Appalachian Trail -- Maine
Completing Maine's last 200 miles of the 2160 mile Appalachian Trail for me was the final realization of a life long dream. About 40 years before in Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania, I met a man who was backpacking on the AT. I asked him where this trail led and he turned me Southward (actually Westward in Pennsylvania) and said, "Follow those while paint blazed that way and you'd wind up in Georgia." Then turning the other direction he added, "and that way you'd end up on Mt. Katahdin in Maine.
The idea gripped me immediately and I said to my father that afternoon, "Someday I'll finish that whole trail." My dad responded: "if you set your mind to it you could do that, son."
Like all goals this one was easier to set than to accomplish. The following spring break I persuaded my Junior High buddy to walk through New Jersey with me in the snow. Then that summer to start through Pennsylvania. He dropped out after four days and my parents wouldn't let me go on alone. The next summer a traveling evangelist promised to go with me as his vacation. He made a week, then dropped out. The following year my parents relented and let me hike alone. I finished Pennsylvania before I finished high school.
When I married Sharon I talked her into joining my dream. We wound up hiking the "bottom thousand miles" from Springer to the Susquehanna River in the Spring of 1972. Then came our two sons and a move to Indiana. We tried packing the baby and all the supplies several times but failed and I finally put my dream on the shelf.
Then the empty nest era of life arrived. That brought my life-long dream back to the surface. In 1996 I re-joined the Trail in High Point, New Jersey and walked to Vermont. The following Summer I picked up the trail in Manchester Center, Vermont and walked to Stratton, Maine, covering the difficult White and Mahoosic ranges. Then in 1998 I started just a bit South of Stratton, Maine and completed the final leg of this 39 year hike.
The first week or so of this final leg was rough. I had hiked 300 or so miles in Scotland earlier that summer, but had forgotten how much more difficult the Appalachian Trail is. However, in a week or so I bid the 4,000 foot peaks goodbye and negotiated the lower ranges of middle Maine and entered the "100 Mile Wilderness where the Trail crosses no paved roads or gets near any village or phone for ten days or so. While there was some elevation change in the Southern half, the top half was as flat as a pancake (unusual for the Appalachian Trail) and I sailed up the base of Katahdin. Having done the Southern half of the Trail with me, my wife Sharon, joined me for the final climb up Katahdin on August 13th, 1998 accompanied by two companions of the final several weeks: "Goose," a flip-flopper who started at Bear Mountain NY, and "Funk" who started at Springer Mountain.
The Trail in Maine is pretty difficult, but gets easier as you go North. Basically I'd agree with the idea that 80% of the hard work is located in the 20% of the miles in New Hampshire and Maine. Other sections have other challenges (many psychological for instance -- NJ-NY-MA- CN) but the greatest physical challenge for me was NH-ME.
Was it worth it? You bet. What were the highlights? The North Georgia Mountains in the snow. Competing for shelters in the snowy Smokeys over Spring Break. Walking on the very border of TN-NC for miles. The big bald area in North Carolina. Wonderful Virginia (25% of the Trail is in this single state). The Shenandoah in nine days of steady rain. Rushing across the neck of Maryland and into Pennsylvania after three months of hiking to finish our first leg. The rocks of Pennsylvania. Surprising New Jersey. Fighting boredom in NY-CN-MA urgent to get into New England. Sweet green Vermont. Rough and tough New Hampshire; work-stay at the huts. Assuming the mountains were behind me by Gorham... discovering how wrong I was in this assumption. The surprising number of private camps who now take a dozen or more youth for several weeks on the AT, and their equally surprising well-behaved campers.
Changes over the years? Plenty. Clean trails -- no more garbage dumps at Shelters. Fifty times as many hikers per day. Worn footpath instead of wandering about looking for blazes. The growth industry of Trail-businesses springing up. Heavier packs for many hikers in spite of all the lightweight equipment.. Ease in getting hitches into town over what it was in the 1970's. And all the forest is now 40 years more mature, having been protected all these years. (I wonder what this forest will look like in another 100 years -- bye bye underbrush.) Anyway it was a delightful trip and I'd do it again.. and just might.
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