As I write this, I’m sitting in my room at the White Mountains Lodge and Hostel near Gorham, New Hampshire. It’s a popular stopover for hikers located right on the Appalachian Trail. I’ve already hiked almost 300 miles since July 21 and have completed Maine. Lack of time and an adequate internet connection have kept me from updating my blog since I began. So I’m going to catch you up with two posts back-to-back.
This adventure began several weeks ago when I informed my good friend, Jamie, who lives in Portland, Maine, what I was planning – a possible southbound hike on the AT. I invited Jamie to accompany me to Baxter State Park and on my climb up Katahdin. Although she opted not to climb the peak, she earned her Trail Angel Wings multiple times over by helping me prepare for, and get to the start of my hike.
Getting to BSP in not an easy process and involves a series of buses and shuttles, if one does not have assistance getting there on their own. (BSP is in north-central Maine, and Mount Katahdin is in the park. Baxter Peak is the highest point on the mountain and the official northern terminus of the AT.)
On July 17th, I flew to Boston then took a bus to Portland where I was met by Jamie and taken to her lovely home. It was the perfect place to regroup and finalize my plans for my hike. She cooked amazing meals and provided a wonderful, cozy room for me to rest and organize. She and her boyfriend, Greg, invited me to go with them to a friend’s birthday party in the mid-coast area where I met some great people and enjoyed listening to live music.
Baxter State Park
The next day, Jamie and I began the four-hour drive to Baxter in her car. We stayed in a wonderful, rustic cabin on the edge of Kidney Pond. We canoed, went for a hike, played cards, ate great meals and listened to the loons. It was a perfect way to mentally prepare for what I was about to begin.
Our cabin at Kidney Pond.
View of Kidney Pond from the cabin.
Stir-fry for dinner.
After two nights at the cabin, it was time to begin my hike. Jamie drove me to the trailhead at Katahdin Stream Campground. We said our goodbyes, she began the long drive back to Portland, and I was on my own. I left my fully-loaded backpack at the ranger station, borrowed a day pack for the hike to the summit and began my trek.
Thank you, Jamie, for all of your great help and being part of the adventure! You are a certified Trail Angel!
It’s 5.2-miles to the top of Katahdin, 10.4 miles round-trip. It’s also a dramatic start (or end) to the Appalachian Trail. This was the fourth time I’d hiked Katahdin, but the first time that I’d done it alone. I was surprised how much I’d forgotten about the exposure and intensity of this climb. The middle sections require careful footing and lots of hand-over-hand climbing. There is rebar in a few places to help climbers get up and over the vertical slab. I’ve read in some hikers’ blogs that they had to turn back at these sections because the effort and exposure were too much for them. Since I’d done this a few times in the past, I couldn’t understand how they could turn back when they were so far along, and relatively close to the top. But this time I completely understood. At one point I had to back down, steady my nerves and try again. I knew if I delayed too long I would psyche myself out. I had to keep going. I contained my adrenaline, regained my focus and pushed on.
Step-by-step, I slowly made my way to the top of the sharp, rocky precipices. Eventually, the terrain leveled out on the “tablelands”. From there it was an easy, one-mile walk to the summit. The weather was beautiful and it was a perfect day for beginning the hike.
When I was almost to the top I passed a group of young, energetic guys coming down the trail. By their thin bodies, and bearded, smiling faces, I knew they had just completed their thru-hike. “Just finished your hike?” I said as we passed each other. “Yeah!” “Congratulations! It’s day one for me!” “Yay! Good luck on your trip!” And we continued on in opposite directions.
I’m teary as I think about this exchange. In that moment, we shared each others’ excitement for the end of a journey and the beginning of another. These guys had just finished their epic hike, walking 2,189 hard miles through 14 states from Georgia to Maine, over the course of several months. They had endured bad weather, created new friendships and made memories they will have forever. As I continued on to the summit, I wondered how this trip would change their lives, what new goals they would set for themselves with the new-found confidence they had earned.
I also felt a giddy kind of exhilaration as I walked closer to that old, weathered sign that marks the beginning and end of the AT. I’d been here before. I’d experienced the end of a northbound trek, but this was the start of something different for me. I was blessed to have a chance for a new kind of hike: a southbound trip. I wasn’t ending a journey, I was just beginning.
July 21, 2015. Southbound Day 1.