Day 174 (10/1/15)
Start: Mt. Katahdin Campground
Finish: Mt. Katahdin Summit
Miles Hiked: 5.2
To Go: 0
Jeopardy, RockBoat and I woke up early and were on the road for 6:00am. It was cold and windy but fortunately the rain had stopped. Between the hotel and Katahdin Stream Campground were some instances of street flooding and downed tree limbs but it would take much more than that to keep us from reaching Baxter State Park, the home of Mt. Katahdin. After an hour of carefully negotiating dark and wet roads we arrived at the campground. Hikers are expected to sign in at a check station on the trail just after leaving the campground – it looked like we were the first hikers of the morning. I was in high spirits and couldn’t wait to climb 4,000ft to touch the sign on the summit. I have waited nearly 11 years for today and now that it was here it was oddly business as usual. Hiking with Jeopardy and RockBoat today was just like it was before, we made jokes at each others expense, cursed the trail where it was deserved and appreciated the views when given. Due to yesterday’s heavy rainfall, portions of the trail were flowing like a stream and there where even a few small waterfalls created by the normally dry boulders we needed to climb up. Dry feet would be impossible to maintain so we walked freely ignoring the flowing water and puddles. After nearly 2,000ft of climbing, we finally made it above treeline. We took a short break and relished our view of the surrounding mountain peaks below enveloped in clouds. It was truly spectacular.
Although we had been climbing steadily, the real work was about to begin. Mt. Katahdin is one of the hardest climbs on the A.T. and hikers must use every muscle in their bodies to pull themselves up and over steep rocks and boulders. I likened it to Mahoosucs Notch but vertical. If today wasn’t my last day then the climb up Katahdin would have been excruciating. Instead, I was having a great time. The three of us inched our way up the mountain, oftentimes clinging to rebar secured directly to the rock. It was exhausting but we eventually made it to an area known as The Tablelands. The trail here is rocky but relatively flat. It was here that I sent my comrades ahead. I wanted to walk this last mile alone. This hike has been my dream for a long time and within the next hour it would be over.
I thought back to my first few days of hiking exactly 7 months ago. I was 40 pounds heavier and had never spent a night in a tent in the woods. I had no clue what I was in store for and I did not think I would make it more than a week or two. Georgia was cold and icy and it kicked my ass every day, it contained only 70 miles of trail but it took me 11 days to get out of it. Now, it would only take me three. It was in Georgia that I met my first hiking group of Billygoat, Hula, Blazer, Made-It and Carbomb. I would eventually hike over 500 miles with these amazing people and I will never forget the times we spent together on the trail – especially the karaoke night in Gatlinburg and hiker-trash open mic nights with the Bad Ass Bubble in Hot Springs, NC and Damascus, VA.
By Daleville, VA I was the last one left and had just completed a two week hiking session with my dad, Crawdad. Although the trail may have been a little harder than he anticipated, he hiked his ass off and I think he had a great time. The time I was able to spend with my dad on the A.T. is two weeks of my life I will never forget; I will also never forget how terrified Crawdad was of contracting Noro at 4 Pines Hostel in Catawba, VA!
It wasn’t long after Crawdad left that I hooked up with Team Vortex members Scooby, Murphy’s Law, Mile Marker, Cookie Monster, Skipper and Goosebumps and then a little later Blade and The Cuts members Click, Pie, Blade and Cheesebeard. I would hike on and off with these fabulous people for the next several hundred miles.
After my weeklong trip to D.C. with my wife I became woefully homesick and contemplated quitting on an hourly basis. I hiked with tears in my eyes for most of my time through the Shenandoahs. Had it not been for my reunion with Click, Pie, Blade and Cheesebeard and D.G., I honestly don’t think I would have been able to keep going. You guys raised my spirits and kept me in the game – Thank You! After Blade and The Cuts left the trail for a weeklong trip to New York, I hiked on alone but with a new confidence.
Eventually, I reached Deleware Water Gap and met Miles, Roker, RockBoat and Jeopardy. By this time I had transformed from a novice, pudgy hiker that liked low mile days and being clean into a badass hiking robot capable of knocking out consistent 20 miles days, relishing the funk a week of hiking without a shower creates. I felt unstoppable and able to walk the remaining miles on my own but with such company as these guys along with Lightning and Porkchop who the hell would want to? In the same breath we cursed the trail and laughed at each other; the miles passed faster than ever.
By the time I finished the dreaded White Mountains of NH I felt like I might actually finish this hike. Fate would throw a curveball however and I had to leave my friends and the trail behind. I had come so far and tried, unsuccessfully, to reason with myself that the miles hiked was good enough. While I was home, I thought about the trail several times an hour and my absence made me sick. Luckily, I was able to get back after several weeks. I was now alone for good, everyone I knew had either dropped off or summited. I didn’t care though, I had only Maine left to hike and come hell or high water, I would touch that damned sign on the top of Mt. Katahdin.
Maine was not easy but I hiked hard for 19 days and now found myself just a few feet away from reaching my goal. I stood next to the sign and stared at it for several seconds before extending a shaking hand. The moment my palm made contact with the worn sign my thru-hike was over. RockBoat and Jeopardy congratulated me as we took some summit photos. Eventually we would have to hike back down but for now, we were more than content to sit on the summit, our thru-hikes complete, and laugh.
I write this last post from the safe and warm confines of my home in Louisiana. I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to follow my dream. Now that it’s over, I can’t wait to get back to the normal day to day of work, cutting my lawn and having a two-day weekend. My feet are a full size larger than when I started, my body is sore from head to toe and I can’t walk without pain in my knees. Over the last seven months I have not slept uninterrupted for more than 4 hours. I wake up several times a night, even since I’ve been home, for no reason. During a thru-hike, hikers commonly experience periods of near starvation only to be followed by absolute indulgence. A thru-hike cannot be healthy to the body but, to the soul, it is a healthy and beautiful thing.
I would like to send everyone reading this a small token of my appreciation for following this journal. If you would be kind enough to email me your mailing address at firstname.lastname@example.org I would like to send you something in the mail. I promise not to sell your information to Apple or some crazy guy in Russia!
Although the hiking is over, my updates on this blog are not. Over the next few weeks I plan on uploading some video and more pictures. Feel free to remove yourself from the automatic email updates A very special thanks to everyone one of you for reading along and following this crazy adventure. Your comments were an inspiration and knowing I had such a big support team kept me moving. I also want to thank all of the amazing people I met on the trail with an extra big shout out to RockBoat and Jeopardy – thanks guys, you are awesome. To my family and friends that sent me care packages – when I knew I had a care package waiting for me in a town, I hiked with a smile just knowing you cared enough to actually send me something. Just because I’m back home doesn’t mean you have to stop sending me food though! To my wife, Leigh – we did it. You were with me every step of the way and I know this wasn’t easy on you but you supported me every step of the way and believed in my dream. I love you so much it hurts sometimes but if you get sick of me being home please don’t make me hike again! I love you all, thanks again!