My drive from Glasgow, VA to Standing Indian, North Carolina was really interesting. Highway 81 hugs the Appalachian Trail all through Virginia and so I was able to retrace my steps through all of those towns that seemed like huge milestones to me heading north. Franklin, Erwin, Hot Springs, Marion, Damascus. These spots brought back so many good memories. It was cold and rainy back then and it was great to see everything decked out in its summer green.
Standing Indian is where Chuck got his Trail name. I zeroed with those fun traveling nurses in Franklin before the coronavirus crisis set in. I stopped at Franklin for a few minutes before heading to meet Neil at the campground. This slow trip back has been a great way to spend some time processing the thru hike. It was just too big to me to just rush back home.
Today was Neil’s 44th birthday and it was fun to hang out with him to celebrate. We built a big fire and had Outdoor Herbivore meals together. They got hooked on these too and their children are loving the dehydrated dessert cobblers for breakfast. We spent most of the afternoon relaxing by the cold stream as the kids went tubing past. I had planned to spend another night but I am feeling the pull of home. I’m only two hours from Bryan and Chuck and I don’t think I can wait another day.
I said goodbye to Jitter this morning after we had a short hike out of our campsite back to the road. I got back to the car and was feeling a pretty heavy heart. Each day is pulling me farther away from the Trail and I can feel it in my body. I’m so glad I decided to do this gradually. The shock of a plane ride home would have been a real blow.
This drive home also makes me realize how far this Trail is. I drove another seven hours today through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia and then headed to my favorite place that I stayed – Stanimals in Glasgow, Virginia. I needed just one more fix of their particular style of hospitality and it is a great place to get my laundry done and hang out with Charlie.
Charlie hiked the Trail last year and he has some great stories. He was one of those hikers that took as much time as they wanted on Trail and ended up finishing in October with a flip flop. He skipped ahead to bag Katahdin before they closed and then went back and finished on Mt, Greylock in Massachusetts. I love hearing about his adventures. He took a bunch of zeros and spent a tons of time in all the Trail towns meeting all the fun locals. Next time that is going to be my style.
Charlie is also one of those hikers that refused to leave the Trail. When he got off, he found this gig managing Stanimals in Glasgow and he is perfect for it. He is fastidious to a fault and he keeps the inn in perfect shape. At the same time, he creates a warm atmosphere. He left a note on the door for me to make myself at home and I sure did. I did laundry, cut my hair and plopped on the couch and binge watched The Politician on NetFlix. He even made me some homemade blueberry bread as we snacked on that before bedtime. I ran to the store and bought tuna packets and rice sides for my next two days with Neil. He is at Standing Indian campground in North Carolina this week and I am headed there this morning to be there for his birthday and to get a few days of hiking and camping in.
The New Jersey section of the Trail was some of my favorite. For starters, it isn’t Pennsylvania and the path along the border of New York takes you through the most beautiful farming and wetland areas in the state. I drove down from New Hampshire this morning to give some magic to Jitter and her new tramily. She is hiking with Red Dot from Houston, Silver Fox from Atlanta and Van Go from Upper Peninsula Wisconsin. I met them at a campsite a few miles down the Trail at mile 1317 with sub sandwiches, cokes and apples. Dessert was Oreo double stuffs. I promise I will stop eating like this tomorrow but hey – I hiked a whole three miles to get here so I deserve it. All kidding aside – it’s great not to be hungry all the time and I feel like I am really healing well and my energy is coming back strong. I felt pretty empty for most of Maine but not anymore.
This trail magic business is a blast. I love giving back what I received and it’s fun to shop for the goodies that I know they will love. The favorite hiker foods are well known but what everyone talks about the most is fresh fruit. One of Jitter’s friends Red Dot waxed eloquently tonight about fresh pineapple that some trail angels brought out to them last week. It is such a nice break from the processed junk that we normally rely on to get us through.
It is also great to be back on the Trail for a little bit. After all of the driving today, it was so relaxing to get back to the blazes and the quiet of the campground. A strong storm moved through right before I got on Trail and there is a cool breeze coming up over the small ridgeline that we are sleeping on tonight. I am far enough away not to hear traffic and I will sleep really well out here. Hiker midnight comes early and it’s my favorite time of the day when we crawl into our tents around 8:00 and spend some quiet time.
I am going to hike out with these folks tomorrow morning and then head down to the Shenandoah area to see if I can catch any NOBOs that started in late May. I’ve heard there are a few groups out there and I’d love to meet them and encourage them along to the finish. It’s funny how much everyone wants to see my finish photo. I’m not even offering to show it to them but they ask to see it and also want me to text them a copy. We share the same dream and I think seeing it makes them feel like it could happen to them. I hope it helps and I don’t get sick of bragging about our perfect weather conditions on our summit day.
You know – getting stuck out on the Trail is a thing. I’ve met so many hikers that ended up finishing and then never really leaving it. They end up working at one of the Trail businesses or staring their own. Some just stay out here and do magic and hike until they need to go off Trail to make some money. It sounded crazy to me at first but I get it now. The friendly faces and constant sense of adventure are powerful forces. I don’t want to give them up either. It’s happy and quiet out here. The people that you hang out with are on an emotional and physical journey that I want to be a part of. I admire each of them for what they are doing. We come from so many different backgrounds but we share the misery and joys of long distance hiking like brothers and sisters at a remote extreme summer camp. It’s a camp filled with crazy adults that run around the woods all day hiking, swimming in ponds and telling rattlesnake stories. Sign me up for that again any day.
I am usually pretty down after a big race or other event. After I cross the finish line, I have a good day of endorphins left and then the bottom falls out and I have to pick up the pieces for the next week or so. Luckily, this time is different. I feel a lot more resilient after coming off the Trail. I miss just about everything about it but 2,193 miles was the last blaze and it was time to reunite with Bryan.
Bryan and I spent a few blissful days in Portland and I got everything cleaned up and allowed my body to rest. My first run on Tuesday morning was slow but it was fun to get back into it. We ate tons of good food and I took long hot showers and pampered my feet. Bryan flew back to Atlanta on Wednesday and I headed about two hours north to spend time with Sue and Dave at their beautiful lake house.
Dave was my managing partner for many years at Kutak and we became good friends with Sue as well. It was such a wonderful visit and they fed me like a king. I had a relaxing swim in their warm lake on Thursday morning and then headed about 20 miles to Bar Harbor to see Michele and Craig. They treated me to a great tour of Acadia National Park and we ended it with a classic Maine lobster dinner.
It’s magic time! I got up early and did a mini-hike at the Bubbles in Acadia and then headed back to the Trail with a car load of trail treats for my buddies. My first stop is at mile 2038 just shy of the Kennebec River. I met up with Carbon Man and Heisenberg and they were thrilled to have the cold Cokes, fruit and Oreos that I brought. It felt great to give back to the Trail but I was sad when I had to leave it today. It’s such a special place.
Trail karma is a wonderful thing and I was treated well for my kindness today. As I was waiting in the car for the guys, a beautiful juvenile moose came ambling up the road. My first sighting on Trail. She got really close and then decided to duck into the woods and continue on her day. What and awesome thrill.
I finished the day back in Gorham at a hiker inn where I stayed on the way up and chatted with some NOBOs that are making their way north. They got a big kick out of our finishing photos and I helped them out with recommendations for the Maine section. I am loving this part of the journey home. It’s great to be connected with the community again and to encourage others to press on. I have some more magic days planned but we are also going to get hit with a tropical storm system tomorrow so that might delay some things. Stay tuned for some more Trail fun.
Climbing Katahdin was surreal. We woke up at 2AM and hit the Trail shortly after. There were huge thunderstorms the night before but everything had cleared out by the time we started hiking. The sky was clear and a huge moon hung low in the sky. The climb itself was a blast. It is a challenging series of boulder climbs and rock scrambles leading you up to a flat area that looks like the moon before getting to the summit. Once we got above tree line, the views were stunning and we were hiking under crystal clear skies above the clouds. We timed it perfectly to watch the moon set and the sun rise. We each wanted to hike alone to be with our thoughts so we gave each other space to try to process the last four months and to think about what all this really meant. When I finally saw the famous Katahdin summit sign, it was pure joy. We were the only four people on top of the mountain and we cried, laughed, screamed and stood around saying “Wow.” We ceremonially ate our last tuna packets.
The descent off the mountain was as fun as going up and Bryan showed up shortly after I got back down to the campground. He had an incredible gift for me. He printed each of my blog entries and photographs and had them neatly organized in binders. I’m so excited to go through these when I get home. It will be a great chance to see the hike again with some perspective.
We all came on this journey for some pretty intense reasons and this was our chance to let it all sink in and set in place. For me, I came out here to work on some things in my life that I was stuck on. I wanted to understand why my father took his own life and to see if I could get my brother back in my life. These were tasks on my checklist. Things to be fixed. Surely, this Trail and these four months would sort these out for me.
I worked hard on these things. I journaled, read, talked with my therapist, listened to music and podcasts and made notes along the way. I got really angry that I wasn’t finding the solutions. I felt like I was wasting this opportunity. I was in the middle of Pennsylvania when something very different started to come together for me. I started to hear the same lesson from each of these teachers. Pema Chödrön sums it up perfectly for me. Pema is an American Buddhist monk that wrote When Thjngs Fall Apart. In her chapter on how to find healing, she wrote these amazing words.
“[T]he truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” I heard this for the first time listening to On Being and it literally stopped me in my tracks. I took my pack off, sat down and just felt so relieved. It sounded like such a radical idea to me. I’m a fixer. I mark things off checklists.
Maybe I can’t fix this stuff. Maybe it’s time to surrender this fight and let this journey itself be part of the healing. I downloaded her book that evening and read these lessons over and over. I started messing around with this new way of thinking. I can let life be messy and sad at times – I just need to give myself the time, space and room to let it happen. This was a big moment for me and I feel like I have a cool new toy to play with. The ultimate ultralight piece of gear for life.
This was also my lesson with the Trail itself. I tried over and over to beat it. I set time goals, new personal distance records, attacked climbs and chased the hours. But my happiest times on the Trail were when I surrendered to her. She was way bigger than me and when I finally realized that each day I felt at peace. I slowed down and looked for frogs or smelled the woods. For me, the lesson of this adventure wasn’t about conquering or fixing anything but learning to slow down and be present. That is what I want to take with me as I take this short break from long distance hiking.
I can’t thank each of you enough for all the kind words and support you have poured over me. You literally kept me going at times. I really struggled with whether I should continue during the pandemic but it turned out to be the right decision for me in the end. You all supported me in that and I am so grateful. I am also so grateful for the care packages and trail magic that you provided along the way. It was so special to stumble out of the woods and receive such kindness.
Bryan and I are going to enjoy a relaxing day in Portland and then I am going to visit some friends in Maine before heading back to the Trail to do some trail magic on my way home. I’m anxious to return that sweet kindness. I’ll be blogging that for sure. I’ll leave you for now with a video I made of our summit day.
There she is. The sacred place that I’ve been dreaming about for so long. We got a great view of Katahdin from the Trail today and it really hit me that this is going to happen. The snow, rain, cold, heat, bugs, sore feet, aching back and constant hunger is going to pay off. The goal is in sight and it feels great. I thought a lot today about the progression of this and how I have been so careful not to let myself get too far ahead. In March, I wouldn’t even talk about it. In April and May, I would study the “Going to Katahdin” signs and finishing pictures when but I still kept my distance emotionally. In June, I started to talk about it for real and make final plans. I picked a date to finish in July and here I am.
Today was the first day that we really started seeing the SOBOs come through. The first groups looked fresh and happy. Near the end of the day we saw some that were truly struggling in the heat and mosquitoes. I stopped and talked with each one and told them how happy I was to see them out here. It took me back to those frantic first days in Georgia. I know what they are going through and it is an intense mixture of fear and excitement during those first few weeks. Hang in there. You will find you pace and your mind will settle. The mosquitoes on Trail were not as bad as we had expected so that really helped with the hike. We felt good so we pushed a little farther and got 28 miles in before stopping at Rainbow Lake and finding a sweet stealth camping spot on the shore. I think this is where the mosquitoes have been hiding all day and they made the camp chores pretty tough until we could get into our tents. The sunset on the lake was beautiful and the frogs and loons are singing us asleep. I’m going to miss these peaceful nights in my tent after a hard hike. It’s the best rest I’ve found.
We have just one last 17 mile hike to Katahdin Stream campground and then our summit early Monday morning. We are going to hit the Trail around 3AM on Monday to get a good sunrise as we climb. I won’t have cell service until I get done and back out of Baxter State Park but will be sure to send updates as soon as I can. Until then, thank you for following and stay tuned for post Trail updates as I try my hand at magic.
The great thing about the back half of the 100 Mile Wilderness is that it is mostly flat but it also winds through a long series of lakes and rivers that are absolutely filled with mosquitoes. We started the day around 2,200 feet in elevation but as we dropped down to the river bank to meet Poet for lunch, the little devils were waiting for us in full force.
Poet brought us huge turkey sandwiches and Cokes that were delicious. After lunch, we started to run into a few of the early SOBOs that left on July 1 and it was fun to see some new faces out here. I kept my eyes peeled for a moose all day but all I got was a funny grouse attack. This has happened twice already and it cracks me up. A grouse looks like a short fat chicken and they don’t like us one bit. They shoot out onto the Trail with their hind feathers all puffed out and come running and squawking towards you. Somewhere in mid-attack, they realize that you are way bigger than they are and run sideways back into the underbrush. We both end up running away and it is pretty funny.
We were headed to a shelter about 23 miles from where we started today but decided to cut it a mile short when we found this great sand beach to camp on. The mosquitoes were killing us this afternoon but as soon as I stepped out onto the beach they disappeared. We pitched our tents in the sand and lazily made dinner and collected water for the evening. This little beach had amazing sunset views and I slept with my rain fly off and watched the full moon rise as I fell asleep. It was cool to watch the moon move across the sky when I would peak out from my sleep. As it was setting around 4:00, there we a light fog across the still lake waters.
The frogs and birds started their morning songs around 4:30 and it was a sweet way to wake for our hike. It is back to mosquito alley this morning for our hike to Rainbow Springs and hopefully another beach campsite.
A NOBO hike just seems so perfect for me. I got to start off in Georgia where I know the Trail so well and was excited to explore new territory as I got farther away from home. The 100 Mile Wilderness is the last stretch before Kahtadin and it is an ideal space to reflect on everything that has happened on this wonderful adventure. I met new friends, visited angels, received magic and spent four beautiful months in the soft green wild.
Poet is the owner of Shaw’s Inn in Monson and he got up early on Wednesday morning and made us a huge breakfast of eggs, potatoes, bacon and blueberry pancakes. He drove us back to the Trail and we sat and talked for a while before we started hiking. He had some great advice for us to treat the next five days in the Wilderness like a gift. A chance to drink in the best part of this experience that will leave us overflowing.
The first two days of the Wilderness are pretty spicy. The Trail is technical and slow going but I took it easy and spent extra time looking for critters and wildflowers. I found a big new beaver dam and spotted my first beaver on the trip. These dams are mighty impressive! This one was over 50 feet long and 3 feet high with a huge den built in the middle of the new lake they created. It was shocking how much of the forest they took down to create this.
Our second day in the Wilderness included our last set of climbs called the Chairback. They were pretty steep but not very long and they had great views of the lakes and surrounding mountains. I never get tired of the views on these summits. It’s so fun when I finally get to the top and get to peek over at my reward for all that work. The sun, clouds and huge sky all working together to frame a beautiful picture. It was breezy at the top and a great chance to stop for a break.
We hiked 19 miles the first day and then 24 the next. Our campsite after day two was next to this beautiful mini waterfall and I crammed my tent in a small space right next to it. There was a light rain and it was perfect conditions for a great nights sleep after a hard day. Poet is going to meet us at the half way point today with sandwiches and cokes together with the rest of our resupply for the last three days in the Wilderness. The terrain for the rest of the trip is really easy and there are a bunch of ponds and lakes ton enjoy. Only 71.4 miles to go. It’s so hard to believe.
I think this is unique to thru hiking. When you get into town and do your laundry, the inn or laundry mat will have loaner clothes for you to wear while you are scrubbing up your gear. At most, thru hikers carry only two sets of clothes and they are both beyond gross by the time you get into town so you want to make sure everything gets washed. Also, loaner clothes is a great chance to play dress up. You can wear women’s clothes, tacky clothes, loud things – whatever you want. Just remember that this will also be your outfit for your trip into town so you better be able to pull it off in the grocery store and BBQ joint.
I went with this great UT sweatshirt that will make my Aunt Barbara and my cousin Cindy proud. Nasty found these awesome purple polyester pants with mesh pockets sewn into the calves. He paired that with a Dr Pepper t-shirt and was ready to hit the town. We are in Monson – the last Trail town before the 100 mile wilderness and home to the famous Shaw’s Hiker Inn. These people really have it all. They have a gear shop and resupply store right here and three beautiful happy dogs running around so you can get your “best friend” fix. They are also going to do a food drop for us half way through the wilderness so we don’t have to carry five days worth. My favorite is the music room on the first floor. They have a piano, guitars, a sitar and drum sets that we messed around on.
Monson has a great BBQ place down the street. The owner loves hikers and the food is fantastic and huge. We loaded up on Mac n Cheese, BBQ and hot cornbread with tons of butter and scarfed it down on the front porch before going back for ice cream. Three hours later – we were back for more! I only have a few more days to eat like this and I’m making the most of it.
I don’t have a lot of hiking pictures today. It was pouring rain throughout our 18 miles into town as we hiked on a pretty flat course along a river. There were a ton of blown down trees that took a lot of extra time to navigate through but it was fun. We even had a waist deep river to ford that was fun and refreshing. The mosquitoes were loving all this rain and were out in full force. I picked up some 100% deet at Shaw’s to get me through the wilderness. I am bringing out the professional grade stuff for the last push. I’ll leave you with a short hiking video that I took the other day. I may not have cell service for the next few days but I’ll blog for sure if I do.