Day 120
Jeffers Brook Shelter - Kinsman Notch
8.4 miles

As much as I wanted to avoid leaving camp I told Jan I would meet her at the notch by noon, so I was out of camp by 7:30am.  This was the first (and my last) real climb north bounders have seen in a while, so I wanted to make sure I left with plenty of time in case the climb turned out to be a real tough one.  I didn't need to worry though, because as steep as it was, it didn't last long and the temperature was cool and refreshing.  The 4.6 mile climb only lasted about an hour and a half and I was presented with one of the best views of the entire trail.  Although smaller and still a few thousand feet lower in elevation, I was taken back to California when I got above tree line.  It felt almost like I had come home.  I'm definitely a mountain person.  The feeling of climbing up above everything around me, and being able to lookout 360 degrees at the landscape below fills me with a certain calm, and a barely containable excitement at the same time.  I feel as if I can do anything when I climb to the top of a mountain.  The view from the top of Moosilauke was astounding.  The air was still hazy, but looking northward I could see the other peaks of the White Mountains and they actually looked like mountains again.  You could see the rolling hills, like the rest of the trail, and then as your eyes climbed higher out of the valleys below you began to see the jagged peaks of the Whites growing out and up into the early morning haze.  There was one peak that dominated the horizon, that of Mt. Washington; home of the world's worst weather and known for holding one of the highest recorded wind speeds (231 mph). Seeing all of this made it hard to leave the peak of Moosilauke.  I tried to leave after enjoying the view for 30 minutes, but found a way to spend another 30 minutes up there before I could begin to drag my feet down from the peak.  That view, the feeling I got at the top, it left me wanting more, and I knew that I would be back someday to fulfill my dream of becoming a thru-hiker.  I don't know when, but I will be back to hike Georgia to Maine someday.  Through all the ups and downs, all the pain, stress, boredom, joy, and excitement, I don't regret any of it, and I can't wait to endure it all again.  Not just on the AT either, I want to experience all the long trails, and not just here in the States.  I just found out a couple days ago that there is now a 1900-mile long trail in New Zealand that spans over both the South and North islands, called the Te Araroa - The long Pathway.  Now if that doesn't sound like an adventure, I don't know what does.  I don't know how, but I'm going to find a way to be able to do this while sharing a life with 2-Step after we get married next summer.  With all of these thoughts and emotions running through my head, I made my way down the mountain, which was just as awesome as the peak.  I followed a stream, as clear as any I had ever seen, that cascaded down the side of the mountain right next to the trail.  The trail itself sometimes seemed to follow the stream more than anything a trail crew might have come up with.  There were times where instead of cutting away from the stream to find an easier way down, the tail just went right over the rock face, and the trail crew had carved small notches, or stuck wooden steps into the rock for hikers to climb down.  There was the occasional rebar handle for you to steady yourself with on some of the steeper sections, but I hardly noticed them as I bounded from boulder to boulder, still filled with the excitement I had felt at the top of Moosilauke.  Once I reached the bottom of the descent though, I felt some very strong bittersweet emotions as my shoes touched the pavement of the parking lot at Kinsman Notch, and I stepped off the trail for the last time this summer.  When I reached the parking lot it hit me that my time on the trail had ended and I felt as if I had lost a part of myself.  I was left with the question, "Now what?"  echoing through me.  I had just spent the last 4 months walking everyday, following the white blazes that marked the AT and now I didn't have that anymore.  I was so close to the end and everything I had been working so hard for over the last year was within reach, that I felt I had let myself down by not continuing.  All this considered, I think that my decision to end the hike early was a good one.  It gives me time to decompress, and reflect on my time on the trail before having to go back to school and a job.  I think that to have continued and finished the trail, and then immediately starting classes and a job would have been too much for me to handle.  I would have been behind in my classes and would probably have had to make-up work I had missed while working on current projects, and beginning the paper and other things I need to do for my independent study, all while starting a job and getting settled back in town.  I would have driven myself crazy.  Part of me still wished I had just done it anyway.  The one exciting thing about not finishing the trail is that there is still more to see and new people to meet and there is a whole new adventure waiting for me when I come back to hike the trail again.  Life wasn't too bad though when I hit the pavement, because there was some trail magic there and Jan had already let them know that I was coming.  The folks were making burritos and they also had...cold beer!  While Jan and I caught up with each other and enjoyed the company of the trail angels, I scarfed down a couple of burritos and a couple of cold ones, so it wasn't all bad getting off the trail.  Thanks again to Jan for being such a generous hostess.  You really helped to ease me off the trail.  It was very relaxing and enjoyable being able to spend time on your beautiful property.  I know 2-Step is excited about the invitation to come visit, so hopefully we can make that happen sometime, maybe during the fall, so we can enjoy the fall colors y'all get up there.  Thank you again, I really appreciate everything you did for me while I was there.

P.S.  Check back for some writings on my reflections about my experience on the trail and thoughts on my adjustments to life off of the trail.

P.P.S.  To my friends from Port Clinton, check the post where you left your comment, I left a response, but I'm not sure you've seen it.  I hope all is well and the rest of your summer went great!

Day 119
Fire Wardens Cabin - Jeffers Brook Shelter
21 miles

I didn't want to rush too much on my second to last morning, but I also had some miles to hike.  I got out of camp about 8:30am and immediately started descending Smarts Mountain.  I kept a quick pace and soon enough I was at the bottom ready for the next climb.  It was a gradual ascent and it didn't take long to get to the top and immediately start the descent.  I didn't have much of a breakfast so I stopped halfway down at a stream and ate my lunch.  I'm glad I did, because Yukon passed me and when I got to the next road crossing he wouldn't have been there with his parents who came to meet him.  When I passed by, I stopped to talk and was offered a cold beer.  It was so refreshing, especially since it was cold.  Did I mention it was cold, that was the best part.  Fortunately, it's not so impolite to drink and dash on the trail, and since I still had about 11 miles to hike, I finished the beer and was on my way again.  The rest of the afternoon went fairly quickly and by 5pm I was at camp for the night, at the base of the first of the White Mountains that the trail climbs.  I was the only north bounder, but the south bounders were friendly and they had whiskey so we were fast friends.  I also got another cold beer from some overnighters who were just out for the weekend.  I've never gotten so many cold beers in a day without stopping in a town.  I'm excited and sad about tomorrow.  Excited to at least climb one of the Whites and sad that tomorrow is the last time I'll be on the trail for a while.

Day 118
Moose Mt. Shelter - Fire Wardens Cabin
12.4 miles

I was really lazy today.  I didn't leave camp until 9:30am, but the first 6 miles went fairly quickly.  There is a trail angel known as the ice cream man who gives hikers ice cream, soda, and a place to rest their feet on his porch, only about 200 yards off the trail.  He's on vacation so there was no ice cream, but he did have sodas in a cooler on his porch.  It was the halfway point of my day so I took a nice long break and hung out with some other hikers.  After that, I had a little less that 6 miles to go, but it was all uphill.  The climb was steep, but I made it in good time and beat the rain.  It's hard to believe that this is my second to last night on the trail.  I never thought I wouldn't make it to Katahdin, but it will always be there and I'll be back to hike it.  It's aggravating being so close and not being able to finish, but now that I know I'm getting off, I guess I'm kind of tired and ready for a short break before school.  Tomorrow I have my last 20+ mile day, and then its 8 miles over the first peak of the Whites.  So its off to bed enjoying the sound of rain on my tarp one last time...

Day 117
Happy Hill Shelter - Moose Mt. Shelter
16.8 miles

I woke up feeling slightly better than yesterday.  The thought of town and my last resupply on the trail got me up and going at a decent time.  The 6 miles went fairly quickly, especially since 2.5 miles was road walking.  When I hit the road, one of the houses had a cooler set up with some delicious watermelon slices.  I had a couple and moved on down the road to the main street in Norwich, NH.  Oh yeah, I just crossed into New Hampshire!  Another state to scratch off the list.  I'll have to come back and get the rest another time.  At Main Street in Norwich you take a right to get to Hanover, but taking a left will get you to Dan and Whits General Store where they give hikers the left over day old sandwiches.  Obviously I took a left, and I left Dan and Whit's with a delicious chicken salad sandwich and 2-day old loaves of bread, plus a few things for resupply.  Then it was on to Hanover, where there were several other businesses that had free things for hikers.  Besides the sandwich, I had a free cruller (donut type pastry), and a free bagel with cream cheese from a coupe of other businesses.  For lunch, I had a free slice of pizza and paid for another slice and a beer.  It was good, and then I had a free snickers and a salami and cheese sandwich with half of one of my free loaves of bread.  It was getting late for a 10-mile climb to the shelter, so when I started hiking again, I threw my running shoes back on and got to moving.  I was tired from booking it up the mountain, but got there in about 3 hours.  I was still so full from town that I didn't even make dinner.  I just snacked and hung out for a while, and then crashed.  I'm glad I'm sleeping in tomorrow since I only have 12.4 miles to go.

Day 116
Lookout Cabin - Happy Hill Shelter
23 miles

Well There were too many clouds to catch the sunrise, but I was up so I got a good start on my hike for the day.  The morning went fairly quickly and before long, I had gotten to the highest point of my day, which also happened to be about halfway.  I figured it was a good spot to stop and call 2-Step.  The call was not really what I expected.  2-Step informed me that my parents plans had changed and that my mom could no longer pick me up in Gorham.  It was time to come up with a new plan, which has happened so often this summer.  Having already cut my hike short once, I was distraught when I realized that the best option now was to cut my hike short again, by about 91 miles.  This happened to cut out most of the Whites, except the first mountain.  I was not happy.  I had already been feeling unmotivated and down about not being able to finish the entire trail, and it made it hard to accept that I wouldn't even be able to see the WHites.  I'm just glad that my grandmother's friends Jan and Bruce were able to help me out.  The new plan is to finish up my hike at Kinsman Notch, 389 miles from the end.  Jan will meet me at the parking area and I'll spend the next day with her.  Then she will drive me to the airport, where I'll catch a flight to Milwaukee and finally be reunited with 2-Step.  Just one more week and 2-Step, the pups and I will all be back together!  Instead of an hour break, the multiple phone calls and thinking of all the available options turned into a four hour break.  That meant when I finally got back to walking I had almost 12 miles to go and it was already 3:30pm.  About a half mile from where I had stopped, there was a farm store that had homemade sodas.  I have been craving a cold soda, so I stopped for a quick break and was back on the trail by 4pm.  The last 11 miles took me just a little over 3 hours.  I haven't been trying to run lately, but I didn't want to get to camp in the dark so I did a little trail running.  I was pretty tired when I got to camp, and still feeling bummed about cutting my hike short even more than I thought I would be, so when I got a text informing me that one of my good friends from California had passed away, that put me over the top.  I was not a happy camper at Happy Hill Shelter.  My thoughts and prayers go out to Sean Krum's family.  I'll miss you buddy! I'm glad to be going to bed so I can start over tomorrow...

Day 115
Inn at Long Trail - Lookout Cabin
0 miles (yellow blazed)

I think I've finally gotten sick of hiking.  Without Katahdin dangling in front of me I no longer have the same motivation as the other thru-hikers around me.  Now I'm just hiking to hike, which I love to do, but without the sense of accomplishment others will feel on top of the big K, I'm starting to think about the comforts of home more.  This is also the longest that 2-Step and I have been apart from each other in our entire relationship and its starting to wear on me.  I miss her more and more each day, and instead of counting down the miles to Gorham, NH (my planned end of the trip) I'm counting down the days until we're together again.  It's hard to keep going, knowing that I'm almost done.  So when the opportunity to take a day off and not get behind schedule, as guilty as I feel about yellow blazing, I took it.  It shouldn't matter because I'm not going all the way anymore, but it still doesn't seem right to me.  Although, the break today has been good, and now that I know what's been bothering me lately, I can work on keeping myself motivated through the Whites.  I've been looking forward to the Whites for a long time and I don't want to leave the trail too soon and regret it.  I don't want to speak too soon, but I don't think I'll be yellow blazing again.  For today I'll enjoy the opportunity I've got and try to refresh myself for the last 11 or so days of hiking I have until I get off the trail.  I'm really excited to be seeing 2-Step soon!  At the end of the day I hiked up to a place called Lookout Cabin, just off the trail.  It's awesome!  There is a platform built on top of the roof and it affords one fortunate enough to find this place with a spectacular 360 degree view of the surrounding Green Mountains.  The sunset was one of the best I've seen and I'm looking forward to the sunrise.  I think my break today was good and I'm glad I ended at Lookout Cabin.  Had I done what I had planned, I would have missed this place entirely.  Tomorrow it's a 23-mile day and getting up for the sunrise should help me get an early start.  For now, its bed time.

Day 114
Clarendon Shelter - Inn at Long Trail
17.4 miles

I got up and out of camp earlier today, but I still feel unmotivated.  I had plenty of time to think about why that might be as I climbed up Killington.  I think it might be that because I'm not actually finishing the trail anymore I have a harder time hiking knowing I'm so close to the end of my adventure. Soon enough I made it to the top of Killington where I took a long lunch break.  After talking to 2-Step I decided to stop short of my plan for the day by about a mile and stay at a hostel.  With that decision made I was back on my way.  The hike down was short, less than 5 miles and I was walking down the road to the hostel in no time.  Turns out I had read the guide wrong and it was the Inn at Long Trail that I was walking to.  I was a little bummed at first, but then I saw my buddy Riff Ralph and instead of turning around, I decided to stay.  There is free camping across the street and a few more hikers showed up so we had a good time, which I needed after the last couple of days.

Day 113
Big Branch Shelter - Clarendon Shelter
16.9 miles

I woke up feeling very unmotivated.  I'm not sure why, but I just didn't want to start the day.  I didn't leave camp until 9:30 am and then hiked about 6 miles and just sat for about 3 hours.  I'm sure the weight of my food bag doesn't help.  I have way too much food and I can feel it.  Once I got going again I tried to get the miles out of the way as quickly as I could.  I stopped to take a side trail to a view from a cliff and that was about it.  The hiking was good and there were some good sections of trail, but I just wasn't into it today.  Hopefully I can shake this feeling...

Day 112
Manchester Center, VT - Big Branch Shelter
16.5 miles

The day started out gray and didn't get any better.  I got to the top of Bromley Mountain and took a long break at the ski patrol hut watching the chair lift go round and round.  I thought about California and all the good times that 2-Step and I had there.  Other than that there wasn't much to see because I was sitting in a cloud.  When I got back on the trail I wasn't expecting much, but when I got to a road crossing I was greeted with some awesome trail magic.  There was a guy waiting for hikers with a cooler full of cold sodas and he even made us sandwiches.  I had a delicious roast beef sandwich, and after another long break I was back on my way just in time for the rain to start.  There was nothing to do except put my head down and just keep walking.  I stayed dry enough since it was a steady drizzle rather than a downpour, but I was still damp.  It made the afternoon go quickly enough and before long I was at camp for the night.  Should be good sleeping weather tonight.  I already feel a little chill in the air and the sun isn't set yet.  I'm so glad that it's not as warm as it has been at night.  I sleep much better and feel rested for the next day's miles when I wake up in the morning; what a relief.

Day 111
Spruce Peak Shelter - Manchester Center, VT
2.8 miles

Talk about a short day.  I hiked the 2.8 miles, hitched a ride, and was in town by 10:30am.  I ran my errands, ate lunch and got my awesome care package from 2-Step by 1pm, and was showered and lounging around the hostel by 2pm.  This was a good town day.  Thank you so much 2-Step for all the delicious goodies!
Friends from Port Clinton
9/11/2012 07:15:43 am

J. W., Were bowled over that you took the time to write while still hiking. Didn't see it at first (new to navigating this blogging thing) but then excitedly found your very, very kind reply and appreciated every word. Went on to read with relish every post up to your finishing day and so empathized with the emotions you struggled to contain as you came off the mountain.What a day that must have been for you. Thank you for giving us "sedentaries" a taste of what it feels like to do what you did, all along the way. We are so proud of your accomplishment, J.W. And so grateful for this thoughtfully and honestly written account. I have to tell you that the way it ended was much, much more meaningful than the way you expected it to. Your journey mirrored real life. We must set goals, but we must also learn that there will be obstacles, disappointments, and delays. And it's the way we handle those with dignity, patience and perseverance that defines us. You did just that. Everyone knows your eye was on Katahdin, and we know you'll be back to conquer it, but the fact that you chose to place your education and your appreciation of the trail around you over glory tells us that you are guided by what's right. That's what heroes do.You are our hero, J.W. (PS Couldn't be happier to read of your upcoming nuptials with 2-Step!:):):):):):) Wishing you both all the happiness in the world!) Best of luck in school and in everything you do. You deserve it all.

John Wayne
11/1/2012 08:11:39 am

Thank you, I hope more hikers are fortunate enough to meet you in summers to come. Your encouraging words were always welcome, and even now, I find myself re-reading your comments when I start thinking negatively about my choices. I wish you and yours the very best in the years to come!

Thank you,

John Wayne


Leave a Reply.