the same caution I would the rest of Maine. But something really did change within me at Shaw’s: I was rebuilt for speed. I ended up completing the whole stretch in less than four and a half days, walking as far as 30 miles (!!!!) one day. While I am still amazed at my own accomplishment, I regret not taking the time to appreciate it all. So I’m promising myself I’ll come back and give the HMW it’s due someday.
Through it all I couldn’t stop thinking about Katahdin. I knew it was close, it was just a matter of how long it would-oh.
Well there she is. Let’s do this.
Charging into the storm
The night before our summit bid was cold, wet, and cloudy. My friends and I shared a campsite and waxed poetic on our journeys. Of course, this was only my halfway point, but it still felt special. While checking in, the park ranger warned us that severe thunderstorms at the summit were likely the next day. In order to try and beat the storms, I got up at 3 AM and marched down the trail before sunrise.
I had emptied my pack of all my gear and was moving at a steady clip. As one last joke from Maine, the trail to the summit featured some of the steepest, most exposed scrambling I’d seen yet. But I kept going. And kept getting closer. And before I knew it, I was at the summit, in disbelief that I had made it this far. My NOBO friends were even more emotional than I was.
Then, soon after taking that picture, shit got scary. Some of the loudest thunder I’ve heard in my life boomed, and I could feel static discharge in my trekking poles. The time to celebrate had ended; it was time to run.
The rain and wind came quickly. So did the hail. So did the lightning that turned the sky purple. It was without a doubt the most terrified I have ever been on trail, but we made it through. Now, I can look back and laugh at it all because what’s funnier than personal trauma.
With that, the northern leg of my journey was complete. Hoooooooly shit.
Final Thoughts on the First Half of the AT
So, let’s recap. I made it 1.167.1 miles from Harper’s Ferry to Katahdin in 87 days. Along the way, my patience was constantly being tried. Whether it was the persistent ankle pain of PA, the evil mosquitoes of VT, or the otherworldly ruggedness of NH and ME, I seldom had an easy day. On top of that, I typically felt uncomfortable being open about my queerness; I distinctly recall one cis/het person even telling me to shut up when I stood up for a trans friend.
Nevertheless, I never wanted to get off. Sure, I asked myself why I was doing this, but I didn’t once think it was time to quit. No, I was meant to finish this. I was meant to fly the trans pride flag atop Katahdin. And I am meant to make it to Georgia and do the same atop Springer. The Appalachian Trail has exceeded every expectation I had.
I’m really looking forward to the second leg as I return to Harper’s Ferry and walk south. To put it simply, I’ll be walking home.
Thanks for making it this far with me. Hope y’all will stick around for another 1,000 miles.
Coming Soon From the Trail Mixtape
- A small child smashes my toe
- Goblin goes urban
- Returning to Harper’s Ferry
- Whatever Virginia has in store
Photos my own. Trail updates are posted as I’m able to write them. Subscribe to my Trek blog via email and follow me on Instagram at the links below. Stay shiny, friends.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.