If I’ve remembered correctly I’ve now been in maine for over 450 miles. Well, I’ve actually just finished Maine! What a state. What a big state. The AT itself only goes through 280 or so miles of it but as we know I started walking from lands very far north of there. Very far north of the Canadian border even. What a hell of a ride it’s been so far, and boy is it nice to cross a new border. New Hampshire! I’m here! I’ve made it! Looking at a map of my progress thus far is very surreal. To see that I’ve traveled over 1,200 miles south so far feels good. That line I’ve drawn on a map from Quebec to the Keys represents so much. All of those that have traveled it before me, everything in between, and an unimaginable amount of experiences to be had. I’m not even a fourth of the way into my walk and yet I’ve met so many wonderful people, and seen so many magical things. I’ve come this far, there’s no stopping now. There’s a story before me waiting. From the very start there was no stopping. A sprained ankle wasn’t an excuse to quit, it was an excuse to try harder. Reform my technique, and pay closer attention to myself. To be more consistent, and to not allow myself to let the fire dictate where I land. My body is king, and this journey is long. My pace is fast, but with every day I learn. Including all my planning and preperations, there never was quit in me. There is only a footpath before me, and a fire inside me. Today I walk, and with every step I get closer to that dream of key west. An almost laughable dream. To walk 100 or so miles of roads through the southern most point of Florida. The dream is engraved in my brain. I may not think of it daily, but the thought appears often. I cower almost to the point of crying. One step at a time. I’m on my way.
Since I finished the International Appalachian Trail and started the Appalachian Trail I’ve had people tell me how difficult the terrain in maine is. How this mountain would crush my will. I’ve been both shot down and lifted up when mentioning my goal. I almost question now if I should even bother, so I typically just respond with “I’m going all the way.” Now that I’ve finished this long and lonesome track through Maine I’ve concluded that none of those passes were nearly as hard as I was told. In the end their experience reflects more about them, than the actual trail. I’ve concluded that really only the final 10 or so miles of this state are of any real concern. Boulders that dwarf men, trail resembling something closer to a creek bed, and an endless supply of roots. The walking has been arduous. Like dancing in many more ways than walking. I step around, I step over, I step on top of, and a couple times I’ve even gone under rocks. Rocks of all sizes and shapes. Difficult? Maybe not so much, a slight annoyance? I’d say that’s more so the case. A man with long legs who likes to stretch them I’ve slowed my miles. From 30s and beyond down to 20s. Soon though, my big days will return.
Although still doing more than most per day it’s been very comfortable. It’s all a matter of time. 2 miles per hour? Less? Wake up earlier. Stop walking and set up camp later. My rule is, don’t stop until 7:30. The beginning of sunset. Beyond that and I find myself walking in the dark. As I often do. 7:30 is only the time in which I allow myself to start looking for camp. I have however broken that rule a couple times. Town stops when I’m hungry and tired, the Kennebec River where I needed a ferry man to cross it(two lovely ladies out birding picked me up and took me across!), or that time I met a cool New Zealander going by the trail name “Bad Decisions.” His bad decision that day was deciding to walk with me the next day. 20 miles, multiple passes, and the hardest terrain in Maine. Locals just out for the day told me that my plan before dark was out of question. I walked away, took my new friend with me, and we did it anyway. Live free or die. I’ll only ask for the weather from now on.
That section was the Mahoosuc Arm, and the Mahoosuc Notch. I’ve heard horror storries. Supposedly the Notch is the hardest, or most fun section of the AT. Most fun is indeed true. It was a jungle gym. Everyone I asked that day said it took them 2 hours. About 20 people that was. It only took us 50 minutes with a stop for water and photographs. Jumping from boulders, crawling under them into caves, climbing up and around them. It was awesome. The Arm however we went down. It was a 2,000ft decent purely on a sheer rock face, slick as can be. One slip and you’d be in trouble. Going down still is in my mind the way easier method of doing it. Going up would have been endless. Step up, slide down. I was happy to only be sliding down. Often on my ass.
There’s three seriously memorable moments I’ll have of the AT in Maine and that’s Saddleback mountain, the knife edge trail on Mt Katahdin, and the Mahoosuc Notch. We’ve already looked at the knife edge, a thin ridge of sharp rocks connecting peaks. Saddleback Mountain however is new! It was a recent climb, and I was fortunate enough to enjoy it with a good dude I met out here by the name of 2Taps. The weather was strange, forecast showed rain for the morning, and then clear skies all day. This was not the case. The rain was true but that was followed by extremely high winds. Most hikers hid in the lean-to shelters that litter the trail but 2Taps and I pressed forward. The climb was wet and slippery up rocks, eventually breaking out from treeline. The wind pressed against us as we entered the alpine territory. Beautiful sweeping views of the mountains around us and the lakes below us. I remember some saying about Maine and lakes. Whatever that is, it’s true. They really are everywhere here, and I frequently find myself navigating around them, or sitting on their beaches. This time though I’m fortunate enough to be looking down at them from an exposed ridge. For three miles this lasted. Walking across the rock face on top of the world, with the wind knocking me from side to side frequently pushing me into the grass. We were told it was 74mph and that was still walkable in my opiniom, but at a slant. Feet planted firmly and still being forced aside or simply to walk with a serious lean. It was cold, but wonderful. That mountain I would do over and over. We were the only two out there that day.
The theme is clear. I wake up, and I walk. Every morning I pack all of my things up and I move forward. I aim for 20 or 30 and see where I land. Sometimes in the rain, sometimes the sun, and sometimes up in the clouds, but it doesn’t matter. I’ll still be out there. Getting wet, sweating, breathing, sun beating, low visibility, high visibility. I’m out here day after day. And it’s wonderful.
Since I’m doing 20 or more miles a day I don’t often or ever see folks more than once and that may be a downside but I love the path I’m on and really wouldn’t change anything. I’d like to do more per day if I could but that will come in time, with more experience, and with easier terrain to walk upon. I’ve met a lot of awesome people, and one benefit is that I’m never in the same bubble of folks. I get to see everyone! Maybe by the end, someone will be foolish enough to hike my hike, but that’s not what this is about. Everyone is on their own path, and doing their own thing.
I camp alone almost every night so I only really get to know other hikers in towns. On trail most congregate around the wooden shelters, but I find the land surrounding them uncomfortable and overused, opposed to the soft bed of leaves or pine needles I usually wind up in. Staying inside the wooden huts would be nice in the rain but if I think the ground around them is bad then I would certainly find the wooden flooring worse. Not to mention the mice that have grown accustomed to the trash left behind or the tidbits of food that spill. My little havens alone in the woods off trail just seem more appealing most nights.
Two towns I’ve stayed in recently left a mark. Monson, and Rangely. In Monson I was pleasent surprised to find that Petes Place, a local restaurant caters to vegans with black bean burgers. More interesting the owners have ridden horses from maine to southern texas. They did it for charity and it took over 8 months. Certainly a very unique experience and it was nice to talk to them about it. I stayed the night in the local hostel, The Shaws. Forever will I hold other hostels to a bar the Shaws have set. The owners Poet and Hippy Chick where amazing and former thru hikers. The help was awesome, the beds comfortable, everything there was nice. In a town without more food than a grocery store they also have a full stock of things hikers like. Poet was or is an English teacher, I’d like to say high school AP, and he even recited to us a poem in old english. Basically another language is what he was speaking.
Rangely is the other town that stood out, but it wasn’t the town… I actually didn’t even go into town. I walked 0.3 miles down the road off trail to The Hiker Hut. A hostel that operates off the grid. No electricity, no cell service. It was a restful and relaxing place next to a stream. I showed up very late and felt quite bad about it but they fed me a vegan dinner, vegan breakfast, and I was the only one there. I sat and talked with the two owners for hours. Steve was a professional triathlete back in the mid 90s and might have even raced in the Tour De France once. Like me, he sees hiking as a sport, treating it the same way you would long distance running or anything else similar. Some go for just 5 or 10 miles a day and that’s cool but he could tell that’s not my game. I’m out here to walk, and he had some very good advice for me which I’ll take to heart. Maine and New Hampshire could be injury central for me, and I suppose the gist of what spoke to me was that I should take it easy until I reach Vermont when the trail eases up. Easy for me is 20 so that’s what I’ve been up to, and I’ve been feeling great! So I think it’s working. The Hiker Hut and The Shaws were both wonderful places to stay, and should I ever hike the Appalachian Trail again I will certainly make my rounds to see these great people again. They really give off the vibe like they want to help you achieve your goal, unlike some others that seem far more money hungry. That vibe meant a lot to me.
So now I’m in New Hampshire. It’s been a long time coming, and although I loved Maine I’m really excited for what this new place will bring. Crossing the border the change was very apparent. The trail is marked slightly different. The way it’s routed is different, and the mountains ahead are promised to be some of the most beautiful this path has to offer. We shall see! Im really looking forward to the White Mountains. For now I can only hope I hit them during nice weather. Or else I’ll cry… or not, I’ll probably just keep on walking.
Oh and I’ve decided to keep clean shaven, because every guy out here looks the exact same as every other guy out here.
“If it ain’t fun, make it fun.”
Lydia and I are very proud of you. Can’t wait to see you again. Take care and pray.
Nice write up, James. Everyday I think, this guy is taking another step towards his goal, What have I done today toward my goal? …Heck, what is my goal?
Your goal lies in the same vein of what you love! So what is it you love?
Loving following your journey – your appreciation for the trail, the solitude, and the connections with those that cross your path are beautiful. Props to you for being a dreamer that takes action, for being a person that’s not afraid of doing what really matters, and for sharing your experience with all of us.