These are all of the wonderful people I had the pleasure of hiking with. Thank you all for such an amazing adventure together.
Well the journey is finally over. Physically my body is happy to be off the trail, but mentally I already miss it. Right now I'm in North Carolina hanging out with Mom, Rick, and Granny. Mom has been keeping me full and Granny has been keeping baked goods on hand and Rick has been ensuring we're stocked with all of the ingredients and libations we need. There is a rumor Granny will also be making biscuits and sausage gravy in the morning. Life is pretty good right now. I'll be heading back to Texas soon, and then I'll really have to re-enter reality. I'm going to have to find a job and a place to live pretty soon. Then it will really feel like this trip is over and just a distant memory.
Thank you to everyone who followed along and supported me along the way. It took an army of help to get me from Georgia to Maine. I've also gotten a ton of supporters who have already lined up to help get me from hobo back to a productive member of society. I would like to thank everyone individually here, but I know I'll accidentally forget someone. I will be thanking each and every one of you personally though.
However I would like to give one special thank you to my buddy Brandon Cox. Thanks for getting me hooked on backpacking. I hold you personally responsible for this crazy trip; in a good way.
I also have one special apology to make to Josh Bowman. Josh for 175 days and 2,189.8 miles I was Squatching, and I didn't see a single Squatch. I also didn't manage to see a single moose despite seeing tons of moose droppings, so maybe I'm not the best Squatcher.
Once again thank you all for following along on this insane journey with me. If you have any questions about the trip or anything you'd like to know feel free to ask in the comments below. I've got plenty of time in my hands. Or if you prefer you can reach me directly through the "Contact" button in the upper right of the page or by emailing email@example.com.
And just for fun, here is all of the destruction and loss from this trip:
Fossil Creek Dental Hat
Deuce of spades
Second poop trowel
Third poop trowel
15 feet of bear line to stupidity the first day
Water filter and water bottle (this one really sucked)
Ear Buds - Panasonic
LifeProof case headphone adapter
Toothpaste and toothbrush
Altra Lone Peak 3.0 high tops
Brooks Cascadia 12s - 3 pairs
Trekking pole tips - 2 pairs
Darn tough socks - 2 pairs
Synthetic socks - 3 pairs
Soffee running shorts
Ripped several holes in backpack outer mesh
Ear Buds - Samsung
Ear Buds - Panasonic
Ear Buds - Generic from the grocery store
USB Cable - Amazon
Bent Leki trekking pole
Hip belt pocket strap and zipper broke
Tent Mesh netting
Two holes in Thermarest mattress
Carbon fiber support in backpack
Hole in Sea to summit food bag
Nexus 6 water damaged
Marmot rain jacket velcro fell off
Big Agnes Fly Creek UL seams came un-taped
Miles Today: 5.3 + the 5 mile descent
Mile Marker: 2,189.8
This morning we took our time getting ready despite all clearly being antsy. We went to the ranger station and dropped off all of our gear except for a few snacks, some water, and our packs. We hit the trail at 8:00 AM and by then it was already mobbed by day hikers. We haven't hiked passed that many since we were in the Shenandoahs. It was weird to have that reference point on such a momentous day. I was wired and ready to get to the top, but I hadn't really realized how much faster I was able to hike at this point. Being surrounded by other hiking robots disrupted my perspective. We were passing everyone like they were standing still. It took me two and a half hours to get to the top. By that point I had passed most of the crowd on their way up. I don't mean that as a humble brag, but to say how it highlighted to me how far I'd come in a way I wasn't expecting. But in the interest of unabashed bragging it did feel good to smoke those tourists.
For most of the ascent I was in the normal hiking zone like any other day. However when I hit the tablelands and could see the last bump in the distance I was pretty overwhelmed. The brass ring was right in front of me and there was zero chance I wasn't going to grab it. Just at that moment I saw this poor, defeated looking guy taking a break and chugging water. He told me he was certain this plateau was the summit. I chuckled and told him this was the last false summit and we only had a mile left.
I charged through the last mile feeling elation, pride, panic, sadness, confusion, and loss. I got to the sign and impatiently waited as a couple finished taking a photo and jumped in to touch the sign before the next group could start taking theirs. I cracked a massive smile and left out a sigh of relief when my hand touched that wooden finish line, and I felt completely relieved and underwhelmed. I managed to make it safely. This whole trip I've been more worried injury would send me home than any desire to quit. I'd just beat those odds. It was also underwhelming because I'm surrounded by people who took all morning to get where it took me all spring and summer to get. I hadn't come to any epiphanies on this trip. No better sense of direction than when I left. There was no ticker tape parade. Just me and that moment of completion. However I set out on this trip entirely as a personal goal. There was no external motivating factor. No teachers to grade my work, no bosses to impress, no one to make proud. This challenge was entirely for me, and I just did it.
Right after I touched the sign I turned and saw Inside Out. She had this knowing grin. She got to watch my whole frantic moment of victory and oh shit what now unfold. It was very comforting to see a fellow member of the tribe in a sea of unfamiliar. I went and sat with her, Junk, and their friends while the adrenaline wound down a bit. She took my victory shots on the sign and we all shared our mutual, confused congratulations while I waited on the rest of the crew.
Shortly after I saw Cheese coming up, and I corralled a group of strangers into joining me in clapping for him as he made the final walk. He threw his pack down, rushed to the sign, and we gave each other a massive hug. I got his pictures and we waited for Einstein to make his ascent. We gave him the same welcome and in his true spirit of “My victory, my way” he shut down the clapping. That spirit of “Nope, I do what I want” is exactly the reason we get along so well. We all hugged and he took a more composed approach. Once he was ready he climbed that sign a champion and got his victory photos. Next was Cousin Eddie and her family. Her brother recorded her ascent and we all cheered her up to the top. We spent the next half hour taking every photo combination of all of us as we celebrated. Cuz is also from Texas, so naturally we got a photo of the two of us with the Texas flag I brought. With her family we had five Texans there. I'll have to check the laws, but I'm pretty sure that counts as a quorum. I think Texas may own that mountain now.
After all of the celebrating many of the people on the mountain realized we had hiked the Appalachian Trail in its 2,189.8 mile entirety. We had so many people congratulate us and ask us about the trip. We've gotten a lot of interest from other hikers along the way, but this was the first time we've been able to be congratulated on the whole thing. One group gave me their last beer, which is a MASSIVE no no on Katahdin. They are from Maine though and seemed not to care, so I graciously drank that celebratory Bud Light! At that point it did start to feel like a ticker tape parade.
We finally wound down and realized it was time to leave. In a final act of defiance we took the Abol trail, a blue blaze, down the mountain. The AT no longer held sway over us and we weren't confined to its white blazes any more. The Abol trail was faster and slightly easier. It felt like a celebratory rebellion. When we got to the bottom we had a massive stroke of luck. We caught a hitch from someone dropping off Sassafras back at the ranger station where we left our stuff. They were also heading out to Millinocket. They waited for us to grab our stuff and took us out of the park and back into civilization. Just like that the ride was over.
Miles Today: 13.3
Mile Marker: 2,184.5
I've been in a confused, euphoric, daze all day. Part of that is poor sleep and exhaustion from the last two days, but the rest is an overwhelming rush of HOLY SHIT! I'M ACTUALLY ABOUT TO PULL IT OFF! That rush is quickly followed with a sense of panic. I have no idea how I'm going to feel tomorrow, but I know it's going to be many things at once.
This morning I hiked to the Abol Bridge Camp Store for breakfast and a few provisions for tomorrow. I saw Neo there with two other hikers. Neo is formally known as Nemo and is one of the hikers who hung out with me on Big Bald back in North Carolina when I got off trail to visit my parents. They were working out some plans for today and also plan on summiting tomorrow. A few hours after I got on trail I realized what those plans were. They rented floats and were floating the river next to the trail. Excellent idea.
I got to the ranger station at Baxter State Park around 2:30 and encountered something very strange. A single digit Katahdin sign. At the beginning of the trail I was doing everything I could to avoid seeing those signs. After the halfway point I enjoyed watching them count down. But a single digit kind of blew my mind. At a certain point waking up and hiking every day became less a goal and more my way of life. Ticking off states and moving along. Getting to Maine was amazing, but it hadn't fully registered. That 5.3 miles to Katahdin sign hit me like a Mack Truck. This is ready happening. Baring me breaking something in that 5.3 mile stretch I'm going to have hiked from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Absolutely bananas.
A moment after I saw that sign I rounded the corner and saw the Katahdin Spring Campground. The campground is a series of four shelters like all of the other ones in the back country along the trail. Then I saw something more mind bending than the single digit. Each one of them had a car parked next to it. People drove out here and rented three wall lean-tos. No HVAC, no electricity, no wifi, and no fourth wall. They were getting the same experience I've been having for the last six months, but they were able to drive right up and paid for the privilege. Some of them are probably summiting Katahdin tomorrow. It really highlighted how ridiculous and unnecessary this trip is. I couldn't help but laughing.
While I was hanging out waiting for the ranger to get back I saw Rabbit who had just finished. I congratulated her and asked how it felt. We chatted about how weird it was to be finished, the trail I have ahead, and the journey in general. Her mom and one of her mom's friends also summited with her and were about an hour behind. They wished me an early congratulations and headed off. Shortly after Rabbit appeared with a grocery bag and said she had some “juice” for me. Alcohol is prohibited in the park, so that's why I'm glad the bag didn't contain the bladder from a box of wine with a few leftover drinks. I thanked her and we said goodbye again. I only met her a few times, but it was weird saying good bye knowing it was for good. There are a few of my friends who have already finished, and it still feels like they are with me just a few days ahead on the trail. But they aren't. There isn't any more trail. Most of these people I will never see or talk to again, but we've all shared something so insanely incredible. We'll always be close in that way.
Shortly after I decided to take a nap while I waited for the Ranger to check me in. Just as I dozed off I was jolted awake by something grabbing my shoulder. I opened my eyes to see a chipmunk parkouring off my arm and into the nearest bush. We locked eyes and exchanged a mutual “what the hell was that about” look before it took off. First time on this trip wildlife has literally reached out and touched me. Well unless you count mosquito bites, ant bites, no see um bites, black fly bites, spider bites, wasp stings, overgrown brush, and nettles.
Once I got checked in I headed to the thru hiker camp to settle in. There was only one other person there named Sassafras. I'd never met him before. We started chatting about the journey so far, and I learned he had also done the approach trail from Amicalola Falls. I asked him if he had to do it over again if he would do the nine mile approach trail (I wouldn't). He said “If I had it to do over again I wouldn't do the AT.” Well said Sassafras, well said. Maybe we all should have paid to rent a lean-to and cut to the chase. Too late now.
Around 5:00 I heard some familiar voices roll into camp. Cheese and Einstein caught back up. We'll all get to summit together!
Miles Today: 22.4
Mile Marker: 2,171.2
Today was another good hiking day with little in the way. Cheese let me know they will likely make it to Abol bridge tomorrow afternoon and might try to sync up with my new summit timeline.
I rolled into the shelter a bit run down and disoriented. I said hello to the people already there and started looking around for camping. I didn't realize I knew the people until Inside Out asked if I decided to change my summit day. Her and Junk were there with their other friend who joined back up to do the hike to Katahdin. We chatted for a bit and then I found a spot to camp. I made dinner and passed right out.
Miles Today: 24.7
Mile Marker: 2,148.8
Last night it rained, but thankfully it passed this morning. Hopefully the weather continues to hold. This morning we hiked 2.5 miles and waited for our food drop. The guy was ten minutes early and brought us each a soda. We loaded up and headed out.
There was nothing in the way today. Just flat trail the whole way. It was rooty and rocky as usual, but basically no ups and downs. I decided to see how far I could make it. Last chance to take on the challenge of big miles, so why not. Cheese an Einstein didn't hike as fast as me, but I have a feeling it'll all work out in the end.
Miles Today: 16.3
Mile Marker: 2,124.1
So far we've seen day hikers every day in the wilderness. Today there was someone setting up doing trail magic. She is running a support van for her friends who are hiking the trail, so it wasn't a special trip, but still.
I think Maine needs to chill with that death and dismemberment warning at the beginning of the wilderness. It seems they have recently done a massive renovation of this section. It is some of the best maintained trail on the whole AT.
Miles Today: 16.2
Mile Marker: 2,107.8
Hiking continues! Pretty straightforward day of hiking. A couple who worked at a nearby campground did stop and give me a beer as they were leaving work. That was nice.
Miles Today: 16.3
Mile Marker: 2,091.6
Yesterday was our final zero. Sad day. We grabbed breakfast, packed up, and headed back to the trail. For the next six days we'll be in this section. Then two days in Baxter State Park to finish. We do have a food drop coming half way through, because carrying six days worth of food is for suckers. Been there, done that, no need for that.
Hiking was great today. Great weather, decent trail, and great company. Cheese, Einstein, and I will likely make it through to the end together. Woo hoo!
We decided this close to the end we weren't in a rush. Cousin Eddie hiked out; but Cheese, Einstein, and I stayed another day.
Miles Today: 6.1
Mile Marker: 2,075.3
This morning I bumped into Cousin Eddie. She confirmed they camped on the south side of the river last night. She said Cheese and Einstein would probably be along in an hour or so.
Shortly after I got started it was time to compose my morning movement. I was finishing and about to wash my hands when I got LIT UP by wasps. Apparently they were not a fan of me displacing mass so close to their nest. I got stung in the temple and both shoulders. I ran away waiting for them to calm down. Then I ran back over to grab my pack and trekking poles. For good measure they stung me in my lower back and my ankle. The one on my back was the worst. It was right where my hip belt sits, so it rubbed all morning. I'm okay now, but it wasn't a pleasant way to start the day to say the least.
We'll spend the night in Monson now and plan out the final leg. From here we enter the 100 Mile Wilderness, and then that feeds straight into Baxter State Park. There will be two days in Baxter, and then we'll be finished. Incredibly weird thing to think about. It's time to start logistics about how to get home. It's going to be a challenge planning more than three days in advance. It's been quite a while since I've done that. Hopefully I get the timing right so I don't miss any busses or flights.
This will likely be my last update until the finish. I'll keep blogging while I'm on trail, but I don't know that I'll have the connection to post from the woods.
Miles Today: 18.6
Mile Marker: 2,069.2
Today was Cheese’s 30th birthday. He said 29 was a good year, and he was happy to be on the trail celebrating it. His original plan was to be finished by now, but things change and he wasn't worried about it. We'll get him his favorite things in town tomorrow. Gatorade and milkshakes.
The weather was perfect and the trail was relatively easy. We had one ascent in the morning, but the rest of the day was nice and smooth. There were two river crossings that officially have to be forded, but were actually able to be done by rock hopping. I bungled the first one and got my shoes wet. The second one was much easier. We had loose plans of where to camp after the river, but when I got there someone was already set up. I found a spot about a half mile further, but I think I may have lost everyone. We're all nearoing in Monson tomorrow, so it's not a big deal. It just feels weird to have caught them and then inadvertently ditched them the next day.
Miles Today: 17.3
Mile Marker: 2,050.6
This morning I got up and made my way to the Kennebec River Ferry Crossing. It's a guy in a canoe who paddles you across. You have to paddle too; no free rides. Really cool they have someone there for us. Back in the 80’s a few people died fording the river. Not something you want to do. The MATC stepped in and established the canoe guide for us. Totally free service. I still gave Greg a couple of bucks because it's not easy work.
Shortly after I crossed I got to Caratunk and finally caught back up to Cousin Eddie, Einstein, and Cheese. It was great to see them again. We filled up on milkshakes and frozen food while we resupplied. I finally got my package with new shoes. I forgot to take a picture of my old ones, but they were wrecked. Massive holes in either side, tread worn completely off, and cushioning long dead. It was a welcome upgrade for this last stretch.
We hiked together the rest of the day and started discussing summit plans and exit strategies. It feels weird to be thinking about those things, but we're so close now.
Miles Today: 21.1
Mile Marker: 2,033.3
This morning I got a text from Cheese with an update of where they stopped last night. They had made it an additional five miles further than where they initially planned. I looked at the elevation profile and decided today was the day I could catch them. There were a few bumps but mostly rolling terrain with few obstacles.
I stayed on it all day. The forecast had the threat of rain all day until 6:00 when it was guaranteed. Maine finally cut me some slack and held the rain back until 6:00. I hiked another hour and a half before I decided I was done. It used to stay bright until nearly 9:00. Now it is dark by 7:45. If I had another hour of sunlight I definitely would have caught up. I didn't feel like hiking in the dark another hour and then setting up in the rain. At 7:30 I found a decent spot and set up. It was still raining, but at least I didn't need my headlamp.
It did feel good to break 20 for the first time in a long time though.
Miles Today: 12.8
Mile Marker: 2,012.2
This morning I hiked two miles to the road and got a quick ride in from Treehugger. He happened to work at the hostel and said I could hang out there even if I wasn't staying. He dropped me off there and I paid five bucks to take a shower. I left my electronics to charge and went and took care of of my resupply. Then I grabbed a pizza from the gas station down the street and hit up the laundromat. I got my blog posts updated while I waited. It started to feel like a nearo, but really I still had a full day of hiking ahead. With all of my chores done, I hitched back to the trail around 12:45.
The rest of the day was the usual walking up and down mountains. I didn't get confirmation if the gang camped where they told me they would last night, so I camped just after the side trail. It was three tenths off to the campsite where they might be. I'm not walking that far off trail unless I'm certain they are there. If they were they'll harass me in the morning on their way by.
Miles Today: 14.6
Mile Marker: 1,999.4
Per the usual, the forecast was off. It rained today, but thankfully it only lasted a few hours. After that the sun did come out, and the rest of the day was nice.
Today was another day of just putting in miles. Tomorrow I'll grab a resupply and head back out. I think I'll be able to catch up with Einstein, Cheese, and Cousin Eddie by the evening.
Miles Today: 15.2
Mile Marker: 1,984.8
The weather was wet and foggy for most of the day. Thankfully it didn't rain, but the trail was still muddy and slick. Around 4:00 the sun came out for a little while and the sky cleared up a bit. Hopefully the forecast of sunshine for the next four days is correct.
Today was uneventful. Just grinding out the miles. I did have a few “I can't believe I'm walking through Maine” right now moments. This whole thing is so crazy.
Miles Today: 13.9
Mile Marker: 1969.6
I woke up just before my alarm (Can't even escape the damn things in the woods!) went off at 6:00 raring to go. The second my alarm went off rain started pouring into my tent and onto my face. I quickly zipped up my vestibule and tried to mentally prepare to hike in the rain. A moment later thunder struck so loudly and so closely I could feel the ground shake. Not getting wet and electrocuted first thing in the morning. Nope! I popped my ear plugs back in and went back to sleep. Or I did until rain started trickling in and I realized all of the seams in my tent are coming untaped. Come on Big Agnes! I draped my rain jacket over the mesh above my face and relegated that to a post-hike James problem. Big Agnes is solid about their warranty from what I've heard.
Finally around 9:30 I got rolling and got on trail at 10:00. At 3:00 when I broke for lunch Mother Nature rolled out round two of her little game today. I quickly made a peanut butter and craisin wrap, put on my rain jacket, and started hiking. Within minutes the trail was a literal creek. In several places the running water hid the trail was a muddy bog. Several times I unexpectedly sunk calf deep.
I made it to town way later than expected. It took half an hour to catch a hitch. The grocery store didn't do me any favors either. The lady working the register had a thousand yard stare of someone who has been dead inside since the Nixon administration. The stare came accompanied by an equally lively willingness to help. I found the one bastion of helpfulness from a stocker who helped me find the headphones dead eyes said they didn't sell and told me the deli had an outlet I could use to charge my phone. The lady at the deli gave me a face as though I had just asked for a half pound of her beloved schnauzer sandwich sliced when I mentioned the plug. One out of three isn't bad I guess. The icing on the cake was the total being $80 for a TWO day resupply. From a REAL grocery store. I didn't get ripped off that badly at the camp store that wouldn't let me shower. I double checked the math. They did double charge me for a whoopie pie (Look em up, 840 calories of awesome. Unroll those eyes Mom), but that was only two dollars. I was about to dispute it when someone offered me a ride back to the trail. Fighting a two dollar charge over a free ride is bad trail math. I took the ride.
Despite all of the bullshit I had a pretty good time today. I had a moment of hysterical laughter when I checked the weather radar and saw where I was. I haven't looked at a map that big in a very long time. Seeing my little blip way up in middle of nowhere Maine kind of blew my mind. I went for a swim in a crystal clear lake and then laid in the sun for half an hour (all the sun for the day as it turned out) drying. I yelled out “Okay Maine! You win!” in the pouring rain today. Again more in laughter than defeat. Once I was completely drenched and my shoes were black with muck I stomped in a massive puddle like a toddler. I really want to be able to fire the engines back up to full blast and put down the miles, but for today I just let go. It wasn't happening and it ultimately doesn't matter. I still want to catch some friends for the summit, but ultimately if I can't it isn't the end of the world. We'll all still have the bond of this ridiculous experience, and we're all heading separate directions once this is done anyway.
Miles Today: 12.7
Mile Marker: 1,955.7
I think I may have over corrected on the whole don't be in a rush to finish thing. There was no reason to do such low miles today. Tomorrow starts the quest to catch back up. Close to two weeks left and fewer obstacles left. Time to get moving.
Miles Today: 10.1
Mile Marker: 1943.0
This morning I got up bright and early and was the first one at breakfast right when the Red Hen opened at 6:30. They graciously allow us to camp in their backyard for free, so it wasn't that tall of an order. Cousin Eddie joined me, and then Cheese and Einstein showed up. I hung out with them until everyone was finished, and then I got my resupply. I was about to hitch when I noticed how strong the Red Hen’s WiFi was. It was insanely fast. In rural Maine they had better internet connection than I did in Fort Worth. I decided to carpe diem and update my blog and load up on podcasts and music.
Around 9:30 I started hitching. I got a hitch rather quickly from a couple in town to do some hiking and look at houses in the area. I was looking out for the trail because it just crosses the road with no trailhead and they weren't local. I spotted it and they let me out. About a minute later I realized I jumped the gun. They were already long gone when I realized. I was four miles from where I needed to be. It took over and hour before I got another ride. It was from a flatbed truck with some 2x4 hand built railing. That was the only time I've ever been unnerved by riding in (on) the back of a truck. The guy got me exactly where I needed to be though. Turns out there is a giant AT symbol painted on the road just before the crossing. Who knew.
I had every intention of continuing my chase to catch up with the crew when I hit the trail. The trail was giving little resistance, but my body was putting up a pretty good fight. I was incredibly exhausted and moving slowly. You would think 2,000 calories of breakfast would have gotten me going. Around 6:00 I started thinking about going back into town instead of going up the next mountain. At 6:30 I hit the road crossing and figured I'd give it a try. After all Hop Along would be in town and Einstein said the pizza was amazing. Why not throw in the towel after 10 miles. I caught a hitch fairly quickly from a nice family from New Hampshire out on a week long vacation. So here I am again. Back in Andover. Stuffed full of pizza and self promises of “we'll just hike harder tomorrow.” At least one of those two is tangible.