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The Finale

On October 6th my trail family and I finished our journey together, reaching the northern terminus of the AT, Mt. Katahdin. We hiked for six months and four days, and finally competed our thru hike. This journey has been incredible, and it hasn’t fully registered yet that this chapter of my life is at an end. As I process this, I’d like to share some thoughts about the trip.

At the beginning, to me the trail was all about enjoying nature, and experiencing serenity outside of society. The aspect of hiking that I most enjoyed was getting a wonderful view as payoff after exerting myself up a tough climb. My motivations have changed. The views start to look the same after a while, and it’s difficult to enjoy the scenery when you need to stare at your feet all day to prevent tripping, toe-stubbing, and other injury.  Also rain can dampen the spirits as well as your clothing. Through these challenges and tests, the thing that kept me going was the community.

The fellowship of thru-hikers is truly amazing. My trail family, and hikers in other nearby groups made this trip worth doing, and kept me from quitting. The hardships of the trail wear on you after a while, but they also provide for a collective bonding experience. Maybe I had a miserable day with soaking wet socks and a slippery rocky hill to climb. At the end of the day, I sit around camp and chat with people who had to endure that same hill, with similarly wet socks. I have never experienced a community this strong before. In Monson, seven of us sat down for dinner at a restaurant, and a random hiker we hadn’t met came over and asked to join us, and it wasn’t weird. Back home I would never think about going up to a group of strangers in a restaurant and asking to join them, but that just goes to show how great the community is.

In the past six months I have experienced so much:

- I became a practiced hitchhiker.

- I stole a shower in Hot Springs (after trying in vain for 45 minutes to find someone to pay)

- I ate ice cream out of a dumpster.

- I jumped off a 30 foot bridge into a river.

- I went skinny dipping in a pond.

- I watched a sunset and subsequent sunrise from a fire tower on top of a mountain.

- I had numerous in-depth and technical discussions about poop.

- I summited a mountain in sustained 50mph winds, with 70mph gusts.

- I hiked from Georgia to Maine with one of my best friends, and neither of us killed the other.

Thanks to everyone for their support and interest. I absolutely could not have completed this trip without the incredible generosity and encouragement of my friends, family, trail angels, fellow hikers, and random internet people. So thank you thank you thank you, for being part of the biggest adventure of my life. I’m finally a thru-hikers.

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Caratunk

Hey everybody! I made it to Northern Outdoors, which is a lodge in the tiny town of Caratunk, Maine. It took two and a half days to make it here from Stratton, and we were fortunate enough to have good weather to enjoy the beautiful scenery. In this section I saw a helicopter circle in and land on the adjacent peak. I hiked my fastest pace yet, completing 18.7 miles before 2:00. I also found a new hiking buddy, pictured here:

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This pooch must have been a hunting dog who wandered off, and he followed me for three miles to the ferry crossing and road, where the ferry operator got him back to his owner. Poor guy was plum tuckered out.

The most exciting news however, is that we now have a tentative schedule laid out for the rest of our trip. We should hit Monson on the 29th, and head into the hundred mile wilderness. At this point it looks like we should summit around the 6th, depending on weather. This trip that seemed like such a monstrous undertaking is rapidly coming to a close.

I have nothing insightful to say about it, it just feels weird. Another update soon.

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Stratton

We have reached the town of Stratton, ME. With less than 200 miles to go, it’s really beginning to feel like our journey is coming to an end. We’re meeting all sorts of new hikers, as everyone seems to be rushing to converge on the northern terminus of the trail, Mt. Katahdin. Here are a few things that I have learned in the past 10 days:

- Even though we are finished with the White Mountains, southern Maine is still really hard.

- The term “town” has a much looser definition in Maine. Andover consisted of two small general stores, a breakfast place, and a hostel.

- Rangeley is an awesome town, and has a Colorado sort of feel to it. The Farmhouse Inn is one of the best hostels on the trail.

- Wind chill has a huge impact on temperature when you are exposed and at high elevation.

- This part of the country is beautiful when the leaves are changing.

- The two-weeks-left point is where everything on your pack will probably start to fall apart.

- I am apparently a talented seamster, and quite gifted at creative pack repair.

- No obstacle is too difficult to overcome if I approach it one step at a time, alongside my friends.

The next town is Caratunk, then Monson, then Millinocket, then we go for the summit. I like my trail family, and the fellowship of hikers looking out for each other out here, and it’s sad to think of being separated from that so soon. It’s also really cold, and we need to finish soon so we don’t freeze to death. I plan to enjoy every moment of these next two weeks. On to the Bigelows, I’ll update soon.

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Gorham, almost to Maine

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I am the walrus, coo coo cuchoo.

We made it through the white mountain national forest! All sorts of people have been warning us about the difficulty of the whites for several months, and boy were they right. This has been the most strenuous section of trail we have encountered yet, and the drop in our daily mileage reflects that. However, with the increased difficulty came increased beauty, and the views from above treeline have been exquisite.

This park is unique in that it contains a system of fully staffed huts that provide shelter for hikers, and a nice place to eat and spend the night. They are basically very expensive cabins, but thru-hikers have a chance to do a work for stay each night. Kat and snorlax and I took advantage of this option, and hopped from hut to hut. We washed dishes, swept the bunkrooms, scoured pans, and stacked firewood, in exchange for a dry place to sleep and leftover food.

I was told I should expect to lose five pounds through the whites, but due to the hospitality of hut staff, and the generosity of day and section hikers, I think I came through about five pounds heavier, with an extra day and a half of food.

Once we got to Gotham, we reconnected with hustle, flow, tinder, and birch. The whites are over, but we have been told that the section from here to Andover is the toughest of the whole trail. Whatever, I have my crew with me. We’ll be in Maine in two days. Bring it on!

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New Hampshire: Into the Whites

Kat and I are a few days into New Hampshire, and are just a short distance from the southern edge of the White Mountain National Forest. We were delayed slightly in Hanover, at first by the amazing food and generous people, later by Kat’s cold, but we’re feeling good and are ready to take on our biggest challenge yet. The park begins with a technical climb and descent over Mt. Moosilauke, which we will be tackling today.

Last night we stayed at the Hikers Welcome Hostel in Glencliff, which was an interesting experience. This is a converted house and yard that has modern amenities disguised behind a rustic appearance. After completing our resupply, we joined the other hikers in enjoying the hostel’s expansive DVD collection, watching The Inlaws, Beer fest, and Super Troopers.

With that last dose of civilization, we head back into the wilderness. From here on, accessible towns become fewer and farther between, and the definition of town must be broadened. Today is our five month hike-iversary, and we hope to finish in 30 days. Wish us luck, here we go!

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End of Vermont

Hey everybody. Kat and I, and the rest of the rough riders are staying with a cool guy named Warren, about a mile and a half shy of the New Hampshire border. Since last update we climbed Mt Killington, which is a big resort mountain in Vermont, and for the adventure we decided to “sky-blaze”, taking a free-for-hikers ride down their gondola.

After taking care of some chores at the outfitter, and picking up an amazing mail drop (thanks mom) we got picked up by Hustle and Flow’s family friends. Lee and Anna put us up for the night, and fed us expertly. After an awesome nearo, we got back on trail and continued to push forward.

The other highlight of this stretch was celebrating Tinder’s birthday at the Lookout cabin, of which I inexplicably have no pictures. This was a cool private cabin that’s open to hikers, and the unique feature is an observation deck on the roof. We shared the birthday cake that we hiked out, and stayed up for the best star watching of the trip to date.

Today we will probably spend the day taking a culinary tour of Hanover, and doing our chores. More to come. Two states left!!

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Camp cooking

It’s official, I have peaked. The culinary masterpiece of my life has been created, and it has taken the form of an enormous sandwich.

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To recreate this work of art, start with half of an artisan loaf of four cheese bread from the bakery section of your grocery store. Lay the bottom slice on a sheet of aluminum foil and add:

- one layer of cracker barrel aged reserve Cheddar cheese
- one layer of bridgeford pepperoni
- one layer of deli ham
- another layer of pepperoni
- another layer of cheddar cheese
- a layer of chopped green pepper

And finish with the top slice of bread, coated with a Frank’s hot sauce packet.  Wrap that sucker in two layers of foil to allow for even heating, “panini press” it flat with a rock, or rock-like object, and place directly on coals, flipping and rotating frequently.

I wanted to come up with an original name for this sandwich, and since it is large, and since my name is macgyver, I call it the “Big Mac”. I have to do some research to make sure that isn’t already copyrighted, but I think I should be fine.

In other news, Vermont is shaping up to be a beautiful state. The mud has persisted, but rodent problems have diminished. There have been some spectacular views from fire towers, from which we caught a sunset and sunrise. The only complaints I have are the combination of rainy weather, and the density of people on this section of trail. In addition to the large Nobo bubble, there are now Sobos, Long Trail hikers, section hikers, and several large college freshman orientation groups to contend with for shelter space. It makes me wonder about conditions for thru-hikers next year, with the normal increase in hiker numbers, and the potential mainstream popularity increase of the trails with two big hiking movies coming out.

But we are hiking with our buddies, and the other folks in our bubble are great as well. Ultimately, I am still having a blast, and would trade this muddy, buggy, exhausting experience for anything. We are just shy of killington, VT, and soon we will only have two states to go. I’m pumped, let’s do this!!

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