Hi! I'm Jon, but on the trail, I'm known as "The Incident." There's a good story behind my trail name, but I'll have to know you better before I tell it. Maybe after I summit Katahdin. Maybe. I'm married to "Northstar" (formerly, "Princess Beastmode,") father of three grown children, only one of whom has a trail name (Poppywhacker). Mrs. The Incident and I will be living the vanlife with our two golden doodles, Gus & Roux, as I hike the AT in 2023. I'm a mostly retired fluvial geomorphologist (I did river studies) and a published author (my River Elegy books can be found on Amazon). I hope to see you on the trail!
After more than 3,000 miles of backpacking on two continents, something trail-name-worthy finally happened to me, and I became “The Incident.”
Whenever I hit a low point, Northstar would remind me of how far I’d come and tell me she knew I’d finish on Katahdin. Sometimes, she’d hint that I’d sorely regret it later if I quit. A few times, she flat out told me I could not quit that day. But she did convince me to ask Alaska for a reprieve so we could slow down a little – solid advice which probably saved my hike.
We got our best view of Katahdin from the Abol Bridge. The peak wore a lenticular cloud like a jaunty French beret, white but pulled down low over one side of its bald head. The rest of sky promised better weather and clear views, though we expected highs in the mid-70’s which might make for a sweaty climb. I haven’t hiked in 70-degree weather since Massachusetts. From the bridge, Katahdin looked huge and intimidating, a head, shoulders, and torso taller than any peak around it. Today’s 4,200-foot ascent would be the biggest continuous climb on the entire AT. With most of the ascent at more than 1,000 feet per mile, it would also be one of the AT’s steepest. We made small talk during the drive, but our minds were on the climb.
We left the bridge and headed into the park. Like your high school prom queen, Baxter State Park knows it’s beautiful, so it doesn’t have to be nice. If you want to visit Baxter, you gotta know the rules. In addition to all the normal park rules like staying on trails, not littering, no collecting, and leaving no trace, Baxter has a few of its own peculiar regulations:
When we arrived, Katahdin wore a bonnet of puffy clouds. But as we sat and stared, the cover thinned and disappeared as the temperature dropped. Gradually, the sun set behind us, adding even more orange and red tints to the Fall tapestry. But we barely bothered to turn around to watch, preferring the faint sunset reflection on Katahdin to the real sunset in the west.
Instead, the trail led me beside still waters, winding along lakeshores rimmed with orange, yellow, red, and green trees, blanketed by slowly drifting mists, and beneath blue skies. The placid lake surfaces reflected all of that, doubling the calming effect on my soul.
Everyone is thinking about what comes next. Almost everyone is done with hiking and can’t wait to sleep in a real bed, eat better food, not have to walk everywhere, and to stop hurting. A few hardcores, like HR and her crew, aren’t ready to quit and have been talking about jumping to the Long Trail or the Arizona Trail before winter sets in. Even JW surprised me by saying he’d keep hiking if he didn’t have to go back to work, and that he’d gladly re-hike the AT next year.
We’d been seeing the Katahdin mileage on most of the trail signs since entering the 100 Mile Wilderness. Now, with less than 100 miles to go, each sign made us stop, laugh, and take a picture to prove to ourselves it’s real.
I still can’t believe I’ve made it this far. Whatever else happens in the next 98.4 miles, I’m a 2,000 Miler, which is what the ATC traditionally called hikers who completed the entire trail. When I set out from Springer in April, I couldn’t even visualize myself hiking in New England. In the middle Atlantic doldrums, getting above the tree line in New Hampshire was the holy grail that kept me going, though it turned out I’d forgotten to consider what the weather can do to mountaintop views.
A few steps from the trailhead, a sign warned us that we were entering the 100 Mile Wilderness and that we should carry a minimum of 10 days supplies. I had one dinner, one breakfast, and two lunches in my pack. We’ll see how this turns out.