Starting after Monson, Maine is the great 100 mile wilderness. It leads right up to Baxter state park which, of course is end of the AT and Katahdin. Before you even start the trail is this funny sign that warns you of the many dangers of the wilderness.
Not to downplay what could be some serious danger, but there were logging roads and you heard planes, trains, and automobiles all through the place. We got Shaw’s in Monson to drop off a supply of food about halfway through which took some weight off the back. The first half the trail is pretty rugged and had some serious ups and downs. I liked that there were ponds and lakes everywhere. Even if you weren’t on top of a mountain there was still some scenery. I have to hand it to the Maine Appalachian Trail Club for maintaining this part through. They had a lot of stone steps that were helpful.
On the third day Tiger decided it was time for him to head out and go home. He wasn’t feeling it anymore I suppose and on that day I wasn’t either. It was oddly hot and humid, but I decided I was going to get to Katahdin come hell or high water…or chaffing. After a rather anticlimactic goodbye, I slogged my way to the next stop. Luckily the weather turned cooler the next day and I tackled White Cap mountain range where I spied my first view of Katahdin.
After White Cap and my food delivery the trail got substantially easier. I managed 17 miles without much pain which is a first. This section of the trail made is easy to camp next to lakes. So for the next three nights I stealth camped next to gently lapping water and caught amazing sunsets and sunrises. I met quite a few NOBOs who were flying through this part in a hurry to get to Big K. Im not sure why they didn’t slow down and enjoy the last few miles as they were the prettiest I’ve seen so far.
The last night before Baxter I stayed at Rainbow Lake with two other hikers, Daniel and Larry. They started up a fire by the lake. It got pretty chilly overnight and in the morning it had to be in the 40s. I started early so I could secure a spot at the Birches in Baxter which only lets in 12 hikers for the night.
Throughout the final half of the 100 miles you keep getting glimpses of Katahdin looming in the distance. It gets closer and closer. After all this time and effort to get there I felt my self slowing down to enjoy what little time I had left of the “easy stuff”. But I knew I’d have to confront the last boss level soon and as I crossed Abol bridge there it was up close and very real.
I made my way into Baxter State park and signed up to camp at the Birches. At 10:40am I was already 9th on the list. Everyone who signed up before me was there at 7:50. The 8 miles to the ranger station at Katahdin Stream Campround were bittersweet. They managed throw in some more pointless ups and downs while mixing in some of the prettiest riverside walking. And then finally I was there, ready to camp for the last time. Two guys bought some fire wood and we all sat around the blessedly hot fire telling tales and complaining about the trail.
I took my time going up Katahdin partly to be in the moment and also because it is really freaking hard. About halfway up you start to get into seriously technical rock climbing. It’s an amazing feeling to be at the top looking down from something that looked impossible and think “I did that”.
Once you get onto the Tablelands the last mile or so is pretty easy. I crested the last hill and saw the famous sign. I got a little teary eyed and then noticed there about 50 people around it. I waited my turn to take a picture and then I was done. It was both overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time.
I didn’t know how I felt, and still don’t. That scene from Forrest Gump kept running through my head. Where he stops running and says “I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go home now”.
So I went back down the mountain on the ridiculously hard Abol trail and set my sights on getting to Millinocket, where I showered, laundered, drank one beer and then fell promptly fell asleep.
I thought I might have some life altering revelation, but it’s not as big as that. Just little moments that you can hold onto like weightless gold coins in your hand. Snippets of memories like laughing with Tiger at camp, sunsets, amazing mountain views, the sunlight turning the forest into a cathedral, the pain in my knees and the breath in my lungs. All those things add up to something I suppose. I’m not sure what yet though.