Yes, we are on the road, for a reunion of sorts. Just like on the AT, I’m counting the states we are going through. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana… There is excitement as well as fear. Maybe they always go hand in hand. This hike with touch 3 states by foot. A few more by vehicle.
I have tried hard not to think about the weather, but the month leading up to this hike has had nothing but weather in the news. We got snow a few days back, and not just a dusting. So, I think to myself, “We are going south, it’s got to get better.” Well if the drive is any indication, we are in for it.
This a.m. I decided to check the weather around Elk Park, NC. Tom has been telling me for a week we are going to be in rain. I’m thinking to myself, “Don’t rain on my parade.” It seems my mother’s voice always comes through with these little quips. Best to keep them to myself! (Also on of mom’s). Anyway, the rain is to start Thursday and continue on through to Monday.
It’s a wet year for the trail as we hikers like to say. 2015 was wet, 2016 was dry. So dry that I really don’t remember many bugs.
So, I sat on the edge of our hotel bed and thought about creature comforts.
Oh, that warm hot shower, dry feet, a comfortable bed. Then I think about cooking in the rain with drops of rain running off my rain hood into my meal and it makes me smile and almost laugh out loud. Something is definitely wrong with me you all might be thinking. But, during those moments for me, that’s all I have to think about. I don’t have to think about what’s in the news, or worry about my parents in the nursing home, my children and their families. I carry them all with me but the worries which do us no good just seem to slip away. I am just in that moment, letting the rain wash away the worries of the past three years and maybe, maybe a few beyond those.
It is 6:15 am and we are ready to hike up the trail to Katahdin. Tom, my husband is coming with us. There is 10 Bear, Zuko, Little Bear and her dad, St. Nick and Lindsey Taylor Jackson who is the film maker from the team for the documentary “Thru.” http://thruatdoc.com/
(10 Bear is the other film maker)I have concerns about Tom being able to keep up to us seasoned hikers, but I will do my best to cool my jets.We log in and start the 5 mile hike to the summit. It is a beautiful sunny day. I have no idea yet what is to come. I just know that after today I can head for home.
It is nice not to be carrying my full backpack and I realize I will never have to carry it again for a very long time. Well, at least not until next year and on very short hikes. It is good to see everyone laughing and having a good time on this our last day.I enjoy seeing Tom finally getting to experience what I have been doing for the last two states. Climbing.
He finds it incredible, that I am moving up the trail and not even breathing hard or sweating.
After the first major boulder climb he finally just waves me on. I move ahead, but constantly look back to keep him in view. I see hikers I haven’t seen in a long time returning from the summit. It is so good to see them and to know that they have achieved their goal.
The wind picks up the minute we get above the tree line. It is quite the climb through a boulder field with incredible heights and sights. I finally see the sign in the distance and can hear all the laughing and talking. Once arrive near the sign I hikers are already talking about the Pacific Coast Trail for 2018. I just want to get done and head for home. I think, “They can have this long distance hiking. I’m one and DONE.” I wait for Tom to get to the summit. Then pictures begin.
Once the picture taking is over, we find a little place out of the wind and have lunch. It is sunny, windy, and chilly at the summit. When we are done with our lunch, we head back the 5 miles that we had just climbed up.
Once again my height phobia kicks in. There is nothing to do but go down. At least I don’t have my pack trying to peel me off the rock surfaces like I have the last 2 months.
I wait for Tom now and again as he is struggles to get back to the parking lot. His muscles aren’t used to this kind of work out or elevation.
Once we are on a better part of the trail, I walk with my hands in my pockets and often stand and wait for him to catch up. 10 Bear stays with us for a while, but then she is off and no doubt running down the trail to catch up to other hiker friends and family.
When we finally get back to the parking lot, it is 6 pm. I was beginning to get nervous about getting back in time to get my registration card. I am #834. My hike is complete.
In the morning Tom and I head back to Minnesota via Canada. I will get home in time to see our son run his first marathon. After all, life can’t always revolve around my crazy adventures. Other people in my life have stories to tell too.
Post Hike-It has been almost 3 months since I finished this incredible journey. I am still trying to process all that happened along the way and to adjust to life post trail. I was never so happy to be going home and I really didn’t care if I ever saw a long distant trail again. Now, I sometimes wonder if the call of the Appalachian Mountains will ever leave my mind. For it didn’t take but two months, after my feet and knees felt better to once again hear the call of the wild. Maybe it isn’t so much as the trail calling, but the freedom of a simpler time. A time where my cluttered mind could deal with my uncluttered world. A world where one fork, one pot, and one stove, a sleeping bag, tent and backpack were almost all that I needed. I am now dealing with a house and life full of so many things that I feel mostly overwhelmed. I as an american, bought into the material world, just like so many others.
I spent the first few weeks hauling boxes of stuff to Goodwill. Instead of throwing away broken gear from the hike and replacing it with new, I am contacting the companies to try and do repairs. If I am able to just keep the ideals that were re-enforced on the trail about how to live my life then all those miles will pay off. If the parts of my personality that I discovered on the trail that I would like to change and start working toward that change, then I have learned something. Before I left for the trail, I would also have called myself a cynical person, but hiking the trail showed me that there are still good people in our nation and the world. Since I have been home, I started to watch the news again. Every morning and every evening there is BREAKING NEWS! Really? I have to ask the question. Why would that be? Maybe it is because our nation is trying to keep our minds cluttered. Why? Only each of us can answer that question for ourselves. I just know there is a better way out there than what we are being told.
So, what am I going to do post hike? I have a few speaking engagements about the hike around the area. I will be having an exhibit called-“Hiking Without a Canoe: A Photographic Journey of the Appalachian Trail,” in March 2017 at the First Stage Gallery in Virginia, MN. Then I will also be teaching photography classes in the area. Once that is all done, I’m not sure what comes next but I know right now, you wont be seeing dust gather on these shoulders.
Thanks for everyones support throughout the planning, hiking and post Appalachian Trail adventure. I couldn’t have done it without you all.
I knew I had to get my pack as light as I possibly could and so before 10 Bear and I left Monson, ME for the last time, I unloaded everything I felt I didn’t need. I sent home extra batteries for my phone, a shirt, a pair of socks, and my sleeping bag liner. I hated carrying the winter gear, but one never knows when the weather will change and things could get deadly without that gear. So I sucked it up and continued North.
Sometime during the last 6 days, I started catching myself saying, “This is almost over. I never have to climb that hill or take that step again. Every step I take brings me closer to home!”I just wanted to be done.
A strange thing happens when you hike with another person. You start to rely on them and they start to rely on you, but if there isn’t a lot of communication things can go wrong. Well, that is what happened 5 days out from Katahdin with 10 Bear and I. It was a sunny day full of climbing. Neither one of us paid attention to the water situation. I didn’t drink a lot of water in comparison to 10 Bear.She drank A LOT of water and so when we got to Barren Ledges and realized the water sources were way off the trail, we knew we were in trouble. I had only one container and she didn’t have much more. I took off down the trail because I knew how much water 10 Bear needed and was afraid she was going to have trouble if she didn’t have any water. I thought it would be a short time and I would be happily filter water for us.
The rest of the my day was spent looking for water. I could see it at every summit, but it was miles away. At 9 pm in the pitch dark, I reached a cross roads in the trail. I stopped and could hear water running just ahead. I put down my pack on the ground and as it was dark moved cautiously ahead with my headlamp and water container.I was able to fill up a2 liter bag and then I went back and retrieved my pack. Then I headed east and started looking for a site to camp. I didn’t know if 10 Bear was still coming or not, but I found a place just to the east, and so I set up my tent and then went back to the trail with a note and placed it in the trail for 10 Bear to know where to find me. I then went back to camp and filtered 2 bottles of water. I was hanging my food bag when 10 Bear arrived. I gave her a bottle of water and then we cooked and ate supper and I drank 20 oz of water. We were reminded to never take anything for granted and to be especially vigilant so close to the end, for this is when accidental deaths happen.
The next day we had a great relaxing morning. I even took time for a second cup of coffee and we went on a photo adventure before we started hiking.
It was a beautiful day with awesome views.
The last 2 days before summiting Katahdin were not enjoyable after that. The miles were taking their toll. I would need to do 26 miles and then 25.5 miles back to back in order to reach my husband, Tom by 11 am at Abol Bridge on the 20th of Sept. Those days Zuko joined us.
We ended up hiking in the dark to make the miles. It had become a marathon. In those last 2 days I also lost 10 Bear. (The good thing was, I found out later, she had found Little Bear and St. Nick. Hikers she had hiked most of the trail with and she was able to spend her last evening on the trail with them.)
My last night I spent chasing a mouse away from my gear, but in the morning discovered he had gotten into the last of my food.Zuko shared some of his breakfast with me and we had our last camp fire and waited for 10 Bear until 9:30 am.
A half an hour past what I told Zuko we would wait, she hadn’t shown up and so we started hiking the last of our miles to Abol Bridge.
At 10:40 am. we got to the road and saw Tom waiting in our vehicle. As he heard us, he got out to greet us. I was never so glad to see him at this moment. I knew the end of my hike was near. He quickly opened the back of the vehicle and started handing us food, cookies he had made and Subway sandwiches, chips, pop, and candy. At 11 am, 10 Bear wasn’t out of the woods. I told Zuko, “We will wait 10 more minutes and than we will go and Tom will wait for her.” And within seconds, I hear Zuko say, “THERE SHE IS!” She came running across the road, fell to the ground and told us she had just run 11 miles in 2.5 hours with a 40 lb. pack.
We all sat there stunned that she had made it. With smiles we watched as she devour the food. When 10 Bear had finished, the 3 of us got up to hike the last 11 miles to Baxter State Park. TOMORROW WE SUMMIT KATAHDIN!
What the hell…my stove just stripped out trying to attach it to the canister for breakfast. Really!!!!! I only have the 100 Mile Wilderness to go and my stove strips out. Unbelievable! I pull out my AWOL AT Guide and see that I can go to Shaw’s Hostel in Monson, ME for a repair and if not that, I hope I can find a used one in a hiker box or purchase a new one somewhere. I really didn’t want to be spending money on gear at this stage of the game. UGH!
I’m on trail by 6:30 am the next morning, while 10 Bear was packing. My day was spent alone going to Moxie Bald. It was a fun morning on boulders and bedrock. Once I got to the top, it was a little confusing to where to go, as the summit sign had me go in one direction and then from there it was kind of vague. After wandering around a little bit I eventually figured it out. Before I got back into the tree line I noticed the sky looked like rain as fog began to roll in.I haven’t seen 10 Bear yet and wonder how far back she is. The minute I get to tree line, I stop and strip down and put on my rain pants. I am so afraid of getting wet feet. I put on my rain jacket next and by now the rain has begun. The rest of the day is climbing over wet roots and rocks.
I roll into Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to at 5:30 pm. Zuko, GI Jane, Joe and Coral are already here. I go to set up my tent and as I am doing so, I snap a tent pole at the Y junction. We all try to work on it to fix it with a stick, but the stick just cant hold up to the pressure. I set up my tent anyway and instead of it being a dome it is apup tent. Next, I have to borrow GI Jane’s stove since that is also broken. 10 Bear has arrived and is busy setting up her camp. As I climb into bed I hope that it doesn’t rain. I should have know better than to think such thoughts. The minute I was horizontal, I could hear rain hitting my tent.
I woke up early, 5:00 am and packed up and told 10 Bear I was heading to Hwy ME 15 to hitch to Monson so I could go to Shaw’s to get my gear figured out.I would meet her there.By 10 am I was on the Hwy trying to hitch a ride. Let me just say that a lot of cars, trucks, semis passed by without any hesitation. I was beginning to think I would be there for a long time when Shaw’s Shuttle Service showed up. The driver asked me if I wanted a ride and I said, “You bet!”
Poet, the owner of Shaw’s, didn’t have a fix for my stove, but he did have 1 stove left to sell and so I bought that. The tent was a little more complicated. We couldn’t get replacement poles from Big Agnes in time for me to finish by the 21st. He had a tent for sale, but I didn’t want to by a new one at the tune of $400. Another hiker had a tent he was thinking of selling, so I thought about that. In the meantime, Poet mixed up J B Weld, got a screw and took apart my poles and glued the screw and a pole together. It would need 24 hours to set.
In my determination to still summit on the 21st, I decided to stay the night, this would allow me to be brought 11 miles North on the trail today and then be able to slackpack back to Hwy ME 15. In the midst of this, 10 Bear arrives and I let her what know what my plan is. I tell her, she can hike ahead and I will try and catch her tomorrow or she can stay at Shaw’s. She decides to stay at Shaw’s and within 10 minutes we are headed up the road to start our slackpack.
The first thing that happened heading SOBO is that we had to hike a good mile just to get to the trail. Next we came upon a river that we had to ford and neither one of us brought our camp shoes. We ended up taking off our shoes. I grabbed the rope above my head and started across. I stumbled once and got wet. I was sure glad that I didn’t have a full pack on my back. We made it back to town by 6 pm. I was glad we had slackpacked this section as it was a lot of up and down over ridge lines.
Early the next day I got up to try my tent poles. I set up my tent in the driveway at Shaw’s. The poles held. We resupplied, had a great breakfast and continued our hike into the 100 Mile Wilderness.We were now in the home stretch.
The last 2 days have been filled with climbing and more climbing. We, 10 bear and I climbed through the Mahoosic Notch and then climbed up the Arm. It took hours upon hours to go through and then up and up and up. My toes and knees have been hurting for the last 4 nights. The climbing has gotten so steep the hiking poles are useless. We have packed them away. I am using hands, elbows, knees, hips, shoulders, head, toes all just to reach the next summit. Then down, always back down. I am running out of energy and am becoming concerned about the finish. I have fallen 3 times in less than 24 hours.
It looks like I have finally gotten the packing of my food quantity down. Only took 2,000 plus miles. Tonight I will eat my last supper and tomorrow my last breakfast.We will be heading into Rangely, ME to pick up my resupply at The Farmhouse Inn. We won’t be staying in town and this is how it will be to the end. Into town to resupply and eat a lot of calories at a restaurant and then right back to the trail.
The day we headed out of Rangely, we headed up to the Saddleback Mountain. Once again we had wind. Some of the gusts almost blew me over but I managed to remain upright. When we climbed up The Horn the sun was beginning to set. Once we reached the summit we put down our packs and dug out our headlamps to make the descent. It was steep and rough. Needless to say I was mad at myself for descending again in the dark. If we didn’t need to do the miles, we probably would have camped at the top, but this was not meant to be. I tried hard to keep calm as the trail was lit only by our headlamps. If I looked to the left all I saw was a void of darkness. That alone made the hair on my neck stand up.
We gradually made our way down in the dark. Eventually we found a camp. Set up our tents. Ate supper. I finally got to crawl into my tent by 10 pm.As my head hit my bundled of clothes pillow I think, “My night’s sleep will be way too short.” Within seconds I am sound asleep.
The next morning I am up at 5:30 pm. It hasn’t been a restful sleep. My knees and toes throbbed all night, my hips have also started to hurt at night. I have run out of Vitamin I. During breakfast 10 Bear found a couple Vitamin I of which she shared with me. It helped ease the pain and get me to my feet and moving.
The next few days were treacherous. Climbing, descending, rain and wind making everything more dangerous. We are only 1 day out from Monson, ME. 10 Bear has now calculated that we have to do 20 mile days to be able to summit by September 21. The thought of that makes me want to just sit down and cry. The terrain has been so challenging that I’m not sure I have it in me to do so. I can feel my body resisting the climbs especially. My legs are feeling pretty skinny when I rest my hands on them at night. I’m glad there is only a week left of this torture. I am so ready to go home.
The next few days were treacherous. Climbing, descending, rain and wind making everything more dangerous. We are only 1 day out from Monson, ME. 10 Bear has now calculated that we have to do 20 mile days to be able to summit by September 21. The thought of that makes me want to just sit down and cry. The terrain has been so challenging that I’m not sure I have it in me to do so. I can feel my body resisting the climbs especially. My legs are feeling pretty skinny when I rest my hands on them at night. I’m glad there is only a week left of this torture. I am so ready to go home.The next few days were treacherous. Climbing, descending, rain and wind making everything more dangerous. We are only 1 day out from Monson, ME. 10 Bear has now calculated that we have to do 20 mile days to be able to summit by September 21. The thought of that makes me want to just sit down and cry. The terrain has been so challenging that I’m not sure I have it in me to do so. I can feel my body resisting the climbs especially. My legs are feeling pretty skinny when I rest my hands on them at night. I’m glad there is only a week left of this torture. I am so ready to go home.
The climb today from Saco River to Webster Cliffs was hair raising. If I haven’t told you yet, I am afraid of heights.Well today was one of those days I tried hard not to look back. Mostly because I would have only seen wide open space. It was only if I looked down, that the full implication of what could happen to me if I got vertigo came into realization. That thought alone was all I needed to spur me onward and further upward.
When 10 Bear and I stood at Webster Cliffs with gale force winds I was more than happy to quickly move on after taking a few pictures of her near the edge.The rest of the day was spent trying to stay upright in exposed areas and when the wind would gust. By the time we arrived at Mt Franklin the clouds had moved in. It was to cold and windy that I rolled my pant legs down and put on my rain jacket so any warmth I generated wouldn’t just get blown away.
It is an eerie feeling to hike in and out of clouds as they are blown by you. You can see the landscape ahead of you and then you can’t. All you see is white. No trail. No markers. No hiking buddies. By 4 pm it was starting to get dark because of the cloud cover and as we hiked out of the gloom appeared the Lake of the Clouds Hut. We were never so glad to see shelter. Ok, that is a lie. There were a few other times I had thought the same thing prior than today.
We grabbed the door handle and got ourselves blown into the interior with a gust. At the front desk was a worker and immediately we asked for “work for stay.” This is when you can do some work in the huts to help out the staff with the paying guests. Since the weather was such as it was, there were a lot of hikers seeking shelter. We were told yes and so we went to relax, charge phones and wait for the assigning of the tasks once the guests had eaten.
We ended up being able to eat and then it was cleaning time. 10 Bear and 5 Star swept the floor and I went in the kitchen and got a tray to scrub.This would be the first time that I meet Zuko. We had our sleeves rolled up and we each had a baking sheet that we were assigned to scrub all the charred food off of.When it was 9:30 pm it was lights out for the guests and we were able to finally set up our mats and bags on the dining hall floor for the night. It wasn’t a very restive sleep as many guests and hikers were up during the night making their nightly hike to the bathroom. The squeaking and banging of the door was ridiculous. At 6 am all the hikers were woken up and asked to quickly pack. We could stay and help with breakfast or we could head out. We had had enough and headed out the door.
We only had 1.7 miles to the summit. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we could see the summit from the Hut.I was half way up to the top when I turned around and looked back. I’m not sure what about this day, this moment struck me, but something did. I just stood there feeling humble, small and grateful. I didn’t want to move from this spot. I knew in this moment, that this was the reason I had hiked the AT. This was the moment. It brought tears to my eyes. I could go home now, if I wanted to and be satisfied with my hike. (At the writing of this, I wish now I would have just sat down and enjoyed the moment more). As I turned to continue up towards Mt. Washington, I knew I would never feel this way again. It is like that with all firsts, isn’t it?
We got to the top of Mt. Washington to discover that yesterday’s winds were clocked at 91 mph. That hikers that were to…were told they couldn’t hike beyond the summit and were taken back down the mountain by the workers at Mt. Washington. I believe it cost them $35.00 down and $35.00 back. Sometimes, it is best to just hunker down below the summit for better weather.
Tomorrow we have a 1000 ft. elevation drop and then a 2500 ft. elevation gain. In 2 more days we hope to be out of the White Mountains. Then hello 100 Mile Wilderness and hello September.
At noon today, I went out to get our mail. Expecting the usual junk mail, I almost had a heart attack upon opening the mailbox door. There in all his glory stood Yuri.
To those who don’t know about Yuri, he has been hiking with me for the past few years. Last year when launching my epic journey on the AT, Yuri went missing. I was on day 1 of the hike. Yuri was right beside me on my pack.
At about mile 6 I sat down for a break only to discover Yuri was no longer riding high on my backpack. Heart break are the only words that come to my mind at the moment I realized my hiking partner was no more. I posted an article on Appalachian Trials of MIA Yuri. (http://appalachiantrials.com/first-days-of-trail-life/) I kept hoping someone would come across him and let me know of his where abouts. But alas, this was not to be.
Now it is March 29th, 2016 and low and behold he shows up.
He had this fantastical tale of where he has been. I myself wonder about some of the details. (He tends to exaggerate a bit.) Here is the tale in all of it’s fine glory:
YURI. “So, there I was bumping along on your backpack enjoying the sights when out of no where there was a crash & the lights went out!! I don’t know how long I was out but when I woke up…WOW!
Everything was white & I was in an unfamiliar place; white towels, the feeling was so soft & warm. Then this lady asked what kinds of treatment I wanted. Treatments!?! I thought, what the heck is this place. Then the woman explained to me I was at a Resort SPA! A SPA! I told them to give me the works & figured you’d be there soon to join…
But you never came…maybe spa’s aren’t for you. (ME. A lot of eye rolling)
Anyway after waiting a year, I figured I better get in the first box out of here and head home…and…HERE I AM!
YURI. I know, RIGHT!
ME. Well, you are going to be so happy in a moment, I have big news.
YURI. You do?
ME. Yes, I got hurt coming out of the Smokies and had to get off the trail at mile 309.
YURI. Oh my…that is bad news. Not big news, but bad news.
ME. Oh, that isn’t the big news. The big news is that we leave tomorrow morning to head back to the AT.
ME. AND, I figured a great way to make sure you don’t jump, oops I mean fall off of my backpack again!
Story by Andrea & images by Sookie