A.T. Thru-Hike Day 135 - July 20, 2014

Destination: Katahdin Stream Campground
Starting Location: Hurd Brook Lean-To
Today's Miles: 13.40
Trip Miles: 2180.10

We emerged from the woods to find that, at long last,
we were on the doorstep of Katahdin.
The early morning sun cast a familiar orange glow through the silnylon rain fly of my tent, waking me from a deep, restful sleep. While my mind was rushing from a wave of emotions and memories, my body's biological clock still has the ultimate say.

I am well rested and immediately excited, knowing that I will rest in the shadow of Katahdin by day's end. Though I was the first one up—the usual for this group—the campsite was soon a bustle of activity. Even Birdman was up relatively early today, which always means that something different is in the air.

Breakfast was inhaled and everything was stashed in my pack on automatic pilot; I could probably pack it in my sleep now. My pack was super light due to my complete lack of food, as everything was gone other than a few granola bars for the day.

Plus, due to our proximity to Abol Bridge, no one was particularly worried about being hungry for three measly miles. My last day will definitely be one of my lightest, as our constant proximity to water also means I have no reason to camel up water for the hike.

LoJack and Nails were the first two on the trail, but Birdman and I quickly caught up to them. The last three miles of the Wilderness were uneventful topographically, offering smooth stretches through evergreens and moss-covered boulders. I feel as though this stretch is one of the best reminders of the desolate beauty we are leaving behind, a quiet refuge from the modern world. Or maybe it just seemed that way when we hit "Golden Road," the official northern border of the 100 Mile Wilderness. While this road by no means a superhighway, we immediately saw several trucks speeding down this semi-paved roadway, spraying up clouds of dust and asphalt chunks in their wake. Yet even this couldn't detract from the grand sight from Abol Bridge itself: Katahdin, less than 10 miles away, was illuminated by the morning sun, its entirety reflected again by the waters of the Penobscot River. Birdman and I were transfixed for at least ten minutes, staring at the immense goal for which we had striven for over four months now. Eventually our appetites pulled us away, however, and we pressed on to Abol Bridge Campground.

The view from Abol Bridge was even more beautiful than I could have imagined.
Katahdin, hosting its own cloud, rested peacefully in the distance.
The campground was packed with RV’s and huge pop-up tents, a stark difference from our comparatively tiny backpacking tents. We didn’t stop to chat, though, as we were immediately drawn to the camp store. Though the restaurant inside was regrettably closed until lunchtime, we were still able to fill up on chips, muffins, chocolate milk, and fresh coffee, more than enough to fuel us up for the last stretch. We sat with LoJack and Nails, devouring our wares while staring back at Katahdin. After our hikes, we won’t have the excuse to eat unlimited amounts of food—though I suspect my metabolism will stay “crazy fast” for at least a few weeks, I’m sure that having a pint of Ben & Jerry’s as an appetizer will probably be bad idea.

After we satiated our appetites (somewhat) and Birdman bought supplies for his last night in woods, we loaded up our packs, continued down Golden Road for a short while, and then veered back into the woods. Before long we came across the official entrance to Baxter State Park, where we signed the register and looked over the park map. As we rested, two section hikers came up and asked if we were thru-hikers. “That’s amazing, you did it!” they said, thrilled by their luck of seeing such a rare breed of hikers. While I guess they were technically correct, I certainly didn’t feel like a thru-hiker yet—and I doubted that I would until I touched the terminus sign atop Baxter Peak.

The remainder of the trail today followed the Penobscot River, making for easy, flat hiking and a constant white noise of water crashing over rocks. We had to cross the river twice, though true to form, Birdman and I spent a ridiculous amount of time searching for a place where we could rock-hop across rather than taking off our boots. That added at least 20 minutes to our day, and both of us nearly slipped into the river and got completely soaked, but we eventually reached the other bank and laughed at those who mocked our rock-hopping skills. Of course, such hubris always has its price, and shortly afterward Birdman took his final tumble on the trip with a loud “thud!” While he was fine, one of his trekking poles was bent at a 45-degree angle. It was terrible timing, seeing as he might actually need his pole tomorrow.

Other than that, the trek was uneventful but beautiful. The sun shined through the evergreens and a gentle breeze kept the mosquitoes moderately at bay. Just after noon, we began crisscrossing other trails that laced through Baxter State Park, and we skirted around the huge ponds that rest at the base of our last mountain. Finally, after crossing over one last dirt road, we found the sign pointing us to Katahdin Stream Campground, and we found ourselves directly in the shadow of Katahdin. We made our way over to the nearby ranger station, where we found LoJack and Nails talking to the ranger on duty. We all packed into the small cabin office, which was filled with a large 3-D map of Katahdin and dozens of different paper brochures. One by one, we reported our names, starting dates, and personal information, and then we were given our thru-hike completion numbers—I was number 56 to complete a thru-hike that year. I signed in as number 288 at Amicalola, meaning I had somehow passed 232 people on my way here. I honestly wasn’t in that big of a hurry, but I guess I understand why people kept saying that I was flying down the trail.

And then we were done.

All that is left is our final 5.5-mile ascent to Baxter Peak, reportedly one of the most strenuous climbs of the entire trip. None of us are intimidated, though, as our veins are coursing with adrenaline in anticipation of our grand finale. Nails shared a few tears of joy before she and LoJack made their way to the road, hoping to find a hitch into Millinocket for the night. Birdman and I shook hands on a successful adventure, then parted ways—he will be staying in the Birches tonight (the shelter reserved solely for thru-hikers), whereas I will be picked up by Alison and taken to our hotel. However, when Alison arrived a few hours later (fashionably late, as always), she had several cases of soda and beer in tow—she had one last opportunity to be a trail angel, and she performed flawlessly. We dropped these wares off at the Birches, where we also met up with Ranger, Spider-Man, and Socks. We shared a drink and some stories, already reminiscing about days gone by.

I’m now resting at our hotel, the Big Moose Inn, just a few short miles from BSP. We’ve already warned the hotel staff that we will be leaving early, so we should have a great breakfast ready for us before heading to the park. We will be running into Millinocket to do laundry and grab some snacks for tomorrow’s trek, as my supplies are pretty much nonexistent at this point. I’m not sure how well I will sleep tonight—it already seems unreal that the end is practically here.

Who am I kidding? I'm going to sleep like a baby.

After six days in the 100 Mile Wilderness, we finally caught sight of pavement.
While Golden Road may not seem like much to some of you, it was almost alien to us
after being surrounded by nothing but trees and hiker stink for so long.
Abol Bridge gave us easy passage over the Penobscot River on our way to the final resupply point.
The Penobscot was gentle enough to offer a mirror reflection of Katahdin,
doubling the excellent view.
The Abol Bridge Store had just opened when we arrived—now that we woke up with the sun,
it was hard to keep track of when most people were out and about in the "real world."
While other people flocked to Abol Bridge for the campsites, we were much more interested in the ice cream and other snacks. Birdman, who is staying in Baxter State Park for the night, also needed to purchase his final resupply.
The countdown has begun. On a normal day, we could be on top of Katahdin by sundown.
Of course, these next two days are nowhere near "normal" for us thru-hikers.
We turned off of Golden Road onto the gravel road leading into Baxter State Park.
Established by nature enthusiast Percival Baxter, BSP serves first as a wilderness preserve and second as a recreational area.
So leave the bikes and poochies at home, kids.
The Nesowadnehunk Stream was supposed to be our final ford. Stating :tradition," Birdman and I searched for at least
30 minutes for a path that would allow us to keep our shoes on. Keeping tradition intact, we eventually succeeded.
We are in single digits! Repeat, we are in single digits!
You know that you are close to the finish line when every sign is designed for southbound hikers.
If we get lost at this point, we don't deserve to find Katahdin.
See the motion blur in this picture? That's because you couldn't convince me
to stop moving and take a picture of this gloriously flat trail.
We emerged from the woods one last time. This is what we saw.
And with that, we officially have 5.4 miles left to walk on the entire Appalachian Trail.
That, my friends, is what bliss looks like.
Katahdin Stream was irresistibly clear—I must have drunk at least a gallon of this before the day was over.
We tromped over to the ranger station to make the completion of our thru-hike official. LoJack and Socks were there
just before us, and we all walked in together to finish our hikes.
And with that, I became the 56th northbound thru-hiker in 2014.
There's just one more thing I gotta do...