And Now…?

Many people who followed our journey via blog have been wondering what we are up to now, and understandably so–it has been over two months since we made our way down Katahdin. Initially, there was little to report. Mostly cooking, eating, and sleeping. I tried to do a few pushups here and there and found them, well, rigorous… Lots of sitting in chairs, using multiple utensils, and changing clothes gratuitously throughout the day. Absolutely thrilling to us, but less interesting to our readers.

Now that the dust has settled and we are situated back in Arlington, the afterglow is beginning to manifest itself. In times of uncertainty about my own abilities (the world can be a scary place for a 20-something who just stepped back on the grid) I often remind myself that we walked from Georgia to Maine. Georgia to Maine. We slept outside for FIVE MONTHS. Given my previous experience with sleeping outside was, generously, seven days over the course of twenty four years, I think that’s pretty impressive. I am sure we are only at the tip of the iceberg as far as this “afterglow” goes, so stay tuned for more retrospect.

Travis and I were both surprised by how much we enjoyed the process of blogging. Yes, writing multiple paragraphs on the iPhone was a challenge, but it was something to do at night and a critical way for us to feel in touch with those sharing our experience via blog. Ideally, we’d love to keep at it. Not to mention how much easier a real computer makes things.

Our adventures now are less about walking and more about creating. Mostly food, but sometimes furniture. Last weekend Travis cured bacon and corned beef while I endeavored to prepare and consume every possible vegetable from the farmers market. Meat and vegetables. The antithesis of couscous and Snickers bars. Glorious.

And now, the photos.

From the vault (ie the camera we brought for the first few weeks but sent home since we couldn’t use the photos in the blog):

The very, very first night. March 6th, 2011.

The first day it really, really rained. Not coincidentally, our first night in a shelter.

Now fast forward a few (7??) months:

Did you know that Travis is an accomplished carpenter? The loveliest of lovely tables in our new apartment.

Tinkering with lights for food photos, in this case tomatillos. Since we won’t be doing very much walking to Maine and sleeping is boring to blog about, expect a notable increase in the amount of blogging we do re eating.

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Big Finish

As I write, we are listening to the sound of rain falling on the roof of a small cottage next to the sea. It is a joy to know that today we don’t have to disassemble a soggy tent, put on clammy, mildewed clothes and spend ten chilly hours backpacking. Instead we are drinking real coffee from real mugs and contemplating the comforts of indoor life. After five months in the hills, we have a newfound appreciation for everyday things that previously we didn’t consider luxuries. We are incredibly fortunate to enjoy them here on Cliff Island, off of the coast of Portland, Maine where Anne’s extended family spends much of the summer months. It is the ideal setting for weary hikers to re-enter what we are reluctant to call the “real world” (although a better term eludes us.)

Before I start to get introspective about our thru-hike, I should first recount the saga of our last week on the trail, which was not without drama. The final leg, from Monson, ME to Baxter Peak, turned out to be more strenuous than we had anticipated…


This sign greets visitors as they enter the 100 Mile Wilderness. Considering our fitness and experience with over 2,000 miles under our belts, we did not take ten days of supplies with us, but our packs were as heavily laden as they had ever been.


On our first day into the Wilderness, we paused for lunch by this waterfall which spilled into a deep, sheer gorge. We were joined by a large group of teenagers who were being guided on a backpacking trip as a summer camp. They were the first of an astounding number of large groups with whom we would be vying for tent space over the next few days.


The trail in Maine is known for a number of river and stream crossings which must be forded. We were lucky to have passage during a dry spell when the waters were low. Stories abound of waist high crossings.


The landscape is riddled with ponds and lakes.


We hiked an ambitious twenty miles on our first day in and climbed Barren Mountain at sunset, barely reaching the shelter at Cloud Pond by dusk. This is where our difficulties began. When we awoke the next morning, Willett had developed a severe limp and could not put weight on his left front paw. Our hearts sunk as we considered the gravity of the situation and began to assess our options. The injury appeared to be a sprained wrist, something he had recovered quickly from once before, so we initially decided to wait a full day at the shelter before taking a more drastic course. By noon that day we realized with our supply of food and the eighty miles left to hike that it would be too risky to ask Willett to go on. We had find a way to get him rescued from an area that is unreachable by road. We were lucky to get a little cell phone service on top of Barren Mountain and even more so that the folks at the Lake Shore House in Monson happen to be the most generous, sympathetic and helpful people we had met on the entire journey, which is saying something. They knew of an old logging road at the base of the mountain where we could meet them and were willing to do so on our schedule and then drive Willett all the way to Millinocket, at the other end of the Wilderness, where there is a kennel. The following morning Willett was still showing some stiffness but was able to move under his own power. We left most of our gear on top of the mountain and worked our way southbound (unfortunately) five miles to the rendezvous point. To our amazement and gratitude, everything went smoothly. After a deep sigh of relief, we started back up the hill, collected our stuff and were underway, albeit a day and a half behind.


The next leg took us over the very rugged and slow going Chairback range.


We were little low on food and behind schedule to meet Anne’s mom for our planned final ascent when we got our first view of Katahdin from the north side of Whitecap Mountain. The photo doesn’t quite do justice to the imposing prominence of the highest peak in Maine.


We pressed out the last fifty miles in just two days, pausing briefly at the ubiquitous ponds to cool off. The sandy beaches were quite a surprise!


The serene calm made for breathtaking views over the water.


We saw a moose making a meal of aquatic plants as the weather changed for the worse, making for a damp finish to the hundred miles.


A tiny camp store marked the end of the Wilderness and the beginning of Baxter State Park. At that moment it might have been the most beautiful sight of the whole week.


Rain over the last couple days made for a couple of pretty harrowing river fords during the ten miles to our last campsite.


And finally we were at the base of Katahdin.


We spent the night at “The Birches,” a thru-hiker only shelter. There were three fellow hikers there who would summit the next day. We made a fire, sipped a few celebratory beers and swapped trail stories and future plans. In the morning it was gray and rainy, but even so our spirits were high when Anne’s mom arrived and we began our final ascent.


We passed Katahdin Stream Falls about a mile into the 5.2 mile hike.


Soon the trail began to turn into a pile of huge boulders. It became evident that this was going to be a very tough day.


As we gained elevation we entered the clouds. Above treeline the temperature dropped, the wind increased and it started to rain. The trail became increasingly technical, requiring a lot of slippery rock climbing. Not to mince words, it was treacherous. There was real concern for the risk of an accident.


When we finally reached “The Tableland,” where the top of the mountain flattens out for over a mile preceding the summit, we were able to breathe a sigh of relief, but had to press on as the freezing winds chilled us.


When Anne and I saw this sign we both wept. It was overwhelming. The ascent had taken the three of us over five hours. It was a shame to be locked into the clouds and the conditions there didn’t allow us to linger. We had a quick sandwich for lunch and turned back, expecting the descent to take at least as long.


Somehow we were much more confident on the way down, and we actually had a lot of fun scooting down the mountain, mostly on our rears.


The weather cleared a little too, letting us get some views of the valley below.


And ten and a half hours later, the exuberant but exhausted climbing party was safely home free.


We left the park without delay, retrieved Willett (who was wild with joy to be reunited), and I had the surreal experience of transitioning from five months of backpacking to taking the driver’s seat for a four hour trip down the interstate to Portland, where we had a midnight water taxi waiting to bring us to the island.

We are now, of course, enjoying all the amenities of normal, civilized life while we wait to figure out what comes next. We plan to post some follow up and give retrospective about our experiences in the coming days, but for now we are just going to relax and bask in the afterglow.

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Katah-done.


2,181 miles later.

Much more detailed posts coming after a bit of rest and relaxation!


Thanks for joining us, Mom!

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The End Game

114.4 miles. Eight days. Enough toothpaste, toilet paper, fuel, and peanut butter to get us to Katahdin. Probably very little cell service, though, so this is likely our last post from the field.

While we had begun to feel that we were in the final stages upon entering Maine, our arrival in the town of Monson brings us to the true End Game. The whole hike has required a good bit of generalized planning–gear, dog issues, unemployment–but once we started, we spent the bulk of our time focused on logistics for seemingly tiny components. “Getting to Hanover in four days requires hiking 16.7, 18.9, 18.1, and 10.2 miles. We must carry three breakfasts, four lunches, three dinners.” We have about forty of those little plans, building blocks of the hike.

At each town we passed through, another block was revised and fine tuned. The ultimate goal, a lovely day hike up Katahdin, was always in the back of our minds but rarely a primary focus. No longer. There are no more towns to work back from.

We’re heading into the 100-Mile Wilderness, a stretch of trail with minimal road access and no nearby towns to speak of. When we emerge, we will be at the southern end of Baxter State Park. From there, it’s a short day’s hike to the base of Katahdin. Assuming everything has gone to plan (which it rarely does, but we’re optimistic this time), we’ll meet my mom the next morning, sally forth up the mountain, and return to civilization. No sweat.

Enough of that–on to the photos!


Horn Pond with the Bigelows behind.


A gray day on West Carry Pond.


Wee!


I believe this is East Carry Pond. Also the location from which “The Simpsons” found their opening credits cloud inspiration.


Although the trail in Maine is renowned for ruggedness, not all of it is rocky and root-covered.


Tired dog + strategy session.


Willett found an alternative to this bridge…


Crossing the Kennebec requires taking a ferry (also known as a red canoe). Fording can be dangerous so the official AT route is to have the ferryman paddle you across.


The only part of the trail requiring a waiver.


The blaze makes it official.


Flying squirrel!


Could you imagine a happier sight?


There’s a rope to help you cross this pile of sticks…


It’s an emergency!!!

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MAINE!

Yes, the title says it all. We have reached Maine. For the last four and a half months we have been sustaining our quest with the daily refrain “Gotta get to Maine.” Crossing the final border was a truly charged and joyous moment. For a couple days the glow remained, heightened by glorious weather and outstanding scenery. We then realized that our mantra had been inadequate. There are about two hundred eighty miles of rugged trail in the final state, which means we still have several weeks of hiking remaining before we reach the end of our adventure. To bolster our resolve, we now say to each other what was previously implied: “Gotta get to Katahdin.”

As we close in on the ultimate peak, we are beginning to experience a strong yearning for the end. Many of our fellow hikers have expressed similar sentiments, although there is a sensation of impending loss as well. Completion of the trail is the obvious intent of everyone who starts a thruhike, but the destination marks the end of a once in a lifetime experience, nostalgia for which we are already beginning to feel.

This post comes from Kingfield, ME, where we have been generously escorted and indulged by Anne’s parents. They also facilitated a happy reunion with Willett, who will now rejoin the hiking party for the final leg (of course, with the sad exception of Katahdin itself, where dogs are forbidden.) We are immensely grateful to David for caring for Willett for the last few weeks. Although we missed our loyal sidekick, we agree that the traverse of the Whites and southern Maine would have been much more challenging and potentially perilous had he been along.

And now, without further ado, please enjoy this photographic evidence of our arrival in Vacationland:


Our highfive at the border was so epic that it didn’t fit in one photograph, so we had to splice two together to capture the moment ;)


Maine greeted us immediately with some very challenging terrain. The trail clubs here have done an amazing job providing ladders and other assists for difficult sections.


The vistas were as rewarding as the mountains were tough.


Mahoosuc Notch is notoriously the slowest mile on the AT. It is kind of the gatekeeper of Maine, and is described accurately by our guidebook as a “jumbled pit of boulders”.


Sheer cliffs line the narrow passage. As soon as we entered the notch, the temperature dropped at least ten degrees, as the sun barely reaches the bottom for much of the day. Ice was still unmelted from winter in the crevasses of some boulders.


It took us over ninety minutes to navigate the 1.3 miles, which required us at some points to remove our packs and push them ahead through narrow crawlways underneath towering rocks.


Subsequent days brought us over several magnificent peaks, such as Baldpate. This shot is from the south peak as we walk towards a smooth, rocky saddle before ascending the north peak.


Anne almost at the summit of North Baldpate. I think this might be my favorite mountain on the whole trip thus far. The exposed ridge is incredible and the trail maintainers have built an unbelievable set of stone steps to help in the ascent from the south. We took a panoramic photo from near the top that we will try to get online soon, along with some others.


The next couple days brought us to the popular Saddleback Mountain. This shot is from the long ascent over windswept grasses above treeline.


The view looking back on Saddleback from “The Horn.” Unfortunately, hot, hazy weather obstructed our views starting on this day. We hear there is a heat wave in much of the country. We are counting our blessings for the northern latitude!

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Worth the Wait, Part III

This is the final installment of our trials and triumphs in the White Mountains. Our previous post concluded just before our anxiously anticipated ascent of the infamous Mt. Washington. We had been blessed with clear weather before now, but during the night heavy clouds and rain had moved in. It took half the morning to reach the “Lakes of the Clouds,” where there is a hut. We warmed ourselves there with coffee and then pressed on for the last twelve hundred feet of elevation. We were immediately met by strong winds, which propelled sleet and icy rain, as we tried to make our way through the thickest sort of fog. The trail became indistinct on this stretch, as the landscape is made entirely of jumbled, jagged rocks upon which only hardy lichens grow. We made our own path while following rock cairns that are built just close enough together to see in this kind of weather. When we finally reached the summit, we found hordes of tourists who had easily and safely driven up the mountain and were enjoying a gift shop, museum and other attractions. It was a strange experience, but we joined in for some pizza and chili before setting for the descent. Forty to sixty mile per hour gusts nearly sent us scurrying back inside, but powered by bad cafeteria food, we stumbled onwards towards the day’s destination. I’ll let the picture tell the rest of the trip in New Hampshire:


Anne reaching the summit and encountering a tower for weather instruments.


We spent over four hours descending in a windy world that looked just like this.


The hut at the base of Mt. Madison was our goal for the day. We managed to get this shot just as the clouds broke.


The sunset that night was incredible, although I’m afraid the photo didn’t capture it.


The next day we reached Carter Notch, which houses the final hut along the trail, and marked in our minds the completion of the Whites.


In reality we had several peaks to go, among them Mt. Hight, which had a breathtaking panorama of the Presidentials.


New Hampshire had a few more delights for us, including my first taste of Moxie. Apparently it’s a big deal in New England, but might be an acquired taste. I’m for it!


In the center of this photo there is a Pine Marten climbing a tree. They are cute weasel-like creatures that are considered rare, so we were very lucky to see one.


And the best for last, we were finally rewarded with ripe, wild blueberries, after miles upon miles of green ones.

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Worth the Wait, Part II

The continuing saga of Travis and Anne playing in the White Mountains.

North and South Kinsman:

No photos due to wet weather and a sense of urgency to reach our resupply destination on the other side. The Kinsmans certainly merit description, though. After having agonized about the impending difficulty of Moosilauke and finding it, in fact, quite approachable, we felt confident in our ability to hike in “real” mountains. Unfortunately, “hiking” was not an option while ascending South Kinsman. Rather, we crawled, scooched, tottered, hauled, shimmied, and leapt our way up through steep slabs of granite. Our trekking poles quickly became more of a liability than an aid and were put away for much of the remaining journey.

Franconia Ridge:

Franconia Ridge is an exposed ridgeline connecting three peaks in the Presidentials and culminating with Mt Lafayatte. The views along this ridge are incredible and we could not have wished for a better day of hiking.


Approaching the ridge after an ascent out of Franconia Notch.


A clearer view of the trail along the ridge. Mt Lafayette is the far peak.


The large peak on the center of the horizon is Mt Washington! We were about 25-30 “trail miles” from it–likely much closer as the crow flies.


Looking back up the trail as we descend from Lafayette.


The ridge, in retrospect.


After coming down from the ridge (and then confronting another 4,000+ foot peak) we settled at the Galehead Hut where we were able to swap stove cleaning and a morning sweep for a meal and a night’s rest in the comfort of the enclosed dining room.

Webster Ridge:

After leaving Galehead, we found ourselves facing a fifteen mile day or a twenty one mile day with little chance of camping in between. We heard rumor of bad weather coming in the next day–our planned ascent of Mt Washington–and, thanks to a six mile flat stretch midday, decided to press on for the twenty one.


A Spruce Grouse acting very tame and posing for our photo.


We were lucky enough to hike through this boulder field on a stretch of flat, packed dirt. Little did we know that what appears, from afar, to be dirt on top of Mt Washington is in fact these same boulders.


The six miles we tacked on to our day began here in Crawford Notch and headed straight up that peak, Mt Webster.


Luckily, it was another spectacular evening.


Mt Washington–getting closer!

While we might not recommend a twenty one mile day to those visiting the Whites, we were quite glad for the head start the next morning as we awoke to a rather bleak day.

Mt Washington and the thrilling conclusion of our White Mountain excursion coming soon!

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