Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The House of Cards Collapses in Southern Maine

To all you inquiring minds who are dying to know- I summited Katahdin and finished hiking the Appalachian Trail shortly after noon on September 17!!  To backtrack, lots of exciting and important things happened in Maine, so here goes-

The last few miles of New Hampshire included a lot of boulder-hopping, but we trogged through the obstacle course riding on the excitement of crossing into our last state.  We got to the border and saw that the famous blue "The Way Life Should Be" sign was gone.   So, no picture with that sign! Shortly after entering Maine we ran into some southbounders who told us that the trail ahead was an obstacle course, but if we hurried and gave it all we had then MAYBE we could make it in time for Day Tripper's deadline.  He needed to be back for work by September 20, which would be very reasonable if we hadn't taken time off to go to a wedding...

So we stopped at the nearest shelter to evaluate our plan.  It seemed like we had everything under control, and if we had fresh legs it would have been ok.  But after almost five months and almost 2000 miles, my body was completely broken down.  We had just survived the White Mountains but they had left me more fatigued than I had ever been in my life.  I was so exhausted I could have slept for days, but instead we kept going just as hard as we had been.

The beginning of Southern Maine was a near-breaking point.  Summer 2010 has been abnormally warm on the East Coast, and another freak heat wave was occurring in Maine.  Temperatures in the 90s are uncommon for that area, supposedly.  We never saw anything different. That, plus the wicked hard terrain, took a toll on me.  In the first half of the trail, I cried three times.  In southern Maine, I cried three times a day.   I don't mean to be whining- I knew this would be hard, but I didn't know how it would affect me physically and mentally.  Day Tripper compared it to a house of cards.  You keep building and building and suddenly you put on the final card and it all collapses.

The final card for me was Mahoosuc Notch.  The Notch is known as the "most difficult mile of the trail".  It is basically a jumbled boulder field.  A lot of people say that you have to take your time and it is fun.  It was fun; I love bouldering and had a blast with similar boulders later in Maine.  But the problem was time.  The stress of a deadline was just too much.

But the universe provides, and a trail angel came in the form of another thru-hiker, Scatters. She is an aspiring writer who is working on a book of short stories about dating on the trail, and Day Tripper and I are one of her stories of interest. Scatters was in a hurry to meet her mom at the end of that day.  Her parents have a house in Rangeley, Maine and her mom was taking some hikers for the night.  Her mom made us a delicious steak dinner with homemade blueberry pie for dessert.  And her mom offered to drop us off anywhere the next day, and I made the most difficult decision of the entire thru-hike.

We resumed our hike the next day.  But, in the interest of time, health, and general enjoyment of the trail, we resumed our hike about 30 miles from where we left off.  So we skipped those miles.  It was a very difficult thing to do and  I felt incredibly guilty, like I was cheating.  Thirty miles, or two days worth of hiking, isn't much in the grand scheme of our hike, but it certainly kept me awake at night.  Those of you who know me well know that I am a rule-follower and I try to be an honest person, which is why I am admitting this.  I do intend to go back and hike every mile that I missed.  I have never defined myself as a "purist" or someone who tries to hike past every single blaze, but up until that point I made an honest effort to try.

One of the hardest things about the decision was how judgemental some people were.  I would guess that over half of thru-hikers skip small sections or "blue-blaze".  Blue blazing is hiking on a trail other than the AT for a while and skipping white blazes.  Anyway, some people had trouble minding their own business.  The take-home point here? Don't judge until you walk 2,000 miles in someone else's boots.

So we left from Rangeley at a more reasonable pace.  We still had lot of huge climbs and boulder scrambles ahead, but it didn't seem so intimidating.  And we managed to rebuild our bodies and spirits enough to summit Katahdin while truly being able to enjoy the rest of Maine, and it was blissful.

More soon!


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