Day 120 – 29th July (Posted Sat 2nd Aug)

posted in: Rich's Diary Entries | 0

Started at Katahdin Stream Campground – The Birches Lean-to and campsite – mile 2180.1
Summited Kathadin – mile 2185.3
Finished at The Appalachian Trail Lodge in Millinocket
5.2 miles covered.
Total days hiked 118
18.52 Av miles / days

After falling to sleep at a respectable time for a change I was rudely awoken at 23:30. Surprisingly it was not because of PB’s snoring, but my closest encounter with a thunder storm on the trail. The bolts of lightning were so close I could hear the crackle of the electricity as it built up and then struck. The noise that woke me sounded like a bolt of lightning had hit or a tree had fallen on the shelter. It was awesome if not a little scary and I sat up and watched for a while before falling back to sleep.
Maybe it was Kathadin’s way of saying don’t mess with me?

Fortunately I slept through any further commotion and didn’t even register any snores coming from the other side of the shelter.
I woke up at 05:00 to find PB packing up. I was dead quick to pack up as I stayed in a shelter and had no tent to pack away. I had a huge breakfast consisting of: 2 packets oatmeal, 1 Snickers bar, 1 Cinnamon bun, 1 5 hour caffeine energy shot, 1 can Doctor Pepper, 1 cup of hot chocolate and coffee combo. I was buzzing!
At 06:30 I hit the trail. The psalm 23 was ringing through my head:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”
The initial climb was pretty straight forward although about 1/3rd of the way up things got serious. As soon as I moved out of tree line I started scrambling up huge boulders and rock climbing. I was directly exposed to the wind, rain and mist and it was hard. There were monkey bars embedded into some of the rocks intended to make it easier to do the ascent. Between the rocks were nasty gaps that would easily swallow an ankle and this most certainly wasn’t the kind of place you would want to make a mistake. The rocks were wet and slick so I was very careful. In a word it was DANGEROUS!
The further I climbed the worse the weather got. I came up behind PB whilst doing the first big scramble and could hardly see him as he disappeared into the mist and rain.
After a long scrabble things levelled off and the mountain opened up onto a ridge. I sped up to get my body temperature up and flew part PB. After the ridge there was another load of rock scrambling and climbing. This was then followed by a boulder field. At this point I was almost crouching to keep my centre of gravity low as possible to avoid any slips.
I was cold, but by keeping moving I maintained enough body heat.
After 3 hours 20 minutes I finally reached the top. My hands were numb and the summit was cloaked in cloud. Rain pelted my face and it was pretty miserable. Luckily there were a couple of guys up there and Bangerang and company arrived soon after. I was concerned that PB would take a while and my numb hands didn’t like that prospect. Pictures were taken although it involved constant lense cleaning to prevent the water building up and fogging up the pictures.
PB then arrived and after getting a group picture we said our goodbyes. He gave me a hug and bid me fair well. I was concerned for the old fella, as he was going to hike on without the benefit of white blazes to point him in the right direction all the way to Canada. I hope he is ok and we said that we would stay in contact through a website called Trail Journals.

2014-07-29 15.13.28

2014-07-29 15.02.49

2014-07-29 15.12.26

2014-07-29 15.02.30

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personally I was glad to get the hell off of the mountain, along with Bangerang, Radioman and Blitz. I have read that you should always make sure that you don’t use all your energy on the ascent. After all you still have to get off of the frigging thing. This was in the back if my mind as I was shivering uncontrollably. My neck was also really stiff and hurt when I rotated my head. I think this was a result of the way I was crouching and stepping on the way up. Where I must have tensed up and strained my neck. Either way it hurt. My knees also hurt going down and I just wanted down!
All I kept thinking about was Sarah and Rooi and how I had to get down. To help generate some body heat I kept exhaling warm air into my jacket as I had it zipped up around my face.
Being tall I found the descent easier than the others and Blitz was clearly shaken. I couldn’t believe some of the idiot day hikers who I passed us going down They were wearing fleeces and inappropriate clothing and looked soaked and very cold and miserable.
Finally I got down below tree line and things improved and I was out of danger. What a relief.
Baxter Park which is where Mt Katahdin is situated is open until October. It then closes for the rest of the year. I certainly wouldn’t want to summit in October!
On descending you obviously have to follow the white blazes. This I was doing, but I really didn’t recognise certain sections of the trail. The thought ‘Surely I came up this way’ was ringing through my head. Although I recognised a number of key features along the trail, other parts just looked vastly different. I was a little disorientated to say the least.
When I got down to the base of Kathadin there were even stone steps and some climbs that I didn’t recognise. I decided to go to the ranger station and ask if there were 2 routes running up the mountain. The ranger confirmed that there was only 1. He also said that it is always wise to turn around and check your surroundings from time to time, as everything looks different in reverse. I concluded that I must have been very tired on the ascent. Or perhaps the adrenaline was kicking in to the point that all I was interested in was getting to the top. Either that or the 5 hour energy shots have something other than caffeine in them.
As if like an insult to injury the sun decided to come out as I approached the foot of the mountain. Although cloud still covered the mountain up top. It was actually quite warm as we all sat on a picnic bench and waited for Blitz’s mum to arrive. Blitz had cleared it with her to give me a ride into Millinocket along with Bangerang and Radioman.
On the ride into Millinocket Blitz, Bangerang and Radioman were face-booking and answering calls excitedly confirming that they had finished the trail. It felt very final and far removed from the trail. Modern tech and social media had once again caught up with me. I felt a little numb.
Blitz’s mums driving was also pretty awful which didn’t help. Because there was a sheet over the back seat as a safeguard against the hiker stink, none of us could wear seats belts.
Once in Millinocket I headed for The Appalachian Trail Lodge. I hoped to get a ride to Medway ASAP, but my bubble was soon broken as I found out there was only 1 bus from Medway to Portland per day and it ran at 09:30. I settled for a single room to myself. I could have stayed in the bunk house, but wanted some room to decompress. A nice lady called Thai showed me around and let me hang out my tent and pack to dry. I also did laundry and showered so that at least when I hit the airport I won’t look and smell like a tramp.
The place was also run by another old dude that looked a little like one of the Bee Gees. It also appeared that he had veneers or false front teeth which also complemented the Barry Gibb look.
Everyone I have spoken to today since finishing the trail has been congratulating me and I feel proud of my achievement.
I needed to contact home and pass on the good news. Everyone had thought that I had planned to finish on the 1st August. But I pushed and should now be back home by then.
My parents gave me the sad news that my Nan had passed away last Thursday. They decided not to let me know as they didn’t want it to affect my hike. Although reception has been sketchy whilst I had been in the 100 mile wilderness and Maine. Sad times, although at least I managed to say a proper goodbye when I spoke to her last and Sarah recorded a message from her for me. Her funeral is on Friday and hopefully I should be back by then. Funny how things work out as I really had no idea and it has just worked out that I finished in good time. Although strangely enough I had a dream about my Nan the other day and had been thinking about her. Maybe the thunder storm last night was her way of letting me know. I remember when I was a child and I was ready to go to school and there was a thunder storm. Nan wouldn’t let me go to school until it had finished. What she would have thought if she knew I was out in this storm I can’t imagine!
A kiwi guy that I had hiked past the other day turned up at the hostel and we enjoyed a beer outside on the picnic bench. He had only covered about half of the miles, but it was the end of his hike as well. A worthy reason for a beer.
After all my missions were done Dan and I headed out for some food and finally I had some decent lobster. I also had scallops wrapped in bacon. A well-deserved meal I think.
I would now like to take the opportunity to thank everyone for tuning in and their support throughout the trail. And of course all of the donations.
And for all of those who promised to donate once I had completed the trail, now’s your opportunity to put your money where your mouth is.
I have learnt a lot on the trail and it’s been a great opportunity to plan and think about the future. If someone now asks ‘what’s your 5 year plan’ I will now have a good answer.
When the bright lights and elude of going out and partying faded I am glad to say that I stepped out there and rolled my sleeves up and did something different. The world is a big place and walking 2185.3 miles kinda makes you appreciate that. There are many wonders that still haven’t been ruined by man and the hike has certainly made me think differently about my life and all the material bullshit that we are compelled to surround ourselves with. All I really need apart from the love of my good woman is what was in my back pack.
The trail has also taught me not to worry too much about the future. Focus on the present and the future will sort itself out. This kinda contradicts the 5 year plan, but if you put acceptance and enjoyment and enthusiasm into the present then success will follow.
Everyone thinks of success as something that is in the future. And by thinking this you are never successful in the present, which is where you need to focus your energy.
If you have a dream or a goal and it seems impossible, just break it down into manageable chunks and anything is possible.
Last night Problem Bear had asked me how I felt to be near the end of my hike. I hadn’t really considered it too much. I had been thinking about the next goal of getting home. Just before I went to bed as I was smoking a cigarette, I looked up at my hat and clothes hanging on the pegs on the wall of the shelter. I thought I don’t know if I’m ready to hang up my hat just yet and I placed my hand against the wooden shelter. It kinda sank in at that moment.
After hiking so many miles and the routine of hiking all day there could also be possible withdrawal symptoms. I can imagine Sarah’s concern the next time I say ‘I’m just taking the dog out for a walk’. That little shit bag ain’t gonna know what hit him when I take him out on a 20 miler!
I would like to wrap this little adventure up at this point as you don’t really need to know the rest.
It’s been a case of 1 opportunity, 1 life, 1 thru hike.
It’s been emotional. Now to take a hike and get the hell out of here.