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?!
9/25/2018 2153.4 | Stealth Camp near Pollywog Stream
We woke up to rain and decided to sleep a little bit longer. When we woke again the sky was completely overcast. It was 10am. The clouds were about to unleash on us any minute. My tent was wet from light showers that happened in the wee hours of that morning. I shook it out, trying and failing to get water off of the outside. I rolled up the wet sil-nylon and stuffed into the outside pocket of my backpack.
I followed Miles back across Jo-Mary Road and we headed north on the footpath. We cruised through the rain and hardly stopped. I didn’t listen to music or podcasts. We didn’t talk too much. We just walked fast. I absorbed the cold rain into my goosebumpy skin. I smelled the fall leaves turning and that soggy leaf smell that comes with it. The raindrops hitting the dirt contributed their own earthy smell to the mix. We skirted ponds and across one of them Katahdin was normally visible. It was an iconic scene photographed by just about every thru-hiker. The storm, though, completely covered the mountain in clouds in fog. We couldn’t see it.
At Rainbow ledges the wind was blowing, fog surrounded us, and rain fell intermittently from the sky. I tried to reserve a campsite online with the little cell service I had, but accidentally made the reservation for the wrong night. My bare legs were freezing (I didn’t want to get my pants wet in the rain) and I couldn’t stand there and wait any longer. I called my Mom and she handled it. Thank God for Moms.
As the day went on, we reached Wadleigh Stream Lean-To. We stopped and ate some bars. We decided we were both ready to keep going. Our very last mountain (aside from Katahdin, of course) was next. I knew I had enough energy to make it over it. Plus, the further we went today the more relaxed our next few days would be. We pushed on into the dusk, aiming for a tent site two miles further away.
Absent minded with impending thoughts of the end, I forgot to look at the map to confirm. We summited Nesuntabunt Mountain as the sun fell behind the cloudy horizon. As we descended the pouring rain and dark made it difficult for me to see. My contact kept getting hit by rain drops in my eye and I was left blind in my left eye as my contact got washed around under my eyelid. I could barely see anything, and I kept losing the trail. The blazes were hard to see, even with my headlamp on, and cairns were non-existent. I began to get frustrated and exhaustion came over me quickly as I crashed from caffeine and sugar.
I snapped at Miles every time he asked if I was okay. I looked around every corner for that ‘3-mile campsite.’ Turns out it was supposed to be next to Wadleigh Pond Road. There wasn’t any camping near there. I was misled by a misread comment on another waypoint in Guthook. We kept walking. Finally, around 8pm we reached a campsite on Pollywog Stream. We both pitched our tents in the pouring rain. My tent immediately began to drip inside. The condensation in combination with the pouring rain and already soaked sil-nylon just couldn’t hold up. Miles let me share with him. His tent was dripping a bit from condensation, too. We mopped the walls with our Buffs (headbands/neck gaiters) and tried to sleep. Miles slept well, but I hardly did. My eyes hurt from all of the water that had gotten in them with my contacts in and I was thirsty. I didn’t want to go out into the dark stormy night to get water. I laid in bed all night and tried to sleep. I briefly fell into short spells of sleep, but mostly lay awake. Racing thoughts about the next few days consumed me.
What would Katahdin be like? What would going home be like? I spent so much money this year, didn’t I? I’m going to have to go back to working at Starbucks. I can’t bear to go back to Starbucks (the first time I had this realization). I need to make a transient life for myself (first time I had this realization, too). I need to move and be free. How the heck does one make money doing that?!
I had so many thoughts and questions and hopes and dreams and overwhelming feelings (some of which were a bit contradictory). What’s it going to be like to finally be done? Do I even want to be done? Who do I want to be after this? Is this me? Am I going to find some kind of new me in the ‘real world’? What is life? What is my purpose? How can I be independent and stop relying on my parents? What will I become?
You can imagine 9 hours of this, right? It was a long night. I think I also ate four snickers bars and a cinnamon bun during that time. Miles really will sleep through anything.
9/26/2018 2174.4 | Abol Pines
When we woke up and began to eat breakfast, Miles realized he barely had enough snacks to make it one more day. We were both really low. We had planned on restocking most of our snacks at the Abol Bridge store. We were about 20 miles away from there now. The terrain was pretty flat, we could most likely make it there tonight. We had hoped to camp at the last shelter in HMW on this night to avoid paying for camping at Abol Bridge. But our stomachs got the best of us. We decided to aim for Abole and bite the bullet on the camping fee at Abol Pines. Plus, I didn’t mind supporting our public lands.
We hiked fast through the rain on this day. It was gray and foggy. I listened to a lot of podcasts on this day. Trying to distract myself from the racing thoughts I’d had all night. I didn’t want it to end I realized. But I also needed it to end. I felt like I was stuck in some kind of limbo. I didn’t know where I wanted to be. I didn’t prefer the future where I’d be building my life or my present where I was finishing a journey I’d started. I also realized that this journey of the AT was so much more than the AT itself for me. It was a journey of growth. I getting to know myself and changing the things I wasn’t happy with.
The rain subsided sometime in the afternoon. I was down to one peanut butter Clif bar and a packet of hot cocoa. We cruised on empty stomachs to the last shelter. When we arrived at the empty shelter it was almost 4pm. We sat in the shelter and boiled water. The two of us shared the last of the hot chocolate. I was so hungry. But I saved that Clif bar just in case. The hot chocolate gave me new life. We got up, hopped around to warm up, and went back to it. We hiked our way over the flat ground to the road. The Golden Road, it was called.
We walked over Abol Bridge. It wasn’t quite what I had expected. A wide dirt road, like many around my home town, and a bridge with its own snowmobile lane, again, just like home. At the store, which was a complete rip off, I got some snacks for the night and an ice cream cone. We decided we’d come back in the morning for their breakfast buffet and stock up on anything else we needed then. Donuts, a chocolate bar, RedBull for the morning, and a beer for tonight. I was a happy camper, pun intended.
We went to the store’s restaurant and got some overpriced dinner. The restaurant was filled with other hikers. Ones we’d never met. Everyone we knew had either summited or quit by now, we assumed. Miles and I sat at the bar.
Before we went to camp at Abol Pines, the cheaper alternative to Abol Bridge’s camps and cabins, I practically showered in their bathroom sink. Gosh, I was nasty. Probably the third grossest I’d ever been. It’s amazing how quickly we all got used to it. I didn’t even notice the other hikers’ smells at dinner.
We went out to the campground across the street. In the dark, we could hardly make out anything. We put some cash in an envelope and dropped it in the mailbox. We were going to set up our tents but they were wet and gross and neither of us had any energy after the big day we’d done. It had been a while since we’d pulled a big day like that. We decided to try to sleep in the shelter and hope that no one wanted to share with us. It seemed like all the other hikers were staying up at Abol. Miles and I hung our tents in the shelter, blocking the windy evening air. I was cold. But not as cold as I had been in February, I kept telling myself.
We put our sleeping pads close together and huddled up. I sat in my sleeping bag and ate my donuts. We looked out over the river in front of us, the fall leaves framing it perfectly in the moonlight. I breathed in the night time air. This was it. Our last lean-to or shelter or whatever you want to call it! Our last ‘mountain’ aside from Katahdin was behind us. Tomorrow morning we’d enter Baxter State Park. We were literally 16 miles from the finish line.
What the actual heck. I never thought I’d make it this far, in all honesty, when I’d started. I also never thought it’d feel like this. I thought I’d be surrounded by a huge tramily and we’d all be freaking out and happy and having a good time. But it was just me and Miles, calm and quiet like we always were. In reality Miles was the best tramily I could have ever hoped for. He wasn’t some big rowdy group of hiker trash, but he was exactly what I needed.
We lay next to each other as the wind whistled through the trees that night. I had a hard time sleeping. I didn’t want to let this feeling go. I didn’t want to let this place go. Sometime in the middle of the night I got up and went out to the picnic table in front of the shelter. Just like back at Jo-Mary Road, I sat out there with my jacket on and my sleeping bag around my shoulders. I lay on the table and looked up at the stars one last time. I took a big, deep breath. I couldn’t absorb it all, I knew. But I tried like hell anyway. I wanted to feel this way forever: confident, accomplished, strong, loved, happy, ready for anything, ALIVE.
9/27/2018 2184.6 | Katahdin Stream Campground
We woke up to the most beautiful day we could have asked for. It was supposed to get up to 60º that afternoon and the sun shone through the clouds. It was a different sun, though, than the one we’d followed most of the trail. This sun was clearer, colder, less bright, somehow. It was more of a winter sun. We packed slowly, our tents almost dry.
Up at the Abol Bridge restaurant the pickings for breakfast were slim. Apparently, they didn’t have as much food at the ‘end of the season.’ I had some pancakes and yogurt, Miles opted for some bars in the store next door. After I ate I stocked up on snacks.
We packed up our bags and headed off into Baxter State Park (BSP). Along the way, I made Miles stop so we could take pictures every time we saw Katahdin. I tried to take it all in. I didn’t even want to be walking, I just wanted to sit next to the river we’d been following and take it all in. We hadn’t left Abol Bridge until noon, though, so we really didn’t have that much time to dilly dally. I convinced Miles to sit with me next to the river for a bit anyway. I was buzzing with anxiety and this other overwhelming feeling of nothingness. My body was so wound up and freaking out about Katahdin and the end that it switched to feeling nothing. I tried to soak in the sun and the breeze and the fall leaves. We ate by the river.
I fell asleep leaning against my pack. I was so exhausted. It was so many emotions. So many feelings to process. So much to think about. I couldn’t handle it with all of the walking too. Miles woke me up around 2pm and We decided to get moving. We walked the mostly flat path through BSP, skirting ponds all the way. When we got to Katahdin Stream Campground, the Ranger was out putting a new roof on a picnic pavilion with some forest service workers.
He motioned that he’d come down and help us in a bit.
There were other thru-hikers gathered around and we spotted Hodag! Do you remember him? The last time I saw him was in Virginia!He was so happy to see us together. The last time I’d seen him I hadn’t started walking with Miles just yet. It was actually the day before Miles and I started walking together! What a small world the trail could be sometimes. Hodag had just summited Katahdin and he was waiting for his ride into Millinocket.
We said goodbye to Hodag as the Ranger came down to help us. The ranger signed us in to our campsite and gave us red cards that would service as our permits to hike Katahdin tomorrow. He told us we had to leave no later than 10am to make it up and down in time for sunset. We promised we would. Miles and I got water from the stream, Katahdin Stream! Some of the best water I’ve ever tasted. Then we set up at our campsite, number 19.
Together we ate dinner at the picnic table, and we decided to go to bed early so that we would be well rested for Katahdin tomorrow. It was odd. I thought I’d have so many feelings at this point. But I just felt kind of empty. Maybe I had so many feelings that I couldn’t handle them all. Or maybe this was just it. We set up our tents in the gravelly campsite and began getting ready for bed. At a campsite across the way a group pulled up in their Eurovan Weekender, a van I would have loved to have and maybe foreshadow for my future. I watched as they laughed and set up their tents and got the van ready for sleeping. I realized as I watch them that people are out in the world living their lives while we’ve been out here and I didn’t even think about that this whole time.
Everything became overwhelming and empty and exhausting. I went to bed feeling drained. I didn’t want it to end and I wanted it to end all at once and all of the contradictory feelings were clashing in my head. It almost didn’t feel right being there without any of my friends. Of course, Miles was there, and he was my friend. But, you know, the people we’d started with, the groups we’d traveled with.
Tomorrow we’d climb the five miles up this mountain, five miles down, get in a car and go home. Forever. That would be that. How could it go from you’re about to walk all the way to Maine to yeah you’re just going to get in a car and go home because it’s over now? I wasn’t ready. But I also really wanted a shower and some town food…