In 2016, I set out to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail as a flip-flopper but my attempt ended after 1300 miles. I started in Shenandoah National Park summiting Mt. Katahdin on August 23, four months later. During the winter, I decided I should finish what I started and headed back to the A.T. on May 2, 2017 departing from Springer Mountain. I arrived at my 2016 starting point at Rockfish Gap on June 30. I’m also a paddler who has canoed the 428-mile Wisconsin River from source to mouth and twice completed the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail.
Shelters become nightly community social hubs after a long day of hiking, despite the lack of privacy, despite the snoring and despite the less than stellar accommodations.
Like migrating geese and spawning salmon, I find myself moving in and out of formations, stronger hikers pass me and I pass others struggling.
Turns out the pain I experienced last summer was temporary. Like childbirth. And here I am back doing it again. I have now traipsed along 1400 miles of the trail to date. I am now officially a LASHer.
For many people, hiking the Appalachian Trail, like high school, has the potential to be either the best or worst time of your life. From casual acquaintances to the kindness of strangers, our connected stories are woven through each annual migration. Our collective experience binds us together, even as we graduate and move off into separate directions the moment we step off the trail.
I am far more alone over these last two weeks paddling in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness than on any of the 110 days spent hiking the Appalachian Trail solo. I have to rely on compass and maps in this blaze-less backcountry. There isn't a straight line to follow and no place I need to be. I meander through rivers and lakes, passing waterfalls and portaging through boreal forests. I catch myself watching cloud formations and gazing for hours atop primordial bedrock as the sun liquefies into vast expanses of inland seas—sunsets that rival any exotic ocean coastline.
I allowed Maine to betray me. Summiting mountain peaks weren't stirring my soul, it was the mirrored sunsets of unbroken waters on a breathless lake, the haunting call of loons, the hushed stillness of a pine forest.
Miss Daisy (Justine) and ATK (TK) were married on August 4, 2016, at Shaw’s Hostel in Monson, in the presence of hikers. Justine’s father, who is a minister in the town, officiated. The bride wore a beige rayon tea-length dress and the maid of honor wore her clean hiker clothes.
As I approach the 100-mile wilderness, the number of SOBOs is lessening—and those I do pass appear to be struggling—after all it is their first 100 miles. Unlike my own start that began back in Shenandoah National Park, they have had to put in harder work—beginning with Katahdin. I look at them and wonder if they will make it all the way, but then again, I still wonder if I will make it the full distance too.
The Whites took a toll—on my body and in my head. With almost 1000 miles under my feet, Mt. Madison almost broke me.
The low points are primarily associated with long days, humidity and feeling gross. I'm starting to feel obsessive about prioritizing showers over almost everything else.