A Day In the Life of an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker: Smooth Sailing

A Day In the Life of an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker: Smooth Sailing

I awake to the sound of Justin squeezing water into his titanium pot.  He’s probably been up for a while, but he stays quiet so I can sleep a bit longer.  I pull my buff down from eyes and ears and notice the tent is filled with daylight.  Ah shit, what time is it?  As I roll over onto my back, I let out a groan.  My hips and my knees ache.  I try to flex my feet and wince in pain.  It feels like all the fibers in the arches of my feet are being ripped apart- my plantar fasciitis is flaring up again.  I shuffle myself into a half seated, half leaning-on-my-elbow position and pull out my phone.  I open up the FarOut app to check the map and make a plan for today’s mileage.  We didn’t make it to our planned shelter last night because we were both so exhausted, so we’ve got an extra mile to make up today.  A little over 10 miles will put us at the Carl Newhall Lean-To shelter, but it’s only 2,00 feet of ascent, so we can probably do more.  The Logan Brook Lean-to is 18.1 miles away with a total of 4,700 feet of ascent.  Not too bad, but since we started the White Mountains of New Hampshire, we’ve had to dial our mileage way back.  I’ve decided that 15 miles or 5,000 feet of elevation gain is about the end of my comfort limit on this rocky terrain, so I know today will be challenging.  We’re at mile 2104 right now, and there are only 90 more miles to Katahdin!  We were told that the first few days of the 100 Mile Wilderness, the last section before Katahdin, would be similar to the rest of Maine with lots of ups and downs, rocks and roots.  Then after that, it’s smooth sailing until Mamma K- a flat pine needle highway to the finish line!  Not a single part of this entire trail has been flat, so I’ll believe it when I see it.  If we make it over White Cap mountain and to the Logan Brook Lean-to today, then tomorrow should be smooth sailing.  We'll see.

Justin hands me a pot of hot water like he does every morning, even though he doesn’t eat a hot breakfast.  He makes it just for me.  How did I get so lucky?  I carefully tear open two pouches of instant oatmeal, pour some hot water in, fold over the tops, and tuck them into my DIY food coozie.  I leave the rest of the water in the pot and toss in an Earl Grey tea bag, my favorite morning pick-me-up.  As I set them aside to heat up, I start packing some of my things.  I look over my shoulder and see Justin pour a little water into a ziplock bag of brown powder, seal it, and violently shake it.  He then cuts the bottom corner of the bag and slurps the brown slurry out of the hole.  I don’t know how he drinks that stuff every morning! After that, he throws all his gear out of the tent, crawls out and starts packing.  We do the same dance every morning.  I pull my food bag up from the foot of the tent and take out my snacks and my lunch for the day.  I peel off my base layers and shove them back into my clothes bag and then wiggle around in the tent to put on my shorts and tank top- the same outfit I’ve been wearing every day for the past six months.  I didn't even bother to change my underwear today.  It’s only been a few days and the funk isn’t enough to repulse me yet.  I open my bag of oatmeal, shovel it down real quick and drink my tea.  I toss my backpack out of the tent and start packing… sleeping bag, then food bag, then sleeping pad, cook pot, jacket, fleece, clothes bag, electronics bag… jam it, jam it, jam it, until it all fits.  As I start to put on my shoes, Justin walks around the tent and begins taking off the rainfly.  Just as I finish tying the laces, he drops the tent down around me, making sure to leave my doorway open so I don’t get trapped inside.  We’ve mastered the timing of this whole morning routine.  If we get it right, I’ll go take my morning dump and when I get back, the tent will be packed and ready to go.  

I stand up, groan again, and find my poop shovel and toilet paper in my pack.  It’s in the front zipper pocket with my bright pink AT thru-hiker tag on it, the same pocket as my first aid kit.  Pink is for poop, and emergencies, and the occasional poop emergency.  Thankfully, this one isn’t an emergency, just a regular morning dump.

I hobble off into the woods, looking over my shoulder a couple of times to make sure I don’t lose my direction.  I lean over and shove the trowel into the dirt.  Nope, rocks.  I move over a few feet and try again.  It pierces the top two inches of soil, and then… more rocks.  I look around for a more “earthy” looking spot, maybe by a downed log or near a tree trunk.  I try again and hit a mass of tangled roots!  This regular morning poop is about to turn into an emergency poop!  The thru-hiker diet combined with intense physical exercise every day tends to make things move quickly; sometimes VERY quickly.  That peanut butter looking concoction that comes out every day, and sometimes multiple times a day, is about to shoot right into my shorts if I’m not careful!  Fuck, fuck, fuck!  I find a boulder that’s half wedged into the soil and covered with moss.  I dig my fingers under the corner and turn it over.  I plunge the shovel into the dirt and sinks right in!  Good thing, because I’ve almost run out of time!  I dig my hole, pull down my shorts, and sink into my deep poop squat.  Gross, I know, but if you’ve ever pooped in the woods, you know what I’m talking about.  Sweet relief!  I get cleaned up, and fill the hole with dirt and flop the rock back over top.  I make my way back to the campsite and find that Justin has the tent packed up and he’s hoisting up his pack.  Perfect timing, yet again.  I grab my stuff and we head off onto the trail.

We didn’t make it over Columbus mountain yesterday, so of course we start by going uphill today.  How do we always start the day with an uphill climb?  Justin and I run through the plan for the day: stop at the next shelter, only about a mile away, and hit the privy.  Then it’s over Chairback Mountain, across a road, and to a section called “Gulf Hagas.”  The map shows a blue blazed route, a side route with some scenic waterfalls.  I ask Justin if he wanted to check it out, already knowing the answer.  No extra steps!  I laugh and agree, no extra steps.  I’m usually up for a good blue blaze, but my body feels like it’s falling apart.  The Whites and southern Maine kicked my ass.  I just need to make it 90 more miles to Katahdin.  We cross a little stream, and I stop to take a picture.  I like how the sunlight is peering through the trees onto the water, making it shimmer just a little as it flows over and between some rocks.  I always love the sound of running water in the woods, but it also makes me have to pee.  But we just started hiking, and I’m not about to take a pee break, so we keep moving.  

I ask Justin how he’s feeling today.  He fell a few days ago and hit his side badly on the edge of the shelter floor.  He thinks he might have cracked a rib.  I’ve been telling him that he should get off trail and see a doctor, but he wants to just tough it out and finish the hike.  I don’t blame him; I’d probably do the same.  He says it’s feeling better this morning, but still pretty sore.  He’s hiking ahead of me and I just stare down at the ground and the back of his shoes.  Root, root, root, rock, mud.  The usual.  I gasp in excitement as I notice something unusual, a beautiful blue feather!  I pick it up and show Justin.  I’ve been an amateur bird nerd for a few years, so I recognize it as a blue jay’s feather.  I’ve been teaching Justin about birds along the trail, and we’ve had fun listening, watching, and trying to identify the birds we notice.  I’d like to keep the feather, but ya know, leave no trace and all that.  So I put it back for the next lucky hiker to enjoy.  

We get up and over Columbus, and there isn’t much of a view.  Nothing we haven’t seen already, anyway.  We stop at the first shelter of the day and I sit for a few minutes while Justin uses the privy.  I prefer to dig a cat hole, but he’s more of a privy guy because he says his knees hurt too much for a poop squat.  When he comes back from the privy, I squirt a little soap in his hands.  He takes a swig of water from his water hose, keeping the water in his mouth, and then spits some in his hands to wash away the privy filth.  He scrubs and spits until all the suds are gone, and then shakes the excess water off his hands before running them through his hair.  At first I thought it seemed gross to spit on your hands, but he says surely our mouths are the cleanest things out here, and I think he’s probably right.  We’re both careful not to touch anything after using the privy, and we always wash with soap and water.  Hand sanitizer isn’t enough!  Especially after I got norovirus back in Tennessee.  I’m still haunted by that day.  If you don’t know what norovirus does to your body, Google it.  I’ll spare you the details.

We load up our packs and trudge on.  Another mountain to climb!  This one isn’t bad compared to what we’ve already done.  Just a little blip in the bucket.  “Pizza cake!” as Justin and I would say.  The view at the top is really nice.  The ground is rocky and jagged, with spots of grayish white lichen sprawling here and there.  There’s some little evergreen shrubs that have somehow rooted down in between the rocks.  It’s a clear day and I can see the mountains off in the distance, covered with evergreen trees poking up from below.  I take a quick picture, careful not to get too close to the cliff edges.  

Coming down from the summit is a rock slide, with big rough-edged boulders cascading down the incredibly steep mountain side, with no trees to stop a fall.  There aren’t any white blazes to mark the path down the rock slide; it’s more of a “choose your own adventure” kind of thing.  I tuck both trekking poles into my left hand so I can use my right hand to grab the rocks as I lower myself down.  The rocks are rough, and scrape my hands.  This reminds me of the Whites, and I hated the Whites.  I carefully navigate over each rock, one foot in front of the other, and try not to look down to my impending doom.  I pause to watch Justin ahead of me and take note of where he puts his feet and which rocks he chooses to step down.  He glides over them like a mountain goat, his calf muscles and quads flexing and bulging as he goes.  Some of the rocks are a little big for me; I’m only 5 feet tall and I have pretty short stumpy legs.  I get to a big one that looks a little treacherous and I call out to Justin to wait a minute.  I don’t want him to get too far ahead… just in case.  I have to toss my trekking poles down, turn around, and grip the rocks with both hands.  My heart beats faster as I look down around me.  One wrong move could result in a broken leg or worse.  I reach my right leg down as far as it will go and stretch my big toe out until it barely touches the rock below.  I carefully lower myself down, steady myself, and turn back around.  I use one foot to kick my trekking poles back up towards me.  I know better than to bend over and grab them with this giant turtle shell on my back.  I’ve tumbled face first down one of these rock slides already and I’m careful not to lose my balance this time.  He asks if I’m ok, and I nod.  We keep rock hopping for a few more minutes until our feet find solid ground on an earthy path between the trees.  I take a deep breath- I guess I’d been holding it for a while- and exhale.  That wasn’t so bad.  

We keep hiking down the mountain, chatting about our plans for the rest of the week.  We’re planning to summit on September 12, if all goes well, and today is the 7th.  Tomorrow we’ve scheduled a food drop at a road crossing.  The 100 Mile Wilderness is the longest stretch on the A.T. with no town stops or major road crossings.  In the past, hikers would have to go straight through the whole 100 miles without stopping to resupply.  Now, Shaw’s Hostel in Monson offers food drops on one of the old logging roads.  How they get access to the road, we’re not sure, but we’re excited for our food drop!  We filled a bucket with our final 4 days of rations and a few extra goodies.  I packed some sodas and cans of peaches, which Shaws said they would keep in the fridge until the drop off.  I cannot wait for an ice cold soda!!  We keep hiking down the mountain, chatting about our glorious bucket of goodies.  It’s been a couple of hours since we left camp and my stomach starts to grumble, right on time.  I could set a watch by my hunger pains.  Every day, at exactly 10 am, it starts yelling at me.  FEED ME!  Justin laughs when he hears me pull a snack out of my fanny pack.  He could go all day without snacking, but not me.  If I don’t eat right now, I’ll be hangry soon.  He knows better than to awaken that beast, so we sit for a minute while I eat my Fruity Pebbles cereal bar and drink some water.  I know it won’t be long before he takes off ahead of me, so I enjoy his company for now.  

We get down the mountain and see the road crossing ahead, Ironworks Road, another dirt logging road that is gated to restrict access.  Justin and I get to the road and a smile spreads across my face.  Trail magic!  I can’t believe there is anyone here!  We were told that we wouldn’t see anyone in the 100 mile wilderness!  An older man greets us beside his pickup truck with the tailgate down.  The bed of the truck is full of stuff- a cooler of cold drinks, bagels, little oranges, bananas, apples, grapes, and BACON!  He tells us that his wife is hiking this section and he’s meeting her at the road with breakfast.  I literally just ate a snack a few minutes ago, but it doesn’t matter.  I excitedly take a couple pieces of bacon and a banana from the truck bed.  The man offers me a drink, and I look in the cooler.  An ice cold Coke!  Just what I’d been dreaming of!  What an amazing little treat!  Trail magic really is magical.  Justin and I sit for a few minutes, eating and talking to the man about the A.T.  He has his dog with him, a scruffy looking brindle, and she loves a good butt scratch.  I pet her for a minute and then we decide to get going.  We’ve only gone 5 miles and it’s already 11 am.  At this rate, we might not even make it White Cap!


It’s 5 more miles to the lunch stop, and I start to do the math in my head like I do every day.  At 2 miles per hour, we’ll make it to lunch in 2.5 hours.  But if we go 2.5 miles per hour, we can make it there in 2 hours.  The terrain is a little rough for 2.5 miles per hour… there are a lot of roots and mud to navigate… So what if we go 2.3 miles per hour…? That would get us there in… Justin breaks my train of thought and asks me what I want to do on summit day.  We haven’t quite figured out all the details, but we’ve heard that getting into Baxter State Park and getting a campsite can be tricky.  They limit the number of thru-hikers to stay at the site each day, and you supposedly have to wake up suuuuper early to get a spot.  Justin could do it, but I am not a fan.  We’ll figure it out somehow, though, we always do.  We’ve each booked our flights out of Bangor, Maine for the 15th, so we’ll have a few days to rest before we go our separate ways.  I’m flying back to Peoria, Illinois, where my parents live.  They’ll pick me up at the airport and I’ll stay there for a couple of weeks while I figure out what to do next with my life.  He’s flying to Texas for a concert that he’s had tickets for since it originally got canceled because of Covid.  I can’t imagine that hanging out at a concert for several hours in the standing section is going to be enjoyable after hiking over 2,000 miles, but he’s not giving up on it!  If we can get straight to Bangor, we can get a hotel room for a few nights before flying out, giving us a chance to clean up, shop for some new clothes, and rest.  I’ve dubbed the day after summit day to be “Door Dash Day.”  All I want is to sit in a hotel room sprawled out in the cool, fresh linens of a queen sized bed and order food from Door Dash for the entire day.  Pizza, wings, pasta, burgers, salad, pancakes!  Whatever can be delivered in Bangor, I’m getting it!  Justin and I laugh as we daydream about Door Dash Day and talk about all the food we’re going to eat.  We can’t wait!

After a while, we make it to the Carl Newhall shelter for our lunch break.  It’s a wooden log lean-to with three walls and a metal roof, similar to most of the shelters on the A.T.  The walls have been tattooed with etchings from previous hikers- their trail names and hiking years, book quotes and drawings.  There are a couple of other thru-hikers taking a break here, too.  I plop down my pack on the shelter floor and take off my shoes.  We’ve been hiking for almost 11 miles at this point, and my dogs are barking!  I spend a few minutes massaging the arches of my feet and stretching my calves while Justin gets his lunch out.  The other hikers tell me their names, but I forget just as soon as they say it.  I can’t believe we still meet new hikers out here when we’ve all been doing the same thing for the last six months.  We chat about the 100 Mile Wilderness and share in our excitement about finishing our thru-hikes.  Even though we’ll only know each other for a few minutes, I still feel a sense of deep connection to them.  The other two don’t stay for long as they are hoping to make it to Katahdin a day before we will.  They take off on the trail, headed north, and we wish them happy trails.

Justin and I have both packed the same thing for lunch today, cheese and crackers and some chips.  We cut up the cheese and make little sandwiches with the crackers.  The cheddar is a few days old at this point, and it’s been pretty warm out.  It’s getting a bit slimy on the outside, but neither of us care.  We’ll eat it anyway.  As we eat, we are joined by a cute little chipmunk with big chubby cheeks.  As he runs up to the shelter and plops down on the wooden plank floor, his cheeks jiggle.  We finish eating and Justin stretches out on his foam sit pad for a little cat nap and I check the map to read about the rest of the day’s route.  I’m already getting tired, and I know that the after lunch climb is always the hardest for me.  And the map doesn’t help, it shows 4 more mountains coming up- the Gulf Hagas, West Peak, Hay Mountain, and White Cap.  I let out a sigh.  I just have to make it through 4 more climbs and then it’s smooth sailing to Katahdin.  Or so they say.

After Justin wakes up, we pack up and walk over to a brook near the shelter to filter water and refill our bottles.  I hate carrying water uphill because it’s so heavy, but it’s our last water stop until after White Cap mountain.  I drink as much as I can stomach at the brook and fill my bottles with 2 liters to carry.  It’s 6 miles to White Cap, so I should have enough.  Justin reminds me that tonight is his fantasy football draft, which I suppose is his way of staying connected with his friends back home.  He wants to make sure that he has cell service during the draft, so he suggests that we stop on top of White Cap Mountain for dinner.  The draft isn’t until 8 pm, so we would have to hike down the mountain in the dark.  I check the comments on FarOut about White Cap, and several people mention that the descent is rocky and technical.  I despise rocky descents, and they generally force me to move at a snail’s pace, so I’d rather not do it in the dark.  I tell him that I’ll meet him on White Cap and we can figure it out from there.

Justin picks up the pace and takes off in front of me, effortlessly floating over the roots and rocks.  He usually gets faster after lunch, with his eyes on the goal of getting to camp and relaxing.  I, however, get slower after lunch.  I’m tired, my legs and feet are starting to ache, and I’ve got four more mountains to summit.  I keep my eyes on the trail and find a good rhythm.  I dig my trekking poles into the ground beneath me and push off my feet.  Up, up, and up.  I can feel that I'm starting to sweat, and the pungent smell wafts up to my nose.  I don't carry deodorant because it's too heavy, and the months of sweat and dirt and body odor have seeped into everything I own.  I usually don't notice the stink, but sometimes it hits me like a brick wall.  I take some lavender scented hand sanitizer out of my fanny pack, squirt some into my hands, and slap it into my pits.  Problem solved! 

Before I know it, the trail starts to level out and I realize I’ve reached the first peak!  A sign marks the summit of Gulf Hagas, elevation of 2,683 ft.  There are no mountain views here, but the forest is beautiful!  The ground is covered in a thick layer of cushy moss and bright green ferns that dance in the breeze.  I spot some purple mushrooms that look like little candies and a fluorescent orange fungus that looks like a flattened jellyfish on the side of a moss covered rock.  I stop just briefly to pull out my phone and snap a few pictures, then tuck my phone back into my fanny pack and keep moving.  Four more miles to White Cap...


I can feel my legs getting heavier as I hike.  I know this feeling, I’ve felt it a hundred times before.  I’m reaching the end of my energy reserves for the day, and I know the next few miles are going to be a struggle.  And I’ve got 2 more hours to go still.  I haven’t seen the summit of the 2nd mountain, so I must have passed it while I was staring at my feet.  I keep pushing on, but I can feel my pace is slowing.  If I could just take a nap… I decide that I’ll stop at the next good sitting log and rest my legs for a few minutes.  Soon enough, the trail provides and a moss covered log appears on the left.  I sit down, straddling the log so I can rest my pack behind me and lean back.  What I wouldn’t give for an actual chair right now!  I dig into my fanny pack and pull out a Snickers bar.  I just need a little calorie boost to keep me going.  I close my eyes and chew the Snickers with my mouth open, still trying to catch my breath.  Just a few more miles and then it’ll be smooth sailing. 

I push myself up and thank the log for giving me a nice little break.  I keep trudging on, up and down the trail, dodging rocks, stepping between the highway of roots that intersect the trail.  I check the map on my phone and see that I’m almost to the summit of Hay Mountain, and it’s nearly 5:00.  I’m ready to be done.  I’m ready for dinner.  I’m ready to take my shoes off and lay in the dirt.  But I’ve got 2 more miles to go.  That’s at least another hour of hiking, and I don’t know if I’ve got another hour in me.  Everything hurts.  My stride shortens and I can feel my throat tightening.  My eyes start to well up with tears.  I’m just so tired and exhausted!  I don’t want to do this anymore…I’ve been hiking for nearly six months and over 2100 miles on this never-ending fucking trail.  My body has taken a beating and I feel like it’s giving up on me.  I stop for a minute and try to collect myself.  I have to make it over White Cap or I won’t have enough water to get through the night.  I can’t stop here.  I’m reaching my physical and mental limits at this point, but I have to keep hiking.  I’ve been in this spot before, and it’s a familiar feeling.  I just need a little boost to make it to the end.  

I don’t usually listen to music while I hike; I like to save it for when I really need it.  And right now, I really need it.  I pop both earbuds in and click on the “Mood Booster” playlist on Spotify that I’ve downloaded.  I’ve used this playlist before to get me over a big climb.  “Summer of Love” by Shawn Mendes comes on and I crank the volume way up.  I know Justin must be at least a mile ahead of me at this point, and he’s probably moving pretty fast.  I decide I’m going to try to catch up before White Cap, which means I’m going to have to move REALLY fast.  I have zero energy left, so I’ll have to get there with sheer determination.  I wipe the tears from my cheeks and pick up the pace, letting the music move my feet.  Faster and faster, until I’m nearly jogging through the forest.  I keep my eyes ahead instead of looking at my feet.  The roots are coming so quickly, I don’t have time to think about how to navigate around them.  I just let my body take over and let my mind go.  My heart beats harder, I can almost hear it pushing through my chest, so I turn the music up louder to drown it out.  If I can’t hear my heart pounding, it won’t explode, right?  As I start the climb up White Cap, the trail gets rockier.  I focus on my breathing, in-out-in-out-in-out.  My legs push off the rocks and power me forward.  I feel like I’ve almost separated myself from my body.  It’s a machine and it’s carrying me up this mountain.  My feet dance and weave left and right around the rocks and I lift my trekking poles to my sides so I can move even faster.  I can feel the endorphins surge through me and lift me up.  The trail is getting steeper and the rocks are bigger, like steps up to the heavens.  And the steps are big!  I have to lift my knees almost to my chest to get up over the rocks as I climb higher.  I plant my foot and press my hands into my knee and push myself up.  Again and again, lift and push! Lift and push!  I glance up and see Justin ahead of me on the trail.  He must have heard me huffing and puffing because he turns around and greets me with a smile.  He can see that I’m on a mission and I have no intention of stopping.  He steps to the side of the trail and waves his arm in a big circle, like a 3rd base coach waving his runner home.  I fly past him, pushing off the great big rocks and continue to climb the mountain.  I feel like a well oiled machine!  Sweat pours down my face and drips onto my thigh.  I can feel my muscles engaging and blood surging through my heart, my lungs expanding with each breath.  

As I reach the summit, the trees part to reveal an open sky with a few heavy clouds just overhead. The sun is just getting ready to set and there’s a yellowish hue hovering above the mountains in the distance. I made it! I freaking made it!  I toss my pack to the ground and throw my arms up in the air.  I close my eyes and stretch my neck up to the sky.  I can feel a cool breeze brush against my cheek, a light kiss from Mother Nature, or maybe God, or maybe just the wind.  Whatever it is, I feel at home.  I open my eyes and take in the views around me.  It’s just gorgeous.

The whole summit is open and covered in rocks.  The gentle mountain winds start to cool my sweat, so I take out my fleece and my puffy jacket and put them on to keep warm.  I find a little spot in the rocks to duck out of the wind and take in the views.  I’ve got a few minutes at least until Justin gets there.  It’s so rare for me to get somewhere before him, so I revel in the enjoyment of not only catching up to him, but beating him to the summit.  He isn’t far behind me though, and he shows up shortly after I do and comes to sit next to me on the rocks.  It’s getting late, so we decide to make dinner on the summit before heading to camp.  Before long, his pack has exploded all over the place, with his food, clothes, and tent strewn about.  I hand him my cook pot and stove, and he gets set up to boil water.  I look through my food bag, and there isn’t much left to choose from.  I pull out a ziplock bag of ramen noodles, one of my least favorite meals.  I will never eat another bowl of ramen noodles after this hike.  Good thing I’ve got some Reese’s peanut butter cups for dessert.  Justin gets a hodgepodge of ingredients out to assemble a new recipe he’s come up with that he calls “Buffalo Chicken Stuffing.”  He pulls out a water bottle half full of hot sauce, a packet of buffalo flavored shredded chicken, a packet of bleu cheese dressing, and a ziplock full of instant stuffing.  The key to rehydrating stuffing is to add just the right amount of water.  Too little and you get dried up bits at the bottom, and too much and you end up with mush.  After the water boils, he hands me the pot and I pour a little into my bag of ramen and tuck it into my coozie.  I watch as he adds some hot water into his bag of stuffing and then the chicken and the hot sauce.  So far, so good.  Then he adds the bleu cheese dressing, mixes it up, and scoops some into his mouth.  Instantly, I can see the disappointment in his face, and it’s hard to disappoint a thru-hiker with any kind of food, so I knew it must have been pretty awful.  He had been excited about this meal for days!  But too much water and too much dressing made for a nasty, mushy mess.  I offer him some of my ramen, but he declines, and continues to choke down his concoction anyway in true hiker fashion.  


We sit together in silence as we watch the sun shift under the horizon.  It is the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen.  Rays of sunlight disperse and spread through the clouds and reach out to the mountain tops.  As the clouds float away, intense oranges and reds spread across the sky.  We watch as the sun begins its retreat behind the mountains, and notice that the moon has made its appearance to the other side.  This is what makes it all worth it.

Sunset on White Cap Mountain

As it begins to darken, Justin’s fantasy football draft starts and he’s got decent cell reception, so he decides to stay at the summit until his draft is over.  I really don’t want to come down this rocky summit at night, so I tell him I’ll head down to the campsite while I still have a little light and set up the tent.  He can hike down in the dark and meet me at the campsite.  By the time he gets there, I should have everything set up and he can just climb in and get to bed.  He agrees and I get packed up and start making my way down from the mountain top.  It’s another mile and a half down to the shelter and campsites, and I estimate I’ll be moving pretty slow due to the terrain.  I put on my headlamp just in case.

I begin the descent from White Cap mountain, moving across the rocky summit down toward the treeline, curving around the mountain to the east.  As I look up, I notice a large, solitary mountain off in the distance.  I pause, wondering…could it be?  I check my map and sure enough, it’s Katahdin!  The end of the Appalachian Trail is within eyesight!  It’s been six months and I can finally see her, with her majestic shoulders towering above the lands below.  There’s nothing between us, no other mountains blocking the view.  Just flat, lush, green forests separated by a scattering of small lakes.  Smooth sailing, just as they said it would be.

Katahdin in the distance
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