The Appalachian Trail runs through 13 states along the east coast of the US. It’s total length is 2,185 miles. I left my job in Chicago to walk the entire trail. It took me 5 months to finish it. I started in Georgia and walked to Maine. So now I am officially a NOBO (Northbound) Thru Hiker.
I tried to keep status updates on this blog of my location and general happenings each week but I didn’t do a very good job. So now after weeks have passed since my August 12th 2014 summit of Katahdin (marking the end of the Appalachian Trail) So now if your willing to read this entire post I will update you on the last few months.
I’ll start with the end. Walking the last 5 miles to the top of Katahdin was epic. Climbing 4,000 feet to the top on a beautiful summer day was breath taking. I enjoyed the ending of my trek. As I climbed I ran into friends I had met along the way. At this point in my journey I was ready to be finished but also excited to celebrate what I had accomplished. I only wish I could have seen more familiar faces that day of other thru hikers I met along the trail.
During the last two months of hiking I gave up on the blog post updates. Things got hectic with traveling home, meeting friends, and the desire to do more miles to finish the journey in under 5 months. After I had missed a few weeks of updates, it was easy to make the decision to wait until the end to do one large post.
Let me catch you up on the last few weeks. If you want to know about the first 11 weeks, read some of my previous posts.
Matthew Leverton came to visit me.
I was really looking forward to his visit. I know Matthew from NIU and worked with him for almost 2 years at Digital Intent in Chicago. He’s a unique and very smart individual. I’ve learned a lot about programming from him for the last few years. Also, up to this point on the trail I hadn’t had any visitors come see me so Matthew would be there first! I was excited and thankful for his visit.
I met with Matthew and his girlfriend Pricilla at Delaware Water Gap on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania border. We hiked a section of the AT the day after they arrived. Although I ended up hiking these same miles on the AT over again because I wanted to hike the entire trail with my full pack. Some might criticize me as being a ‘purist’. I don’t really care what it’s called, I just want to hike the entire trail with my backpack and not as a day hiker.
We also spent the next day at a state park where we camped out next to a nice lake. The next morning we headed over to a different set of trails to hike near some pretty cool looking water falls. Matthew and Pricilla headed home and I hiked on.
The next week was a hard week for me. For the next five days after Matthew and Pricilla left it rained. I didn’t see the sun for at least 5 days. I pressed on through the rain and walked a lot of miles. I walked 150 miles that week. I basically walked all of New Jersey and New York in five days. At this point I also decided I did not want to pay to stay anywhere for the next few weeks. The middle states of the Appalachian Trail are expensive. I wanted to keep on a tight budget but I also kind of just liked the challenge. I almost caved and got a hotel when I was in New York. After the fifth day of rain and a bad nights sleep in a leaky shelter, I was very tempted to pay to get out of the rain. I convinced myself to press on that morning after finding a good place to relax for a few hours out of the rain. I sat under a sheltered picnic area with a vending machine and bathroom for at least 2 hours near the Appalachian Trail Zoo. This was a great place to just rest without being raining on. There is also something very mentally uplifting about having a Coca cola. During all the weeks of hiking I found that my favorite trail magic was usually just a coke and a piece of fruit (like an apple or orange). I had heard while hiking that I would be able to see the New York sky line from bear mountain in New York. But because of the continuous rain I could hardly see 100 feet in front of me. There where points on the trail that day where I was sure I was going to get lost because I could not see the white blazes. In a place like New York there are many side trails to get lost on. The white blazes are really hard to see in a dense white fog. After climbing down from bear mountain I walked through the Appalachian Trail Zoo. The trail runs right through the middle of the zoo. There are white blazes on trees and post signs. It’s a strange experience. In the zoo there are bears, coyotes and a few other animals. All of them looking pretty miserable. I felt bad for the animals. The trail leads right over the hudson river on a busy highway after leaving the zoo area. Most of the day I was surrounded by thousands of people who didn’t have any idea that hikers from over 1,000 miles away had walked there.
I might have been challenging myself to not pay for anywhere to stay, but I definitely spent plenty of money on food while in New York. I ordered Chinese food from the RPH shelter, where the delivery guy walked right up to the shelter. Not having to even walk 10 feet to get hot food!! What a life of Luxury.
Also, I had originally planned to update you with this video below, but I never got to posting it. Here it is anyway :-)
During Week 14 I took it a little easier. I still walked over 100 miles but I didn’t push myself like I did the week before. I continued on my not paying to stay anywhere challenge and had made it to Connecticut. The terrain was still pretty flat but unlike New York and New Jersey the large wet bolder walking was over. There where some pretty flat sections of trail in Connecticut. I enjoyed the change. Connecticut felt pretty short, walking through it in a few days. After spending literally weeks in the one state of Virginia, it was nice to complete states in only a few days. I felt like I was making great progress.
Massachusetts came next in the week. The great thing about this state is that there are tons of trail towns. Meaning lots of food that I don’t have to carry. The highlight of Massachusetts was stopping in the town of Dalton and tenting at Tom Levardi’s house. Tom was super nice and accommodating to long distance hikers. It was really a treat to have his help in Dalton. He drove hikers to the grocery store, and to the Old Country Buffet. Hikers love buffet’s. I hope Tom is doing well.
Then week 15 was here and gone like the previous weeks. At this point, time was flying by. The days where really tough though. Not as much because of the physical nature of the trail but the mental and emotional trial of hiking for almost 3 months. I was pushing myself each day to continue hiking. Telling myself that if I made it through today that it was get easier. I can’t say that I was really enjoying the hike at this point in time. I was really ready to take a long break or just get off the trail. I did not want to quit either. I had to just push through each day. I was hiking in Vermont by week 15. The hills where returning. At least now after hours of walking in Vermont you are rewarded with some cool views on a few high points. A turning point for my mental state of feeling was Killington Mountain. This was the first time I had been over 4,000 feet in a long time. Since Virginia actually. The other motivation I had for hiking this week was my Brother was visiting. Joe was coming out to see me for a week on the trail.
Week 16 marked the week of Joe’s arrival to Rutland, VT. I was glad to see him and excited to take a day off and use the rental car that he generously got for our convince. We spent a night in a motel getting great food and cleaning up.
Joe and I took 5 days to hike the remaining 50 miles of Vermont to New Hampshire. If you don’t know Joe, your missing out. Joe at this point in his life was training for his first full length ironman. So as you might imagine you have to be in pretty good shape to do an Ironman (which he did accomplish weeks after our hike). So when we hiked 10 miles a day and he carried about 15 pounds of gear and he was complaining (only a little) about how tough the trail was, it made me feel good. This was because I had spent the last 120 days conditioning myself to do one thing really well. I was a professional hiker. 10 miles for me was less than a half days work. 10 miles for Joe was exhausting.
Even though Joe complained maybe a little, most the time he was in good spirits and enjoyed hiking along with me.
I was glad that we hiked this section of the trail together. I got to show Joe a few aspects of the trail. Including longer 1,000 foot climbs, trail magic, trail towns, and friendliness of other thru hikers. I had a few people come visit me during the trail, but Joe I’d say was the only one who got a immersed thru hiker experience.
As we walked into the town of West Hartford, VT we struck hiker gold! We where invited to enjoy break on a friendly trail angle’s porch. Coffee, hash browns, bacon, eggs and a good time. This home was conveniently set in front of a bridge that went over the ‘White River’. I was told that locals jumped off this bridge into the water 30 feet below. So I had to take on this challenge!
We hiked into Hanover where we where taking the bus back to Killington, VT to get the rental car. We hung out in Hanover for a few hours. Eating pizza, donuts and a few beers before taking the bus. We took the bus back to where we started hiking together in Killington. We relaxed in town, watched a movie, and ate thai food. It was really nice relaxing in town and taking a few easy days before I began hiking again.
Joe left to go home and I had a few days before I would need to board a bus to Boston. During the few months that I had been on trail my best friend Tim had decided to get married. He asked me to be in the wedding and I had to go. So I felt like I needed to push hard and put in a few good days of hiking before I left. I had originally planned to get to Lincoln, NH, but I got there too quickly. So I did another 25 miles to get to Crawford Notch. I then took the AMC Hiker Shuttle to Gorham, NH and then caught the Concord Bus to Boston. From Boston I took a flight to Chicago. This basically required almost 2 days of travel. All this travel just to make it to Tim’s wedding. Well worth it.
During this week I did do a good deal of walking in New Hampshire. One of my favorite views during this week was on Franconia Ridge. After a long day of hiking and a 3,000 foot climb around 2 pm I got to Franconia Ridge. The weather we perfect. Clear blue sky’s and a good breeze to keep me cool. The view’s were stunning. I had seen nothing like it up to this point. You could have told me I was hiking in the rocky mountains.
I arrived back in Chicago on the 15th. I was tired but happy to be back to see friends and family. I tried to keep my agenda simple for this week but that was hard to do. Without a car getting around to see friends and family was not easy. Took a lot of coordination with my mom and her generosity with her car.
I won’t say much about Tim’s wedding, but it was great. Tim Smith has wanted to be married basically as long as I have known him. I know he was excited and I was excited for him. It was great to be there on that day.
Week 18 + 19
I had already paid for my return airline ticket so I had to go back. :-)
A good thing was I had my friend Nick McMaster who accompanied me back to the trail where we would hang out in Boston for two days and then hike a small section of the trail together. Nick lucked out because he would be hiking 20 miles with me on one of the most spectacular places in the world. We would be climbing Mt. Washington.
The unlucky part for Nick is that it would be a very tough climb. This was easily one of the top 5 hardest parts of the trail to hike. I had originally planned to take on the climb in smaller sections. The problem is that finding places to camp in the White Mountains can be challenging. I had originally planned to do 6 to 8 mile a day with Nick but we ended up short a day because of the bus schedule. This meant that we would have to hike the 20 miles in basically 2 days. The second 11 mile day turned out to be a really tough day. Nick’s feet suffered because of it. I won’t get into details but I was surprised he was able to walk at all by the time we where done. The amazing part is that I don’t remember him complaining about it at all.
It was pretty awesome walking the trail through the Presidential Mountain range. I was not only impressed with Nick’s efforts but also pleased that he was there to hike that part of the journey with me.
It was my fault for pushing Nick too far. I should have planned better. Logistics are difficult to plan when all you have is a phone and little knowledge of the area. All in all, Nick had fun, and so I did. Nick headed back home to Chicago and I continued forward on the trail. I knew I only had a few more days left in New Hampshire and then the State of Maine. I was super ready to be done. After spending a week at home and hiking for almost two weeks with other people my pace was dramatically slowed down and I knew that if I wanted to catch any of the people I had hiked with before I would have to push hard. The challenging part was the southern section of Maine was harder than I had anticipated.
During week 20 finished off New Hampshire. The end of New Hampshire was harder than I initially expected. I did a 21 mile stretch over Wild Cat with a hiker named purple blaze in 8.5 hours. It rained the entire time, we where soaked all the way through. I even forged a river up to my waist in water.
I entered into Maine and found that southern Maine continued to be harder than I expected. Some of the toughest trail was in Maine. It slowed my pace down to 1 mile an hour in some places. Maine had everything I had seen in the trail up to now. Maine had rocks, bogs, roots, and so much more. Maine was the last state, I was excited to be there. I couldn’t believe that I had made it that far.
The highlight of week 21 was the hundred mile wilderness. 100 miles of trail with no resupply. I pushed really hard through the 100 miles and walked it into 4 miles. I did 70 of those miles in 2 days. The farthest I had walked in a single day only days before my summit of Katahdin. I finished the trail in 21 weeks and one day. I’ve learned a lot about myself hiking this trail. To face uncertainty. To be able to live with very little. To pursue the work and place where I want to be. I don’t know all the answers, but each day I’ll work on figuring it out.
This is a graph of the miles that I walked each day