Now the closest I get to the Appalachian Trail is skimming an article in a magazine, or reading over newspaper clippings Mamaw has saved for me. Or stepping a few paces into the woods to call my cat. Yesterday I dismantled our gear and gave everything one last good scrub, hung it all on the line and watched the sun glare on it until it stopped dripping. On the trail it was impossible to dry anything. If the sun was there, the time wasn't. And if we had the time, it was raining. I retrieved our backpacks, now dry as a bone, and was pleased to find they passed my scrutinizing sniff-test with flying colors. Our backpacks are clean. Dustan's beard is gone. My toenails are red. The trail is over.
Even so, I didn't want to end this blog without a few more tributes to the AT. The 100-mile wilderness turned out to be, along with some hem-hawing, pretty mystical and magical. It took us awhile to see the beauty of Maine, but after she dried up and smiled, we were delighted by the ponds, the craggy summits, a tiny frog, carpets of crimson leaves, eerily quiet forests due to the soft, sound-absorbing moss. The trail planked over bogs and wound around boulders and disappeared into rivers we had to ford.
Here's the last thing I saw on pavement:
And this was our final hitch. I'm smiling, but it was scary. He had a family in that cab with him but he still went really fast in the rain.
We entered the wilderness with about 13 pounds of food in our packs, ready for as many as 7 days without the chance of resupplying. That's a lot of mac n' cheese.
Hikers pass hikers on the trail all the time, usually every day. It was no surprise that we continued to meet sectioners and day hikers even in the 100-mile wilderness because it's a beautiful, popular place to hike. What I came to learn about other people on the trail is this: you never know what you're gonna get. I'm not talking safe or unsafe, more along the lines of crazy or sane, experienced or Walmart boots, haughty or down-to-earth, curt or chatty, couch potato or fitness trainer, old or young, dog or no dog, cologne or patchouli, these are the things that you inevitably notice. One couple stopped us in Connecticut and learned we were thru-hiking. I'll never forget them because the man, with his Gandalf walking staff, sized us up real good and said, "I... don't think you're gonna make it." Gee, we're not? Then would you mind giving us a ride into town? Because we should prolly just stop trying now.
Another guy met us coming down the trail somewhere in New England and made some small talk. Then he kinda locked his gaze and said, "Well, it's a good thing you like living in the woods. Because our economy is tanking. We're probably going to attack Russia and it's a scary world now. You don't see the news do ya? I'm telling you, it's all going to hell. Well. Good to talking yous. Happy trails." Thanks. Happy trails to you too.
But the best were these guys. The most inspiring, interesting and baffling people we met on the whole trail came in the 100-mile wilderness.We're walking along in the 100-mile wilderness and catch up to a guy and three little chipmunks wearing tiny boots and HUGE backpacks. We introduced ourselves and Dustan immediately thought someone had kidnapped 3 boys so he politely asked to take their picture, thinking later he would be releasing the photograph to park rangers. But we ran into them that night as we were all chilling at the shelter. It was dark, raining and in order to reach the shelter you had to cross a large stream, almost hidden by a maze of slick rocks and tangled roots. We see 1 tall and 3 tiny headlamps bobbing in the darkness and someone says, "Who is night hiking in this weather, over that river??" Sure enough, here come the chipmunks, and they like to night hike they tell us. They are hiking with their dad, Maniac. Maniac is a celebrity on the trail because in the 80's he thru-hiked in 55 days and set a bunch of records, ruined his body for little while and released what he calls "too much testosterone." Now he is a dad but that hasn't slowed him down much. The youngest, 6 years old, tells us that when he turned four he was hiking from Springer to Fontana. So you were three when you started? Yes, he grins proudly through his missing teeth, in the winter. These kids made us feel like a bunch of pansies. They didn't complain, they didn't interrupt, they didn't fight, they didn't whine and they adored their dad. Who wouldn't? But still, a three year old? We were all totally inspired. Pretty much I'm taking my kids hiking while they're still in diapers. Oh, except that, I'm never going to hike again.
Here's me, fording a river.
Teeeny, tiny snapping turtle.
Hiding frog, the size of my thumbnail.
Our last mile-marker on the trail, made out of moose poop.
Hmmm...somewhere, not sure where. But a great view!
We got our first view of Katahdin at this pond in the wilderness. But look at Longshot's, his is so much better.
One of the many board walks across one of the many bogs.
And this is us, pictured on our last day of backpacking. So hard to believe! All those miles, all those times I unbuckled that funky waistbelt, rummaged for toilet paper and a trowel or a map or my sunglasses or a Milky Way. All those times of hoisting that pack up, my sweat-soaked shirt now icy cold pressing against my back, making me dream of jacuzzis and cheesecake. All those moments of first drops of rain, fishing that pack cover out and readjusting in a fury. And now, here we stand backdropped back Big Niagara Falls with our fingers locked and our smiles relieved, less than 4 miles from the end of the wilderness and less than 10 miles from Katahdin, the realization of our dream. Even though at this point our clothes were worse than wet dog and the ammonia smell still clung to our socks and the rain was only coming down harder. The trail really didn't let us off easy.