Hard work begets blissful joy.
There is little in life that is worth having that doesn't make you work for it, particularly in the realm of Mother Nature. Whether it is summiting a mountain, growing the perfect apple, conquering a rapid or safely raising a gaggle of hens, if it is done right, it won't be easy. Here's to many failures, a couple almosts and some cherished successes.
The 100 Mile Wilderness and The End
Right now I am sitting on the big, plush couch in my brother's den, in front of his oversized TV. It's a scene I dreamt of for so long.
On Thursday August 22nd, at 8:30am, I summited Katahdin. The whole crew was there: Gonzo, Maineiac, Yardsale, Mudmouth, and the triplets, Ocean Spray, Umble and Twilight. (To clarify for further reference: Umble and Twilight are twin sisters and have a twin brother who didn't hike. Ocean Spray and Umble have been dating for several years and the three soon collectively became known as the triplets to other hikers. We have been traveling around them since Virginia)
We had spent the past week passing through the 100 Mile Wilderness, which begins right outside of Monson. It took us a week to traverse this last, famously beautiful section. In that week we had only half a day of rain. Mudmouth, with her unwavering positivity, had been saying for several states that we had a week of sunshine coming. She said she knew it to be true because we deserved it. After a season where we rarely went more than three days between precipitation, we got a solid week of sunshine as we walked by half a million ponds and streams in the mossy, Maine forests.
Mudmouth, Yardsale, Gonzo and I arranged to have a food drop halfway through the week brought by a hostel in Monson. They told us a location on a logging road about halfway through the wilderness and gave us clues to find a two five gallon buckets with our food in them. This saved us from carrying a huge load of food over a long stretch of miles. Mudmouth and Yardsale had the forethought to include a bottle of whiskey in their drop. After picking up our food, the four of us began sipping as we walked and this was the spirit of the 100 Mile Wilderness. We were in a constant state of celebration and spent a large amount of time enjoying ourselves by sitting by streams and reading, fly fishing, or painting pondside.
After so much difficult terrain through New Hampshire and the beginning of Maine, we had finally passed into the flat stretch where the only mountain left was Katahdin. In the last days we were seeing several views a day of the mountain we had been headed towards for over five months. The day before we summited we popped out of the 100 Mile Wilderness at Abol Bridge, one of the most famous views of Katahdin. The nearby camp store was our last chance at real food on the trail so between the eight of us we bought them out of all the hotdogs, buns and baked beans and planned
to cook up a feast that night. Little did we know what was waiting for us.
We hiked into the Katahdin Stream Campground where the AT brings you to the base of the mountain. There is a shelter for thru hikers only, but it is far removed from the action and costs each hiker $10 to stay a sleepless night there. Thankfully, we arrived on a special night. There was a couple in the campground who had come across two shelter sites by donation and they were encouraging thru hikers to stay there instead of paying money. Besides providing a free place to sleep right near the trail, they also fed us! There was hamburger, stew, subs and all the picnic sides.
Just about the time we were ready for bed Ocean Spray's mother showed up with a whole other spread for food for us! Having built up an insatiable need for food over the months, we were pleased to eat more.
That night no one slept well. We all felt like a small child on Christmas Eve, sleeping at the base of the last mountain on the Appalachian Trail. Gonzo, Mudmouth and Yardsale hit the trail before the night was over, having to stop often and rventually wait for sunrise. Maineiac and I stuck it out until just before day break and set out just after 5am to head up Katahdin. Even after all the way we had come, it was still a strenuous climb. Once we broke out into the alpine zone it was all rock scrambling from there. It was a foggy morning and we couldn't see much of what was around us. Several times we thought we saw the iconic Katahdin sign before us only to find out it was not.
We reached the top so early that we had ample celebration time for just the thru hikers before the day hikers began to shown up. Half a million pictures were taken and champagne corks were flying everywhere.
Besides our group three other hikers also summited that day. Two were thru hikers, Garfunkel and Sundance, and the third was Sundance's girlfriend Michelle, who had hiked all of Maine with him. They reached the top about 30 minutes behind us and there right in front the the sign Sundance got down on one knee. The words were lost in the wind to those of us standing over to the side but from Michelle's reaction we knew the answer.
We knew the triplets would take a while to get to the summit because they had family hiking up with them, but we waited as long as we could in the chilly wind before we headed back down. Just below the summit, where the sign was barely visible, we crossed paths with them. The five of us burst out into song, singing "We Are The Chamipons" by Queen and we stepped to the side of the trail and have them high fives as hey passed. Ocean Spray's mom manned the camera with a huge smile on her face and Twilight and Umble's brother and friend just watched the strange scene unfold. It was one of the more surreal and favored moments on the trail for me.
We hiked back down to Katahdin Stream Campground and hitched a ride to Abol Campground to wait on the others to come down. Ocean Spray's mom had reserved two campsites for us all and when they got down the mountain she had yet another spread for dinner. Soon Maineiac's aunt and grandmother joined us with even more food. We cooked up our hotdogs and made jiffy pop over the fire and drank champagne. It was a bigger celebration than we could have asked for to commemorate the end of our hike.
The next morning my brother Evan came to pick up Mudmouth, Yardsale, Gonzo and I. We stayed the night in Millenocket and had a lazy recoup day. Then at 9:30 the next morning we set off towards home.
But first we made a stop at Maineiac's aunts house. Since the day I met Maineiac at Fontana Dam he had been talking about the pig roast his family was planning upon his return. We had finally made it, five months later, and Maineiac had earned his huge gathering. The rest of us hauled it down to southern coastal Maine, just outside of Portland, to His aunts house to join in the fun by lunchtime. When we got there we were showered with adoration by very member of his overwhelmingly large family.
We were also reunited with our friend Cinderfella, a French hiker who was headed south and crossed out path only a few days before. We had a great time t the last shelter on the AT talking to Cinderfella about our hiker and about his travels down from Canada to the trail. He was trying to hike or hitch all the way to Mexico to study ruins and when in Millinocket Maineiac's family spied him on the street. They picked him up, fed him and offered him a deal he couldn't refuse. They proposed that he should come to the coast with them, stay for a few days and then travel to Boston with the part of the family that was flying back to Texas, then take a bus to NYC to visit for a few days and finally fly down to Texas and stay with them as a French tutor for their children, using their house as a home base for his travels. This is how Maineiac's family is. They take you in and spit you out as one of their own.
His aunts house was a poster child of New England living and there was a gorgeous and wildly tasty spread of food. We played frisbee and drank beer and the triplets showed up as well.
From there we drove into Portland for coffee and continued on our way to New Hampshire to drop off Mudmouth and Yardsale. We arrived at Mudmouth's parents house, their temporary landing pad, around dinner time but only stayed for a few moments. Gonzo, Evan and I continued on to Brooklyn to drop Gonzo at his sister's apartment, stopping for a later dinner, and made it into the city just shy of midnight.
On the drive home Evan said that he felt like he had just taken part in the closing scene of a movie. A group of friends come together in the wilderness and eventually have to part ways: one hosts a farewell party in coastal Maine, two are dropped off in rural New Hampshire, another is dropped off in the bustle of New York City and then there is only one left, fading off into normal life once more.
For me, I think I am still enjoying the comforts of life in society a little too much to miss the trail just quite yet. The toilet flushes and there is always toilet paper already in the bathroom. I can shower everyday in a clean shower. The bed has a pillow topper mattress and two great pillows. Cold water comes out of a fridge full of food and I don't even have to treat it. It even rained and I didn't get wet.
I know I will miss it soon and already there are things I am seeing around me that I understand less than before. Most have to do with TV and the Internet. It will be an interesting transition that starts with the small things.
This is our first official view of Katahdin. We sat there for quite some time and looked at it.
Katahdin as you are crossing over Abol Bridge and into Baxter State Park.
A different angle of Katahdin. If you can't tell, by this point every time we saw Katahdin we had to stop and take a picture of it.
Our little group at the sign! Mudmouth and I (Rainbow Braid) up top. Maineiac to the left and Gonzo on the right and Yardsale below.
The most important picture every thru hiker takes!
The extended crew in Maineiac's aunt's back yard! Twilight up top, in the middle left to right, Me (Rainbow Braid), Umble, and Yardsale, and on the bottom left to right, Mudmouth, Maineiac, Gonzo and Ocean Spray.