13.5 miles, 2179.1 overall, 5.1 remaining
Stats is just getting out of his hammock when I am packing up the last of my stuff in the shelter. I eat the last of my food, excited to be heading out of the 100 mile wilderness with only minimal food remaining. I marvel at how light my pack feels as I don’t bother to fill it with much water for the last few miles. I tell Stats I’ll see him in a little while and I head out.
The three miles go by quickly. I hike fast since my pack is light and there is food ahead. I can hear cars and trucks up ahead for several minutes before I finally emerge onto Golden Road. I love the fact that the road coming out of the wilderness and heading toward Katahdin is called Golden Road. I turn right and head toward the campground. As I cross Abol bridge over the Penobscot River Katahdin looms to my left. I can’t help but smile as I know that I’ve made it. The last 10 miles into the park to the Birches campsite (shelter for long-distance hikers) are supposed to be pretty easy and although Katahdin itself will be a tough climb, I know I’ll be able to tackle it. I feel like I’m on my victory lap as I cruise into the campground.
I head straight for the store. As I’m deciding what to get Caveman arrives too. There is a $10 minimum for credit card purchases and he is trying to get dog food. I help him out by combining our purchases, giving him cash for my items so he can use his card. I order a cheeseburger with bacon and a fried egg and get a coffee to go along with it. I figure I’ll be back later for a few other items, but for now this will do and I can charge my phone while I wait for the burger. I wait outside at the picnic tables and watch as the day begins to unfold in front of me. Logging trucks pass by as river guides stop in at the store for discounted coffee. My burger gets cooked and I eat it in the shade, wondering when the others will catch up. Nobody arrives while I finish eating so I head back into the store to grab my phone and start charging the external battery. While inside I get a scoop of the blueberry Gifford’s ice cream I’ve been hearing so much about since I entered Maine. To get to the $10 minimum I also get two beers and a couple other snacks.
The plan was to drink one beer and then take the other on the road with me but Stats doesn’t arrive until I’m just finishing the first. It is 11:00 now and I have 10 more miles to hike to meet Christy inside the park at the Birches campground, but I decide to stick around for a while longer to hang out. Yellowtail and Sunroof aren’t far behind Stats and soon they’re all eating too. Stats picks out about $35 worth of food in the store, hoping that something in the lot will be appetizing to him. While inside he chats with a couple who are visiting from Tennessee and ends up getting a bit of trail magic from them. When he goes to check out at the register his $35 of food only amounts to $15. The couple left a $20 for him and left before he found out. What great people, and what great timing right at the end of our journey!
What Stats ends up eating is a full jar of apple sauce. He is obviously in dire straits as he complains more than usual about how badly he feels. I ask if there’s anything I can get him tonight since I’ll be staying in town. At first he can’t think of anything. After a minute he asks for Jell-O cups. Easy enough. I make a mental note to pick some up tonight. While I finish my second beer we find out Caveman has had his camera stolen. He set it outside the restroom while he was inside and 5 minutes later when he came out it was gone. We’re all sorry for him since he had pictures from all the way back to Vermont on it. We get his email address so we can send him some of ours once we get home. While they won’t be the same, hopefully he’ll enjoy them just as much.
Just before noon I decide I need to get going and I head off alone to enter Baxter State Park, home of Katahdin and the end of the Appalachian Trail. As I enter the park I check in at the hiker information stand where a park employee is stationed to check in thru-hikers and answer any questions. I cross Katahdin Stream and ford the two forks of the Nesowadnehunk on my way through the park. At one point I run into a group of people swimming in one of the streams and they recognize me as a thru-hiker. Two of them are also thru-hikers: The Dude and Coconut. They finished yesterday but have returned for some celebratory playtime in the water. They wish me luck and I congratulate them on their summit.
I take a few side trips as I hike. There are 2 waterfalls and I stop to view them both since they aren’t far from the trail. At both there are families enjoying the incredible weather by swimming in the water and sunning on the side of the stream. In this section I pass a few families on their way to the waterfalls and I try to be polite by getting as far away from them as possible since it has been about a week since I was clean. I’m sure that at this moment I am the spitting image of Peanuts’ Pigpen with a cloud of dirt and stench hovering around me. At one point though I’m not able to get far out of the way. Just as I get onto a bog bridge a family steps onto it from the other side. I side-step onto a rock to get out of the way as the dad tells the kids “Now make sure you watch for the white marks on the trees because we need to follow them.” I smile a bit as I think about how I’ve followed them all the way from Georgia and I wonder if the family knows that they’re on the Appalachian Trail. I soon get an answer though as the parents pass by and ask me where I’m coming from. When I answer Georgia they exclaim “Oh, they told us we might run in to some of you! Hey kids, this is one of the guys they were telling us about!” The kids, rather than ogling me like a zoo animal, aren’t terribly interested despite their parents excited explanations that I have walked all the way here from Georgia. Still, the parents would like a picture of me. I agree as long as they let me get one too and then we part ways. As I walk away I feel like a sports star.
The rest of the trail winds along some more ponds, once in a while providing quick glimpses of the mountain rising up to my left. I’m in a hurry because I told Christy I would be at the shelter by mid-afternoon and it is almost 3:00. Finally I make it to Katahdin Stream Campground and find the ranger station where I check in as a thru-hiker. The ranger congratulates me as she takes down my information. She gives me an entrance permit for the park (why that’s done 10 miles into the park and not at the entrance I don’t know) and my ATC 2,000-miler application. I sign the register in the ranger station – my last one – with the top 5 foods I plan to eat after my hike, in roughly chronological order:
1) Sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit.
2) Cinnabons. Yes, plural.
3) Avocado. Any form, just lots of it.
4) Pot roast
5) Bacon-wrapped scallops in garlic butter
I leave the station to go find Christy and I run into her coming back from the Birches. She has been visiting with the Noodleheads, APE team, and Philly Steve. Since we’re not in a hurry we go back so I can catch up with them and we spend about an hour chatting. Previously I had told Almost Awesome that thru-hikers always tend to be polite around non-thru-hikers and so Christy hasn’t truly experienced hanging out with thru-hikers yet. Awesome promised not to be polite and she keeps her promise. The conversation ranges from food to bowel movements, back to food, to the Noodleheads’ list of the top 10 signs you’ve hiked 2000 miles.
Eventually we have to tear ourselves away. Millinocket is about an hour drive from this spot and we still need to swing by the grocery store. I say goodbye and hope that I’ll see them all in the morning. Chances are since Christy plans to hike up with me they will all summit before I do, but perhaps I’ll run into them before they start or catch up with them afterward. We drive into town and go by the IGA where Christy grabs a couple things for lunch and I pick up the Jell-O cups for Stats along with a couple snacks for tomorrow’s hike. Then we head to the B&B to check in. The owner asks me to leave my shoes and pack outside or in the car. I understand the request. These are the smelliest of smelly items. Luckily I don’t need much, just a toothbrush and the clothes I’m wearing. I head in, take a shower, and pretty soon I’m in bed. I fall asleep surprisingly fast considering a few hours later I will be on my way up to that infamous sign at the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.