The End of a Journey

Date: August 6th, 2015
Day: 145
Miles from Springer: 2189.2
Miles to Katahdin: 0.0
Morale: 5/5

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About a mile from the Maine border, I was doing a little reflecting. As I cruised along the trail mere minutes from my home state I thought about the challenges that I had faced in my hike, and really the lack thereof. The Smokies were cold, but not that cold, I fell, but not to many times, I got blisters, but nothing debilitaiing, and most importantly I never really wasn’t having fun. I was thinking about how a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail seems like the most epic and daunting of tasks, and yet it had really been a piece of cake. Here I was, having walked from Georgia almost to Maine without any serious difficulties. As all of this was racing through my head, I arrived at a steep rock descent, and began down it. The first foot I put on the rock began to slip and I knew it was all over. Both feet went forward and I slid on my butt and pack 15 feet down a granite slab before getting caught up in a tree. After sitting there wincing for a bit I stood up and surveyed the damage. I busted my elbow open pretty good and had skinned my back and behind on the rocks. I took four steps around a corner. and was looking at the Maine-New Hampshire border. The trail reminded me who was the boss real fast, it has a way of keeping you in check. I proceeded into Maine with caution, realizing that there was still a long way to go, and a lot of things could still go wrong.

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It’s a good thing I wasn’t too cocky in the earlier sections if Maine, because they are the roughest on the entire A.T. I was greeted with metal rungs drilled into the rocks, and arrows pointing up the most harrowing of routes.

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I soon entered  hardest mile of the entire trail, Mahoosuc Notch. The notch is a boulder field in between two five hundred foot cliffs. The trail goes up, around, and even under large slabs of granite. The 1.2 miles can take up to two and a half hours, and even young, athletic, experienced hikers take at least an hour.

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How do you get around stuff like this?

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The trail goes through three caves, all three of which require the removal of your pack, and one of which requires a belly-slideas it is less than two feet tall.

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The next day I hit Old Speck, one of the last 4000 footers that I haven’t climed in Maine. It was the first view I got of Sugarloaf, and I was extremely excited to be there in a few days.

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I had excellent views of and from Baldplate Mountain, however that night began a three day rainstorm. I didn’t get many pictures during that time, but when the storm cleared I summited my home mountain of Sugarloaf and had breathtaking views from above the clouds. That day was something special. After descending from Sugarloaf down into Carrabassett Valley, I met up with some old friends (or young ones, depending on how you look at it). From ages four through thirteen I attended Outdoor Adventure Camp in Carrabassett Valley. When I was fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen I volunteered at the camp for a week each summer and when I turned seventeen I became a full-time counselor. I worked there for two summers, playing field games and taking kids on day hikes much like I had done back when I was a camper. After crossing the West Branch of the Carrabassett River, I reunited with a group of twenty-one campers and counselors. I knew many of the kids from previous summers, and it was a special treat for them to see me in thru-hiker form. Together we summited South Crocker mountain, and even made it into the local paper!

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The caption got my hometown wrong, it’s New Portland not New Vineyard.

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From the trail crossing on Route 27 I got picked up and brought back to the camp to do a little talk, and from there I went home! The next day I picked up Happy Camper and Euchre, two of my hiking pals who were a day behind, and we hung out at my house eating delicious home cooked meals. The next day we “slackpacked” the Bigelows. Slackpacking is a term thru-hikers use to describe hiking miles without a full pack. Because we were staying at my house again the next night, we didn’t need our camping gear, and just brought food for the day. It was essentially a day hike where we covered 16.5 miles of trail.

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During the slackpack we passed the 2000 mile marker, which was pretty cool, even if the sign was in the wrong place. We were really at about mile 2002.

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It was a beautiful day and we had spectacular views of the horns and horns pond.

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The stretch from Long Falls Dam Road to Route 201 was characterized by many remote ponds. It was a pleasure to walk around sand beaches and have a cool breeze to keep the bugs away.

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Just before crossing 201 is the famed Kennebec river crossing. Pictured above are two thru hikers taking the free ferry across. The river is eight feet deep and seventy yards across, so the ATC provides a free ferry for hikers. It was a unique and memorable part of the trip.

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Between Caratunk and Monson I was fortunate enough to be visited by this deer and her fawn. We stood looking at each other for a good twenty minutes before they went on their way.

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A taste of Maine.

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In the last trail town, Monson, I was joined by my brother. He hiked with me for the last 114 miles of the trip, the firsthundred of which are known as the “one hundred mile wilderness.” The hundred mile was probably one of the most fun parts of the entire trail.

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Being so remote and so full of water, there were multiple unbridged crossings. None were as formidable as the Kennebec, however the Piscataquis was fairly deep. I almost got my short-shorts wet.

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Getting this first view of Katahdin was spectacular. I had been walking for over four months, and finally caught a glimpse of what I was working towards and it was oh so sweet.

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Evan was pretty stoked too, it was his first backpacking trip and we were averaging eighteen miles a day. He crushed it though, and it was a blast all the way.

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He took some pretty good pictures too, including thus shot of me planning the next day among a little tent city.

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We successfully made it through the wilderness and I only had one day left, only 5.2 miles to the Northern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

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My parents met me at Abol Bridge Campground, and the next day Evan, my dad and I set off up the tallest peak in Maine.

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It was a steep climb over boulders and rubble fields, but it yielded spectacular views.

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Althoughit looks like a perfectly clear day in these pictures, the clouds rolled in as we got higher up, and we walked the last mile in a cloud.

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Despite the viewless summit, it still felt oh so good to stand atop that famous sign.

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My buddy Pacemaker was even there to enjoy the moment with me. We have been seeing eachother off and on since North Carolina. He started the hike a day before me.

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We were extremely lucky, and the clouds blew off for partial views after we had been up there awhile.

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The descent off of the mountain, though a bit scary in forty mile and hour wind, was a fun time.

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See what I mean about the wind?

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I have no idea what’s going on here..

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And that’s that’s a wrap! Thanks to everyone for joining me along the way through this blog! I might come out with with a few more posts, but we will have to wait and see. Until next time, Happy trails!

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Almost home!

Date: July 14th, 2015
Day: 125
Miles from Springer: 1897.8
Miles to Katahdin: 291.4
Morale: 5/5

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This is probably going to be the most fun-filled, action-packed blog yet. I wasn’t quite done with Vermont when I last posted, so let us return there.

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As you can see by the foggyness (is that a word?) of this photo, Vermont was wet. Very wet. The thru-hikers were all calling it Vermud by the end, I don’t think I had dry feet for a solid week. Although Vermont definitely brought it’s hardships, it also brought some excitement. It just so happens that world renowned ultrarunner Scott Jurek was attempting to break the record for the fastest supported thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail this year. He did in fact beat the record a few days ago, but he passed by me in Vermont. When he started getting close, I did some research on him and decided to purchase his book, Eat and Run, in Manchester Center. When he passed me I asked for his autograph, and got him to sign the book.

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I also got my picture taken with him, but it is on a friend’s camera and won’t be available until after the hike. It was a super cool experience and he was an awesome guy. I actually made it into a National Geographic online article about him, although they got the location wrong, it was in Vermont, not the Mahoosucs. The link to the article is here, but the quote from the article is: “In the middle of the Mahoosuc wilderness, a young AT thru-hiker stood waiting in pouring rain near a lean-to waiting for Jurek. “Are you Scott?” he shouted out, as he approached with O’Neil. “Will you sign my book,” he said, holding out a copy of Eat and Run”

I thought that was pretty cool.

In other celebrity news, I got to see Hillary Clinton speak at Dartmouth College in Hanover New Hampshire. Hanover is the first town in New Hampshire, and is where the state line sign from the beginning of the post was taken. I was hanging around in town with a few other hikers, about to head out when we heard that she was speaking later. We stuck around and gave her a listen.

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Seeing Hillary was not nearly as cool as meeting Jurek, but it was definitely an interesting and memorable trail moment.

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Aside from all of the celebrity appearances, entering New Hampshire meant entering White Mountain National Forest, which is generally considered the most beautiful and challenging part of the trail. Above is a picture of the ascent to Mt. Moosilauke, the southernmost mountain on the trail that is above treeline. It was amazing ascending up and watching the trees get shorter and shorter as I approached the distant peak.

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The descent from Moosilauke was even steeper than the ascent, as it generally followed the path of a nearby waterfall. Pictured above are three guys who I hiked much of New Hampshire with, Heavyweight, Blueberry, and Superman.

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Blueberry and Superman drank straight from the waterfall, it was crystal clear spring water shooting out of the mountain.

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Upon reaching the bottom, we turned around to read this sign, a warning to hikers wishing to ascend the cascades. It made us all feel pretty good knowing that we handled it no problem.

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After Moosilauke came Franconia Ridge. The two miles above treeline that make up this gorgeous section of trail are generally regarded as the best two miles of the trail.

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Looking back on what I came over.

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The night after walking Franconia, I camped on the summit of Mt. Garfield and caught this sunrise.

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Because you had to pay to stay at designated campsites in the Whites, I would often just pitch my tent in random places on trail and avoid the fee. I ended up with some pretty cool spots. This summit was one, but another was Ripley falls, a place I never would have gone had I not been looking for a tentsite.

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Walking along a ridge the next day, I was able to look back and see the falls way off in the distance.

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That white speck in the top half of the picture is where I camped,  and I walked by that parking lot in the bottom of the photo before steeply ascending to Webster Cliffs where this picture was taken.

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The next highlight comes from the Presidential range. Another long stretch above treeline, the presidentials include Mt. Washington, the second highest peak on the trail. Here it is looming in the distance as I make the trek around Mt. Eisenhower and towards Mt. Monroe.

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The White Mountains are home to the famous AMC huts, where people pay hundreds of dollars to stay in an unheated bunk room. The huts are kind to thru-hikers though, and I got to do work for stay at the beautiful Lake of the Clouds hut at the base of Mt. Washington. (The hut is known to thru-hikers as Lake of the Crowds, as evidenced by the people hanging out in front. There were ninety guests the night I was there). I did a few easy chores with some other thru-hikers, and in return we got to sleep on the floor and eat the dinner leftovers. It was a fun experience, and there was a pretty good sunset too.

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I charged up over Washington the next morning bright and early, and was on the summit at 6:15.

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The wind was blowing a steady thirty-eight miles an hour at the hut when I left, and was blowing a steady fifty miles an hour at the summit 1200 feet up. I couldn’t hang out long, but got a few good pictures of the sun cresting over Mt. Monroe and the hut.

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I also got this nice shot of the ridge I was about to walk that day.

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Most people know that there is an auto road where you can drive your car to the summit of Mt. Washington, however not everyone knows that there is actually a cog railway, or train, that goes to the top.

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It was a long but beautiful descent over Mt. Madison and along this ridge down to Pinkham Notch where I met my family for a zero day at my Aunt Jeannine’s and Uncle Peter’s house on Conway lake. It was a fun day and it was good to see my family again.

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Mt. Washington and the Whites are behind me now, and I am less than ten miles from the Maine border as I write this. It will feel so good to step back into my home state for the last two-hundred and eighty miles of this long journey. I am so fortunate to have had such fantastic weather through this beautiful stretch and hope my luck continues in Maine. Today’s quote comes from way back in Virginia. Famous trail maintainer and A.T. legend Bob Peoples is often attributed with the quote: “Home is where you hang your food bag”

I am looking forward to hanging my food bag in good ole’ North New Portland soon.