The last marathon

August 17

26.8 miles, 2132.4 overall, 51.8 remaining (Antlers campsite)
I am quick to rise in the morning and by 6:15 I’m leaving the shelter before anyone else is up. I need to get an early start in order to make some big miles today. I have a few 3000 foot peaks to get over (the last that are this tall until Katahdin) before I descend to some incredibly flat terrain for the next 45 miles. Although the rocks are wet and it is cloudy it is not raining. I am hopeful that the clouds clear up a bit in the next couple hours while I hike because from the last mountain, White Cap Mountain, I should have a view of Katahdin.

The peaks this morning are not terribly difficult. I climb Gulf Hagas Mountain quickly and am surprised when I find I’ve already gone 2 miles. West Peak and Hay Mountain pass by quickly and pretty soon I’m on my way up White Cap. As I climb I take a look at my compass to see which way is northeast, the direction I estimate Katahdin should be. As I get near the top the trees part and through a gap in the clouds I get a great view of The Mountain. Even from many miles away it looks ominous, a behemoth standing out in the middle of nowhere. I can’t wait to climb it.

On the way down I get another view, but this time there are clouds around the summit such that if I hadn’t already seen it I wouldn’t be sure if I was looking at the right mountain. I continue down the mountain to the shelter only another half mile further. I stop to fill up on water, having not bothered filling up all the way this morning before I left. I also grab a snack and check the register. Progress and Joiner stopped here last night and Progress left a note for me to let me know that after they left yesterday she was able to “decide to be happy.” There’s also an entry from Stats who is having a hard time. He got to this shelter and felt sick, so he took a zero day yesterday to try to feel better. He has lost his appetite and feels nauseous. I hope he is feeling better and I take it as a good sign that he isn’t here now.

When I get moving again the trail begins to get easier. As I continue to descend it gradually becomes flatter and starts following old woods roads for periods of time. This makes for some faster hiking and I’m able to pick up the pace to my old standard 3 mph. The next shelter is only 4 miles away and I get there before noon. It is a nice looking shelter and the area in front has some benches made out of old logs. The benches are in the sun and I take advantage of this by pulling out my tent and spreading it out to dry while I eat some lunch. By the time I’ve finished eating and resting about 30 minutes later the tent is mostly dry. It wasn’t absolutely necessary to dry it but the fact that I was able to get it dry is a big psychological boost and I pack it up motivated to crunch some more miles.

For the next several miles I am on cruise control. There are a few short uphills but nothing too serious. I keep remembering that the ridge runner the other day mentioned Little Boardman Mountain as the place where the trail becomes really easy so as I hike I am anxious to get there. She turns out to be right. After climbing the mountain (more accurately described as a hill) the trail flattens out and becomes a series of old woods roads, bog bridges, and flat trail. Even the roots seem to diminish as the ground becomes less rocky and the forest shifts to a more deciduous mix.

I’m trying out listening to some “tiny desk concerts” podcasts from All Songs Considered when up ahead I see Stats. It takes me a while to catch him because he is hiking almost as fast as I am. When I do catch him we talk for a minute about how he’s feeling. He’s still feeling bad but has started a course of antibiotics that he had with him to try to fix whatever it is that’s bothering him. His appetite hasn’t quite returned but he is able to keep some food down. He tells me he is ready to push through it no matter what so he can get home to his wife and 2 kids. It seems like he could be on the upswing and I hike ahead happy that he is still moving.

We both stop at the next shelter to grab water and evaluate our options for the night. I still want to go another 8 miles to the Antlers Campsite that I’ve heard so much about. It is only 3:30 and the trail appears to be more of the same so it is definitely within reach. When I leave Stats is still considering it but it sounds like he is leaning toward coming along. The extra miles would put him only a short distance from White House Landing where hikers can go to get a cheeseburger for lunch and, for some reason, a cheeseburger sounds really appealing to Stats right now.

The last miles go quickly for me and I arrive at the campsite just after 6. There are 4 other hikers already there, all section hikers. I talk to them briefly and learn that 3 of them flew in on a seaplane. Now that must be the way to backpack! Forget having to hike in to a location, just take a plane! I look for a spot for my tent on the western side of the peninsula on which the campsite sits, thinking that camping on that side would give me a great view of the sunset. However there aren’t any good spots there and I figure I can simply cook my dinner and carry it to a good spot to eat. I set up my tent in the middle of the campsite and start dinner.

As my dinner is cooking Stats walks in. He isn’t incredibly hungry now but he is excited about the burger at White House Landing tomorrow. Once my food is cooked he joins me to watch the sunset which turns out to be pretty underwhelming in terms of colors in the sky but the peacefulness of the lake makes it worth it. I clean my pot, we hang our food (more for the sneaky squirrels at this point than the bears), and head to bed. As I’m just getting settled in my tent I hear 2 hikers arrive and discuss where they should tent. As they walk by my tent one says, “Is that you Nitrous?” Its Sunroof and Yellowtail! Turns out they were the next to leave the shelter this morning about an hour after I did and they have hiked the same distance to get here for the night. I’m glad they made it and I direct them to a spot that might be good for them to set up as the last light of the day disappears on the Appalachian Trail.

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