We’re Cloudbusting!

Listen, I know I can’t categorize myself as a NOBO. I reach the northern terminus of the trail, I’m only halfway done. It’s definitely not the same thing as starting from Georgia and ending in Maine after 2,000 grueling miles. Such is the Flip-Flopper’s life. But that doesn’t mean Maine can’t be special to me. Two of the most pivotal summers of my life were spent working at a summer camp here, and my cat is named after Acadia National Park. I crossed the border with visions of fresh blueberries, whoopie pies, and wicked accents dancing in my head. But most of all, I couldn’t stop thinking of that mountain at the end.

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?

Fuck.

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!

A little pic I got of the owner “Honey” celebrating her b-day

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.

Orgonon.

That’s where the song Cloudbusting by Kate Bush is set.

Holy shit, we’re going Cloudbusting!

…I just know that something good is gonna happen…

The silver lining to Maine’s rough terrain and erratic weather is that you have an excuse to slow down and appreciate it. In the South, you have the high peaks: Old Speck, Saddleback, The Crockers, The Bigelows. Each one of them gentler but more scenic than the rest. Towards the end of the Bigelow Range, I leaned into the Mainer mindset and enjoyed a nice Whoopie Pie in the sun. 

mmmmmm, fattening

After the high peaks, Maine stays rugged but demands less of you as the trail winds along the shores of several ponds. For about a week, I was camping by waterfronts, soaking my feet and listening to loon calls at dusk. It was the closest thing to luxury I’d felt in a while. Before I knew it, the gang and I had made it to Shaw’s Hostel in Monson, another classic trail institution. I still dream of their blueberry pancakes.

While I was grounded at Shaw’s, I took some time to evaluate my setup. I realized I no longer had use for much of my cold-weather gear, and sent it all in a box home. Before I knew it, I had shaved two pounds (!) off my back. With the Hundred Mile Wilderness and Katahdin around the corner, I was becoming a force to be reckoned with.

“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.

 

Well that’s not intimidating at all

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.

OH.

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.

PRIDE ATOP THE GREATEST MOUNTAIN

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.

Probably my favorite selfie from the trip so far

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.

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Comments 7

  • TaffyUK : Aug 7th

    Well done, onto the easier half now.

    Reply
  • thetentman : Aug 8th

    Good luck and thx for the update.

    Reply
  • Kat B. : Aug 9th

    Your posts are my favorite. You’re kicking ass, Goblin! Looking forward to the flip side.

    Reply
  • Shirley : Aug 9th

    Love your post.. you are stronger than you know.. head high , march on..

    Reply
  • Kelli Ramey : Aug 24th

    Inspired

    Reply

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