Thursday, January 25, 2018

Unexpected Gifts

I had the pleasure of talking with a friend tonight.  One who is particularly special to me; she inadvertently helped me learn how to be strong, confident, and inordinately proud to be a woman.  I met her while hiking last year, and our conversations always assist me in processing my experiences and feelings on the hike, what I’ve taken from it, and where it is taking me in this walk called life.

We discussed who we are, how fortunate we are to have experienced what we did, how blessed we are to have made what we have of this incredible experience.  We discussed how hard it is to share our thoughts and feelings with friends who aren’t hikers because they simply don’t understand.  They want us to share our experiences wrapped up in a pretty little package with a bow and maybe a few sparkles.  The fact is though, that there isn’t a little package.  Nor are there any sparkles.  Our 7 months spent living in the earthly environs of The Appalachian Trail were messy, dirty, and unforgiving; wonderfully amazing, lesson-filled, and utterly and perfectly life-changing.  To describe such an endeavor succinctly and tied with a bow is quite simply impossible.

We agreed that we both look at life in an entirely different way at this juncture—and for the first time, I was able to put some words to this new view.  It goes something like this:

I am learning to accept that my new world-view is quite different from the whole of society, and as I navigate this realization, I have to alter my reactions accordingly.  The other night, I attended a concert at a nearby venue with my sister.  It was a small space (thankfully—I still find that I struggle in large, loud crowds) and we were there with a group of my sister’s friends.  The opening performer was Chelsea Shag.  I knew nothing of her before this event, and rather enjoyed her quirky artistry and unique style.  She was dressed in layers; a long-sleeved gray sweatshirt under a funky, bubble gum pink wrappy, flowy-sleeved…thing, and semi fitted, deep red/marron, velvety lounge pants which were cuffed in elastic a little below mid-calf.  She has long, light brown hair which would likely be referred to in a fantasy novel as “the color of spun silk,” and a naturally pretty face with little makeup used only to accentuate her gorgeous features, adding no sparkle or glitz.  One of my sister’s friends made multiple comments on all of this; first on her choice of clothing and its eclectic-ness, then on her down-played makeup and the fact that she “needed more eye makeup, something to match the rest of the look.”  Clearly, she and I were seeing two different women up there on that stage.  My hiker trained self, saw a beautiful, confident young woman sharing her gift with a group of people who were enjoying it.  This very friendly, well-intentioned woman saw a ball of quirks; a girl who needs to change herself to fit into some mold which is deemed acceptable by our society.  I often did too, before March of last year.  I saw flaws in everything:  In people I didn’t know, I judged people of whose lives I had no knowledge.  And I’m ashamed of this—I am left feeling grateful that I no longer see the world in this way.  My new self, however, took the opportunity to tell this person that the woman on stage is perfectly herself up there on stage, dressed as she is and with little makeup used only to highlight the aforementioned quietly pretty face that is.

My world is now made up of many fragments, prisms.  Each is bright and glittery, unique to my life, a single piece of the whole that makes me, me.  And each of these pieces which make me are joined by each of the pieces which make all of us.  In looking at the world this way, it can be nothing else perfectly unique and strikingly, imperfectly Stunning!  

I’m grateful to The Trail, its earth, its trees, its essence, and its community for granting me this gift.  This gift, this greatest treasure ever afforded me, has changed my entire sense of being.  It has changed the very core of who I am.  This recognition leaves me quite breathless.  I’m left in awe of the power of an experience I couldn’t have imagined; an experience which can’t ever be summed up at all.  Just as the trail is a living thing, the lessons learned are living and ever-changing.  They are powerful and life-altering.  They encourage me to seek discomfort and strive for growth; allow me to trust that my individual process is mine alone, and that it will not fail me.  Not now, not ever.  It never would.   

Friday, October 13, 2017

Summit Day on Mt. Katahdin (2184.6-2190.3)

Wednesday 10/11; The Birches at Katahdin Stream Campground to The Summit if Mount Katahdin (2184.6-2190.3)
I can't believe I'm actually about to write this...We Summited Mt. Katahdin yesterday afternoon, and we're in complete and utter shock that just like that, it's all over. This chapter is coming to a close. I've been waiting for this moment for so long, and in these last weeks it's been so unreal. I've enjoyed it so much and reveled in the glorious moments which seem so fleeting. I know that very quickly this will all be simply a string of memories and photos.
We were up early and dropped most of our weight at the ranger station. Then, we started to climb our last climb of the 2018 AT Hiker Season. We just kept saying over and over how crazy it was that we were here, hiking ON Mt. Katahdin. The summit weather report at the ranger station called for clear skies with temps in the 50's, and winds of only 10-20mph. We were So Excited!! The climb up Katahdin itself really was pretty fun. It was hard, but nothing we haven't done thus far. Climbing with friends made the time fly and absolutely made it more amazing! We wandered up, took a snack/water break, wandered some more, and came to the boulders. Like, actual real boulders as big as me, which we had to shimmy up, over, and around for a while to get to The Tablelands and The Gateway, and then to the summit. We moved in a group of 4 up these boulders (Bean and I with Papa Bean and Yard Sale), and helped each other up by guiding feet, shoving bums, taking trekking poles, and offering suggestions (when you're lucky enough to be in front-sarcasm) on which way to go (or not, as the case may be). The weather was so beautiful, but also very windy. We found a spot shielded from the wind and sat down to eat a little before continuing. Shortly after, we reached The Tablelands which is a pretty flat section right before The Gateway, or the last small climb up to the actual summit and sign. And then...we were making our way. Our last steps to becoming AT thru hikers. All the stress, frustration, sweat and tears, was so, So very worth it. I was holding the phone to take pictures/video as we approached, and I nearly lost it when Erik told me to put it away because he wanted to hold my hand for the last steps. I did and we walked the last steps side by side, the wind whipping at our faces and jackets, tears streaming down my face. When we arrived at the sign, Erik threw himself at it while I stood an arm's length away, not really sure what to do. By touching that sign, I'm saying, "This is really over." So I just stood there for a few seconds, hand covering my mouth, and stared at it crying. I just couldn't believe we've done it. We made it. We walked from Georgia to Maine. There was a man up top who hiked last year and was throwing out candy bars at hikers as they finished. He handed one to each of us and congratulated us, Erik was hugging me, I was finally touching the sign, and I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I simply couldn't process what was going on. Then, I stopped. "Video, I have to video!" GWAG had handed me his phone and asked me (only about 9.5 minutes earlier) to capture his summit on video. I was so wrapped up in it all, I almost forgot! But I didn't. I got the video. We all took pictures for a while, basked in the glorious (though cold and windy) weather and enjoyed the views, and then promptly realized we really needed to start heading down. It was beginning to head closer to dark than light out, and it is certainly not safe to come down after dark. We took what's called The Hunt Trail up to the summit. This trail is the official AT trail, but there are many trails that get you up top. We opted to go down The Abol Trail because we'd heard that the descent is a little easier/better than Hunt. It was, relatively, and we got down relatively quickly after the first bit. Once we were back below tree line the trail eased up quite a lot and we flew through the last couple of miles. It was super helpful that we'd run into Casino and Hybrid in the summit, who offered us a ride into town. We knew that between them and Janelle, we'd all get into town with no problem. We'd anticipated catching a shuttle run by the AT Lodge Hostel, but learned immediately before hitting the trail that their van was out of commission for the day. It wound up working out perfectly, though, as we weren't rushed at all and secured rides easily. The trail provides one last time!

The views on this day were simply indescribable. From the first time I turned around and caught a view all the way up and then down the mountain, every time I turned my head it just got better. The colors look like something in a painting and they stretched forever. Yard Sale and I were just in awe of the beauty and splendor. We felt so very lucky to have a finish like we did. I wondered what I did to warrant such an end to such an extraordinary journey. She and I discussed this nearly all the way down the mountain. We also discussed how fortunate we were to not have dealt with serious illness or injury, to finish among friends from the first weeks, to have experienced the amazing final weeks with great weather and circumstances, and to have been driven to attempt this crazy thing which has prompted growth beyond my wildest expectations.

Some of my great take aways (at this time-I'm sure the list will grow):

1. It's all ok, and it really will all work out. I'm a control freak, so this is a big one. I've literally not had the energy to fret over what will be or how something that needs to occur will happen. For instance; when we plan to go into town to resupply, there's no time or extra energy to work out details in advance, so we arrive at the road crossing and figure out how to get into town. We hitch, or call a shuttle, or receive trail magic, or whatever. The kicker is...we always get to town. Imagine that!

2. It's ok to do me. In word, I've said this for some time. In deed, however, I've struggled with it. It is ok, and often exceptionally beneficial to do what you need to do. Whatever drives what you need in this moment is ok. It's ok to sometimes be selfish, or ask for private time, or ask for group time. It's ok to serve yourself for no other reason than serving yourself.

3. I am a Badass!

4. Beauty is so much deeper than the surface, and strength is very beautiful. We are, each of us, worthy of feeling strong and beautiful in our bodies as we are in this minute.

There are a couple of other points which I'm choosing to keep for myself, at least for now. Some of these though are the most life changing for me.

I'm now finishing this post two days after summiting, and we're on a bus headed for Portland for a couple of days. I've already cried this morning in anticipation of leaving our friends. To me, saying goodbye means it's really come to a close. And I'm crying again as I write this. I'm not ready. Not by a long shot.

These last weeks have made my hike. The choices to slow down, do lower miles each day, take it all in, enjoy the company...these were exactly right. I really enjoyed these weeks. The trail gods blessed us with perfect weather and ideal circumstances, and I'm eternally grateful. There was not a hint of my previous struggles in these last weeks. I enjoyed every minute, and I would change only one single thing: U-Turn and The Colonel, I wish you'd been with us! It would have made these last perfect weeks even more perfect.

I'm struggling with my emotions right now, and will likely continue to do so for some time. I can't imagine what life will look like without the woods, the friends, even the daily monotony and struggles of trail life. There will be an adjustment period, and we'll have to rely on the same people we've come to trust so wholly since we arrived in Springer Mountain to help us through that adjustment. I'll continue to make updates and hope you'll all continue to follow our adventures. And before you ask, our next Adventure on Deck is TBD. We're currently looking forward to slowly reintegrating into society over the next week or so.

We hesitate to thank any particular individuals as I know we'll leave someone(s) out. But we do want to shout out to a few of you:

Our parents, thank you for your lifelong, constant love and support. You've been our biggest cheerleaders through the good and bad in life, and we wouldn't be who or where we are without you. We are eternally grateful for your support of our goals and dreams. We love you!

Valerie, thank you for jumping into our home base role at the last minute. You have supported us nearly flawlessly (a very apologetic Bean remembers his hangry rant over the summer quilts) amidst so many responsibilities. We can't possibly ever describe what a great help you've been. Maybe one day we can bring you out here and show you.

Uncle Steve and Aunt Kathie, you helped us when we needed it most this summer. You made an exceedingly stressful situation a little easier, and far less logistically challenging than I'd imagined it might be. You're generosity and love are so much appreciated.

The Hemlocks Crew, you all have watched me grow from preteen, and have supported Erik and I from early in our relationship. You have helped foster or love for the outdoors, and have supported us in nearly every choice we've made. You are our family and we love you dearly.

Our friends and family, we love you so much and have so exited taking you along on this journey. Your interest, questions, and support in these months have pushed us in ways you can't imagine. There were days that I (Fresh) kept walking only because of some comment or message one of you posted or sent.

Rob at Outdoor 76, You literally saved my hike. Thank you for going above and beyond to assist an injured hiker recover her feet.

And finally, to our trail community and tramily, what can we say? Thank you for welcoming us into your lives so completely, and for sharing so much of yourselves with us. We have grown in ways we couldn't possibly have imagined, and it's thanks to each of you. This journey would have been an entirely different experience without each of you. We love you and the trail that grew us. We look forward to keeping in touch with some of you, and seeing many of you down the trail. We are grateful beyond measure to have met you, honored to have shared this epic walk with you, and so very fortunate to have learned and grown along side each and every one of you over the last seven months. Words can never express our appreciation to you for sharing a bit of yourselves with us.

For now, Fresh and Bean signing off (Bean will write a post of his own in the coming days).

March 14, 2017-October 11, 2017

Monson, ME to The Birches BSP (2017.3-2184.6)

Monday 10/2; Monson, ME to Wilson Valley Lean-to (2075.3-2085.7)
We're officially in the Hundred Mile Wilderness, which means we've officially started the last week or so on trail. It's crazy to be here! We had our first river ford today which went smoothly, thankfully not swimmingly. We're hiking, and will likely summit Katahdin with, a great group of people! Yard Sale, GWAG, Papa Bean, and Corn Chip. The ford today was fun with this group, and we look forward to the next days together.
We didn't make it to our preferred destination today, but we think it's simply because we got started late. We all had breakfast at Shaw's (so very good!!), finished packing, got a complicated food drop for 6 people situated, paid our tabs, and finally got in trail by about 10. This is late for us. We're usually hiking by 7:30, 8 at the latest. But will make the miles up tomorrow and still make it for our food drop.
We're overwhelmed by the support and kindness that has been shown to us thus far on our journey, and can't wait to share more with you as we finish and begin seeing you all back in home-life. The best is certainly yet to come!
Today 10/3; Wilson Valley Shelter to Stealth before bog (2085.7-2095.7)
And... We didn't make the miles up today. The terrain here in the first days of the wilderness is quite hard. We called the hostel and pushed back our food drop by a day, which all six of us are exited about. This allows us to slow down a bit, not worry about making the miles, and enjoy these last days before finishing and scattering. It's hard to imagine not seeing people who've become so important to us every day. Of course we're so exited to see family and friends back home, and we're all excited for varying things in modern society (like water on demand, showers, and food), but I think most of us will miss the friends we've made. We've all become very close, very quickly.
Today was a good day, despite the challenging terrain. We enjoyed some beautiful views from the Chairback Range, and we met a day hiker who is a photographer and is working on a collection of hiker images/stories. I think he's also working on a piece for Backpacker Magazine. We shared our story and he took our photo. He's a really nice guy who hiked in 2009 (I think he said). Chris is his name, and you can see some of his work at chrissbennettphoto on Instagram.
It's been pretty cold at night and in the mornings, but the hiking weather during the days has been perfect. Hoping the weather they're calling for this week won't be too extreme. Rain in the cold is miserable. Off to bed!
Wednesday 10/4; Stealth before bog to Carl Newhall Lean-to (2095.7-2111.2)
We made it! Today was a long day (for Fresh, anyhow), and we were there first in the group to arrive at camp. It felt like an accomplishment for sure. A lot of up and down, a few views, a rotten attitude coming into camp, and then finally chilling a bit. It was nice to arrive before dark (we don't like night hiking), and get most of our chores done before losing the light. Thankfully Bean got water before I arrived. We are excited to see the rest of our crew here, too. The last three arrived by head lamp. We're all a little excited for a shorter day tomorrow!
Thursday 10/5; Carl Newhall Shelter to Eat Branch Lean-to (2111.2-2122.0)
Wow, what a beautiful day! We started slow, which is a really nice change. I didn't sleep well last night (it rained and I woke and couldn't go back to sleep), so I was a bit sleepier/slower than normal. Anyhow, it was nice to have a leisurely morning. A shorter mileage day allowed for doing so, and breaking throughout the day to take in views. And views we had! Fall colors are really starting to come in, AND we had our first Katahdin sighting!! She's a beast, that's for sure, but we're all excited! We were discussing the fact that many of us have put off thinking about the end until now because it was always so far away. And now we're here. I've also realized that as many times as I've envisioned the end goal (us, on top of Katahdin), I've never envisioned the days leading up to the end goal; what I'm realized it's the sweet stuff. Like tonight, sitting around a fire with our friends. Only missing U-Turn and The Colonel. We found a note from them today in the log book at the last shelter. I've been looking, knowing U-Turn would have left a note somewhere. And we found
one! I couldn't have imagined back in VA what hiking without her/them would be. I miss it. It's hard to be finding the end if this hike with really amazing people who have truly become friends, but without her. I miss you, U-Turn. I have that we aren't finishing this together, but it's ok. It just means we have different versions of the same story to share with each other. I love you forever, trail sister!
Friday 10/6;  East Branch Lean-to Antler campsite (2122.0-2138.0)
And just like that, I'm reminded how amazing this whole experience is! We blazed through 16 miles today. An hour for lunch, some random breaks, and a two hour wait (we were early) for our food drop, then a quick last 4 miles to camp tonight. We got here a bit late, but so enjoyed hanging around among the beautiful fall foliage! The colors are so vivid and just breathtaking! Poet arrived with our food drop and we chatted with him for a bit. He's such a super nice guy!! A few minutes later Bear Pop, Smash, and Tricia showed up. We we're excited to learn they'd be camping with us tonight! The group here is the there of them, three sectioners, and the six of us. It was such a fun evening! We watched the moon rise over the lake, which we all loved! It was full last night, and was orange while rising tonight. It was quite an experience. We've really come to enjoy Papa Bean's and Corn Chip's company. We all marveled at the moon (it was orange and huge, and came up over the pond looking like James's Giant Peach), and enjoyed time around the fire discussing the great day and the trip to this point.
Side note: I saw a beaver tonight! It was swimming and I heard it slap it's tail on the water. Very cool. Now, I just need a moose and a porcupine. Moose is still possible. Not so sure on the porcupine. More great things tomorrow.
Saturday 10/7; Antler campsite to Wadleigh Stream Lean-to (2138.0-2151.6)
After yesterday, nothing really compares. Today was a good day. Nothing bad or wrong, just less ideal. We got a little sprinkle this afternoon. First rain in weeks, and unfortunately, I think it'll be followed by more in the next few days. We've pushed our summit date back a day, as a matter of fact. It would have happened regardless when we decided to push our food drop back a day, but it worked for the best as the 10th (original prospective summit) looked to be rainy. So, we'll summit the 11th. We've all been planning for the last few days how we'll celebrate. It's been fun brainstorming all the things we'll eat, and how we'll get where we want to be! We've agreed that we'll camp at Abol Bridge (there's a cabin where we can all stay), and GWAG's "lady" (Janelle) will bring us food (food!) To eat. Sort of a pre-celebration. Then we'll walk the ten miles, camp at Katahdin Stream, and summit. We're excited to summit and celebrate together. This group is just so great. We feel so grateful to have met these people, and to be spending the last days with them. They're kind and generous. And we've had fun talking and planning it all.
Sunday 10/8; Wadleigh Stream Lean-to to Rainbow Lake Campsite (2151.6-2163.5)
Sometimes, it takes almost 7 months to find the beauty in the everyday. As you may recall, I (Fresh) don't much care for hiking in the rain. This hasn't changed, nor likely will it change. However, today it rained for a while in the middle of the day, and I'm not entirely miserable. Admittedly, it isn't freezing, we will likely do laundry and get showers tomorrow, and we've only got 3 more wake ups on this adventure: These things may sway my opinion on the topic anywhere from slightly to significantly, but I'm actually feeling pretty optimistic as we lay in the dark with thoroughly damp packs under our heads and equally damp clothes stuffed in our sleeping bags (in hopes they get mostly dry--or at the very least aren't cold when we put them on in the morning). All that said, I don't think I'll ever get used to wet hiker smell. Think wet/dirty dog, add something rotting, and you might have some idea of the stink that we're currently wafting in the direction of any unsuspecting passersby. It's nasty. And the packs under our heads are at least half the problem. They are Gross! We'll run a write-up when we get home and clean all our gear. The pictures are sure to be scrumptious!
I turned around today after the rain subsided. I think I thought I'd heard someone hiking behind me. The afternoon light after the rain never ceases to amaze me. It was glittering through the yellow Birch leaves as they blew in the wind. And through the pines that line the lake, you could see the same light shining on the colors as the rode up the opposite bank. I stood there for a minute trying to name all the colors I saw. I didn't know that fall leaves might be varying shades of pink. On the hill I saw pinks, oranges, reds, yellows, golds, greens...It was so amazing!
We learned this morning that Operation Feed Team GWAG is a go. So we're all super excited to get to the campground tomorrow and devour whatever Janelle picks up for us from the grocery! Thank you, Janelle!! We are hopeful that we'll be able to rent a cabin where we'd all sleep and be able to dry out a bit. GWAG will go with Janelle tomorrow night, and rejoin the group on Tuesday evening, then... We'll all summit Wednesday!!
Surprisingly, we are all talking about Katahdin and how we're feeling about the end, but no one is really talking about expectations. I'm not really sure what to expect, and maybe the rest of us aren't either. We are just enjoying the ride as we coast in to the finish. Tonight we all hung around a fire (Bean can start a fire after a whole day of rain!) Talking about tomorrow and what the plans are. It's very one day at a time. We all ate and decided to go check out the stars at the lake. If I could take a picture of the sky down there tonight, oh my! The big Dipper in the fall sky up here is GIANT, and looks like you could throw a lasso around it! We we're lucky enough to see a number of shooting stars, too. It really was something else. A spectacular end to an absolutely gorgeous week in The Hundred Mile Wilderness! Today is one we won't forget. A great day in the books on our way to the finish line!
Monday 10/9; Rainbow Lake Campsite to Abol Bridge Campground (2163.5-2174.7)
(Singing) We made it through the wilderness. Yeah we made it through-ou-ou.
We're finished with the Homered Mile Wilderness! Which means... We're almost at Katahdin! It really hit us today when we took a break at Hurd Mountain Shelter and we're looking at the log book at all the notes from friends and fellow hikers getting ready to finish. I went, "Holy shit! We're gonna do this!"
We had a little rain while walking today. It wasn't bad really. We got up and out by 7:40 which is about typical, though this last week we've struggled to stick with that. One day we intended to relax and didn't get hiking until 10, another day or two it was 8:30: It's hard to maintain the motivation to get up and move when the end is so near. We're all very glad we choose to take it way through the wilderness. I don't think we had a day over 15 miles when all was said and done, and though it didn't help motivate us to get up and go, it was nice to be able to make it to camp desire the late starts. The days have become so short so fast! It's all but dark by 6 now. This makes our days hours shorter than we'd become accustomed to in the summer months.
We hoped over Rabbinical like Rainbow Ledges today. I turned the phone on (we do this at the top of mountains to see if we have service) and turned to my left at the same time to find a stunning view of Mt. K! She's a beast, but she's gorgeous! I also took some pictures of the beautiful leaf color up close. It's indescribable. Wait till I can get through some of the images and post them!
So we were up this morning and out of camp on time, all in an effort to make it to the campground in hopes of staying in a cabin tonight, and partaking in the Feed Team GWAG event. Corn Chip beat us to the campground by a few minutes and when we arrived, we learned there were cabins available! Now, when we say cabin, we mean a shed with some bunks. No electricity, no attached bathroom. But... it's GLORIOUS to have a roof over our heads tonight and hear the rain on that roof. We're dry, bathed, fed, and laundry is in the works. We are happy hikers! Speaking of food, Janelle brought something like 32 pieces of fried chicken (of which we ate nearly all), salads (potato and pasta assortments, all gone), fruit, sweets (chocolate chip cookies!!), and beer and wine...It was AMAZING!! We are happily stuffed!
Other important notes from the day (this post is quite discombobulated--there's so much going on!):
1. U-Turn and The Colonel made it to Harper's!! That means they're finished! Congratulations, Friends! We're so, So proud of you! I can't wait to hear all about it! I've missed you so much, especially in the last days as we near the end!
2. We saw 3+ moose the back of trucks. This is moose hunting season, and evidently the location at which we're camping tonight is an official checkpoint. There's a process including measurements and weight and whatnot. One of the bulls weighed in at 767 pounds. That's a lot of moose! It's strange seeing them dead on a truck--I'm a city girl when it comes to hunting. I'll eat it, but I don't think I want to see it. They lifted it to weigh and the ice bags fell out. I didn't know they even did that. I really wanted to see one in nature. There are still two days left, I guess.
3. We received trail magic from a section hiker/hunter, and it was fabulous! Dried apricots, trail mix, chips, crackers, you name it! Thanks, Rambo!!
These last days have simply been unimaginable. We pushed long miles for so many weeks, and we maxed out our bodies so hard, that these last few days of easy miles/short days have just been so sweet. I'm recalling the realization that I prefer the shorter/medium length days. They're fun, enjoyable says full of daydreaming and less stress. Breaks are so important, and when were pushing big miles, there's this constant feeling of go-go-go. Yard Sale and I were agreeing today (for about the twelfth time) that we're so glad that all has worked out the way it has. I just can't fathom the next two days to the end. We have ten miles to Katahdin Stream Campground tomorrow, and summit on Wednesday. The weather looks to have cleared to only a 5% chance of rain tomorrow, and still looks ideal for summit day (we did this on purpose). Looking forward to more time with amazing friends as this chapter draws to a close.
Tuesday 10/10; Abol Bridge Campground to The Birches Lean-to & Campsite in BSP (2174.7-21846)
Holy moly, we're here! We made it to the base of Mt. Katahdin. It's so unreal that after 7 months of effort, energy, laughs, friends, tears, and amazing...everything, we'll complete this epic journey tomorrow. We've got 5.2 miles left to hike (and then 5.2 back down to the base). We'll either take a shuttle, or we'll hitch into town for the last time. We still have some logistics to sort out and decisions to make about where we'll go on the way home, but it'll all be done from towns, mostly with WiFi, and many with computers. The logistical challenges will mostly be complete. And I'm not sure how I feel about that.
Days like today are why we're out here. The weather was so perfectly gorgeous. The Fall colors are out in full force, the streams are full, the hiking was easy (we joked it was the red carpet to Katahdin), and the company was ideal. We hiked about 10 miles. The morning was leisurely with breakfast at the campground, laundry washing packing, and hitting the trail by 11ish. We plowed through the first 6 miles and took a long break. Yard Sale wanted to see "Big Niagra Falls," and they were so beautiful! Definitely worth the 150 foot spur trail! We kept going and found our way to Katahdin Stream Campground and the Ranger Station here where we officially signed up to sleep at The Birches (the long distance hikers' site in the campground), and got our official permits to climb the mountain tomorrow! This way we can start first thing in the morning and won't have to stop and take care of it then. Ahhhh! We're climbing Katahdin tomorrow!!! I'm still hoping to see a live moose, and Ranger Justine says it's possible on the Abol Trail (which we plan to take down from the summit). Here's to a last wish on The AT!
One thing we won't miss is stupid questions from day hikers. I got one today from a couple who knew nothing about the AT. As in, I'm not sure they even know it existed. It came up that we'd been out for 7 months, we're hiking the Appalachian Trail, yada yada. To which this man says, "I guess I can't ask, but I have to ask, what's wing with you?" I told him he could, and that we all ourselves that often. I thought it was a ridiculous question. I mean, "What's wrong with you sir? You like a monotonous life, doing the same thing day after day for years on end?" It really was quite entertaining.
It's trying to decide if it's gonna rain tonight. Our last night of a 7 month journey, in our tent, in the drizzles. Tomorrow night we'll be back under a roof permanently. Or at least for a long while.
We were discussing among the group this morning that we'll get home and many of you will congratulate us on a goal accomplished. And we'll appreciate the support and the congratulations. In reality, though, Yard Sale is absolutely correct when she characterizes this as an experience more so than a completed thing. Yes, we will have checked this thing off of our list of life goals. But over the course of these weeks, we have tasted life in a way that is entirely different than any goal ever simply accomplished. We've learned more about ourselves and our abilities than I ever imagined possible. This has certainly been an experience. One we hope to appreciate and continue to draw on for many years to come.

I've got so many things buzzing in my mind tonight. I'm hoping I'll sleep well and be well rested tomorrow for a great summit day! We'll write tomorrow after we go up! I just can't believe we're here. Never in a million years did I imagine I'd get the opportunity to be in this tent, here at The Birches, writing this post. We must have done something right at some point to be so lucky to live this choice, and to chase this dream. 

(Many photos in these last days are on the camera. We'll go through those once we're home. Here's a sneak peak of a few of our favorites from the phone)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Maine 17 to Monson, ME (1956.2-2075.3)

Wednesday 9/20; Maine 17 to Little River Pond Campsite (1956.2-1964.6)

Gotta love a late start! We slept in a bed for 3 nights, showered for 3 days, and had a delectable breakfast this morning after waking an hour later than normal! We planned this because our shuttle didn't leave until 10, and it was glorious! The giant blueberry walnut pancakes at The Red Hen were so tasty! The hiking today was relatively easy, though after two days without full packs we felt very heavy. We still managed about a 2 mile/hr pace and made our goal.

I learned some health related news yesterday about a sweet friend and it tore my heart up a little. I was reminded that one of the reasons I came out here was for all the people who can't. Cancer sucks in all its forms. Shameless plug:  If you're able, I'd really love you to consider a donation to either Cure Childhood Cancer or MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston in honor of our hike.

Thursday 9/21; Little River Pond Campsite to Stealth at Eddy Pond (1964.6-1973.0)

Well today sort of sucked. We had a big climb up Saddleback and relatively early in the day, I expressed concern with making it over before dark. This caused Bean to worry and us to argue. When I arrived at the next meeting place, he had decided that he was most comfortable with calling it an early day...To which I started crying. While I genuinely appreciated his honesty, I continue to feel guilty and incapable because I'm holding him back. It's frustrating and he doesn't understand, which makes the whole situation more frustrating. So, we stopped early. I'm down and a little pissed. Mostly at myself and my lack of athleticism, but also at him for not helping me believe I can do it. Really, if we'd made the decision, I'm pretty positive I would have made it. It would have been a long day, and we'd have gotten in to camp late (why Bean chose to stop), but we'd have made it.

If I'm being honest, at this point I'm ready to be finished. It's not that I'm not enjoying it, I still am overall. The sleeping on the ground isn't bothering me, the setting up a tent daily isn't bothering me. I'm just tired. And sore. And I'm ready to rest my body and mind. That said, I didn't realize how you're I was today. We put the tent up and I crawled in and fell asleep before even taking my bedding out of my pack. Woke up after almost an hour, set up my bed, and slept for almost another hour. I guess maybe it's good we stopped early.

So up and over Saddleback first thing tomorrow.

Friday 9/22; Stealth at Eddy Pond to Spalding Mountain Lean-to (1973.0-1988.1)

You know how yesterday was stressful and we argued and I cried? Well, it turns out that I napped for 2 hours, slept for almost 11, and then we pushed today to land where we had planned originally. So, there's that. Apparently I really needed to sleep. There is something to be said for learning how to let your body lead. We have certainly worked on that out here. If your body says, "No, I'm finished," You stop. And if you feel fantastic and can push an extra 1, 2, or 5 miles, go for it! It's a hard lesson, though, because we want to be with friends/tramily, or be strong. But really, we're strongest when we follow our body's lead.

We had planned to camp about 3.5 miles back tonight, but the guidebook was marked incorrectly and we walked right past our intended spot. In order to call a spot camp, you really need two things; water and a flat spot big enough to put a tent. The last Campsite by this definition was 20 minutes walk behind (approx .5 miles), and we don't typically back track. 2,200 miles is enough! So we opted for a rarity and pushed ahead of our plan to the shelter. We arrived at about quarter to 7, which now is nearly dark. We set up camp quickly, made dinner, and now I'm writing before sleep. It's 8:07. We've learned to do things pretty quickly it here.

So, hopefully we'll head into town tomorrow for a resupply. We're getting close friends! We reminisced a little today about the fact that the first days/weeks in this endeavor feel like a lifetime ago. It's so crazy to think back at how far we've come! Looking forward to writing more about those things from my comfy chair in a few weeks.

Saturday 9/23;Spalding Mountain Lean-to to Stratton, ME (1988.1-2001.6)

Yep, you see that correctly. We hit the 2,000 mile mark! Really, there are no words to adequately share our emotions and feelings. Well, currently Fresh is happy to have made it through these last two big days, over big mountains, and into town for a big dinner tonight. See, I didn't know how badly I needed food until it became apparent that I might not reasonably get a "town meal" (what we call a meal from anything other than our packs). Then, I cried. I think because I was probably dehydrated, and I have definitely been a bit calorie deficient the past couple of days. I'm eating as much as I have been, but for some reason these last few days I've been so hungry! So it all came crashing down tonight. It didn't help that we arrived at the trail head (the road) at about 6PM. This is pretty late in the day to get in for a meal, resupply, hopefully a shower, and back out to set up camp. Though we probably could have managed it. We enjoyed a nice meal in a little inn, and visited with friends. Yard Sale and I showered. We'll do laundry and resupply in the morning, and head out for a short day out (about 5 miles).

The Bigelows are or next range, and then we'll flatten out a bit before hitting Mt. Katahdin. While I've very much enjoyed the views, I'm looking forward to some easier hiking for a minute. These back to back very hard days are getting to me. Bean seems to be happy as a clam, as ever, which makes me think there's something wrong with one of us...

Sunday 9/24; Stratton, ME to Horn Pond Lean-to (2001.6-2006.7)

What a leisurely Sunday today was. We didn't set an alarm which is rare. We're not really sure why because we wake by 6:30 regardless. But it's an exceptionally nice feeling to wake naturally and not have to jump up and go. We didn't get moving until 7:30, and then we got breakfast and started laundry before resupplying and eating lunch. We didn't get back in trail until 2:25 PM, and still made our mark! It was a pretty great day. I think I ate more calories than I've had in a day since last Thanksgiving. But oh my gosh did my body need it! I really didn't realize how much!

Tomorrow we'll see the first summit of The Bigelows. We hear they're largely under-spoken and that we have a real treat coming. I hope so! These will be the last "big mountains" we climb before we summit Katahdin. Gotta make 'em good!!

Monday 9/25; Horn Pond Lean-to to Little Bigelow Lean-to (2006.7-2016.9)

The Bigelows did not disappoint! Really beautiful views. The haze was a bit unfortunate, but still, the 360 degree views were just incredible. The leaves continue to change giving us more color as the days progress; seeing them from above only makes the views better. There was quite a bit of climbing to get up there, and we both tried to get after it first thing. We did, and took a long break on the first peak, Bigelow West. This makes the day a bit hard as we've set the bar for the day. It worked out today and we got our miles in, but tomorrow we've planned 17. Long breaks first thing won't do. Driving us, though, is the promise of a short walk into Caratunk the day after tomorrow, and a room at a local Inn! We'll get there early enough to enjoy the afternoon with a room and a shower! Plus, we'll get new water bags--we busted all but one. This is entirely normal, but we've never been down to one, one-liter bag before. It's a real pain.

At one point, we stopped late in the day to check out a view. It was hazy and the sun was directly in our eyes, but if you shielded the sun, you could see the rays coming through the clouds over Bigelow Avery Peak, which we'd just descended. It was a gorgeous view with those rays reminding me of hope and goodness. Here's to lessons in these last days.

We rolled into camp quite late, but spent a little time with some very nice people. We meet Ham Jam and Pac Man the other day, and they seem very nice! And tonight we bet another Bean (apparently short for LL Bean). We'd heard there was another on the trail, and now we've met him! Really nice guy!

More tomorrow!

Tuesday 9/26; Little Bigelow Lean-to to Pierce Pond Lean-to (2016.9-2034.6)

And...we fought. All. Day. Long. If anyone ever tries to tell you hiking with a partner is easy, they're lying. It was the same argument we've had since the beginning. Pace, expectations, and attitude. It sucks. And the kicker is that today was an absolutely gorgeous day! Blue skies, puffy clouds, amazing ponds, FLAT trail! It should have been a great day. And I don't even know what started it. I got super upset when we couldn't camp next to a pond about 6 miles back that had a small beach. I wanted to go swimming and enjoy the afternoon.  Oh well. We made our target, albeit just before dark. But we're here and we haven't got far in the morning to catch the ferry across the river (don't get too excited--it's a canoe) to go to town. We'll stay a night, resupply, get new water bags (sorely needed!), and eat. And we're on the hunt for a milk shake. Bean loves milk shakes, and the place we were banking on is shutting down a few days early.

Side note: we're camped next to a pond tonight. We can hear coyotes in the distance, and loons a bit closer. Bean told me many weeks ago that he wanted me to hear one, and here it is!

Wednesday 9/27; Pierce Pond Lean-to to Caratunk, ME (2034.6-2038.6)

since we made it to the shelter last night, we had about 4 miles to get into town this morning. We'd made reservations to sleep in a bed (and SHOWER! gosh, we're gross!), And to pick up a package in town which contains our new water bags (very important)! So we got up leisurely and took our time this morning, and then wandered into town. We called the gentleman at Sterling Inn to pick us up, did some chores, and got in line (aka sat around on the porch) to go to the post office. The caratunk House B&B, which we'd intended to stay with, informed us after we'd shipped the package there that they would close early. So we hoped the post office had held our item, but because it was sent by Amazon, it didn't go USPS and hadn't arrived yet. We hope it arrived later today and that the owner received my voice mail to leave it on the porch so we could pick it up on our way out of town tomorrow. Here's to hoping...or we'll lose half a day of hiking.

Otherwise, today was a pretty good one. The weather was really good which was a pleasant surprise. Rain has been expected. It's been so stinkin' hot up here, you all just wouldn't believe it! But we're supposed to cool down a little in the coming days, which will hopefully make for some comfortable hiking weather at mostly low elevations, and a clear summit day on Katahdin. We're getting excited, but it's so entirely surreal to be discussing the end. I've complained a lot, but the truth is... I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. I've grown, we've grown, and we've learned so much about ourselves, life, the world around us. These next days are going to be hard ones:  A little sweet, and a little sour. More to come as we begin to close out this chapter of The Kolesars' Epic Adventure of 2017!

Thursday 9/28; Caratunk, ME to Pleasant Pond Lean-to (2038.6-2044.3)

We truly believe everything happens for a reason. We didn't stay the B&B because he chose to close early. It was frustrating since we'd sent a package there, which we'd done only because the entry in our guide book said he'd be open to the 30th. Anyhow, The Sterling Inn was simply perfect! Eric (the proprietor) picked us up no questions asked and took us to his charming, clean inn, where we rested, visited, and ate dinner (which Eric's son Zach went to pick up because a large group of us wanted dinner and the restaurant couldn't deliver). Highly recommend a stay at Sterling!!

Which brings us to today. Long story short, the Platy bags were at the post office, and not at the B&B. I was frustrated waiting all day, not knowing if we'd get them and possibly have to hike out without them, but we got them when the post office opened at 2PM and called it a short day. Six miles to the shelter, easy hiking, and friendly faces, along with absolutely B-e-a-utiful fall weather made it a great day!

I was a little saddened this morning when Bean and I were talking and he shared with me that he isn't sure if he knows that I've enjoyed this experience. He says he feels like all I've done is complain. While there have been some pretty cruddy days, many of them in fact, I wouldn't trade this time for anything. The kind of growth we've experienced it here, this growth can't be gained anywhere else, under any other circumstances. It's a privilege we worked hard to earn, and one we don't take lightly, to be out here representing what we believe is the best of our community. I'm so glad we've done this, and together! All that said, I don't feel ashamed that part of me is ready to be home. Yet a large part of me is freaking out a little over the fact that we're almost finished. I'm not ready to move on to whatever is next. So for now, we'll stick with trying to live for the moment, and looking forward to the Hundred Mile with friends (hopefully Yard Sale and GWAG!). And remember that my favorite thing about today was the fall leaves on the trail. Not crunchy yet, still red and orange leaves littering the walk like giant confetti, with blue sky stretching out above, and sunlight dappling on top of the leaf litter.

Friday 9/29; Pleasant Pond Lean-to to Stealth at the river (2044.3-2063.3)

What a gorgeous day (aside from the poor sleep last night and frigid morning)! Seriously though, we woke to cold, clear weather. Getting out of the sleeping bag is tough on mornings like these, but we had a great day! It never really did get warm, but it warmed up enough once the breeze died down to be very comfortable hiking weather. We had a couple of (what are now referred to as) baby climbs. They were somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,500 foot mountains, with us climbing 1,200 or so feet. I never thought I'd see the day when I called that easy, but relatively, it was exactly that. After we finished the second, "Moxie," the trail was largely flat. We booked it the rest of the miles to camp and made it to our goal. Our first 19 mile day in I can't even remember how long! I hurt for it, but eh. It's the last days. If I weren't hurting, I'd probably think I was doing something wrong. Aleve down, hopefully it kicks in quick and I sleep all night. Pushing the long day today means 12 into Monson tomorrow and a zero on Sunday before heading into the Hundred Mile Wilderness. This will be 100 miles of backcountry trail, and when we finish it, we'll be just a few miles from the base of Katahdin. It's crazy to be getting ready to prep for this. We've got mail drops in Monson already, and we're set to rest up before heading out (with Yard Sale and GWAG)! Camped tonight with Ham Jam and Pac Man--we like them. Maybe we'll spend some time with them in the hundred, too. Only missing U-Turn, The Colonel, and Sweet Tea and Morning Glory. Missing the tramily a whole bunch lately!

Saturday 9/30; Stealth at the river to Monson, ME (2063.3-2075.3)

Since we made it to the campsite last night, we only had 6 or so miles to hike today into town. Which means...ZERO DAY!! The day was pretty easy. We haven't had to ford any of the streams so far that are marked as fords. We're late enough in the season that the water is low and we can rock hop. We received some trail magic from Anne and Strider in the form of hot dogs (the first red hot dog I've ever eaten), sodas, chips, and cookies. Such sweet people! Then we pushed into town and were able to call for a ride from the trail head (cell service when you don't expect it is always a plus!). We arrived at Shaw's Hostel ready to figure out a room and relax. Which we did. Bean went to get in the shower and I flopped down on the bed to play on the phone (WiFi!!), And then I heard a tiny little scratch at the foot of the bed. I turned around to see tiny puppy paws and a little puppy head peaking over the foot of the sleigh bed...and I melted! He's an Aussie (same as our late fur baby, Stitch), and we've come to find out that his name is Indie (short for Indigo). He's so stinkin' adorable!

The rest of the day was spent chilling out, eating 3 entrees and a dessert between the two of us for dinner, and reminiscing over this amazing journey. Tomorrow, we rest!

Sunday 10/1; Monson, ME Zero (2075.3)

Ummm...It's October. Holy wow, how did that happen?! It's like we hiked away the majority of a year or something. Oh wait, we did!

Good zero! Loving Shaw's (Poet is pretty great, as is Hippie Chick!). Would come back here for sure! Flabbergasted beyond words that we enter the hundred tomorrow, and in 8 days we'll be finished with this epic adventure. C-R-A-Z-Y!

We set up a good drop for the hundred mile with a few other people. This means we don't have to carry all our food which is a pretty giant deal! We eat a lot at this point, and carrying that much food for 8 days is HEAVY! So, we're not.

Next posts will likely be post summit. Catch y'all on the flip side!