Why is the Last Hundred Miles the Longest?
Casualties: 1 bottle cap, 1 missing spoon, and 1 beer
When you talk to the ATC volunteers you are met with words of foreboding and caution. That you are in the remote Hundred Mile Wilderness (HMW), there will be no people, or roads, or mention of civilization. Your phones and technology are useless here. If you are lucky, you will not be fording neck-deep streams, and the rutting moose will only maim you slightly!
The upon entering the HMW you are greeted with a warning sign that tells you to pack a minimum of 10 days of food and that this is the real fucking deal.
Guys… I think the ATC is trying to lower the thru-hiker successful finish statistics. I saw day hikers and multiple cars in the first day. Shit, I saw construction workers and slack packers. The HMW is no worse than any other part of the trail, just proceed with caution, like you know… you are supposed to in the wilderness. It isn’t as scary as they make it sound. Yes, you should take preventative measures, but if something happens you aren’t going to be ravaged by rutting moose and left to die. As shown by a new friend, Turtle Tracks, who had to get off trail due to re-injuring his ankle in the first 3 miles of the HWM. He didn’t die, but had to walk back out and wait for a ride.
Speaking of casualties, on the first day of the HWM we broke a sawyer drinking cap, lost a spoon, and punctured a beer. Overall, the only major sacrifice to the cause was Dreamsicle’s beer and he only cried a little.
It was short day, 10.5 miles into a shelter. We decided that going to bed early was the best plan as we were waking up early the next day. An early fall morning start, which means it is dark. Which ultimately means I have zero motivation. So I did what any reasonable person would do, sleep in the shelter. This just means it forces me to get up with all my shelter buddies. Luckily, the shelter had two other people in it and my third Big Agnes sleeping pad was leaking… so I had enough sleep.
Even though I despise sleeping in the shelter, I met a really cool hiker called So Co. So Co has had an exciting life working in Antartica and volunteering for the Peace Corps. I had an amazing time talking to him about his experience in Africa. For those of you who don’t know, the Peace Corps is a American international volunteer program that aids communities. Peace Corps projects range from education to agriculture. I have considered going into the Peace Corps, being able to volunteer my skillset to do better in the world sounds appealing. Perhaps, if I can’t handle society post trail, I’ll give the Peace Corps a ring.
No casualties besides my will to live
Early fall morning start, which means it is dark. Which ultimately means I have zero motivation. So I did what any reasonable person would do, sleep in the shelter. This just means that it forces me to get up with all my shelter buddies. Luckily, the shelter had two other people in it and my third Big Agnes sleeping pad was leaking… so I had enough sleep.
We walked through the chair back mountains, which are really pretty. Views of lakes and other surrounding mountains are absolutely stunning, when your lungs stop feeling like they are bleeding. Dreamsicle keeps reminding me that, “I am in the best shape of my life!” I keep asking Dreamsicle, why am I still wheezing and sweating like when I was the fat kid in gym class trying to run the mile?
After, hauling my “in-shape ass” up the Chairback’s, where we had a hiker reunion at the “fire tower”… literally a ladder and the skeleton of a tower. You know a tetanus riddled ruin calling for teenagers and young men to climb up it to “totally not impress the ladies”. So Dreamsicle and I climbed the ruins, which was an amazing view of the surrounding mountains and Monson.
While today was an enjoyable day, the evening wasn’t great. I was slowed down by the tough terrain. Climbing up ascents isn’t my issue, it is getting down. While my legs are strong, my knees would very much like to be done with this trip. Even though it took them 700 miles to figure out how to walk, they have been doing a pretty good job. Due to the decreased hours of day light, I knew I wasn’t making it to the campsite during daylight hours. I had 3.5 miles of steep tricky terrain to cover with less than 45 minutes of day light. Great…
At this point on trail, I have learned my lesson about pace. If you go faster than what you are comfortable or capable with; you trip, fall, and die… or break your leg which at this point, is the equivalent to dying. I personally would like to see the summit of Katahdin and not have to be helicoptered out of the Hundred Mile Wilderness for being a dumbass. I already have seen one thru hiker watch his Katahdin Dreams disappear because he tripped and sprained his ankle, I don’t want to follow suit because a little mistake.
As the sun crept towards the horizon I grew concerned, I hadn’t seen Dreamsicle for about 2 maybe 3 hours. When dusk crept a long, he always waited for me to make sure I was fine. But he wasn’t at the shelter I had just passed, I was told he was maybe 20 minutes ahead. I was not too concerned as the sun was still up, but this wasnt normal. Hikers at the shelter implored me to stay as dusk was approaching and they didnt want me to get hurt. Perhaps it was pride or the fear of getting separated, I had to push to the planned site for camping. I had no way of letting Dreamsicle know I was safe or just running behind, I had to keep walking.
I did what I could, I at least got through the rockslide and steeper descents before the sun fully set… Which left me navigating the bogs and swamps in the dark. As darkness set in, that was when my anxiety about the entirety of the situation set in. I felt absolutely fucked. From what I knew, there was no one around me for about a 2 mile radius. I had no service and no one else I was hiking with had cell service, eliminating using my garmin to figure out where anyone was. My predicament wasn’t improved as I was running out of water, because being fucked impairs your critical thinking skills. (I know this because I am a highly trained scientist.)
If you plan on hiking or thru hiking, something people will never tell you is that the miles before town, when you run out of water, or in the dark feel 500% longer. I know I walk a 15 minute mile with full pack on. I know I can walk a 3 ish mile per hour pace on decent terrain, but these night miles were taking forever. I was getting more anxious by the minute, I felt rushed and scared. I felt abandoned by my partner. I was alone. Not too mention my brain was convinced I was going to run into Bigfoot (or worse a rutting moose) and die.
After checking my map, I had found that miles felt longer because I had passed my turnoff to the campsite by a half mile. That half mile that I had walked was down hill, meaning I had to turn around and walk up hill to find my turn off. I’m sure Crane and Dreamsicle could feel their ears burning about how much I despised their “Bullshit faster paces and how they didn’t have to set up in the dark.”
I was not happy walking into camp, I was not happy that it was past my hiker bedtime while I was setting up, and I was definitely not happy when my air pad would deflate in under 45 minutes. Dreamsicle explained that he had waited for me, but got anxious and took off. I explained to him that this will not happen again and next time I am not hauling ass to find him in the dark on crappy trails. I ended up cowboy camping because we had to get up early and push farther the next day, another thing I wasn’t thrilled about.
For those who don’t know, cowboy camping is when you don’t use a tent and just sleep on your sleep system and hope the wildlife leaves you alone. A lot of hikers love it because you can watch the stars and apparently you feel at one with the universe. If you are like me and have to use glasses or contacts to see, you can’t see shit and the last thing you give a damn about is the stars existing or your relation with the universe when you have to pee at 3 AM. Especially, when you have to blow up your leaking sleeping pad every 2 hours.
18 point bullshit
I thought I was promised easy miles and a nice pleasant day. I thought that I wasn’t going to have to walk straight up hills again, but Maine doesn’t give a shit about your hopes and dreams.
Maine wants to leave you broken still, and I would really like it to stop.
Today was exciting because we had to meet our scheduled food drop. Shaw’s hostel is already awesome for providing amazing housing and hiker friendly facilities, but they now offer a hundred mile wilderness food drop. Where you can and some friends can schedule to have your food dropped to you halfway through the HMW, allowing you to move faster and not freak out about running out of food. Now packing for 100 miles isn’t hard, but when you have been fear mongered by the ATC that you will die in the HMW, you get a little nervous and will pay for the food drop.
Now, I can hear some of you screaming “Where is your integrity? Why aren’t carry ALL of your food you need through the hundred mile wilderness. Alright, Boomer. How about you carry 6-8 days of food through the hundred mile wilderness and try to do it in 6 days. Go on, I am watching.
I was running on “angry that had to blow up a sleeping pad every hour” kind of sleep, so I wasn’t feeling particularly ambitious about the day. But, to my surprise we flew through the miles and made it to our food drop spot early, where I was greeted by many hikers and a cold soda. It was a nice 13 miles of walking next to a stream. It was a nice, warm day with a hint of fall chill to the air. It was lovely getting to have a chill walking day, having a mini hiker reunion, and then pushing onto White Cap Mountain.
Well. I thought White Cap Mountain was going to be fun, until we met the most self absorbed ridge runner ever.
I have nothing against ridge runners, many of them are super cool and friendly. They have one of the hardest jobs on trail, as they are the stewards of the trail; they educate hikers on the history of trail, proper LNT, and manage the shelters. They have to pull all the trash out of the privies. You better thank them for taking care of all your LNT fuck ups, because they are there to pick up the pieces. They kick ass and do an amazing job. But this dude… Damn. When I am greeted with a “you guys are slow” after we told him we have walked almost 18 miles by mid afternoon and we were excited to see the first view of Katahdin… Which according to him is not Katahdin… Even though there is a giant “K” with an arrow spray painted on a viewing rock in the direction of a big fucking mountain… After a short conversation, Crane, Dreamsicle, and I wondered how fast he could run and how efficiently we could hide a body while he was monologuing about his position. I mean the ATC tells you this is the most remote and dangerous section of trail, it would be a shame if your only ridge runner went missing…
After the ridge runner took off, we all continued to push on to the campsite. We were all kind of done for the day, we had burned off the nervous adrenaline we had from rushing to the food drop and now we were slow as dusk crept in. I was moving slow and I asked Dreamsicle to wait for me since he promised to not leave me in the dark again. To my surprise he was going to take off without me and meet me at the next site in 3 miles, because he didn’t want to be caught in the dark… As one might imagine, I was not happy with that response, especially after what had happened the night before.
Doing my best to not be angry or break down into tears (I was very tired and did not want a repeat of the night before. Also, I had mentally made the decision that if he was going to go ahead, he was going to be going to Katahdin by himself.) I told him the quintessential female response, “Fine.”
Well, apparently my face wasn’t fine when I stepped off trail to let him pass, because he said he was sorry and didn’t realize how scared and upset I was from the night hiking fiasco. So, you know, that was nice, not having to break up with your hiking partner.
We hiked in silence for the rest of the day and made it before sunset to the shelter.
Later in the evening…
I have now had my most dangerous experience on the trail. You might believe that this is deadly climbs up exposed mountains, surviving near freezing conditions, or perhaps a near miss with a venomous snake.
No it wasn’t that cool or impressive.
It was a bug. A very large and spooky bug, mind you!
It was the end of a long day and a few of us were sitting around a fire at a shelter. A fire is a luxury out here that thru hikers typically don’t get to enjoy. Most of us are trying to maximize daylight hours and get into camp too late as well as too tired to waste energy on a fire.
But tonight was different. We had some daylight to spare during this cooler autumn day, so we started a fire. Apparently the fire spooked a very large and intimidating bug out of its hidey hole. According to Dreamsicle, it was a Giant Water Bug, also known as a Toe Pincher. These bugs are well known for extremely painful bites and are a fairly aggressive bugs.
Let me educate you on the principle of “Hiker TV”. As Hikers, you haven’t had much for entertainment for the past few days. You get a little silly and you do things like poke a giant and aggressive bug with a stick. You know, poke the bug with one of the most painful non-deadly stings in the world with a stick… You know for science…
As we were trying to get the very pissed off bug to sting the stick, a very kind and intelligent German hiker called, Frog, off handedly commented, ” Does anyone one know if this bug can fly?”
It was as if we had tempted fate. As soon as the sentence hung silent in the air, the bug took off. Causing all of us to scream and promptly scatter.
Remember kids, things aren’t scary… until the fly.
Once the bug was relocated after all of us gained our senses, it became a debate on how should we kill the now not so harmless bug. Fruit Snacks and Frog, the vegan and vegetarian, said it would be inhumane to smoosh it. Dreamsicle and I were on “Team find and Kill”. It was Crane who provided the best solution which was to take a large burning stick out of the fire and smoosh the bug to death.
After the bug was dealt with we all decided it was bed time as we were all a little tuckered out from the events of the day
Day 4 – 5
I think 18 and maybe a 20… I don’t actually know. BUT I SAW KATAHDIN SO NOTHING ELSE MATTERS.
I know you are probably wanting me to write about the spiritual connection I am having as I finish the trail. How new information from the universe is downloading into me from the experience. I hate to burst that romantic instagrammable bubble, but the hike doesn’t change just because you are closer to the end. There is still the daily routine that you have been doing for over 100 days. The miles you walk at the end of the trail don’t suddenly become more romantic than those at the beginning, your feet are still wet and everything still hurts. If anything, the final 100 miles are harder mentally because you are so close to being done and you want nothing more than to be done with this stupid ass hike you signed yourself up for. The conversations you have with other hikers don’t become any deeper or more meaningful. If anything, you begin to talk about how excited you are to have real food, a real bed, and no more crunchy socks. You begin to fantasize about your first real meal and the first place you want to go after the trail. Of course, you reflect a little about the experiences you have had and the things you have done a long the way, but mostly you are so excited to get the fuck off trail.
In better news… IT GOT FLAT!
We are in the holy land, with flat ground, beautiful lakes, and views of Katahdin on the horizon. It feels so much closer than 40 miles away… Well, because it is. As the crow flies, Katahdin is about 15 miles away, but as the AT goes we still have about 40 miles of walking.
Just another excuse for the AT to test the “integrity of hikers”.
It has been nice walking on flat nice soft trail. It has been refreshing and even enjoyable to walk on nice trail. I was so mentally burnt out with the harder sections from New Hampshire to Southern Maine. Both Dreamsicle and I were getting burnt out by the constant hard terrain. But now that we are hiking easier miles, it makes it feel like less of a job.
That is what thru-hiking is, a 12-hour non-stop job. You don’t enjoy thru-hiking miles, you do it because there is the goal of reaching the end. You enjoy shorter backpacking trips and weekend hiking trips because you don’t have to treat it like a job or your living situation. When your feet get wet on a weekend trip; you can just go home and dry your socks and clothes, you are only uncomfortable for the next couple of days. But when you are thru hiking and you get soaked, all of your shit is wet until you get into town or find a sunny spot.
I know I make it all sound bad, but there are amazing moments. Like my Mommy driving all the way out to Maine to do trail magic for all of us at Abol Bridge.
Yeah, I know, my Mommy is cooler than all your moms!
It was so good to see my mom and get real food at the end of the HMW. I hadn’t seen my mom since Vermont, which was a while ago as I have lost track of time on trail. It was just enough of a moral booster to be convinced to do a 22 mile hike to summit Katahdin the next day.
Who ever said that you shouldn’t walk 22 ish miles and summit Katahdin from Abol Bridge with your entire pack, apparently doesn’t know how to have a good time. (Actually, they were probably right, but I didn’t listen and had a great time any way!)
You would think that the last day on the AT would stick out more. That it would feel more final, but it was as normal as any other. We didn’t start any earlier than usual; we took down camp, complained about how cold it was, and slowly got ready in the early hours of dawn. Nothing unusual.
Dreamsicle and I were excited about it being the last day and how we still couldn’t believe that we were only 15 miles from the end. It didn’t feel real, walking down the road to go check in to the park. Only 15 miles till the end.
Boy, it was a weird 15 miles.
Our trek to the check in point at Katahdin Streams campground went smoothly. A super flat and fun 10 miles to the base of the mountain. It took us no time at all to get through the mileage, perhaps it was the adrenaline or the massive amount of caffeine I had ingested. Perhaps it was because we only had to carry snacks for the day. Either way, it was a quick. But things started to get strange when we met the ranger at the campsite.
Maybe it was a rough day for her, maybe she just has a very weird sense of humor… She wasn’t thrilled to have thru-hikers bothering her for permits to summit. I get that it must be a struggle to attend all the needs of your campsite when it is peak leaf peeping season. But please don’t get angry at me when I am following your rules. I just want to touch the stupid sign on your mountain!
After dealing with the grumpy ranger, we were on the home stretch to the summit. Everyone calls Maine the home stretch for NoBos, but it doesn’t feel like it until you are 5 miles away and you are on freaking Mount Katahdin.
It was so cool being up on the treeline Katahdin and seeing all of the different Mountains of Baxter state park. The views from Katahdin are stunning, lakes dapple the surrounding scenery, and you are surrounded by mountains. I could spend the rest of my life sitting on the Hunt Spur staring at the scenery.
But no one tells you how hard it is to get up to this point on the hill… Mama K really wants to sort the weak from the strong here. Mama K wants to make sure that you are deserving of being here. Mama K takes no prisoners. Mama K wants blood.
It took us almost a mile an hour till we got to the nice part of the mountain called the Tablelands, which is .7 from the summit. This 4.25 mile section required actual rock climbing, scrambling up rebar and a ladder, a blood sacrifice from my scraped knee, and general swearing and bitching. Once you get up the Hunt Spur, which is just an evil rock pile, you see the summit and the sign in the distance.
That was the moment, when it really kicked in that I had made it, was when I saw the tiny silhouette of the sign. It was tiny and surrounded by hikers only .75 miles away up on the summit. I only had to walk less than a mile and I would be done. This hike that I never thought would end and that I never thought I would finish was right there. Only .75 miles away.
I didn’t believe it when we made it to the sign. It felt like it appeared out of nowhere. You walk up the Tablelands to the summit and it just comes out of nowhere. As soon as I saw the sign, I fell onto it and held it. It was over. I did it. I walked 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine.
I cried only a few tears, but I was finished. I had done it and now we needed to take some pictures because dusk was coming. No one tells you that the Appalachian Trail technically doesn’t end on the summit… you still have to get your ass down the hill. Since we were running out of time, we didn’t have enough day light to do the Knifes Edge (WHICH IS ON MY BUCKET LIST AND I WILL DO NEXT FALL). We decided to take the Abol Slide trail down as it is the easier option than the AT.
It was nice making our way down, no goal but to get down the mountain meet my mom. It felt freeing to not be worried about the quality of water coming out of the Thoreau Springs and to finally just to walk with not a plan in the world. Dreamsicle and I had been walking on this trail for 180 days, of that we had been walking together for 156 days. During my last steps on the trail I thought about how proud I was to overcome so much. I worked through and worked past so many things that had happened to me. I learned to forgive and let go of so much that didn’t serve me. I learned to have faith in myself and in those around me. Most of all, I learned to love life again and how lucky I am to be alive. I thought about how no one could take this away from me. This was something I did for myself and that no could minimize the experience or the amount of effort it took to complete. Sure, my abusers and people who want to make me look small and insignificant can say what they want about me, but I thru-hiked the fucking Appalachian Trail, and that speaks a lot more about me and my character.
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