I had a great night’s sleep, and got up fairly early compared to what I normally do, obviously in anticipation of finishing. The hike down to Delaware Water Gap was a bit rocky at first, but turned into a super-easy hike that got me to the gap by 10:30 or so. The “big hurrah” was crossing the Delaware River on I80, and coming into town with a view of the flop point was pretty surreal. The whole hike down, in fact, felt strange. I knew that soon I wouldn’t have to worry about hiking again! It’s certainly not like finishing at Katahdin, but finish it is, and I’m ready to go home!
This was an amazing adventure, and I have a profound sense of personal accomplishment – the very sense I was in search of from the beginning. “Could I do it,” that’s it. Answer: Yes I could!
I thank everyone for following along – I’ll keep this site up for a while, and might try to go back through the days to add some details that I otherwise would likely forget! I also have a few videos of a bit of camp life that I’ll try to post in the near future.
The rest of Massachusetts and Connecticut went quickly (Connecticut’s only 52 miles). Easy hiking and numerous encounters with civilization, and I took advantage of it all, from places to eat to places to stay, to lighten the load and make some mileage. One difficulty has been the lack of water sources because of the drought, although the cool weather has helped the situation. Normally the water sources in the guide that are cited as reliable are now becoming barely reliable or totally dry, making water supply somewhat problematic but definitely manageable.
Hiking through New York and New Jersey were similar, although both have their rough spots for sure. Even though days are getting short, I’m still able to make some pretty substantial mileage, feel fortunate to still be in good shape and have the energy. Now that I’ve made firm travel plans for returning home, I’ve also upped the Yellow Blaze factor, skipping little sections here and there to make sure I keep pace with my plans. Even though my yellow blazing is a minimal proportion of the trail, I won’t claim the official ATC thru-hike in the end. I’ve known that for some time, and will leave that accomplishment to the few that actually can claim it in all honesty.
And don’t forget, every state has its “Little Maine.” There’s rugged spots here and there, but they don’t dominate the day, and they’re interconnected with stretches of open forest and soft trails that allow long episodes of daydreaming. New York defines the PUD (pointless up and down), a roller coaster affair interspersed with road crossings, and a particular rough spot reminiscent of Maine, all do-able but somewhat annoying. I can look back now to Southern Maine and New Hampshire as clearly being the most rugged part of the trail.
Civilization constantly beckons in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, just by the the traffic on the roads and the numerous places that are near the trail to stop. And I’ve took advantage of those places, to eat and stay, especially as it’s been raining through much of Connecticut and New York.
The forest has become yet even quieter, now being populated by day hikers and a few section hikers, with rare encounters of SOBOs. I saw Molasses on Bear Mountain, churning away mileage that I remember from Virginia and the Hundred Mile Wilderness. I thought my mileage was impressive! And what do you know, on my second to last day near Sunfish Pond, I hear behind me, “Big Horn?”. There, once again, was 2-Taps making his way down to Delaware Water Gap. I’ve been fortunate to see someone pretty much every day until the end. I also met Father Goose and a future thru-hiker, Second Chance, at Mohican Outdoor Center. Second Chance will be representing a rare bunch of cardiac patients, those who have essentially died from sudden cardiac arrest, and by his research will be the first with his medical history to do the AT next year. I wish you good luck!
I could have easily hiked into Delaware Water Gap, but decided instead to slow down the last three days, keep my schedule and at least camp the last night. I’m looking forward to the last hike and ending this journey!
Well, the treachery and ruggedness of the northern portion of the trail is over. Now the relatively easy hiking in Vermont and southward has arrived. Moosilauke was the last big “hoorah” of the White Mountains, even though the White Mountain National Forest extends south of there. Southward has been back to the green tunnel, something I grew weary of in the south, but now welcome as cool weather, less bugs, relatively soft trails, and some changing colors usher in autumn.
Encounters with NOBOs are now rare, although one or two every now and then are still trying to make it before the middle of October. I had heard from Angry, whom I passed near Bennington, that Wooby and Kiba were nearby, but I unfortunately missed them. This couple goes back farther than anyone else, back to that group of eight that I hiked with in Georgia. Only Martin (now Pancake), myself and these two are left. Nice to know they made it this far!
The hike through the Berkshires has been blessed with great weather and pretty easy hiking. Campsites are for the taking, and I’ve found myself alone a few times now. Much has changed since those days in the south, when “tent city” would appear every night, and the shelters always filled.
Although I like the sanctuary of my tent, I’ve grown somewhat weary of camping, mostly because my legs don’t like it anymore. I’ve heard this complaint among several hikers that have been out here as long as I have, both young and old. Hip pain and not being able to get comfortable at night, shifting from one side to the other to avoid the pain. Hence my recent use of the Easy Button – if there’s a hostel, B&B or motel available, I’m there! Coming into town is also giving me a chance to see the rich history of Southern New England.
Well, here we go – the White Mountains. Other than Maine, this is what we’ve been waiting for, and perhaps even fearing because of the ruggedness and extreme weather that can occur. Planning is important, and mileage needs to be seriously evaluated. I planned on purpose on going very slow, with short-mileage days, keeping tabs on the weather, and making reservations at huts, so I wouldn’t have to rely on work-for-stay once arriving at the huts. While pricey, the reservations turned out to be prudent, and I really enjoyed the hut system, taking advantage of the relative luxury they afford. I watched the work-for-stay game being played from the side, often resulting in rejection because hikers (many of whom I knew) showed up a bit too early and were asked to move on, even though they may be tired or conditions might be questionable. I’m fortunate to be able to have some retirement dollars for this kind of thing!
I also lucked out on weather through the Whites, and had only one terrifying day in the wind. Unlike me, Rumblejunk, Peanut, and two others were caught out on the ridge south of Mount Washington, and had to hunker down in a two-person tent behind a boulder for 10 hours waiting for first light. They weren’t even able to crawl on the trail due to the wind. The weather gods were clearly on my side for my time in the Whites!
The early day from White Mountain Hostel started with rain, which increased into the morning as I went up toward Mount Madison out of Pinkham Notch. Other than some of the summits in Southern Maine, Moriah, Carter and the Wildcats, this was the first hike into what could potentially be treacherous conditions. The wind started as expected as I got above tree line and got too high to hike without being blown over (which happened several times), so I took a fortuitous cross trail called the Parapet to get to the gap between Mount Madison and Mount Adams. Even though more rugged, it got me out of the wind, which got worse as the day went on. I met only one other person that day who went over Madison, and he looked pretty beat up after crawling between cairns over Madison in the fog and wind. Madison Hut was a welcome sight, a safe haven in the storms that occurred that night.
It was nice to see Owl that night, who stopped in for work-for-stay. He mentioned that Southwind, his hiking partner until Vermont, had gotten off the trail.
I got a chance to visit Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest while in North Woodstock wherected I did my Master’s research at UNH. Luck would have it they were having a going-away lunch for a couple of employees so several people that I worked with in the 1980s were there. I also got a tour of the sample archive system and building that my wife Cindy put together when she worked there. Wow, what a treat!
The list of NOBO encounters grows: The Dude and Gatherer (the one I traded jerky for water on Albert Mountain) on Madison Ridge, Owl at Madison Hut, B-Ryan (yup, all the way back from North Carolina) and Berkeley at Lakes of the Clouds, Long Legs, Beast, Moonfire and Moose Dancer between Lakes and Washigton, Bones and Peril on Garfield Ridge, and Turtle atop Mt. Lafayette. I’ve encountered several more NOBOs I didn’t recognize, or perhaps no longer recognize, many of whom may have passed me months ago during that craziness of the bubble in the south.
I met several more NOBOs at the Hikers Welcome Hostel in Glencliff, all of whom we’re anticipating the first rugged section of the Whites (and of the entire trail for that matter) on the south side of Mount Moosilauke, and that doesn’t let up for some 300 miles. Southern Maine. I’ve just exited that same stretch going south, and know that they have a long, tough hike (or climb as it is in some places) ahead. Man am I glad to be out of that!
One last NOBO bubble (dubbed the “Party Bubble”) was just making their way out of a Hanover when I passed through. They represent the last of the hikers coming north. I anticipate encounters now to be much less frequent and reserved for those considering section hiking or splitting. And guess who was in that bubble -Firefly! Yet another chance encounter between us, now the last, as we’re headed in opposite directions.
Fall is slowly arriving – cooler nights, shorter days and some changing colors in the forest. Although five states left, time-wise the end is in sight! A trip to the chiropractor and my normal dose of Vitamin I will hopefully keep me going!
A couple days of “half-slacking,” (my coined term for combining over-nights on the trail with slack packing – I think it might catch on!), south of Rangely brought some rain, but also some welcome, cool weather perfect for hiking. I’ve been crossing paths with Harold and Flicker, two young SOBO women that plan on finishing in November or December. Flicker, Molasses and I sheltered south of Rangely (rare for me but smart with the pending downpours), when four NOBOs showed up and decided to stay, one of whom was from Cheyenne, Wyoming – finally! I was certain at this point that I was the only Wyomingite out here, but here was Beefcake, bunked right next to me! We were packed in like sardines – not my cup of tea …
After resupplying in Andover it was up Baldpate Mountain, one of the most exposed and slabby climbs and descents thus far. Even though there was still runoff from the rain two days prior, the rock was dry enough to avoid perilous disaster. Some rungs and even a fixed rope helped the ascent on the steepest rock. On the way down a young men recognized me from Roan Mountain at a place we stayed at with Cupcake, Burrito and John the Baptist – it was Squirtle! His memory was better than mine – he even remembered my trail name!
I met three more NOBOs at the next campsite, one of whom had fallen on Mahoosuc Arm and warned of its steepness and idiocy of hiking in the rain. I heeded this advice and waited out a storm in Bethel, and took an extra day to hang at a great B&B in town (reportedly haunted too), where I met my cousin Richard. This makes two cousins met in Maine, one on each side of the family!
The climb out of Grafton Notch was up Old Speck Mountain, where I saw Riddles climbing up the north side. Too bad we couldn’t reminisce, due to the fierce winds that were blowing across the summit, the worst I’ve seen since Georgia. The front brought a cold morning, not unlike those I remember from Tennessee and North Carolina, a brief reminder that fall is coming!
Several days of rugged trail with slabby climbs and descents, taking precaution to avoid sliding down rock faces (with obvious ill effects), yielded short-mileage days by design, as I anticipated the ruggedness of southern Maine. I ran again into more NOBOs from days past – Morrell, Loudmouth, M&M, Scott (of Yours Truly days, who is now off the trail), and finally Rumble Junk, one of the last NOBOs I saw in Delaware Water Gap. And guess what – Dulci showed up at the hostel in Gorham! She had gotten off for serious kidney-stone issues, and is now flopping NOBO from New Hampshire, then will finish SOBO from Vermont. I also crossed paths again with Dori, Free Bird, Weebles and Cold Turkey, all SOBO in various flop scenarios. We’re hitting the NOBO bubble for sure!
Maine was rugged and difficult, but rewarding. Now comes a crowning highlight, the White Mountains, notorious for crazy weather and winds. Let’s hope a stretch of kindness from these mountains!
The next couple of days south took me through more alpine forests and a couple of challenging mountains with some great views, then into Caratunk, where I found another gem of a hostel. This place is run by Paul, who’s been collecting antiques for many years, and has appointed this old restored house with his best finds. Hikers come for his burgers and homemade milkshakes, but have a hard time leaving because of the peaceful setting and hospitality.
I slack-packed out of Caratunk and across the Kennebec River, and took the slowest day of hiking on my trip so far. I lingered in the forest and came across a waterfall above a perfect swimming hole that looked inaccessible, until I noticed a knotted rope over the cliff leading to the bottom. Normally I wouldn’t consider a side venture, but today I took the time, and spent a good hour at the hole, a place no one else I talked to later even noticed because they were probably on a mission to get to the Kennebec “ferry” (a one-man canoe operated by the ATC so that hikers don’t drown trying to cross). I haven’t taken this much time on a hike before, and it was a welcome change to the daily endeavor of “doing your miles.”
The first real hiking tests south of Katahdin were now upcoming: Pleasant Pond, Chair Back, the Bigelows, and Crocker, among others. These are rugged, challenging climbs and descents where you sometimes need to throw your poles up (or down) in order to use your hands to aid in climbing. The rewards are many: sweeping vistas of the Maine’s mountains and lakes, and clear views of where you’ve been, and what lies ahead for you! I Yellow-Blazed a couple short sections to keep the pace going, and hit the highlights between Monson and Rangeley.
I’ve met yet more NOBOs as the bubble is advancing north, and have recognized one or two kikers every other day or so that I saw from North Carolina, Tennessee, or Virginia. I’ve also met a couple of new SOBOs who will be doing their thru-hike this season, albeit starting a bit late for my pace! I Don’t Know and Ninja are south-bounding, Ninja for whom decided to do a yo-yo late in her NOBO, and plans on a 90-day SOBO – good luck with that! I also met El Capitan, who is section-hiking this part of Maine, and offered up great conversation and stories of his commendable service in the Navy. I’ve never known someone who’s commanded a nuclear submarine!
I holed up in Rangeley for a couple days to wait out a rain storm, as were other hikers who filled the hostels in the area. Good strategy – slipping on these rocks and roots could be a trip-ender! I got good advice from NOBOs at the Rangeley Farmhouse Inn that had come across New Hampshire and the Mahoosics, warning not to do certain sections in the rain. I think I’ll take their advice …
The Flop starts with an insane and brutal climb up Mount Katahdin. I did this about thirty years ago and thought it was crazy then! We shuttled out of the AT Lodge from Millinocket at 6:30, and I got back around 7:30 that evening. I hiked with a couple fellows my age, one of whom was my ride back to town, which was nice to know, because the campground didn’t appear to offer much in the way of hitching at that time!
I actually met someone from Jackson Wyoming, the first Wyomingites I’ve met out here. They’re not thru-hiking, but are here to do Katahdin and some other hikes. I also met a Flopper that will be going back to Delaware Water Gap, to then go South to Georgia (she’s finishing her NOBO section from the Gap to Maine), but have yet to meet anyone on that will have the Gap as their AT end point. I know there’s a bunch of us Floppers out here, and I hope to run into them! I did run into Cold Turkey, Shitting Bull, Weebles, Ladybird, Sasquatch, Ringer, and Messiah in Monson after hiking through the wilderness, all of whom are on pace going SOBO Flop. Hope to see these folks many times in the near future!
A re-supply in Millinocket, then off into the Hundred Mile Wilderness. Great hiking, somewhat rugged, but not much of an elevation change, a perfect re-introduction to hiking after being off for a few days. Right off the bat a moose, a couple of otters, the sound of loons to greet me into the wilderness – nice.
I’ve encountered at least two NOBOs every day, most of whom are on the fast plan (three to five months), but now I’m starting to see some on that average-to-fast pace of five months. I wondered when I’d start seeing someone I recognize, and I finally did. I saw Brawny at a shelter and recognized her from way back in Georgia, and she remembered me as the hiker who came in late in the rain to the campsite and had a hard time finding a camp spot, which I now remember! I’m running across mostly NOBOs on either section or group hikes into the Wilderness, which is pretty popular.
A re-supply in Monson, a stay at Shaw’s Hostel and southward I go!
This is the Flop (or, more formally, the “Flip Flop”) to Maine, a six-day respite and regrouping to re-start my hike from the northern terminus at Mount Katahdin. I chose Delaware Water Gap from which to flop for a few reasons, firstly because I wanted to be well beyond the half-way point prior to flopping. Secondly, I wanted to be through Pennsylvania (or “Rocksylvania,” to which we more affectionately refer to that state) to get that misery over with. Thirdly, the weather is getting too hot in the mid-Atlantic region, and is getting perfect for hiking in Maine and New Hampshire, including the cessation of black flies, which can really ruin your day. Lastly, I’ll be chasing late fall back into New Jersey, rather into Maine, which will be favorable for weight – I won’t need cold-weather gear until late, if at all, and if I do, it’ll be where the extra weight will be along more palatable hiking in southern New England and New York. While not giving me the big fan-fare of summitting Katahdin for the finale, this strategy will give me the best chance for finishing. I’ll just have a more, anti-climatic finish across the Delaware River Bridge. I’ll be just fine with that …
The trip up to Maine was enjoyable. I hopped a bus from Delaware Water Gap to New York City, took a few fleeting moments in the streets, then took a train up to Boston where my brother-in-law, Dave, picked me up. I stayed with Dave and Sherry in Hull for a few days where I built a new pack, recuperated, and revisited the doctor for some high-tech foot analyses and more injections. Thanks to Dave and Sherry I now have support services for the rest of the hike! Maybe they can mail me some new feet …
I drove up to New Hampshire to revisit some old places where I used to live. Went through Newmarket, saw the old place in Durham, visited my alma mater, UNH, toured Portsmouth, then ended the day visiting with some old friends in Maine, Steve and Dana Rickerich. I stayed in Portland, then drove up to Augusta where I found my long-lost cousin, Sara, whom I’ve never met, then finally traveled on to Bangor where I hopped a bus to Medway, then shuttled to Millinocket to the Appalachian Trail Lodge. I spent a few days here to regroup, and climbed Katahdin, an insane hike that marks the northern terminus of the AT.
I’ve already met a half-dozen floppers that are here doing the same thing I am, just to different end-points or for section hikes. I’ve also met some of the very exclusive thru-hikers who have already finished, some of whom started after me (yup, three-month thru-hikes – unbelievable). These are extremely unusual hikers and don’t represent the rest of us that’ll be out here for a while yet!
This has been a lengthy hiatus in the blog, mostly because of painful hiking in Pennsylvania – my heart has not been with the trail other than to curse it. They say that hikers experience the “Virginia Blues,” a mental distress that reportedly occurs while hiking the 500-mile stretch through Virginia. I seem to have gotten through that stretch without much mental grief, other than a brief outburst to a local hiker in Maryland, of all places (whom I quickly apologized to), expressing my extreme displeasure on how rugged and rocky it was through the “Roller Coaster.” For me the blues, and my developing attitude, occurred in Pennsylvania – hot, humid, rocky hiking with nary a view, one ridge after another separated by gaps, into and out of which steep, rocky climbs and descents were brutal. Did I mention the rocks? We knew they were coming, large rocks to climb, navigate and slip over; medium-sized rocks, positioned perfectly to wedge your foot between, twist your foot into contorted positions, poke sharp edges into the side of your foot, ripping the fabric from your shoes; and the remaining, seemingly benign, soft trail hiding a continuous under-cover of small rocks that jut up like little pyramids, giving little hope of a flat spot to plant your step, and a drunken stumble through the forest. My shoes thanks to this state are now officially shredded, the upper portions ripped from the soles and taped up in vein to hold together until Delaware Water Gap. Other hiking conditions occurred that normally would only be just annoying or considered part of hiking – humidity and heat so high that at times it was difficult to breathe; afternoon rain, that, with the heat, rendered any rain gear useless; vegetation growing over and into the trail now replete with blackberry thorns, poison ivy and ticks; hoards of gnats that remain your head’s friend for the day; and, of course, increased frequency of Timber Rattlers that love the rocks. Did I mention the rocks? Yup, the rocks and the conditions for July give the Pennsylvania trek an apt and fair characterization of “Horrid, *@%#ing Misery.” Please insert your own swear word you feel would be appropriate based on my description.
One pleasing feature north of Harpers Ferry has been the shelters, many of which are well-maintained and have good campsites, and even have healthy competition among care takers to see who can build and maintain the best site, a competition that benefits us hikers! One site had games, reading material, a swing, a clothesline, and even hanging flower baskets! I don’t use the shelters to sleep (don’t care for side-to-side slumber with snoring strangers or rodents running over top of me), but they’re a great place to relax, cook, and converse with the hikers. A rock and a good log, if you can find them, are just fine for camping, but a place to sit and cook make the end of the day that much better.
One of the shelters placed myself and Trix together again, a young women that I met at Nantahala Mountain Lodge in North Carolina long ago, and who is now catching up after various off-trail ventures. Older Dog and I finally crossed paths again, who informed me of the end of Wolf’s hike due to injury, a young man who had hiked with him for quite some time. Chef Ducky called it quits on the rocks, and will skip the rest of Pennsylvania, but pledges to come back after reaching Katahdin to hike all of Pennsylvania. I’ve also learned of others that have succumbed to the rocks and have quit, either directly from injury (I’ve seen the grim results of a few falls), or by worsening existing conditions. If the Pennsylvania section is meant to be a test, we should find the examiner who designed this trail and drag him over it with his arms tied behind him. How do you like those rocks, buddy?
I saw a number of hikers at the midway point, several of whom took the half-gallon ice cream challenge as a rite of passage (those who successfully complete the challenge are recognized with a special wooden spoon). I decided, since I had yet to have ice cream on the trail, that I would do the “half pint challenge” instead. I need to eat more of this stuff! I’ve developed somewhat of a sweet tooth, and usually crave something after dinner. Dried fruit in combination with chocolate-covered anything seems to do the trick!
I got a chance to meet Trail Angel Mary, a rather famous AT angel that’s featured in a documentary I’ve seen. She organized Billville (don’t know the history there) as Trail Magic and a mini-fest for hikers. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and camping were available, and I took part in all. I had hiked out early one day after stopping there for lunch, but got on the wrong trail in the rain (a steep, rocky ascent of course), forcing me after prudent decision making to back-track, returning to Billville for the night. They all got a kick out of my blunder, and understood my desire to shuttle out the next day to the gap I should be at if I hadn’t erred in hiking. Fortunately I shuttled with Mary, and got a chance to spend time with a trail icon. Note to self: follow the White Blazes, not the red ones …
It’s hard to remember much more of this past section other than the conditions I’ve whimpered and whined of, so I’ll post what pictures I have and move on to Maine. I’ll be “Flopping,” a strategy to hike back from the northern AT terminus (Mount Katahdin), and plan to finish where I left off at Deleware Water Gap. The flop will give me the best chance for a successful finish, chasing late fall south into New Jersey, rather than north into Maine. I’ll also get to pass the NOBO Bubble, hopefully learning the fate of many of those I met early in the hike and that have passed me since.
This section of the trail is pretty much the Shenandoah, a section we’ve all been looking forward to because of its rumors of easy hiking and making big miles. The rumors have proven to be true, although the trail itself is pretty much confined to the forest, and lacks views, mostly reserved for those traveling along Skyline Drive, which criss-crosses through Shenandoah National Park. I guess I should try to appreciate the rolling beauty of the valleys and ridges that make these mountains, but it’s hard to when the focus is really getting out of Virginia and that lure of Harpers Ferry, the unofficial halfway point of the trail.
I continue to meet more new people that are coming from the south and passing, and I continue to see many of the same hikers I’ve seen for hundreds of miles now. Robi Dobi started 10 days before me in March and I’m now passing her, one of the rare people that are actually on my pace or maybe a bit slower. I also met No Worries a few days ago who started a couple days before me. I’ve made it this far on my pace, so I must be doing something right!
Rumors were the bears would be plentiful, and those rumors are true. They’re out there, but I’ve tended to miss them for the most part because my head is down, watching the trail, trying not to trip (no more falls please!). Other hikers have great pictures and stories of encounters – I get a feeling I’m walking right past the bears as they watch me, oblivious to their proximity. Fortunately campsites have good bear protection, boxes and poles, so we don’t have to rely on our normally ineffective hanging skills.
A resupply in Waynesboro, another visit to the foot doctor for some cortisone, and a little Yellow Blaze back to the trail put me on track toward Harpers Ferry. A nice stay at Bears Den Hostel, an historic stone cottage, brought me the next day to a luxury campsite where the shelter had a porch and benches, a picnic table in a pavilion, a swing, and even the tent sites had benches! These amenities may seem simple, but they make the camping so much nicer! Too bad it rained, again …
Harpers Ferry was a welcome sight, as this is the unofficial halfway point, and the AT Center is a meeting place for everyone who comes through here. I got to see a number of hikers whom I haven’t seen for some time, either in person or by their register. We all have our picture taken that’s put in a logbook, given a number, and made into a postcard. My number is 1,030, meaning that roughly two-thirds of the NOBOs either have not yet or will never make it here. I will continue to consider myself among the fortunate who have made it this far!
I took a couple days in Harpers Ferry to resupply and make plans for a Flop, and best of all got to see Dannon Hurst (an old friend and classmate from Sheridan) and her daughter Sarah, who came over from Baltimore for dinner – what a treat!
Well, one-half done. Only a thousand miles to go …