After tearing myself away from the luxury of the Farmhouse Hostel in Rangeley I was headed back into the rugged mountains of southern Maine. The Saddleback, Sugarloaf, and Crocker Mountain ranges were challenging obstacles but as I hiked on towards the town of Stratton it was evident that the climbs were becoming easier and easier, at least compared to the previous 150 miles. Once in Stratton, I had reached the 2000 mile mark, officially making me what the Appalachian Trail Conservancy refers to as a “2000 miler”. It was a short but sweet reunion with Firestarter and Five in town, and due to the date they were planning to finish by I knew this would be the last time I would see either of them on the trail. I had been hiking with and around Firestarter since Pennsylvania, making many great memories. As the trail went on, parting ways with some of the amazing friends I had made would be my biggest dilemma.
With less than 200 miles to go, I was more motivated than ever to push forward. Despite this, I took my time towards the end, hiking no more than 15 miles a day most of the time. The end was inevitable, my heart would sink every time I thought about it and I wanted to stretch this adventure out for all it was worth. Directly out of Stratton, I headed into the Bigelow Range. This would be the last time I would be at an elevation of 4000 feet, and for the most part the last time I would have a strenuous climb until Katahdin. I first headed up the Horns, which were basically the gateway into the Bigelows. Bigelow Peak, Avery Peak, and Little Bigelow stretched out before me with stunning views all around. I carried on, eager to see what the other peaks would be like. Avery became and remained the most breathtaking view of my entire 2000 mile walk. Flagstaff Lake stretched out below me, covering much of the ground that was within sight. I sat for about an hour above the treeline with the wind whipping against me, unable to walk away from such an amazing spot. I studied my guidebook and found that there was a campsite on the shore of the lake once I had descended from this mountain, so I pushed on looking forward to some swimming and relaxing on a sandy beach. Little did I know I was about to experience my most terrifying night of my journey.
As I was walking to the campsite, I found a random trail someone had created that led to an isolated beach right on the shore of Flagstaff. The sky was blue and the water was calling my name, so I decided to pitch my tent right on the exposed sand. After an hour, I had camp set up, I had eaten a snack, and I was enjoying the water, for once actually fully submerging myself since there was plenty of time to dry off. I got out of the lake and sat on a rock rolling a cigarette when the dark clouds began to roll over the mountaintops. I figured it would only be rain, and got in my tent without much of a second thought. Before I knew it, the rain sounded like bullets on my rainfly, multiple bolts of lightning cracked in the sky per minute, some striking the lake that was no more than five feet away from me. I began to contemplate how I was going to take down my tent in order to find a more suitable campsite but before I could execute any plan mother nature did the job for me by adding in extreme wind gusts to the mix which completely pulled my tent from ground and sent it flying. I was soaked, my gear was soaked, and I had no idea what the hell I was going to do. My only choice was to pack up my soaked shelter and hike on in hopes of more tree cover. As soon as I was back on the trail, marble sized hail began to fall from the sky, still accompanied by multiple bolts of lightning per minute. It seemed the world was going through an apocalypse. My wet clothes were cold against my body, and more than anything I was wishing for a trail angel to come out and offer me a place to stay for the night, although this was highly unlikely due to the fact that I was miles away from anywhere. I finally found a better site and pitched my soaked tent in the rain, not sure how I was going to sleep through the night. The rain never let up, and all night I could hear tree limbs crashing down around me. In the morning I awoke to blue skies, but once afternoon came an identical storm rolled through, this time only soaking me rather than my gear, but also getting to my cell phone which is the reason this entry is being posted so late.
The next day I retreated to the “town” of Caratunk after crossing the Kennebec River on the official AT ferry service (A random guy paddling hikers across in a canoe). Caratunk consisted of one hostel for hikers to stay in as well as a resort type place that let anyone come use their pool and hot tub. I picked up two disposable cameras, not wanting to hike on without the ability to take pictures, and then spent the rest of the day at the resort. I had originally planned to skip this town but the events that had unfolded in the previous few days caused me to reconsider, and I’m glad I did. It was an extremely relaxing day and a good night watching movies at the hostel with Loon, Salty Dog, Two, Axon, and Shrugs. This would be the final bubble I would be in, and we would travel at for the most part the same pace all the way to the end.
From Caratunk, we headed on towards the last town of the trail, Monson. It was only about 40 miles to get there, and aside from two mountains the going was completely flat. This does not mean by a long shot that it was easy, multiple thigh deep river fords lay in the trails path, as well as rocks, roots, and mud. Maine really was like the final boss of a video game, where you have to deal with every challenge you faced in the previous levels all at once. The first day out of town, we stopped for the day at Moxie Bald Mountain Lean-to. Instead of staying in the shelter I pitched my tent down by the absolutely gorgeous pond that was on site. Loon and Salty Dog joined me as I cooked dinner on the waters edge. We talked much about each others experiences on the trail up to this point, and then about how we felt about having only another week or so to go as we watched the sky change colors over the pond. After a while, once the subject had changed entirely, Loon randomly said “I could live like this forever”. We both shut up and finished watching the day turn to night, not needing to say another word.
We made it to Monson the next day, and decided to stay even though Caratunk had only been one night ago. This would be the last town and opportunity for any resupply until reaching Baxter State Park, 100 miles north. Even though Shaw’s is the go to spot to stay in town, Loon and I stayed at the Lake Shore House, a restaraunt/hostel right on the lake that the town is built around. This decision was mostly made by the fact that Lake Shore has Kayaks that guests can take out, making it a no brainer. The hostel was also extremely clean and comfortable, definitely on my list of top hostels. It was strange to think this would be the last town I would travel through, after all the ones I’ve been in before. I was proud, I was happy, I couldn’t believe I had made it this far. When I picked up my package from the post office that I had prepared at home months before, I remembered back to a time when I wasn’t sure if I would ever arrive to pick this one up. All that was left was the hundred mile wilderness, and then I would have done it, I would have hiked the Appalachian Trail in its entirety. I always thought about the trail in sections, never once as a whole. I traveled on a town to town basis, I would reach one town then figure out my plan to get to the next one. The next plan would bring me to Katahdin.
The next morning I headed to Shaws with a southbounder I met at Lake Shore for the famous all you can eat blueberry pancake breakfast that I had been told about since Georgia. It was a great start to the day and another thru hiker was added to our bubble, Green Tortuga, who I hadn’t seen since Erwin, TN some 1500 miles ago. After breakfast we set off into the final leg of the hike, the 100 mile wilderness. From this point on there would be no public access roads to get to town easily, forcing us to carry about double the amount of food we normally would. Aside from the heavy packs the wilderness was absolutely beautiful, and it would have been one of my favorite stretches on the trail had it actually been a wilderness. Day hikers and section hikers galore made this one of the most crowded sections of the entire AT! Despite this it was still amazing, hundreds of ponds line the trail all throughout this area. Sandy beaches and pristine campsites make it hard not to have an amazing time here. The trail was very well maintained in my opinion despite what we had been told by dozens of southbounders, and for the most part it wasn’t difficult at all to push out big miles, even though I stuck to 15-20 miles throughout the whole 100 miles in order to stretch out my time on trail. From Whitecap Mountain, the first view of Katahdin made for a pretty emotional moment. It was directly in front of me, no more than 30 miles away by line of sight. Of course the AT would be veering way to the east and skirting more crystal clear lakes before switching back to the base of the mountain. The weather stayed perfect for the first 3 days, then became cloudy and wet for the next two, then becoming sunny once again for my last day before reaching Abol Bridge, where I would see my parents for the first time since Delaware Water Gap. On the way there, I hiked over Rainbow Ledges, where Katahdin was even closer, and once I arrived at Abol Bridge the beast of a mountain was right in front of me. There was a camp store and restaurant at the campground here, and as I waited for my parents outside Goodman, Green Tortuga, Salty Dog, Mary, and Two showed up. These would be the ones I would summit Katahdin With. They weren’t the people whom I had spent most of my time with on the trail, but being with them at this point made them people I will never forget. Throughout my hike I met many amazing people, but I always thought of these people as merely passing souls. Everyone has their own schedule on the trail, that’s part of the beauty of the whole thing. While I did at points meet up with people for extended periods of time I consider my hike to have been a solo venture. That’s not to say that the people I did meet didn’t leave a significant impact on me and motivated me to push on throughout my whole hike. In hindsight, I now regret not spending more time with many of these people, but on the other hand the fact that I walked 2200 miles relying on mainly myself alone is one of the things that makes me proudest about this accomplishment. As an 18 year old (19 as of Aug.31), doing the trail the way I did forced me to grow up a little and figure out how to take care of myself. While college may do the same thing to kids my age, there’s no way it pushes you to the limits of thru hiking the Appalachian Trail.
After meeting my parents for the night and settling in at the campground, I shut my eyes for my last night of my journey. The next day I would be standing atop Mt Katahdin, where my five months of hiking would come to an end. I thought back to the first day in Georgia. The sky was blue, the air was crisp, icicles hung from the rock formations alongside the trail. I was nervous, scared even. I didn’t think I would make it to Maine let alone Virginia. I was ready to get back in the car and go home, but all it took was those first few steps and now I was in Maine. I tried to think of the details of every single day after that leading up to now, and it was surprisingly easy to do so. I could remember every shelter I stayed in, what each view looked like, and even where the trail had been easy or difficult. I wasn’t ready to be done, I wanted to keep meeting people, keep seeing things, and keep making memories, but my ride home was here, and I was 15 miles from Katahdin. It was time to touch that sign and call it a day.
Before climbing Katahdin, I would have to walk ten miles through an extremely flat and easy section of trail through Baxter State Park. I got on the trail around 5 in the morning, my earliest start yet. The scenery through the park was beautiful, and the easy walking made it that much more enjoyable. I took my last break on the trail on the side of a large river as the sun rose and enjoyed my last Honey Bun after eating one every morning for the past five months. Before long, had walked the entire ten miles and was at Katahdin Stream Campground, where I signed in with the ranger and headed up Katahdin with Goodman, Two, and Salty Dog. It still felt unreal to so close to the end, but as the trail became more and more exposed my motivation grew, and once above treeline nothing was stopping me. I really hate to sound cocky, but I CRUSHED Katahdin. It didn’t take me any more than an hour and a half to two hours to reach the top, it was such an epic moment that must have caused my adrenaline to peak. Once reaching a flat section of the mountain called the tablelands, I could see the sign marking the summit in the distance. I never slowed my pace nor stopped on the way there, and all too soon I was hugging the sign, getting my photo taken, and officially able to call myself a thru hiker. Tortuga, Mary, and Two had already made it to the top, and once Salty Dog arrived we all took a group photo which will forever be one of my favorite pictures of my life. The view from on top of Katahdin was unreal, and Looking out I knew Springer Mountain was somewhere in the far distance, some 2100 miles away. The path connecting the two was lined with challenges; rocks, roots, mud, snow, steep ascents/descents, storms, and a mental battle that a normal person will never understand. More importantly, the path gave me great views, absolute freedom, and loads of fun. It allowed me to meet amazing people, Prove to myself that I’m capable of more than I thought I was, Given me a lot of time to think about the person I want to be, and most importantly made me feel truly happy, the kind of happiness I never knew was possible. Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail was the best thing I could have ever done with my life, It will forever remain clear in my memories and the friends who have touched my soul will never be forgotten. Thank you to everyone who followed along with me during this journey. The words of encouragement I received were played a large part in my success and I look forward to the next time I’m sitting in a cheap motel in the middle of nowhere, typing these journals on my phone and posting them online for you to read. Happy trails to each and every one of you.
*To be clear, this post is made three weeks after my Katahdin Summit
Goodbye, for now..
-Young Blood | AT 2015 GA – ME | March 7 – August 14 | PCT 2016|