Magic Time!

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.

Low Branch, Dave and Bailey

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.

Acadia coastline

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.

Carbon Man and Heisenberg

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.

Sweet!

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.

Surrendered

Scoobie, Nasty Noodle, Low Branch and Boogie on top of the world!

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.

My First View of Katahdin

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.

Rainbow Lake Sunset

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.

Mosquito Alley

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.

100 Mile Wilderness

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.

2,100 Miles!

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.

Beaver Dam
Zoom in to see the Beaver

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.

Dress Up

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.

Magical Magic

We set out early this morning after a great breakfast at the Sterling Inn and headed into a light rain that lasted all day. Maine has been in a drought for the last few months and it’s great to see all of the plants and flowers really perking up with the much needed moisture. We had a few minor climbs but most of the Trail was really easy except for the mosquitoes. I added a bug net for my head to my gear and it really helps. It looks a little crazy but it does the job.

We’ve been hearing about an attack hawk on this section of the

Trail and someone posted signs to warn hikers. They were not kidding! As soon as Scoobie, Nasty and I past the sign we started running and she came swooping out of the trees and screeching really loud. We were laughing so hard it was tough to keep running. We made it through okay but Boogie didn’t fare so well. The hawk dive bombed her twice and pecked at her head and pack and she had to fight her off with her hiking poles. The comment board on Guthook is full of the stories this year. This hawk must have a nest near by and she is not cool with us hiking through her nursery.

We stopped for lunch at a shelter and when we left we found some Trail magic Cokes sitting on a rock on the middle of the woods. This is my favorite type of magic. It is usually found near a road crossing but when you find it out in the woods like this it feels even more magical. Some sweet soul took the time to hike this in and it so appreciated.

The rain really picked up so we decided to call it a shorter day than planned and we will make it up on our hike tomorrow into Monson. We are camping near a beautiful pond and the sound of the rain is amazing against my rain fly. I think we will be back in the wet tomorrow but we can regroup in Monson before heading out on our last stretch.

Just Yell Cheryl!

Wow. Today was a blast. We finally hit one of the flat and cruiser sections of the Trail and we chewed up the miles quickly. Nasty Noodle, Scoobie and Boogie and I got up early and hit the Trail around 6:00. We stopped by the first pond we saw in the morning and went for a swim and sat and talked with another hiker names Eeyore. The ponds here are so warm and shallow and it feels so good to really stretch out in the water.

Eeyore stuck with us and we hiked another ten miles or so until we stopped for lunch along another pond and did some more swimming and then lingered on the shore for a good while drinking coffee and watching the loons swim around. They were pretty active this afternoon and we even saw a momma loon with her brood out on a swim lesson. We had just another seven miles until our 18 mile goal at the Pierce Pond Fish Camp.

We got to Pierce Pond and everything looked open but we couldn’t find anyone around. The door was unlocked and a generator was running but all we found was a note that said they had gone to the lake. What we were really after was the pancake breakfast the next morning that was advertised on Guthook but we decided again to press on another three miles to the Kennebec River and see if we could get across.

The Kennebec is the only part of the Trail that you have to aqua blaze and it is too dangerous to ford. The dam is eleven miles up stream and when they release water the current becomes deadly. There is a free ferry that the ATC operates but it is only in the morning right now so we had to find another option. There was a note in Guthook that said you could stand on the shore and yell “Cheryl” across the River and if she was outside then she could hear and she would come and get you in her small boat. Luckily, we also had a bar of cell service down there so we we called Cheryl on the phone and she popped right over and ferried us across the River for $40. We asked her if the yelling thing was for real and she said “Absolutely, my dogs will hear hikers yelling and start barking so I know to come get you. Just don’t be trying to yell over here past ten o’clock.” We love Cheryl.

Yeah for Cheryl

Cheryl also tipped us off to this amazing Inn to stay at down the street on the other side of the river. They came and picked us up and we had the thru hiker holy trinity – shower, laundry and pizza. A bat flew into the living room while we were eating pizza and I mostly ran around in circles yelling. Boogie calmly found a towel and get the little guy safely out of the window. Today was so fun because so much of it was unplanned. The company was fun and we solved some problems on the spot. It also ended with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s! Nailed it.

We are going to push a pretty big day today so we will be closer to Monson and can Nero in there on Tuesday. It’s mind blowing but Monson is my last town stop and resupply before we enter the 100 mile wilderness that ends right outside of Baxter State Park. Put on brakes – I’m having too much fun.

Boogie, Scoobie and Nasty

The Dark Side . . . Deet!

Deet is the active ingredient in the most common bug sprays out there and it is very effective. Thru hikers rejoice in watching mosquitoes die when they land on their deet covered skin. It also melts plastic – so I’ve avoided it and lectured anyone that will listen. I’ve been using another product called picaridin. Unlike deet, it simply offends most of the bugs but it is much safer for the environment and your health.

Maine has broken me down. The mosquitoes and black flies are everywhere and they are flying into my ears, nose and eyes all day. Today was especially bad with calm winds and higher humidity. I stopped for a break at a shelter and found a brand new can of Off brand bug spray. It was the fancy kind with 15% deet and a baby powder coating. I snagged it and covered myself in it and felt amazing all day. The bugs kept their distance and I retained what is left of my sanity.

Today was bitter sweet. We crossed our final series of 4,000 foot peaks and it made me a little sad. As we get closer to the finish, I am becoming so much more aware of everything that I am going to miss. Hiking these narrow ridge lines above the trees is one of my favorite. I stopped at the narrow peak today for an extra long lunch and watched a rainstorm move across Sugarloaf mountain.

I am also going to really miss all of my critter friends. I chatted with the red squirrels today and stopped by for a visit with this handsome frog. They shared their beautiful home with me for these last four months. They have quite the place out here and I was so lucky to see so much of it.

The hiking gets a lot easier from here on out but I’ve timed it just right on pace and won’t have to push too hard to still make my planned summit on July 6. I don’t want to rush this. It’s going to be missed.