Day 198: Mile 2067.4 | Bald Mountain Brook Lean-To
In the morning we packed up and then went up to get breakfast. As we waited we got coffee. I got the very last mug, it was a bit dusty but I didn’t think much of it. I was used to eating out of a dirty cook pot, who cared about a little dirt? I brushed off the rim of the mug and filled it with the strongest, black coffee I’d tasted in a long time. I only took a few sip, it tasted funny and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Harrison made us fruit-filled pancakes, a full dozen! He also brought out sausage, eggs, juice, and milk. More than enough for me, exactly enough for most thru-hikers.
We talked to the hikers who had come up the 0.25 mile blue-blaze from the shelter. They introduced themselves as Incubator, Sponge, and Photon. Over breakfast we talked about how different our hikes were. They told us they had only been hiking for a little over four months. I’d already been on trail for over six. I swallowed hard, feeling a little ashamed, but somehow also had the thought that no, seven months out here is EXACTLY what I needed. I thought back to when I started, when I told myself I’d probably be done in five months. How hilarious it sounded now that I’d gotten to know myself. I told them they must be so strong, that it’s incredible how fast they’ve gone. They laughed and said, “We’re strong? You’re the ones who have stamina! We could never stay out here that long!” I supposed it was true, mentally we might’ve been stronger in some ways. Physically, though, they’d definitely won.
But in that moment, yeah it took me this long, I realized that it wasn’t about ANY of that! It wasn’t about how fit I or they were, it wasn’t about how long it took or didn’t take us, it wasn’t about how far we went each day. It was about that fact that we were out here. That we were hiking the Appalachian Trail. That we were HIKING OUR OWN HIKES (which is such a simple description of something that was, surprisingly, hard for me to do).
Before we left, I went in to say goodby and thank Harrison. He told us another surprise, he was taking care of the whole tab, our friends Cal and Cindy didn’t have to pay for a thing. It was like triple trail magic. We thanked him for his generosity and went on our way.
We left Harrison’s feeling fresh and ready to punch out a good-sized day. We crossed the sketchy bridge over the stream and back to the AT. Luckily for the next few miles there weren’t any mountains. We made it to the Kennebec River quickly and the ferry operator took us across the wide river. Into Caratunk we walked. We stopped at the Caratunk House hostel so that I could call my parents. I got coffee and a milkshake. Miles didn’t really want to stop there but he sat outside and used the wifi. I spent my entire time there talking on the phone trying to figure out the logistics of the last two sections of our hike: Caratunk to Monson, Monson to Katahdin. We were so close to the end and it was, honestly, kind of hard to fathom. I started to take my time with everything. Even leaving the hostel that day. I was trying to upload a blog post, but the wifi sucked.
Miles grew increasingly impatient with waiting at the hostel. We wanted get through the next 18 miles today so we’d be closer to our original plan to summit before September 18th. I didn’t really care, for once. I usually clung to him, but today I told him to go ahead. The terrain looked simple, finally, and I was ready to do my favorite thing: listen to podcasts, cruise at a good pace, and smell the early fall air. The trail would lead us around the ponds of Central Maine and I was so ready for it. I paid my tab (coffee and a milkshake, both incredible) and started to pack my stuff. Miles and I left together but he quickly gained speed and dropped me on a small hill. I didn’t mind at all. I popped my headphones in and let the smile spread across my face. The sun was out, it was a bit chilly but it was sunny, and I was so happy to drink in the fresh air and hear the leaves crunch beneath my feet.
I breathed deeply and walked and listened. At some point I came to a trail head parking lot. Mioles was there. A nice woman was also there doing trail magic. I hadn’t seen trail magic in at least a week and somehow now I was getting it twice in one day. I realized, though, I didn’t really need it. Yeah it was free and most starving hikers would take advantage. But I had enough food, I wanted to let other hikers take advantage. There were so many hikers out here that didn’t have enough. I accepted a nice iced coffee and then moseyed on my way, leaving the trail angel to talk to the other hikers. I followed Miles for a little bit and we talked about the podcast I had listened to. How good the terrain was. Then I lost him again. I didn’t mind though.
I kept walking and listening rounding lakes and ponds, eventually catching Miles again. We saw someone waiting to spot a moose at a pond as the sun began to set. Just before the shelter we found people camped around the brook nearby. Butter was there! The poles were holding up for her! We found the perfect tent site and shared Miles’ tent.
A squirrel stalked me while I made dinner. It ran around and squealed at me from trees branches up above. I ate my dinner, keeping an eye on it. He quieted down at some point, but I knew he probably didn’t go far. We watched as the fast hikers rolled into camp and tried to hang their food bags. I got us water. We went to sleep early, ready for another big day tomorrow.
Day 199: Mile 2067.4 | Horse-Shoe Canyon Lean-To
I woke up angry. I don’t remember why. I wasn’t confronting my feelings. I wasn’t coping with the fact that this was the end. The end of the trail, the end of daily life as I had come to know it, possibly the end of every day with Miles, the end of an era. I was more upset than I ever expected, and I couldn’t express it. I couldn’t even confront it in my own mind. I didn’t even know why I was upset at first. I had a mental breakdown as soon as I woke up. Racing thoughts flooded my head and anger began to rage through my blood.
I took it out on Miles, the closest person. I got upset with him about the dumbest, irrelevant things and I don’t even remember the argument now. I couldn’t tell him what I was really upset about because I, honestly, didn’t even know. By the time I figured out that I was upset about the end, I was walking out of camp by myself crying. Miles slipped ahead of me and started climbing up Bald Mountain without me. I cried and walked and after a few minutes he was there waiting for me.
“Are you okay, Mi Amour?” He asked me. I shook my head, dropped my pack, threw down my poles, and slumped onto the side of the trail. He sat down with me. “What’s really going on?” He asked me to clarify. I couldn’t stop crying enough to tell him. Finally, I realized, it was because of the end. I told Miles how scared I had suddenly felt that morning. Maybe the speedy crew of northbounders we ate breakfast with had gotten into my head. Or maybe I had just been drowning out my feelings in podcasts, instead of confronting them. I vowed to confront my feelings in the future and to recognize when I was avoiding them. We talked it out and I realized, my whole life when I didn’t want to confront my fears or feelings I had buried them: in TV, or, more recently, in podcasts whatever that kept me busy and distracted. Recognize the signs, I told myself.
After I cleaned up my face and put my pack back on, we headed toward Monson once again. If we could do 22 more miles we’d be in Monson tonight. There probably wouldn’t be anywhere to stay and I desperately need a shower. I was also freaking out a bit about our 100 mile resupply for the Hundred Mile Wilderness (HMW)… We chose to just get as far as we could this day and do whatever was left the next. We had enough food to make it. The terrain was easy, and I welcomed the relief. I was tired and my back was starting to hurt again. Which meant I had started to think about things that made me anxious or stressed out again, the usual source of my back pain. At the lean-to that night we ran into Butter again. It was cold. I was drained, I spent the whole day thinking about my future, the end of the trail, anxiety and stress building over the course of the day.
That night, in my journal, I wrote down all of the signs I could think of. All of the distractions, or possible fog inducers as I called them, that could be indicators of me avoiding my feelings, fears, or problems. Television, music, podcasts, books, other people’s problems, overextending myself at work, etc. While some of those can be good things in moderation: if I’m spending more than 5 hours per day watching TV or reading a book, I might have a problem. I decided to limit my podcast consumption to 3 hours or less per day. While I LOVED hiking and listening to podcasts at the same time, I recognized that it helped keep me in a distracted fog and enabled me to avoid thinking about what was bothering me.
Day 200: Mile 2075.1 | Shaw’s Hiker Hostel @ Monson Maine
I woke up on day 200, exhausted and ready for some kind of fresh food, town food. As we approached town on easy trail, Miles said, “I think I see the parking lot!” at every corner. We were nowhere near it. We had fun, though. When we got to the road, I called the hostel where I had reserved us a bed. All they had left was one private room with a queen bed, they were almost booked up. It was supposed to rain today and tomorrow. It wasn’t raining yet. It was chilly, though.
They picked us up at the trailhead parking lot. While we waited for them I began making a list of all of the foods I wanted to bring for the HMW. My mind really went blank. All I could think about was town food! How had I been craving so many things I forgot to get at my last resupply all week and now, suddenly, I couldn’t think of a single thing I wanted to bring? I shook my head and started reading the educational signs in the parking lot. The hostel shuttle arrived after twenty minutes. When we got there we saw a lot of familiar faces: Murphy, Jackrabbit, Jukebox, and some others I hadn’t met yet. We checked in and got a room in ‘The Cottage.’ We showered and changed then went to the local general store/deli for food. The only restaurant in town was closed. We ate sandwiches and got coffee. I got a few things I didn’t expect the hostel would carry. After dinner, back at the hostel, we went to their resupply room. Honeybuns, Texas Cinnamon Rolls, Mountain House Meals (posh, I know), candy, bars, etc. I left the room still feeling unprepared. I wanted my pants back. I didn’t find any in the hiker box, but I did see a fleece. Good enough for me, I thought, and added it to my already overweight pack. While Miles napped, I did the laundry. I met some of the hikers sitting out around a campfire in the yard. I happily shared some ciders with them. When the laundry was done, I walked back to the general store and got another sandwich and one for Miles. While I was there I saw the unmistakable hat of Krafty! Blackbird and I ran and hugged each other. I was so excited to see them. I thought I’d never see them again on trail!
They came back to Shaw’s with me and we got Miles up. Krafty, Miles, and I played chess by the fire. Every chair around the fire was filled by a hiker, and another hiker stood for each one that sat. We all felt it. The end. It was the last hurrah. I’d never been one to party in town, but most of these hikers loved that stuff. I drank two ciders and that was enough for me. Miles and I turned in by 10pm. The rest of the hikers stayed up til at least 1:30am.
TMI WARNING By 11pm my stomach was roiling. I’d had strong, instant urges to poop over the last 24 hours, but they were short lived and I thought nothing of it. I didn’t eat that well on trail, I thought. By this point I was in agony. Sharp stomach cramps, hot flashes, and gurgling sounds took over. Every time I felt like I had to fart bad things came out. I spent the entire night running back and forth to the bathroom. By 2am I just stayed in the bathroom. Finally, around 7am things subsided enough to go back to my bed, but the stomach ache was not gone.