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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Katahdin!!!

The end has arrived. How surreal it was for us to reach the summit of Katahdin on September 29, 2013 after 193 days of hiking. This was our goal: 2185.9 miles to reach this summit.  We made it.

We could not have asked for a better day. We had clear blue skies and 75 degree weather. We could see for miles. The views of the mountains, the fall colors, and the myriad of lakes and ponds below was dazzling.  As we reached the summit, we were greeted with cheers and applause from about two dozen of our fellow thru hikers who had already reached the top. Our friend Henry, who provided us with such amazing trail magic in New York, had joined us for the last fifteen miles. Trouble's boyfriend, Michael, also joined us for the hike to the summit and proposed to her at the top (she said yes). What a fitting finish to our long journey.

Our first view of Katahdin

 
 





 



It is with mixed emotion that I write this post. As we hiked our last miles, I contemplated the parting words I should write that might adequately close the chapter. I don't think I have them. We were ready for the journey to end. We are ready to start a new adventure, like finding a new place to call home. And yet, it is with trepidation that we venture back into the non-trail world. I won't call it the real world, because life on the trail was real in a way I wish more people would embrace. Our community of hikers accepted one another unconditionally, offered friendship freely, and showed genuine warmth, kindness, and generosity. We laughed heartily every day, even those days when the weather was miserable and our moods were sullen.

We didn't love every step, but we loved the whole adventure. It feels strange to trade in our tent and sleeping bags for a bed indoors. It feels strange to spend hours in a car instead of walking to our next destination. We have spent the last thousand miles and almost three months hiking with our friend Trouble and her dog Melkie. We have started every morning and ended every day with them. It was strange and sad to say our goodbyes and head to our separate non-trail lives.

I hope we can retain the life lessons we learned. I hope we will all continue to be more accepting and understanding. I hope we will focus on the good and offer others around us a taste of hiker goodness.

To those who supported us and helped us, we thank you. Thank you to those who kept us fed and sent our food packages. We are ever grateful to those who offered us rides and opened their homes to us, complete strangers who were stinky and dirty. To all who left trail magic, you cannot know how much our spirits were lifted by coming across something as simple as an apple, a candy bar, or can of soda at a trailhead, and sometimes so much more. Many thanks. To my fellow hikers, you are all awesome! We love you all and will miss you. Thank you for your friendship. We have memories that will last a lifetime.

I will sign off with these words: If you encounter mountains in your world, climb over them, one step at a time. And if life gets overwhelming, just head out for a walk in the woods. You just might see us there.

Canadian Bacon a/k/a Dina
p.s.  in the coming weeks, I hope to put together a slide show of pics.

Thoughts from Zen Master a/k/a Keith:

This is it, I thought as we made our way along the trail toward our summit of Mt Katahdin. This was the final day of our journey, and as Dina said we could not have ordered up a more perfect day. I have so many thoughts and feelings about this day and the rest of the journey that Dina has already expressed that this may seem that it is coming from the same mind. For those of you that know us best it comes as no surprise, we are so much in sync with each other.
For the past 193 days we have lived in the woods so to speak, basically reducing our needs to their simplest level. All we really needed was shelter, food, and water. While we carried our shelter, a tent, there was always the need to find a location to pitch it. The food part, ditto, we pretty much had that covered thanks to months of cooking and dehydrating our meals. A special thanks to all of you who mailed boxes to us, keeping us fed along the way. That only leaves the need for water which I kind of took to a different level. So much so that Dina often said I was a water freak, as I often carried more than what was needed. I’m getting off on a tangent here, so I’ll get back to what the people and the trip meant to me. Going into to the hike I did not really expect to become part of a group or think that so many bonds would be formed so easily out here. How wonderful it would be if the rest of society could be so readily accepting, and trusting of each other. While for the most part the days would be spent hiking solo due to different hiking speeds, it was always the breaks, or end of the day gatherings where you realized just how much in common you each had with one another. You compared feelings of how you thought the day was going or went, what were the high and low points etc. or just shared time and space with someone out on the same adventure. Everyone is quick to offer, or share with each other what they have that might fill a need. To those of you that I have shared those moments with, I will miss you all. How special it was to me to see so many of you gathered at the summit, cheering us on for those final steps. Hugs were abundant. What a great feeling of camaraderie and accomplishment shared by us all.

For me this journey has been the fulfillment of a dream. One shared by Dina, so yes how special it was to me to be able to share the journey together. As I have told some of you it also goes deeper than that for me. My dad often said in his later years that he wanted to live on a houseboat, but he passed at a young age without fulfilling that dream. My daughter Stephanie, whom I lost to cancer at the much too young age of twenty six, I’m sure must have had dreams of things she would do someday, but never got the chance. We all say it, one day I’m going to do this or do that, go here, or there. How sorry and sad it makes me that they never got their chance. So in part this journey was not only me fulfilling one of my dreams it was also for them. For all of you reading this, as Thoreau said, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams”. Find a way to make your dreams come true. Take or make the time. Don’t be the one later in life saying I wish I had done this or that. If only if I had not worked so much I would have done…..
It truly is the little things or gestures that were so very meaningful and uplifting to us along the way. How enlightened our day was when we came upon trail magic left for us. To those of you, I thank you so much. To the other trail angels that seemed to go above and beyond, opening your homes to us, picking us up road or trailside and taking us where we needed to go, giving us free lodging or zero days when they were so truly needed, for you words will not adequately express my feelings of gratitude. To all our trail angels I can only promise that I will find a way to pay it forward. Again, what a wonderful world it would be if everyone just did one random act of kindness for another each day.

 I had such a great time through it all. I love all of you that shared this journey with me making it that much more special. I hope to see many of you again, who knows, maybe in the woods, yes, I still love to hike. So as we parted so many times along the journey I will close with the often heard “see you down the trail”.

               

 


Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Final Stretch

We are now just a week away from our final steps on the trail. We entered the hundred mile wilderness today and slack packed fifteen miles, some through pouring rain. The terrain was typical Maine rocks, roots, and mud, but certainly gentler than what we experienced in southern Maine. 

Our next post will tell of our summit experience!





Monday, September 16, 2013

Maine

Well folks, I confess: I'm tired. Exhausted really. We are now only two miles from the 2000 mile mark, with 188.2 miles remaining. We are nearing the end and are looking forward to completing our trek. 

 Our journey through the Whites was slow and difficult. We are now in Maine, and the terrain, while different from New Hampshire, has been challenging and difficult. Imagine long, steep climbs up and down granite rock faces, some of which made us wonder if we should have rock climbing gear. Imagine hiking through days of rain and thunderstorms that roll in as you reach the peak of a mountain (truly not where you want to be in a thunderstorm, and yes, I shrieked like a little girl at the booming thunder overhead.) Imagine boulder fields and steep rocky descents. Imagine every size of tree root, all twisted and gnarled together in a path of mud and rocks, which are all treacherously slippery when wet. Imagine mud bogs, where you might sink to your knee in mud if you step in the wrong place (yes, I did). Imagine that you are gingerly proceeding down a rock face one baby step at a time only to have your feet suddenly come flying out from under you so that you land ungraciously with a thud on your ass. Imagine fording a river up to your thigh with a swift current. Imagine all of this while carrying a 35 plus pound pack on your back. At this point, you might be asking if we're crazy, or why in the world we continue. We ask ourselves the same questions from time to time. We are not always happy on our hike. And yet, we love it. The feeling of accomplishment when you conquer the worst possible conditions is part of what keeps us going. And, just when you need it, the most amazing views imaginable. We were descending a peak with gorgeous views of the valleys below the other day when I turned to Trouble and said, "Stop.  Listen. It's so peaceful here." This is the answer to our why. 

Next stop, Monson, ME, our last stop before the finish at Mount Katahdin. 


Us, Two Socks, Trouble and Melkie at the Maine border. 



Two Socks fording one of the easier river crossings. 






Happy to be in town for resupply, laundry, showers, and lunch of a half pound burger. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Whites

Since my last very short post, we have made slow progress through the White Mountains. The terrain is the most difficult we've encountered thus far, but also the most beautiful. We have had to readjust our mileage, finding that our longest day in the Whites has been twelve miles, a far cry from our previous 17 to 20 mile days. 

It is difficult to explain to others how slow and difficult our hiking has been the last several days. Two days ago, it took four and a half hours to travel a mere three miles, and we were so exhausted that we set up camp instead of pushing on the extra five miles we had originally planned on doing. The day was cloudy and misty, and the pouring rain that we had hiked through the day before left everything slick. Most of our hike was over a jumble of rocks which when wet were treacherously slippery. Everyone in our group of four slipped and fell, and I was incredibly anxious that someone would be seriously injured.  The day left us mentally and physically spent. We all decided a day off was in order, and are taking a much needed rest day in Gorham, NH. 

We are looking forward to crossing the border into Maine in a few days. Our last state!  We have heard reports that the terrain is even more difficult than what we are currently traversing. That thought is a little daunting, but we will press on with our slow, steady pace. 

Internet and phone service has been intermittent, but hopefully we can post another update soon. 

The waterfall beside the trail while climbing Mt. Moosilauke


View across the Franconia Ridge. This was our best day on the trail, hands down

One of the huts


We were surprised by this sign at the visitors center at the summit of Mt. Washington. We thought perhaps there might be showers or something else to distinguish it as a hiker restroom. Nothing.  I, exhibiting my usual rebellious nature, promptly used the regular restrooms meant for the tourists. 

Some of the difficult , rocky terrain we have encountered. 

The lake at Lake of the Clouds hut. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

New Hampshire

I have so much to share and so little time! I am lying on my sleeping pad on a cot in a guy's garage: someone we just met this afternoon. We hiked into Crawford Notch this morning and then spent the afternoon doing our town chores. 

 I am sleepy and not in the mood to spend the hour or so typing on my phone to update the blog. However, I also know that there are folks our there wondering where the heck we are. We are currently making our way through the White Mountains of New Hampshire, which are breathtakingly beautiful. 345.2 miles to go until we summit Mt. Katahdin! I promise more details when we take a day off. For now, a picture of us at the summit of Mt. Moosilauke. 


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

1700 miles

Sadly, I have not written in my journal for a week, which means this post will be fairly short. We are still in Vermont, in a little town on the trail called Killington, at mile 1701.5, currently waiting out another rain soaked day at Mountain Meadows Lodge (view from the sitting room below).

Vermont has earned its reputation as the mud state. The trail will be dry and hard packed, and then out of nowhere we find ourselves trudging through thick patches of squishy mud. 

Vermont has also been a reintroduction to climbing mountains again.  We climbed Stratton Mountain, which is where Benton MacKaye conceived the idea for the Appalachian Trail, and the next day Bromley Mtn. which is host to ski slopes. 

Below is a collection of photos for this week. Perhaps next week I'll be more detailed. 

These two girls were working on the trail as we climbed Stratton Mtn. 

View below from atop the fire tower. 

Stratton Pond shelter. 
Stratton Pond. 

View of sunrise from Kid Gore Shelter

Our stop at Green Mountain House in Manchester Center. The owner, Jeff, hung a Canadian flag in Trouble's and my honor. 
Zen Master made salads to go with our lasagna and garlic bread. 
Two Socks and Melkie

Me on the ski lift atop of Bromley. A ride up would have been nice. 


Zen Master found a little friend. 

We came across two areas filled with hundreds of cairns - amazing!

Maneuvering around a fallen tree on the trail. 

Here we are at the marker for 500 miles left. Two Socks, Trouble, me, Zen Master, and Melkie. 

Melkie shows his happiness by rolling in his back. I thought it would be fun to do the same. Melkie approved. 

Crossing a stream. 

We're a few days from Hanover, New Hampshire, our second to last state. 

Till next time, Canadian Bacon out. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Vermont

Our hike through Massachusetts was a reintroduction to some higher elevation, which we haven't seen for awhile. After a long climb a few days ago, we were treated to some magnificent views of Massachusetts. My phone pictures can't adequately capture most views, but I liked this picture of the morning clouds over the valley. 


We camped one night at the site of an old Shaker settlement. It was interesting to read the history of the site and see a stone wall remnant from the settlement. 
The next day, we had a shorter hike of ten miles and spent the afternoon relaxing at the Upper Goose Pond cabin. The cabin host volunteers treated all the hikers to a breakfast of blueberry pancakes and coffee. 


The trail took us through the small town of Dalton, MA, where we passed Crane & Co. the factory where the paper for all US currency originates. 


Goofing off a bit on the trail, some of us stopped to climb a tree. 



We climbed Mt. Greylock, the highest peak in MA at 3491 feet. There were terrific views of the Green, Catskills, and Taconic mountain ranges. 


The Veterans War Memorial Tower at the summit. 


We have entered Vermont and realized quickly why it is nicknamed "Vermud."


Although we still have almost six hundred miles to go, we are fast approaching the last quarter of the trail and are beginning to feel the pull of Katahdin and the end. Of course, we have the Whites to contend with before then, and as we get closer each day, the excitement of being back in some real mountains is mixed with a little fear of the challenge. Our legs and backs are stronger, but also tired from the wear and tear of 1600 miles. I've developed a nagging foot pain in my left heel that I am trying to treat with stretching and massage. We also slack-packed for two days (hiked without packs, which Miss Janet, a true trail angel brought forward for us). I'm hoping that getting new insoles in a few days will help too. 

As I reread my last post, I realized that I had forgotten to mention some trail magic that I received which has been a true blessing: Beth, many thanks to you and Joe for loading and mailing an IPod the same day I asked you.  Your response was above and beyond, as always. We miss you!

Next stop Manchester Center, Vermont.