900 mile journal – Jungle Gym of Rocks and Roots

The trail of many forms took on a whole new life of its own with this hundred miles. The Appalachian River, the Appalachian Swamp, the Appalachian Boulder Field, the Appalachian Mudpit are just a few of the trail’s daily identities. New Hampshire, which the Appalachian Trail Conservancy rates an 8 in regards to difficulty level, (http://www.appalachiantrail.org/about-the-…/terrain-by-state), gave way to Maine, the only state on the AT rated a 9. The famous White Mountains begin in New Hampshire. Three of the AT’s top seven most difficult climbs are nestled among numerous equally challenging ascents and descents in the Whites. Free shelters and campsites, ubiquitous in 2,107 miles of the AT, are replaced by campgrounds with fees and fancy, expensive huts with running water and a huge population of touristy day hikers. These huts offer a few thru-hikers a daily “work for stay”. Lake of the Clouds Hut at the base of Mount Washington was my work for stay score! Wiping tables and sweeping floors after dinner landed me a free stay and dinner leftovers!

The Presidential range including Mount Madison, Mount Eisenhower, Mount Washington among others allowed for beautifully clear views and very warm, muggy days with hours of walking above treeline under the blazing sun. Every step was lined with a crystal clear, 360 degree view of the tiny world existing 4,000 feet below…miles walked at such high elevations that the distant trees looked small enough to belong on the lawn of a dollhouse. With these incredible views came steeper climbs, some of which included fun, challenging rock scaling while others were laden with terrifying bouldering through an unmarked trail maze where one misstep could end one’s hike or worse.

As the miles in New Hampshire dwindled to single digits, hikers prematurely celebrated being “out of the Whites”. Southern Maine, (the only 9 on trail, remember?), came on like a starving, ferocious lion. The jungle gym of rocks and roots jumped three levels from anything else on trail. Car sized rocks and boulders, separated by deep cracks that lead to some dark, bottomless abyss made up the Mahoosic Notch; aka the hardest mile on the entire Appalachian Trail. Yes, it was terrifying! Southern Maine brought spots so difficult to traverse that at one point, I had to drop my pack down below me and watch it tumble and flip its way to the hard stone ground Luckily, it fared mostly ok with one exception being my poor Poptarts, fortunately still pretty tasty as “microtarts”. The first two days in Maine were the top two hardest ones in my eighty days on trail. Not a day went by in this hundred miles that I didn’t question my ability to finish this trail. My confidence was tested, but I’m still walking.

This hundred miles brought with it myriad hiking friends! Guardian came up and hiked a few challenging miles with me, some of which he punished himself by hiking a second time just to help me get through them; Blade, the only friend I’ve found on trail that I enjoy hiking with on a daily basis; Laces, a solo female thru hiker in whom I found an immediate kindred spirit. Others who have shared large chunks of this 100 miles with me include Iron Lady, a tough inspiration who retired from a high rank in the Navy after 34 years of service; Huckleberry Thug who has a contagious smile, a cool sense of humor, and an impressive memory; Eight Paws, a couple thru hiking with their Australian Cattledog; Pie, Click, and Cheese Beard, the frequent causes of ab working laughter ’til the tears come! A nero day, (a near zero mile day), spent in the woods with this group cooking hotdogs on a fire, laughing at hilariously goofy slow motion photography, and sharing pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream provided some of the most memorable moments of simplicity thus far.

Life out here is not easy. I’m nearly always hungry as it is impossible to carry enough calories to make up for the 3,500 a thru hiker can burn in a day. Knees hurt, gear breaks down, feet often stay wet for days from rain, mud, and stream crossings. Yet somehow, this life can teach a person how little one really needs to be gloriously happy. It’s the time spent with friends needing very little to laugh quite a lot, the moments of clarity on a magical mountaintop, the reflection time one has along the way that define the journey. It’s most definitely the journey not the destination that makes every step worth it.

Miss all my family and friends back home more than you know. Love you all!

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