The majority of thru-hikers I’ve talked to or read about, mention how long they have wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. It’s usually many years that they have dreamed, planned, and saved their money to take on this adventure. I have to admit, I am not one of those people. We will have been on the trail for two weeks on the one year anniversary when I concocted this crazy plan. And Miles and my family knew even later than that. I’m relatively new to the thru-hiking community, but sometimes I feel like the past 11 months has lasted 5 years. With only 3 weeks to go, I’m not sure if they’ll fly by or move at a snail’s pace. And I’m not sure which speed I prefer. On the one hand, I can’t wait to start our thru-hike, but I also want to enjoy these last weeks with my family and friends before I leave. Tonight, I’m going out with friends as a little going-away party, which obviously I’m pretty excited about. My sister, Elissa is coming down for a few days next week to visit and then I’ll be heading home to spend a few days before I leave with my parents. I have a feeling the next 19 days will fly by.
While thru-hiking is a fairly new part in my life, the Appalachian Trail is not.
While I may not have realized it until recently, the AT has always been a part of my life.
Miles and I took a few days off from work last March and headed up to Sugarloaf to ski for a few days. From the photo above, you would have no idea that it was one of the worst ski trips ever. Well, only the fact that we had a stretch of 80 degree days the week before and it melted almost all of the snow at the Loaf. Of course, we had planned our trip the week after the hottest week ever in March. The skiing was terrible to say the least. Of the few trails that were open, they were barren and icy. We had more fun in the outdoor hot tub and squash courts (even though we had no idea how to play said game) than on the slopes unfortunately. As bad as the skiing was however, our extended down time provided me with the chance to discover thru-hiking. Knowing that Sugarloaf was a part of the AT, I did a search on Google of “Sugarloaf, Appalachian Trail” and quickly found myself emerged in the world of thru-hiking. I became obsessed about it pretty quickly and went from saying, “who the hell would hike the ENTIRE Appalachian Trail?” to, “I’m going to hike the ENTIRE Appalachian Trail!” So I guess you could say that I’m okay with exchanging one bad ski trip for the hiking trip of a lifetime.
At the top of Sugarloaf, we did a few photo ops and looking back on these photos, I can only laugh. In the one above, Miles is pointing directly at the Bigelows. This was before we even knew what those mountains were called. I think I just told him to point out in the distance as a joke, but it’s amusing to me at least because we hiked the Bigelows last August as a training hike. These were mountains that I had looked at since I was 5 years old as a I skied down Sugarloaf every winter and little did I know that they were part of a larger chain of mountains, including the very one I was skiing on!
Another encounter I’ve had throughout my years with the AT was on the Massachusetts Turnpike, also known as I-90. I-90 runs from Boston to Seattle, but the section I’ve often frequented is the Mass. Pike on my way to visit my best friend, Sarah after she moved to Broadalbin, New York. We’ve been best friends since we were 6 years old and when she moved away in 2001, we never let distance get in the way of our friendship. Multiple times a year, our parents would drive us halfway between Broadalbin and Bucksport where we would meet at a Chili’s off of 495. We would eat lunch and then both of us would go to either New York or Maine together for a week or two. When I headed to Sarah’s house, we would groan and complain as we drove down the Mass. Pike, the longest road EVER! Little did we know that I-90 is in fact the longest interstate highway in the United States. But we weren’t concerned with interstate distance records. We played MadLibs and made up ridiculous stories instead.
One part of our journey that I always took note of, was a small bridge that crossed I-90 in western Mass. As we drove past going 70 mph, I would read a sign marked, “Appalachian Trail” on the bridge. Of course, I knew what the Appalachian Trail was, but I never truly understood its length and the fact that people hiked from one end to the other. Regardless, it always fascinated me. I would look out to the mountains just off the highway and wonder what it was like to hike up and around them. This may sound strange, but I’m actually looking forward to reaching the footbridge, a part of the trail that has always been familiar, even if I didn’t understand the extent of the trail when I was a kid. It’s not the most interesting or breathtaking milestone, but in all of its metal and concrete glory, it means something to me. A trail that always seemed so strange and wild when I was young, I’ll become a part of that trail and cross over the Mass. Pike. And thankfully that will be my shortest encounter EVER with that damn highway.
When I was a freshman in high school, I went on a freshmen hiking trip with my class. We hiked the Barren Ledges, which I didn’t realize until a few weeks ago, is a part of the 100-Mile Wilderness. Honestly folks, I had no idea that I had even stepped foot in this part of the trail at a mere 14 years-old until I was reading through AWOL’s AT Guide. It makes sense now, since I remember we had to walk at least a couple of miles down a dirt road to even reach the trail. The 100 Mile Wilderness is named such because there are no major road crossings for 100 miles between Monson and Abol Bridge. We crossed a stream, where a few of my classmates unfortunately fell into. We all laughed, but the fallen would have their revenge when the rest of us got soaked on the hike back as it rained.
And the pinnacle of my post and of the AT itself: Katahdin.
In August 2010, Miles, my sister Elissa, her boyfriend (now fiancé) Ryan, and I decided to hike Katahdin. Ryan had hiked it once before, but it was the first time for the rest of us. We had a campsite reserved and had it all planned out. We loaded up the ol’ Volvo and headed up to Baxter the afternoon before our hike. When we reached East Millinocket, all of a sudden, the car died. The battery was shot and we were only thankful that the car hadn’t broken down in Baxter where it would have been even more expensive to tow the damn car back to Bangor. Thankfully, I had AAA and we got her towed down 95. Defeated, we headed back to Bucksport thinking that our grand hiking plans were no more. Despite Elissa’s protests, we had a second wind and decided to get up super early the next day and head back up north to hike Katahdin. It was totally worth it I might add. I’ve done a lot of hiking, but Katahdin tops them all. If you have the chance and the weather is right, definitely hike Knife’s Edge. It’s awesome.
While we didn’t take the Appalachian Trail up Katahdin, we had the chance to admire the famous sign where everyone poses at the end of their NOBO thru-hike. I had no thoughts or plans whatsoever to thru-hike when we summited Katahdin and none of us had any idea what that sign meant to thousands of thru-hikers. Little did I know that one day I would hope to reach the sign as well.
Little did I know when I skied down the slopes of Sugarloaf as a kid, that the Appalachian Trail would become such a huge part of my life.
Little did I know that one day I might be the one passing over that small footbridge on I-90 instead of driving under it.
Little did I know that I was hiking in one of the most remote sections of the Appalachian Trail when I was only 14.
And little did I know that one day I would dream of making it to the top of Katahdin again after finishing a 2,185.9 mile hike.