The 100 mile wilderness is the perfect way to end a NOBO thru-hike. It's remoteness and solitude, especially in the fall, lend time for reflection. Truly a sanctuary, free from the noises of machines and the sight of structures on the landscape, I felt at peace. I had no idea what would happen after Katahdin, but the wilderness provided me a sense of restoration, that all would be right in the end.
This sense of peace was suddenly taken away when Gin Gin and I got off trail at a hostel. The only reason we even stopped there was for resupply. We decided not to haul a big food carry and instead send food ahead to the hostel. This would be the biggest regret of my entire thru-hike. I'm not going to go into details, but the decision to leave the wilderness jolted us out of the sanctuary. We could not wait to return to the trail.
I almost cried upon seeing the first white blaze, the familiar friend who so far guided me over 2,100 miles. I also knew that I would be leaving this trail soon. Much too soon. For although I had been on the trail for nearly five months, I realized no amount of time would be time enough. My body hurt, but my heart desired to continue, to live in this peace, this life, this joy, this community. I had arranged for my parents to pick me up in Baxter State Park after climbing Katahdin. Gin Gin's Dad and Grandma would also be in town the same day. I realized I would have only two full days and two nights left on a trail that had changed me.
That left two days to hike over 50 miles to the base of Katahdin. This would be the second biggest regret of my hike: I didn't allow more time to hike through the 100 mile wilderness. Gin Gin and I had to push big miles and hike until well past dark my last few days on trail. Not exactly the way I wanted to end my hike.
Despite the frustration of feeling the trail slip through my fingers, I decided to treasure the moments that still remained. We took a long break on the shore of a lake. We ate lunch in silence, listening to the steady crash of waves lapping on the shore. Red squirrels periodically broke the stillness with their yelling chatters. Leaves fell like confetti in the afternoon breeze. Magic.
We stayed here for hours.
Suddenly it was 3:00 and we had 15 miles left to hike. I wish we could have stayed on that lake. I hated feeling rushed, that I had to push 15 miles so I could reach the end on time, an end I didn't want to see.
We reached the summit of Nesuntabunt just as the sun was setting. To the northeast, Katahdin loomed over the landscape, clothed in purple splendor. Nahmakanta Lake lay in the foreground, reflecting back hues of glory. We lingered here, too, not wanting to leave this place. It's a strange feeling seeing the end of your journey, conflicted between the excitement of accomplishing a dream and the simultaneous dread of losing it.
Ten more miles to hike in the dark.
To say we were tired is an understatement. Hiking in the dark is like driving in the dark. It wears you down mentally, and 5 hours of night hiking after an already long day is no joke. Gin Gin and I took turns leading, one rallying as the other faded. We were zombies on autopilot. At one point I almost walked us off a cliff.
FINALLY, we made it to a campsite at Rainbow Lake Dam close to midnight, wiped out. The temperature hovered around freezing. We quickly set up camp and jumped into sleeping bags. We were almost too tired to eat, but knew that we needed to get something into our stomachs. While cooking dinner, I noticed a thin, white line on the horizon on the opposite side of the lake. Slowly, the line grew larger, developing into a small arc. It hit me: the moon! As the moon continued to rise, the distinct outline of Katahdin became obvious. The full moon was rising over Katahdin! Despite utter exhaustion, this late night hike suddenly became worth it. To see full moon rise of Katahdin across a lake took our breath away and lifted our spirits tremendously. True trail magic. I fell asleep cold, yet grateful.
Five hours later, it was time to get up. Ice coated the outside of my tent. I was grouchy that morning, running on little sleep, little food, cold, and not looking forward to hiking 23 miles. In the daylight, I could see my environment. Across the lake, Katahdin rose above the waters. This would be my last full day on trail. It was all ending much too soon.
The trail rushed by in a blur that day. The lake shore. The familiar red squirrel chatters. The crunch, crunch of leaves underfoot. The mid-day sun. Confetti of leaves. Smells of fall. We hiked in silence, partly out of fatigue, partly out of contemplation, and entirely out of reverence.
Around noon, we climbed the small rock outcropping of Rainbow Ledges, with views looking back south. We stopped here for lunch, and I spread out my tent to dry in the sun. It hit us:
This would be our last lunch break on the AT.
Gin Gin had service, so we both made calls to our parents, getting last minute details into place. We both wanted to stay on the trail, at least for a few more days, but we had plans.
After spending five months on your own schedule, making plans can be stressful. Stress was the exact opposite of the life we had lived on the trail, and it was all a bit overwhelming. It was a foreshadow of what was to come.
Again, we lingered. Again, we knew we would have to night hike into Baxter. Reluctantly, we packed our things and headed north. On the way down from the ledges, we caught another view of Katahdin through the trees. Joy, sadness, excitement, frustration. Gratitude.
Again the trail rushed by. We stopped at the last shelter on the AT so I could use the privy. Three miles left in the wilderness. Thirteen miles left to hike that day. Eighteen miles left on the AT.
I walked a couple minutes ahead of Gin Gin, one of the few times since we started hiking together that we walked separately. I was lost in thought, trying to soak everything in. Suddenly, I saw a sign up ahead. I approached it, tentatively, as if to see the sign meant crossing a threshold from which I could not return. It marked the northern end of the 100 mile wilderness. I waited for Gin Gin to catch up. We stopped here for a moment, trying to take in the meaning. How can you?
A short distance ahead lay the Golden Road, the longest road walk on the AT in Maine. It would take us over the Abol Bridge, past a store, and into Baxter State Park. Through the trees, we could hear the mayhem of man's machines. We had spent the last 7 days free from man-made noises. No cars, no trucks, no radios, nothing. To leave the wilderness and immediately be bombarded with the noise of logging trucks was jarring and overwhelming. I wanted to cover my ears and run back to the safety and peace of the woods. But Katahdin called my name.
We walked over the Abol Bridge, which boasts an incredible view of Mt. Katahdin with the Penobscot River as a foreground. We stopped at the store because I needed something salty to eat. Since we were so late in the season, all they had was plain potato chips and cheese crackers. I ate my snack out front, watching an occasional truck bounce over the dusty road.
It was 4:00 and we had about 10 miles left to hike until we reached the Birches, the thru-hiker site in Baxter where we planned to camp that night. We headed down the dusty, scar of a road and turned left to return to the trees. A small footbridge crossed a stream. On the other side lay Baxter State Park!
Holy cow! All this walking, all these miles, all these tears, all this and I'm here in Baxter State Park!
Shortly after the bridge, a kiosk in the trail had a sign up list for the Birches, and wrote our names. We saw only one other hiker on the list for the night. Past the kiosk, the trail was wide and flat. We walked quickly, talked excitedly. I made a comment about thanking the day hikers for that. The quickly setting sun brought to life all the colors of the trees. Orange, red, yellow. The red carpet under our feet guided us toward our destiny.
The miles flew by and it was soon dark. We eventually crossed a parking lot. From behind me, I heard Gin Gin call out, "Hi, Eddie!"
I stopped, perplexed. "What did you call me? And hi?" This was the first time she had used my real name, and we had been hiking no more than 20 feet apart for the last couple of hours.
I turned around and noticed she was pointing at something in the dirt. I walked back to see what it was. In the dirt was written, "Hi Eddie." My parents left me a note! I had walked right past it in the dark.
We continued in the dark, passing a couple of ponds. We couldn't see the water, but the openness provided views of the clear, starry sky. Soon we were at Katahdin Stream Campground, the campground at the base of Mt. Katadhin. We went to the ranger station to check in and pay for our spot in the Birches. Since it was 9:00, the rangers were already off duty. A note pointed us in the direction of our campsite, about .2 down a gravel road, and told us to check in the next morning. On our way to the Birches, a ranger pulled up in a pickup. We were able to pay for our site and secure our summit permit for the next day. He was incredibly helpful and even drove us to our site.
We arrived to the small shelter area and set up in the dark on a wooden tent platform. My hunger, which had mysteriously vanished for the last five days, was slowly coming back. For some reason, my body didn't want my food. Gin Gin had extra food, so I readily accepted her offer to eat it.
This was the last night on the trail. We stayed up for hours wanting to somehow extend what precious time we had left. Like kids on the last day of summer camp. We swapped trail stories, recalled favorite moments, and contemplated what life would be like post trail. And we sat together in silence, wanting time for privacy, yet enjoying the company.
Eventually, we gave in to sleep. We needed the rest. Tomorrow, we would climb one final mountain: Katahdin.
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.