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