Thursday, October 13, 2016

Here We Go Again!

So, I have been putting off this blog entry, and I'm not entirely sure why. But it has been a month since I last wrote, and three weeks since I summited Katahdin. Procrastination has always been my strong suit!

The 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine was absolutely wonderful. The terrain was relatively level, and the lakes and ponds were to die for. Essentially we just walked around so many different bodies of water. As I mentioned before, Maine was definitely the most beautiful state... and potentially the hardest to hike through also. We were, yet again, blessed with beautiful weather as we made our way up towards Katahdin. The last 100 miles were so bittersweet, as we had to start saying goodbye to our trail friends who we knew we wouldn't see again. At this point, everyone had established a set summit date, and we probably wouldn't see those who were summiting after us. It was truly bizarre to see someone in the woods who you've hiked around for months, realize you wouldn't be seeing them again on the trail, hug, and then say goodbye. It was easily, one of the hardest things I've had to do on the trail thus far. All of these people get it. They get the jokes, they smell terrible like you do, they understand the nuances of this trail, they can also eat an entire buffet by themselves. The only thing I can equate it to is graduating from UVM when a large majority of my college friends moved out of Burlington shortly after graduation. Such an amazing experience suddenly over. Ripped off like a bandaid.

The last night before we arrived in Baxter State Park provided us with our very first view of Katahdin - the views prior were all fogged in. It did not disappoint. The sun was setting on the mountain, her peak was shrouded in clouds, and she stood there ominously towering over everything around. This was it. Katahdin was there for us to hike in two days time. Her beauty and grace perfectly juxtaposed against her fierceness and treachery. We were ready though, nothing was going to stop us. Just before entering Baxter we came out of the 100 Mile Wilderness and ended up at a store/restaurant/campground where many of our friends were also stationed. Drinks were had, meals eaten, and so many laughs were bellowed as we reminisced on the amazing summer we shared. Due to weather, we found out that a few of our closest trail friends (who were supposed to summit the day after us) were going to summit the same day as us. That helped ease a lot of the end of trail depression.

Summiting Katahdin was one of the top ten hardest parts of the trail, for sure. We got up at 4am to be hiking by 5 to get a head start before any day hikers. We really wanted the summit to ourselves. We were hiking in the dark until we were about 1/3 of the way up the mountain, luckily for the "easier" terrain. Once we made it above treeline it became closer to rock climbing than hiking. At one point I was looking at this spine of the mountain, going straight up the side of Katahdin, and I could see the white blazes going straight up it - meaning this was our path. Being 7am at this point, the sun was barely hitting us and the wind was definitely hitting us. It was cold. There were a few sections where rebar had been driven into the rocks providing a sketchy, albeit necessary, step or hand hold to facilitate the scramble further. After this crazy scramble we made it to "The Table." The Table is essentially a 1.5mile plateau leading up to the summit. It was honestly like walking on a moonscape. All that was there were short grasses and rocks. The wind was cutting at this point.

In true Shady Creeper fashion, we all waited near the summit so we could walk the final bit as a family. I don't think we'd have it any other way having walked the entire trail together since day one. It was truly surreal when we reached the summit, and the infamous Katahdin sign. So many thru-hikers before us have taken their photos at that sign upon finishing this beautiful trail. It was so weird to think we had done it. We all found shelter from the wind behind various rocks and contemplated the feat we had just accomplished. It was one of the most introspective times for me. After taking all of the photos (serious and funny) that we wanted, the cold had got to us and it was time to descend the mountain. We truly lucked out and were able to spend about 30 minutes on the summit with no one else but the Creepers. I appreciated that more than anything. Not because I didn't want to celebrate with other people, but because that moment was so personal to me that if I couldn't be alone, I'd only want my trail family to be there. I was also dealing with the fact that I wasn't truly done with the trail. I still have 500 miles to complete and as much as I tried to let that go and enjoy the day, it was still looming in the back of my mind. I did, however, try to remind myself that what I had done so far was still amazing, and the last section was going to be just as amazing and rewarding.

The downhill was hellacious (mostly on our knees) and took far longer than the way up. It was weird to be hiking south on a five mile section of the AT that we had just hiked north on. It kind of felt like we should just keep going all the way back to Springer in Georgia. If only time and money (and the knees) would allow for that. On the way down we passed so many of our friends and were able to say all of those final goodbyes. While everyone was congratulating the others, it was also a sad time to know it would be a long while until we saw one another again. That afternoon the Shady Creepers (with MUCH thanks to Sunshine's dad) reconvened in Millinocket for one last meal, hug, and sad goodbyes. Everyone went in their own direction that day, and it finally was real. The end of the trail that we didn't want to admit was coming. The end to the perfect trail family. The end of the laughs, silly jokes, and completely understanding everything about the small group of people we spent all day with. The end only temporarily, though, as we will most definitely be back together some day. I know it. There's absolutely no way we could hike through 14 states and 2200 miles together, pee in front of one another, smell one another, sleep like sardines, finish each other's sentences, and laugh uncontrollably without knowing that we'll be friends for life. This group of people has taught me so much, and I am so grateful to know my Shady Creepers.

Since coming home to Vermont, life has been a whirlwind. I went to a wedding, worked, flew to Texas for a music festival, worked even more, and have been slowly getting ready to get back on the trail where I restarted in Virginia in June. Someone asked me today what it was like being home and I said it was weird. I don't feel like I'm "home." Not because I don't think this is home anymore, because I do. But more because I am not done with the trail, and that is still my home. My crappy tent that leaks in big rain storms, the shelters along the way, and the woods are all still my home until I finish this trail. My belongings are all packed away, I've been living out of a suitcase for the last three weeks, and I've been working too much (really need money) to actually enjoy Vermont or to see everyone I want to see. I've been asked if I'm excited to get back to the trail and I think that I am. I'm excited to finish what I skipped, I'm excited to hike by myself and do my own thing, I'm excited to have a month to reflect on the trail, life, and the future. But most of all, I'm excited for my life to get back to normal once I'm done. While being a free spirit has sure had its perks over the last six months, I am so ready for some stability: sleeping in the same place every night, getting back to work and receiving a paycheck every two weeks, seeing friends and family, and hopefully working towards buying a house next year. I have always had, and always will have, wanderlust - but this trail surprised me with my desire to gain stability and routine. I'm not sure that's what I expected.

So this weekend, I will board a flight and head back to Virginia, to hike south to where I sat waiting for my friends to pick me up in May - broken and unable to walk. I am nervous, excited, eager, and everything in between when it comes to getting back out there. I hope my legs are still strong, I hope my knees hold out, I hope I can make big mile days even though the days are shorter, I hope I make new friends, and I hope I can sort out a few things in my mind with my alone time. So here's to the next three to four weeks of hiking. May it be fun, challenging (but not TOO challenging), enlightening, and everything I know this trail is and can be. 

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