When I walked away from Pinkham Notch, New Hampshire, on July 7th, 2017, I felt as if that was the hardest thing I had to do on my entire hike. I was tired, I had to leave all of my friends and a place I felt very comfortable and hike on alone into unfamiliar territory. I soon learned, however, that deciding to leave New Hampshire was only the second hardest thing I had to do all trip. The first, you ask? Hiking Maine.
I left Carlo Col Campsite on July 8th, with the intention of hitting Maine that afternoon. I woke up feeling sluggish and unmotivated to hike, despite the beautiful day ahead. I stopped on top of some random mountain with then intention to make a phone call, simply as a distraction. Naturally, it was to my mom. I told her about how tired I was feeling, and she asked “are you coming down with something?” I told her I didn’t think so, just that the length of the trip was starting to exhaust me. I was wrong.
By that same afternoon, my nose was running like a faucet and my temperature was through the roof. “Not again,” I thought, reflecting on the bout of sickness I experienced in Virginia. I had two options: hike out a side trail to Success Pond Road and try to hitch into Gorham or Berlin, New Hampshire to see a doctor, or continue north on the Appalachian Trail to Rangeley, Maine where I could see a doctor. Thinking it was just a cold, I figured it would probably go away before I even reached Rangeley.
I pushed into the Mahoosuc Range with my body screaming at me to stop. The Mahoosucs feature a number of steep, slabby, rooty, and muddy climbs that are no joke even in great weather. It also features Mahoosuc Notch, which they say is the “steepest mile” on the Appalachian Trail. Navigating Mahoosuc Notch goes beyond hiking and teeters the line between bouldering and spelunking. I would argue that the Mahoosucs are the most difficult terrain on the entire Appalachian Trail, so doing so while ill was far from fun. But I pushed on for another 5 days until reaching Rangeley.
Upon reaching Rangeley, I hit the doc. It turned out that what I had was in fact a raging sinus infection. Thankfully, I got the proper antibiotics, and I was excited about my illness clearing up and was hopeful that I would finally begin to enjoy Maine.
Not so fast, my friends.
I left Rangeley on a cold and rainy day, hoping to get to Monson within 5 days, so that I’d finally be out of the mountains and ready to take on the 100-Mile Wilderness. I pushed hard out of Rangeley simply to keep my body warm in conditions ripe for hypothermia. As I was crossing The Saddleback Mountains, I stepped on a root that was well elevated above the ground, and for some unknown reason my left ankle gave out and the entirety of my weight came down on my left leg, only held up by my achilles and calf. As I continued on, I felt a pain in my left calf and a quiver in my achilles tendon. Too focused on the weather and reaching camp, I pushed on. Upon reaching camp, I felt mostly okay, but once again I treated the problem with some ibuprofen and electrolytes, hopeful it would be gone tomorrow.
Long story short, I hiked gingerly on it for another couple days, with little to no improvement. By the time I reached Caratunk, Maine, I reluctantly decided I needed some proper rest to let the area heal and so that I could reassess. An injury this late in the game had me questioning not just whether or not I could finish my hike within my allotted timeline, but if I would be able to return to work healthy in the Appalachian Mountain Club Huts come mid-August, which can be a very physically demanding job. Thankfully, one and a half full days of rest in Caratunk resulted in enough improvement that I felt comfortable getting back on trail to feel it out, slowly of course. In much more gradual terrain, I ever so slowly and methodically made it to Monson, Maine.
Monson is the last major stop before a northbound thru-hiker enters the 100-Mile Wilderness. The 100-Mile Wilderness, while mostly very friendly in terms of elevation gain and loss, is deep in the heart of central Maine, not very near to any town or services, and is known to be very muddy, rooty, and buggy. I took another half day to get some final rest, resupply, and put together an execution plan for my time in the 100-Mile. Despite my leg finally beginning to feel better, about 10 days from initial injury, I still planned to take it more conservative through the 100-Mile and all the way to Katahdin than I had originally intended. After a great day at Shaw’s Hiker Hostel, I stepped into the famed 100-Mile.
The game changer towards the end of my hike was the weather. After a tough start to Maine, I was treated to picture perfect weather between Monson and Katahdin. I was able to take it slow through the 100-Mile while basking in the sun during lakeside lunches and at riverside campsites. It was arguably the nicest stretch of weather of my entire trip. By the end, a few friends I had not seen since Massachusetts caught up to me, and I even succeeded in making a few new friends in my final days on the AT. After a rainy 5 am start on July 27th, 2017 up the Hunt Trail, the clouds broke up and we had the privilege of summiting Katahdin all together, making it a fun and memorable time. The Hunt Trail was probably one of the steepest and most technical sections of Appalachian Trail, but the effort was totally worth it, as I soaked in absolutely spectacular views alongside great company on top of Katahdin.
After about and hour and a half on the top, the clouds returned and so did the rain. I made my way down the Abol Trail where my dad would meet me at the bottom. In the parking lot with all my friends, I asked my dad if he’d buy us all shots at the bar later that night in Millinocket. He responded with a very definitive “no.” But when we all rejoined at the Blue Ox Saloon in Millinocket later that night, a proper celebration ensued and he rescinded his original response was kind enough to treat us all to shots of tequila.
And just like that, my hike was done.