Friday, October 17, 2014

Day 180- Katahdin; The End, El Fin, Das Ende, O Fim

None of us got much sleep last night, we were all like 6 year olds on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa. I woke up at 3:00am and knew it was not time yet, finally when I woke up at 6:10 I heard Ladybug and Bullseye still in their tent. I called over to them since they were next to me and questioned if they were still meeting their parents at 6:00; I hope not. Seems they were meeting at 6:30 so it was alright. I packed my slack pack last night so everything was ready to go for this morning and the rest of my stuff was in my pack to stay at the ranger's station waiting for me. Ladybug and Bullseye went to meet their parents to begin their Katahdin hike, and the rest of us packed up and ate breakfast. Zig was the next one to head off and start his ascent. Cactus and Aroo came over from the Birches and hung out with us for a bit, and Fifty's grandmother came over to talk to us and yogi something hot. Aroo made her and his mother hot chocolate to share and the Ranger gave them cups to use. Left at our campsite was Apollo, Aroo, Cactus, and Didgeridude; I walked over to the ranger station and left my pack with a bunch of others on the enclosed porch. The day was going to be beautiful we could already see the parting blue skies, we were so excited. Even though it already looked like a nice day, it was still chilly so we were all bundled up in jackets and gloves. I walked effortlessly by myself towards the start of the last climb, not even using my poles. There was some kind of confidence in me that I hadn't had before, I was here; I had made it. 2,000 miles were behind me, and only 5 miles in front (well, 5 up; 5 down.) You couldn't pry the smile off my face, the adrenaline and excitement pulsed through my body. My mind knew I couldn't be to the top in 20 minutes, but my body sure wanted to try. I had to keep myself from trying to run up the mountain, which was hard the first mile or so since it was flat. There were gorgeous waterfalls as I walked and a day hiker in of me, who eventually moved to the side so I could pass. I found Aroo and Cactus stopped at the water source and last privy, stopped to have breakfast. I talked with Aroo for a little while and she said the Ranger suggested 2-liters of water at least since the spring at the top is rather questionable. I had only had a large Gatorade bottle mixed with water and Gatorade powder, oh and an Angry Orchard. Every other day slack packing the one Gatorade was enough, sure it was a hard climb; but it was also cooler out, and slow going. I think I'll be fine with just that. I continued on telling them I'll see them along the way. The terrain went from flat woods walking to rock stairs, still with not much weight on my back I was a happy camper. Smurf came up behind me and I let him pass; Smokey the Beard, Fruit Punch, Brace, and the rest of the guys were already ahead. I took my time, but at the same time I didn't. I started to see more and more day hikers that had started earlier than I had and I was now blowing passed them. The terrain for awhile went from rock stairs, to flat pine woods walking, and back to rock stairs. There was a spring that ran right through the trail so you were wading up stream in some spots. My poles became a hassle since I wasn't even using them, so I compressed them and put them in the pack. I was grabbing roots and pulling myself up, I came to a large rock that if someone were there I may have asked for a boost, but I got it on my own. I heard voices and wondered if it was Ladybug and family, once I caught up to them I first found one of the mothers in front of me; then her husband, Ladybug, another Mother, and further up was Bullseye and his Mother's boyfriend. I stopped and talked with Ladybug for a bit telling them how excited and eager I was. The energy was flowing through my body with no way of escaping. I told them how I would see them at the top and continued on. Ladybug and I had talked the night before about possibly taking another trail other than the AT back down since it is said to be hell coming down. My knees already hate me so why push them over the edge. Since the parents were coming we had a way to drive from one trailhead parking back to where our packs were at the campground, only thing I didn't think of; they would have had to leave a car beforehand at the other trailhead. Seems we would be taking the same route down back to the campground and our packs. As I hiked on I heard the guys up ahead hollering seems I wasn't the only excited one and they must have just hit treeline. I came up on Sherpa and his daughter and talked with them for a minute before hiking on. The trees disappeared and left me exposed to a beautiful sight. The mountains were lit up glowing with the clouds below them, the colors were like that of a painting and here I was climbing on the side of a mountain experiencing it all. I was now to the rock climbing portion of Katahdin and the guys were more visible in front of me now, sure am glad to not have my full pack! The rock was so massive and steep that you couldn't see the top or where the trail went, just a white blaze you were to somehow follow. I was literally climbing up the side of this mountain and my hands became raw and peeling from holding the rough rock surface. We used to look at rebar and say, wait really!? Now I think back to the perfect ladder rebar we had and laugh. Katahdin has two rebar sections and at each section there are two pieces of rebar. This means; you have to hold onto the higher one, pull yourself up if you are short to grab the second one with your foot and then climb over. Again, more than thankful to have 5 pounds pulling me back and not 30 pounds. Katahdin's elevation is a long straight up section, followed by a false peak and then a flat section, and finally the last up to the sign. I found the guys all sitting for snacks and breaks before the flat section, right at the peak of what we have been climbing since the start. Part of me didn't want to stop and wanted to keep trucking on to the top, the more logical part of me said take a load off, enjoy it. I sat down, had two snacks and some Gatorade and took it all in. From here we had almost a ridge walk of more boulders and then it flattened out. After a half hour or so, we all took off together. Fiddy Shrimp, Smurf, and I were in the back of the pack and talking every so often. Once we reached the flatter ground, they took off and I moseyed around taking photos. I think back to when Nike the Southbounder told me a couple days ago, hiking up Katahdin the last mile or so was like being on the moon. I didn't quite know what she meant by it, but I guess had doing the Whites beforehand made me quite used to the rocky surface. Just because the terrain was flat in elevation didn't mean it was a walk in the park, though nothing could really get me down today. I hopped from one rock to the next, walked in between some, and took photos of the indescribable feeling I felt. This trip was everything, and nothing, like I had expected; and it was almost to an end. I found the guys at the spring and the ranger was right, it was junk. From here, we had only a mile left until the Northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail! I walked alone trying to reflect on the time I had left, though for all I tried I came up short. I had already done a lot of reflection in the days prior in the Wilderness that now I was just along for the ride. I wondered if I would cry at the top, part of me wished I would, and another part was pretty sure I wouldn't. I could see the tiny sign off into the distance, and then it was bigger, and bigger, and before I knew it, I could see the silhouette of it with the people I had been hiking with around it. I started to tear up at the sight of them completing their journey and celebrating, I quickly pulled myself together. I approached my fellow thru-hikers, and then the sign. I touched it, I kissed it, and I admired it. Here was something I had only seen in photos, something so much more significant than a few pieces of tattered old wood, something legendary. I was only one in the fraction of people who have been here before me, and would come here after me. I gazed at the others taking their summit photos and knew I had a few in my repertoire. They knew I would be throwing the frisbee and they were excited for that, but that wouldn't be just yet. I climbed up on that sign and threw my arms in the air, I had surrendered to the hardest, most rewarding thing in my life. Soon after, I cracked open my Angry Orchard and enjoyed the crisp hard cider on top of the sign (this would be known as a pretty famous well-liked photo in the AT community.) We took a group photo with Hat Trick's moldy pumpkin he had carried through the wilderness and up Katahdin and loved every minute of our fame. After the initial "wow factor" and photo snapping died down I decided it was time to release the frisbee. I gave Zig my phone to take some mock throwing photos, and then he was in charge of a video of it. The frisbee read around the circumference of it: "Oh, The Place's You'll Go", "You're Off To Great Places! Today Is Your Day! Your Mountain Is Waiting, So Get On Your Way!" In the middle I wrote my information, my trail name: Cheeky Chi, the year 2014, and GA--->ME with my start and finish date (which you now know I left blank since I forgot to write it in!) As Zig would say, "Guess nothing is more perfectly human than imperfection." For the bulk of the writing, I wanted a legacy left behind; a little about myself, but more what I learned and became from this experience and this is what I came up with. "When people ask me why I decided to hike the Appalachian Trail, I reply with life experience and stories. This is true, however it was more than that. I knew I HAD to hike this trail, it turned my life around and saved me. I lived more in these last 6 months than in the past 25 years. I came out here not knowing exactly what I was getting into. I learned what I needed quickly! This was the story I was looking for. I never imagined everything that happened, and would do it all over the same. This was the most difficult thing as well as the most rewarding. Coming out of grad school I can say I worked harder hiking out in the woods everyday. Your body not only physically starts to go, but your mind. Everything happens for a reason and I have met my share of amazing people. Both on the trail, and off; everyone is looking to help when they can. This is how people are meant to act. The trail doesn't care if you have $1.00 or a million, either you have it in you to complete, or you don't. It was hard to walk away from a life I was comfortable in, but it will be there when I get back. Life is too short to have regrets and what ifs, if it is even possible to get out of your comfort zone, DO IT! You will be glad in the end you did. I am so thankful for this opportunity, great weather, and amazing people that I will cherish FOREVER." We filmed me holding the frisbee in a way that it showed "100% biodegradable" incase a ranger saw me toss it off and was looking to fine me, the inside where my writing was, and finally the liberating feeling of chucking it off into the winds of the unknown. We all sat in a circle for awhile, not knowing what to do now; no one ever said we had to climb down! We were like floating beings, just happy to be where we were in the here and now and not looking to move. I made my tuna wrap with chips for lunch and others ate snacks or lunches too, we sat and talked about the trail and stories we had. It was the most picture perfect day, the skies as you can see where as blue as can be and there was no wind. We were so high up and close to the sun that it felt like a day in July. I was so thankful that every time I envisioned my summit day and photo, it was exactly what I was seeing. It took me 5 months and 27 days to get from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Katahdin, Maine. That is 180 days exactly, 4,320 hours, 259,200 minutes, or 15,552,000 seconds. Many of which I wasn't sure I was going to make it, but I did. I didn't want to leave, we all still had 5 miles to get off the mountain but we didn't want to. Couldn't we just get a squirrel suite or helicopter ride down? I must have sat up there for over 2 hours, Cactus and Aroo came up, Sherpa and his daughter, Bullseye, Ladybug, and one set of parents came, and Didgeridude came up as we slow clapped as he ran the last couple feet to the sign. The parents brought a bottle of champagne so we each got a little cup and gathered to join our cups in a celebratory toast. Some slowly trickled one by one to retreat down the mountain, and when I found that no time was the right time; I did too. I started to descent maybe for 5 minutes or so, when my perfect day turned into a movie scene. There, coming towards me was Ravioli, which only meant that behind him was; yes, Lynn! I ran and gave her a big hug. Seems they skipped the 10 miles from Abol bridge to summit today in hopes of seeing me at some point and jumping on the good weather opportunity. I couldn't believe it, I walked back up to the summit to end an amazing journey with a woman I met on the second night of my adventure. It was like I was living in a dream, I couldn't believe after not being with her throughout the whole Wilderness, we actually were able to summit together. We took our photos and I sat while they busted out grinder sandwiches for lunch. I wasn't exactly on a time crunch, but I had just spent over 2 hours up here, was dreading the down, and was still trying to get into town tonight. I had gotten a text from my mom letting me know that my Nana and Papa had come up this afternoon and got the hotel for tonight and tomorrow night, and that she would be up tomorrow night. Once they were done eating we started to head down, I was in front and before long I caught up to Aroo and Cactus who had found old friends they were hoping to summit with as well. Seems the trail always provides! Cactus went back up to take the Knife's Edge down with them and Aroo and I hiked down together. Aroo and I were acquaintances in the past on many occasions but we had never really gotten to know one another. Only the hike down from Katahdin would provide you with a great, what I now call friendship. We talked about everything; our life before the trail, our experiences on the trail, our families, her relationship, our post trail plans, and by doing this we helped one another keep our mind off the descent. We made great time, and neither of our knees were really killing us; the mind is a powerful thing. I am really glad I had the time to get to know Aroo better and on the way down, I ran into the girl with the dog's father from the day before at Awol bridge. He gave me some water since I was out which was amazing and his wife gave me some Hubba Bubba gum, yum! We got down to the campground 15 minutes after the shuttle into town which left at 4:30, luckily there was Bud and his parents and they were going into town! I ran and grabbed my pack, gave back my camo slack pack and hopped in the minivan. Big thanks to Bud and his parents, they even gave us a bottle of rootbeer! The ride into town was long about an hour since the park was all dirt roads, once in town we were dropped at the hostel since Aroo had her car there. She then drove me to the hotel where my grandparents were and she went to her hotel to wait for Cactus. I was greeted with big hugs and sat for awhile on my phone. I wanted to shower so bad, and was hungry, but for some reason I couldn't put my phone down! Finally it died so I hopped in the shower (disclaimer, there is photos of my unshaved armpits below so beware!) I decided after my last trip home that I wouldn't shave my legs or armpits until the end, this isn't so bad since some woman gave up long before me. I thought it was gross however. I took an hour shower re-shampooing and applying soap time and time again, it was so nice to put on actual clean clothes and not ones that still after two washings smelled somehow. We went out to dinner and when I walked in I found Aroo, Bullseye, Ladybug, and family at a table. I talked with them for a little and it seems Aroo still hasn't heard from Cactus. I went and sat down with Nana and Papa and Lynn called me, seems she just got to town so I told her to come join us for dinner. I ordered a 22oz hard cider, and a burger with fries. We enjoyed our dinner and conversation but the bed was calling my name; I was supposed to be meeting people out tonight but I was exhausted. I went back to the hotel room and decided to just stay in, I laid in bed playing on my phone and of course that kept me up instead of falling asleep. Today feels surreal, I don't remember every step that I took; but I do remember every hardship and horrible day, as well as every overcoming amazing day along the way.