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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.

  Cheese and Einstein

 Cheese and Einstein

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 Cousin Eddie and me claiming the summit

Cousin Eddie and me claiming the summit

 Group of champions

Group of champions

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