I woke up on the shore of Eddy Pond soaked. It didn't rain. The moisture and humidity from being so close to the water turned to dew overnight and drenched my sleeping bag. I guess that's what I get for cowboy camping. No worries. This morning was already gloriously sunny, and later that afternoon I would be on the open summit of the Saddlebacks where I could dry my stuff off.
I had heard from SOBOs that the Saddlebacks were pretty tough, yet beautiful. Pretty soon after leaving camp, the grueling climb began. I say grueling, but in reality this had become quite normal for Maine. The funny thing, though, is that a few days ago at Height of the Land, I got to talking with gentleman who must have been in his 80's. He had thru-hiked the AT in the 70's and had been involved with trail maintenance in this area for about 30 years. He told us that the trail is much harder than it used to be. Back when he hiked it, the trail wandered through the swamps and logging roads, never reaching the rugged mountain peaks I now hiked over. That confirmed my suspicion: the trail is getting harder!
I laughed at this thought while climbing the steep and rugged mountain. Eventually, I reached tree line, and once again, the challenge was all worth it. The views were stunning. A few clouds still clung to the valley floor, not quite ready to say good-bye in this late morning. I looked back down the spine of the ridge and could see Eddy Pond, where I woke up a couple hours ago, far below. The fall colors were really starting to pop. So many oranges, reds, and yellows! Ahead, I could see the rest of the range, rolling like a wave in the sky. Way off in the distance, you could just make out a few hikers, giving scale to the enormity of this wave.
At the peak of Saddleback Junior, Seth Rogan caught up to us. We hadn't seen him in a couple of days so it was good to catch up. He began complaining about his knees. This coming from the guy who gave me a hard time for being middle aged AKA 30! Seth Rogan, you're the best. Gin Gin and I stopped for lunch here. We still had about 7 miles to hike, and on this terrain, it would probably take us close to 5-6 hours. It was already noon, and wanting to finish the day before dark, we decided our break would only be 30 minutes. This was also a great spot for me to dry my stuff, so I unpacked everything, spreading it out on the open slabs.
Gin Gin looked at me skeptically. "So you'll be ready in thirty minutes, right?"
"Yea, of course."
I spread my shirt on the summit post to protect us from the noon-day sun. The forecasted high was 74 degrees, but currently it was almost 90. So hot! We reclined in the shade, keeping track of the time.
Fast forward one hour.
I was still packing up my stuff. Gin Gin simply laughed, knowing all along that this would happen. Whatever. We enjoyed the long break, even if that meant we would probably be night hiking.
The next morning, I woke up with excitement. Today, I would pass two big milestones: 200 miles to go and 2,000 miles hiked! The day started off with a climb, of course. We reached the top and found a plaque commemorating the completion of the AT. This point also coincided with the 200 miles to go mark. In excitement, Gin Gin and I constructed a mile marker out of sticks, as so often seen on the trail at various milestones. We stopped to admire our creation and contemplate what 200 miles to go felt like. We didn't linger too long, though, since we still had a long way to hike that day.
We passed by the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain and began a horrendous descent to the valley. The trail basically followed a rockslide down the mountain. The trail was so steep that at times it was hard to discern what was trail and what was rockslide. The mountain also faced the sun. It was getting close to mid-day and, again, the temperature was in the low 90s. I was getting really hot, tired, and hungry. Descending that mountain turned me pretty grumpy, and I felt like I was starting to develop heat exhaustion.
Finally, we reached the bottom, where a river carved its way through the landscape. Vivid colors blazed the way. The water invited me to relax in its cool refreshment. I had to stop. I took off my shoes and socks, and went over the the narrow footbridge that ran across the river. Inverting myself over the edge, I lowered my head into the river like a duck. I can't describe how good the cold water rushing over my head and shoulders felt. This is exactly what I needed. We lingered by this oasis for a long time, eating lunch and cooling off in the shade. I couldn't believe how hot it was for being late September in Maine.
Again, our lunch break lasted much longer than expected, but it was so needed. Refreshed, we grabbed our packs and headed north, excited to reach the 2,000 mile mark in a few more miles. Just across the river, nature threw us some epic trail magic in the form of fall foliage. Soaring into the heights, a majestic maple boasted the brightest red leaves I have ever seen. I didn't even know that leaves could be that red. It seemed as if all the magic of Maine lived within its fiery fingers. We marveled at the spectacular beauty for a few minutes before pressing on. A few hundred feet further up the trail, more trail magic awaited us. Someone had left a Coke for hikers. We happily received this trail magic, deciding that this, along with my bourbon, would make for a perfect celebration for the upcoming milestone.
As 2,000 miles grew closer, so did our excitement. To celebrate the last of the 1900s we listened to Now that's What I Call Music that was released in 1999. We sung our way through the forest. And then around a bend were a group of sticks arranged around a heart that spelled out 2000!
Two thousand miles!
I couldn't believe I had actually hiked 2,000 miles! Emotions, known and unknown, overcame me. Happiness. Excitement. Relief. Pride. Sadness. Pain. Yes, sadness and pain. While I was beyond excited for having come so far, this milestone served as a stark reminder that soon this would be gone. I was beginning to feel a sense of loss.
Gin Gin and I sat in front of the 2,000 mark. I pulled bourbon out of my pack. Gin Gin pulled the Coke out of hers. We sat here, on the ground, sipping bourbon and Coke for nearly an hour an a half. Evening turned to dusk. Over the course of the last few days, conversations slowly started to turn more and more toward post trail. Sitting in the fading twilight, we reminisced about our trail experiences, sharing what we learned about ourselves. We also hinted at fears of the unknown. Would we revert to the people we were before the trail? How would we adapt back into a society that knows nothing of our journey or experience? Is it possible to live this freely again?
Twilight faded into night.
We shared one final shot of bourbon.
We had a couple more miles to the road crossing to Stratton where we hoped we would be able to catch a ride into town at dark. I'm not sure if it was the buzz of bourbon or the buzz of excited emotions, but we flew down the mountain (in the dark), this time jamming out to Now this is What I Call Music that was released in 2000.
We made it to the road well after dark. How would we get a hitch into town on a remote road at night? But as I had spent the last 2,000 miles learning, the trail always provides. Soon, a woman and her two kids stopped and offered us a ride. Riding in the bed of the pickup, I leaned back on my pack watching the stars overtake the night sky. Low branches rushed overhead, giving the illusion that the stars were moving, when in reality it was me.
In town, we discovered that both the hotel and hostel were full for the night. Not giving into despair, we headed across the street to the only place that looked open: a bar. Fortunately the kitchen was still open. Keeping to tradition, I ordered, and promptly consumed, a large pizza and two beers. While eating dinner, Gin Gin and I started chatting with the bartender. We told him of our predicament on not having a place to stay.
He leaned over the bar. "Hmm, I know for a fact that's not true. I work at the hostel. Let me call over there and see what I can work out."
A couple minutes later, he informed us that he secured a room for us for the same price as the bunks. We would get to sleep in much more comfortable beds in a much quieter setting and not have to share a bathroom with 10 other hikers. The trail always provides!
Feeling refreshed after a shower, I lay on my bed listening to the first few rain drops of a vicious storm pelter the window pane.
As my friend Bean would say, what a day to have a day.
I am a filmmaker. I am an adventurer. I believe in children. My friends are obsessed with my beard. I am obsessed with beer. I want to embrace and fully live this life I’m blessed with. I want to be known as someone who loves deeply.
On May 16, 2017 I set out on my dream, the adventure of a lifetime: a 2,189.8 mile trek of the Appalachian Trail. I want to push people to live their dreams and pursue their passions.