Monthly Archives: October 2016

Fulfilling a Life-Long Dream

 

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View of Mt. Katahdin from Pemadumcook Lake – mile 2141 (almost 50 miles still remaining to the peak)

 

There are too many people to thank for helping me reach my goal of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. But here goes…

Mom and Dad for dropping me off at the beginning and picking me up at the end, and meeting me for a night in Rangeley, Maine.

Mom for sending numerous packages to me along the trail.

Dad for walking the first few hundred yards with me, and planting the dream by taking me to Baxter State Park at age 6 and on my first overnight at age 11.

Michael Krejci for picking me up trailside in Gatlinburg, TN for a great weekend with buddies.

Mariah and Kevin Coons for providing a ride back to the trail from Gatlinburg.

Kevin Coons for hiking with me twice along the trail.

Kristen Egan for constant unwavering support and great times along the trail in Virginia.

Mary Gillett for meeting me near the trail twice and for playing chauffeur one weekend.

Jo McKeown and Bill Henry for an amazing stay at their home in Virginia.

Chiropractor Megan Custer for keeping my back in order.

Nurse Practioner Molly Hale for finding a way to keep me on the trail after I came down with shin splints.

Physical therapist Jim Seibert for priceless advice.

Michael Robb for nearly 300 miles of trail companionship.

Curry Ford for hosting me at his place in New York before I returned to the trail.

Alan, John, Brian and Craig Campbell and Jared Schaff for joining me for an amazing three days in New Jersey. You guys are the best buddies ever!

Craig and Ruth and their kiddos for walking with me for a small section in Connecticut and driving me back to Tom’s.

Tom and Tammy Gillett for taking me in for two nights of rest in Connecticut.

Lory and Pete Doolittle for hosting me for a night in Vermont.

Darge Gillett for meeting up with me for some off-trail merriment and for putting me up in a hotel south of Hanover, New Hampshire.

Darge, Kristin, Avery and Parker Gillett for taking me out to dinner in the White Mountains.

The countless people who gave me rides in and out of towns, offered up food, and provided encouraging words of support.

Fellow hikers who became my friends (a shout out to Thor and Moglie who practically carried me to the emergency room in Wind Gap, PA.)

The many friends from afar who posted motivational words in Facebook messages or posts on my blog.

Thank you to all of you! I’m forever grateful.

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Rainbow Stream Lean-to – mile 2159

 

 

 

October 7th – Maine 15 (Monson) to Wilson Valley Lean-to
Total miles on the AT – 10.4
Elevation gain – 973ft
Elevation loss – 1137ft
Start time: 10:25am
Finish time: 5:25pm
Total hiking time: 5:40
Weather: sunny, warm

Great breakfast at the hostel complete with eggs as you like them and all you can eat pancakes. I went to the post office to get a package that was mis-sent, and headed to the community center to get my pre permit for Baxter State Park but they weren’t open. In all this hustle and bustle I forgot to pay the hostel!

I got a ride to the trail from a woman who was skipping up to Katahdin. Purple Sprain and Tortuga were also in the car.

As I entered the 100-Mile Wilderness my pack weighed 48 pounds. I was carrying what I hoped was eight days of food. Needless to say, the day was a slow one.

I ran into Iron Butterfly slackpacking southbound and gave her my credit card info for the hostel. (The next day I stopped at a shack in the middle of the wilderness where a guy named Scout handed me his phone. The hostel had called to thanked me for taking care of things.)

Later in the day I heard a “coo coo.” It was Tortuga calling for Purple Sprain. He hadn’t seen her in 30 minutes. He said she had said she wasn’t feeling well. He decided to go back for her. I thought I eventually heard him chatting with someone from a distance. But they didn’t show up at the shelter tonight. No one else behind me showed up either which makes me think the worst, that perhaps she fell at the falls where there were lots of steep drop offs.

There’s a red tent here, hopefully empty, not a sound from it all night, so I’m all alone. I made a fire and was happy to eat food to lighten my load. It’s the warmest night on the trail in about a month. A beautiful walk along a ridge was the highlight for the day. Terrific colors.

My iPad is on its last legs. The keyboard is going. I need to save the battery for pictures on Katahdin.

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Shaw’s Hostel in Monson, ME, the last resupply point before the 100-Mile Wilderness – mile 2075

 

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Practicing for the “big photo” while in Monson – mile 2075

 

October 8th – Wilson Valley Lean-to to Chairback Gap Lean-to
Total miles on the AT – 15.6
Elevation gain – 3595ft
Elevation loss – 2586ft
Start time: 8:00am
Finish time: 6:00pm
Total hiking time: 8:15
Weather: mild, sunny turning cloudy with chilly winds

I passed railroad tracks last night, and a train came by this morning. Is this really a wilderness? I stopped at the trail magic shack where I got the phone call from Poet, the owner of Shaws who thanked me for taking care of not paying. I got a burger, a dog and a soda from the shack. And I took a picture of what I thought was Barren Mtn. Today’s mileage was off somehow, long rugged day. It’s the second night in a row that I’m camping alone. I’m staying in the shelter. I made a nice fire to cook and to keep warm.

 

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Entering the 100-Mile Wilderness – mile 2075

 

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The first day in the 100-Mile Wilderness – mile 2083

 

October 9th – Chairback Gap Lean-to to Sidney Tappan Campsite
Total miles on the AT – 11.7
Elevation gain – 2238ft
Elevation loss – 1765ft
Start time: 10:10am
Finish time: 5:05pm
Total hiking time: 5:55
Weather: rain in the morning, cloudy the rest of the day, cool

Third night camping alone in a row, and it’s wearing on me a bit. It’s the most nights in a row on the entire trail yet. Today I saw seven people and three dogs, one that freaked out on me, it’s a real problem. I got a late start cause of the rain. I thought the whole day might be a wash, and I was worried about the hurricane track. The ridge runner I ran into today thinks it will clear tomorrow but with colder temps again. Tonight is the coldest night perhaps in a while.

The ridgerunner says the first 30 miles of 100-Mile are tougher than the last 70. It was steep down Chairback Mtn this morning and wet. I did only 3.8 in like 2:20. And the first 2.6 in only 1:40. The leaves have come off many of the trees atop Gulf Hagas Mtn. There were more fallen leaves on the trail today, which made the trail more difficult to decipher. The brightest colors were definitely October 5th, even with some green leaves left. All the leaves were yellow by the 6th. I wish I had taken more pictures on the 5th of breathtaking reds and yellows. The leaves have not been as bright since. The leaves should come back when I get back to lower elevation. This is the highest I’ve camped in ten days since Poplar Ridge Lean-to.

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View from the trail magic shack – mile 2089

 

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Trail magic shack – mile 2089

 

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October 10th Sidney Tappan Campsite to Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to
Total miles on the AT – 17.1
Elevation gain – 2268ft
Elevation loss – 3734ft
Start time: 7:40am
Finish time: 4:45pm
Total hiking time: 7:50
Weather: mostly cloudy, blustery, chilly

It was windy in the morning, the temp on the thermometer in the privy read 33 at 7:30 and I had three mountains over 3000 to climb including White Cap at over 3600 feet. White Cap was a winter wonderland. Frost on the trees, frost on the rocks, frost on the summit sign. I tried not to go up too fast so I didn’t sweat too much. There was a little more sun the second half of the day.

I ran into 2 section hikers, the first people I had seen in almost 24 hours. They said they had seen 15 people since the morning. I was way off on my estimate to the shelter for them. I said it was 10 maybe 15 minutes, but it was closer to half an hour. Sorry guys.

The leaves were a problem on trail. I stepped on a hidden rock and instinctively crumbled to the ground so as to not twist my ankle. I banged my elbow and knee.

I ran into three nobos and chatted a little with them at the shelter. Two went back southbound. They’re done. So close to the finish? I guess they had already skipped some sections. The other guy was a military vet who stayed five years active duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, and three years in the reserves. He speaks French, Chinese, the Afghan language, and maybe one other. He has done the CDT and the AT more than twice. He southbounded in winter. He’s well read and a survivalist. He’s from SOuth Carolina and works out of Missoula as a rescuer and firefighter.

Easier miles today, particularly after getting down from White Cap. I got my first view of Katahdin from the north slope of White Cap. I couldn’t believe I got a view after such low visibility at the top.

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Near the top of White Cap Mountain on a frosty morning – mile 2116

 

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Lower Jo Mary Lake where I took a quick cold dip – mile 2139

 

October 11th – Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to to Wadleigh Stream Lean-to
Total miles on the AT – 21.5
Elevation gain – 358ft
Elevation loss – 601ft
Start time: 8:00am
Finish time: 5:45pm
Total hiking time: 8:00
Weather: sunny, warm/mild

A quick first 8 to Jo Mary Lake. I went for a very brief dip. Can’t believe 24 hours after the winter wonderland that that was possible. The sun felt warm out of the water, but the wind not so much.

I saw a logging truck. It’s the 2nd vehicle I’ve seen in the hundred mile wilderness.

Namakanta Stream reminded me of the 10-mile River in Connecticut. I saw an otter.

I ran into a mother and son whom I last saw in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. They are flip flopping and heading all the way back to Vernon, NJ. Through the Whites? Eeash, good luck. I camped again with Wacka Flocka and Daddy. Lots of talk about what it means to be almost done. This is their last night on the trail. Daddy’s mom (ha ha) is meeting them at Abol Bridge tomorrow and they’ll spend the last two nights in Millinocket.

Another view of Katahdin today from Pemadumcook Lake – just amazing. The mountain looks so much bigger than yesterday, makes one think we were looking at the wrong mountain yesterday. Daddy felt the same way.

The last few miles to the shelter were much more slow going, roots and rocks. I want to take pictures of everything, I want to write down every detail. Savoring the last few days.

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Pollywog Gorge – mile 2157

 

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First view of Katahdin from the north side of White Cap. Can you see the little blip on the horizon? – mile 2117

 

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First paved road in 100 miles at the end of the Wilderness near Abol Bridge – mile 2174

 

October 12th – Wadleigh Stream Lean-to to Hurd Brook Lean-to
Total miles on the AT – 19.6
Elevation gain – 1803ft
Elevation loss – 1787ft
Start time: 7:30am
Finish time: 4:35pm
Total hiking time: 8:10
Weather: fair, mild

There was a plaque in the shelter of guy who died near the shelter on sept 29th, 2011 38 miles from finishing his 3rd thru-hike. There are no guarantees in life. I was careful with each step today.

It was slow-going at the beginning of the day. Over Nesunbunt Mtn with a view of Katahdin. Walked along lakes for much of the day. Another view of “the greatest mountain” from Rainbow Ledges.

I thought I’d be alone at the shelter tonight and I was till after dark when an Aussie couple came in. They are traveling for a year and just came from the west coast. They have seven and a half days of food; I hope that’s enough for them.

Lots of mice tonight.

Saw many beautiful oranges today among the trees. Maybe peak is not over. Not a cold night.

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Near Little Niagara Falls in Baxter State Park – mile 2181

 

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Mt. Katahdin from Daicey Pond – mile 2182

 

October 13th – Hurd Brook Lean-to to Katahdin Stream Campground (The Birches)
Total miles on the AT – 13.4
Elevation gain – 682ft
Elevation loss – 304ft
Start time: 7:50a
Finish time: 3:25pm
Total hiking time: 5:05
Weather: mix of sun and clouds, rain after dark, mild

Hard to believe the high in Millinocket tomorrow is only supposed to be 48, which means of a high in thirties on top of Katahdin because this is is the warmest night in a long while. I’m actually shoeing away mosquitos.

Glad to be dry in one of two small lean tos at a thru hiker only campsite near Katahdin stream Campground. There is one young woman in the other shelter; she might be the most asocial person I’ve met on the trail.

I hope there is someone on the top tomorrow to take my picture. That would be rather tragic if there wasn’t.

Easy hike today, easiest 13.4 ever. No roots or rocks really after Abol bridge. Got breakfast at the campstore at Abol Bridge.

I took my time through Baxter Park along the Penobscot River and Nesowadnehunk Stream. So much water, particularly considering the dry year. A trail steward says it’s all comes from springs.

Nice lunch at Big Niagara Falls. The sun felt nice.

Lonely tonight. Lots more people seem to be waiting till Saturday to summit. The young woman did not join my campfire and stayed in the shelter. This made me feel lonely. It’s funny, I was lonely on the first night of the trail at Hawk Mtn shelter on April 14th with forty others there, and I’m lonely on the last night with just one other here.

The mice went nuts last night and got a lot of my food. I forgot again about food that I had stashed outside of my food bag, this time in my jacket. The mice made a hole in the Aussie couple’s hanging food bag; how do they get around the Gatorade bottle hanging on the string? They left toilet paper in my pot and got into my folders coffee just to say “screw you ha ha.”

I savored almost every moment on the trail today. Don’t want this feeling to end.

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Katahdin Stream Campground – mile 2184

 

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Reaching the Tablelands 1.6 miles from the top of Baxter Peak and the end of the AT -mile 2188 (picture of Daddy taken by Wacka Flocka)

October 14th – Katahdin Stream Campground (The Birches) to Baxter Peak (return to Abol Campground)
Total miles on the AT – 5.2 (9.6)
Elevation gain – 4179ft
Elevation loss – 0ft (4179-ish)
Start time: 8:00am
Finish time: 12:00pm (3:10pm)
Total hiking time: 3:15 (5:25)
Weather: mix of sun and clouds, cold, very windy, icy

Yes, it cooled down overnight. When I got stirring and retrieved my food bag from the bear cable I saw that Purple Haze had already gone. Turns out she left before 5:00am.

I was revved up. I had intentions of starting a little later to allow the day to warm up a little, but when I got to the ranger station Wacka Flocka and Daddy showed up, and I wanted to see if I could keep up with them so they could get some pictures of me at the top.

When I signed in at the beginning of the trail I actually saw that quite a few thruhikers had signed in before I did at 8:00am. I borrowed a day pack from the ranger station; they are so considerate to lend them out to thruhikers.

The climb started out gradually up to Katahdin Stream Falls. Then a little more steeply. The forecast was for sun and highs in the 40s at the base of the mountain. It was 38 degrees when I left the ranger station.

I passed Daddy and Wacka Flocka but they caught up to me up the mountain after I ran into two guys coming down the mountain. They had turned around and said the wind was just too much. They were dressed in jeans and sweatshirts, a perfect way to sweat your way to freezing – cotton holds no warmth. I tried to progress slowly so as to not sweat too much.

I stopped before it got really windy up farther and hoped to wait until it got a little warmer and the sun came out again. When Wacka Flocka and Daddy caught me, yet another person passed us coming down. She on the other hand was well equipped and had been up the mountain before. She said it was just too windy, that people were hunkered behind rocks above treeline. Eventually Wacka Flocka and Daddy wanted to get moving again and I wanted to hang with them – safety in numbers – but I wasn’t sure how far we’d make it before we’d have to turn around.

When we hit treeline the wind did pick up, but it wasn’t bad…yet. We climbed in lower visibility and the wind persisted. The climbing was rough and we’d take breaks in crags in the rocks. A few of the spots were a bit precarious and I was happy to have a helping hand to lift me up. At one point Wacka Flocka lost his balance and almost fell backwards. I think I might have been there in time to spot him but it was a scary moment for him.

The ice thickened on the rock and some of the ice was hard to see – black ice…we all had our slips. Once we reached the Table Lands, the terrain leveled off but everywhere we looked we saw ice and frost. All of a sudden there was a break in the clouds and we could see the peak ahead of us and the lakes far far below to our south.

The wind continued to pound us and the water in our water bottles started to freeze over. But we have been training for six months for this moment and we were not to be denied.

With only a bit to go to the summit all I could think about is how much I had to pee so I stopped to let them go ahead. Peeing above treeline in 40 mile an hour gusts is quite a spectacle I assure you, and if you don’t judge the wind right it could end up in your face as one of my fellow hikers found out on the way up.

In only another few minutes we could see the summit sign and Wacka Flocka let out a big howl. In these last few moments, I thought about my previous trips up the mountain with my dad and with my deceased grandfather Denny whom I had earlier prayed to asking him to help clear the skies for our summit. I would say he did a pretty adequate job.

I watched as Wacka Flocka and Daddy embraced each other ahead of me as they made the last few steps to the summit sign and I couldn’t stop giggling to see such a site. They had hiked the whole way together.

Making those last few steps and touching the summit sign felt like scoring a touchdown, but I think I was more caught up in the boys’ moment than my own. Wacka Flocka became very emotional and couldn’t hold back tears.

Multiple day hike groups were also at the summit and one of them offered us beers which I politely declined. One of the day hikers thru hiked in 1992 and said they he was still in touch with a lot of those whom he had hiked with.

We snapped pictures but my iPad did not like the cold and I was only able to get so many pictures at the top. The clouds came in and out and a half hour proved enough time to stay at the summit before making the long retreat to treeline. The windchill must have been near zero degrees.

The sun broke out and the clouds dissipated as we made our way down the Abol Trail. The going was steep for a while but because it was a new trail most it was not eroded away and had a nice packed down dirt surface that was easy to make our way down.

I finally stopped for something to eat where it was warm enough and tried to savor the last moments on the mountain and in the Maine woods. When I arrived at Abol Campground and the road to wait for the shuttle to the AT Lodge in Millinocket the thermometer at the ranger station read 41 degrees. My AT thru-hike was over.

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The top of Katahdin (Baxter Peak) and the end of the trail – mile 2189.1

 

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From left to right – Daddy, me, Wacka Flocka
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Looking south from Baxter Peak

 

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Looking north down to Chimney Pond from Baxter Peak

 

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Coming down on the Abol Trail – landslide area, trail rerouted, reopened on July 1st

 

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Katahdin from Rainbow Ledges – mile 2168