We actually slept pretty good, considering that we were not used to sleeping in shelters. This was only the third shelter we had stayed in on the trail. No mice ever showed up! We were so excited and anxious about what lay ahead of us! We went down to the parking lot, and Dania and Swamprat were there. We passed Huff and Puff's shelter, and it looked like they had already started up the mountain. We emptied our packs of most of the things we normally carried, and locked all of that up in Dania's trunk. We wanted to carry our packs, but did not want to carry much weight. We hiked up to a registration point, and signed in. The rangers told us to be sure to sign in and sign out. They always wanted to make sure that everyone made it down off of the mountain. We passed Big Foot, Kindle, and Big Naranja along the way, and they wished us well. We would not be seeing them again.
Dania was not sure if she would be able to make it to the top, so their plan was, if she started having too hard of a time, she would hike back and wait on us, so the three of us could summit together. Well, after the first mile, those two had dropped back, so I wasn't sure if she had turned around or not. We kept hiking, because we knew that Swamprat would catch us sooner or later.
As we climbed, the views just became more and more amazing, and the climb also became more and more difficult. There were many of the nerve-wracking things we had experienced in the Whites - vertical rock faces with rebar handles drilled into the rock, and lots of rock climbing. I thought it was the hardest ascent we had to date, but Keith didn't think so. It was about 5.6 miles to the top.
We had met the younger hikers, who had summitted at sunrise, on their way down, while we were heading up. They had summited 10 minutes before sunrise, and you could tell, had had a great experience.
About 2/3 of the way up, Keith went on ahead of me, and I wanted to sit, rest, and have a snack and take pictures. He was way to anxious to reach the top, and could not stop for anything. As I sat there taking pictures, I saw Dania and Swamprat in the distance coming up the mountain. She had made it!
They finally reached me, and we sat and visited a bit, taking pictures. Dania is a little afraid of heights, so it was a big deal that she had made it up the mountain.
We finally reached what is called the tablelands, and the trail leveled off for the final 1.5 miles to the summit. When we reached the summit, Keith was there, with lots of dayhikers. I gave him a big hug and kiss, and we celebrated the end of our great adventure together. I then went and sat down, took off my pack, opened my celebratory Coke I had brought up, and bawled like a baby. So many emotions! So glad to be done, and yet sad it was over! Jaybird was there with his dad. They had hiked up together. Stumbles was there with his dad, and they too, had hiked up together. Silent John arrived hiking alone, so I congratulated him as he arrived. Later, I saw him sitting quietly off to one side. I offered to take his picture, and he nodded, and finally even smiled a bit for me. The dayhikers all got wind of what we had just done, and offered their congratulations. One of them said to me, "I climbed up this mountain today, and thought that was a big deal, but now I feel like it's nothing compared to what you have done!" I assured him that he should feel proud, because it was one heck of a climb!
We spent about an hour at the top, taking pictures, taking in the incredible view, and eating lunch. Dania and Swamprat had brought Subway sandwiches from town. That was a real treat! When the time came to go down, Dania and Swamprat decided to try an easier trail. Most of the dayhikers had come up a different trail from us, so that I was surprised when I saw so many people at the top when we got up there. The park ranger at the top suggested they take the Saddleback trail, which was shorter and easier, but ended up at a different parking lot. They gave Keith their rental car keys, and we told them we'd come and pick them up.
We started down, and I'd have to say that seemed to go so very slowly! I think because we were now done, and were ready to go home, we just couldn't get there fast enough! There was a local hiker who was walking down with us, and he had been up this mountain nine times before. He offered to lead, and guide us down. I wasn't sure if the blazes going through the rock climbs were as well marked going south as it had been going north, so I was all to happy to follow someone who was familiar with the trail. After a while though, it seemed that he was having problems. The afternoon was pretty warm, and while we were used to hiking in the heat, I guess to a local Maine resident, this was probably pretty warm, and I guess he wasn't used to the heat. Sometimes I forgot just how accustomed we were to the hiking. He kept having to stop, and soon sounded like he couldn't catch his breath. We finally figured out he was getting dehydrated, and when we were about 2 miles from the bottom, we offered him all of our water. We knew we would be okay without it. He took about half of it. I knew that once he got down below the treeline, and into the shade, he would be better.
We finally reached the parking lot, and who should be there to greet us, but Boots and Melody! They ran over and crossed their trekking poles over our heads, forming an arch for us to walk through. We also met Keith's parents right after that. Everyone was hugging us and congratulating us. We found out Boots and Melody were going to summit the next day, at sunrise.
Keith's mom had brought the best trail magic - beer, Cokes, and LOBSTER ROLLS! They were amazing! We drank and ate, and then Keith took Dania's rental car, and we drove over to the parking lot to find Swamprat and Dania. It took an hour to get there. Baxter State Park is huge, and only has gravel roads, so you have to go slow. When we got there, we met a hiker who told us that the trail they were coming down was actually 7 miles long, and took about 6 hours to get down from the summit. Since we knew Dania would most likely be exhausted from the hike up, we figured they probably wouldn't come out of the woods for at least another hour or two, and we had to drive 3 hours away to get to Keith's parents' house. As much as we hated to do it, we left their keys with a park ranger who promised to watch for them. We also left a note on their car.
We drove on to Millinocket, and went to a McDonalds. Mr. Geraghty was starving, as he had not eaten since lunch time. While we were there, we got a text from Swamprat, who must have finally gotten some cell service, and he said they had a headlamp, and were hiking in the dark. We let them know the trail was longer than the park ranger had said, and they ended up not coming out of the woods until about 8 at night!
It would have been nice to tell Swamprat goodbye on the mountain, but we know we will be visiting them in Slidell as soon as we can. They will be good, lifelong friends. After traveling with him for five months, he had become like family!
And so our 6-month journey had finally ended, on a beautiful, blue-sky day that was just the way we hoped it would be. We are so very happy to be going home to family and friends, and feel so blessed that we had the opportunity to fulfill this dream that we have had for so very long. The trail was so much more than what we expected, more difficult, more beautiful, and the people, above all, were so much more than we ever dreamed. We both feel especially blessed to have shared this experience together. There's no way we would have made it in six months without Keith there to always provide that gentle nudge to keep us on track.
It was an answer to prayer that brought me on this trip with Keith, and I truly felt God's presence all along the trail. He blessed us in so many ways. He blessed us with a truly wonderful person to hike with in Swamprat, a man who became like family to us. I could see God in the beauty of what he had created all around me, and I could see him in the faces of all of my fellow hikers and the total strangers who treated us with such love and care along the way. There were so many times that I was so tired, and I prayed for God to send us a Good Samaritan, and he did, every single time. He got me up every single mountain, and through every stream safely. It really restored our faith in our fellow man and in this country to take this trip, and I hope we will never forget how really wonderful people were to us along the way, both Americans and foreigners. Hopefully, we can do our own trail magic some day for our fellow thru-hikers, or in the same spirit, just surprise total strangers with kindness and generosity.
Thank you to everyone who prayed for us, and wished us well. We felt your prayers. Thank you to everyone who followed along on this blog. You have touched my heart with your kind words, and I have felt honored to share this journey with you. A HUGE thank you to Sean, for holding down the fort so we could go play for six months. We are headed home, Sean!!! A big thank you to Keith's parents, who met us numerous times, happy to be our support crew. I don't know how we will ever repay you for hauling our stinky gear! I also want to thank Janet Richards, and the crew back at Weichert-King Realty Group where I work. Janet took over my customers, so I could go on this hike. For this, I am forever grateful. They were in good hands, and I actually had some income!
For now, we will be heading home, and working on various projects, before planning our next adventure. Once you finish the AT, you truly feel that anything is possible!
|What a beautiful day we got for summitting!|
|Us with our good friend, Swamprat, at the summit. The three of us have hiked together since the Smokies.|
- Steady and F100