Mount Katahdin. Nearly a mile-high, the trail to the Appalachian Trail’s northernmost peak remained closed when I reached Baxter State Park’s boundary back in early May of this year. I could only imagine how treacherous the climb would’ve been had I decided to climb to it’s summit, especially because in early May, I was still walking over ice and snow at elevations as low at 1,000-feet. To reach Katahdin’s 5,269-foot summit, it would’ve been arduous, lonesome, and illegal. I also would’ve risked being banned from the park indefinitely, which would’ve been a complete shame because it boasts a beautiful and vast wilderness, but also because Baxter State Park, and it’s foremost peak, lay within a two hour’s drive from where I now call home. Home? If you asked me several months ago if I ever thought I’d move back to the east coast, having spent the last ten years residing in Oregon and Mount Shasta, California, I would have replied with a confident no. But here I am, a resident of the great state of Maine.
Long story short, because this blog post could never bring justice to the depth of this tale, I yearned for a change of pace, one more rooted in balance. Married to the Trail had become my life for the last two years, and longer, dating back to 2011 when I hiked the Continental Divide Trail. It defined who I was, and I allowed myself to get carried away by it, watching my story as it went from my hands and into yours. I will always honor myself for having the courage and creativity to write a book, and I will always be proud of, and slightly baffled by having hiked the Appalachian Trail in the dead of winter. Although I didn’t succeed in completing the Calendar Triple Crown, and although I walked away from the publication of Married to the Trail (which is still available on Amazon, FYI), I discovered a new path in between all the miles, a path that would reunite me to balance, and a path that led me to follow my heart to Maine, where I now live with that sweet, loving man I first crossed paths with down along the North Carolina/Tennessee border: Rookie. And yes, I still call him Rookie. It was a big move, but the right move—a fresh start. I now busy myself with a daily yoga practice, while readying myself for Graduate School next fall. And of course, I’m still hiking.
All that said, I have left behind all those rivers and mountains that I had fallen in love with years ago, but I have gone somewhere where there are an equal number of rivers and mountains to fall in love with. Including Katahdin, the Appalachian Trail’s northernmost peak. Nine months after I left Springer Mountain in Georgia, I finally reached the summit of Mount Katahdin. It was a blue-bird day, and one of immeasurable beauty. I resumed my footsteps from Abol Bridge, winding through the autumn forest. The following morning, Rookie and I began the ascent to the mountain’s summit. In all honesty, I was a bit nervous, reminded of the emotions I felt several months earlier when I pondered the concept of this journey, alone in the woods of the 100 Mile Wilderness. But I was still a seasoned hiker, and together with Rookie, we climbed higher and higher, ascending above tree-line only to be swept away by infinite beauty. Autumn in New England, for those who have never been engulfed by it’s colors, is magnificent. And we arrived in Maine, and on the ascent to the state’s renown summit, at the peak of the season. Climbing hand over hand, we followed the white blaze up and over boulders, tucking around hidden corners, and tracing a spine to the warm and inviting summit. There, a dozen other thru-hikers, and a dozen other day-hikers, gathered at the summit to take in the sweeping vista. “Congratulations,” they said to me as Rookie snapped my picture beside the signboard. The expression made me feel a little out of place because I no longer felt the feeling one acquires when immersed in the middle of, and especially at the end of, their 2,175-mile long adventure. Nonetheless, what I could now feel, what I had achieved, was having completed the Appalachian Trail, in it’s entirety, for the second time. For to have hiked that trail in winter, is an adventure of immeasurable difficulty, profound beauty, and a story that continues to shape the person I have become.
Thanks again for reading. And thanks to all those who supported me along the way. I know it would’ve been an incredible thought had I actually pulled off the wild notion of hiking three long-distance trails in one calendar year. But if it’s worth anything, I share this quote that I once pondered so heavily upon, but failed to have the courage, strength or knowledge to truly absorb into my life’s purpose. Until now.
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” ― Ursula K. Le Guin
Till next time,