Thursday, September 15, 2016

One Hundred Mile Wilderness

Over the last week, Alice and I have done some long mile days and some night hiking to catch up to the rest of the Shady Creepers! The terrain has finally started to level out a little bit, which has allowed for us to do higher mile days. It has been a nice little break from all of the steep ups and downs of southern Maine. With all of the high mile days, we have left behind one bubble of hikers and have caught up with another bubble full of people that we've been hiking with for the last few months. It has been fun meeting so many new people, and also seeing familiar faces we haven't seen in a while. Because we are near the end of the trail, and everyone has a different hiking speed and desired finish date, we have had to say goodbye to some people who we probably won't see on trail again. It's a weird feeling, realizing that you may never see any of these friends again. I'm trying to subscribe to the idea that I will run into all of these people again someday in some fashion.

After leaving Rangeley, and doing some hard days, Alice and I decided to head into Stratton for another night with a warm meal, bed, and shower. It was a tiny little town, but had a nice store to resupply, and a cafe for us to hide out in the next morning to avoid torrential thunder and rain. We got back on trail after the storm passed, and had to hike our last "hard" mountain range before Katahdin - The Bigelows. While the storm had passed, the winds associated with the cold front behind it were incredibly fast; I'm guessing somewhere in the 70mph realm. I was almost blown over on multiple occasions. The views, however, of the lakes around the mountains were just stunning. Maine has no shortage of amazing ponds, lakes, views, and mountains. This could easily be the most beautiful state on the trail. We've stayed at multiple shelters on or near a lake, and the sounds of loons calling has lulled me to sleep. What has really instilled that fact that there are lakes everywhere for me, is that I'll be walking through the woods with no water in sight, and hear loons calling in the not too far distance.

We caught up to the Shady Creepers in the town of Monson, the last town before Katahdin. We have decided to take a zero today to recharge our batteries before entering the One Hundred Mile Wilderness. This is a 100 mile stretch of trail between Monson and Baxter State Park with no road crossings or bits of civilization. Unfortunately, this means we need to carry food for about a week, up until the summit of Katahdin. I usually only carry up to four days worth of food, so carrying seven or eight days worth will be an adjustment. It's really weird to think that in a week I will be on the top of Katahdin, and will be saying goodbye to the Shady Creepers and all of our other friends. I know that I will embrace the break from hiking, but I will totally miss the camaraderie and simplicity of trail life. It's so very bittersweet.

The next time you near from me, I'll be in Vermont and resting on the couch. Not too much, as I'm already scheduled to work three days after my summit of Katahdin. I need to replenish the bank account before heading back down to Virginia to make up the five-hundred miles that I owe to the trail. Back to the woods!

Friday, September 9, 2016


I've made it to Maine! I've been fortunate to visit Northern Maine every summer of my life to spend a week on the lake at a family camp. I've always known the beauty Maine has to offer: rolling hills, farmlands, woods, moose, bears, loons, and most special to me, the lakes. The trail so far in Maine is very similar to everything I've known. I saw a black bear the other day, am still waiting to see a moose, and with the countless lakes and ponds I've walked along I've even seen a few loons and heard their songs! The hiking in the southern part of the state was just as tough and slow going as The Whites, which I wasn't really expecting. Only being able to walk 15 miles throughout the course of the day, when the goal was 20, was so disheartening. Alice and I are really trying to push on the miles so we can catch the rest of the Shady Creepers, and also so we can finish this trail! The other day we hiked 23.5 miles, which was incredibly tiring and challenging in this section. We even had to hike two hours in the dark by headlamp to get to our goal for the day. Luckily, the terrain has settled down a bit in the last day or so, which hopefully means we'll be able to speed up again soon.

With the "wanting to be done" feeling, it's sometimes easy to become jaded and ignore the beauty around me or to pass up a short side trail to a vista or viewpoint. Maine, however, with all of its beauty has encouraged me to remember to enjoy every second of the trail until the very end. Regardless of how badly I want to finish. I try to remind myself that after all of this is done, I'm going to miss it so much, and may regret rushing this section. So I'm trying to find the words to balance of finishing soon and enjoying the last few days. Speaking of missing things, this trail has made me miss many activities throughout the summer. One that is the most annual for me is the Tunbridge Fair... I have never missed a year of the fair. Ever. So if someone could eat cheese fries, a giant eclair, and some fried dough for me, pet the cows, and also take a walk through the vegetable hall... I'd be more than appreciative. I know the fair never changes, and isn't going anywhere, but it's an institution for me. Another thing I'm super bummed to be missing is the Grand Point North music festival in Burlington. Grace Potter has put together an amazing lineup, and I'm sad to be missing it. But I'll just sing her songs extra loudly in the woods that weekend.

I think the hardest thing for me to accept is that we will actually be on Katahdin in under two weeks. And with that, it'll be over. We'll all get into separate cars, drive in different directions, and be the furthest apart that we've been from one another in months. I've made so many friends from around the world, and it'll be hard to not see them randomly around some corner in the woods. The trail creates an amazingly weird and perfect community. The only comparison I can think of is freshman year of college. Everyone is thrown into this new situation, trying to find their way through it, and with that common thread people from all different walks of life become fast friends. I may not miss every aspect of this trail when I finish, but the people will be what I miss most.

And with that, I must pack up my backpack, leave this hotel on a beautiful lake, and hitchhike back to the trail. I have 220 miles left, and rain is forecasted for the weekend... Never my favorite. Luckily I was able to shower and do laundry last night, and I'll have Alice to get me through the rain! Until next time

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Getting Misty

I have officially hiked through the White Mountains, and they were definitely the most challenging, though the most beautiful, part of the trail. Having constant (or very frequent) 360 degree views from summit after summit was such an amazing treat and change of pace from the "green tunnel" that I've been in for so long. We had PERFECT weather on the Franconia ridge... sun, almost no wind, and almost a bit too warm. Each of the peaks in that range is approximately a mile apart, so naturally... we stopped at each one for at least a half an hour to take in the newly changed view. It was a slow day to say the least. Mt. Washington, on the other hand, posed some serious difficulties the day we came up to it's base. Alice and I hiked 4.5 miles from the Mizpah AMC hut to Lakes of the Clouds hut which is 1.3 miles below the summit of Washington. We did this stretch in some of the strongest winds I've ever been in. It wasn't until we got to the next hut to find out that winds were sustained at 70mph and gusts were 90mph. Having been denied a spot in the "dungeon" (a very basic basement with bunk space for 6 thru-hikers) our options were hike 8 miles over Washington and across the Presidential Range to the next hut, or pay a large amount of money to stay at the hut. Thankfully, Dad offered to pay for our safety. A huge thank you to Dad for helping us enjoy the Whites even more! We later found out that at the same time, some of our friends who were on top of Washington were being told not to continue and to shuttle down off of the top. The lack of communication between the summit and the huts was very frustrating. In the end, it was nice to be a hut guest, have a warm meal and place to sleep, and know we'd be safe overnight until the weather cleared. And boy did it clear! The next day we, yet again, had near perfect weather for summiting Washington and for crossing the presidential range. We really were lucky at all the right times.

As I mentioned before, the hiking in The Whites is HARD! Definitely the hardest part of the trail thus far. Some of the steepest climbs and descents, wet and slippery rocks encouraging you to twist an ankle, and rock scramble after rock scramble. We've definitely earned and added to our trail legs in the last few weeks. This difficulty, however, does mean I've slowed down my miles even more than I anticipated I would. I went into the Whites thinking I could do 12-15 miles a day, and we ended up averaging 8-10. This did allow for my knees to remain intact, which is paramount to me finishing this trail. My knees, while definitely hurting more in the Whites, are doing pretty well. I'm still proud to say that I haven't taken one pain reliever since returning to the trail in June. The wedding season I mentioned in the last post (ending today) has also slowed me down, causing me to take 1 or 2 zeros a week for the last three weeks. As a result, Nichole and Eric are further ahead than Alice and I, and we're really hoping we can catch up to them again soon!

One benefit of being so slow and taking zeros, is we are meeting so many different NoBo hikers that we have only briefly seen in passing, or who we haven't met at all before. I've had a lot of fun meeting new folks and hearing new stories. It definitely reminds me that the people are one of the main reasons that I'm doing this hike. It also reminds me that we are so very close to the end. It seems so bittersweet to meet all the new, cool friends, when I have less than 300 miles to Katahdin. It almost doesn't seem fair that I'll get to know these people, only to (maybe) never see them again after just three short weeks. This also applies for friends I've seen throughout most of the trail, and even more so... my trail family. I'm trying not to dwell in the sadness of this, but it's hard to not remember that this experience is almost over, and everything I've worked towards for the last two years is coming to a close. I truly have met some amazing people on the trail so far. People who've made me laugh, have influenced me, educated me, and have just been a friend when I needed one. While not everyone on the trail can be amazing, most are... and it's been reaffirming that people in the world are generally good people. Perhaps when you strip your life down to the simplicity of living in the woods with just a small amount of possessions on your back, you are brought back to the basics - treating people with respect, treating nature with respect, and treating yourself with respect. I definitely understand how fortunate I am to be hiking this trail. Yes, I grumble every morning when I have to get out of my sleeping bag, into the cold, and start walking. But, I know already that I am seriously going to miss this little world I've created for myself in the woods when it draws to a close.

With that, it's time to prepare for the last wedding during this stretch. I'll be back on trail tomorrow, in Maine on Monday, and ticking down the miles until this phenomenal experience ends. Yes, I still have 500 miles to hike in VA/TN/NC, but it won't be the same without my trail family and all of our friends around me. I guess, if I'm lucky, I'll add some more cool people to that friend group.

Take every experience, never say no, and meet new people.
Or to quote a friend... "Jump! The net will appear!"