Saturday, September 1, 2012

8.27.12 - Summit Day!

Well, I didn't get quite the sleep I was hoping for last night. It was really like being a kid on Christmas. Supposed to be in bed sleeping, but instead, I tossed and turned and constantly had trouble falling back to sleep because I was so pumped up for today. Instead of waiting for my alarm to go off at 2am, I got started packing up at 1:30 when I was wide awake. Banjo was already awake and moving. By 2:30am, we were leaving The Birches. Headlamps on.

We dropped extra gear at the ranger's station that we wouldn't need for the trip up and back down Katahdin. I kept my rain coat, synthetic jacket, water, water filter, some food, and only a few other small items I would need. The hike started off very tame, but after about 1.5 miles, we reached Katahdin Falls. We could hear the falls but couldn't see them. As we hiked on, the terrain got progressively steeper. Soon I had my trekking poles broken down and stowed on my pack, climbing up and over boulders about half my height. As we went on, it got even steeper with even bigger boulders. Most of the boulders had places to step and grab to assist, but in some places, rebar was installed into the rock to use as handholds and footholds. Known as the Hunt Spur, this section was awesome! It was the most technical section I can remember on the trail. Somewhat similar to Mahoosuc Notch, but with significant elevation gain. for about a half hour we navigated up, over, and around this section. From there, it climbed steeply still, but not as challenging. We made it to a few false summits, then came to The Gateway, where it started to flatten out into the section known as the Tableland. At this point we could see the sky getting brighter. This was a flatter section with only smaller rocks/boulders to navigate around and over, less than knee height. A mile on the Tableland, and we made the last small ascent up. We could see a silhouette of the sign I've been waiting to see for some time now! Before I knew it, there I was standing in front of the famous Katahdin sign, on Baxter Peak of Mt Katahdin, 2,184 miles north of where I started on Springer Mountain in Georgia. The sun wasn't up just yet at 5:35am when we reached the summit. A whirlwind of emotions flooded my body. I was excited, shocked, nervous, unbelieving, blown away, relieved, and probably others I can't think of now.

Fozzy and Skunkape were already up there and waiting for the sun to rise. The four of us congratulated each other and we all took a bunch of pictures posing with the sign. The sun came up about 10-15 minutes later and it was incredibly beautiful. It added color and depth to the mountains. It was fairly chilly in the wind, so we took cover behind a large boulder and stayed warmer. For about 3 hours, we were the only four up there. Then other thru hikers filtered up. Our group up at the top of Maine was great. Poncho, Great Dane, Chesty, Roadhouse, Pedestrian, Houdini, Stingray, Juggles, Fozzy, Banjo, The Flash, Thirsty, and Lasagna.

After numerous photos and hanging out while we congratulated each other, it was time to head down. Chesty, Roadhouse, Poncho, and Great Dane asked me if I wanted to go with tel across Knife's Edge and down the other side of the mountain. I said "heck yes"! Adding another amazing challenge to the day sounded great, especially after a 5 hour break at the summit. Even though Banjo and I left our extra gear at Katahdin Stream at the ranger station, we decided to go with these guys. The Knife's Edge is 1.1 miles long, extremely rocky, sometimes narrow path, shoots up and down sharply, and has extremely steep drop offs on both sides. While this doesn't seem fun to a lot of people, I absolutely loved it! It was one of my favorite sections, and it wasn't even on the AT. After much careful foot and hand works, we made it 1.1 miles to Pamola Peak.

We then took the Helon Taylor Trail down to Roaring Brook Campground. Took a while of walking down a gravel road, but a few miles later, we were picked up by a pickup truck that had Chesty, Roadhouse, Great Dane, and Poncho in the bed already. We hopped in and got the hitch all the way to Millinocket. On the road, I was finally able to get cell service and call my dad. He flew out from Indiana to come hang out for 6 days after my hike. I had him meet me in Millinocket instead of our initial plan of meeting at Katahdin Stream Campground.

I got to hang out with some of the guys for one last time before we split ways. It was great getting to know these guys and we had a lot of good times I'll always remember.

Over the next few weeks, I'll see how things go with the transition back to the "real world", and possibly post a few more blog entries.

I would like to take the time to thank as many of you who have been there for me, supporting me and cheering me on along the trail, if I get a chance, individually. As a blanket until I can get to each of you... THANKS TO ALL who at some point inspired me, encouraged me to push through tough times, sent me goodies in care packages, followed and commented on my blog, prayed for my health and well-being, and overall added to the enjoyment and excitement of my hike.

This was certainly a journey that I will NEVER forget! I hope I have encouraged some others to get out there and live life to the fullest. I feel so blessed to have been able to make hiking the Appalachian Trail a reality for me, remaining (mostly) healthy and strong during the trek, to have met so many great people, seen so many beautiful places, and experience so many amazing things along the way.

If you have been following my blog, I would really like to hear from you. Please email me at


Thursday, August 30, 2012

8.26.12 - Just Like Christmas Eve

I woke up and hit the trail with my headlamp clicked to the on position. Got an early start on the 3 or 4 miles into Abol Bridge so that I could make sure to get my name on the registration list and secure myself for a stay at The Birches lean-to. The Birches is the last shelter/lean-to on the trail heading north. It is at the base of Mt Katahdin and is only open to northbound thru hikers and long distance section hikers (100 miles at minimum). Got to Abol Bridge around 6:40am and got a great view of Katahdin with the rising sun illuminating it. I stopped at the camp store, but it wasn't open, so I walked the additional mile north to get to the kiosk where I had to register for The Birches. I got there to find I was the first to sign up to stay tonight. I put a few of the other guys' names on so they wouldn't have to walk there and back to the store. After signing, I walked back to Abol Bridge and had breakfast there with the others. More hikers filtered in and while I wasn't sure if the spots would be filled up, I wasn't worried, cause I was already covered. It was crazy...a caretaker that we met our first day on trail in Georgia, Jonathan, was here! Apparently he splits his time between various places on the AT. Juggles was there and I got to see some of his juggling. Very deserving of the name! Doing some crazy stuff I haven't seen before!

A big group of us sat around until around 11:30am when we started the hike over to Katahdin Stream Campground, where The Birches is. It was a fairly flat trail (with roots and rocks as usual), skirting along multiple beautiful lakes, ponds, and a waterfall. 9 miles got us to the campground. We checked in with the ranger and paid our $10 fee to stay there. The ranger, Betsy, was full of great info about the mountain and told some exciting stories of rescues and such. Went over to the lean-to and set up camp.

As we ate dinner and sat around, we continued to talk about the end of the journey and reminiscing of good times and bad along the trail. Jonathan came over and had 2 cakes for us! When the sun went down and about 12 of us were sitting around the fire, Houdini did a smudge ceremony where he lit cedar on fire and let it smoke, then used a feather to push the smoke onto each of us. He explained that it's a Native American ceremony of purification and to provide strength and good luck. After that he started the feather ceremony, where we passed around a feather and whoever had the feather was given the floor to speak and say something about our journey. All the guys had something great to say about the past and the future, related to the trail and life. It was great to hear different thoughts and perspectives. Something a lot of people said is that while we all looked forward to our initial goal of reaching the end, Mt Katahdin, it was more about the journey and people between the start and finish. So true. Things I'll never forget and moments I'll always cherish.

After the ceremonies, we all split off and went to get some sleep for the big day ahead of us. Odd thinking that this is my last night on the trail. Hopefully I get some quality sleep. Planning on waking up at 2am to hit the trail early.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

8.25.12 - Maine Terrain is a Pain

Long day today. 25 miles to Hurd Brook Lean-to. My body was still sore from yesterday's hike.

I think the trail is wearing me down, but the terrain in Maine isn't helping. Rocks and roots all over so that you can't keep up a steady pace or get into a rhythm. It's very frustrating. Pedestrian had a great theory today about how they planned where the AT would go through Maine. They attached a paint brush to the tail of a dog, then let a raccoon go. Wherever the dog would chase the raccoon and leave paint is where the trail would be. A little ridiculous maybe, but that gives you a good idea of how crazy it is.

Got a great view of Katahdin towards the end of the day on top of Rainbow Ledges.

18.6 miles to go.

8.24.12 - "Light a Fire Under Him, That'll Get Him Moving"

Last night consisted of a lot of mice trying to get into food bags and backpacks. While mine were hung properly and I didn't have any problems, the noise and aggravation it caused others prevented a few of us from sleeping. The shelter was packed a little tight, and I kept getting bumped and bumping others. At one point, when we heard mice, I had my light right on one that was on Pedestrian's backpack. He jumped up out of his sleeping bag, jumped over to another wooden beam, jumped over to a mobile bench just on the outside of the shelter (I thought he was going to fall at that point if it flew out from under him), and swung at the mouse! What a maniac! Haha. Those of us who were awake to see it were cracking up. So after all this ordeal, I moved my sleeping pad and bag outside the tent and cowboy camped the rest of the night.

Woke up around 5:30 and began the normal daily routine. I went to take my food bag down that was hanging in te shelter using the 60lb fishing line contraption that Flosser (aka Brian, remember him?) made us. It slipped out of my hand when I undid the clasp, and dropped directly below me, which landed right on top of Pedestrian's cooking pot that he was heating water up with his homemade alcohol stove. I'm not sure exactly what happened or how, but to the best of my knowledge that knocked the pot over, which knocked the alcohol stove over, which sent burning alcohol onto my leg. My upper, inside thigh was engulfed in flames. I'm not sure how, but it seemed like I immediately reacted and began smacking the flames with my hands to put them out. When I did this, my right hand then caught on fire too. Eventually after some smacking and covering the flame with both hands, the flame was extinguished. It took some time for my heart to stop pounding and to stop shaking. I checked things over and I was alright. Singed hair, and a sting like a sunburn, but it didn't seem any worse than that. Everyone in the shelter asked how I was and was concerned. Houdini gave me some aloe to put on it. I guess when I look at how much worse the situation could have been or gotten, I was really lucky. Of course as soon as we realized I was ok, the jokes started flying. Last night, I said something about wondering if there's anyone who made it this far and then decided with 4 days or so left of hiking, they would quit for one reason or another. Pedestrian chimed in after the fire and reminded me of that, asking me if I was gonna be that guy. What a way to start the day.

Did 16 miles by lunch at 12:15, and ended the day with 24 miles. I guess the phrase "lighting a fire under him" just might work!

Had a great view of Katahdin from Pemadumcook Lake! Looks way bigger from there as we are now closer!

Stayed at Nahmakanta Stream Campsite.

44 miles to go.

8.23.12 - Last Big Climbs, and The First View of Katahdin

Woke up early this morning and crossed the West Branch of the Pleasant River. First time going barefoot. I didn't want to get my shoes wet right off the bat. It was cold and almost therapeutic. From there, I blasted off into the woods and set a steady pace. I wanted to get to these climbs and get up and over them. It was warm right by the river, but when I got about 100 yards away, it got considerably colder. I could see my breath for about 2 miles. Got the first 5.5 miles done in about 2 hours, then it was time for the climbs. Four mountains, highest around 3,600 ft. This was Whitecap Mtn and we got our first view of Katahdin! Looks like a beast sitting out by its lonesome. Hard to believe it's 70 miles away. As the crow flies, it's probably about 30.

Today I listened to a great song while I was hiking by myself. I really like Jake Owen's line "So I don't buy green bananas, cause I don't plan that far ahead". While I'm typically a planner, this trip has made me realize how much I enjoy random, spontaneous things that happen. I think that will roll over into life after the trail. :)

Ended the day with 16.3 miles, staying at East Branch Lean-to.

67 miles to go.

8.22.12 - Sluggish Day

Slept in later than normal today. Had my alarm set for 6am, but must have slept right through that. It was a chilly morning, as my temp in my tent read low 50s. Must have been in the mid to high 40s last night.

Was an uphill downhill kinda day today. I've heard numerous times how easy the 100 Mile Wilderness is and how flat it is. Maybe today was one of the sections they got to mention is an exception. Granted, we've seen tougher things on the trail, but I wouldn't call this a cake walk.

Late morning, Banjo and I decided to go 0.4 miles off the trail to a lean-to to get water. Turns out that maybe 2 miles or so after the trail to the lean-to, there was a stream. Wasn't listed in the book, so we had no idea it'd be there. Oh well.

It was a sluggish day. I wasn't moving quickly, felt worn out, and even slipped and tripped a few times. Luckily nothing was too painful or serious, but good reminders to pay attention and hike safely. One fall was ever so slight and even gentle. My butt landed in moss, but my thigh came down right on a small tree stump about 4 inches in diameter. Felt like someone gave me a charlie horse, then for the rest of the day it felt like I had a cramp in my thigh and calf. Maybe I bruised it or at worse maybe ripped some muscle. I think the party 2 nights ago caught up to me today and that's what made me feel tired and out of it. The other guys said they felt the same way.

Great views today, and tomorrow should be a last day of good ups and downs. The rest of the Wilderness looks pretty level. The terrain is pretty awful in spots. Roots and rocks which prevent getting into a rhythm with steps. Compared to California trails, these here are rough and pretty lousy.

Camped by the West Branch of the Pleasant River.

Hiked 15 miles.

84 miles to go.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

8.21.12 - Into the 100 Mile Wilderness and Double Digits!

99 miles to walk on the trail.
99 miles to walk.
Walk one more, then ends the song.
99 miles to walk on the trail.

(thanks thanks, wrote it myself. I'll be signing autographs when I get back)

Late late start to the day. May have something to do with a little party last night. I felt fine today, but others weren't really eager to hike early. Got to the trail around 11:30am, and hiked 15 miles from Monson to Long Pond Stream Lean-to.

Had 3 stream and river fords. Nothing out of the ordinary lately.

Heavy food bag with 5 days of food. The sign at the beginning of this section, known as the 100 Mile Wilderness, says to make sure to have at least 10 days of food. Haha. Ok. Maybe if they provided a Sherpa or pack mule to carry it! 5 days of food is plenty heavy. Can't wait to eat down the weight.

Starting to get some different feelings knowing there's less than a week and just under 100 miles to go til I'm done.

15 hiked today.

99.4 left to go.