The end of a wonderfully grueling adventure …

The last 114 miles contain the 100 Mile Wilderness, entering Baxter State Park and the summit of Mt Katahdin.  145 days to get to this spectacular ending  . . .

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With a week to go on the trail we stayed at Shaw’s Lodging in Monson Maine.  We hung out at Shaws until around 2:00 pm.  When we left for the 100 mile wilderness, I had 6 days of food and my bag was 35 pounds. We planned 11 miles that day, but only did 7 because our backpacks were so heavy the hiking just wasn’t fun. We stopped for a little bit at Wilson falls and found a really cool campsite.  We got to soak our feet a bit and had a bite to eat.

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We ended up staying over at Little Wilson Stream.  The next day was our worst day in the wilderness because of the rain.  We hiked 20 miles total, but the last 11 miles were miserable in the rain.  It was raining, we were cold and our packs were still heavy.  We were climbing over wet rocks and trying not to slip.  The highlight was we did get trail magic that day, which you don’t see much of once you get up north.  This was kind of a special trail magic story.  So, there was a guy who would go to his families hunting cabin and do trail magic.  He and his father weren’t on good terms.  He went to the cabin to do trail magic but didn’t tell his dad he was going.  One time his dad showed up unexpected, they talked and reconnected.  At some later date the guy (son) died.  From then on the son’s best friend and the father continued the trail magic in his honor.  So that was kind of special to hear the story behind the kindness of the trail magic.

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As we hiked on it was still raining.  We stopped at Chairback Gap lean-to that night and there was one space left.  So I took that and Rush had to set up his hammock in the rain.  We just knew that would be the worst day and it would get better from there on.

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When we woke up it wasn’t raining anymore.  This was going to be our last hard day, we were excited because we knew this would be our last mountain before Katahdin.  We did 17 miles.  We got up on White Cap Mountain and it was the first time we could see Katahdin somewhere beyond the clouds.

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It was a really cool night.  Rush and I hadn’t been seeing a lot of hikers but when we got to Logan Brook lean-to we were near a hiker named the Duke of Windsor.  He let us camp in his area.  He was doing the trail in random bits but still all at once.  It was cool because we got to sit and talk to him and hear about his life.  It had been just Rush and I for so long it was nice to connect with another hiker that night

The 4th day in the wilderness,  we realized we had an extra day of food. This was great news because we had been rationing food to make sure we would make it through the 100 miles.  Rush had been eating 3200 and I was eating only 2500 calories.  Most hikers need at least 4,00-5,000 a day so we were in a huge deficit.  At that point we knew we’d get to Abol Bridge a day sooner so our food would last.  Even thought we did 20 miles that day, it felt like a good day.  The hike was easy and at the Antlers Campsite that evening was Joe Mary pond so we had a great view in the night.

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That was one of my favorite nights because you could hear the loons all night long.  I got up in the middle of the night and could see a great starry sky.  I hadn’t seen many starry nights because we were usually asleep by dusk.  The sounds and the sights that night are just what I thought Maine should be like.  The next morning we got our first actual view of Katahdin which was very exciting.  It was the light at the end of the tunnel for sure!

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We had a nice sunrise the next morning.  More easy hiking, all pretty normal.  We got to the lean to that had like a baseball bat flooring.  It was rounded planks, it looks just like large baseball bats.  It was very uncomfortable.  Every time you turned over you just couldn’t get comfortable in any way.  We met 2 sobo (southbound) hikers and told them about all of our travels the past few months.  We only had 30 more miles to go and they had hiked only 30 miles!  In the middle of the night it started raining and Rush got out of his hammock and came into the shelter.  We knew this was going to be our last night in the wilderness so we were super excited.

We had 16 miles to hike to Abol Bridge, which is the ending of the 100 mile wilderness and the start of Baxter State Park.  At that point I had a pro-meal bar and 1/6 of a jar of peanut butter left.  We tried to go as fast as we could because we were super hungry and we were ready to get out of the wilderness.  We were done hiking by 2:00 or 3:00 that afternoon.  When we got to a restaurant we devoured burgers fries and beers.  We met Patches who was a former thru hiker in 2013.  She joined us for dinner and asked where we were staying.  We said we weren’t sure and she invited us to stay with her at her campsite.  We made a big fire, told stories and Rush made bacon wrapped smores.  Yes, that would be bacon wrapped around the marshmallow cooked over the fire then put on chocolate and a graham cracker!! That night around 9:00 we had just fell asleep and we could hear and see fireworks.  Some idiot decided to set off a huge box of fireworks off the bridge!!  They went off for a straight hour, it was kinda scary and definitely annoying.

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The next morning we woke up early, about 5:00 am, and Rush took off to make sure he got a spot to hang his hammock at the Birches campsite. Our last night on the trail!!  Baxter State Park has several rules, one of which is the only place a thru-hiker can camp is at the Birches.  They only have so many spaces so you have to sign up.  If the list is full you have to wait.  I took off about 7:00 so I could stop at the camp store to get a soda and a coffee.  Hiking was the easiest, flattest and one of the most beautiful areas.  We got to the Birches campsites around 11:00.

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While signing in at the ranger station I got to see about 6 hikers who had summited Katahdin.  It was great to hear about their hike.  I was glad I got to wish them well and tell them good-bye.  We spent the day playing cards and hanging out.  Around 2:00 Hobbits showed up which was crazy because we hadn’t seen him since Harpers Ferry in Maryland.    There were only 2 other section hikers at the Birches and the 3 of us.  We decided that  night, even though I told my mom we would meet her at 8:00, we wanted to start early in order to beat the heat and the day hikers up to Katahdin the next morning.

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We woke up at 3:30 am,  packed our day bags, put on our headlamps and started hiking at 4:30 am.  The first mile was super easy and felt surreal because this was the last 5 miles I was going to hike out of 2,189.  Then I got above tree line and had to start climbing and rock hopping.  Pulling yourself up over boulders and trying not to fall because your on the side of the mountain is not easy.  The sun was just starting to come up over the mountain which was just incredible.

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I could see the summit and started going as fast as I could.  I could see Rush and Hobbits, who had gotten there quite a bit before me, along with the sign kind of silhouetted in the sun.

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Then I made it to the top and Rush and Hobbits walked away to let me have the summit to myself.  I laid my head on the sign.  It was the craziest feeling, I finally felt the emotions from all the miles and then really, really felt like I had actually walked all the way from Georgia.  It was very  exciting and overwhelming to finally be done.  I read the sign that I had seen so many picture of and to see that Springer Mountain was actually 2,189 miles away was so incredible.

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Then,  Hobbits and Rush came over and we took all our goofy pictures.  We still had the summit all to ourselves.

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We left Hobbits at the top because his parents were going to meet him.  When Rush and I started down we passed all the day hikers coming up.  They were asking when we started since we were coming down so early.  Rush had a great reply, “we started 145 days ago”.  We were flying down the mountain, so excited, didn’t have our heavy packs, it was exhilarating.  We ran into Treebird hiking up who we hadn’t seen since Parisburg Virginia.  He told us there was another surprise on the trail.  When we had about a mile and a half to go we ran into my mom who was hiking up hoping to surprise us as we were coming down.

It took us about an hour and a half to get out of the park and into town.  We stopped for lunch at the Appalachian Trail cafe and to sign the thru hiker ceiling tiles.

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Mom and I had lunch but Rush decided he needed to do the ice cream challenge, 14 scoops of ice cream, banana, king size snickers, a donut, m&m’s, topped with a ton of whip cream and a cherry.  It took a while, but he completed the challenge.

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While we were waiting for him to finish, another hiker who has a podcast asked me if she could interview me about finishing the trail.  I was a little hesitant because I didn’t think I would do a very good interview or have too simple of answers.  I was still overwhelmed with my summit and I didn’t think I would have the words for complete sentences.  But I agreed and am glad I did.  I’ll post the link when the podcast is up so you can listen.

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I still can’t believe I did this.  Its weird, it doesn’t feel real yet.  It doesn’t feel like I was gone for 5 months, even though at the time it did.  Everyday had a challenge, every day was horrible and everyday was wonderful.  If you would like to stop by and say hi, maybe see some pictures we’re planing an open house Saturday the 29th anytime from 3-6.  I’m so excited to be a official thru hiker from the class of 2015.  Stay tuned, I’m already thinking of what trail I’ll do next!!

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APPARENTLY MAINE IS THE 14TH, LAST AND MOST EXHAUSTING STATE OF THE AT

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But first I want to back up just a couple of miles. Long before Sarra left we read a book by Jane Deeds called ‘There are Mountains to Climb’. It’s a great read about her AT hike which she did at 51 years old over 20 years ago. The book has been passed around our family to help them understand how the trail works. Once they were more familiar about the AT, it calmed them down about us dropping Sarra off in the woods. So the story goes, (if you plan on reading the book, fyi  – spoiler alert) when Jane was so close to the end and climbing over Mt. Success, which is just 2 miles behind the NH/ME state line, her foot slipped off a wet rock and she heard a ‘pop’. Long story short, it turned out she had to be carried off the mountain (no easy feat there) and had broken her leg just above the ankle. Her hike was over with just 283 miles left to complete (don’t be sad, she went back the following year and finished the trail). For whatever reason, I just wanted Sarra to be over that mountain. Now, she could have been hurt anywhere over 2,189 miles but I didn’t usually think about that. Aren’t our minds weird how they work. I had marked that mountain in my guide book and on July 29th, when I figured Sarra was past that point (because I didn’t want to mention it before and freak her out) I text her “Did you know you just went through the area Jean Deeds had to get off the trail?” Notice I didn’t say ‘got hurt, broke her leg or fell’? Remember, the Appalachian Trail is more mental than physical and I didn’t want her thinking about that. Her reply “Oh wow, that’s tomorrow”. CRAP, that was exactly what I didn’t want to do – mention it before she was there. I quickly changed the subject about what a great job she was doing and to have a nice day! And the next day she went over Mt Success with great success!

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So . . . back to Maine.  Right off the bat, about 6 miles after you get into the state,  you get to hike Mahoosuc Notch, which has a reputation for being the hardest mile of the entire trail. Now ‘hike’ probably isn’t the only term to use. I would also add climb over, crawl under, maneuver around and jump between to describe this area.  It’s only one short mile, but sometimes takes hikers 3 hours to complete. It’s difficult due to the how the hikers have to scramble under, around, over, and between boulders. Wikipedia states, “The boulders on this mile-long section of trail present obstacles that must be climbed over and sometimes under, creating a unique hiking experience. There are occasional 10-foot (3.0 m) drops, and places where packs must be removed to squeeze beneath a boulder. Many hikers call this stretch one of the slowest on the trail. This so-called ‘killer mile’ or the  ‘Toughest Mile’ is a very tough section that can cause even the most experienced hikers to slow down.”

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I also read an article in USA today, “Mahoosuc Notch is a narrow gorge between Fulling Mill and Mahoosuc mountains. The trail travels through a boulder-filled obstacle course that hikers scramble over, squeeze between and slide down. In several places the jumble of boulders creates caves where hikers must crawl on hands and knees, removing backpacks to squeeze through narrow passageways”. How did that day go you ask? Well, that mile took them about 2 hours, they didn’t have to take off their backpacks and I think Rush took a tumble.  But, the only thing she said was ‘it was crazy’ and ‘it was fun’!!

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They are pushing about 16 miles a day to make the August 17/18th finish. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy describes Maine this way, Most of the Appalachian Trail in Maine is not recommended for novice hikers; Maine’s 281 miles are generally considered the most difficult of all fourteen states. Even the strongest hikers may average only one mile an hour in some parts. Other parts require grabbing onto tree roots and limbs to climb or descend, and are especially slippery and hazardous in wet weather. Lakes, streams, and bogs abound. While that makes moose and loons common sights, it also makes for muddy treadway and many fords of mountain streams. Some of these fords—notably the Kennebec River—can be difficult and potentially life-threatening when water is high. When streams run high in the spring or after heavy rains, often the only options are waiting for them to subside or back-tracking and finding a road to follow—if one exists!” Can you imagine the south bounders who start in Maine and what they have to endure right off the bat? One visual that Sarra has shared and I find humorous; she says they are running into more south bounders now (they start later in the season). Most of them are energetic, cheery and ready to hike – then they pass the north bounders who are tired, cranky and beat up. I think this would make a great SNL skit, haha.

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Saturday I got a phone call telling me about the storms. Sarra said she is terrified of storms now. I asked if she was going to have PTS when storms hit back home in the spring and will I find her cowering under her bed. She explained about a storm the day before; Rush took off and she left about 15 minutes later. She was hiking along and could hear the rumble of thunder in the distance, making her a little nervous.  As it got closer she hiked faster and started calling out for Rush. When the rain started she she stopped to put the cover on her back pack. The thunderstorm  was moving in and getting closer still and louder.   She started getting more scared and running while yelling for Rush. I think her yells eventually turned into crazed screams.  She did finally catch him at the road they were to meet at.  So, she survived that storm.  After, they went into town for all you can eat pizza, two salads and a couple sodas and all was well again.

Then Monday I received a call from an exhausted Sarra that had hiked 9 miles before noon and still had about 7 to go. She needed a pep talk. I did what I could and then got a message from Rush saying he hoped I cheered her up, she was a Sorry Mouse and he needed Motivated Mouse. I replied, ‘tell her I said suck it up buttercup, she is Sarra freakin Walker and get her butt on that trail!’ He wrote back, Yes ma’am.

Last time I talked to Sarra was on Wednesday the 5th.  Everything was good.  Attitudes had been adjusted and were good, weather was good and terrain was good.  They are scheduled to be in Monson Maine by Sunday the 10th.  There will be one last mail drop/resupply waiting on her there.  I’ve dehydrated the last meal and couldn’t be more pleased with that!  When we started I was following recipes, chopping veggies, adding spices and cooking up some delicious stews.  Now it’s come to opening up the cabinet, tossing whatever in the bag, sealing it up and calling it dinner!!  Well, maybe not to that extreme, but I did actually do that for one dinner this last time, haha.

After they resupply in Monson, Maine comes the 100 mile wilderness.  “The 100 Mile Wilderness is considered by many to be the most remote and inaccessible section of the entire Appalachian Trail. While the 100 Mile Wilderness is not a ‘true’ wilderness, the character of the land, the rugged terrain, the pristine lakes and ponds and the far reaching and unspoiled views encompass the emotional feelings of being isolated from the hustle and bustle of the civilized world.” “The cold, the rain and the gale force winds are real. So are the hordes of biting insects, the tropic heat and humidity during the summer months and the rugged, difficult terrain you must traverse. This is Maine. A land of extremes; pleasing to the eye, yet punishing to the body. The 100 Mile Wilderness will test all that you have. Your equipment, your body, your will and your determination” . . . Phil Pepin, Registered Maine Guide

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Next time we’ll let you know how the 100 mile wilderness went, the hike through Baxter State Park and the climb up Mt. Katahdin goes.  Sunday the 16th I fly out to Maine. They are so close to the end, keep your eye on the goal guys and we will see you SOON.

Oh the Places You'll Go . . .

Fun Facts . . .

Well, we’re getting down to the wire!  The other day I thought,  “Sarra is in Maine, she WALKED to Maine!!”  Quick update:  two things I know for sure,  1) Sarra is exhausted and 2) They expect to finish around the 17/18th.  I’ll catch you up soon, but until then I found the following facts on Appalachian Trials website interesting and wanted to share:

21 APPALACHIAN TRAIL STATISTICS THAT WILL SURPRISE, ENTERTAIN AND INFORM YOU

But how much do you know about the United States’ original long trail? Test your knowledge and wow your friends with some fun facts about the AT

2,200

The approximate length of the Appalachian Trail in miles. It’s not that the length of the trail is unknown, but rather that the distance changes year to year, based on trail modifications such as switchbacks and reroutes. This year, 2015, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) Data Book, the AT is 2,189.2 miles. Last year, it was 2,185.3. This amounts to approximately 5,000,000 steps, a number sure to fill your step-tracker-wearing friends with envy.

14

The number of states the AT crosses. From south to north: 1. Georgia 2. North Carolina 3. Tennessee 4. Virginia 5. West Virginia 6. Maryland 7. Pennsylvania 8. New Jersey 9. New York 10. Connecticut 11. Massachusetts 12. Vermont 13. New Hampshire 14. Maine.

16

The number of times an AT thru-hiker would ascend Mount Everest. Compared to trails in higher elevation mountain ranges, many falsely assume the AT to be relatively flat. In fact, over the course of the Appalachian Trail’s 2,189 miles, thru-hikers gain over 464,464 ft., or more than 89 miles.

165

The number of days it takes the average person to complete a thru-hike. Thru-hike durations can range from a full-year to a blistering 46 and a half days (the current speed record), but most will complete their 2,189 mile trek in five to seven months, with the average being “a week or two shy of six months,” according to the ATC.

6,643

The highest elevation in feet along the Appalachian Trail, at Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

124

The lowest elevation in feet along the Appalachian Trail, at Bear Mountain State Park in New York. (Although many report their low point being the day they finish.)

99

The percentage of the trail that has been relocated or rebuilt since its creation. The ATC estimates rebuilding or relocating nearly all of the trail since its creation in 1937.

241,936

The number of volunteer hours that went into maintaining the Appalachian Trail in the federal fiscal year ending in September 2014. This amounts to over 10,000 days of volunteer work from 5,617 volunteers, the second highest number of volunteer hours since the ATC began tracking this information in 1983. (source: the ATC’s Laurie Potteiger)

21 Appalachian Trail Statistics That Will Surprise, Entertain and Inform You - REI Blog

Photo credit: Kenny Howell

31

The number of maintenance clubs that serve the Appalachian Trail. The ATC oversees 31 distinct clubs, whose duties range anywhere from “maintaining existing trails and painting blazes to excavating trail reroutes and building new shelters,” according to Appalachian Trials.

165,000

The approximate number of white blazes marking the Appalachian Trail, according to the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club. This averages out to about one white blaze every 70 feet. Since the trail is so well marked, many thru-hikers forego carrying maps (87% according to a recent ATC survey), and instead opt to carry a guidebook.

5,500

The number of calories required for a hiker* to maintain his or her body weight during a typical day of backpacking. In other words, a hiker could eat 11 Big Macs throughout the day and still be at an energy deficiency. Typically, after a few weeks on trail, many thru-hikers achieve the celebrated “hiker hunger,” a near-inability to be sated by any amount of food. Oftentimes, it’s a hiker’s budget, not appetite, that constrains their in-town binging.

*Assuming 8 hours of backpacking for a 25-year-old male hiker weighing 155 lbs.

1/2

In gallons, the amount of ice cream many thru-hikers eat in a single sitting at the halfway point. It is customary for AT thru-hikers to attempt (and typically, succeed) to eat a half-gallon of ice cream at the convenience store closest to the halfway point on the Appalachian Trail. Many need less than 15 minutes to accomplish the feat. For those keeping score at your desk, a half-gallon is four pints, or 2,300 calories. Don’t try this at home.

30

The average number of pounds lost by thru-hikers during their journey. Despite the halfway-mark ice cream, the vast majority of hikers face severe calorie deficiencies during the span of their thru-hike due to a strenuous workload. Although most hikers practice a “see food diet”—see food, eat it—it’s not uncommon for thru-hikers to lose upwards of 50, 70, or even over 100 lbs. during the course of their half-year trek. This is not a hard and fast rule, as some hikers lose no weight or even gain a few pounds.

5,500

The average dollar amount spent during the course of a thru-hike. Hikers estimate spending between $2 and $3 per mile on trail, for an average range of $4,400 to $6,600. This money goes toward food, lodging, laundry, transportation, gear upgrades, etc. This does not include the…

0 – 4,000

The initial dollar outlay for gear. This depends on how much gear one already owns, how appropriate it is for a thru-hike, and one’s ability to scour deals online. Most who set out on the trail will fall somewhere in the middle of this range.

4-5

The number of pairs of shoes most thru-hikers go through. In general, if you can get 500 miles out of your footwear, you’re doing well. Some can stretch this even further, depending on the shoe’s durability, a hiker’s weight (including pack),maintenance protocols, and ability to avoid stepping on sharp edges. Certain terrain, like the extremely rocky trails of Pennsylvania, will chew through footwear at a much faster clip. This is an anecdotal estimate, although I do have the good fortune of interacting with many dozens of AT thru-hikers each year.

4

The average number of miles between road crossings on the AT, according to theAppalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). “How do you eat?” is a common question of those who are planning on thru-hiking. The answer is, “quite easily,” as access to the closest town—and thus grocery store, deli, or post office—is typically never more than a few days away, and often much less than that.

78

The percent increase in 2,000 milers in the 21st vs. the 20th century per theATC. Due to the skyrocketing popularity of the AT and thru-hiking in general, the number of 2,000 milers, “a hiker who has walked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail,” over the last 15 years will likely double that of the previous 63 years. For reference, the first reported 2,000 miler was in 1936.

87

The percent of thru-hikers who attempt the traditional northbound route. The vast majority of those who attempt an Appalachian Trail thru-hike begin at Springer Mountain, Georgia and hike north to Mount Katahdin, Maine. It should be noted that the ATC is urging people to take alternative approaches, such as southbound and flip-flop thru-hikes, to combat the increasing volume of hikers and limit the impact to the trail.

*Based on 2014 numbers, which is consistent with other years.

262

The number of shelters on or along the trail. The AT is lined with more than 250 three-walled structures which serve as refuges for hikers, averaging out to approximately one shelter every 8 miles.

25

The percent of female 2,000 milers. Although anecdotal reports says that the percentage of female thru-hikers is on the rise, the ATC reports that only one in four 2,000 milers are women.

I’ll fill you in later this week on hiking in Maine.  It’s been about boulders and thunderstorms!  Thanks for following us, it’s been fun to keep you all updated . . . . Stay tuned for the finale.