Lunch on the OHT

Lunch on the OHT
Shakeout hike on the Ozark Highlands Trail, from Ozone to Fairview Campgrounds

Friday, September 14, 2012

We Made It!

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

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Thru-Hiker's Closing Ceremony

We woke up, ate breakfast, and headed to the nice, hot showers again.  I had not washed my hair yesterday, although I was dying to, because I didn't want to get chilled.  It was still chilly this morning, but my plan was to wash my hair, and then go loiter in the camp store, drinking hot coffee, and letting my hair dry in there where it was warm.

The shower was divine, and the coffee was even more so.  The man in the store was very friendly, and I think he was happy to have some company.  He let me loiter all morning.  When the sun finally came up pretty good, I went and sat in it out under the canopy where we had all gathered the day before.  The sun felt so good.

As I was sitting there, I was watching a lady who was camping in a RV right down near the river by the bridge.  All of a sudden she grabbed her huge camera, and began running for the bridge.  I wasn't sure what she saw, but I wanted to see it also, so I ran for the bridge as well.  When I got up there, I ran to where she was, just in time to see her taking pictures of two beautiful bald eagles, just as they flew over the river, and right in front of Katahdin.  What a perfect morning this was shaping up to be!  We chatted a while.  They come here every year to camp.  Her husband fishes while she takes pictures.  Yesterday morning, she took a photo of a bull moose right across from where our tent was.  Too bad we missed that!

I was waiting until the restaurant opened at 11, because I was going to be first in line for a good, hot lunch.  Keith came over after he showered, and joined me in my vigil.  Soon, there were about 10 hikers waiting with us.  Everyone was going to eat lunch, and then hike on to Baxter State Park, which is where Katahdin is located.  After we ate, Dania and Swamprat showed up, and we loaded our packs into her car, and hit the trail.  The trail was particularly beautiful, following the Penobscot River for a ways, then stream after stream, then several waterfalls, and finally some beautiful ponds, right before we reached Katahdin Stream Campground, where we would be camping tonight.

When we reached the campground, Dania was there with coolers of beer and Coke, and she had snacks.  Other hikers joined us, and we had a little celebration.  Big Foot and Big Naranja were there, and they had summitted that day!  Huff and Puff also joined us.  They would summit tomorrow with us.  Later, Ninja Kindle walked up, and he had just come down from the top!  We then hiked over to the park office and registered with the ranger as thru-hikers.  Keith and I were number 413 and 414 northbounders for the year.  It was good to be official!  We were also invited to a celebration tonight at 7 at the Birches Campground.  We were told to bring a bottle cap and spork, and our book of matches we got in Georgia.  I told him we had never gotten a book of matches, so the ranger gave me one, and it said "Georgia Appalachian Mountain Club" on it.  We checked out the log book at the ranger station, and saw many familiar names that had already summitted - among them, Lighthouse, and Secrets and Shenanigans.

We found out that there was plenty of room for us to have our own shelter, and so we ended up camping just 2 shelters down from Huff and Puff, and everyone had plenty of room.  Dania and Swamprat headed back to their hotel in Millinocket, and at 7, we headed down to the Birches Campground with Huff and Puff.  There about 15 thru-hikers gathered at a nice campfire, and when the park ranger showed up, he brought two cakes, a container of peaches, and whipped cream.  Another hiker had brought a watermelon and strawberries. There was a section hiker there, named Bahama, who had been hiking the AT in sections since 2005, and tomorrow he would finish the whole thing.  All of the other hikers were all northbounders, like us, who were finishing their hikes tomorrow.  Bahama  brought a very nice bottle of rum, and asked everyone to get out their bottle caps, and we all used those for shot glasses to make a toast.  When the time came, the ranger asked those who had brought their books of matches to come forward, so we did, and we lit candles on the cakes.  As it turned out, we had never met this ranger in Georgia, but some of them had, and he had given them matches way back then, and asked them to bring them to Maine, and look for him.  He had planned to do this way back then!  The cake, topped with peaches and whipped cream, looked amazing.  The watermelon and strawberries were scrumptious, especially since fruit was something we never had on the trail!

It was just a really neat little closing ceremony for the whole AT trip.  It was a really great group of folks.  We had hiked with them all, at one time or another.  Some we had met as far south as Georgia, and some we had only met in the past few weeks.  We shared really great stories of our experiences, stories of other hikers along the way, and compared notes of where other hikers were.  Everyone hoped that Boots and Melody would come walking in.  We really did expect to summit with them, and wondered how close they were.  The hikers that were with us tonight were Kindle Ninja, Big Foot, Big Naranja, PJ's, Detour, Easy Rider, Huff and Puff, Bahama, Trekking Pole, Claudia Van Damme, Deep, Mr. Noodles, Hopper, and a few others.

The younger hikers were planning to get up at 2 in the morning, and head up the mountain, hoping to summit at sunrise, which would be at 6 a.m.  I couldn't imagine hiking up it in the dark!  But I'm sure the sunrise would be amazing. 

We made out way back to our shelter to get a good night's sleep.  We had planned to meet Swamprat and Dania at 7 in the morning to begin the hike up to Katahdin.  The weather was supposed to be PERFECT!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Out of the 100-Mile Wilderness!

After a really peaceful night, we woke up, and Keith slipped down to the pond very early, hoping to see a moose.  There had been moose droppings all over, so we hoped we would see one.  He did not have any luck, and came back pretty quickly.  I was amused, because as he came back up the hill from the pond, the red squirrels, who are very territorial, angrily chattered at him as he approached their section of the trail.  I heard them chatter the whole way, one after another, as he approached the tent.

We quickly ate and packed up, hoping to get an early start on this day, because we knew if we made good time, we could reach Abol Bridge Campground, which was the end of the Wilderness.  There was a camp store there, and we had recently heard that they had opened a restaurant, and that it had only been open for a week!  What great timing!  They also had showers at the campground!  It all sounded really good.

We followed one beautiful stream after another today, and with each one, Keith was kicking himself that he had not brought a fishing rod.  He said that was one thing he would do differently.  If he had only known Maine was going to be nonstop ponds and lake and streams, he would have planned time to fish through the Wilderness. 

At one point, we reached a side trail that said it went to Rainbow Lake, with a view of Mt. Katahdin.  it was only .2 of a mile away, so I went over there to see it.  I had been told by a friendly dayhiker that this was a view I would not want to miss.  When I reached it, there was a small boat there, and a man who worked for the Maine Nature Conservancy had just arrived in it.  I visited with him, and found that his job was to maintain the lakes that were within his region, which included 50,000 acres.  He got from lake to lake by seaplane!  What a job he had!  He walked around some, and picked up any trash he could find (not much, as this was in the middle of nowhere), and then went back out on his boat.  The view was gorgeous, as promised:

We hiked on, following another beautiful stream, and more ponds with huge rocks in them.  These ponds were all formed from glacial activity, and the rocks were left behind as the glaciers advanced and retreated.  The ponds were all crystal clear.  We reached some small hills that were topped by smooth rock, and met a thru-hiker sitting there, studying his AT Guide, who was very, very quiet.  We tried visiting, but he was a man of few words.  As I was talking to him, I looked behind him, and caught another beautiful view of Katahdin.
We were getting closer and closer, and it was hard to believe that in two days we would be on top of that mountain, and then heading home.  I kept looking at it, trying to imagine what the climb would be like, and it looked a lot like the mountains in the White Mountains of New Hampshire to me, which meant it would be tough.

As the day ticked by, I picked up the pace more and more, and the guys hurried also.  I was really anxious to reach the camp store and get cold medication, throat lozenges and something icy cold to drink.  My throat was better, but it still hurt.  We finally came out of the woods, on to what is known as the Golden Road, a really long gravel logging road in Maine.  We walked down the road a while, and then crossed over Abol Bridge, which crosses the Penobscot River.  There, on that bridge, was the prettiest view yet of Katahdin.
We came down off of the bridge, and there was the campground!  We had made it out of the Wilderness in 6 days!  We joined a group of thru-hikers that were gathered under a canopy out on the edge of the parking lot.  Everyone was in a celebratory mood, and hikers had already brought beer and snacks out of the camp store and were sharing them with everyone.  Every once in a while, another hiker would come in off of the road, and we'd all cheer for them.  After we were there a while, the very quiet hiker from earlier in the day arrived, and sat across from me, without saying a word.  He also never made eye contact.  We would meet kids like this from time to time, and you can't help but want to hang with them for several days, get them to open up, to assure yourself that they are okay.  Most of these young hikers are out here alone.  After a while on the trail, though, most learn to fit into a group, and travel together.  I found out his name was Silent John.  Someone had named him appropriately, it seemed.  He was from Connecticut,  and when I asked him if he was excited about finishing the trail, he said he wasn't sure.  I never did get much more out of him.  He stayed there and wrote in his journal for a very long time, and later on, ended up pitching his tent just a couple of campsites away from ours.  Later on, I learned that I had managed to talk to him more than most people had on the trail. 

A park ranger was there, and he was giving us all instructions on the best place to camp in Katahdin, and instructions we needed to follow to climb Katahdin.  Huff and Puff had already reserved a shelter at the Katahdin Stream Campground in Baxter State Park, and asked if we wanted to share it.  There was a possibility of there being too many hikers for the number of tent sites available, and so we jumped on the chance to share a shelter, because we wanted to make sure we had a place to sleep the night before our summit. 

The restaurant was closed on Wednesdays (what luck!), but the young man that worked at the camp store came out and offered to make pizza for everyone, even though the restaurant was closed.  He just kept making pizzas, and the hikers kept eating.  After we all ate our fill, and enjoyed visiting, we went and picked out a primo campsite right on the banks of the Penobscot River, with an awesome view of the mountain we would be climbing soon.  It was a beautiful sunset.  We hit the showers, and they were awesome - very clean, and very hot!  What more could we ask for after a week in the Wilderness?

Swamprat hitched a ride into the nearby town of Millinocket to meet Dania at the hotel that she would be arriving at on that same day.  She would be bringing him back to the trail in the morning, and then the three of us would slackpack the nine miles to Baxter State Park while she kept our packs in her rental car.  She would then meet us at the other end in Baxter.  It was going to be an easy, awesome day of hiking tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Getting Close!

For once, I was kind of glad that mother nature forced me out of the tent early in the morning, because I was treated to a gorgeous sunrise.  You can just barely make out the outline of  our tent in this picture, set up on the shore of the lake.  Luckily, the strong wind had died down during the night, but it was still quite chilly this morning, and we actually hiked for a while with long sleeves on.  We have not needed to do this in quite a while.

Others camped at the lake are also planning on summitting on the 14th, and everyone is getting pretty excited about being done.  It's so hard to believe that this journey is ending soon, and yet, we are all so ready to get home.  We have all lost a bit more weight than we probably needed to, and just feel like we are worn out.  A good rest is what we all need, and besides that, our toes are numb, our balls of our feet are swollen and hurt, our knees hurt, especially if we have a long downhill, and my back has gotten so bony, that I have to wear a moleskin pad on my tailbone to keep my backpack from rubbing it raw.  (Sorry if that was too much information!)  Luckily, I had the moleskin along in case of blisters, but I never dreamed I'd be putting it there!  I also had to quit wearing my shorts, because the elastic waistbands were being rubbed by the pack as well, and becoming painful.  The only thing that is comfortable now is my hiking skirt, which has a flat waistband, and that is getting to be too big.  Swamprat's shorts are all about to fall off of him as well, with his belt loops meeting in the middle.  Keith has also lost a lot, but luckily, his clothes are still fitting, because his shorts have elastic in the waist.  However, his hip belt on his pack is cinched up as tight as it can go, and is becoming too loose on him.  If he stays on the trail much longer, he will require a totally new pack to be able to hike.  It is clearly time to take a break.

We are also getting pretty anxious to get to Katahdin.  Especially now that we had reached really level trail, we thought we might be able to get to the end of the Wilderness a day earlier than we anticipated.  We would just have to see if the terrain would be kind to us. 

When I woke up, I felt a bit better today, and hoped that that would steadily improve.  Not long after we began hiking, we passed a view of Mt. Katahdin over the lake, and paused to admire it.  It was another beautiful day.

Today we hiked mostly level trail along a really beautiful stream before a challenging climb up Nesuntabunt Mountain, where we were treated to one of the best views of Katahdin yet.  It was getting closer and closer everytime we got to see it.  There were three other thru-hikers there that we had not met before.  They were Atlas, Cheeks, and Walk 'n Eat.  They were from Maine, Houston, and Austin, and we enjoyed trading stories with them before parting and going our separate ways.  They were trying to summit the day before us, and so still planned on hiking another ten miles that day!  We only had two to go, thank goodness!  They would be hiking in the dark.


We made our way down this mountain, and for some reason, I kept getting the feeling that we had seen this trail before.  This was the first time I had felt this way on the whole hike, and I was convinced that we had somehow gotten turned around and now were hiking south.  Keith finally convinced me that that was not the case.  We reached the most beautiful pond, named Crescent Pond, and it was a perfect mirror.  We found one of the prettiest campsites yet, and that night was the quietest night I ever remember.  I never heard any animals or birds all night, just very still and quiet.  I was slowly feeling better, and managed to rest on this night.  We are excited, that if the trail cooperates, we could reach Abol Bridge Campground tomorrow, and come out of the 100-Mile Wilderness!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Easy Hiking

This is PJ's.

I asked him to pose like this for me, because we could not believe his feet.  PJ's has hiked all of the way from Springer Mountain, Georgia in a pair of Teva sandals.  His trail name is PJ's because way back down south, when the weather was cooler, he had a pair of pajama pants he would wear around camp when he was cold.

Not only were his feet muddy, from all of the recent rain, but they were rubbed raw in several places where the nylon straps rubbed his feet.  It just hurt to look at PJ's feet.  He never had a problem with the sandals, he said, except when he kicked rocks. 
We also noticed this on the trail today:

No joke - someone is hiking barefoot.  There were two sisters who did this a few years back, and they wrote a book about it - "The Barefoot Sisters."  As a matter of fact, they had done what is known as  "yo-yo" hike - they had started in Maine, and then when they reached Georgia, turned around and hiked back to Maine.  I only hope that we get to catch up to this mysterious barefoot hiker.
Today we finally hit level trail after one nice small mountain to get over, called Little Boardman Mountain.  As Keith predicted, I felt my very worst when I woke up.  Although the trail was really nice today, and beautiful, I just could not enjoy it at all. 

We  stopped for lunch at the prettiest shelter yet, named Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to.  It sat right next to a beautiful waterfall that flowed into a gorgeous swimming hole with crystal clear water.  Keith made me more hot chocolate at lunch, and once again, that helped for a short while.  My throat just made everything miserable for me today. 

While we were eating lunch, a very brave mouse showed up at the shelter.  He was very tiny, with abnormally large ears and large, black, beady eyes.  He was really quite comical.  He stood in front of me, and looked up, blinking, as if to say, 'Okay, what did you bring me?"  I couldn't help but laugh at how brave he was.  I opened up a small container of Jif, and you could tell he smelled it right away.  Before you knew it, he had climbed up the side of the shelter and was sitting right next to me!  He was acting like he was going to jump up in my lap, so I shooed him away, and he ran back down to the ground.  I scooped out the peanut butter, and put the empty container on the ground, hoping to occupy him so I could quickly eat without him trying to get in my lap again.  He proceeded to work very hard at licking the peanut butter out of the cup, which was pretty enjoyable to watch, because every now and then, he'd stop and try it get it off of his little paws, and it seemed like he was trying to get it off of the roof of his mouth.  Hilarious!
As I was watching his antics, quite amused, all of a sudden, a chipmunk showed up and chased him off.  You could tell the chipmunk knew exactly where the mouse lived, which was under a large rock about 10 feet away.  Apparently, these two were used to battling over hiker's handouts.  It was surprising when the mouse didn't actually run for his hole, but instead stopped short and hid under a dead branch.  The chipmunk, however, was tricked, and thought the mouse was in his hole, and he would stand just outside the mouse home, blocking the way.  In fact, the mouse had come back out from under the branch, and was over licking up the peanut butter, out of sight of the chipmunk.  The smallest creature had won out.  While the chipmunk thought he had the mouse cornered, the mouse was actually feasting on Jif.  We watched them for a while before heading on out.

The trail the rest of the day was more like a logging road, level and easy to walk on, all of the way to the shore of Jo-Mary Lake, where we camped at the Antlers Campsite.  The wind was picking up and getting very cold as the afternoon went on, and although we made great time, and reached camp by 4:00, the wind coming off of the lake was really cold and blowing hard.  We got in the tent and zipped it up tight to stay warm.  Finally, tonight the heavy sleeping bags felt great!  We were treated to a gorgeous sunset and sunrise, and that night the stars were as clear as I'd ever seen them - just breathtaking.

(Camped at Antlers Campsite, mile 2132.4)
Only 51.8 miles to Katahdin!