Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Appalachian Trail 2015: Maine

6 months ago, I arrived in Baxter State Park on June 29, 2015. My dad drove me to Millonocket Maine from Maryland, and we had spent the night before in the Baxter State Park Inn. I felt strange, almost like a child. I was nervous and filled with the anxiety of beginning a long distance trail. Despite having been through this before,  I was worried about the unknown, and wasn't feeling very confident or talkative when interacting with the hotel staff that morning. I ate some cereal and drank some orange juice for breakfast. I chuckled knowing that there was going to come a morning very soon where I would be able to absolutely DESTROY a continental breakfast buffet such as this. Not this morning, I was eager to hit the trail. Before long, I said goodbye to my dad at the trail head after driving to Baxter State Park that morning. Waves of emotion flowed through me as I realized where I was standing. There is nothing like the feeling of beginning a thru hike. I had 2,160 miles before me, hopefully five to six months of freedom, and the realization of a dream. First I had to start walking.

No views on Katahdin on day 1 of my Southbound AT thru hike
When I think back on the state of Maine, I'm reminded just how tough the trail was there. It may have been the toughest hiking I have done anywhere. It is true that the trail literally seems to go straight up and straight down the mountain in places. The trail in Maine includes iconic spots and areas including the 5,270 ft. Mt Katahdin, the "100 mile wilderness," the "Mahoosuc Arm" (an insanely steep section of trail,) and the "Mahoosuc Notch" ( a mile long boulder field called the AT's toughest or most fun mile). Not only that, the weather was unpredictable, alternating between too cold and too hot, throw in mosquitoes and black flies, a trail covered in roots, rocks, and blow downs, mud, numerous streams and creeks to ford, and you are in for one heck of a challenge.
"Skunkbite" hiking through the Mahoosuc Notch
That being said, Maine was also insanely beautiful. I remember being struck with the skies of the east coast summer. We had many days of summer sun. The forest was a treat. I enjoyed looking at the hemlocks, firs, and cedars. Mossy woods, giant boulders, some of the most refreshing, glorious, ice cold spring water I have ever tasted, mud, bogs, fascinating plants, one moose sighting, frogs, snakes, squirrels.  There were ponds and rivers everywhere, perfect for swimming on a hot sunny day. There were enormous fern covered rocks. I remember listening to the fascinating howl of the loon, that I mistook for a coyote. The cool wind, bright sun, and clear skies with views all the way to New Hampshire. I also enjoyed the hiking camaraderie of new friends on the trail including Skunkbite, Mismatch, and Lux.
Dinner time at a shelter in Maine
Another unexpected treat was being able to see two of my CDT hiking friends David "Manparty" and Rachel "Lush" in Stratton Maine. They are currently hiking the Te Araroa in New Zealand, and their blog "Hobos in Love" can be found here. Rachel was a ridge runner near Stratton over the summer, and they were gracious enough to give me a roof over my head while hiking through the area. Rachel and David have both triple crowned and David has hiked the AT twice.
David Rachel and I near Stratton
One day in southern Maine I was hiking with Mismatch who loved to do big miles. At this point in the hike, I also enjoyed putting full days in, waking up at 5:00 or 5:30 (when the sun came up), and walking most of the day. It was still almost impossible to put a 20 mile day in, usually I called it quits around 17 to 18 miles, due to the difficulty of the terrain. Mismatch and I were just about to hike over a 4,000 ft. mountain called Avery peak in the Bigelow Range. We saw a northbound hiker just ahead of us with ear buds in his ears. As he passed, he casually commented "Welcome to the mountains boys..." I got a big laugh out of this statement, but it was absolutely spot on. Avery Peak was the beginning of tough, tough, hiking. When Mismatch and I reached the top of Avery Peak, we met a Continental Divide Trail legend named "Starman." I was thrilled to meet him in person because I used his alternate way points in my GPS on my CDT hike in 2013. He was finishing up a northbound thru hike of the AT. Mismatch and I were curious about the trail ahead. We asked StarMan what he thought. He said,

"I just want to stretch my legs! I feel like I haven't been able to hike and hit any kind of stride in the last three weeks!"

Starman continued with a far off look in his eyes that I never will forget,

"I'm ready to be done. I'm ready to go home..."

Mismatch and I on Avery peak
Our hike was just beginning, we still had just under 2,000 miles to go...

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