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.