I’m not sure if it’s by design, but the AT has a way of preparing a thru hiker to be done. And I’m not talking physically either. Yes, we are in peak hiking condition by the time we reach the climax of our hike, but even more so, we are mentally ready to finish the journey.
Of course I don’t claim to represent the thoughts and motivations of all AT thru hikers, but I’ve spoken to many recently who are of similar mind.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m still having a great time and enjoying the ride, but I’m starting to yearn for an end to this journey. And it’s funny how quickly my attitude has changed. Then again, that seems to be the nature of the trail.
Six months ago, everything was new and exciting, and each day presented fresh challenges. Then I settled into a groove in which I felt confident in my abilities and had a comfortable hiking routine. After a while, the terrain became less picturesque (ie Pennsylvania through Connecticut) and the challenges less appealing (heat, humidity, mosquitoes), but I persevered and was rewarded in the more northern states. When the weather cooled and the terrain improved, I fell back in love with the trail (around Massachusetts).
Most recently, though, I’ve been feeling conflicted. When I last wrote, I had been hobbling along the trail in Maine alone with a broken trekking pole. Later that day FedEx delivered a new pole to the hostel where I was staying, and the following day I did a 23 mile slackpack with Ambassador, Little Engine, and Timber (care of the folks at The Cabin in Andover). I’d always told myself I wouldn’t pay for a slackpack (my share was $18 for 3 shuttles), but I recognized that my body was worn out; hiking without a heavily loaded pack can make a huge difference (and did).
The following day the four of us hiked just a few miles before catching up to Lentil, Honey B, Vitamin C, and Ledge (among others) relaxing at Sabbath Day Pond (in picture). I know I’d said I had accepted being behind my friends, but let’s be real, I was excited to have caught up.
That night I stayed in a hostel in Rangeley with Lentil, drying out from an afternoon rain shower. The following day Honey B, Vitamin C, and Ledge made it to town, and we all rented a cabin and double zeroed at the Town and Lake Motel. At this point I was feeling anxious at the thought of finishing the trail but also anxious at the thought of delaying its end since I noticed that the more zeroes I take in a row, the more difficult mentally it becomes to go back into the woods to hike on. Can’t win either way. Alas.
Specifically, the challenging terrain and soggy weather have been gnawing at my morale. I do believe the trail in Maine should be classified as a temperate rainforest. It has rained at some point during 6 of my last 9 hiking days. And the wet boots and clothes have started to wear me down.
In fact, just hours after this photo was taken, it rained several inches. Not only did my tent end up in a pool of water (very glad to say that I stayed dry until the puddle got to be about 3 inches deep underneath me), but also I spent 4.5 hours splashing through a river of a trail and being pelted in the face by the downpour. I know it’s not the end of the world, especially since I was headed into Stratton to dry off (and dare I say zero), but it’s finally started to make me long for a warm, dry home to sit in and eat soup and root vegetables and baked chicken and drink hot tea. Trail towns are a great interim solution, but they’ve been feeling more like a bandaid recently.
As an aside, once it began raining, that babbling river above started raging, and it took a group of about 10 thru hikers an hour and a half to safely ford it (we’ve been doing a lot of fording since Maine doesn’t believe in bridges). Once they figured out the best route, two tall guys stood in the middle helping the others across. Can you believe that? The previous afternoon it had literally taken me one minute to cross…maybe 30 seconds even.
Once I got to Stratton – looking and feeling like a drowned rat – I caught up with Violet and Code Walker. Violet said that she didn’t know how many steep descents she had left in her. I completely understood because I similarly have near panic attacks on some of the harrowingly steep downhills of Maine. In the same breath, Violet had decided that she was going to have a positive attitude through Katahdin, even though she felt “done.”
I share that because I feel similarly. Maybe I’m not completely “stick a fork in me” done yet, but I am getting there. Yet I’m determined to continue to enjoy the ride to the very last.
In fact, this week I celebrated (and I do mean celebrated) two milestones: reaching the 2,000 mile mark and my six month trailiversary. (And, yes, that chalk numbering is the most official marker I could find.)
And please don’t be deceived by the tone of this post: despite being increasingly trail weary, Maine is certainly still surprising and exciting me. Of note, This week I’ve:
1. Climbed my last 4,000+ foot mountain until Katahdin.
2. Taken in some beautiful 360 degree views.
3. Been treated to generous trail magic (could’ve stayed for days! Had to pull myself away).
4. Tented right next to Pierce Pond (and fell asleep to the sounds of loons and wolves).
5. Been ferried in a canoe across the Kennebec River, which is the officially proscribed AT route.
And finally, after all of that introspection, here’s my update: today I made it to Monson – after waiting a couple of hours in my tent in an attempt to wait out rain showers once again, just for the record – where I’ll be zeroing before I head into the Hundred Mile Wilderness. Then from there, onto Baxter State Park and Katahdin…and (despite my protestations that I’m ready to be done) all the AT Withdrawal symptoms that will inevitably follow.