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Trail Update #1 – The Start to Hiawasee

Hello all! So I’ve made it to the fine town of Hiawasee Georgia. Today is my sixth day of the trip. I don’t want to go through everything that I’ve done so far, because mostly it would consist of walking, walking, and more walking. But I’ll give you a quick synopsis of what’s gone on so far. Unfortunately, I can’t upload images from this computer for some reason, so you’ll have to wait on them!

The first few days of the trip I took pretty easy, no more than ten miles or so a day. The past two days I’ve cranked it up to 15 miles a day. I met a few pretty cool people, their real names are Scott, Mike, and Matt. But their trail names are Nine Nails (he lost a nail, but he just lost another today, so he may be Eight Nails), Terrible Tang (he likes Charles Barkley and that drink Tang), and Dry Key (he never has water and he’s from the Keys). I received my own trail name – Sir Stooge Charles Guilons. Not sure how to spell out that last ‘name’ since I never have before. I’m sure some of you know what it’s supposed to be though. I’m pretty pumped about my name though. I have two titles, and two names! Can’t beat that.

I stayed at my first Hiker Hostel, which was run by an old crazy man named Pirate. I also got my first taste of Trail Magic (when people help out hikers on the trail, whether it be with food, supplies, etc) that night when a church group came by the hostel and cooked us all burgers and baked potatoes. It was my first filling meal since being on the trail!

I also hitched for the first time in my life. Me and Terrible Tang got a ride into town from some old Georgian who was out fishing. He caught one trout. He was the man.

Last night, I stayed at a place called the Cheese Factory, which I was super pumped about. Unfortunately, there was no cheese, and no factory there. They knocked it down ages ago. It was just some nice camping spots. But at least I can say I slept at the Cheese Factory.

I am two for two on my food bag throw to hang it up in the tree (the other nights the camp sites had bear lines, no need to throw food bags around when they’re there). And I have not been mauled by a bear. I did see a pretty sweet snake that may have had a rattler on it, I couldn’t see too well. I saw some really cool birds, a few weird bugs, and two white tailed deer that I couldn’t get a good picture of.

So far, I’ve gone from Springer Mountain to Dick’s Creek Gap – about 60 miles or so I believe. I’m still a long way from Maine! With these updates, I don’t want to bore you with which shelter I stayed in, how far I walked, blah blah blah. So I’ll give you the highlights so I don’t waste your time! Aside from these updates, I’ll probably drop in a few posts here and there about some random (and/or important) things that come across my mind while I’m out here. I plan on writing one of them up tomorrow morning before I hit the trail again.

Comment away – I turned off the need to approve comments before they appear. Sorry about that! Thanks for reading you full time stooges! 🙂

Something I’ve Left Out For a Reason – My (stoogy) Siblings

As some of you probably noticed, I failed to mention anything about the going away party at Jay’s in any of my earlier posts. No, I was not being forgetful. I just wanted to give that party, and the reason behind it, it’s proper place.

When I decided to do the Trail, aside from my parents, the only people that I initially told were my siblings, Matt, Paul, and D. My plan was going to be to tell a few people, and then kind of slip away into the foggy mountain dew. I didn’t want to make a big deal about leaving, or attempting the trip – not sure why. But anyway, that was what I thought was going to happen. Much to my surprise, my siblings threw an awesome going away party for me at Jay’s. Not only did they gather friends and family from around town, they got a bunch of UD guys to make the trip (thanks a ton for coming guys, that was awesome). I walked right into their sneaky trap – I had no idea what was going on!

So what I really want to say here is that having people like them around you for your whole life is really something invaluable. It’s really amazing to see the things good brothers and sisters will do for each other. Although they foiled my plan of a sneaky exit into the mountain fog :), I greatly appreciate them getting everyone together for my sending off. It’s difficult to articulate or write what it means to me, but know that it’s truly something special. To have people gather to send me off with a few beers, although a relatively small act, is truly something powerful. And it has stuck with me through this journey, and will continue to be one of my fondest memories no matter where I go from here.

Terrible Tang out here said something to me the other day that really resonated with me. We were talking about brothers and sisters and how growing up there was always a battle about something or other (he has 2 older sisters, and and older brother). He’s now about 35 or so, and like me, his siblings have become his best friends. He said something along the lines of “It takes time to realize what we truly have in siblings. You don’t just have brothers or sisters, you have people that you have literally shared your whole life with, from the very beginning, to the very end.” That is really something that is difficult to comprehend, but it’s something very special as well. So thanks for everything you’ve done, and everything you will do – I appreciate it with all my heart.

Trail Update #2 – First Milestone and the NOC

So I am here at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), one of the cooler places I’ve seen. The trail runs right through it, so it’s a difficult place to avoid luckily. I’m taking my first zero day today to get some rest and some good food. Me and Tangy Booch Magoo (his name changed) sat at a bar here last night and ate a ton of food and some good beers. It was delicious. Today and tonight we’ll probably do more of the same.

The walking finally caught up to me. My lower calves down into my achilles tendons have been pretty sore and a little swollen the past four or so days. I was expecting the aches and pains to come, but they came a little later than I thought, and a bit more extreme than I had hoped for. So taking the day off today, I’m hoping will be a big help. The trail is physically much more difficult than I thought it would be. There are some points where it’s like walking up huge steps (or down, which is worse). I understand why they say you can’t train for it now. It’s not just walking, you’re actively trekking, picking where each and every footfall should land. It’s a bit like trail running, especially when you’re moving a little more quickly going downhill. It’s fun, but it is tough.

Two days ago, me and Tangy made a wrong turn on the trail. We wound up hiking about 2.5 miles on this other trail called the Bartram Trail. It was terrible. We should have known we were on the wrong one, but we kind of ignored the signs. Anyway, 2.5 miles out, and then 2.5 miles back made for a long and terrible day. It was pretty frustrating, but I knew I’d have to roll with some punches. It’s actually pretty funny because we’re staying in a building called the Bartram building now. I can’t get away from that guy.

Yesterday included the most intense point of the adventure so far. I was walking along, and about six inches to the left of me, I saw the rattler of a snake. Needless to say, I got a bit scared and took a few steps backwards immediately. The rattle snake was probably about two feet long. Tangy came up behind me, and we began to plot how we can get around this thing. It was just slithering up the trail. After a couple of minutes, the snake got angry and started rattling. It was intense! Eventually he kind of went up the side of the trail, and me and Tangy ran past. It was a bit scary, but they are really neat creatures.

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The past five or so days since the last update have probably been the toughest for me so far, mostly due to the aches and pains. But there have been mostly awesome times so far. I camped next to a waterfall one night, I met a few other cool people, I got interviewed by some kid for his class, I’ve ate a lot of ibuprofen, I saw that snake, and I passed a couple of huge milestones. Firstly, I made it out of Georgia! And secondly, I made it into the triple digits of mileage atop Albert Mountain. I’m currently at about mile 137 or so. So it’s been awesome, I just hope my legs start feeling a little bit better! 🙂 Here’s me at the Georgia/North Carolina border.

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Trail Update # 3 – The Smokies and Hot Springs

Hello all! I have made it through the Smoky Mountains to the nice little town of Hot Springs, North Carolina. A lot has happened in the past week or so, and I haven’t had any access to internet or anything in that time, so I’ll try to recount all I’ve seen (including my first bear!).

After taking the zero at the NOC (a zero is a day off), it was pretty tough to mentally get into trail mode. But after about a day, I was right back into the swing of things. What also threw me off the first day back on was the fact that I saw three cows and two little baby cows on the trail! I was not the only one who saw them, so I know they were real. However, no one has really seen cows on the trail before, so we were quite a bit confused.

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So after the whole cow encounter, I made my way into what is considered one of the tougher parts of the AT – the Smoky Mountains. The entrance to the Smokies is kind of cool. You go over Fontana Dam. I got a taste of some Trail Magic at the Fontana Dam Visitor Center. I was waiting around ‘til about 10am in order to pay a visit to the snack bar at the center. Unfortunately, the lady who runs it decided to not work that day. So this nice old lady who worked at the information booth gave me some Vienna Sausages (first time I ever had them – delicious), and an apple. She was awesome.

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My five or so days in the Smokies were a bit of a mix I’d say. Terrible weather for most of the time didn’t allow me to see a lot of the nice views in the park unfortunately. A lot of really awkward stairs, bureaucratic restrictions (have to get a permit, sleep in shelters, etc), a lack of decent springs, the fact that I ate a bite of ‘cured’ pork that was actually raw, and the weather were the bad points. However, there were some really awesome high points in the Smokies. On my last day, I got a few awesome views where I just spent some time alone to look at it all. It’s strange to realize how small we are when we look out over such an expanse of land. It’s a powerful feeling, and one that I may touch upon in another entry sometime down the road. The other big highlight of the Smokies was that I saw a bear!!! I saw it from about 70 feet away, and I think it was only a cub, but hey – it still counts! He ran toward me about five feet before hopping off the trail and up into the woods. I didn’t have time to take a picture of him, and I didn’t see him again as I walked down the trail. Not the most exciting sighting, but it was a really neat experience. I also met a really cool dude named Cedric who I hiked with for most of the Smokies. So I must say, those highlights were definitely enough to counter the lower points of the Smokies.

After leaving the Smokies, I stayed a night at a place called the Standing Bear Farm. This is one of the most unique places I’ve ever seen. It’s run by a guy named Rocket, and it’s really just a complex of about eight small shacks. There’s a privy, bunkhouse, laundry room (washboard/hand laundry), kitchen, beer shack, supply house, and shower house. It is hiker heaven pretty much. I got in there early that day so I could relax and drink some beers and eat tons of food. That’s one of the really neat things about the trail – the hostel life. Currently, I’m staying at a place called Elmer’s. It is much different from Standing Bear, but I like it all the same. Elmer owns an old Victorian house on the main street of Hot Springs. He cooks breakfast and dinner every night for his tenants, and he has books galore and a music room. This morning I had breakfast with everyone, then listened to music for about an hour. Elmer is a special guy. After teaching Eastern Religions at Duke, he hiked the trail in ’76, then moved to Hot Springs where he started working at the hostel. He’s been doing this for over thirty years! He’s a really neat guy, and it’s been a pleasure staying at his place.

One last image/story I want to share. Two days ago, I reached a bald called Max Patch. Me and Tangy camped at the base of it in order to watch the sunset and sunrise. The sunset may have been the most awesome thing I’ve seen so far. I took some pictures, but they do it no justice. I’ll share them anyway, but there is something lacking in them. It was an awesome experience – take a look, it’s beautiful.

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And here is one of the sunrise before I set out for a 20 mile hike to Elmer’s:

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It’s hard to describe all the people I’ve met, all the sights I’ve seen, and all the feelings I’ve felt out here. I’m still trying to internalize them and understand them myself. But hopefully these images and stories so far have given you all a little insight into my trip so far! It’s been an absolute blast, and I still have about 1900 miles to go! 🙂

Trail Update #6 – Damascus to Pearisburg

So tonight is my last night at home before heading back to the trail. It’s a little bit tough to leave home, but I’m excited to get back on the trail. The past four or so days have been amazing. Not only did I get to eat tons of awesome food, but I got to spend time with all of the awesome people in my life. As I mentioned, Friday night was my parent’s 35th anniversary celebration. My friends Megan and Bill also had their first child on Friday – she’s a beaut. And Saturday night was my friends Dan and Natalie’s wedding day. Both were truly special. I want to write more about those events, but I’ll hold off on them for now. You’ll get that post in a few days or so.

The 150 miles or so from Damascus to Pearisburg are a little bit of a blur at this point. I was pulling some of the longest days I’ve done thus far on the trip. Most days were around twenty milers, give or take a few miles. It feels good to be hauling out some longer miles, but it does take its toll on you, both mentally and physically. It’s also starting to get much hotter out there, which means I’m much sweatier and much smellier (kind of hard to do).

But besides the longer days, a few fun things stand out from my last two weeks or so of hiking. I met some cool people along the way. I’m still trying to hunt Tangy down (one of the reasons I was pulling longer days), but always great to meet new people. Greenland (see picture below), Hotshot, Wash, and Boo Bear were probably the people I hung out with most on this leg of the journey. Greenland wanted a picture of us before I hopped off the trail. I think I’m getting pretty good at taking these self-photos! All my Beard Chronicle photos are selfies, and I am impressing myself with my accuracy!

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Hopping off the trail for these four days puts me a little behind this new crew of friends, but I should be able to make some hay and catch them up fairly quickly. Hotshot (hilarious name by the way – she’s not as high and mighty as her name makes her sound though) is hopping off the trail for a quick return home in a few days, so I should be able to catch her up fairly easily, although she hauls like crazy.

I completed my longest day so far on the trail during this leg – 29 miles. I must say, I was pretty drained at the end of the day. But there is a reason I walked 29 miles in the first place. And yes, the reason is food, specifically pizza! I wish I had taken a picture of this pizza, because it was the hardest I’ve ever worked to get a meal. There’s this shelter that is right next to a park visitor center. And the trail angels at the visitor center are nice enough to put a phone outside along with a big binder of restaurants that will deliver to the visitor center for hikers. Obviously, this is big news for hungry, tired hikers, so everybody knows about this place. I had originally planned on doing only about 18 miles that day, but the call of the pizza was just too strong. I found myself picking up the pace throughout the day as the small thought of pizza in the back of my head eventually consumed all my brain power. I was pretty much a zombie by the end of the day, but the pizza was well worth it. I ate all but two slices for dinner, and the final two made a nice little breakfast in the morning. Yes, disgusting, but disgusting in the most delicious way possible. Pizza Quest 2013 was a grand success.

I hiked a day or so in the Grayson Highlands, where there are these “wild” ponies all over the place. I did not have too extensive of a conversation with them since I didn’t see a ton of them. And the ones I did see either ran away from me, or tried to eat me, and I ran away from them. This crazy guy was the first one I saw. Right when he saw me, he walked right up and just started attempting to eat anything on or around my body. It was unreal. I tried to feed him some grass, but he didn’t want that. He just wanted to eat my shirt. At that point, I decided I’d rather keep my shirt and I kind of ran away from him as I kept the rabid beast at bay with my hiking pole. It was all quite amusing, but not what I was expecting from the ponies in the park. Boo Bear encountered the same pony an hour or so prior to me, and it did the same thing to him. He got a great video of it all though as he ran away from the creature. Someone might need to put that horse down, he’s a man eater.

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It’s late now, just hit midnight. My plan of an early sleep tonight was foiled by my lack of energy earlier in the day. I need to wake up in a few hours to get on the road. My past two days of partying caught up with me today (especially last night at the wedding – things got a little too crazy, but I think I crushed the dance floor), so apologies if this post is somewhat lacking in creativity and overall entertainment value. The civilized life has blunted my mind, so I’m excited to become an unkempt and free thinking hiker once again.

As I mentioned, I’ll have another blog post in a few more days. I want to share some thoughts on all the awesome events that happened over the past few days after I’ve given it all a few days to sink in. Check out the plants and animals page and the Beard Chronicles as well. We got another bearded man up on there now – the Steve!

Have fun all, I’ll talk to ya soon!

Edit/Addition: A couple of things I failed to mention. In Damascus, the day before I left, we partied in some Mexican food restaurant – but the funny thing is is that it was closed. The reason they were closed is because a few brothers own it and they were just hanging out and partying in there. Somehow, Party got us in and we just hung out for a couple hours with these three completely  bombed dudes (they went golfing earlier).

And the other thing is that although my father has stopped calling me Chef Boyardee, I cooked up some awesome pizzas at the Woods Hole Hostel the night before I returned to Mt Laurel. This hostel is pretty awesome. Every night, they have a communal meal in which all the participants do some prep work for the meal. So I was the chorizo and pepperoni cutter and the cheese man. I was dropping some awesome culinary terms – “so… should I cut this pepperoni on a bias?”

Trail Update #20 – Stratton to Baxter

Hiking out of Stratton, I hung with Munchies for the next few days. I may have mentioned, but Munchies was the first other thru-hiker I ever met. On my third day down in Georgia, I also met Tangy, Cannon, and Lady. Munchies just sent me this picture – there’s Lady, me, and Munchies on the day we all met. Throughout most of Georgia and into Tennessee, I hiked a lot with Tangy and Munchies. So it was cool to be hiking with Munchies again. The only thing missing was Tangy Booch Magoo.

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The next few days were beautiful – more swims in lakes, beautiful sites, and the changing of the leaves. Maine really is a beautiful area even though it’s tough. I remember before I got there, I was talking with some Southbound hikers, and I asked them what Maine was like. Their response was something along the lines of, “Well it sucks when you’re climbing the mountains. All you do is ask yourself why the hell you’re doing this. But then when you get to the top, it’s like ‘Wow,’ and it makes all the hard work worth it. It’s beautiful.”

And I couldn’t agree more. It is just so beautifully wild out there. Sometimes it is difficult to imagine vast tracts of land that have been minimally touched by the push of human progress – but they are there, and they are amazing. It is a powerful view to look out over forest and hills and not see roads cutting scars across the land. It’s powerful to know that this is what the world really is – it is not cars and buildings and schedules and presentations. The real world is something far more awe inspiring and spiritually massive than anything we can imagine sitting inside a home or an office. There is a feeling of stewardship that arises when you look out over the wilds. Because although we can do what we want with the land – we can lay roads, cut trees, mine ore, and build towns –  it is not ours to do as we wish with. And we can feel that in some moments, when we see ourselves as peaceful individuals on a hillside – when we are integral with the rest of the world.

But that’s off topic, so back to the updates! A couple of days before getting to Monson, one of the highlights of the whole trail occurs – the crossing of the Kennebec River! Unlike all other river crossings, the Kennebec must be crossed by boat – and by boat, I mean canoe. Twice a day, for a couple hours each, there is a guy who picks up hikers on one shore and brings them over to the other. It is the official AT route, so it’s a pretty unique experience on the trail. I got to the south shore of the Kennebec at about 8:50 in the morning, ten minutes before the ferryman was scheduled to begin his trips. A few minutes later, I saw a guy pulling out his red canoe and paddling over to me:

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This man was quite a character. He goes by the name Hillbilly Dave. He said he’s been doing this for about seven years now, and he’s only lost two hikers, one dog, and a bag of beef jerky to the raging Kennebec (just kidding – he’s never lost anyone or anything). Another hiker strolled up just as Dave was coming up, so we piled in and shoved off for the far shore. I got to help Hillbilly Dave out with the paddling which was awesome. The water was real calm, so it was an easy trip across. There is a dam upstream though, so Dave said it can get a bit choppy sometimes. Here’s Hillbilly Dave talking to that other dude who was in the boat with us:

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That was definitely one of the cooler modes of transportation I took while on the trail. After crossing the Kennebec, nothing too exciting happened until I arrived in Monson. Monson was a pretty cool little town. I stayed at the Lakeshore House Hostel – one of my favorite hostels on the trail by far. An awesome lady named Rebekah owns it, and she is a jack of all trades. I think she does everything in that place besides the cooking (it’s also a bar/restaurant downstairs). She tends bar, waitresses, and keeps up with all the necessary chores that go along with being the hostel keeper. Needless to say, she was a busy bee. She was also a pretty angry busy bee. The few days prior to my arrival, there was a three day hiker party that was made up of some not too kind folks. Admittedly, hikers can be an inconsiderate bunch sometimes, and it sounds like that’s what happened during that rager. So Rebekah was a bit fed up with hikers by the time I got there. But luckily that would all change soon.

I got my room assignment, picked up my pack, and headed upstairs for the hostel. As I climbed the stairs, I see none other than Tangy Booch Magoo sitting on the deck. I didn’t think I’d ever catch back up to Tangy after he jumped ahead to Dalton, MA. But lo and behold, there he was, bumming around in Monson, ME – the very last town on the trail.

Needless to say, that night was a pretty neat reunion. Munchies got in a couple hours after me as well as some other friends. Me, Munchies, and Tangy had a blast reminiscing about the early part of the trip. The crew of hikers staying at the hostel was also a good crowd, and Rebekah got into a much better mood by the end of the night. It pretty much turned into a party at the bar with Rebekah playing the part of gracious host. The beers flowed, the food was delicious, and the jokes were plentiful (A skeleton walks into a bar and says, “Give me a beer… and a mop.”) We closed down the bar and then headed upstairs to the hostel. Before we hit the hay, Rebekah came up to the hostel quarters and told us that we had restored her faith in hikers. Most of it was thanks to Tangy who can get anyone to like him. But hey, I’ll take some of the credit too. It was good to hear that from her though – it really was a great day and night. Here’s a couple pictures from that day:

This is the backyard – it was obviously right on the lake, therefore the name Lakeshore House.

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You can take kayaks out onto the lake whenever you want. I took a kayak and a beer. 🙂

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Here’s a really bad picture of Munchies. Tangy got cut off, but that’s half of his face on the left. Tangy cannonballed me off of the dock as I was brining my kayak back into shore. It was a pretty good move.

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So the next morning I hung around town for a bit. Tangy and Munchies were zeroing that day – it was a tough place to leave. I had my sights set on Katahdin though, so with a goodbye and the hopes I’d see my friends before the end, I hitched a ride back to the trailhead and took my first steps into the 100 Mile Wilderness.

The 100 Mile Wilderness was pretty neat. It was flat which was great. But it was pretty rocky and root, which is never that great. For about half of the Wilderness, I hiked with a guy I never saw before – this dude named John. John was a good dude. We shared a couple trail magic beers and a few days hiking. It was cool to be near the end with him, especially because he started his thru hike in February! He has been on the trail a long long time. Most of his delays happened from trips home (son broke his arm, had to get his dog, then return his dog, etc). So his time on trail wasn’t all that long, but his thru hike time was obviously very long. At first I though he was a little insane because he had a cackle like a maniac. But he didn’t kill me in the middle of the night, so I decided he was a cool dude.

But for a lot of the time through the Wilderness, I was alone. It was strange to be getting so close to the end. Over the last few days, I could see Katahdin in the distance:

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It was a sad feeling to be in sight of the end, but it was also exhilarating. The last several days were a time to reflect on the journey as a whole, the people I’ve met, the places I’ve seen, and the experiences I will remember. Even now, it’s a difficult feeling to explain. This experience has been unlike anything I’ve ever done. But I’ll get into more of that later! Katahdin looming before me was a beautiful image – and one that I have frozen in my mind, but one that I knew I had to continue to push toward. So on Saturday, I finally made it into Baxter State Park, the home of Mount Katahdin.

The hike on Saturday was one of the easiest of the trail. I only hiked about fifteen miles to Katahdin Stream Campground, right at the foot of Katahdin. There was one treacherous area in the park though which I remember fondly. I had to ford a branch of a decent sized river only about three miles from the campground, and the river was raging pretty good. I looked up and down the shore for somewhere to rock hop across – no luck. I looked up and down for a good place to ford the river – no luck. There was no way I was going to take the high water trail around the river, that would just seem cheap after I’ve walked the whole trail from Georgia. So I decided to ford it. In Maine, you ford a lot of rivers, but for most of them, you can get away with just rolling up your pants and putting your Crocs on. This was not one of those. Even with pants rolled up, they would have gotten soaked. So I went just in my undies. I suppose I could have gone in the nude, but I think some other hikers would have frowned upon that. And if I took a spill during my fording, I didn’t want to be a nude man floating down the river. So I went across, very carefully, in my undies. My first successful pantsless fording! I was quite proud of myself, and rewarded myself with a snack on the far side of the river… in my undies.

And with that, I arrived at Katahdin Stream Campground, my home for the very last night on the trail. Patches had reserved a lean to for me for the night, so I didn’t have to deal with the Rangers who I couldn’t find anywhere in the park (thanks Patches!). So after checking out my little lean to, I walked out to the front of the campground where I’d be meeting Mom and Dad. We’d head into town for a bite to eat before they’d have to drop me back off at the campground later that night. They would be hiking up to the top of Katahdin via another trail the next day. We would meet atop the peak to celebrate the end of my journey – the end of 2,185 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine.

 

Trail Update #21 – Mount Katahdin

I had a pretty tough time sleeping the night before summit day. It was a strange feeling to know that tomorrow would be the last day of the hike. I’d walk the last five miles to the top of Katahdin, and that’s it. I’m done up there – I’ll have become a thruhiker. I’ll have walked from Georgia to Maine in five months. I’ll have visited tons of places and met some characters. And at the top, it’s done – it’s all over.

So I woke early and began my hike around 7am. The hike up was great. Climbing Katahdin is pretty tough, but it’s a very fun trail. As you climb, you can just turn around at any time and have an absolutely gorgeous view of Maine:

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Crazy looking shadow in this picture:

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I took my time on the climb up. I wanted to cherish the last climb and the last five miles. It was pretty quiet on the way up the mountain except for when I passed a couple of day hikers. They were two girls about my age. One had clearly hiked Katahdin before. The other had clearly not hiked much in her life. When I first approached them, the novice was having a complete mental breakdown. “What?! How do people climb this thing! How do people get down!? This is insane!” She said all these things between tears. Her friend was helping her out with advice on where to put hands and feet and such. I thought it was overall pretty hilarious. I kept an eye on them as I climbed up – they survived.

The last mile or so of Katahdin is actually fairly easy. The mountain tabletops after the steep climb. Although I enjoyed the relative ease of the hike, it also gave me a clear view of the summit, and of course, the end of my journey. Here’s the tabletop:

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As I made my way across that last mile, I came upon Thoreau Spring. I had seen that name so many times in my guidebook looking at the last page. It is the final landmark before the summit. Upon passing the spring, I realized this was the end. I had no more landmarks to hit, nothing else to stand between me and the end. I hiked with my head down intentionally across the tabletop. I did not want to see the end. I didn’t want it to end. So I kept my head down, and my legs moved mechanically forward. I hoped that somehow this wouldn’t be the end. My mind wanted to go back to the beginning, I wanted to relive it all. But the body continued forward – very slowly, but it went forward, toward the end.

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About 200 yards away, you can clearly see the signpost that marks the northern terminus of the AT. I ran into my buddy John here. He was just coming down from the summit. His thruhike was complete. My mind was racing so fast that I didn’t tell him to come back up and hang out. I had a celebration drink that I wanted to share with someone up there. But next thing I knew, I was shaking his hand, and he was heading back down the mountain. And I continued up the last 200 yards.

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I didn’t feel a ton of emotion upon reaching the end. I didn’t want to touch the sign post yet. I felt that would be my symbolic end. So I mozied around the summit for a minute before approaching the sign. I reached out and touched it, and that was it – that was the end. A day hiker asked me if I had just thru hiked. “Yup, this is the end. I’m done.”  And just like that, I was no longer thru hiking. There were a lot of day hikers on the summit, but I needed some space by myself. So I walked a short way down where I sat alone.  As I think is natural, I thought over the whole trip and how amazing it was. It seemed like the whole trip ran through my mind in a minute, and I missed it already. To get off the sadness, I took out my phone and snapped this picture:

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I sent it to D, Matt, and Paul with the caption, “Harry, I’ve reached the top!” As I waited, a couple friends came up to the top and we hung for a few minutes before Mom and Dad made it to the top! They had hiked six miles to the summit (not the three miles we originally thought it was). So they were hurting a little bit, but they made it! It was great to see them at the top.

I opened up my celebration drink and we all had a couple of swigs (well, Mom had one, and immediately got a headache). After some more pictures and some more swigs and some more talking with buddies, I ran out of ways to postpone leaving the summit.

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So with a last glance back, I headed down off of Katahdin. We had another six miles back down to the car, so it was a full day of hiking. Mom and Dad did an awesome job. There was a mile stretch of very steep, loose trail that was tough hiking.

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They gutted it out though, and we eventually made it back to the parking lot. With the hiking done, it was time to celebrate!!!

We headed into Monson where we’d be hanging out the next two or so days. The first night we were all pretty drained, so we just did dinner and a couple of drinks. You have to realize that there is not much to do in Monson. We asked the B&B what we could do for fun, and the choices were:

  •  An antique tool museum (one hour away)
  •  Drive around trying to find a moose
  •  Indoor mini golf (across the street, but it’s never open)
  •  Movies (one hour away)
  •  Eat and drink (down the street)

Needless to say, we went with the eating and drinking. So that’s pretty much all we did for two days. But I was certainly not complaining! The cafe down the road was a neat place. They have thru hikers sign ceiling tiles which they then hang up. It’s pretty neat. Here’s my signature. I went with my full official trail name, “The Esteemed Stooge, Sir Charles Guilons.”

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The second night, we met up with Indy who had summited a couple of days before. It was his last night in town, so it was good to catch him before he left. I finally met his good trail buddy, The Voice. This guy was great. He was a hilarious German dude. We pretty much just hung and drank the night away while The Voice taught us some German words. At one point we were just repeatedly yelling ‘dri glaze’ (three glasses). Then we ripped a few shots of Rumpleman’s. There’s Indy in the middle, and The Voice on the left:

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The next night, Tangy and Munchies made it into town. They hadn’t summited yet, but they jumped into town about 15 miles before Katahdin for the night. They’d be summiting two days later. We had a blast that night. Here’s a bunch of pictures of us. That dude in the blue is some random guy named Scarecrow. He was a mess that night.

Me, Munchies, Scarecrow, and Tangy:

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Tangy and me:

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I saw Munchies signed his name on the blackboard in the bathroom. So I added the second part to the below picture. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to declare Munchies a stooge.

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I’m glad it all worked out that I saw most of my buddies before the end of the trip. That was one thing I really wanted to make a point of in Monson, and the main reason I stayed a few extra days in town. You make some good friends out there, even if you don’t know people’s real names! People open up a lot about who they are and what they want to be. And you feel like you’re a part of everyone’s journey out there, no matter how small. So to be able to say farewell to those guys before we went our separate ways was something I really wanted to do. The trail wouldn’t be close to what it was without those people. The sites are beautiful, and the towns are fun, but it’s definitely the people you meet that makes the trail so special. And these guys I got to see in the last few days were my best friends out there. So I am massively grateful that it all worked out that I could see them one last time before the end.

By the start of my last day in town, most of my buddies had left. Luckily, I ran into Trucker at dinner on my final night. He had just summited earlier that day. It was a pretty quiet night. We just hung at the bar and ate some food and talked about who knows what. Some crazy locals were being hilarious. They ate some of Trucker’s pizza, then we got out of there. After I said farewell to Trucker, I turned down the road toward the hotel I was staying at. There wasn’t a soul in sight, nor a car, nor anything. I walked home down the middle of the street for the hell of it. The next day, I flew home. My journey was done.

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