Time in the privy is not a favourite pastime. I prefer doing my business in the woods but just recently I was forced pretty much to have the privy close at hand for a day. Norovirus is a gastrointestinal disorder that has been running riot through hiker circles. It is picked up easily from another person by contact with the body or even clothing and equipment. The net result is a lot of fluid lost through both ends of the body. I estimate about 70% of us has gone down at some point and it was my turn a week or so ago when my privy visits increased over the course of one day almost to the point that I considered staying there. Thankfully it only lasted a day and I was able to catch the guys in Stratton the following morning.
Our view from camp at East Flagstaff Lake – A trip highlight
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After a day without eating I was ravenous and stocking up for the next section in town I afforded myself lots of goodies including some olive oil bread and fresh pesto. If you think it’s only good on pasta try scooping a gloop up on a chunk of bread, it’s heaven and packs 900 calories from a 200 gr tub.
I’ve been reflective this past week. The thru-hike is nearing its conclusion and an occasional brown leaf reminds me that winter is not far away. This far north it gets colder earlier and the nights are turning chilly. I think back to the start some 138 days and 2000 miles ago. Achieving the 2000 mile mark for the second time is very satisfying and rewarding. It’s recognition of effort, stubbornness and refusal to be beaten.
However, drawing to the end of a thru-hike is sometimes are sad experience. It passes far too quick and all of a sudden the finish is looming. Completion is a rewarding place to be and the closer I draw to it, the more I think about my situation. Winter is around the corner back home, work looms and a book needs to be written. We are so tired that the prospect of another thru-hike seems insanity but I know that given a few weeks at home, I will be planning the next hiking installment. After the indecision of tackling another adventure fades, positive decisions take their place. The only question would be which one and where?
From a warm Georgia I have traversed north. Through snow, ice, leafless trees and low mists I have seen the foliage come to life and watched my world turn green. Riding a series of waves over ridges I smiled as I emerged above tree line and surveyed America’s wild lands from a lofty perch. I have battled Mosquitos, fatigue, stifling temperatures and a hiking trail that is not conquered easily. Some mornings I woke up and wondered if I could go any further. Would I make it up and over that next mountain? And, every day I arrived at camp knowing that I did. I doubted my own resolve, fitness and stubbornness. At times I thought I could travel no further but I have, so far, made it through every obstacle put in my path. The realization that I conquered every difficulty before me made me realize that I could conquer every difficulty still to come but at times, I struggled to come to terms with that. The Appalachian Trail is one tough hike and I admit it caught me out. It is the toughest hike I have ever experienced and very possibly the hardest challenge I have ever taken on. It will be hugely rewarding to stand on top of Mount Katahdin and say to myself,
“I beat it. I succeeded.”
Enjoying being a member of the 2000 mile club for the second time
Date: Monday, August 27th
Location: Mount Katahdin, Maine !
Miles walked: 2184.2
Miles left: A big, fat zero
Hiking in the dark, failing headlamps, a rising sun, emotions and going fishing
I don’t get excited about Christmas anymore. However, I remember as a kid the suspense of those few, endless days before the big event culminating in the night before. I never slept; more lay there smiling for a few hours interrupted by short bouts of sleep that frustrated me because when I woke Father Christmas had crept silently in and devoured all the mince pies and sherry we had left for him.
I felt the same during the night before Katahdin. I lay in my hammock, occasionally peering through the mesh into the dark woods around me, just making out the two shelters at The Birches Campsite but no one stirred. I gazed skyward through the gaps in the pines and could see a black sky dotted with stars. It was warm, there was no breeze. My watch alarm beeped, I fumbled to switch it off for fear of disturbing others and looked at the screen.
Juggles gets in some practice with Katahdin acting as back drop
01.00Am. Granted, an early start to the day but I had discussed the idea with Lazagne to climb Katahdin in the dark and arrive at the summit to watch the sun rise. He had told me that the mountain is so far east in the States, and so high, that it is the first piece of land to be hit by the rising sun and if you are standing on top of it then you are the first person in the mainland United States to be lit up. I don’t know if there is any truth in this or not but the prospect was so endearing that we had decided between the two of us that it must be true. Even if it wasn’t, the promise of being the first hikers to summit and witness the spectacle was too strong an urge to fight. Events like that may only come along once in a lifetime, you have to grab them.
Chilling out at Nahmakanta Lake after a 24 mile day
I tipped out of the hammock, fumbled around for my Caldera and put some water on the boil. I peered into my drinks bag; one teabag, one sachet of sugar and one coffee bag. All my supplies had been run down to nothing, it was the last day and there would be no more trips to the supermarket. I tipped a handful of granola into the pot, scooped in some protein powder and water and ate whilst I packed up.
Lazagne had not stirred but Skunkape strolled past, his headlamp blinding me.
“Heading up Fozzie?” He enquired.
“Hell yeah. If I don’t catch you I’ll see you at the top mate.”
It was warm enough for shorts and t-shirt. I headed down a gravel track towards the Ranger Station where I left my excess gear that I didn’t need. Packing a warm jacket, hat, gloves and food I set off at 02.30am on the 5.1 mile route that wound up 4000 feet to the summit. Trees blocked out any trace of light and my headlamp picked out a way through a mess of tangled roots and the occasional rock. Occasionally I lifted my head as the beam picked out one or two white blazes that led the way. Frogs hopped out of the way, twigs snapped in the forest around me and every once in a while I clapped my hands for fear of startling a bear.
Rainbow Stream Shelter
I reached the first checkpoint after a mile, Katahdin stream Falls. Not being to see what was below me to my left I imagined the view of cascading water from the roar that met my ears and stayed with me for half a mile after. I knew from my elevation graph that the path steepened after the falls and sure enough, my breathing labored a little and my leg muscles strained as I needed to lift my head just a little more to see ahead of me. Rocks appeared that needed to be climbed or weaved around. It was still dark, I swept my lamp around my surroundings, scanning and searching for the best route up rock faces, through gaps. My fingers curled over sharp edges or into cracks and fissures, my shoes gripped onto dents in the rock and I felt the rubber snag firmly on the gritty surface. As I emerged above tree line a cold wind increased but my effort had warmed me and sweat trickled down my forehead into my eyes.
Listen mate. You may have nabbed 2 of my almonds whilst I wasn’t looking but leave the peanut butter well alone
I caught Skunkape fiddling with his headlamp as the beam flickered and slowly died.
“Shit,” he muttered. “I knew I have should have changed the batteries.”
“Walk in front of me,” I replied. “Mine are good, I’ll keep behind you to one side, we can use one lamp.”
We climbed further, the gradient increased dramatically and we laboured somewhat. A faint light slowly acted as a backdrop to the mountain ahead of us and we could pick out the ridge silhouetted above us that we were slowly nibbling away at. White blazes stood out like sentries in my lamp, staggering away and upwards. We kept moving for fear of becoming cold, reaching into our side pockets occasionally to pull out a small snack and we sipped our water.
After climbing for an eternity we crested onto the Tablelands, a flat plateau which would act as a rest ground for a mile or so before a final, easy ascent to the summit itself. Skipping over rocks we progressed further and slowly a black night sky melted into the orange of a rising sun. I glanced round and saw two, small pinpricks of light moving slowly over the Tablelands perhaps a mile back. I checked my watch; 04.45, about 30 minutes before the summit would light up from the sun sitting somewhere over the Atlantic. As I peered up I suddenly recognised the black outline of something I had seen countless times in photos and videos of previous AT thru-hiker, the summit sign. Its familiar clapboard shape still inky black. My eyes welled up a little and emotions started to flood through, I choked and failed to hold back a couple of tears. After nearly 5 months I was 10 minutes away from the finish.
Skunkape reached the summit and dropped his pack. I looked around confused, in disbelief that I had made it. 2184.2 miles, 4 months and 30 days. I looked at Skunkape, his expression gave little away save a wry smile and we shook hands.
“Congratulations on becoming an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker,” I offered.
“And the same to you Fozzie.”
We took some photos but it was still too dark. Hunkering down behind some rocks we sheltered from a cold wind and watched the sky to the west slowly illuminate. The Knife Edge Ridge plummeted down to our left, the Tablelands now bathed in a soft light behind us. Meat and Banjo arrived, congratulating us and saying they had seen my headlamps as I had turned to see theirs. They joined us and sheltered as an orange sun peered over a low cloud base and we felt a warmth slowly penetrate our chilled bodies.
Lazagne and Thirsty 2 days before finishing
3 hours later and there was perhaps 20 thru-hikers on the summit. Thirsty had been the first to arrive, announcing his presence with cries of jubilation, others joined us and then Lazagne and Juggles appeared. The mood, as you would expect, was jovial and we rode a high of excitement not just at the top of the mountain, but for the rest of the day.
One of the first summit photos as the sun was rising
I am now just outside of New York city. Thirsty, Lazagne and I are staying at Juggles’ place after his father, Jim, had collected us from Maine and driven us back. We are exhausted, bruised, emotional and elated. This journey is over, a bigger one still continues for us as we contemplate what the next few months will hold.
I am heading down to Homestead in Florida to my friends organic farm. I need to rest, eat some good food, maybe do some yoga and just concentrate on getting my body back to some sort of normality.
The Appalachian Trail was the hardest challenge I have ever down. Physically hard and emotionally tough it has worn me down. I was never complacent about thru-hiking this one. Despite being the first long distance trail that many tackle because it is the shortest of the big three in the States, it is not the easiest. More punishing than the Pacific Crest Trail, its mountains and brutal terrain caught me out several times. Southern Maine was perhaps the toughest, struggling through the Mahoosics and Bigalow ranges reduced me at times to a weakened, emotional wreck. I remember turning the page in my guidebook on the day we hit Mount Avery, the last big peak before Katahdin, and seeing at last the terrain relax and flatten a little. We sat out a day of rain at East Flagstaff Lake fondly anticipating easier terrain as rain plopped on our tarps and we walked out to the shore in between the downpours.
My thoughts go out to Danish, who I met about 4 weeks ago. Last year he took on the AT but had to return home after his visa ran out. This year, he was 70 miles before the finish when he snagged his shoe on a tree root and fell. We caught up with him in Millinocket, smiling and in good spirits despite breaking his leg and coming to terms with the fact that he has to return a third time to finish his dream.
Juggles, Thirsty and I are heading out to the local wilds for 3 days. Hiking is the last thing on our mind. Instead we will be packing out coolers full of cold beer, meat and vegetables and walking no more than one, short mile to a lake full of trout where will relax, fish, read and sleep.
And, no doubt, contemplate the next thru-hike.
OK, I hope I have this right! Back row from left to right: Poncho, Banjo, Juggles, Roadhouse, Meat, Pedestrian, Lazagne, Thirsty and Flash (lower at the end). Front row from left to right: Great Dane, Chesty, Stingray, Houdini and me!
Last Video Update – Reflections of the Trail
Appalachian Trail 2012
Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine.
March 28th to August 27th
Thank you America again