July 20. Another cold night in my fleece sleeping bag liner, but another night closer to being done and back in a warm bed! I was up again at 3 AM putting on all of my clothes to keep warm, still didn’t get out the emergency blanket, but probably could have. At 4 AM I heard JD start moving in his tent, then the sound of a soda can opening! JD and brought a Coke from his wife to drink this morning. He was up early and ready to go and he left camp around 5:15 AM. He woke Rafiki and I up as he left and we got our gear together and headed out around 5:45. It was pretty impressive that we all got up and moving so early after a long 40 mile day yesterday, but we had places to be today as well…we still had a 33 mile day to do in order to make it to the Birches. Straight out of the lean-to we had a 1,000 foot climb up Nesuntabunt Mountain and it was a slow go. Once at the top though there was a direct view of Katahdin and again, it was amazing to be looking up at the mountain we would summit tomorrow, 36 miles away! When Rafiki walked up to the lookout he said he had joined the face plant club and this morning he took a pretty hard fall coming up the mountain. At this point we were all pretty beat up…I had scratches and bruises all over my legs, my feet were in tough shape, and I was really sore! We were all looking forward to some time to recoup! Rafiki and I caught up with JD at the next shelter, the Rainbow Stream Lean-To. We were all dragging, tired from 76 miles in two days!
We took a break here, in the guide book each shelter lists the distance from the shelter to the upcoming 3 shelters. Typically something like 9 Mi, 21, Mi, and 29 Mi. It just gives us an idea of what is ahead. The Rainbow Stream Lean-To list reads: 11.5 – 24.9 – 0.0. Zero point zero!
We were running out of shelters!!! The 24.9 shelter was The Birches where we would stay tonight, but after that there were no more shelters…the trail would be done! We got excited as we ticked off the shelters throughout the day and at The Birches the numbers read (0.0 – 0.0 – 0.0)…awesome! The trail was mostly flat, but still dealing with bogs, rocks, and roots, took a toll. We made it to the Rainbow Ledges and had another great view of Katahdin, 21 miles away.
I passed a sign that said Katahdin 21 miles away and started getting pretty excited…I got a burst of energy there for sure! I took a break and tried to send a message to my family. A park ranger hiked in and talked with us…we talked a bit and I thought for sure I knew the guy from somewhere. As we hiked on and left him behind I told Rafiki the ranger reminded me of the ranger that was stationed at Springer Mountain the day I started my AT hike, 2,000 miles and 4 months ago. From there Rafiki and I hiked hard to the end of the 100 Mile Wilderness and made it to Golden Road at 2:15 PM. We had entered the Wilderness on Wednesday morning at 6:30 AM, and finished on Friday afternoon at 2:15. We did the entire 100 Mile Wilderness in just under 56 hours…around 2.5 days of hiking!
The signs recommend 10 days…or 240 hours…we felt pretty good about our progress! JD was already at the road and his wife was there in the car with sandwiches and sodas for us…amazing! It really hadn’t felt like a wilderness at all. We were only in the “wilderness” for one full day, we started one day in Monson, and the 3rd day we were heading to Baxter State Park. And even the middle day JD’s wife brought us all kinds of food. I had a soda each day in the Wilderness, not really a wilderness to me. But, I guess if we had gone slower it may have felt more remote, but I am not sure. Either way, we were through it! JD’s wife really helped us too! It was awesome to see her the past two days and I’m sure Amy would have loved to be there as well. I wished Amy could have done the same, but the AT is pretty far from home…so maybe if, or when, I do another long trail out west, we can work something like that out! We walked across Abol Bridge and had a great view of Katahdin!
We stopped at the Abol Camp Store and I got a bacon cheeseburger and soda. I picked up my food from JD’s car and bought a few more pastries. I found an outlet above the shelves and plugged in my phone to charge it. I had been listening to a lot of music the past 3 days on the phone so it needed recharged before tomorrow. JD headed to the hotel with his wife to get some good rest for the night. Rafiki and I would hike on the 10 miles into Baxter to the thru-hiker shelter and in the morning JD would have his wife drop him off here at 3 or 4 AM and he would start his summit day from here. After relaxing for an hour or two at the camp store Rafiki and I started into Baxter. We passed the sign-in kiosk and the ranger I had talked with earlier in the day was there and registered us for The Birches. I talked with the ranger and found out that it was him I had seen at Springer Mountain! He is a triple crown hiker and does seasonal jobs around the AT. He started in the spring in Georgia, working at the Springer Mountain Shelter counting thru-hikers. I remember him sitting around the camp fire my first night…now I was registering with him for my last shelter campsite in Baxter State Park, the night before I would summit Katahdin! What an experience, a great way to start and end my trip! The 10 miles to The Birches was not easy…we were tired, 100 miles in 3 days will do that to ya. We had to ford a river and neither of us wanted wet shoes for tomorrow so we crossed the ice cold water barefoot. It was deeper than I thought and I got my shorts wet as well. The hike was flat, but my pack felt so heavy…maybe the Coke I brought for tomorrow morning and the 24 ounce can of Budweiser for the top of Katahdin had something to do with the extra weight. After playing connect the dots with several lakes and ponds in the park we made it to The Birches at 8 PM. We approached the shelters and ran into guys we hadn’t seen in a long time. Rafiki had hiked with the Atlanta Brothers (3 brothers from Atlanta) earlier and they were all happy to see each other. I had only met the Atlanta Brothers once, the night I camped at the Georgia/North Carolina state line. They remembered me because I had told them I sent home my stove to save weight and it was great to see them again! There were two other hikers there also, Roots, and Two-Cents. I had seen Two-Cents somewhere before, I think he passed me in the Smokies. As I talked with Roots we figured out we had camped together way back in Georgia, back at the Tray Mountain shelter! We all talked about how long it had been since we had seen each other and how our thick beards didn’t make it any easier to recognize anyone. It really comes down to the eyes, you have to remember someone’s eyes, because our hair and beards had all grown out pretty long. It had been a long time since I had seen these guys and I was excited to summit with all of them tomorrow! As we talked with the other hikers Roots asked me a very important question. He said “So what’s next after this, Tarzan?” I thought…hmmm…I said “Go home and relax I guess…” Shoot, that was all I could think of! I didn’t have a plan, what I would do next, a job, a career, or a life path. Wasn’t I supposed to figure that out somewhere along this 2,000 mile, 4 month journey? Roots asked me the question that I went into the woods to answer, and the night before the end I still didn’t have that answer. But, I wasn’t worried…maybe there isn’t an answer…I had renewed energy, like I had when I graduated college and headed out to change the world. Maybe I don’t know exactly what I will do when I get home, but I do know I’m going to do something, or lots of things. I had ideas, maybe no set direction, but I will be “doing”, and that’s probably the important part. The Birches was not the best shelter site we had been to…first it was hidden 0.2 miles up a gravel road from the ranger station. There were some great shelters and grassy spots down at the Katahdin Stream Campground and they were right on the AT, but those are spots that people pay for…since we are thru-hikers and were not intending to pay a lot of money to do something we have been doing for free for the past 4 months (camp), we were put off to the side and down the road. Rafiki and I set up our tents on the gravel, yes gravel, there was no grass at The Birches. It wasn’t the best camp spot, but who cares! Tomorrow was Katahdin, I think I could have slept anywhere the night before that! I set up camp and ate another sandwich that JD’s wife had sent with me, I also ate some cold potatoes (hopefully for the last time for awhile!) and went to bed. I was in my tent by 9:30…I wanted to try to get some sleep. I didn’t put on my layers, I thought if I wake up cold at 3 or 4 AM I would just use it as an alarm, pack my stuff, and start hiking up. No need to put it off, time to finish this trail! We had done a 33 mile day, 109 miles in just 3 days…I was tired! I went to sleep at mile 2,179.1…ONLY 5.1 MILES FROM KATAHDIN!