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Appalachian Trail: Days 127-135

Day 127 - July 5th

Daily miles: 15.3

Official distance covered on trail: 2020.2

Finally. Finally we had good weather. Finally we got to see Maine's beauty.

Today was such a good day of hiking. We didn't start hiking until just after 10:00, and the hostel provided a great breakfast, so we were rested and fueled when we began. The hiking itself wasn't too hard at any point. We went over a stretch of mountains called the Bigelows, and we were able to take long breaks at several vistas because it was actually nice outside and we could actually see things! And man was it gorgeous.

Also, finally, with less than 200 miles to go, my hiker hunger seems to be kicking in. I could have eaten everything in my food container today and still have been hungry.

We also we're above 4000 feet elevation for the last time until Katahdin. From here til the end, it's pretty smooth sailing. The SOBOs we meet have been sooo green. These are their first peaks of note aside from Katahdin, which is just a tough day hike at that point, and they're really struggling with them, whereas we just breeze through. Talking to them has gotten really annoying really quickly. "You guys are NOBO? Getting close to the end! When did you start? Wow you guys are making really great time! Was it cold in Georgia?" Same damn conversation with all of them.

We have basically the rest of the hike planned out, which is nuts. From here, we only have 173 miles to go. 173 miles in, we were just starting the Smokey Mountains. Time and miles freaking fly.

Oh also Mitch and I signed a lease for a place in Denver this morning!! Big day!

Day 128 - July 6th

Daily miles: 17.7

Official distance covered on trail: 2037.9

We tried to sleep in today. Pushing miles today wasn't an option because we're confined by the ferry times to get across the Kennebec River, which is free from 9am-2pm and $50/trip otherwise. Also the shelter we're at tonight is near a campground known for a guy who makes pancake breakfasts for thruhikers, so we obviously had to stay here. Anyway, we were all awake by 6:30 regardless, and we just lied there until finally we got up the motivation to move a little after 7.

Today was probably the easiest 17 miles we've ever done. You can see it in the elevation profile: flat with a couple blips up in the first half. Even with leaving camp late, and even with taking several long breaks to enjoy the beautiful ponds along the hike (which we sadly didn't swim in because it's barely too cold outside for that), we got to camp by 4:00. We never get to camp this early!

We immediately played euchre to determine who would have to reserve our pancake breakfasts. We assigned ourselves to random teams to make it the most fair. Scott and I have a losing record when we're on a team together, but we pulled out a very important win today, coming back from 9-4 with 6 straight points. Boom, baby!

The shelter we're at tonight is right on a lake, and it's just beautiful. I spent some time soaking in the sun on the rocks while Scott and Mitch made a fire to keep the bugs away. Wilson was off reserving our breakfasts.

Mitch and I set up our tent right on the water, where we can hear the hauntingly beautiful calls of the loons nearby. We spent some time in the evening playing euchre in the tent (to escape the bugs, since the fire was too hot for us) and watched the sunset over the lake.

Day 129 - July 7th

Daily miles: 22.8

Official distance covered on trail: 2060.7

Today was our longest day in awhile. It feels good to know we can still crank out big miles if we have to!

This morning was a perfect start. The shelter we slept at is less than a half mile from Harrison's Pierce Pond Camps, so we were able to get to breakfast early. Eggs, sausage, orange juice, tea, and twelve (12) pancakes? Yes PLEASE! From there, we only had a few miles to the Kennebec River, where we had to take a short canoe ride to the other shore. That got us right about into Caratunk, where we had to do a quick resupply. Busy morning, and that was only the first 4 miles. By the time we left Caratunk, it was after 11:00, and we still had about 19 miles to hike.

Fortunately, the terrain wasn't bad and the elevation profile was pretty easy. Only two notable uphills, so it wasn't a hard hike! I was the last one into camp, and I still made it there before 7:15.

I was really hoping to get some blueberries on Moxie Bald, where the guide notes their abundance, but it's a few weeks too early in the season. We've been missing a lot of seasonal berries because we're early, but we also missed the cicadas and apparently are ahead of the dreaded black flies. Moxie Bald did have some beautiful views, though.

Our campsite is right next to a lake, and the sky looks pretty clear right now, and it's a new moon, so hopefully we can get a good look at the Milky Way tonight! Scott has an alarm set so he can wake us up if there's a good view.

Day 130 - July 8th

Daily miles: 17.9

Official distance covered on trail: 2078.6

Remember the stargazing? It turns out that Scott, Wilson, and I all woke up at different times in the night, walked from our tents to the lake, and checked on the stars. All too cloudy for the Milky Way, but it made us laugh this morning that we all tried to check at separate times and all came to the same realization separately. Oh well.

We all also separately woke up before 6:00 and were out of camp by 6:45 so we could get in by early afternoon and maximize our town time. We're in Monson, which is the town right before the 100 mile wilderness. This is really our last town day before the end, which just feels crazy to me!

We took full advantage of this town's food scene. Incredible BBQ for lunch (in Maine, of all places) with the best blueberry pie I've ever tasted, and a lobster roll for dinner, because I've never had one and what better place than here?

We're at Shaw's Hiker Hostel, which is one of the most famous hostels on the trail. It's been running for 40 or so years and is currently owned by Poet and Hippie Chick, a married couple who thruhiked in 2008. This place has everything for thruhikers and it's been a perfect last hostel before the end. Even though there are a ton of SOBOs here...

Day 131 - July 9th

Daily miles: 19.1

Official distance covered on trail: 2097.7

We knew it was going to be rainy all day, but we figured, eh, no big deal. It was, in fact, a BIG DEAL. We're a day ahead of schedule and we all agreed that, had we known that today would have been this miserable, we would have just zeroed. And if Shaw's were cozy - it was a nice place but it wasn't cozy - we probably would have. I would murder someone for a hot shower right now...

We started the 100 mile wilderness today, which sounds way more daunting than it actually is. They say to pack out 10 days of food. We packed out 4. The plan is to do the 100 miles, plus the 10 miles to get to the base of Katahdin, in 5 days, and there's a resupply point just after the 100 miles.

Our goal today was to do 26 miles. We did not do the full miles. In fairness, we didn't start hiking until about 9:00 - Shaw's provides an incredible breakfast, and the shuttle to the trailhead left after breakfast - and the slick slabs of slate slowed us down a lot, and the rain had us so beat down by the time we stopped for lunch, we knew we couldn't make our goal. Maybe if it were a drizzle or a mist, but not in this consistent rain or worse. We didn't want to stop at this shelter, since it's almost a half mile off trail, and we never go anywhere unless it's less than 0.3 off, but we figured it was our best option in this weather. Plus we wanted to make it to a shelter to avoid a wet tent.

I would like to immortalize that I am the best hiking partner because when I got to the shelter, all the guys were already in their warm clothes and trying to gather the courage to get water from the pond, and I volunteered to fill everyone's water bags because I was still wet and already going to get water before changing into my sleeping clothes. So. I'm the best.

We are officially under 100 miles. Maybe it's the rain talking; maybe it's the knowledge that tomorrow, when I go to put my hiking clothes on, they'll be sopping wet because there's no chance for them to dry out; maybe it's the several wasp stings I acquired today; but I'm so ready to be done. I think we all are. 95.4 miles between now and a bed that I don't have to inflate and deflate every day.

Day 132 - July 10th

Daily miles: 24.0

Official distance covered on trail: 2121.7

I cannot begin to explain how shitty it is to put wet - not just damp, but still heavy with water - clothes on. Plus you can't put a dry layer on over top because then it'll get wet, so you find yourself in a drenched short-sleeved shirt and drenched shorts, putting your feet into ice puddle socks (because your shoes are going to be soaked still so you don't want to ruin a dry pair of socks) when it's not quite 60° outside.

Fortunately, it got sunny pretty quickly, and our body heat dried our clothes out most of the way by the time we stopped for lunch. But still. Not my favorite start to the day.

We did basically the rest of the hills we have until Katahdin - the Chairback mountain range and White Cap. It was almost dark by the time we got to camp, but we know that, even doing big mile days for the next few days, it'll be pretty flat.

We got our first views of Katahdin today. I thought seeing it would make me emotional, but instead it made me feel resolute. Like I see it, it looks intimidating, but I know what I have to do. The end of the journey is in sight, but it's not over yet.

Day 133 - July 11th

Daily miles: 30.7

Official distance covered on trail: 2152.4

What a day, what a day. What a long but overall not bad day.

The shelter we stayed at last night was full of SOBOs, likely too intimidated by their first mountain to move forward. It was hard for us to find tent spots, but we managed. All the SOBOs were eating breakfast together before Mitch and I woke up, and by the time we packed up, ate, and were ready to go, they were STILL eating breakfast! They asked us how many miles we were planning on doing and they looked at us like we were crazy when we said "27." Like maybe if you guys took less than an hour to eat breakfast before packing up any over your stuff, you could fit more miles in your day. Maybe not 27, but more than like 8. But what do I know?

You may be saying "27? But you did almost 31!" Ah, yes. Our plans have changed so many times since Monson. Before leaving town, our plan was:

Friday: 26.0 to Chairback Gap Lean-to

Saturday: 20.7 to East Branch Lean-to

Sunday: 23.8 to Nahmakanta Stream Lean-to

Monday: 25.4 to Hurd Brook Lean-to

Tuesday: 13.4 to finish out the 100 miles and get to the base of Katahdin

Wednesday: 5.2 to the summit of Katahdin

But then it poured all day Friday, and our plans immediately changed. Then we decided it'd be more like:

Friday: 19.1 to Cloud Pond Lean-to

Saturday: 24.0 to Logan Brook Lean-to

Sunday: 27.4 to Nahmakanta Stream Lean-to

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday: same as the original plan

BUT THEN we were able to check the forecast and learned that Wednesday - the day we want to summit Katahdin - is supposed to be full of thunderstorms. We've heard that the climb is not something we'd want to do in the rain (although trail advice from SOBOs should be taken with a grain of salt...) and being on such an exposed ridge during a thunderstorm would be dangerous. Plus who doesn't want a clear view on Katahdin? So we adjusted our plans again to make it feasible to climb Katahdin on Tuesday. Unfortunately it won't be the only thing we do that day, but from the lean-to yesterday, we decided the plan would look more like:

Sunday: 27.4 to Nahmakanta Stream Lean-to

Monday: 28.9 to Abol Bridge (the end of the 100 miles)

Tuesday: 15.1 to finish out the trip

BUT THEN!!! We learned the general store at Abol Bridge closes at 7:00, and we want to make sure we get there with plenty of time to get food, so we decided at lunch to extend today by a few miles to make tomorrow more doable. So now it was more like:

Sunday: 30.7 to a stealth site

Monday: 25.6 to Abol Bridge

Tuesday: 15.1

(Actually, we'd planned on doing another 2.5 miles today to get to a shelter, but the shelter was marked as having unreliable water, so we decided to stay closer to a reliable water source. So really Sunday and Monday should have been 33.2 and 23.1, but who's counting???)

And, hell, if we can do 30 miles by 7:00 today, we can do 25 by the same time tomorrow. Although the terrain today was so easy and lent itself to pushing such huge miles.

Our bodies are so beaten up at this point, though. The SOBOs this morning were complaining to each other about sore backs and hurt knees and it took so much willpower to not be like "HOW?!" Like at least Georgia was hilly. This part of Maine is so flat! I can accept their feet hurting because the roots in this area are pretty abundant, but that didn't seem to be their concern. But anyway. We figure now is the time to run our bodies into the ground if we need to. Our joints are tender, we all are scratched and bruised from various accidents, and our feet ache more than we can describe, but there's no slowing down now. We can rest in a matter of days. When he dropped us off at the beginning of the 100 mile wilderness, Poet jokingly said "And now you can stop filtering water because you'll be home by the time the giardia would set in!" (Don't worry, we all still filter all our water.) In the same vein, it's like... we can destroy our bodies now because by the time it gets too bad, we'll be done. I will crawl my way up Katahdin if I must. But today was really our last big push day.

The stealth spot Scott picked out (by nature of being the fastest hiker) is right by a lake, and we had a great time talking and watching the sunset as we ate dinner. It's stuff like that that I'm going to miss so much. Not hiking 30 miles in a day. But being so connected to each other and to our environment and having nowhere to be and nothing to pull us away. I love that about the trail.

We have our tent set up near the lake and without the rain fly on so we can hear the loons and watch the sky. It's beautiful here.

Day 134 - July 12th

Daily miles: 25.6

Official distance covered on trail: 2178.0

Oh man... today really hit me. We're at the end. As I write this from camp, we have 15.1 miles to go. That's nothing. That's chump change.

The hiking itself today was easy. We all finished before 4:15, even doing so many miles and taking reasonable breaks. Miles when it's mostly flat, even with a bunch of roots, go by quickly.

The only big uphill we had today, I passed a large group of high school-aged girls who were clearly doing some sort of backpacking camp. Shortly after, I passed a family of four. They asked if I was part of the girls' hiking group, and all I could muster was "Um, no." In Shenandoah, our old hiking buddy Suzanne hiked briefly with some day hikers, and when they asked if she was going where they were going, she thought, "Does it look like I'm doing the same fucking loop as you guys?" Just reminded me of that. Like not only do I (hopefully?) look older than teenage girls, but do I not also look like a hardened thruhiker who's been through some shit out here? Just made me laugh thinking about Suzanne. But also I was low key offended by their assumption.

We got several views of Katahdin today. I know it sounds obvious, but it just keeps getting closer. And the closer it gets, the closer we are to being done. And it is so close.

Also finally got some wild blueberries! They were probably a day or two from being perfectly ripe, but I couldn't help myself.

I'm ready for the hiking to end but I'm not ready for this to end. This beautiful, wonderful, absolutely insane journey that I've been on with three amazing companions. Like... we walked here. From Georgia. On our own feet. On purpose. That's fucking wild.

We're at a campsite on the Penobscot River right after Abol Bridge, which signifies the end of the 100 mile wilderness. We all dipped at least our feet in the river, and it felt amazing to scrub some of the dirt off my legs. Got some drinks and snacks and hot dogs to roast at the campground's store, and we spent the evening soaking up the last of this experience. It was the perfect last evening, I think. Simple, beautiful, together.

Tomorrow is about 10 miles to the base of Katahdin and 5 miles up. And then we're done...

Day 135 - July 13th

Daily miles: 15.1

Official distance covered on trail: 2193.1

It hit me in the first few minutes of walking. Seeing Katahdin in the golden morning light. Seeing a sign informing me that I had less than 15 miles left of this hike. It's hard to speed walk and cry at the same time. It's no art form. It's not graceful. Staggering steps and gasping breaths – if any SOBO saw me, they'd think I was crazy. Maybe I am.

We did the first 10 miles by 9:15. We were out of camp just after 6:00; none of us could sleep. Just a sprint to the base. We were able to discard some gear at the campground to lighten the loads of our packs for the climb. We registered with a ranger. The four of us were the 98th, 99th, 100th, and 101st NOBO hikers to hit Katahdin this season.

I can't help but think about everything I've gained, everything I've lost, and everything I will be losing when I come down that mountain later today. I've made friends and memories that will last my whole life long. I've built an unshakable confidence. I know that I can do whatever hard thing I choose. I haven't yet met my niece, who was born just days before I left. I didn't get to attend my grandfathers funeral. I will never again be on this exact journey. The next time I sleep In my sleeping bag, I will be a regular hiker, not a thruhiker. Hiking the AT has been a "someday" in the back of my mind for so long, and then I was doing it, and now that it's going to be done... now what?

I expected to get emotional at the top, but I didn't realize how overwhelming it would be. Someone described my reaction to me as: I was fine, and suddenly I was not fine. As the summit neared, it felt like a magnet. I was physically running by the end, which I didn't realize until I noticed how tired my legs were. And then I was just... there. And everything I've worked for and worked through - all the hard days, all the times I thought "What am I doing here?", all the injuries and aches and pains - felt so worth it. We all hugged and cried and admired the summit and drank it all in together. We fucking did it.

And then, as unceremonious as it was, we had to do another 5.2 miles down to the base of the mountain. But they didn't feel like anything. My head was empty. I didn't have to think about what miles we had to do tomorrow, or what food I can eat without dipping into the next day's supply, or where the next water source was. Just a simple hike. Got to the bottom, cracked a leftover cider from the night before, shuttled to Millinocket, and had a glass of wine at dinner. We did it. We really fucking did it.


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