The Final Stretch To Mt. Katahdin

Aug 28th, 2016 in Adventure

It took me five months to the day (March 24th – August 24th), but I’m now finished with all 2189.1 miles of the Appalachian Trail and back home in NYC! Woohoo! Next on the docket is navigating my reintegration to human society from being a wilderness warrior. First, let me regale y’all with a recounting of my last days in the mountains.

I left off my travelogue a month back, and gave myself then the goal of summiting Katahdin on the 24th, not a grueling pace. This date was chosen purely to satiate my own OCD. For most of Maine, I was able to leisurely waltz along some of the most scenic and remote trail the AT offers, and avoid the worst of the bad weather days. Maine was also marked by some of the most prolific hospitality options from town to town, so I really was living it up as the end neared.

The consequence of my chill speed meant that the final section before Katahdin, The Hundred-Mile Wilderness, would have to be done breakneck. If you know me, you’d guess accurately that I probably intended for my hike to end this way, with one last turbo to end on. The 100MW is historic for being an inhospitable and challenging section of the trail, but the latter half of it has one of the longest sections of approximately flat trail. If I could do most of that in a single day, I’d still be okay for the 24th. I couldn’t help feeling emboldened having recently met an actual hiker named “Turbo”; he was pretty much my spirit animal made manifest.

The plan was to try and knock off as much as 40 miles in a single day, however I got a late start due to an overnight downpour that lingered well into the morning. Departing at 6 AM on my fourth day in the 100MW, and walking a path that meandered around lakes and root-strewn hills, I covered 33.4 miles before encamping at 8:30 PM. Why subject myself to this? I wanted to see what high score I could get for mileage in a single day on this trip. I also heard that “Speedgoat”, an ultramarathoner with a support team trying to break the AT record this year did about double that blasting through the same area. He didn’t have a pack on though ?.

This pace through Maine caused me to pretty much be solo through the 100MW. Most hikers that I knew had either gotten ahead of me or never caught back up with me. However, the turbo boost paid dividends on the hike to the base of Katahdin. I finally caught up to some old friends, and with the finale nigh, the mood was jubilant. We shared a leisurely jaunt through Baxter State Park’s surrounding flatlands, along rivers and waterfalls. I ended the day at “The Birches”, Katahdin’s campsite for long distance hikers, surrounded by great company, and solitary no more.

Ascension day will stand out in my memory forever with its many epic moments. The magic started just as I left camp, kicking the day off blasting David Bowie’s “Heroes” and then running into “The Hiking Viking”, whose Winter thru-hike was an inspiration as I prepared for my own. He returned to Maine in the midst of his hike on the Pacific Crest Trail to finish this final mountain that he was unable to in the off-season (Winter permits are strict) for the cause Paul’s Boots. If you’re one to court serendipity, please note that I was also on Katahdin when President Obama designated Katahdin Woods & Waters to the East of me a national monument.

The actual hike up the mountain was probably the singly most difficult climb of the entire trail. It involved scrambling up boulders and swinging perilously from iron rungs; maneuvering 3000 feet vertically in about two miles. With soaring morale and surrounded by all my friends, the struggle this type of ruggedness would normally impart was absent. We raced up into the clouds, found a party going on at the top and touched that sign that marked our journey’s official ends.

The excitement was not yet over for me though. As a hiking epilogue, I descended Katahdin along its infamous Knife Edge trail, a one mile path of jagged rocks between its peaks that gets as thin as a few feet at times. In the enveloping mist, I rarely saw the steep drop offs to either side. Having a dramatic conclusion on my last mountaintop stroll for a long while was the only fitting way for me to depart on. I was fortunate to do the hike with a German, monikered “Speedy Gonzalez”, whose American host mother offered myself and “Yeti” a night at their home and transit to Bangor. It would then take eight hours of bus rides before I’d stumble sleepy eyed out of a pre-dawn Port Authority.

One thing I found hard to get right was saying goodbyes. Up until the last day, I was hesitant to bid farewell in case I had to eat the chagrin of meeting again later (or was it just denial?). After, it hits you, you may never cross paths with these fair folk again. At least we live in the social media epoch. The people I want to see again, I’ll find a way, or at least, I’ll see their funny cat pictures.

So what’s next? I plan to couchsurf the next month around my good friends in the city, live it up (within the bounds of a limited budget), and refresh myself on my tech skills to resume my career. I’ll be living here at least through Winter. I’ll have to come to grips with my metabolism becoming mortal, but at least the NYC Marathon awaits as a way to leverage my hiker bod. I will find ways to continue expressing myself artistically, through photography or newer mediums. And finally, I will learn how to give back to the world. I’ve been the recipient of so much charity from myriad strangers on this trip; the scales of karma are tipped way too far against me. I’ve been challenged to pay it forward and I will rise up to that.