Sadly, I misplaced my last 8 days on trail. I had recorded them on my phone’s notes application, but when I reset my phone post-trail the note was inadvertently deleted. Here is the best representation of what I remember. So much for being ultralight, am I right?!
9/20/2018 2080.9 | Stealth Camp on a Logging Road
Mom and Dad dropped us off at the trail head for our second attempt of the Hundred Mile Wilderness (HMW) around 5pm. For those of you who don’t know, the HMW is a ~100 mile stretch of trail with no resupply point, no accessible town, and few roads (all of the roads are tolled, gated, gravel, and very long). We left with enough food for about ‘10 days.’ Estimating food for anything more than 7 days was hard for me on trail. Firstly, you’re battling weight. Each day of food you’re adding at least a pound, and if you’re doing it on the cheap its more like two or three. In addition, it wouldn’t all fit in my food bag even if it was only 7 days, and this was 10. Plus, food consumption depends on a few things: weather (if it’s cold and/or raining I usually eat less, even though it should be the opposite), distance (the farther I hike in one day, the more I eat that day), and sleep (the less I sleep the more I eat. Those are things you can’t really plan. You can say you’ll go 15 miles one day and end up feeling like going 20 or say you’ll do 15 and end up doing 7! You never know how your body will feel. Don’t even get me started on cravings!
Anyway, resupplying was an interesting task. Thankfully, we were privileged enough to have gotten to resupply at a real grocery store while we were home. I left with about 14 pounds of food and accidentally, in my nervousness and excitement, left my old filter and water bags along with a whole bunch of other stuff I didn’t need in my backpack. But I managed to forget my journal. I didn’t pack well, for the one stretch of trail on which I should have. But there was no turning back in this dead cell service zone… So, we marched forward toward the dark.
From the last time we hiked this 7 mile stretch I remembered about 3 places that looked like they would make okay camping sites. One near a pond, that turned out to be just a rock covered in a thin layer of dirt and grass. One on a tote road, too hilly. And one on a logging road, still on a hill but we managed. After trying two tent sites already and it being dark now, we decided to just share Miles’ tent for the night. We ate snacks instead of a full dinner since we’d only walked about 4 or 5 miles and then went to sleep. It felt good to be back in the tent. I slept well.
9/21/2018 2091.2 | Stealth Camp next to Vaughn Stream
It was a rough start for me. My pack was heavy, and I was going slow. We made it past the point where we had camped a little over a week ago on our first attempt of the HMW. I saw my memories flash before me. Our friends all passing our campsite while I lay in my tent nauseous. I felt a ping of loneliness. I wished I had just been able to push through, so that I could’ve finished with my friends. I regretted my decision to go home. But I needed to go home. I had to. It’s not like I had a choice. I started seeing all of these things I wish I’d done differently. I had to keep reminding myself that it was all part of life. Regrets. You can’t change the past, I told myself over and over as I walked. We forded a stream, a cold, cold stream. It was about 40º out. For thru-hiking standards, 40º was pretty cold. At this point, I hadn’t experienced 40º during the day in months, not since I was in North Carolina.
I deep breathed as I crossed the stream, Whim Hoff style, and tried to tell myself it wasn’t cold. We dried our legs with our Buff headbands and rolled our pants back down. Then we jumped up and down and pressed our shoes against rocks to try to squeeze as much water out of them as possible. We shivered off into the woods and kept walking.
Miles realized somewhere around here that he’d lost his Buff. It had fallen off of his trekking pole when he’d been walking. He freaked out, saying he was going to go back and look for it. We’d already walked five miles, how far back was he going to go? I asked him. He began to cry and tell me he didn’t know. That he was tired of losing his shit and being irresponsible (it was not the first thing he’d lost). He threw down his poles and took off back toward the stream we’d just crossed. Until he realized he’d have to cross it again. Miles hated crossing streams. The slippery rocks, the cold water, the wet shoes, it all made him nervous and he hated it. He cried and threw down his pack. He sat down on the side of the trail and raked his hands through his hair, still crying. I sat down with him and asked him what was really wrong. I hugged him and patted his back. I knew what was really wrong. It wasn’t about the buff. It was about the end. I was feeling it, too. I’d been feeling it since the day we left Harrison’s.
He cried and told me he didn’t want us to be apart. That he didn’t want it to be over. I teared up too. I didn’t want it to be over either. I did and I didn’t and that was the hardest part to reason with. He agreed. We cried together and ate some bars. He dried his eyes and I dried mine and we set off again, northbound on the trail.
We didn’t talk much this day. Just absorbed the trail around us. It was weird. The trail sort of felt different this time. It felt like coming home, but somehow it felt completely temporary, too. It wasn’t like in the beginning when you had the whole trail ahead of you and spring and summer were impending. Change and friendships weren’t abundant like they used to be. It was just us and the trail this time. And we were here to finish it.
It was weird that it had become chilly again and pants were a must. Thankfully, we’d gotten to go home and get our pants unlike most of the thru-hikers around us. I watched hikers around us, especially ultralight hikers, shivering day and night because they sent their base-layers or pants home.
We hiked over some uneventful hills and past the Wilson Valley Lean-to. On our way down the hill toward Barren Mountain, we came to valley where a river gushed by. We slowly crossed the rocky river and on the other side we found it. The PERFECT camping spot! Flat, next to water, plenty of woods for a cat-hole in the morning, few widow-makers in sight. I immediately looked at Miles and said, this is where I want to camp, it’s perfect! It was almost 4pm and we probably could have kept hiking. But I figured if I could binge some carbs tonight I’d be ready to go farther tomorrow and my pack would be lighter. He agreed, it was the perfect campsite. So, we set up.
A few hikers passed us while we made our dinner and marveled that we’d gotten a good spot! I was happy enough with my 10-mile day. I was going to savor the good camping now that I finally liked camping. It had taken me this long to learn to love it!
That night, a windy storm rolled in. It sprinkled on and off, but it was mostly wind. The whooshing breeze kind of scared me, but I was so tired and full of honey buns that I slept through most of it.
9/22/2018 2104.3 | Stealth Camp after Chairback Mountain
I woke up to a branch cracking off of a tree and landing a mere foot from my tent. It nearly scared the crap out of me! I woke Miles up, it was almost 8am. We laid in our tents and did our morning routine. It was chilly again, but the weather was beautiful otherwise. The wind had cleared away any clouds that had been there the day before. A clear, wintry sun peered through the faintly changing fall leaves. It was beautiful. I felt a ping in my chest of content, comfortable happiness. The pressure of finishing, the weight of my pack, my worries about the future floated away with the breeze.
We got up and ready slowly and began walking. We walked separately at first. I had as much caffeine as I could stomach and a few bars. Miles quickly sped ahead of me but I kept good pace. I listened to media on and off, but I mostly just tried to take in the physical power I finally possessed, the air around me, and the views from the little mountains we climbed. Over Barren I went alone. Somewhere on the side of the trail near one of the Chairback mountains I found Miles making a hot lunch. I stopped and made some cous cous with him. Hot lunch or early hot dinner was our thing now. We ate before camp when possible, so we wouldn’t have to worry about water as much. We used the calories we ate for dinner instead of sleeping on them. One hot meal could power me for another 2-4 hours typically.
We ate, leaning against a mossy rock, and talked about our podcasts and the day. We listened to some squealing squirrels and silly grouse clucking. Each breeze that swept through the trees reminded me to take deep breaths and enjoy myself. I avoided thinking about the end of our thru-hike the entire day.
As the afternoon came upon us we found 2100 written in pine needles on some moss. 2100 miles we’d gone, only 90.9 left. I got goosebumps and prickly rush that started a knot in my throat. Did I want to cry? I asked myself. I swallowed hard and stuffed the tears back down. I remembered all of those times I had wanted to go home. All of those frustrating moments I’d had. All the hangry times and the overtired times and the ‘I just need to get my bearing’ times. I suddenly felt dramatic. I felt like I had wasted my whole hike. This whole time I could have been having fun! I could have relaxed and let go! I could have been enjoying myself like the other stinky hiker trash!
No. I reminded myself. That’s not why you were here. You didn’t even like camping! I reminded myself why I had really come out here. To change. And change wasn’t easy or glamorous or fun or laid back. It was work and commitment and tears and mental breakdowns and mental breakthroughs. Change was learning to accept things for exactly what they were. Change was learning to be content instead of chasing happiness and expectations. Change was looking at myself and seeing truth, even in the harshest and meanest ways. Change wasn’t lollygagging in the woods with my friends. And that’s why I didn’t have a trail family or group photos or ‘fun’. Because I had a new me and a new perspective and a new lease on life. And that is EXACTLY why I was out here in the first place. But I’d still feel guilty about not having so much fun and ‘missing out’ on what other people got to have. But maybe, I had to remind myself, other people had a ‘change’ hike too.
As it began to get dark, we reached the next shelter. There were no tent spots left there and we had energy still. We kept pushing and looking for stealth sites in the woods. We were getting close to a steep downhill with Katahdin Ironworks (KI) Road at the bottom. KI Road was one of the only roads that accessed the HMW. It was locked at night but there was a lot of car camping around that area. I didn’t feel safe camping near it. Plus, camping was banned on the Pleasant River due to erosion (fine enforced). So we tried, in the dark to find a site before that.
Through the trees, something reflective caught my eye. It was kind of creepy. I went into the woods and found 2 tent sites from people before us. I turned around to shout up to the trail and tell Miles we could probably camp here. It was a bit of a hill, though. As I turned, I saw a hat hanging on a tree that had been chopped in half, the stump came up to my waist. It was creepy to say the least, but we were running out of options. At 8pm we decided to set up camp there. We shared Miles’ tent as the temperature dropped into the low 30º’s. I layered my ‘20º’ (more like 30º) ultra-light quilt and my 40º summer sleeping bag along with my jacket and long johns. It was cold, but we slept.
9/23/2018 2119.5 | Logan Brook Lean-To
We woke up on Miles’ birthday in his tent on a hill. Frost covered the tent walls in a thin layer of frozen condensation. We woke up around 8am, our usual, and were out of camp by 8:30am. No breakfast before we left camp because we just wanted to warm up. In the chilly morning we hiked together, keeping a fast pace. We crossed KI Road and got down to the Pleasant River. We got water, since we each had only a half-liter, and ate a quick breakfast.
Today was the day that we’d pass Gulf Hagas. Back in July my sister had hidden a note in a log-book box on the AT near Gulf Hagas. She’d sent me a photo of the box. That was over a month ago! Now we were finally there, and I crossed my fingers that a ranger or ridge runner hadn’t thrown her note away. I check each log box that we passed and in the third one we found her note! She wrote a little encouraging letter to us and it was so sweet. We were so close to the end now. I thought of all of the days on which receiving a letter like this would have been exactly what I needed to push through. It was one of the most thoughtful things my sister had ever done for me. I tucked the note into the plastic baggie where I kept my headlamp and batteries for safe keeping.
We moved on to the next river fording, the Pleasant River! The two of us rolled up our pants before we got the river to try to acclimate to the cold a little bit. My hairy hiker legs had goosebumps all over them. We sloshed through the shallow, cold river as quickly as we could without splashing (because splashing meant completely wet pants instead of damp cuffs). On the other side of the river sat a ridge runner named Gin Gin. She told us and another thru-hiker about Baxter State Park. How to get there, how to plan, reserving campsites, etc. We decided to reserve a campsite next time we got service, we were in a bit of a bubble.
After that we meandered up and over Gulf Hagas Mountain. On our way down toward the Sidney Tappan Campsite, we came upon a beautiful rock staircase built by trail maintainers. One particular rock had a large K painted on it with an arrow. The view was only partial and mostly covered by leaves, but you could kind of see Katahdin through those leaves. We hurried on, hungry for lunch in the cold afternoon. At the campsite I went down the steep trail to the spring. It flowed, but only slowly. I made a spout with a small leaf and a rock to get the water into my water bag. A skill I’d practiced over and over now, so much so I forgot to even mention I learned it!
We made lunch by the fire pit at the campsite and chatted with other hikers that passed. We didn’t know anyone anymore. Our bubble had passed us weeks ago. We briefly met a few flip floppers and northbounders as we ate. Once we’d packed up we headed up the next two mountains together. As the sun set, another hiker snapped a few photos of us on White Cap Mountain. You could vaguely see Katahdin in the background.
We slowly made our way down the the next shelter, Logan Brook, and found no campsites by the shelter. Miles went ahead to see if there were a few tent sites, as recommended by Guthooks 0.1 miles ahead. I went down and got us water.
Miles set up his tent for us to share again. I don’t know why I even bothered carrying mine! There was a little fire pit and we were in a birch grove. So I grabbed some birch bark and tried to get a fire going. Miles tried to help and, although he’s gotten a bit better since then, he just smothered the fire every time it got going. I eventually got him to give up and start boiling water for hot chocolate. I got the fire going enough to light one very small log. It was all I had wanted, really.
I figured it would be our last camp fire of the trail. We only had 4 more days left. It seemed like nothing now. We sipped our hot chocolate and put our toes near the flames. I checked my phone one last time before I turning it off for the night. I had service! An unexpected surprise. I called my parents and made plans with them to pick me up at Katahdin Stream Campground on September 28th at 3pm and updated them on our progress. We had a short conversation and I said goodbye one last time before I’d see them as an official AT Thru-Hiker.
We stayed up until 9:30pm and then snuggled into the tent together. I tried to soak it in. That night I got up to go pee around 2am. I forgot my glasses, as usual, and when I looked up at the blurry sky all I saw were twinkling, glowing little blurs. The stars were shining so brightly in the clear cold night sky. I knew it would be things like this that I’d miss. Standing in a birch grove, the most picturesque campsite we’d maybe ever had, on the side of a mountain in Maine with the sky humbly twinkling. I took a deep breath of the cold, sharp air and went back to bed.
9/24/2018 2135.8 | Stealth Camp near Jo-Mary Road on Cooper Brook (moose hunters, 1 beer…)
Another chilly day was upon us. A very light dusting of frosty snow covered the ground and the tent. We started with all of our clothes on, even jackets. Our first obstacle was a crazy pine tree blow down. But I didn’t even mind. The day was so beautiful! The leaves were starting to change, and little multi-colored maple leaves littered the trail. We skirted pond after pond and took the easy terrain slowly. Clouds began to gather, and we could see them closing in across each pond that we came around.
Just before 3pm we stopped to filter water and eat lunch. As we ate, the rain slowly came in. We hadn’t made it very far yet, though, and I wasn’t ready to stop. Plus, we had to keep moving if we wanted to make it to Katahdin on September 28th. My parents had a party planned for us on the 29th and if we didn’t make it by then, we’d be attending our own ‘summit party’ without summiting! Plus, I didn’t think they’d want to come pick us up again!
As the rain picked up, we went over our second to last ‘real’ mountain. We came to Jo-Mary Road, the other more popular access road (21 miles from the nearest main road still). It was still light out, but the rain had finally let up a bit. We decided to stop and make dinner by the road. We consulted the map on Guthook while we ate. I was tired but the sun was still out and it was the warmest it had been since we’d left Monson. The terrain was virtually flat from where we sat to Katahdin with the exception of one ‘mountain’ which was only 1500 ft. in elevation. My GPS told me I had 55.1 miles left to the summit of Katahdin. I decided to heed the advice of Gin Gin, the ridge runner we’d spoken to at the Pleasant River fording and make our Katahdin plan.
We had about 4 days left.
If we save the last day for only Katahdin, like Gin Gin had recommended, then we had 3 days to do 50 miles. That’s 17 miles per day. With the flat terrain ahead, we were certain we could do that. We decided we’d call and make a reservation from Rainbow Ledges, the last known cell service point before Katahdin. Abol Bridge was about 44 miles ahead and we could get some snacks there if necessary. Our food bags were getting pretty scarce already. It was hard to ration when you had hiker hunger! With a plan in place, I felt better. I could relax and enjoy the last couple of days on trail.
As we sat on the side of the gravel road, eating and consulting the map, a truck came speeding down the road. In the back we could see the head of a moose flopped over the side of the tailgate. It was followed by another truck, also with a moose. The camo covered boys driving stopped short and reversed down the road. Another hiker was coming out of the woods on the other side of the road as they passed. The driver pulled to a stop in front of the trail crossing. Opened their window and gave the hiker on the other side of the road a beer, told him to have a nice day, and sped off. Trail Magic tailored exactly to the moose hunting Mainer trope. I couldn’t help but laugh.
There was good camping here with water, so we decided to go back 1 mile to the campsites we saw and stay there for the night. Some other thru-hikers camped nearby but didn’t socialize with us. Their presence made me feel safer being near the road, though. We pitched both of our tents this night. It was so nice to have my own space again.
Once again, when I had to pee in the middle of the night I looked up at the sky. Clouds were rolling in and the moon shone through them like a dark gray halo. I laid down on the pine needle covered ground near my tent and looked up at the clouds moving across the moon and the stars. The wind was howling, a storm beginning to swirl above us. Tomorrow would be hard, I knew already. I went back to bed. Flat on my back like a mummy I cozied into my sleeping bag, counted to ten deep breaths, and I was asleep again.