Why I Almost Didn’t Summit Katahdin

Intention Matters

I say that a lot.  I mean it not as an excuse for bad behavior but in a time when there can be such toxic division about almost any subject I believe in taking the time to seek first to understand (another favorite maxim) the intention behind word choice or action. There can be great intention yet word choice can relay something different.  I also believe words matter, remember that universe is listening and ready to help you manifest your intentions. This is a lesson I have to keep re-learning in life and the trail was no exception.  It was amplified.  Back in the first 100-300 miles, I was amazed at the fellow thru-hikers who would qualify their intentions with possible failure, like “I plan on hiking all the way to Maine” or “I just want to make it through Georgia”.  I got it. Of course, the entire trail felt too big, like trying to eat the whole garden in one sitting.  Impossible.  Take little bites, and each step gets you closer to the goal.  I operate on the same premise as far as one day at a time but there was always the mental image of me at the Katahdin sign.  When asked on the trail, where are you going?  I would answer Katahdin!  The person would chuckle and say – I mean, where are you camping tonight?  I believe in both manifesting your destiny and in working your ass off toward the goal to help the universe along.  Whether you believe you can or you believe you can’t, either way, you are probably right. Here I was with the end so close at hand, the number of miles dwindling and Mama K (as some refer to Katahdin) was coming into sight.  I am one of the fortunate ones whose body was beaten and bruised but not broken, there is no reason I was not going to the summit. right?  Let’s back up to go forward…

Remember this girl? this milestone?

choked up on this one.


Last I left off I was just about to enter Maine.  New Hampshire broke and then rebuilt me.  It is a strange formula I adopted early on in life: Hardship + Determination x (Adaptation + Skills) = Survival, and Survival = Strength thus I associate Strength with the ability to successfully survive hardships.  I was a strong, badass 53-year-old woman who made it to Maine.  So why did I feel so broken?  One big gut punch was finding out, literally as I sent my selfie pic to family and friends of entering Maine, that my trail mate that I shared a conservative estimated  90% of my journey, was getting off the trail.  His injury was too much. I cannot begin to pretend to know how difficult this decision was for him. I was heartbroken.  I had my first and only real cry since getting on the trail.  I am talking full fledge childlike sobbing, can’t catch my breath, snot running, feel all the feelings cry it out cry.  And then I reached out and talked to all my people and then his wife.  I understood and respected his choice.  My remaining Wizard of Oz trail mate, the Scarecrow (trail name Popeye) found me on the next peak a short while later and we hugged it out.  Then there were two.  Well, actually three.  Shrek was now officially a part of our trailmily.

Entering the 100 mile Wilderness.

The trail was never easy for me.  I know I can tend to maybe exaggerate a good story or be even a tad dramatic, but really, every day had a challenge.  The never-ending climbs with false summits, the heat, the rocks, and OMG the roots in Maine were on a level out of Stranger Things’ upside-down world.  I kept waiting for what so many told me would be revealed in the 100 Mile Wilderness, the mythical smooth, level path, where 25 miles is a cakewalk for my 2100-mile conditioned legs.  Instead, I was limping, cursing, and slowing down.  They were right about the beauty though!  Damn it wasn’t there the most inviting deep pool of crystal clear water every quarter mile.  Too bad in this 90-degree heat that my choice was to keep hiking or stop to indulge but pay the piper: wet = chaffing, play time = late to camp, energy to play = less energy to hike.  Don’t misunderstand, I swam, I even skinny dipped to avoid the wet underwear, but not as much as I wanted to.  Like Aesop’s fable about the fox and the sour grapes, I almost convinced myself that Maine wasn’t that great.  It is #1 on the list to go back to but will need 20 days not just 6 to fully appreciate the 100 miles.


So why not take the time?  Well, I had a deadline.  My niece’s wedding is on the 13th.  My family was flying into Boston on the 10th.  Our projected summit date was pushed from August 2nd to 6th to the 7th and then finally the 9th – so that we could enjoy the trail and not feel like we were rushed.  Truth be told, even without the wedding, I needed to be done.  So many times I wanted to quit, usually from 2 pm right up until I arrived at camp for the night.  Every day had good, even great parts to it.  My mornings: I wake up a pretty happy hiker, my heart is full, my attitude optimistic and my pack feels light.  By 4 pm I am sore and never as far as I think I should be. Then there were the awesome views, the river dip, the blueberries, the laughter at camp, and the great people.  Going to sleep ready to do it all over again.

What Defines a Successful Thru-Hike?

It started with another hiker I knew briefly on the trail, social media posting her summit on Katahdin as if she did the entire 2,194.3 AT miles.  I, and many others, all knew that she yellow-blazed (got rides) and skipped big sections of the trail.  But what did I care?  Hike your own hike and all that.  Then there was the guy at the hostel who said he just finished the AT and when I asked how Katahdin was he said he didn’t do it.  Um, what? thought you said you completed the hike.  He explains that the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) recognizes a thru-hike as anyone completing 2,000 miles.  I later looked that shit up and he was not entirely wrong but missed key statements in the application, like “The ATC assumes that those who apply have made an honest effort to walk the entire Trail, even if they did not walk past every white blaze” source https://appalachiantrail.org/explore/hike-the-a-t/thru-hiking/2000-miler-application/

I am an enigma even to myself.  I am a rule follower but also like to be the thorn in conventional wisdom.  I can’t stand it when people won’t use their blinkers or alternate in ski lift lines, but enjoyed the reaction I got from dying blue streaks in my hair for my 5oth (blue-haired old lady, get it?).  5 days from Katahdin and I am seriously considering the option of NOT summitting.  Here are my arguments: feels so cliche, like just doing it for the Instagram post; does that final 5.5 ascent make me a thru-hiker?, the big one was – I don’t want to hate hike the last part of my journey, I just don’t know if I am in the right mindset for this.  Deep soul searching and the ultimate question of what can I live with?  It became clear that I can never have this moment back.  Have I not just spent the last 5.5 months of a daily revival of hope and determination.  I will summit and I will be gloriously happy and grateful.

Cowboy Lake Camping 3 days left.

Keep your chin up but eyes down.

The Beginning of the End

Mama P is a nickname I got back home from a friend who also worked for my husband.  I love it.  It fits my nurturing side yet tough personality.  I felt an immediate kinship the first time I read Katahdin referred to as Mama K.  I don’t think she gave a fig about me though.  It rained for two days leading up to summit day on the 9th.  I know that my hometown of Steamboat Springs, CO is known for the dry “champagne” powder because the snow typically has less water content than other places.  Can that also be true for rain?  At this point we now had a group of five that were going to summit together on the morning of August 9th.  The morning of the 8th, we came out of the 100 mile Wilderness to re-convene at the little store for some food and a plan.  What if the weather prevented a summit the next day?  The plan was that my daughter Corey was coming to camp with us that night and hike the next day.  She was hoping to change her reservation and hike permit with my continuously moving target date.  She was bringing much needed food and drinks.  Plus she was our ride to the various destinations.  But with no signal I hadn’t confirmed everything with her.  Did we need to stay at the thru-hiker Birches shelter or did she get a site?  Could it fit all 6 of us? Like so many other times on trail, we just headed back on trail fingers crossed it would all work out. Spoiler alert – It did.

Last DAY 165 on trail.

The rain caused many cancellations at the campground so Corey got the reservation changed no problem and got a lean-to!  I arrived first and left message at the Ranger Station for the others to meet at the site.  Change out of wet clothes, and into dry ones and sleeping bag.  4 of the five fit in there, including a hammock.  Corey brings yummy food and breakfast.  The Ranger comes by and checks us in and we get our permit cards.  I am #288.  There is a thing with doubles in my life lately and on trail, AT tag #511, Harper Ferry check in #222, I take it as a good sign.  The Ranger predicts the rain will stop by mid-morning.  I note to Popeye that we are ending in reverse of how we started with weather.  Unbeknownst to us at the time, we both started on February 26th (we met a week later). The day started sunny but turned to rain that night and continued the next two days.  I woke at midnight and got violently ill.  Everything emptied out of my system.  nerves? maybe, but more likely the moldy donut I ate one bite of before spitting out at the store.  I felt fine after the great purge and went into the car to devour a banana, muffin and threw back a Gatorade.

The AT Hunt trail up to Mama K was a creek that day.

Where the rock climb began.


The final hike was so personal, so full of little special moments, that writing in detail feels weird – like revealing an intimacy.  I am not ready for sharing that beyond my journal yet and maybe never will.  There are the big things though.  It was raining, there was a river where there should have been a trail.  We started early because I am slow and was so nervous my trailmily would have to wait for me at the summit in bad weather.  There was one other thru-hiker I knew a little bit on trail ahead of us.  Corey was such a blessing in so many ways and came to the treeline with me.  She was not ready for the rock climbing ahead, despite her arguments, I made her turn around.  I needed to do this part alone and with my trailmily, she was disappointed but understood.  I love rock climbing – up.  Down would be different story later.

I ended up waiting, twice.  First because I didn’t want to do all the bouldering part alone, the wind had pick up and almost hail like rain made it more scary.  I also was surprised no-one had caught up to me by now and I didn’t want to get to far ahead.  After 10 minutes in a protected but cold nook, one showed up!  We climbed on and caught up with the other thru-hiker ahead of me.  The three of us continued and then two more caught up.  Just Popeye was missing.  After two more thru-hikers passed and I thought the summit was close I stopped and waited.  Popeye and I started together we should end together.  His happy hiker face came up the hill soon after.  and then I realized the summit was another mile. He was fast, I fell behind, and like almost every day on trail – I was the last one to arrive. Us eight thru-hikers had the summit to ourselves.  The journey was complete.

AT symbol, Spitfire, Shrek and Popeye

The NOBO Thru Hikers 8/9/22 Summit

The photos taken, the hugs shared, a few more laughs, a snickers and a Coke; then time to go back down.  It was not easy and for the first time ever i asked a trail mate to hike down with me until we were past the hard stuff.  The final mile, even more of a river from the all water above, I said goodbye to the trail.  I thanked her for the adventure and so much more.  Something felt off though.  I finally realized it was the first time I was going South Bound, repeating trail in the opposite direction.  I reflected that it is the same trail yet already different then the one from this morning…just like me.

With Abundance of Gratitude,


The Petix Family at the Wedding

Corey, Spitfire, Kelly and Mike

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Comments 3

  • Ruth Anne Collins : Aug 28th

    So proud of you! I am hiking next year with my hubby. Our second attempt. Life tells me it is time to make this dream a reality. Katahdin is my big worry. Will I hike all that way NOBO and not be able to summit? Your story helps-thank you.

  • David Odell : Aug 28th

    Congratulations on finishing your AT hike. Great journaling. David Odell AT71 PCT72 CDT77

  • Lisa : Sep 2nd

    Congrats Michelle! My guy and I are hiking it next spring. I appreciate your honestly in the difficulty at your age. We will be 63 + 64. We’ve been in training this year and have no doubts about summiting Katahdin.


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