Appalachian trail journal. Miles for the day 10.7. AT miles 5.2. Maine.
This morning, a brand new triple-crowner I met on Baxter’s knife edge assured me that there is no terrain on the AT like the one I navigated today. Thank Goodness!
I vowed to not compare the AT and the PCT. I don’t want my mind to linger on another trail and miss the one right under foot. Plus it’d be rude. As, Ponte, my first new AT friend pointed out, trails are like boyfriends: the new one really doesn’t want to hear about the last one. But since it’s raining and I’m in my zipped up tent, I won’t miss much for the next few minutes. And I don’t think the AT can hear me with the river nearby and the waterfall just up the trail. So here it goes …
On the PCT, I was deposited right at the monument by car. A few photos, and I was on my way down a soft, gentle trail with open vistas and wild flowers along the sides.
The AT is not here to cajole anyone. My trail angel Sally and I were climbing over roots and boulders by 5:30 am this morning. It got steep pretty fast. And then steeper. A few miles in, we turned onto the knife’s edge. Full pack, 8 days of food, a body straight off the truck’s seat and suddenly I’m scambling class 3 and 4 rock with mad exposure on both sides. I was coated in sweat and pumping adrenaline well before noon. “I’m not entirely comfortable with this.” (very calm voice) is apparently what I sound like when I’m scared. And still, I loved it. I felt alive. I was the Bobcat again, flushed with mini waves of Trail High, like hot flashes. My ass was getting kicked, and I was home.
We got to the top of Katahdin at noon. I’d love to hike nobo someday, just for the pleasure of that dramatic finish. The PCT start monument was lovely, and I walked away almost immediately. But that AT wooden horse with its bold letters sign is so iconic that it held me spellbound. I could see all of you, my trail family, standing on it over the years. Onager in his tuxedo, Kristo the Lion, triumphant and wet, LB, Pepper, Chili, Moss and so many others. Suddenly it was a real, physical object, with depressions in the wood in the back where all the feet of all the hikers have stood. It felt like legacy – like a sacred artifact to be revered. I didn’t feel I had earned climbing it yet, but I did anyway. I reasoned that life is short, and it’s okay to eat dessert first, or start at the grand finale.
I experienced magic of ridiculous proportion on the PCT. But never before had a stranger purposely stopped me from a cadenced step to ask if I was a thru-hiker and wanted a Snickers bar. In fact, since I left my truck yesterday – which was as difficult as you might imagine – I have been spoiled at every turn. Non-hikers know about thru-hikers in these parts. This is an old trail. We are not a novelty. And everyone, it seems, is game to uphold the magic. At the grocery store in North Conway, one of my favorite yoga students from 2 years ago paid for most of my resupply for the week. The man at the post office sent me off with a “You’re awesome. I love you. Good luck.” Then there’s Sally, trail angel extraordinaire, who not only drove me 6 hours to Katahdin, but also navigated the scary rocks all the way to the summit with me. And Thorny, whose camp site I am currently occupying in exchange for a square of chocolate he didn’t even finish (I did). And the stranger lady, whose Snickers bar I refused. “It’s too soon in your hike I understand,” she said.
On the PCT, I got lost within a few miles of the start. On the AT, I did as well. At least some things are consistent. I thought I was going down to cross the Abol River to get out of Baxter State Park before the night, but the white blazes went elsewhere, so I followed them instead. I had no reservation for anything in the park, but figured something would work out or I’d walk 20 miles today, up and over a moutain, and really start this trail with a bang. But as soon as I came out of the woods, Thorny found me. He couldn’t believe I climbed up the knife edge and down the boulder field with a full pack. Apparently, hikers don’t climb Katahdin with full packs. Everybody slackpacks. It was my claim to fame for a bit. Thorny would introduce me as: “The Bobcat, she did the knife edge and the Hunts trail with a full pack” And this coming from a man who once build a raft out of wood logs and raced it down the Amazon River. I take it as a compliment, even if I feel I was walking a fine line between bad ass and dumb ass on this one.
Overall, I did feel baddassly strong today. Very grateful for my body. In the past I might have disliked this or that about it, but I have nothing but gratitude for it today. It never complains, it just keeps going. It’s perfectly suited to my lifestyle, down to the eyelashes that keep black flies out of my eyes. I mean, it’s sore. My legs feel pumped and my arms and shoulders too from climbing over boulders and pushing on This and That to propel me uphill. But sore just means that I was alive today, that I had a worthwhile adventure. My body will repair in my sleep, and tomorrow will be easier. And we’ll keep going that way, being alive during the day and repairing at night, for months.
A few days ago I was freaking out about this hike. That was another lifetime ago. Now I’M ON THE FRIGGING AT!
Nobo – northbound, Georgia to Maine
Sobo – southbound, Maine to Georgia
Slack-packing – hiking with a day pack while someone shuttles the heavy pack to a rendezvous point.
Magic – a direct experience of the kindness of strangers and friends. Magic is many other things too.
This and That – the names of my hiking poles.