Friday, September 2, 2011

I did it

I could see a large group of people gathering around the summit, but it was still another mile away.  My heart was racing and I wanted to just take off running, but I was content with taking it easy and holding Pauline's hand across the tableland.  Mount Katahdin was the most magnificent mountain I had ever been on, and the mile-long flat stretch at 4,000 feet took my breath away.  I can't remember a time when everything felt that right, strolling to the summit with my girlfriend.  I finally felt as if I was sharing the entire Trail experience with her - the ups and many downs and every emotion in between that I had felt over the last five months.  We were both dead tired - drained emotionally from the strain of months of separation and the illogical anxiety that we both felt prior to seeing each other; and drained physically, too, from the single biggest climb on the entire AT, more than 4,000 feet of elevation gain to reach the 5,267-foot summit.

After the mile-long tableland, is one last climb up to the summit.  We took it slow over the loose boulders - we weren't going to get injured this close to the end!  Finally, we reached a point where we could see the sign clearly and Pauline turned to me and asked me if I was going to run.  I gave her the camera to take a video as I took off sprinting towards the sign that I had seen in my dreams for months, years.  The sign was further than my eyes thought, and I had to push through my body screaming at me to stop before I ran past a group of about 10 day-hikers, slapped the sign and let out a long, unexpected yell of triumph and satisfaction.  The group turned and looked at me, slightly confused and amused by my behavior, and a few gave some light claps.

I took a moment to gather myself in my elation and shock and then I ran back down to Pauline to walk back up with her.  I can't accurately describe the emotions that ran through me then and in the days since then - relieved to be done, excited to be going home, elated to have accomplished a dream, nostalgic for the hike that I had just finished, and still plenty of more emotions, too.  I stood on the sign with my arms outstretched and my head towards the sky - I had thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.  In the middle of my photo shoot and laughing and elation, the day-hikers began to realize I had hiked nearly 2,200 miles to get there rather than just the 5.2 miles from the base and they all seemed a lot more interested in my incredible amounts of excitement and happiness.

It was incredibly special having Pauline there with me at the summit, sharing that moment with her.  It meant so much to me to have her there.  The day was beautiful and everything had worked out according to plan - even with Hurricane Irene trying its hardest to mess it all up.

My mom and aunt had joined me, too, hiking the first three miles and then deciding to wait for Pauline and I to do the last two together as fatigue and having adequate time became an issue.  I was incredibly impressed with everyone's ability to get as far as they did on what was without a doubt one of the steepest, most exposed climbs of my hike.  Descending proved to be an extremely exhausting affair, as my moms legs decided two miles from the car to stop working, after she had strained them past exhaustion on the way up and the first mile back down - climbing Katahdin isn't remotely like any mountain anywhere close to Atlanta, her legs were in a state of shock no doubt.  I helped her slowly down the mountain as best as I could, as it quickly got dark on us and the rocky trail provided obstacles with every step.  But we made it.  And as exhausting as the whole hike was, it really was a fitting end to my thru-hike.  We had all made it down off the mountain safely, and although we had struggled mightily in doing so, the hike had illustrated perfectly the five months of highs and lows that I had personally experienced.

"Adversity makes for great memories", I remember someone had written in a shelter log book back in Pennsylvania.  The accomplishment was so meaningful to me because it was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.  Physically - I got up every day and walked up and over mountains, and on rocks and roots, in 100 degrees to 20 degrees, with bugs swarming and crawling and biting, and knees aching and feet swelling.  But that was the easy part.  Mentally, pushing through some of the toughest times I've ever experienced to stand arms raised on Katahdin is a feeling that will always give me chills and always bring a smile to my face.  I did it. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dalton, Mass

Ok, I have to start this off by saying that I just got on a computer at the Dalton Public Library, went to my blogspot, tried to sign in, and was already signed in as the "pokemon master" - someone had forgotten to sign out.  As I started to type my post, a pre-typed drop box menu popped up saying, "Why do you fart?"  Haha, so, no I'm not the pokemon master, although I would like to meet this person, and I guess I fart because I'm gassy?  I Probably fart most of the time because I'm lactose intolerant.  And as I'm sitting here, the librarian is sitting at the computer next to me, with headphones on, laughing hysterically at YouTube. 

I just took my first real shower (real meaning I had shampoo and soap) since Vernon, NJ.  God did it feel amazing.  As I walked into town this afternoon, down Depot St., I walked to a house full of hikers hanging out on the porch.  There were four or five of them, none of which I recognized, but I immediately walked up and felt completely comfortable talking to them.  I sat down on the porch swing and talked about my day and asked questions about Dalton.  I had decided earlier in the day that I would treat myself to a motel room, but these hikers were making this house, owned by a guy named Tom, sound extremely appealing, "Oh, there's a shower here, and you can do a load of laundry, and sleep in a bed, too!"  I talked with them for a good ten minutes before I introduced myself and realized the guy next to me was Tom himself.  He blended in so well with the hiker crowd, that I mistook him for a thru-hiker himself.  Not that he stunk or looked as filthy as I me, but he just had this camaraderie with everyone that was so real and genuine.  He showed me around his house and gave me a bed and a towel for a shower.  He has bikes you can borrow and a change of thrift store clothes to wear while he does your laundry.  What an awesome guy.  I road a bike down to Angelina's Subs and had the best cheese steak I've ever had - cheese, peppers, onions, mushrooms and lots and lots of steak. 

I got lost yesterday, as I took a wrong turn down a different trail, but the trail serendipitously led me down to a town where I was able to continue my soda a day streak.  Three Pepsi's and an ice cream bar fueled me all the way to Upper Goose Pond, making it a 27-mile day - my longest day yet.  I did an easy 20 miles into town today and am staying in my first town since Vernon, NJ, three states ago.  I'm already halfway done with Massacusetts and then I'll be in Vermont!  I've been hiking big miles and not taking any zero days, because I've been in a zone.  The more miles I do, the more my body feels like it wants to do them.  I have become accustomed to hiking long days, and I get antsy if I stop before I'm tired out.  Like the Southbounder, Jason, who did the first third in about a month said, "I'm not trying to go fast, I just enjoy hiking."  I'm enjoying hiking and accomplishing these longer miles day after day, and it gets me closer to my ultimate goal of Katahdin!

Time to ride my bike back to Tom's place.  See you guys soon!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

HELLO Massachusetts

Salisbury is a quintessential New England town, with white houses and quaint little churches set next to cobblestone sidewalks. I came in for lunch and relaxation, eating a nice deli sandwich and re-fueling my body with electrolytes and caffeine (oh yeah, I am definitely addicted). Its sunny and warm today, but still pleasant and breezy. I've got another 7 miles that looks like its going to be a tough climb and then I cross over the border to my 11th state, Massachusetts! Connecticut has been tough in spots (more steep rock scrambles), but easy walking for a good portion of it, too (like the 5 or 6 miles of flat trail next to the Housatonic River).

I met my first Southbounder to my knowledge yesterday. His name is Jason and he started a month and a day ago from Katahdin. It was cool talking to him about the Trail that lays ahead. He described Franconia Ridge, a 5 or 6 mile ridge above treeline in the Whites, by saying it was like walking on the Great Wall of China. We had such mutual respect for each other, as we each have done what the other hopes to accomplish - put us together and we've done the entire Trail.

I came across a Coke machine this morning unexpectedly, and as I downed my second soda, I realized I've had a soda every day since Delaware Water Gap. A New Zealander, Vegemite, said he's had a soda every day since Waynesboro, Va. There's got to be some sort of Trail challenge to that. Caffeine, sugar, and carbonation makes the perfect hiker energy drink. I thought this thru-hiker, Hobo, was strange for packing out a 2 liter of Pepsi from Catawba - it had to have been warm and completely flat after the climb to McAfee. But not anymore, I completely understand.

So to finish off with something other than talking about caffeine and how much I love it, I just want to say thank you to everyone who has supported me on my journey. Your words of encouragement, financial donations, or just reading along as I head North - it all has meant so much to me!

While hanging out at the 501 Shelter in PA, I read an article in AT Journeys about a father and son completing a thru-hike together. They started when the son was 5 and had done sections for nearly 20 years, to get to the 100-mile wilderness in Maine. The son decided to do a thru-hike of his own in 2010 and his dad joined him for the final stretch to Katahdin to accomplish their hike of a lifetime together. The article was full of pictures from their various sections, and it reminded me of the many trips I took with my mom growing up. Those trips were what led me to this hike. I could see an innocent look of amazement in the sons face, as he looked out at a vista as a young kid, that reminded me why I'm out here doing this - its always been my innocent, childhood dream. I still have to pinch myself as I near 1500 miles. I'm actually doing this!
Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

Friday, July 15, 2011

Caffeinated to Connecticut

A Turkey Reuben and four cokes and I'm happy again.  I was struggling today to get down to Kent, CT.  The never-ending Trail kept going up and down and my energy was completely depleted.  It probably had something to do with the massive amounts of caffeine I consumed yesterday - I felt like I was crashing hard. 

Yesterday I woke up to a couple leftover slices of pizza from the pizza I had ordered at RPH Shelter the night before, and a liter left of my 2 liter Pepsi.  I downed the liter and set out down the Trail early, a little after 6am.  After a tough, but quick 5.5 miles that the Pepsi made a blur, I stopped for an hour breakfast break at a deli.  A 20 oz. Mountain Dew, bacon egg and cheese bagel, giant homemade honey bun, and a massive cup of fruit propelled me for another four hours of strong hiking.  The weather was finally cooling off after being close to 100 degrees, and the terrain was smooth.  My legs felt strong after the first half of New York pulverized my calf muscles.  Just as breakfast was wearing off, I pounded a 5-hour energy and boom - I was off.  I was feeling so great, I blew past my planned destination in Pawling at about 1:30pm, already having hiked close to 20 miles.  I got down to the Appalachian Train Station a little after 3 and went to the nearby Garden and Landscaping Center for a shower and to fill up my water bottles.  Tim's Hot Dog stand was a couple hundred feet away, so I got 2 chili cheese dogs and a sauerkraut brat with 2 more Pepsi's.  Could the day be any more perfect?

I rested for nearly 3 hours at the Garden Center, charging up the phone and talking to Pauline, before I set out for the NY/CT border.  The sun was setting over beautiful green countryside, as I was ecstatically hopped up on enough caffeine to kill a small dog.  I ended up tenting about a mile shy of the border, but the day was a huge success - I hiked 26 miles or so, and felt amazingly strong in doing so.  And then I woke up this morning.

No liter of Pepsi awaited me, or a bacon egg and cheese bagel.  I ate a granola bar and drank half a liter of water and set off for Connecticut.  "What's going on?" my body asked. "Where's all of that wonderful caffeinated energy?" it begged.  I had a slight headache and my whole body was tired.  The smooth terrain turned quickly back to steep rock wall climbs up and down, and my body wanted to sit down on the trail and stop working - I needed to get airlifted off that mountain.  But I got down to Kent without any caffeine and I learned a lesson in the process - unless I have at least one 5-hour energy in my pack for each day, I should probably just not take them at all.  But man was I flying yesterday.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

New York has mountains - lots of steep, rocky ones

I had been stumbling up and down some of the steepest rock faces on the Trail so far. It was 100 degrees and humid. I had only done about 10 miles or so, but it was already one of the toughest days on the trail. The elevation profile didn't look all that tough when I looked at it the night before, but the "flat" sections turned out to be just a bunch of continuously steep ups and downs. The trail was just as rocky as Pennsylvania, but this time I was cursing every single rock - I was mentally caught off guard. New York was kicking my butt.

I woke up knowing the only water sources would be streams, no springs. I don't usually treat the water I drink because I plan my sources from spring to spring, but it looked like I would have to rely on frothy, root beer-like streams all day. The day was looking bleak.

And then out of the heavens, trail magic came from all directions. Trail magic, for those of you who are confused, is any unexpected act of kindness towards a hiker. Most of the time, it's in the form of cold drinks or food or a ride into town. In Georgia, I was spoiled with it, almost getting to the point where I was expecting it at every road crossing. But the more north I've gotten, the more rare magic has become.

I was out of water when I hit my first road crossing and sure enough, there was a cooler full of cold water jugs next to the trail. "The trail provides" seems to be a saying that I have been experiencing a lot lately, and this water was there when I needed it the most. I filled up 2 liters and drank another liter, feeling refreshed and no longer dizzy from dehydration.

8 miles further down the Trail and I had sweated out all the water I had consumed and was miserable and slightly cranky, coming down Arden Mtn. Running low on fluids, I came down to Arden Valley Road to a pickup truck with three guys standing around it. I gave a friendly wave and hello, and took off my pack 20 feet away. I wiped away the sweat from my forehead and chugged the last of my now warm water, trying to look as desparate as possible. I could see they had powerades, but they weren't offering me any. A couple minutes later, and I reluctantly threw my pack over my shoulders and trudged away, dragging my poles on the road behind me.

I had about a half-mile road walk before I entered Harriman State Park and I took it as slow as possible, out of water and melting on the pavement. And then out of nowhere comes the black pickup, pulling up next to me, waking me up from my zombie-like death march. "You walked past some magic man!" yelled the driver. I perked up immediately, "I didn't know what was going on back there, haha".

His name is Patty O and he thru-hiked in 2000. He said he's been doing magic ever since and has met thousands of hikers over the years. He said he's writing a book on the Trail and that he's going to get every single person he's met in there somehow - he's that kind of guy. He made you feel as if you're the only person that mattered. He gave me a cup of ice and a 32 oz powerade - I couldn't have imagined a more perfect drink.

I hiked another 4 or 5 miles to the Fingerboard Shelter, where Patty O had driven up and hiked a mile in for more magic. I finished the night off with frozen lemonade and frozen iced tea with a box of chocalate donuts - it was heaven. We talked for hours, exchanging stories about the people we've met and our experiences - he was full of them. He's going to be in Vermont in a few weeks, doing what he dubs "the best trail magic imaginable". He hinted at what it would be, "Think music blaring, homemade pizzas, beer-battered brats, the best chocolate milk you can buy, beers, sodas, and trail bombs." Not sure if Ill be able to handle his "trail bombs", haha, but I gave him my number so he can text me when he's up there.

His good hiking friend, Crazy Horse, says "Patty O, you're the best trail angel to have ever lived" and Patty O's response is, "angels aren't even alive man! What a horrible name for it." But I'd have to agree with Crazy Horse - thanks for everything Patty O.

I'm at Hessian Lake in Bear Mountain State Park, charging up the phone and letting the temperature cool off a bit. New York has been surprisingly very beautiful, but extremely tough, too, so I haven't really had an opporunity to enjoy any of it through all the cursing. But Connecticut in a few days! On to hike a few more miles tonight.
Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Two hours had past since I had consumed an absurd amount of ice cream, and I was still sitting in front of the Pine Grove store, feeling as if I could vomit at any second.  My dad was planning to meet me in Boiling Springs later that night - a good 20 miles further down the trail.  I strapped my pack on and hiked out with a war going on in my stomach a little after noon.  Luckily, Mt. Holly Springs cut the afternoon hike in half and I was able to get us a room at a Bates motel-esque place, where I did my usual soda drinking, showering, and laying around, waiting for my dads flight to get in.  I took the next day off in Harrisburg and hiked out in the afternoon on Sunday.  It's always really tough taking time off from the trail.  The hardest part has always been walking away from Pauline's car and back in to the woods.  It was hard to wave goodbye to my dad, as I hiked off into deep forests in my new shoes.  I had just eaten real food for a couple of days, and hung out in a city - just one day and all of my senses were telling me it would be so much better if I just went home.  But I press on to Maine, with the necessary mindset that I know I will finish.

It's been way too long since I've updated this thing - my computer luck has been horrible, but everything's been going out here.  I've made it through the dreaded Pennsylvania and into New Jersey, and today I even cross the border into New York.  Pennsylvania was the state I think I was least looking forward to, but I think I've actually ended up enjoying it the most so far.  The first half of the 250 miles or so of PA is a cakewalk - flat countryside, with hints of the rocks to come here and there.  I pushed big miles through PA, feeling really strong and motivated.  My daily hiking mantra was to just go until I was tired or the sun ran out and often times the sun beat me to setting before I was tired, so I kept going.  I was afraid of the heat I would experience in PA - picturing open, rocky terrain, melting with every step.  But PA turned out to be more of a green tunnel than VA and the temps were even a bit on the cooler side.  The humidity was low everyday and it hardly rained on me at all.  The weather felt like the beginning of Fall in GA and it invigorated me, as my mind wandered to life after the trail, and the cruise with Pauline, and football Saturdays.  I hiked without pain and was in such a peaceful state of mind - so thankful to have the opportunity to thru-hike and so excited for my future, too.  I ordered pizza at the 501 Shelter, a shelter just off Hwy 501 in PA, for lunch and hiked the rest of the day on a food high, feeling the best I have felt this whole hike.

The rocks were pretty much as advertised - huge boulders I could jump from rock to rock and tons of little rocks that worked out my ankles and tested my patience as they stabbed the bottoms of my feet with every step.  The rocky stretches would last for a couple miles at a time near the end of PA, but the Trail always seemed to give a break from them with either a walk on a woods road, or just smoother, flatter terrain.  I actually ended up enjoying the rocks that I was dreading so much.  I felt like a kid playing the pillow game (don't fall into the lava!) or jumping from crack to crack in the sidewalk.  New shoes after hiking the first 1100 miles in the first ones definitely helped keep me sane, too.  I climbed up the steep rock scramble at Lehigh Gap on July 4th, and I realized I'm not really afraid of heights anymore.  Last year I had run across videos people had taken of the hike out of Lehigh Gap, and it looked ridiculously steep.  It was every bit that steep, but it was a lot of fun, definitely a top 5 highlight of the trail so far.

I stayed at the seedy Doyle Hotel in Duncannon, where the food was delicious, but the hotel was falling apart - holes in the wall next to my head the size of a fist, sheets with stains that I didn't trust to lay on, and a shower I would never go barefoot in.  It was hiker heaven, a place to drink beers and hang out, where I didn't feel too dirty to be there.  I caught up to Mtn Dew and have been hiking with him and his two friends, Josh and Stacey, who have joined him for the rest of the way.  It's great to see him again, as the last time was when I got sick in the Shenandoahs.  Mayo is still over two weeks ahead,but I'm really getting to know everyone hiking around me now, and they're starting to feel like family.

In Delaware Water Gap, at the PA/NJ border, I weighed myself before heading out for pizza and beers and the scale said 158 lbs.  I haven't been that light since my cross-country days in high school - I had to do something about it.  Mtn Dew, Poppins and I each ordered 16" personal pizzas, throwing in two six-packs of Yuengling, too.  Seven slices and three beers later and I felt fine (I wanted to save the last slice for later).  Mtn Dew finished his and Poppins had one slice left in front of him, too.  Josh and Stacey shared a 16" and they had three slices left between the two of them.  I was back up to 166 lbs when I returned to the hostel, and I felt great, my body just seemed to be absorbing all those calories.  I definitely have my thru-hiker appetite back.

The more north I get, the more entertaining conversations have become with locals and day hikers.  Last Saturday, I was hiking around The Pinnacle and The Pulpit, some of the only good views in PA, and I past a guy wearing an Atlanta Thrashers hat.  "Are you a Thrashers fan?" shocked to see the hat, unaware that the now extinct hockey team had any fans at all.  "Oh no, I've just been to a few games down there, I'm a Flyers fan," was his response.  "Oh cool, I was just asking because I'm from Atlanta," I said.  "Oh you've hiked a long way!" he said jokingly.  I continued with my typical "yeah, I started in March from Springer."  He kind of laughed like I was playing along with the joke, and then realized I wasn't kidding.  "Wait!  You're serious!  Holy crap man, that's amazing!"  He continued to ask questions for the next ten minutes.

The other day, hiking out of Delaware Water Gap and up to Sunfish Pond, I ran in to this Hispanic dad and his 5 kids.  He stopped me to ask how far the trail went and when I told him Maine, his response was, "Maine! Oh man! My kids wanted to go further and I told them maybe next time we would walk to the end of the trail! Hahahaha!"  His reaction was priceless. 

I've hiked about 1,350 miles and I'm down under 1,000 to go - at a little over 800 more miles to Katahdin.  I keep catching myself envisioning my summit day and I get chills all over - I'm getting close.  My mom's planning to summit with me and then I'm coming home to my girls!  My future with them is my biggest motivator.  I'm getting really antsy to finish this up, I'm still enjoying it but just ready to have this done and accomplished.  On to hike out of New Jersey, where the people are orange and the fists pump harder than my trekking poles, and into New York.  I'll be through New York and into Connecticut in less than a week, and a couple days after that I'll be in Massachusetts.  I'll update as soon as I get a chance, which will hopefully be sooner than two weeks from now.