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MMmmkay, it is finally time?. I?ve been seriously putting off writing the last blog entry of this Appalachian Trail adventure. Who knows if it is an act of prolonging the journey, getting crazy busy with the joys of being back in a scheduling happy world, or simply all of the things. At any rate, under the pressures of a clock ticking vivaciously once again, here we go.
Last I left off, the White Mountains were in the midst. I had just experienced some of the most love filled trail magic I?ve ever experienced from Ann at the Autumn Breeze Motor Inn. This was also quickly followed, in response to Deer Dog?s famous trail magic speech at a hut in the White Mountains, by incredible trail magic from Jane at the Highland Center? to prove that New Hampshire knows how to TREAT their thru hikers.
You?d think we had magiced out all veins of kindness at this point? no way were we still dusted with love and luck? Touch?? we awoke the next morning, after our stay at the Highland Center thanks to Jane, in gale force winds and rain. Deer Dog and I were between a rock and a hard place. Our next chunk of trail would take us nearly 1500 feet up in elevation? where the weather was bound to be worse. Mt. Washington, famous for a world record setting 231 mph wind speed observed by man, was our next destination? and it was showing off.
Our plan for hiking, of course, was botched. But never fear, there was more glorious trail magic near! Deer Dog called up her Dartmouth Rugby Coach friend Deb in Hanover NH. She sailed up to snag us, drove the 2 hours back to Hanover, and put us up for a lovely evening of watching Rocky Balboa, wining and dining, and sharing the comforts of her home a.k.a. The Dog House. Vashon Island connection? my home town? turns out Deb coached a friend of my Big Bro?s, who also grew up on Vashon Island, while she was at Dartmouth!
On another note, my birthday quickly followed Deb?s rescue. Honestly, this year? sweet 23? was the biggest and best surprise birthday celebration I?ve ever received. I guess the years only get more meaningful? 2016 has a lot to live up to. We, a group of my favorite trail family members 12 deep, were all at Lake of the Clouds Hut the 29th. Fog draped our mandatory stay at this 120 person villa before climbing the last mile and a half to summit party together on top of Mt. Washington the next day. It was a raucous night as we waited for the 90 guests to dissipate to their rooms before throwing out our blow up pads on the floor of the dining hall.
An early wake up got us out of the way as the guests filtered back in for breakfast. We waited hungrily as they gobbled down pumpkin cake, hash, and oatmeal. I took a jaunt outside, coffee cup in hand, to take in our miraculously clear morning with a rich sunrise painting the landscape. And? to escape the drool worthy wafting scents of breakfast. Red and Deer Dog soon followed me out. The fact that it was my birthday had started to circulate amongst my compadres. Deer Dog wished me a Happy day as I perched upon a rock overlooking our height. Red too, wished me a birthday to remember and grabbed a photo of me to capture the moment. Then, one of the Hut Croo members popped out the side door and said, ?Hey guys, can you come in for a minute.?
The way she said it, I thought we were in trouble? someone left their sleeping bag in the middle of the hall? Red and Deer Dog tootled quickly through the door, I scrambled off my rock and nervously headed in alone. I got to the middle of the floor and the joke was up. The Croo gal announced in front of all 90 guests, my hiker family, and the rest of the Croo that it was a special thru hikers birthday in the Hut. ?Let?s celebrate her 23 years,? she said. And then, the whole place burst into ?Happy Birthday to you?.? I blushed, I nearly cried, I was about to strangle my trail compadres as they all started yelling ?SPEECH? when the happy birthday song died down. I realized I had never felt so celebrated in my entire life. I know this was all out of the love of my trail family. Now, thinking about it makes my heart swell. I?ll never forget 23, and I owe that to a rich group of friends? you sneaky bastards.
Then, we summited Mt. Washington!!! Woo Wee!! What a feat accomplished. Surprise, at the top Stealth showed up. We hadn?t seen him in at least a week. He?d been left alone due to Dopey having to get off trail in order to nurse a foot injury. It was like he was a ghost. I ran and hugged him, a long awaited reunion. He?d be with us for the rest of the journey. As a group, he convinced us all to do a dance party with the summit sign. The video exists, and is said to be an amazing feat of choreography. Youtube the whole hike and you?ll see it? it?s called ?Just a Hop, Skip, and a Jump?.
Next came another visit with the 12 Tribes Cult? at a Yellow Deli just outside Gorham NH. This one was kind as could be, and refreshingly normal? not trying to convert us with Mate and a background voice that sang never leave, never leave.
The longest mile of the AT met our creaky crackly knees. The Mahoosic Notch took Deer Dog, Ridge Rambler, Medicine Man, and I an hour and 15 minutes to complete. We squeezed through tunnels between boulders, found snow and ice below our feet, and rock climbed through the canyon wishing we had chalk to keep our adrenaline inspired sweaty palms usable. This was the hardest hiking I?ve ever done.
Just a day or so later was 4th of July. Deer Dog, Medicine Man, and I celebrated by camping out on top of a mountain with a lookout tower. We scurried up and down the metal rungs a couple times in the evening looking out across the visible lakes for flowering fire work explosions. Surprise!! That night we were accompanied by a couple other weekenders going for the same view. One of those weekenders looked way too familiar. SNAKEFARM!!! He hiked the PCT in 2014 spending most his time with two guys my brother, his buddy Toonboost, and I had stayed our first night with before beginning the trail last year? Dayglow and Testament. Small world? ABSOLUTELY! He?s thinking CDT 2016, yay baby!
Skinny Dipping became a more regular thing as chafe made a vengeful return to the trek. A juicy steak burger served by a true Mainer at the general store in Andover, ME filled my belly and warmed my heart. Scott Jurec, the new AT supported thru hike record holder, passed me two days after the 4th of July. VWHAT? He finished the whole trail in 46 days and 8 hours beating the record by 3 hours. Gawd?.
Then, there was the night I was the only Northbounder in a shelter full of Southbounders? must be almost to Kahtadine?... Swamps got too regular for my taste. I think this is where trench foot could come from. Always test the boards your walking on, before diving into the rich organic alpine meadow 3 feet deep and suction cupping yourself below the earth?s surface.
There was a reunion with PCT 2014 buddy Itis. He?s southbounding the trail as we speak. Power to you man! There was a reunion with my Rhode Island Express Boys just as we were leaving Stratton ME. YES!!!! There was swimming at Maine pond beaches. Tim Harrison fed us huge plates of fruity pancakes at his hidden lodge in the middle of nowhere. There was new groupies, Rebel Yell and Smokes? Also a PCT 2014 alum.
Shaw?s hiker hostel is the biggest diamond and true to form build up of the trail. Alas, the 100 mile wilderness is the biggest false build up to and non wilderness adventure of the entire trail. And then that?s about it? one more glorious cheeseburger and you?re just about there? Kahtahdin
The last 10 miles?. You begin in Baxter State Park at the last lean to shelter you?ll stay in all trail, ?The Birches?. The day before summiting and ending your Appalachian Trail, you?ve signed in with the ranger there and swapped your backpack for a small 90?s Nike school pack in order to ease the romp up Kahtahdin.
Our group; Shay, Deer Dog, Chewy, Medicine Man, Rebel Yell, Frodo, Cruise, Chef, Stealth, and I started our trek up early. Individually for the most part, we started leaving camp around 4 AM. At first, we tootled down the gravel access road leaving our camp. Then, our path turned to a trail familiar in width and texture from the thousands of miles behind us. I was on my own, in that first mile of trail the known end hit hard. Tears did come as the rush of every emotion under the sun hit, soft dawn danced around my bursting figure. A mile in I bucked up and had a mountain to climb. Up, up, up, over, around, through. Views began to embrace the gaps in the trees, alpine boulder fields keeping woody growth below 4000 feet. Clouds swept around the landscape blocking, and bringing forth, views. Rebar grasps roused a needle leg, heart pitter pat.
And then, bam! Kahtahdin breaks its climb in a massive plateau, a field of small boulders and alpine grasses. I crossed this expanse in thought, time slowed down. I thought of my brother, how much I missed him out here. I thought of the necessity in finding out I could do a journey of this magnitude happily on my own. I thought of the end, and its reality of new beginning. I thought my heart was gonna explode. I thought of all my friends, I saw their bumpy forms on the peak quiet and at rest. I thought of the fate that had brought us all together from beginning to end, how the world really does spin full circle meaningfully. That a goodbye is really only a beautiful guarantee of another hello.
I saw the board, the end, and my silent friends to its side watching. I crossed the final feet, one, two, three, four, five steps. Stealth had his phone trained on me, but I was in that moment. Screetches of satisfaction cawed from my soul. Grasping the sign with both hands, I lay my burden upon it.
We waited for all our friends to arrive, did a dance party at the summit of Kahtahdin, hugged each other close, and then descended together down the same trail we had just scrambled up. We waited for our rides to snag us from the backwoods of Baxter State Park. A good buddy by the name of Archangel walked up last minute planning to summit a couple days from then? more fate? more love? more world going round. We all vamanosed one way or another. Stealth and I ended up going to Portland Maine to spend 2 days with Dopey thanks to the kindness of Chef?s dad.
There was a splash in the Atlantic, and a flight home. Finalization, Closure, Reality.
Culture shock to the present moment, Yes. CDT 2016? Absolutely?.
Peace be your journey,
Laugh Track :D