Final Thoughts

I’ve had people ask me what was the best experience I’m taking away from my thru-hike. After thinking about this question over the course of my journey, I believe it’s the many smiles this adventure has given me.

Hiking hours on end, usually tired, thirsty and hungry when out of the blue and many times in the middle of nowhere, you come upon a cooler full of cold sodas or Trail angels cooking up some burgers while relaxing in a chair they provided and then eating this wonderful, hot delicious food and chugging down an ice cold soda or brew, puts a huge smile on your face every time.

Sitting on top of a mountain above the tree line and clouds, watching a bald eagle soaring below me; a bear napping in the woods; a moose peaking around a tree at you, all these special encounters with amazing wildlife who coexists with us in this amazing country of ours, gives me a smile, a sense of wonderment and deep sense of appreciation.

By a lake, or the top of a mountain, witnessing the moment when daylight shifts to evening and the sky takes on a warm, soft glow while colors of reds, golds and yellows paints the world to the horizon, is my favorite moment of the day and always puts a smile on my face.

People you meet on the trail brought many a smile – the AT is filled with people from all backgrounds, ages and temperaments each with their own goals and reasons for hiking. I was very fortunate to meet and hike with people who not only genuinely enjoyed their hike but generously shared their enjoyment and their true spirit for the hike. Their kindness, laughter and words of encouragement truly lifted my spirits to continue on many a time and for many a mile.

Many of the hostels I stayed in throughout the journey were excellent but I have to say Maria McCabe in Salisbury, CT is my number one. Maria is 80+ years young and is truly a friend to every hiker who rests there. Hearing Maria’s stories and appreciating her kindness definitely puts a smile on my face.

A lot of a hiker’s focus is on hiking to our next food source at trail towns located on or near the trail. Some of the small villages rely on hiker traffic to help sustain the local economy and we equally rely on their resources to fill our bellies and resupply our packs. Partaking in the local establishment’s food and brews, tends to put a big smile on your face and much needed calories in your belly.

Upper Goose Mountain Pond Shelter in the mountains of New Hampshire, is located next to a beautiful mountain lake and if you arrive there in a true hiker condition such as I did – hot, sweaty and dirty, a dip in the water was a gift not to be declined. As I was enjoying the cool, crystal clear water, looking down I saw several blue gill swimming close to my legs and taking little nibbles. It put a smile on my face and kind of tickled.

Sometimes the day gets long, your legs are weary and the whole thing starts to seem impossible when suddenly one of your favorite tunes starts playing in your ear buds. Before you know it, the miles melted away, the spring returns to your feet, a smile hits your face and your confidence returns – you got this.

The first part of the trail is all about the physical challenge but as the miles pass, you start to get your trail legs making the physical component easier – but, and this is a big but, the mental aspect of the hike kicks in and you start wishing you were home more than anything but then, just when you need it the most, a hiker box from home is waiting for you at your next hostel, filled with baked goods and notes from home – talk about a smile.

Slack-packing, does it get any better than this? Your honey or sometimes a hired hand, drives you to the trailhead in the morning, you have nothing in your backpack other than water and food for the day, and you hike to your predetermined pick up point where your chariot awaits you to whisk you to a hot shower, warm food and a soft bed. Smile heaven.

Hitting milestones – when you first start out, those milestones seem pretty small – 100 miles – you only have 2,090 to go! But those milestones add up and when you reach halfway point you really are feeling like you’ve accomplished something and your smile, well just like your miles, it’s gotten bigger too.

The saying goes, no pain, no rain, no Maine – it’s so true. The thunderclouds are gathering, the wind is starting to whip and you can just smell the rain getting closer. From your Gut Hooks app, you know the next shelter is close but as you race to it, your thoughts also begin to race – will it be full or will I need to put up my tent in the downpour and get soaked to the bone so I have to wear wet clothes all day tomorrow? No, wait! There’s one bunk open, the hiker Gods have smiled and so do I.

Bugs spray, sweat and just plain dirt are a daily ritual but getting to step into a hot shower every 3 – 4 days at your next hostel for resupply and freshly laundered clothes would defiantly have me smiling, and sometimes singing.

Getting to a trail head and needing to get into town that’s seven miles down the road, and hitching a ride in five minutes flat after putting out my thumb will put on a smile.

Hiking in the wilderness for several days and reaching the summit of a mountain to discover you have cell service so you can call home will make you smile and do a little dance.

In so many ways, hiking the Appalachian Trail is like a job – a very demanding job – from the planning stage to implementation, the constant logistics, persevering thru snow, sleet, rain, floods and fire, the physical demands and the mental endurance it requires, this job is unrelenting 24 hours a day / 7 days a week for 5 – 6 months of your life. In spite of this I learned to embrace the inconveniences and would not change one moment of this experience, because you see, it is the greatest adventure of my life.

Setting a goal that will require you to dedicate over five months of your life to hike over 2000 miles is a daunting challenge. And that’s what I wanted in this adventure. To push myself passed what I may have considered was my limits. They say only 25% of the thru-hikers will make it all the way. I wanted to be one of the 25%. And when you are touching the iconic Mt Katahdin sign signaling the end of your journey and this tremendous adventure, this brings the biggest smile of them all.

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August 1, 2018…Day 153 The Birches Lean-to up Katahdin Mountain

Got up at 4:00 am and used my headlamp to pack up in the dark. I was excited to get started, this was the day I’d been working for over the last five months.

I met up with Pickles and Blueberry and we hiked the 1/4 mile to the ranger station where I traded my backpack for a daypack and we started up the Hunt Trail to summit Katahdin.

The first mile was fairly easy until we reached the tree line and then it became steep up an exposed ridge. At this point it became pretty much a technical climb until we reached the Gateway. Now the trail flattened out with a easy accent up to Katharine and then suddenly there it was – the iconic sign I had seen in hundreds of photos was just ahead. I made it! After five months and a week and hiking 2190 miles I completed my journey. It was an emotional moment for all three of us.

After taking some photos and eating a snack, we started back down. On the way down the mountain we started passing lots of day hikers hiking up to the summit. I’m glad we got an early start because we had the whole summit to ourselves when we finished.

We made it to the base of the mountain and was meet by Pickles parents who gave me a ride to Bangor Maine.

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July 31, 2018…Day 152 Little Beaver Pond Campsite to The Birches Lean-to, Baxter State Park

Took a photo of the lake in the early morning light, right as the sun was coming up. The lake looked so peaceful, I sat on a large rock to enjoy it some before hiking my last stretch of this journey.

Climbed up to Rainbow Ledges and got another view of Katahdin Mountain. It really is impressive.

The trail today was relatively flat and we made good time. We reached the Abol Bridge store and restaurant at 9:00 am – this is the end of the one hundred mile wilderness and to celebrate I had two scoops of strawberry ice cream. Also, I bought some snacks for tonight and tomorrow’s summit of Katahdin.

After leaving the store we hiked about a mile to enter Baxter State Park were we signed up to stay at the Birches Lean-to.

It was then another 10 mile hike to Katahdin Stream Campground where we checked in at the rangers station. I paid my $10.00 fee and received my AT-Katahdin hiker permit. I was northbound #230.

As I set up my tent I realized it was probably for the last time. I’ve been hiking towards this day for over five months. I’m really excited about tomorrow, hope I can fall asleep tonight.

Buckeye

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July 30, 2018…Day 151 Namakanta Stream Lean-to to Little Beaver Pond Campsite, Mile 2168

Needed to cover 21 miles today so it was another early start, as soon as it was light enough to see we packed up and started hiking.

The trail is flat, but is covered with tree roots so progress was slow but steady and the weather was beautiful.

Had a short climb up Nesuntabunt Mountain and after reaching the top I was able to get a view of Katahdin. By line of sight it was only 16 miles, but we have 36 miles of trail to hike to reach it.

After coming down Nesuntabunt the trail flattens out again and I made to the Little Beaver Pond campsite by 4:30.

The campsite is located next to Rainbow Lake. Beautiful spot to watch the sunset.

Tomorrow we reach Katahdin.

Buckeye

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July 29, 2018…Day 150 Mountain View Pond to Nahmakanta Stream Lean-to

Last night I could hear thunder and see the flashes of lightning but we only got a small amount of rain.

We plan to summit Katahdin on August 1, and to be able to do that we have to hike a couple 20+ days. Today was going to be a 21 mile day. The good news is I only have one small mountain, Boardman Mountain, and the rest of the trail is nice and flat.

The trail lead me along Crawford Pond were I saw my second moose. She was just standing in the woods when I spotted her. We were both checking each other out and when her curiosity was satisfied she trotted off. Man these moose are huge!

After 10 miles we came to Jo-Mary road which is the location of our food drop. We got there about an hour early, so we took the opportunity to dry out our shoes and socks in the sun.

At noon the shuttle with arrived with out resupply and he also had a cold beer for me and Pickles, and a cold gator-aid for Blueberry.

I got my first look at a baseball type flooring in one of the shelters we passed today. Instead of the typical flat boards, it consisted of round poles – not sure what it would feel like to sleep on but it’s a unique architectural feature.

We made good time and after 19 miles we came to Pemadumcook Lake and got my first look at Katahdin Mountain. It looks enormous even from 47 miles away.

Yep I can feel it, it’s that close.

Buckeye

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July 28, 2018…Day 149 Campsite At Mile 2106 to Mountain View Pond, Mile 2124

We had camped by a river, so the first thing we had to do this morning after breaking camp was to ford the river. The river was high from all the recent rain. I would describe it as crotch deep. It was also cold! But we made it across by taking our time and making sure of our footing before taking the next step.

Had a long gentle climb up to Gulf Hagas Mountain. We then crossed West Peak, Hay Mountain and finally the tallest of the group White Cap Mountain. I was told the views on top of White Cap were spectacular, but alas we were in a cloud and no views this day. I was able to get a cell single, so I called Denise to let her know things were going well.

It was a long descent down White Cap Mountain where the trail leveled out for awhile, traveling through dense forest.

A few more miles later, we made camp beside a beautiful pond and I was able to get my tent dried out. Tomorrow we hike to a road and pick up our food resupply.

Buckeye

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July 27, 2018…Day 148 Long Pond Stream Lean-To to Campsite at mile 2106

Well yesterday was all rain but the sun was shining when we started hiking today.

We had a two thousand foot climb up to the summit of Berren Mountain. On top was the remnants of an old fire tower along with some great views. Clouds filled the valley so the mountain tops that poked through looked like islands in a white sea.

After Berren Mountain it was a lot of ups and downs over rugged terrain.

With all the rain the previous day, the trail was mud and water. There was nothing to do but hike through it. Wearing wet socks and shoes two straight days in a row, my feet were not liking this one bit.

We planned to hike 15 miles to a campsite and about a mile away the skies turned dark and we could hear thunder and lighting getting closer. We were pretty much jogging now trying to get to the campsites before the rain hit. And we just made it! We were putting up our tent as the first rain drops started falling. I was able to finish setting up my tent and throwing my backpack in and get myself in just as it started to pour down.

I think I’m going to buy a lottery ticket.

Buckeye

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July 26, 2018…Day 147 Shaw’s Hostel, Monson Maine to Long Pond Stream Lean-to

We had signed up for breakfast at Shaw’s Hostel which consisted of two eggs, home fries, bacon, orange juice, coffee and all the blueberry pancakes you could eat. The food was pretty good and I need all the calories I can get right now.

After breakfast Shaw’s shuttles hikers back to the trail head and Pickles, Blueberry and I were lucky enough to be on the first shuttle.

It was raining when we were dropped off and pretty much rained the whole day. A lot of the time it was a steady down pour.

Today was a day of multiple river crossings. The first river we needed to ford wasn’t too bad but it hadn’t started raining hard yet and we had two more to ford – by the time we got to them the water was raging. You really had to plant your hiking poles to have something to brace yourself, then slowly plant one foot at a time, making sure you had good footing, before moving the other foot, even then it was baby steps all the way across. In the middle of the river the current seemed the strongest, and it was a relief when we got passed the midpoint of the river.

After fifteen miles of hiking in a steady downpour we made it to the Long Pond Stream Lean-To. There was only enough room in the shelter for one more hiker, so Pickles and Blueberry pitched their tent and I stayed in the shelter.

Well my first day in the hundred mile wilderness was a memorial one I won’t forget.

Buckeye

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July 25, 2028…Day 146 Piscataquis River Mile 2069 to Monson Maine

We got started hiking by 6:00 am and made it to the trail head that leads into Monson Maine by 8:30.

Was picked up by the shuttle from Shaw’s Hostel where were staying tonight.

We resupplied at Shaw’s for six days worth of food to get us through the 100 mile wilderness. We’re carrying three days of food with us and arranged with Shaw’s hostel to have the other three days of food dropped off 60 miles up the trail.

Hopefully if everything goes right we will summit on August 1.

Buckeye

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July 24, 2018…Day 145 Bald Mountain Brook Lean-to to Piscataquis River, Mile 2069

First thing in the morning we had a climb up to Moxie Bald Mountain. There was no view at the summit, I was hiking in a cloud.

After hiking down from the summit the trail flatten out and it was fairly easy hiking.

When I came to Bald Mountain River, I took my lunch break here before crossing it. The river is fairly wide and about knee deep. You have to take off you shoes and socks and ford the river. There is a rope strung across so you can attach your backpack to and slide it across while your fording the river. Made it across with no problems. The water actually felt pretty good on my tired feet.

After a 15 mile day reached the Piscataquis River, another one I needed to ford. After crossing the river we found some spots to pitch our tents for the night.

Tomorrow we will hike into Monson Maine and will stay at the Shaw Hostel. Will resupply here and enter the hundred mile wilderness.

Once we start the hundred mile wilderness I won’t be able to post anything until after I’ve summited Katahdin. There just isn’t any service. But I will catch all the post up.

Buckeye

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July 23, 2018…Day 144 Pierce Pond Lean-to to Bald Mountain Brook Lean-to

Glad I was in the shelter last night because it rain all night and it rained hard.

Woke up in the morning to a light drizzle so we packed up and started hiking and covered the three miles to Kennebec River by 8:00 am.

The only safe way to get across the river is by a Canoe ferry managed by the ATC and is free to hikers. The ferry hours are from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.

There were two hikers ahead of us when we got there, but it didn’t take long for a long line of hikers waiting in the rain for their turn to cross.

After we got ferried across we walked a short distance to the Kennebec B&B where we resupplied and ate a pulled pork sandwich and a milkshake.

We then hiked another 14 miles to the Bald Mountain Brook Lean-to where I’m tenting tonight.

Buckeye

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July 22, 2018…Day 143 East Flagstaff Campsite to Pierce Pond Lean-to

Got an early start today, hiking by 5:45 am. The weather report called for rain starting around 8:00 am, so I wanted to cover as much ground as I could before it started.

Today I hiked 15 miles and had no mountains to climb! And the trail was surprisingly flat with not much in the way of roots and rocks. This was some of the easiest hiking I’ve done on the AT and the miles flew by.

Stoped at the West Carry Pond lean-to for a privy break and learned there was trail magic there. Tried my first Whoopi Pie, which is something like chocolate cake sandwich with a cream filling in the middle. Very tasty!

The weather report was wrong because I was able to make it to the shelter by 1:30 pm and the rains hadn’t started yet.

I’m sleeping in the lean-to tonight and will hike the 3.7 miles in the morning to the Kennebec River and catch the 9:00 am canoe ferry to cross the river in the morning.

Buckeye

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July 21, 2018…Day 142 Cranberry Stream Campsite to East Flagstaff Lake Campsite, Mile 2020

Got an early start today because we wanted to cover 16 mile and we had the Bigelow Mountains to climb.

It was a hard climb up to Bigelow’s South Horn Mountain, then it was short ups and down on the ridge line where we climbed North Horn, Bigelow Mountains West Peak, Avery Peak and finally Little Bigelow Mountain.

It was a hard day of hiking, but the weather was beautiful and the views on the summits amazing.

All along the ridge line there were ripe blueberries. This slowed my hiking down a tad because I couldn’t resist eating some.

Finally made it to the Flagstaff Lake Campsite which overlooks a beautiful lake.

Buckeye

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July 20, 2018…Day 141 Perham Stream, Mile 1985 to Cranberry Stream Campsite, Mile 2004

Had a big climb up Lone Mountain and then another up Spaulding Mountain before a long decent down to the gap of South Branch River.

After filing up my water bottles it was then a 2000 foot climb to the summit of South Crocker Mountain. After a short decent i then climbed to the summit of North Crocker Mountain. It was then a long 3000 foot decent to Cranberry Stream Campsite where I’m tenting tonight.

During the decent to the campsite I passed the 2000 mile mark. Only 190 mile left.

Tomorrow will be another hard day of hiking over the Bigelow Mountains but after them the terrain starts to flatten out and I’ll soon be entering the 100 mile wilderness.

I guess I’ll tell about my big mistake number 6.

This acutely happened back in the White Mountains. The AT is not very well marked with white blazes in the White Mountains. The group I was hiking with, Pickles, Blueberry, and Scars had just summited Twin Mountain. We took a break at the summit and when we started hiking again, Scars took the lead and the rest of us followed. Big Mistake! After traveling 1.2 miles someone checked the map and discovered we were on the wrong trail! We had to backtrack the 1.2 miles which put an extra 2.4 miles on our day.

What I learned was to always check for myself and not assume the other person knows what there doing.

Buckeye

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July 19, 2018…Day 140 Rangeley Maine to Perham Stream, Mile 1985

Left the Town and Lake Motel around 6:00 am and walked to a diner about a block away for breakfast. Ordered eggs, sausage, home fries, toast and a coffee of course.

After breakfast, Pickles, Blueberry and I stood next to the street with our thumbs out hoping to hitch a ride the 7 miles back to the trail head to the AT. It only took 20 minutes and we were able to hitch a ride.

Of course the day started out with a 2500 foot climb up to Saddleback Mountain. Then it was a ridge walk above tree line to the summits of the Horn and lastly Saddleback Junior.

The weather was perfect, and the views amazing. Walking above tree line in the alpine zone you get 360 degree unobstructed views. You could see the mountains clear to the horizon.

After going over Saddleback Junior it was a decent down to Perham Stream where were camped tonight on an old logging road near the stream.

Buckeye

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July 18, 2018…Day 139 Sabbath Day Pond Lean-to to Rangeley Maine

Only had 9 miles to hike today to get to Route 4 in Maine.

The terrain was fairly easy for this 9 mile stretch so I made good time and arrived at the trail head by 11:00 am.

There’s a hostel just 3 tenths of a mile from the trail head called the Hiker Hut. Planned on staying there for the night by they were full, so paid for a shuttle into Rangeley Maine and got a room at the Town and Lake Motel.

Dried out everything, showered then walked down to the laundry mat and threw my cloths in the wash. While they were washing I went across the street to a sports bar and grill and had a lobster roll and a beer. I couldn’t pass up not having lobster while in Maine.

After I collected my laundry I walked to the IGA store and purchased four days worth of food which I hope will get me to Karatunk Maine which is approximately 70 miles up the trail.

Buckeye

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July 17, 2018…Day 138 Black Brook Campsite, ME to Sabbath Pond Lean-to ME

It was supposed to have rained last night but to my delight it didn’t. This meant I got to pack up a dry tent.

I only have two days of food left and need to reach Rangeley to resupply. So this morning I started hiking by 6:00 am and planned on a long day, 17 miles. Then tomorrow I will hike 9 miles to the road that leads into Rangeley. Hopefully I’ll get a hitch into town.

First thing this morning was a 2000 foot climb up Old Blue Mountain. The sweat was pouring off me because of the warm humid weather.

I saw a lot of grouse today and heard a loon off in the distance.

After 10 hours of hard hiking I made it to the Sabbath Pond Lean-to. Got my tent set up just in time before the rains they were calling for finally cut loose. Should make tomorrow less humid.

Buckeye

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July 16, 2018…Day 137 Human-Nature Hostel, Andover ME to Black Brook Notch, ME

There were 27 thru-hiker staying at the Human-Nature Hostel last night. Although the majority were northbound hikers like myself, there were quite a few south-bounders who started at Katahdin.

The south-bounders have under three hundred miles completed of their thru-hike. Their equipment and clothing still look new. The beards just starting to grow out. They still have 1900 miles ahead of them. And you can see the excitement in their eyes.

Having spent the last four months on the trail, the north-bounders on the other hand have the look of being wore down. They are now grinding out the last of the journey, looking forward to finishing and going home.

I signed up for dinner which was a burger covered with mushrooms and onions, potato salad and a slice of water melon. In the morning they served pancakes and it was all you could eat. This is a great hostel and I had a pleasant stay.

After breakfast most of the hikers rode the hostel bus to the trailhead. And started hiking around 9:00 am.

Only hiked 10 miles today and it kicked my butt. The climbs are steep! Some parts of the trail have rebar embedded into the sides of the mountains so you can make the climbs.

So far the southern part of Maine is as hard as the White Mountains of New Hampshire. But I’m getting closer to Katahdin every day now.

Buckeye

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July 15, 2018…Day 136 Speck Pond Campsites to Human-Nature Hostel Andover MA.

Got another early start and had a big climb up to the summit of Bald Plate Mountain.

Just as I reached the summit it started raining. I put the rain cover on the backpack and kept making my way down the mountain. But in about 20 minutes the rain stopped and the sun came out.

Made it to the East B Hill Road were the shuttle from the Human Nature Hostel picked up myself, Blueberry, Pickles, Maps and Jetson.

Just after being pickup the driver spotted a moose in the woods along the road. He stopped the bus and we were able to get some pics. Finally saw my first moose.

Buckeye

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July 12, 2018…Day 133 Pinkham Notch NH Route 16 to US Route 2

The hostel shuttle transported myself, Pickles, Blueberry, Jetson and Maps to the trail head at Pinkham Notch. We got started hiking around 8:00 am, and planned on a 21 mile slack pack to USRoute 2. This would get us over the WildCat Mountains, peaks E, D, C, and A. Then we would get up and over Carter Dome Mountain, Middle Carter Mountain and North Carter Mountain. The last Mountain we would need to tackle this day would be Mt Moriah before a long decent to US Route 2 and our pick up point.

Even though we were slack packing and the weather was perfect, it was going to be a long grueling day. The five of us decided to hike together today for encouragement.

We made it to the pickup point at 7:30 pm. 11 1/2 hours of hard hiking and I’m beat! But we’re back at the hostel in Gorham and after a shower and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s I’m feeling much better.

Buckeye

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