Challenging myself in fresh and unique ways has always been what makes me thrive. To push myself to new levels and accomplish goals that at one point seemed impossible is intoxicating. The first half of this 100 miles made me question that whole philosophy, however. Riddled with days of physical, mental, emotional challenges, increasing in complexity and difficulty with each passing day, the temptation to throw in the towel was a force of Herculean strength. Every arduous step included slips and slides, trips and tumbles on the slick, unavoidable rocks, roots, and disgustingly deep mud that make up southern Maine. Windy, blustery nights and rainy days or extreme heat were common and in set discouragement. For the first time in 900 miles, the trail became “not fun anymore”. Most thru-hikers experience this frustrating time on the trail at one point or another. Fortunately, I climbed my way out in about a week with the help of an early morning reflective sunrise at Little Swift River Pond listening to the woods wake up and the birds sing their morning lullabies, encounters with uplifting strangers one day in Rangely, and reunions with friends from the trail past that all worked to revitalize the soul and make the trail fun again!
Middle Maine is a haven of streams, ponds, swimming holes, and enrapturing 360 degree views of myriad lakes dotted with islands of trees. Ubiquitous are the plump, sweet blueberries that feel like magic to the hot, dry mouths of those hiking the trail. Nights are peaceful and clear, the sky showcasing a full moon and so many distant stars not visible anywhere in my real world back home.
In addition, the terrain became much more pleasant in mid Maine. The earth was less rocky, slightly less muddy, and included a good mix of forest climbs, picturesque waterfalls, and carpeted ground of pine straw which is heaven underneath feet exhausted from walking miles and miles of unforgiving rock. The forest aroma of pine, cedar, and damp earth returned after miles of predominate rock.
As usual, this hundred was packed with unique people and experiences. There was a happy birthday celebration for Laces at Pine Ellis campground with fun, fire, friends, and fudge whoopie cake covered in sprinkles! There were reunions with some of my favorite hiking pals, Hercules, Forgetful Jones, Oscar Mike among others. There were rivers to ford, nights of camping on a cold, windy mountain top and on a peacefully calm beach watching the sunset across the lake with completely differing aesthetic views on each side. On one side of the lake was a large boulder protruding out of the water set in front of a dark forest of evergreens; on the other side the view was a brighter airbrushed sky of patterned contrails and orange and pink cloud shapes. Forest was replaced by the blues of the mountains, lightening in shade as they grew more distant. We watched a beaver glide across the water, slapping its tail as we attempted to draw near it in the lake. Loons gracefully swam nearby singing their beautifully haunting song, sometimes sounding eerily like wolves from afar. They were soon joined by owls hooting their messages to one another from nearby trees. In the sky flew two jets in the process of refueling. This magical night in September on a rocky lake beach in Maine with a beach fire and fun friends made every torturous step worth it.
What didn’t kill me (though almost!) has without doubt made me stronger. One of my hopes in starting this adventure was to push myself to a new level and persevere, putting my philosophy of mind over matter to the test. This quote resounded in my mind as the voice of discouragement grew louder: If you bail out each time a honeymoon period ends, you won’t ever follow through with any worthwhile challenge in your life. Clarity.
Even with its challenges, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than right here.
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