Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Beard Update

I have been asked a lot about how long I plan to keep the beard (mostly from Amy, with a bit of an agitated and annoyed tone).  Well, even though I am off the trail I do intend to keep it for the next week or two as I make my way back across the country to visit friends and family.  I figure I worked hard for the past 4-plus months, avoiding the razor, trying to keep food out of my whiskers, and dealing with the itching as it grew out...I should at least show it off!  So keep an eye out for The Beard...coming soon to a town near you!


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Heading Home...


July 22-23.  I went to bed in the hotel room last night, with no more hiking or camping in my near future.  As I drifted off to sleep though I found my self thinking about the PCT or CDT next year...ha...I had dreamed earlier on the AT that I might want to take on another long trail next year, but recently the AT was really hitting me hard.  Out on the trail I couldn't even fathom doing another 4 month hike anytime, ever, but already the idea of hiking long distance is calling to me.  I'm not planning anything though, first I want to relax!  I told Rafiki I had thought about the PCT or CDT last night and he said he went to sleep thinking the same thing...oh gezz!  We all woke up at 6 AM and headed down to the hotel breakfast.
Rafiki and his dad then dropped me off at the Bangor airport and I picked up a one way rental to Indianapolis...it was going to be a long day!  Rafiki and his dad offered to drive me somewhere closer to Indy but I really thought after 4 months on the trail I wanted a day in a car, by myself, to get bored enough to be ready to get back into normal life, away from the trail.  Well, that worked...I was bored by the time I hit Massachusetts.  I drove pretty much all the way on toll roads...it cost me something like $20 just to get across New York!  I passed under a bridge I had hiked across in Mass, right near the Berkshire's sign.  The foot bridge over the freeway said APPALACHIAN TRAIL...it was weird to see it from this side rather than from up on the hiking trail!  I pushed on through the night and finally had to take an hour break in Dayton, Ohio.  I parked at a gas station, crawled into the backseat and slept for an hour.  My alarm went off and half awake I climbed back up front and drove on.  It was less than 2 hours from Indy so I called my mom and she and Tom left home to meet me at the airport.  I returned the car and headed up to the terminal to wait.  While I was waiting I picked up the new issue of BACKPACKER Magazine...great idea!  Mom and Tom picked me up and we stopped at a breakfast diner on the south side of Indy before driving back home.  Once back on the farm I didn't do much...unpacked a bit, caught up on the internet, took a much needed shower, and slept away the afternoon. We had a great dinner, watched a little TV and then I passed out for the night.  It was good to be home, but I think I was too tired to really feel a difference from being on the trail!  I had driven 1,200 miles in just 22 hours...crazy since I had just hiked 2,184 miles in 136 days...big difference!

July 24.  Woke up still tired, but somewhat rested.  Today I wanted to get my to-do list done...catch up on my blog, unpack my bag, wash my smelly gear, and have most everything hiking related done so that Wednesday I could enjoy being out on the farm!  I had a great pancake breakfast cooked by mom and got to it on my blog.  Since we had hiked hard through the Wilderness I didn't have much done, it took me most of the day to get the final posts completed, but I was happy to have it done!  While I was sitting at the computer typing my thoughts a pretty intense thunderstorm rolled in and dumped a ton of rain.  I didn't have to put on my rain jacket or don my pack cover...all I had to do was close the windows in the house and pour another cup of hot coffee...nice.  After my blog I dug into my backpack and pulled out things to wash.  My rain jacket and Thermawrap coat hadn't been washed the whole time, they needed it.  I also washed my 15 degree down sleeping bag in the bathtub...that was a chore!  As I cleaned things I didn't really know where to put them...I don't have a suitcase, this isn't really where I'm staying for long...all I have with me is a backpack...so, even though I'm done with the trail, everything seemed to make its way back into my pack. Maybe one of Newton's Natural Laws can explain why even though I don't need to hike anymore I seem to think that everything should go back into my pack...oh well!  Today I started wearing some clothes that Amy had sent to my mom; board shorts, underwear, cotton t-shirts, and cotton socks.  At first I thought I would enjoy real clothes, but all day I kept wanting to grab my running shorts and hiking shirt out of the wash and put them back on.  These clothes just felt so heavy, and in the heat of an Indiana summer (it wasn't even that hot today!) I just felt like I was suffocating in these clothes.  I was even wearing the technical dry-fit underwear from REI, but I just didn't feel comfortable in them any more.  I had a dry fit shirt on and I could tell it was heavier than the dry fit shirt I wore on the trail, so I tried a cotton one, even worse!  I think after a few days I'll get used to wearing normal clothes again...but for now I just want my trail clothes back!  I also need to get used to showering once a day...and not wearing the same clothes for 4 or 5 days at a time.  Lots to get used to!

July 25.  Woke up and walked to the kitchen...ouch!  My feet are killing me with that 2nd or 3rd day sore I get from running...I think they are finally taking some time to heal, which is good, but also painful!  Once I get moving it is better.  My feet were really bloated and puffy yesterday too, which happened when we took an afternoon or day off on the trail, so they must just be going through the healing process.  Amy and Pre will make their way here to the farm tonight and we'll spend a few days here in Indiana, then off to Michigan, Colorado, Arizona, and back to California.  I will probably make a few more blog posts about my transition back into real life.  I know it may not be as interesting as the trail stories, so if you are craving some trail stories and you feel incomplete without them, these are two AT blogs that I'll be following:

Meat's Blog - This is my college roommate, the hiker I started the trail with.  He is making his way north into the last few states of the AT and will be passing through some really amazing trail!
http://www.takeahike2012.blogspot.com/

Shadow's Blog - Rafiki and I met Shadow and his brother Void in Gorham, New Hampshire.  Void needed to be off trail for a few days from exhaustion so Shadow decided to get a rental car for the week and drive NoBo's and SoBo's all around town for whatever they needed.  The brothers and some friends were staying at the same hotel as us and drove us to Wal-Mart, Subway, the outfitters, and anywhere else we needed.  It was great to meet them and I am looking forward to following Shadow's journey south!
http://www.hikingjonathan.blogspot.com/

One of Rafiki's hiking buddies who finished about 2 weeks before we did had sent Rafiki a text message while we were in Southern Maine.  It was just a quick note from this hiker who had been home for about a week...it said something along the lines of "It is crazy restless here at home, I am in a state of slight depression with a long sigh of relief to not be walking anymore.  But, I am a bit confused with where I am and how to fit in here, needless to say, STAY ON THE TRAIL!"  With that said, getting back into real life may not be easy, but it also may not be an option.  I just spent 4 months living life to the fullest every day, I think the best way to make this transition to "normal life" work is to continue living life to the fullest every day from home!

Thank you again to everyone who followed my journey on this blog and via facebook...I enjoyed reading your comments and messages along the way and after I finished!  It was a fantastic experience and sharing it online was one of my favorite parts!  From here on out I guess I just have a few more blog posts about the AT, my transition to home life, and some final thoughts about gear, the trail, and my hike, and then I will need to start focusing on my next adventure...Happy Hiking!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Katahdin - I AM DONE!

July 21.  SUMMIT DAY!  I wasn't too cold overnight...which was good, but it also meant that I slept in until 5 AM.  No matter, I thought if I woke up around 3 AM or so I'd get an early start up Katahdin, but 5 AM is good too.  I packed up my gear (FOR THE LAST TIME) and put everything I needed for the day in my pack and the rest including my sleeping bag, tent, and extra food and gear in a trash bag.  I had heard from lots of other people that I should slack pack (hiking without all of your gear) up Katahdin, and I didn't want to do it, but after 109 miles in 3 days I worried I was too worn down to carry all that weight up the mountain.  I headed for the privy and did my business and when I came out one of the Atlanta Brothers was waiting and I said something about slack packing up Katahdin.  He said "Dude, I don't know you well enough to give you a hard time about slack packing, but have fun!"
Gee, thanks!  Well, I walked the 0.2 miles down to the ranger station and thought about it...by the time I got there I decided I had carried a full pack this far, 2,179 miles, there was no way I wasn't carrying a full pack up Katahdin!  I took a few minutes to repack my bag and took only food that I would need for the hike and hung the rest of my extra food in the ranger station.  I walked over to the parking lot and found two guys who had just parked their cars talking about their sons hiking the AT.  I talked with them and met the Atlanta Brothers' Dad and Rafiki's Dad.  They would both be hiking up with their sons.  I visited the privy in the parking lot, not because I needed to go again, but I had left my toilet paper in the other privy and being a state park these toilets actually had TP, so I grabbed just enough in case I might need it somewhere up on the mountain today.  I filled my water in the stream and headed up the mountain.  Rafiki and the Atlanta Brothers were taking it slow with their dads and Two-Cents and Roots were both ahead of me.
I signed the trail register for Katahdin at 5:48 AM...time to get this trail done!  The first mile or so was ok...dirt trail, a gradual incline, and then it took off up.  In under 5 miles we were going to be climbing 4,000 feet...not easy!  The trail also got pretty rocky, with big rocks.  We had to climb up and over and around lots of boulders.  I had to even take my pack off once to squeeze through a tiny slot between boulders.  It was not easy trail for sure, one of the toughest climbs on the AT.  Lots of places were more like gentle rock climbs with foot holds and hand rails or rocks to pull yourself up with.  It was best not to look back or look down...because we had to go back that way!  At 8 AM I hit the Tableland at 4,500 feet. This section flattened out and I took a break for water and a cheese danish.  The morning was amazing...perfect weather for Katahdin.  It was warm and clear, fantastic views in every direction, even up.  As I sat there I looked up at the top and could see something glistening in the sunlight...I would find out soon enough that it was the Katahdin sign!  I walked across the ridge and passed Thoreau Spring.  I knew I had another climb and looking at the ridge above me I thought I could see my trail and the eventual summit of Katahdin.  On my way up I was playing several songs I had been listening to along the entire AT...it was my AT hiking playlist and I was getting pumped.  I started up my last climb and crested a small rock pile and could see a few people and the sign.
It was a few hundred feet away but I had thought I had to hike another half mile or more to the top so I was surprised to see it so soon!  I set a quick pace up to the top and ran the last hundred feet like I was in a race...I headed straight for the Katahdin sign, kissed the dang thing, and celebrated with high fives and yells with Roots and Two-Cents.  It was 8:45 AM on July 21, 2012...and I WAS DONE!!!!!!!  There were 2 other day hikers on the summit and they were the first non-thru-hikers to congratulate me.  I had been getting lots of congrats from people we passed in Maine, but this one was the first that really mattered!  The day hikers headed off and it was an awesome experience to be able to sit down under the Katahdin sign for a half an hour or so, just me with 2 other thru-hikers on a priceless morning looking out over the mountains and wilderness, talking about our 4 month journey.
We took turns doing photo shoots on the sign and waiting for the clouds to pass to get good sunny pictures.  It was a little chilly on the top so we had our jackets on, but still amazing weather to just sit and wait for the other hikers.  A few more day hikers climbed the popular mountain and gave us congrats as I opened my 24 ounce Budweiser.  Around 9:30 the Atlanta Brothers made their way to the top and they all ran for the sign as well, another 3 completed!  We all celebrated and talked and at 10 AM Rafiki and his dad showed up and made it to the summit!  We all sat down below the sign, a group of dirty, tired, and very happy thru-hikers.  We shared stories, talked about the good and the better of the trail, the amazing day we had, what we looked forward to after this (a shower, a coke, and a burger was the most popular!).
At 11 AM JD and his wife made the summit and that made 8 of us thru-hikers on top of Katahdin that morning to celebrate the end of this journey!  We got some great pictures and JD opened a small bottle of champagne to celebrate.  We all stayed and talked until around 11:45 when we started to trickle down off the mountain.  By the time we left the top of Katahdin was feeling more like Disneyland...there were people everywhere, tons of people.  It was hard to get in line to take any more pictures with the sign and people were asking us about our trek, lots of them knowing nothing of the AT.  It was so crowded that I was starting to feel it...I needed to get away, or back into the woods, or something.  Getting used to crowded places was going to be a hard transition for sure.  The way down was by no means any easier than the way up, probably harder.  On the way down I had to put my trekking poles in my pack and use my hands.  We had to slide down, lower ourselves, or sort of fall, most of the way.  Rafiki and his dad were both tall and I think the extra height helps...I could barely reach my feet to the ground a lot and it made me wonder how hard that would have been for my dad and brother who both wanted to hike up Katahdin with me.  It took a long time to reach the bottom and we finally hit the campground at 2:45 PM.
We headed over to the ranger station to officially register as AT Thru-Hikers.  The office wasn't open when we got there but the ranger was around and she had us come in and fill out our paperwork.  I was officially thru-hiker number 67 of the 2012 season, but several of the people in front of me were going to summit tomorrow or had made it to the summit this morning after me...so after looking through the list I figured I was actually Thru-Hiker number 59 for the year.  Not bad, considering that in Georgia I was hiker number 210 and in Harper's Ferry I was somewhere around hiker number 240.  Since Harper's Ferry I had really picked it up and knocked out some miles!  I had pushed hard through PA, took 12 days from PA to VT, and when I got together with Rafiki we threw some big miles through the Whites and Southern Maine.  I was happy with my finish!  Also, Q-Man, the only hiker I really knew ahead of me, had finished 3 days before me, so I paced exactly with him since we left Deleware Water Gape, PA!  Not bad!  We finished our paperwork, I signed my last hiker log book, and loaded up Rafiki's Dad's Jeep and headed out of the park.  The only thing left to do now I guess is go home!  The drive out of the park on the single lane gravel road was pretty interesting...it took us a good bit of time to get to Millinocket and when we arrived we headed to the Appalachian Trail Cafe and met the owner Paul.  The cafe was awesome with AT stuff everywhere...pictures, memorabilia, paintings, and more.  We all three ordered the Katahdin Burger, a double cheese burger.  Rafiki and I both downed it easily, Rafaki's dad didn't eat the whole thing, but we definitely had the hiker hunger going!  After hanging around the cafe for awhile we headed out of town.  We stopped at a store first and I picked up a Moxie for Rafiki's dad to try...I didn't get one for myself, I stuck with a root beer.  We drove down to Bangor and instead of driving on through the night Rafiki and his dad and I got a hotel room.  It was good to take a shower, do some laundry, and relax.  When I went to get quarters for the laundry the lady at the desk asked if I wanted a whole roll of quarters...why yes!  Did I need them, no, but I also didn't have to worry about backpacking with the weight of quarters anymore, so I thought I might as well get them!  We did the wash and unfortunately the dryer was broken...oh well, most of our clothes were all quick dry.  At least they were clean!  We all fell asleep pretty easily that night.  My arms and shoulders were actually really sore from the rock climbing we had to do today.  Tomorrow I head home!  I had been thinking about the John Muir quote recently..."The mountains are calling and I must go".  I think I have a quote similar to that now...but a little more personal..."The west coast is calling, and I must go."  Time to head home!  We finished the day at mile 2,184.2....0 more miles to go!  I AM DONE!


Wilderness Done & Baxter State Park


July 20.  Another cold night in my fleece sleeping bag liner, but another night closer to being done and back in a warm bed!  I was up again at 3 AM putting on all of my clothes to keep warm, still didn't get out the emergency blanket, but probably could have.  At 4 AM I heard JD start moving in his tent, then the sound of a soda can opening!  JD and brought a Coke from his wife to drink this morning.  He was up early and ready to go and he left camp around 5:15 AM.  He woke Rafiki and I up as he left and we got our gear together and headed out around 5:45.  It was pretty impressive that we all got up and moving so early after a long 40 mile day yesterday, but we had places to be today as well...we still had a 33 mile day to do in order to make it to the Birches.  Straight out of the lean-to we had a 1,000 foot climb up Nesuntabunt Mountain and it was a slow go.  Once at the top though there was a direct view of Katahdin and again, it was amazing to be looking up at the mountain we would summit tomorrow, 36 miles away!  When Rafiki walked up to the lookout he said he had joined the face plant club and this morning he took a pretty hard fall coming up the mountain.  At this point we were all pretty beat up...I had scratches and bruises all over my legs, my feet were in tough shape, and I was really sore!  We were all looking forward to some time to recoup!  Rafiki and I caught up with JD at the next shelter, the Rainbow Stream Lean-To.  We were all dragging, tired from 76 miles in two days!
We took a break here, in the guide book each shelter lists the distance from the shelter to the upcoming 3 shelters.  Typically something like 9 Mi, 21, Mi, and 29 Mi.  It just gives us an idea of what is ahead.  The Rainbow Stream Lean-To list reads:  11.5 - 24.9 - 0.0.  Zero point zero!
We were running out of shelters!!!  The 24.9 shelter was The Birches where we would stay tonight, but after that there were no more shelters...the trail would be done!  We got excited as we ticked off the shelters throughout the day and at The Birches the numbers read (0.0 - 0.0 - 0.0)...awesome!  The trail was mostly flat, but still dealing with bogs, rocks, and roots, took a toll.  We made it to the Rainbow Ledges and had another great view of Katahdin, 21 miles away.
I passed a sign that said Katahdin 21 miles away and started getting pretty excited...I got a burst of energy there for sure!  I took a break and tried to send a message to my family.  A park ranger hiked in and talked with us...we talked a bit and I thought for sure I knew the guy from somewhere.  As we hiked on and left him behind I told Rafiki the ranger reminded me of the ranger that was stationed at Springer Mountain the day I started my AT hike, 2,000 miles and 4 months ago.  From there Rafiki and I hiked hard to the end of the 100 Mile Wilderness and made it to Golden Road at 2:15 PM.  We had entered the Wilderness on Wednesday morning at 6:30 AM, and finished on Friday afternoon at 2:15.  We did the entire 100 Mile Wilderness in just under 56 hours...around 2.5 days of hiking!
The signs recommend 10 days...or 240 hours...we felt pretty good about our progress!  JD was already at the road and his wife was there in the car with sandwiches and sodas for us...amazing!  It really hadn't felt like a wilderness at all.  We were only in the "wilderness" for one full day, we started one day in Monson, and the 3rd day we were heading to Baxter State Park.  And even the middle day JD's wife brought us all kinds of food.  I had a soda each day in the Wilderness, not really a wilderness to me.  But, I guess if we had gone slower it may have felt more remote, but I am not sure.  Either way, we were through it!  JD's wife really helped us too!  It was awesome to see her the past two days and I'm sure Amy would have loved to be there as well.  I wished Amy could have done the same, but the AT is pretty far from home...so maybe if, or when, I do another long trail out west, we can work something like that out!  We walked across Abol Bridge and had a great view of Katahdin!
We stopped at the Abol Camp Store and I got a bacon cheeseburger and soda.  I picked up my food from JD's car and bought a few more pastries.  I found an outlet above the shelves and plugged in my phone to charge it.  I had been listening to a lot of music the past 3 days on the phone so it needed recharged before tomorrow.  JD headed to the hotel with his wife to get some good rest for the night.  Rafiki and I would hike on the 10 miles into Baxter to the thru-hiker shelter and in the morning JD would have his wife drop him off here at 3 or 4 AM and he would start his summit day from here.  After relaxing for an hour or two at the camp store Rafiki and I started into Baxter.  We passed the sign-in kiosk and the ranger I had talked with earlier in the day was there and registered us for The Birches.  I talked with the ranger and found out that it was him I had seen at Springer Mountain!  He is a triple crown hiker and does seasonal jobs around the AT.  He started in the spring in Georgia, working at the Springer Mountain Shelter counting thru-hikers.  I remember him sitting around the camp fire my first night...now I was registering with him for my last shelter campsite in Baxter State Park, the night before I would summit Katahdin!  What an experience, a great way to start and end my trip!  The 10 miles to The Birches was not easy...we were tired, 100 miles in 3 days will do that to ya.  We had to ford a river and neither of us wanted wet shoes for tomorrow so we crossed the ice cold water barefoot.  It was deeper than I thought and I got my shorts wet as well.  The hike was flat, but my pack felt so heavy...maybe the Coke I brought for tomorrow morning and the 24 ounce can of Budweiser for the top of Katahdin had something to do with the extra weight.  After playing connect the dots with several lakes and ponds in the park we made it to The Birches at 8 PM.  We approached the shelters and ran into guys we hadn't seen in a long time.  Rafiki had hiked with the Atlanta Brothers (3 brothers from Atlanta) earlier and they were all happy to see each other.  I had only met the Atlanta Brothers once, the night I camped at the Georgia/North Carolina state line.  They remembered me because I had told them I sent home my stove to save weight and it was great to see them again!  There were two other hikers there also, Roots, and Two-Cents.  I had seen Two-Cents somewhere before, I think he passed me in the Smokies.  As I talked with Roots we figured out we had camped together way back in Georgia, back at the Tray Mountain shelter!  We all talked about how long it had been since we had seen each other and how our thick beards didn't make it any easier to recognize anyone.  It really comes down to the eyes, you have to remember someone's eyes, because our hair and beards had all grown out pretty long.  It had been a long time since I had seen these guys and I was excited to summit with all of them tomorrow!  As we talked with the other hikers Roots asked me a very important question.  He said "So what's next after this, Tarzan?"  I thought...hmmm...I said "Go home and relax I guess..."  Shoot, that was all I could think of!  I didn't have a plan, what I would do next, a job, a career, or a life path.  Wasn't I supposed to figure that out somewhere along this 2,000 mile, 4 month journey?  Roots asked me the question that I went into the woods to answer, and the night before the end I still didn't have that answer.  But, I wasn't worried...maybe there isn't an answer...I had renewed energy, like I had when I graduated college and headed out to change the world.  Maybe I don't know exactly what I will do when I get home, but I do know I'm going to do something, or lots of things.  I had ideas, maybe no set direction, but I will be "doing", and that's probably the important part.  The Birches was not the best shelter site we had been to...first it was hidden 0.2 miles up a gravel road from the ranger station.  There were some great shelters and grassy spots down at the Katahdin Stream Campground and they were right on the AT, but those are spots that people pay for...since we are thru-hikers and were not intending to pay a lot of money to do something we have been doing for free for the past 4 months (camp), we were put off to the side and down the road.  Rafiki and I set up our tents on the gravel, yes gravel, there was no grass at The Birches.  It wasn't the best camp spot, but who cares!  Tomorrow was Katahdin, I think I could have slept anywhere the night before that!   I set up camp and ate another sandwich that JD's wife had sent with me, I also ate some cold potatoes (hopefully for the last time for awhile!) and went to bed.  I was in my tent by 9:30...I wanted to try to get some sleep.  I didn't put on my layers, I thought if I wake up cold at 3 or 4 AM I would just use it as an alarm, pack my stuff, and start hiking up.  No need to put it off, time to finish this trail!  We had done a 33 mile day, 109 miles in just 3 days...I was tired!  I went to sleep at mile 2,179.1...ONLY 5.1 MILES FROM KATAHDIN!

100 Mile Wilderness - Day 2 (40 Miles!)


July 19.  First night sleeping in the 100 Mile Wilderness...cold!  Around 3 AM I woke up frozen...probably because I sent home my 15 degree sleeping bag in Monson and traded to the light-weight fleece bag liner.  Not very warm, but 2 lbs lighter, so at 3 AM I got up, put on my wind pants and Thermawrap jacket and zipped up tight...I had everything on now and even thought about getting my emergency blanket out and wrapping up in that.  It is hard to get moving when the mornings are this chilly, it was probably in the high 50's or low 60's, but we were all up and on the trail by 6:30 AM, we had been talking the past few days and all of us wanted to try to do a 40 mile day before the end of the AT...the longest for all of us, and today was probably going to be our best chance.  From this shelter there was another shelter 40.1 miles away...it would be a very long day!
The water crossings yesterday had taken a toll on my feet and my socks on the top of my ankles had rubbed my skin raw.  As I put on my cold wet socks and shoes this morning I decided to try a trail fix...Gorilla Tape on my ankles to reduce the rubbing...should help!  Either way, only a few more days, I think I can pretty much handle anything now for 3 more days!  Right out of the lean-to we started climbing.  We had to make it over White Cap Mountain this morning, a roughly 3,000 foot climb, and then the rest of the day would be relatively flat.  The climb up was ok since it was still chilly and cool and we had fresh legs.
At the top of White Cap we took a break and rounded the corner and saw our first view of Mount Katahdin!  It was huge!  It is massive and dominates the surrounding landscape because everything is pretty flat and this huge mountain juts out of the wilderness.  We could see the alpine areas, the ridge lines, and the top...only 73 more miles until we get there!  We got some videos and pictures and took it all in for a minute but the cold breeze kept us moving.  We dropped off the mountain and made it to the Logan Brook Lean-To and took another break.  JD made more coffee and Rafiki and I put down some food.  We headed out and on the way down the hill we passed an amazing water spring.  It was covered and had water flowing out of a pipe.  I sat and drank my bottle of water, refilled, and drank some more.  This is something I am sure I will miss the most from the trail...mountain spring water!
We pushed on to the next shelter and Rafiki beat me there.  As I headed down the shelter trail I caught the toe of my shoe on a tree root and didn't have time to bring my foot back up under me.  This happens often, I catch my toe or shoe, but regain my balance...not this time.  My upper body kept moving forward while my foot was caught, I was in trouble!  All I remember is falling forward, face first to the ground.  I hit hard and can remember hearing my head phone crack against my ear...it didn't break, but it hit hard!  I was face first in the dirt and the fall wasn't over...I was also heading downhill and fell hard, so this fall was the type where your backside continues to move forward and I could feel my legs and feet raise off the ground and drive my face further into the dirt.  I finally stopped moving, took a minute to catch my breath, and picked myself up off the ground.  It was a hard fall so I sat on my knees for a bit to make sure I was ok.  I had leaves and dirt all over my shorts, my shirt, arms and legs, in my beard, in my hair, on my face...what a fall!  I looked around, Rafiki was in the shelter and didn't see it...JD was too far behind me...darn, it is always better if someone sees the fall.  I stood up and started walking down the trail and my quad muscle felt weird...I must have somehow fallen on my trekking pole and it jammed itself against my thigh.  I stretched at the shelter, but could tell that was going to be a good bruise.  We had lunch at the shelter...it as 1:30 PM and we had 19 miles done...only 21 miles to go for the day!  Rafiki and I headed out first, JD was making a Pasta Side, and when we made it to the Jo-Mary Road (a gravel logging road in the wilderness) a girl in a Subaru asked us if we knew a JD and where he was.  We said yes and that he was a little behind us and she took off running up the trail to see him...this must be JD's wife!
We sat and took a break at some stocked trail magic...Coke and Tastycake snacks.  A few minutes later JD and his wife came walking down the trail and we got even better trail magic!  JD's wife had chicken sandwiches, juice drinks, sodas, snacks, chips, and more for us!  We all filled up on food and drink.  For JD this was like a NASCAR pit stop.  His wife had brought him a ton of gear...he changed shoes and socks, got rid of a few things, got his tool kit out and fixed his trekking poles, and refilled his food bag.  It was a very efficient stop!  I gave some of my extra food to JD's wife so she could take it up to Baxter for me where I would need it.  The last thing we did was empty our stream water from our bottles and refill water from a gallon water jug.  Later down the trail when I would drink this filtered, "safe" water I would prefer my stream water.  I could tell that I was going to have a hard time getting used to tap water, well water, commercial water, anything other than mountain water.  When we finished our pit stop with JD's wife it was already 3 PM and we still had 18 miles to go...a little night hiking was ahead of us for sure!  Right after leaving JD's wife I was leading the group and we rock hopped over a stream.  I made it and hiked on.  Rafiki and JD were behind me and I heard a splash and some laughing, someone must have got their feet wet.  I kept hiking and when they caught up with me later I found out that JD had jumped from one rock to another and took a face plant right into the stream!  Rafiki said he saw him go down and was pretty worried...with all of the rocks it could have been a really bad fall, but somehow it worked out.  JD said he was half way in the water, face submerged, but he laughed, got back up, and hiked on.  We had been lucky, some of these falls could be much worse!  As we hiked on we passed Pemadumcook Lake where from the shore we had a great view of Katahdin...another look at the mountain we had to climb, only 48 miles away!  The rest of the day was relatively flat but we had to deal with lots of rocks and roots.  A lady the day before had said it was all bogs and bugs, but things had dried out so I didn't have to deal with too many wet bogs or annoying bugs.
As the sun started to set we passed another road and parking lot and then a sandy beach on a lake with a picnic table.  We sat and watched the sunset and had a snack...this would be a great place to camp but we still had 2.5 miles to go to the shelter, and to a 40 mile day!  We turned on our headlamps and hiked on around the pond, finally arriving at the shelter at 9:45 PM.  40 miles done, we even took a long break in the middle of the day, my feet hurt, my legs hurt, my quad was bruised pretty bad, but man it felt good to do a 40!  My heels were pretty sore for sure...all the pounding around rocks and roots and made the skin around my shoe insoles pretty tender.  Just setting them on the ground even stung!  JD had made it a few minutes before we did and was already setting up his tent.  Rafiki and I found flat spots and did the same.  There was another NoBo thru-hiker in the shelter falling asleep so we kept things quite, set up camp, and we all sat down near our own own tent and made dinner.  JD ate a sandwich from his wife (smart!) and Rafiki and I both ate cold instant mashed potatoes, taking one bite, then swatting at the bugs flying around our headlamps, then another bite, then the swat.  It was a quiet night and after eating my dinner and hanging my food bag on a tree limb I was MORE than ready to climb into my tent and lay down!  My quad hurt so bad that even leaning down to crawl into my tent caused a ton of pain...I was just hoping that tomorrow it wouldn't be too bad...I figured though, I could walk through just about anything tomorrow to get to Katahdin.  We did a 40 mile day today, were more than two-thirds through the 100 Mile Wilderness (76 miles) and we would camp tomorrow night at The Birches, 5 miles from the top of Katahdin!  Tonight we camped at Wadleigh Stream Lean-To...mile 2,145.6, only 38.2 miles from Katahdin!

100 Mile Wilderness - Day 1

July 18.  Woke up this morning...there had been no storm overnight and the sky was clear...shoot.  A wasted afternoon in town yesterday but now it was time to get after it.  I was tired, but we had miles to do...I can catch up on sleep next week when I am done and home!  We packed our bags, waited for the staff to make some coffee, then had the shuttle take us back to the trail.  We were back on the AT by 6:30 AM, a bit of a late start, but ok.  We headed out and the first thing we passed was the welcome sign to the 100 Mile Wilderness.  It read:  "DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS SECTION UNLESS YOU HAVE A MINIMUM OF 10 DAYS OF SUPPLIES AND ARE FULLY EQUIPPED.  THIS IS THE LONGEST WILDERNESS SECTION OF THE ENTIRE AT AND ITS DIFFICULTY SHOULD NOT BE UNDERESTIMATED.  GOOD HIKING!"  Hmmm, we are planning to do it in 3 days, is that bad?  We headed on and within the first hour my feet were soaking wet from stepping in puddles.  Throughout the day we would ford 4 streams so they really wouldn't dry out.
Just past the 1st shelter we came to a fully stocked cooler with soda, beer, and candy.  The guy keeps it stocked and it is on the honor system so I bought a Mountain Dew.  We had heard about this cooler...but I thought it was somewhere in the middle of the wilderness...not within the first few miles.  Speaking of the wilderness, we crossed several dirt and gravel roads, passed 2 parking lots, a railroad track, saw signs about having your dogs on a leash, could hear traffic, had cell phone service, and passed a section of trail that is part of a popular guided map tour.  For some reason I don't really feel like I am in much of a wilderness.  We passed several other north and southbound hikers weighed down with 7 to 10 days of food, but we only had 3...were we missing something?  I talked to one southbounder who said he had pushed 16 miles yesterday and he was hurting pretty bad...should I tell him we were doing 36 miles today?  A ridge runner at the shelter 25 miles in asked Rafiki where we had started today and she was very surprised when he said Monson.  She was even more surprised when he said we were hiking on another 10 miles to the next shelter.  I fell down a few times today, hit my knee pretty hard once.  The climbs were not too bad but through the middle of the day the trail got really dry and I couldn't find good water.  After the shelter I was empty on water and the spring there had been in bad shape, I thought I would have to walk 4 miles to the next river crossing for water but 2 miles in I found a slow dripping spring and in 5 minutes I had about half a liter of water, perfect!  I had caught up with Rafiki but JD was a little behind us.
We made one more water crossing, got our shoes wet, and then headed the 5 miles up to the shelter.  The sun was setting and we raced the daylight.  Rafiki and I made it to the shelter trail around 9 PM without headlamps but quickly threw them on to find tent sites.  We started setting up the tents and 10 minutes later JD arrived.  JD said he had been right behind us most of the way and could see my foot prints in water and mud on the rocks and knew he was close.  Every now and then he yelled out "Tarzan" but we must have been just far enough ahead to not hear him.  We all ate dinner in the empty shelter and instead of worrying about bugs we kept and eye on the pack of mice getting closer to our food bags.  It was 10:30 before I was in my tent, I was tired, it had been a huge day, tied for my biggest mileage day on the trail.  A 36 mile day...the first day into the 100 Mile Wilderness and we had a third of it done!  Success!  We finished at mile 2,105.6, with only 78.6 miles to the top of Katahdin!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Monson, Maine

July 17.  We woke up before 6 AM...we were heading into Monson today for a resupply.  The hike was going to be a mostly flat 9 miles.  We made it to another swollen stream and people were camped out on both sides because last night the water was moving fast and it was chest deep.  They all jumped up when we arrived to see how the ford would go for us.  JD started across first, and then Rafiki.  They both made it and then I forded the stream.  The water was moving quickly and I was waist deep again on slick rocks.  It was another interesting crossing but I made it too.  We hiked the rest of the way to town in the rain and made it to the road by 9:30 AM.  In 23 hours we had hiked around 37 miles, that was great!  We tried to hitch in the rain and finally a guy in a pickup truck stopped for us and it was a wet ride into town.  We needed to resupply food, pick up mail drops, and Rafiki's tent pole snapped last night.  We had a lot to do, and it was raining...it would be easy to stay in town but we really needed to keep moving...I checked the weather and it showed severe thunderstorms in the afternoon and possible hail overnight...gezz.  The three of us paid for a ride from Shaw's Hostel to a nearby town with an outfitter.  As we rode in the car the pouring rain outside made me think about was how nice it would be to be home, dry and out of the elements.  I picked up food from the grocery store, it was nice to have a market selection rather than doing a resupply in the gas station in Monson.  We headed to the outfitters and I found a Sea To Summit fleece thermal sleeping liner.  My 15 degree sleeping bag is over 3 lbs, more than 50 ounces, and I am worried about the extra weight holding me back from pushing some good miles in the wilderness.  The fleece liner, though not as warm, is only 20 ounces...so I will save a good 2 lbs by sending home my sleeping bag, the compression dry bag, and a few other loose items...hopefully that will lighten my pack load!  I looked for a new pack as well, but there were no ultralight options.  I am less than a week from the end but I still cannot stop thinking about dropping pack weight.  We headed back to Monson and walked down to the Lakeshore House Hostel for JD's resupply.  I arranged my food, plugged in my electronics, and changed out my sleeping bag and made a pile to send home.  I sent home my 15 degree sleeping bag, my cold weather gloves, my last pair of underwear, some straps and rope, some plastic bags, my journal, and the dry bag for my sleeping bag.  Rafiki and I walked to the post office while JD threw in the laundry.  All in all, I sent a large flat rate box to my mom's house.  It weighed 5 pounds 3 ounces.  Let's guess the stuff sack for my fleece liner weighed 2 ounces, and the post office worker weighed a large flat rate box for me, 9 ounces.  That means that I sent home a good 4.5 pounds of gear I was carrying...and since my new fleece is 20 ounces that means I dropped 3.25 pounds here, not bad!  That is well over 1 day's food weight I don't have to carry!  We all have a lot of food for the 100 Mile Wilderness, but we are planning to work hard and get through it quickly.  We ate lunch at the pub and packed in calories with burgers and fries.  Normally I like hanging out in a pub relaxing, but today, even with the storms outside, I just really wanted to get back out on the trail and get it done!  Unfortunately, the weather forecast was for severe thunderstorms from 4 PM to midnight and then by 6 AM there would be clear skies from now until we summit Katahdin.  I didn't want to take another night off, but if we left now we would most likely walk in rain, set up camp in rain, and only make it about 10 miles.  If we stayed we could get another good meal for dinner and get a good start on the trail in the morning, dry and well rested.  We decided to stay in town again...I have stayed in more towns in Maine than I visited from Pennsylania to New Hampshire!  JD and I sat in the pub with some Shipyard beers and Rafiki got some ice cream.  We met several other northbounders and southbound hikers.  We caught up with the other Tarzan here as well as some other NoBo hikers I had been chasing.  One asked me my name, I said Tarzan.  He looked at me with a condescending face and said "Why would you choose the same name as another hiker on the trail?  The other guy has been Tarzan since the begining."  Well, nice to meet you too.  After that introduction I didn't talk with him much.  We ordered dinner in the pub and tried to get one last full meal in our systems before the wilderness.  By 7 PM the rain hadn't really started...and we were bummed about not being on the trail.  Everyone kept saying the tornado force winds would come in later in the evening.  As we sat and waited for our food a group of hikers we had not seen since early in The Whites showed up...that made us feel very, very slow.  Rafiki said if Master Splinter or August showed up next he was grabbing his pack and hiking out tonight in the tornados.  We were all frustrated with the low miles we have been hiking on town days, so we were looking forward to pushing hard tomorrow.  I had been sitting in the pub for the entire afternoon and my body was starting to hurt from sitting inside all day.  We headed back to Shaw's and I set up my air pad on the floor between the two beds.  At 9 PM when the daylight faded there was still no tornado...bummer.  We were all pretty down about wasting most of a day in town, getting caught by lots of hikers we had last seen a week or two ago, and listening to the forecast about the weather.  This has happenend to me several times, and time after time the storm is never as bad as predicted, I should have learned by now!  We were planning to get up early, have coffee, and take a shuttle to the trail before everyone else wakes up for breakfast.  It had been a very short 9 mile day...we ended the day at mile 2,069.7, still 114.5 miles from Katahdin.  We havve our work cut out for us in the next few days...

From Monson we hike through the 100 Mile Wilderness, then into Baxter State Park, and then up Katahdin.  Once in the wilderness I may not be able to update my blog until I finish the trail.  The tentative plan is to enter the park on Friday night or Saturday morning at the latest and summit Katahdin on Saturday.  Only a few more days to go, we are getting excited! 




Fording Rivers...

July 16.  The beds were rock hard and the AC shut off during the night so it was hot and stuffy in the room in the morning...I think I would have rather been in the woods.  It did rain overnight and I like being in hotels when it storms and having a good breakfast to start the day would make it all worth while.  I woke up starving again...even though I had two large meals yesterday...the hiker hunger is really kicking in.  I also had some dreams, or nightmares, about my shoes not making it through the last 150 miles...I think they should be ok, but I have been wearing them since Deleware Water Gap and the rocks of New England and the White Mountains have started wearing through the treads...but I am too close to get new shoes now.  We headed down for the breakfast buffet and the food was good but I am getting sick of stuffing myself full just to have food for fuel.  We were all uncomfortably stuffed after breakfast so we retreated to the room for visits to the bathroom and a 20 minute nap.  It was going to be hard to get back on the trail today for sure.  We packed up at 9:30 and found out that the complimentary shuttle to the trail is at 9 AM every day...back to hitching.  We stood on the road for about 15 minutes before two guys in a station wagon full of rafting gear picked us up and we all 3 crammed in.  After getting dropped off at the trail we started climbing.  Before noon it was already incredibly hot again, it could be a tough day.  We crossed 2 mountains today including Moxie Bald and the view from the top was all haze from the extreme heat and humidity.  Finally in the afternoon the clouds broke and the rain came down.  I don't much like hiking in the rain anymore but today it was refreshing.  Besides, before the rain started I was already dripping wet from sweat, so it didn't make much of a difference, I was wet either way.  The showers came down strong and in no time I was soaked.  We stopped for a quick break in the afternoon and learned that a stream up ahead was swollen from the rain.  A few people had forded the river the day before and it was only knee deep, but after the rain last night it was now waist deep and moving fast.  We hiked on and crossed a few small streams and when JD and I made it to the Piscataquis River we saw Rafiki sitting on the other side.  He said the crossing had been pretty intense so he waited to make sure we were ok.  There was a rope tied from one side to the other and the goal was to cross the river without being swept away.  I started across first.  The fast moving water wasn't as deep, but as I made my way across on the slick rocks I almost lost my balance a few times and I would have been in the water, pack and all.  I took my time and made careful steps, I made it through the fast water and it had come up to my shorts.  Now the deep part.  Rafiki said it hit his waist, and he is taller than me!  I unbuckled my pack and lifted up on the straps above my head...it had already gotten wet, but in the deep section the water came above my waist.  After a tense 2 minutes I made it to dry land and JD followed quickly after.  It was a success and we had 3 more miles to the shelter.  We hiked on next to the river, seeing the rapids grow and hearing the turbulent water rushing below.  We made it to the shelter around 8:30, just before dark.  We set up the tents, had dinner, and went to bed.  the mosquitos were so bad I put on my long pants and jacket.  Another big day of hiking, 27.7 miles today with a very late start at 10 AM...we were feeling good about our progress and knocking some miles down in the next few days!  We finished the day at mile 2060.7, with only 123.5 to the end!

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Kennebec River

July 15.  It was a hot night...and something kept running around my tent all night.  I think it may have been a frog or a mouse, either way it kept me up too long.  Finally after midnight I could feel a cool breeze drafting through my tent.  Yesterday had been probably the hottest day on the AT for me, and today didn't start much better.  We were all up by 5:30 AM because we needed to knock out 13.5 miles before 11 AM to catch the canoe ferry across the Kennebec River.  The Kennebec is a wide river with an upstream dam that lets out water at certain times.  People do try to ford the river, but it is advised to take the boat.  The boat runs from 9 AM - 11 AM and then from 2 to 4 in the afternoon.  We didn't want to miss the morning shuttle so we were in a hurry.  We passed the Pierce Pond Lean-to where a few weeks ago another northbound AT thru-hiker drowned in the lake.  It was a reminder that life doesn't last forever, this trail doesn't last forever, and as short or long as it goes it should be enjoyed.  It was a tough last few miles to the river.  Rafiki and I got there right at 10:30, just after JD had made it across.  Hillbilly Dave paddled his way back across the river and Rafiki and I jumped in, Rafiki in the middle and me up front of the canoe to paddle.  Hillbilly Dave said with the heat and no rain it was maybe the lowest he had ever seen the river...maybe I should try to ford it.  Naw, plus there was a white blaze in the bottom of the boat, taking the ferry across was part of the actual AT.  We had made it, 13.5 miles before 11 AM and we were all hot, sweaty, and beat.  There was a lodge and brewery 2 miles from the trail down the highway and Hillbilly Dave said to just start walking that way and put our thumbs up.  We all needed water and more food fuel.  We started walking down the hot paved highway and line after line of cars passed us.  Finally a guy in a big van picked us up...but he kept saying something about the loser following him and when he dropped us at the lodge he asked us to hurry...ok!  The van drove us to The Forks, Maine, population 30.  We had walked almost half way to the lodge before a hitch, when we walked in a guy said to us "Did you guys finally get picked up or finish the walk here?"  He had passed us but didn't stop...gee, thanks!  We sat down and ordered burgers, they brought up a pitcher of water and lots of soda.  It was refreshing and around noon we were done, but it was incredibly hot outside.  We decided to wait out the mid day heat for a bit inside the lodge, which didn't have AC, and we sat there sweating.  Rafiki made the move and asked about the rooms...a 30% discount for hikers and AC...sold.  We got the room and unpacked.  It was hot, we were tired, and the rain storms were supposed to hit tonight.  JD and I relaxed by the bar for the afternoon, there was a brewery downstairs and the beer was good!  We hit up the restaurant for dinner and I had a chicken sandwich and fries...food for fuel!  During dinner the sky opened up...it was pouring rain and we were happy to be dry and inside tonight, hoping the temps would drop tomorrow.  We finished eating and headed up to the room to find out the AC unit was kicking out more heat than cold air...so we turned it off and opened the 1 skylight in the room.  I took a quick shower to wash off the 2 day layer of sweat and bug spray and it was tough to throw back on my smelly clothes, but less than one week from the end!  At this point I think I need to work most on my food weight.  I keep rolling into town with extra food...just out of Stratton I opened a 24 ounce bag of trail mix I have carried since Bennington, VT.  I haven't needed it yet on the trail since I always carry a little extra food...but that is more extra weight that I didn't need to carry!  It is sort of like the new roll of toilet paper I picked up in North Woodstock and carried through the Whites untouched because every hut had more than enough TP.  Oh well...I learn as I go!  Rafiki and I fixed the AC unit...the output was upside down, and as the room cooled down I was ready to get some sleep!  It was another low mile day today...we have not been slowing down on purpose...but the mountains of Southern Maine were brutal and now the heat was unbearable.  We have enjoyed the towns though and the town food, and with only a few days left on the trail it is probably better to tackle the tough sections like this.  We finished at mile 2,033, with 151 to go!



Sunday, July 15, 2012

2,000 Miles

July 14.  I went to bed stuffed with a stomach ache from the fish fry and drinks.  At 3 AM I got up to use the restroom and realized I was starving again.  I think the mountains of Southern Maine are finally giving me the hiker hunger.  We slept in until 6 AM and got packed so we could be in the diner at 7 AM when they opened.  I ordered the "Hollow Leg" hungry man special and easily put it all down.  It was a Saturday morning in Stratton and everyone was getting ready to enjoy a hot weekend, and we were getting ready to go back to work on the trail.  After breakfast JD, Rafiki, and I hit the road to hitch.  Maine is breaking all of my sterotypes for the trail and this time the car that picked us up was a Cadillac!  Granted, it was an older model...but it was a Caddy!  The driver dropped us off at the trailhead, told us he doesn't believe in the government and money, and said that people hiking 25 mile days on the AT were doing the trail too fast.  We politely thanked him for the ride and headed off on the trail north to try a 25 mile day.  We started around 9 AM and it was already hot.  From the road we headed up Bigelow Mountain and Avery Peak, the last two summits over 4,000 feet until we climb Katahdin!  It was a tough haul up and the heat was oppressive.  In a short while the shower and laundry from yesterday was irrelevant as I was dripping sweat everywhere.  The weather has been good to us this last week or two and we have not had any rain...of course, that also means that water will be harder to find as the springs and streams dry up.  Today we had to hike a good several miles over the ridge with very little water, not fun.  The temperature on my thermometer read well into the mid 90's and the heat on the exposed rocky ridgline was intense.  It was a fantastic day for boaters, but a hellishly hot day for hikers.  Finally we started coming down off the mountains and back into tree cover.  On the way down Avery Peak we walked through a huge boulder field with boulders the size of houses.  The cool air coming off the rocks was refreshing.  After taking a break and refilling water at a shelter we hiked on past a pond and caught a whiff of a BBQ and could see people out on a boat enjoying a hot Saturday afternoon on the water.  That made me excited to get back to Santa Barbara and a cookout with Telegraph beer and my brother's famous "Tyler Burgers"!  Once we were down off the ridge and back in the woods the bugs got really bad.  All three of us put on our bug protection...a.baseball cap to keep the flies off our head, and headphones with music so we couldn't hear them buzzing around.  We crossed a road today and someone had spray painted "2000 Miles Congrats" on the road and we got a picture with it.  We had actually crossed 2,000 miles back on the ridge, but it was better to celebrate here!  At some point each of us took a spill today.  JD's foot fell into a hole up to his knee and he went down, Rafiki slipped on a water crossing and bent his trekking pole, and I fell at another water crossing and smashed my thumb against a rock.  We hiked a few flat miles around lakes and made it to the shelter.  The guide book said there was a spring for water, but of course it was dry.  We filled and treated our water from the lake and I washed off my legs in the lake.  Standing in the lake was refreshing and a great way to end the day.  The sun faded over the horizon and it was a great sunset on the water.  We made a small fire for the smoke to keep the bugs away, ate dinner, and all climbed in our tents.  As I went to sleep I could hear a fireworks show somewhere off in the distance.  Another good day, town breakfast, out last big mountains before the end, crossing 2,000 miles, and getting into the tents away from the bugs!  We hiked 23 miles and finished the day at mile 2,019, just 165.5 from the end!




Saturday, July 14, 2012

Stratton, Maine

July 13.  Happy Trail Friday!  We were going to town!  It is a lot easier waking up and going to town rather than leaving town.  We started moving around 5:30 and hit the trail.  First though I visited the privy and stopped by the spring for more great water.  Our first climb was 900 feet up and I pushed.  Near the summit I caught up with JD!  I thought he had moved on the night before but he said he camped behind the shelter and we were in front of it...with all the Canadian tents we didn't see each other.  I hiked with JD for about an hour and we made good time but on another steep climb I needed to slow down and get some food.  It was going to be a hot day and I was drinking tons of water.  JD mentioned that there were only 2 people ahead of him on the trail that he knew...or only two people who were faster than him.  JD is still under 4 months on the trail and will probably finish in under 4 months, so he is one of the fastest guys I know.  But, the only other people he knew who had passed him were me and Q Man!  That is pretty cool!  We were talking about Q as well and Q has only been about 3 days ahead of us since we all met at Deleware Water Gap in PA.  There I took 3 days off with Amy, and a week or so later JD took 3 days off with his wife...so really JD and I, without our time off, have been pacing evenly with Q.  It is nice to think that I can keep up with the ultralight guys, even though my packweight is heavier than theirs.  I made it down to the road just before noon, 13.5 miles done.  Somehow Rafiki never caught me the whole morning, either I was fast or he was having an off day.  I sat in the shade and ate a Snickers bar and 15 minutes later Rafiki appeared from the trail and threw his trekking poles across the parking lot, I think he was having a rough day.  We talked about how hard the climbs had been, and even in the flat sections we had to step around rocks and roots and I had rolled both ankles pretty good.  We were both ready for town.  We hit the road and after a few minutes a pickup truck stopped and jumped in the back.  We rode the 5 miles into town and got dropped off at the post office.  From there we made a B-line for the Citgo to get some soda.  I had heard about Moxie, a soda that everyone drinks here in Maine, so I picked up a liter.  Yesterday morning Rafiki and I saw a local morning show where an overweight woman was showing the TV hosts her seceret drink...Moxie mixed with milk.  Rafiki and I both looked at eachother and siad maybe she should lay off the milk, or the Moxie for that matter, but the image stuck in my head.  I took a drink of Moxie, waited...not bad, but a weird after taste.  Hmmm, I think I will pick up some milk.  We walked down to the White Wolf Inn and checked into our room.  We had all considered getting back on the trail but it was incredibly hot and there were some big climbs out of Stratton, better to do those tomorrow.  We met up with JD, he had hitched in and picked up a box at the post office and we headed to the Stratton Diner for lunch.  A bacon cheeseburger, fries, and a waitress from Chicago.  Something has been happening in southern Maine, there are all of a sudden girls on and around the trail.  If I was single I think it would be better to skip the rest of the trail and hang out in Maine.  The good thing for me though...I get to see my girl in a little over 10 days!  After lunch Rafiki and I hit the grocery store to resupply, 3 days of food for 70 miles to Monson.  JD headed over and got a room in the same hotel.  Somehow Rafiki and I had called the day before and we got a very small room with 2 beds and no AC and JD walked in and got a huge room with 3 beds and AC!  Oh well...  I needed a shower...it had only been a day of hiking but the trail was really dry and dusty and my legs were coated with a thick layer of dirt.  We all got cleaned up and Rafiki headed down to road to the laundramat in his puffy jacket and a towel...hiker trash for sure!  I stayed behind with a six pack of Gritty's Vacation Land Summer Ale, a plastic chair on the upstairs balcony, and some music...time to relax!  Two days ago when we were in Rangeley we stopped in the kayak store and I saw a book about stand up paddle boarding...I picked it up and flipped through the pages and almost every picture was from Southern California...it made me really ready to get back to my south facing beach in Santa Barbara!  On the trail I also see rocks that are shaped like California and they get my mind thinking about being out west.  I spent the afternoon hanging out on the patio and after laundry JD, Rafiki, and I headed downstairs for a fish fry dinner...it was a $10 platter of fish, and seconds were on the house!  We had dinner and a few other northbounders showed up and one guy decided to take on the Wolf Challenge...3 hamburger platters with fries in 1 hour!  He had to pay $30 and had one hour and couldn't get up and had to finish everything and it would all be free.  It was intense, the platters came and in 5 minutes the first burger was down.  10 minutes the second done.  25 minutes the third gone.  Now it was a huge plate of fries...he finished everything in 52 minutes, not bad!  Even I felt full!  Then the bill came and somehow we paid for 2 extra beers so after a very complicated conversation with the server and a couple of tense moments we got two more beers that we didn't want to drink.  We finished dinner and I waddled upstairs, too full from food and drink.  The room was toasty hot and we decided we would leave the door open and just have the screen door closed to keep the bugs out.  Of course, there was a huge light right outside the door shining in...this was another interesting hotel stay.  I was ready to hit the trial, and ready to be done!  We hitched today from mile 1,996, and had only 188 miles to go!




Friday, July 13, 2012

Saddleback Mountain

July 12.  Another lazy morning...which seems to happen in towns and hotels.  We finally decided to get up and start moving around 8:30.  It is harder and harder to get motivated to get back on the trail, but we figured breakfast at the local diner would help.  Waking up on the lake was nice...people where out boating already and there were docks full of boats and pontoon airplanes, pretty cool area!  We walked to the diner and I ordered the meatlovers omlet and a pancake.  It was one of the best omlets I can ever remember and as we finished breakfast the server came to tell us that the girl and her mother walking out the door had paid for our breakfast!  Wow!  That was some unexpected and much appreciated trail magic!  We cleaned up our plates, downed one more cup of coffee for energy, and headed out to the road to hitch around 10 AM.  A few minutes in and I could't believe it...a girl in a BMW was pulling over to pick us up!  Rangeley had been one awesome stop...my first Subaru hitch, offers for free tenting, a motel on the lake, breakfast paid for, and now a luxery BMW hitch!  Our driver was a young lady in a little sun dress and she offered to take us to a waterfall that she loves swimming in, and I am sure any single guy would have taken her up on that offer, but Rafiki and I are both happily taken back at home and we were focused on making it to Stratton so we told her no thanks.  She dropped us off back at the trail, it was a hot morning and we were looking forward to the cool breeze in the tree cover.  The 2 miles to the Piazza Rock Lean-To was nice.  Oh yeah, and in Maine they are not shelters...they are Lean-To's...but they look like shelters to me.  We hiked on and up the 2,000 feet to the summit of Saddleback Mountain.  It was a tough climb but having a great breakfast in town helped.  The summit was above tree line and the views were fantastic on a perfectly clear day.  We hiked on across the ridge and down to a shelter for a break.  I had heard about baseball bat floors in the lean-to's in Maine and here I saw my first one!  Instead of flat boards to sleep on the shelter had been built using 3 to 4 inch round trees all laying lenghtwise, like baseball bats.  I am not sure if that would be comfortable to sleep on, but I prefer my tent so I hoped not to find out!  The past few days I have been seeing huge hoof prints from moose on the trail.  Some sections of the trail have such dense forest on the sides that I would have a hard time getting through it, let alone a moose!  I wondered what would happen if I came face to face with a moose in that stretch...still haven't seen one though.  At one point I was walking behind Rafiki across some boards and I took my last step and saw something out of the corner of my eye fly in under my foot.  At first I thought maybe Rafiki had kicked something up onto the board, as I stepped I felt something squish under my heel.  I took a light step and turned to look back and sure enough, I had stepped right on top of a huge frog that had accidently jumped under my foot!  I must have held up enough though, I put my pole next to the frog and he hopped off, unhurt.  We were pushing hard to the next shelter, we wanted to get in earlier and have dinner before the sun went down.  We had one more climb...a 1,000 foot climb in just over a mile and I was happy when we reached the summit in under half an hour...a bit faster than a 2 mile an hour pace!  We cruised in the last two miles and hit the shelter before 8.  There was a group of French Canadian girls there, they are all part of some camp that does outdoor activities in Maine and pretty much every night we have seen a group of Canadian guys or girls at each shelter.  My buddy JD who I hiked with in PA had signed the book and I figured he was a few miles ahead of us, must have passed us while we were in Rangeley.  Rafiki and I found a few flat spots off to the side and set up our tents and had a proper dinner of cold instant mashed potatoes.  Mmmmm!  The water source at the shelter was a pure spring with prestine water, I love those!  We finished dinner and crawled in the tents before 9.  We were heading into Stratton tomorrow and planning to take a night off again.  Today was good, in 10 hours we did 19 miles.  We are feeling stronger and there are only a few more bad climbs before the 100 Mile Wilderness but we thought that taking a night off tomorrow will give us energy for those mountains and to push into Monson, our last town stop of the AT!  We finished the day at mile 1,982.5, only 201.7 to Katahdin!


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Rangeley, Maine

July 11.  Woke up in our stealth camp around 7...I woke up earlier but I really didn't want to move.  I had slept for 10 hours but I felt like I needed to sleep more.  Sometimes in the middle of the night I wake up with a sharp pain in my big toes...is that bad?  I don't know, I think it is benitter than the first half of the trail when my big toes were numb!  Rafiki finally made the call and we got up and started packing up camp.  We headed out and a few miles down the trail I stopped at a small spring to get the trickle of water.  If there is one thing I will miss from the trail it will be mountain spring water for sure!  Once I hit an uphill I put on my music to take my mind off the hike.  At the top we crossed a road with a bench that was looking out over a huge lake.  We took a break and sat and watched a boat off in the distance.  As we hiked on we passed another lake and from the hill I could see a few lake houses and it looked really nice to just sit and relax.  By lunch I passed a sandy beach on a pond and found the shelter and took a break.  There was a group of 13 boy scouts from Qubec setting up their tents at noon.  They were all speaking French, we were getting really far north!  Rafiki was there and we discussed plans and decided it had been a tough morning and that we should hike hard and get a ride into Rangeley for dinner.  With that, I put my headphones in and pushed hard.  Over the past 4 months I have passed a lot of different white blazes.  Some have been on trees, some on wooden or metal posts, some painted, some metal strips nailed to trees, others painted on rocks.  The AT is always changing and as the trees grow, so does the blaze.  I have passed trees with brown or black paint covering extra large blazes, or trees where a top layer of bark had been cut out.  Other trees with white blazes had fallen over, or some falled trees had been cut and white blazes were painted on the sliced section.  No matter the style of blaze, my job is just to follow it!  I stopped at the last lake campsite and got some prestine water from a spring.  We hiked down to the road and put our thumbs up.  What happened next changed my perceptions on hitching!  A Subaru passed and slowed down...my first Subaru hitch!  The lady brought us into town and dropped us off at the lake.  We walked to the outfitter and asked several people about camping in town.  We found out about a few places that were a mile walk to pay $10 to camp in someone's yard and didn't want to do that.  We called the local hostel listed in Rafiki's guide book...no answer, Google'd it, thd hostel was closed.  Rafiki's guide book is from last year, I think we will use mine from now on!  We had an offer for free camping from our server, she said her family owned a museum in town...another mile walk.  I am really getting sick of being homeless.  In the woods it is ok, but in town is tough.  We had to stealth camp at Pinkham Notch, here we considered stealth camping behind the post office or behind the tennis courts.  It will be nice to finally have a place to call home again!  We finally just called the Town and Lake Motel and got a hiker rate, picked up ice cream and beer, and checked in.  It was an awesome room with a full kitchen setup, a real vacation rental.  It backed up to the lake with great views.  We settled in and got cleaned up before sleeping in real beds.  Rangeley was an unplanned stop, but the mountains of Southern Maine were killing us and we really needed some more town time to recoup.  It had been a 19 mile day, we hitched in from mile 1,963.8, with 220.4 miles to go.




Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Andover, Maine

July 10.  The plan was to wake up early and get into Andover by 8:30 when the post office opened...but after the 26 mile, 15 hour hike yesterday it was much easier to sleep in!  Last night when I crawled in my tent I heard something moving around outside, but I was too tired to worry about it.  I wondered about our food bags...since I started hiking with Rafiki I have not used my rope to hang a bear bag.  Rafiki has instead hung his food bag on a nearby tree branch the whole trail, so I have started to do the same.  The first night together I did hang a bear line, but since then we have been hiking so late into the night, or in the Whites, that I haven't done it again.  Anyways, I had heard the noise and Rafiki did too.  I heard him unzip his tent and he said "Whoa, there is a bobcat out here!"  I wasn't sure about it...then I heard more thumping and he said "Nevermind, it is a few jackrabbits running around our tents."  Much better!  The guys staying in the shelter woke up around 6 AM and started talking really loud...another great morning to wake up to in a shelter area!  Rafiki and I finally got moving around 7 and hit the trail by 8.  Moody Mountain was one heck of a climb...1,000 feet straight up!  We called a hostel in Andover from the top and they met us at the road at the bottom 45 minutes later.  The 10 mile drive into town was down a small mountain road and we got dropped off at the post office for Rafiki's package.  We walked down to the general store and I picked up a food resupply and milk.  After packing our bags we headed across the street to the Little Red Hen for lunch.  It was a nice small town diner.  I ordered a coke and a BBQ bacon cheeseburger.  The soda is poured out of a can into a cup, the food made fresh, and I heard her offer everyone some fresh baked home made cookies for dessert!  They were playing good country music and I felt like I could sit there all day!  The longer we sat the more I could feel the pain in my knees.  Even just sitting still they ached, not a good sign...but less than 250 miles to go!  We turned down some of the fresh made cookies...it was time to get back to the trail.  First though we crossed the street and got ice cream from the market.  As we sat and discussed the plans we knew we wouldn't get the miles in we had wanted to today...we decided we would just hike until 7 PM and call it a day.  I decided I had to stop thinking about miles in this terrain and just think time...wake up and hike all day...enjoy towns like we were today.  An Eric Church song came on the radio so I jumped online and downloaded the album "Chief" to my phone so I could listen to it on the trail.  Our ride picked us up and he drove us back to the trailhead.  We were hiking again around 3:30 PM after a nice 4 hour town stop.  The climb up Old Blue Mountain was 2,000 feet and steep.  It didn't help that I had resupplied my food bag and added food weight to my stomach in town.  We hit the summit and started a ridge walk.  A little after 7 PM we made it to a shelter.  We talked as we walked down the blue blaze trail, we would stay here, set up camp, get water, eat, and go to bed.  When we got there we saw tons of tents and a large group of girl scouts.  We approached the shelter to find it full of section hikers.  There was a roaring fire and no more places to tent.  One guy mentioned they had been at the shelter since 4 PM, we were just getting our afternoon started!  No one offered to squeeze together and fit us in the shelter, even though there was a good 2 feet between everyone, but we didn't want to shelter anyways.  With no place to camp we quickly moved on.  We hiked a few minutes and found a flattish spot to stealth camp.  My tent barely fit into an angled spot with some sapling trees hanging over the sides.  We ate and headed to bed.  It was a 12 mile day with a 4 hour town visit...not bad, but we had wanted to do more.  We were exhausted, another tough day.  We camped around mile 1,944.5, 239.8 left!


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mahoosuc Notch

July 9.  Woke up early in my tent...not because I wanted to, but because someone's phone alarm clock was going off.  Another hiker rolled in late, after dark, not a problem.  He also had a dog with him and as the hiker headed down to get water he left his dog at the tent pad and it whimpered the whole time...not that much of a problem.  In the morning the hiker's phone alarm went off at 5 AM...ok.  Then, the alarm went off again at 5:30 AM...hmmm.  Then, it went off one more time at 6, not cool.  If you are going to bring an alarm to the woods, at least get up when it goes off.  Right after the third ring Rafiki walked over to my tent and stomped across the alarm guy's wooden tent pad, thank you!  We packed up and hit the trail by 6:15, we had a full day ahead.  We climbed 500 feet out of camp and hit Mahoosuc Notch first thing in the morning.  The guide book says Mahoosuc Notch is "the most difficult or fun mile of the AT.  Make your way through a jumbled pit of boulders."  We had heard about it and were ready.  It was tough!  I had to take my pack off at least 3 times to slide it through cracks in boulders and then get down and slide myself through.  We were climbing through caves under big rocks and squeezing out the other side.  We finally cleared the notch after an hour and a half...maybe the slowest mile I have had on the trail!  It was fun, not too tough, but slow!  Right after the notch we had another long climb up and we hit a shelter 5 miles from the start of the day at 10:30 and I was exhausted...but we still had a full day to go!  Just out of the shelter I missed my footing on a board and my left foot sunk into the mud up to my shin...when I pulled it out my shoe was soaked and covered in mud.  We hiked on to Grafton Notch and started seeing more people on the trail.  Southbounders, Northbounders, day and weekend hikers...busy for a Monday!  After Grafton came Baldpate, a pretty popular bald mountain with great views.  I passed several groups of girl scouts out on hikes.  The first group was really young and one of the girls said "You walked here from Georgia?  You're amazing" and then after talking a few minutes I left and the whole group gave me a round of applause as I headed on up the trail.  I passed a day hiking couple and they also gave me great feedback and positive words, but I was still having a rough day!  I passed another group of girlscouts before Baldpate and as I climbed up the bare rock wall I heard then down below yell in unison "Go Tarzan!"  Even with all of the fanfare, the trail today was killing me...I was trying really hard to keep up with Rafiki and having a hard time.  I was getting really down, wondering if I'd be able to keep up with him to the end.  I was getting down on myself for my pack weight and gear...I was impressed that with a heavy pack I had caught up with and passed lots of ultralight, ultra-fast hikers, but now I was worried I wouldn't be able to stay with them.  If I had spent a few hundred bucks I could have dropped some 5 lbs in pack and sleeping bag weight...and though 5 pounds doesn't sound like much, it was killing me now.  On the way down another hill I fell again and this time jabbed my hand into some sticks and gashed my finger.  It was going to bleed everywhere so I sucked out the dirt and debris, coated it with Neosporin and used a bandaid for the second time on this trip.  We had been seeing moose droppings for the past several days on the trail but had yet to see a moose...I was keeping a lookout!  We passed another shelter at 4 PM and had 10 miles to go to our target camp.  We did another big climb and I finally gave in and got my headphones out and listened to music for the last 6 miles.  We were racing the sun now, trying to get to camp before dark.  With the music in my ears I was able to forget about my pain and paced with Rafiki, staying right behind him.  It was another beautiful fire red sunset and we hiked hard until 9 PM when we rolled into the shelter.  It was hard to see the trail, but I didn't need my headlamp for the trail!  We found some tent spots and set up camp, ate some snacks, and passed out.  It had been a full 15 hours since we left the shelter in the morning...a 15 hour hiking day to get 26 miles down...slower than my pace a few weeks ago, but these mountains are killer!  I felt better when we made camp, but the hike today was dragging me down...feeling the accomplishment of a big day was nice though.  Amy said someone had asked her what I do in the evenings...she said I hike.  They said, no, in the evenings after hiking...she said pretty much all that I do is hike, that was very true for this day and most of my other days on the trail!  Tomorrow we would be up early so we could hike into Andover for a resupply and town food.  Rafiki and I decided to break up Maine by stopping in towns basically once every 3 days...Gorham to Andover, then Stratton, Monson, a hostel, and Katahdin!  We camped at mile 1,933.3, only 250.9 miles from Kathadin!



Welcome To Maine

July 8.  Four months ago today I started hiking the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain, Georgia.  Today I woke up in New Hampshire, 15 miles from Maine, and 298 miles from the end.  I woke up for the second morning in a row in the same hotel bed...I was getting comfortable.  I woke up at 5 AM, and rolled over.  I didn't want to move...even after a zero day I had no ambition to head back to the trail and put a pounding in on my feet and legs.  We finally started moving, packed our gear, and walked down to McDonald's for breakfast.  This was the 4th time we ate there since we hit town...and we sat at the same table each time!  We were feeling too "at home" here for sure.  I am really sick of fast food and stuffing myself to eat food for fuel...but I needed it for the mountains today.  We ate breakfast and hit the road for a hitch.  Only a minute in a girl stopped and picked us up.  She said her parents had a vacation home here and she remembered growing up and spending the weekends heading to Pinkham Notch with her parents to pick up hikers and take them to town.  She dropped us off at the trail and we headed north.  We walked past the White Mountains Hostel on the AT and Rafiki ran into some guys he knew.  While we all talked I passed the Bearbell Chicken for www.warriorhike.com onto another hiker.  This morning at McDonald's though I made sure to add an AT tattoo in red marker on the chicken's tush!  Before we headed back to the trail I ran into J.D., a guy I had hiked with into the Deleware Water Gap.  After Amy picked me up there he had hiked on and when I got back to the trail I tried to catch him.  I put down big miles and in CT he took off a few days with his wife.  I must have passed him there and since then he had been about a day behind me.  With our zero he had finally caught up.  He was having food at the hostel and hopefully I would see him down the trail later.  Rafiki and I finally hit the trial at 10:30 AM...not too bad.  The first climb out was tough, but not nearly as tough as the Whites.  I am not sure if the trail was just easier or if taking a zero day really did it, but all day today I felt much better.  We were making good progress and by around 5 we passed the New Hampshire - Maine state line!  The last state!  We were happy to be in Maine and pushed on to the next shelter 5 miles away.  We had also caught up with Smiling Joe, Uro, and Kittens at the sign and we followed the 3 of them.  The trail wasn't easy...some steep ups and downs including ladders, rebar in the rocks, and flat rocks that we basically slid down.  It was worth it though.  We had some fantastic views back at the White Mountains and ahead into Maine.  The sunset was fire red and with the clouds made for a great evening sky on our first night in ME.  It was pretty windy on the ridge and my beard is getting long enough that I can feel it blowing in the wind...not sure if that is good or bad!  We made it to the shelter to find a huge group of people already there.  We both wanted to tent but recently all of the shelters have been using tent platforms, which is fine for a free standing tent...but not for me.  Another hiker made a good point...all of the wood used in the tent platforms would be better used in some picnic tables, I agree!  I found a flat spot in a pathway and set up for the night.  There were people and tents everywhere...the 5 of us northbounders were way outnumbered by southbounders.  We must be hitting the bubble of hikers heading south.  Today was a good day, I felt stronger on the trail, we hiked 21 plus miles, and we made it to Maine!  We finished the day at mile 1,907.3, with 276.9 left to Katahdin!



Sunday, July 8, 2012

Zero Day In Gorham

July 7.  I could finally sleep in a bit in a nice hotel bed!  We did not have time to resupply yesterday so we had some town work to do today and we didn't plan to hit the trail too early.  It was nice to have clean clothes...I hadn't washed my clothes since Killington, Vermont and my shorts hadn't been washed since Bennington, Vermont!  We got moving...kinda.  My feet hurt incredibly bad.  Every step felt like standing on marbels, my legs were sore, I thought about taking a zero day (not hiking), but we both wanted to make at least a few miles!  We walked down to the McDonald's for breakfast.  We sat and ate and Rafiki headed down to the post office to pick up his resupply.  I sat at McDonld's and waited and talked with a few locals about the trail.  By 11:00 AM we were still there and as we walked back to the hotel we discussed just taking a zero day.  We still had to get to Wal-Mart for my resupply and there was a chance of rain.  If we hiked out in the afternoon we would probably only make it 10 miles or so...we could instead stay another night and get an early start in the morning.  We got back to the hotel and noticed there was a hot tub...sold...a zero day it would be!  We got a ride to Wal-Mart from a Southbound hiker.  He was with his brother who had to take a few days off from an injury so he rented a car and was driving hikers all over town.  At Wal-Mart I bought food and seriously considered buying an MP3 player but none would take a mini-SD card and I didn't have any way to uplaod music...so I settled for headphones that I could use with my phone if needed.  I will be looking forward to getting home and having a chance to listen to music for real!  We stopped by Subway and the outfitter and headed back to the hotel for an afternoon to relax.  I picked up a six pack of local brew and took a plastic patio chair out to the grass by the road and watched the world speed by.  It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon so groups of motorcycles cruised by, people were out riding bikes, and lots of cars with kayaks and canoes on the roof racks passed by headed to the river.  Everyone was out enjoying the fantastic weather (while the rest of the country was having a deadly heat wave) and it made me slow down and think a little more about this trek.  I have been pushing hard since Pennsylvania, and enjoying everything, but today I had my first zero since Amy came to visit and it gave me some chance to think.  I am less than 2 weeks from the end, less than 300 miles from Kathadin.  No, I don't want to slow down, but yes, I will enjoy every grueling step.  I watched everyone pass by, enjoying a Saturday afternoon, and remembered, I am living the dream!  Countless times along this walk I have heard people say they wish they could be in my shoes...and countless times while climbing up 4,000 foot mountains, with a 30 lb pack, in the rain, cold, and snow...I have wished to be in their shoes...at home, warm, dry, and comfortable.  I have spent 4 months living in the elements...if it was hot, I was hot...if it rained, I was wet...cold, I was shivering.  I have had to carry my own food, I have had to search for water, I have had to endure blood, sweat, and pain.  But, I wouldn't trade it for the world.  I feel like I am living the dream, everyone's dream!  The dream to do something crazy, something no one thinks you can do, something no one thinks they can do.  But why not?  Just go do it!  Early on in the trail I had a thought that I have reminded myself when things are not going well, a quote that I want to live by now and after the AT..."Dream BIG, and go get it!"  Growing up I never would have imagined I would walk from Georgia to Maine, and here I am now 15 miles from the Maine state line.  We all live once, and life is short.  You may not be inclined to hike the AT, but I think it is in all of us to do something crazy...to start a new job, move, or pick up a hobby...to change things up, to try something different to see what it is like.  Life should be lived...not just endured.  For me, I like to push my limits.  While most other northbounders are slowing down now to enjoy the last few hundred miles I am pushing hard.  Maybe it is from cross country and track in high school...always finish strong, but that is what I want to do.  I have surprised myself with the miles I have been able to pull since PA...and I don't want to slow down, not because I don't like hiking, but because I like to test myself.  How will we ever know our limits unless we test them?  How do you know what you can or can't do unless you try?  This is probably my last zero day before the end of the AT...but I am not sad...the AT is not the end of this adventure called life.  After this I have plan to go after bigger dreams and goals.  Everyone else around me is giving me a hard time for pushing so hard to the finish and not slowing down to "enjoy" it.  Yes, I am sure the AT will be a big part of my past, but I don't think I will regret finishing strong.  I can remember the last semester of college, my buddy Justin Bates and I talked constantly about wanting to get out of school and into the real world to start a business and get going.  We enjoyed every last minute of college, but we were looking forward to the next adventure.  That is how I feel about the AT...it will be over soon, but I am not slowing down to try to make it last, or prolong the change.  I am staying focused and pressing on, enjoying every experience I have, but knowing there will be more to my life than just the AT.  I have heard so many NoBo's say they have nothing to go back to, no reason to finish soon...I am thankful that I am looking forward to my "normal", post AT life.  I have a wife I love, a dog I miss, a lifestyle I am blessed with, and goals I want to achieve.  I am just as excited for my life post-AT as I was for my life post-college.  For now though, I am living the dream, hiking in the woods for the next two weeks, and I am going to live it up!  And when this is done, and I head home to "real life", I am going to live that dream too!   I can already say doing the AT has been one of the best decisions of my life.  I was comfortable...comfortable with my job, my town, my lifestyle...and the more I think about it, the more "comfortable" sounds dangerous to an adventerous lifestyle that goes after all that life has to offer.  I didn't know if I could make it from Georgia to Maine, I didn't know if I could be away from Amy for 4 months, I didn't know what would happen, but we tried it and we are about to succeed!  It makes me step back and wonder what else in life seems to be just out of reach that I could actually accomplish...that for me is what is dangerous about comfortable.  It doesn't have to be about success, money, or luxery items...but if you think something is out of reach and you don't go after it because you are comfortable, is that really living life to the fullest?  I am going to live with no regrets, live life to the fullest, dream big and go get it, and live life every day...for the next 2 weeks, and beyond!  Tonight is another night to relax, tomorrow it is back to the Appalachian Trail!