The Wilderness

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People have asked me since I finished what my favorite part of the trail was. I have no hesitation when I reply that it was from the southern border of the whites, Mt Mooselauke, to the northern end of the trail, Mt Katahdin. About half way through this final section, after hiking a total of 2,000 miles, I was taking a moment to take in the view at the top of Mt Bigelow. A local, heading south on a day hike, engaged me in conversation. She told me, “The best is yet to come!” A notion that I found ridiculous. Whether this was true or not is a matter of opinion. I don’t think it was the very best section of the trail, but the hundred mile wilderness that we were approaching was indeed a fantastic stretch of hiking.

At the gate of the hundred mile wilderness is the modest town of Monson. We spent two nights in this town as we recharged our batteries for the final push. Our first night we spent at the Lake Shore Hostel. We immediately got a ride to Greenville, where I visit the ER to check out what looked like a spider bite on my lower back. I got the wound drained, and a script for antibiotics. Then we took care of our usual chores: shower, laundry, resupply. There are signs on either side of the wilderness warning that there are no roads or ways to resupply within the wilderness, and warning not to carry less than ten days worth of food. We, like many of our fellow thru hikers, got five days worth of food. It was just enough, even if food was tight on our final day.

The next day, a huge bubble of hikers got into town. Lake Shore House was booked up, so we moved across town to Shaw’s, where we got in just in time–Shaw’s filled up too, to the point where hikers were tenting on the lawn. We had a relaxing leisurely day. We took out kayaks for a paddle, ate all day long, and enjoyed the company of our fellow hikers.

When we finally headed out, the greatness of the hundred mile wilderness was quickly apparent. Smooth, flat hiking. Lakes, ponds, and rivers in abundance. Also, quietness. No cars, no airplanes, no machinery of any kind. Just quiet wilderness. We passed by so many beautiful beaches. It pained us to not spend a whole day at them. We were constrained by our food rations, and couldn’t linger anywhere for long. Still, the hiking and lakes were so beautiful, I’m sure we’ll come back some time just to soak them in.

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And we saw a moose! A great, big bull moose. “Saw” is kind of an understatement, it felt more like we experienced a moose. The moose came seemingly out of nowhere and was suddenly right behind us on the trail. We just spun around and there he was, walking out of the woods. He seemed in no hurry to get away from us so we had plenty of time to get our cameras out. Then he did an unexpected thing. Instead of running away, he started to walk towards us. If there was a tasty leaf in his reach, he would stop and eat it, but then he would continue at us slowly, casually. We let him get about twelve feet away from us before we hurried away down the trail, constantly stopping to take pictures of the lazy pursuer.

A mile from the last shelter, it started pouring. In minutes we were soaked through, totally drenched. This was the weather we had hoped to miss, but we had lingered at nice swimming spots and taken our sweet time–so it goes. We waited in the shelter for the thunder and lightening to subside, then resume our hike.

After five days in the hundred mile wilderness, we made it to Abol bridge, which crosses over the Penobscot river. On the other side, there was a camp store as well as a restaurant. We had completely run out of food by the time we got there, and ended up gorging ourselves at the restaurant. I especially ate an absurd amount of food. After we both finished an appetizer and an entree, the waitress came over and asked if we wanted separate checks. “Actually,” I told her, “I want a cheeseburger.” Which I then followed with chicken wings and two huge piles of french fries my fellow hikers donated to the cause.

The next day we had only an easy ten miles to do to get to the base of Katahdin. We and over a dozen other hikers waited until the restaurant opened at eleven, and stormed the place. We then covered the ten miles filled with good food, and settled in at The Birches Lean-to, our final night on the trail. Some of our fellow hikers were as excited as kids on Christmas Eve. We were happy to be there, but we had no trouble sleeping.

In the morning there was nothing left to do except achieve the ultimate glory: climb up Katahdin and stand victorious at the top of the world. I had highly anticipated that climb. I wanted to feel that caps-and-gowns moment of graduation. The pride and the contentment. I didn’t get that feeling, as it turns out. Climbing Katahdin, I was caught up in the beauty of Baxter park. To our left, a half dozen peaks were blazing in the morning sun. I felt like I wanted to go and explore them. As we got up to the table top of Katahdin, the contentment I felt came from the weather, and the stunning view. We got a perfect day to summit. I was awed by the layer of clouds that poured over those aforementioned peaks like water. They ran into Katahdin, and got shot high above us like a crashing wave.

I had thought I had been hiking for the sake of completion. To come up against a great challenge and find myself equal to it. It was on Katahdin that I realized why I had been hiking, and it wasn’t what I had first assumed. I thru hiked the Appalachain Trail because hiking is fun and the earth is a beautiful place. It turns out the journey was greater than the destination. I’m lucky I got to experience everything that I did, and that I had the opportunity to hike for so long, and with so many beautiful people. I know I live a blessed life. I am eternally grateful to all the people that followed along with this adventure and especially to all the people that helped support us in our journey. What a great way to spend a summer!

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