Katahdin "the greatest mountain"
the end of a journey
'sippi' flag flying over katahdin
Mount Katahdin, Maine
July 13th, 2005 4554.331N,6854.881W,1606M
Yesterday, at 12:30 on July 12th, 2005, I climbed the last mountain of the Appalachian Trail. After 4 1/2 months of thinking day in and day out about Katahdin, standing on top of it might have been the most incredible experience of my life. There's a sign at Katahdin's Baxter Peak, marking the northern terminus of the AT - when I saw it for the first time through the clouds, it really was surreal. When I was 12 years old on my first trip to Springer down in Georgia, it was just another mountain that I couldnt pronounce, then later on it became a dream, something I would do some day some time whenever I got around to chasing all those other adventurous fantasies, that dream became more of a realization when I started my thru-hike on February 28th, and then Katahdin became an obsession, I dreamed about it at night, thought about what it would be like to trace out the words 'Katahdin' in that old, wooden, weather beaten sign that, to a lot of people may only be a peice of wood marking the highest point on just another mountain, but to me and to every other thru-hiker past and present, and even those who dream about it, that sign is much more. It represents 4 1/2 months of my life, an incredible accomplishment of something that a whole lot of people would call crazy and others can only hope to achieve, and perhaps most soberingly, an end to one of the best things I'll ever do with my life. When I saw that sign, it was an indescribable feeling - a rush of emotions - pretty much all of them too. I made it through a lot of experiences on the trail without shedding one single tear, and there sure were times when the situation warrented them, but when I sat two feet from that sign and touched it for the first time, nothing could stop the tears. I had a lot of expectations about how I'd feel at the end - most of them were wrong. I thought I'd be ecstatic to finish an incredible goal, to be able to go home and see my friends and family, to have done something so amazing and to be able to walk away from it satisfied to go back to the old way of life. Honestly though, I'm incredibly sad. Living on the trail has become my life, and now its over. No more 3000' climbs to kill you on the way up, only to reward you with a view taking the breath you dont have to spare, no more sunsets to watch as you're in a hurry trying to push a long day into that next shelter, only to stop you dead in your tracks to sit an appreciate the real reason you're out here, no more 30 mile days into town just so you can eat the biggest double bacon cheeseburger you've ever laid eyes on, only to leave you feeling so sick that you have to take a zero the next day. No more sitting on the side of the road with your thumb out in the pouring rain and cold weather, wondering who in the world's going to pick up a soaking wet hiker with mildewing gear who's covered in mud, blood, and DEET and who looks and smells like he hasn't had a bath in a month or so. No more shelters to share with the most eclectic, craziest, freindliest, and genuinely good group of people who are all out here with you, wading through the mud, fording the rivers, tripping over the roots and rocks, battling the mosquitos and black flies, dealing with the same pain and homesickness that you are day in and day out, all without complaining. Looking at us from the outside, you'd think it was just a motly collection of lifelong friends who just happen to be trudging their way from Georgia to Maine. I'm finished making the memories from the best time of my life, now all thats left is to tell the stories, and wish I was back there: scrambling over an exposed bald in the middle of a thunderstorm, praying that I don't get struck by lightning, shivering in my soaked tent on the verge of hypothermia, only to have to get out of it in the rain to do jumping jacks and pack down a few snickers just to keep my core temperature up, or scraping that last spoonful of peanut butter out of the jar, realizing that its still a long way to town and I'm out of food. The pictures dont do it justice, the stories sure wont do it justice, and even my memory wont capture how vividly alive I was for 4 1/2 months in the woods between Georgia and Maine. Its sad to go on with my life knowing that I've experienced something so amazing and incredible, only to have even my own recollection fall short of captureing its true quality, but living, knowing and regretting that the fading memories paint only the barest picture of what really happened - thats a million times better than never having experienced what I did. There were days when I hated it, there were days when I wanted to quit, there's been hard times for sure, and not a single day went by when I didn't miss home, but while "some of its magic and some of its tragic, I've had a good life all the way." -Jimmy Buffett. Thank you so much to all the folks back home and around the world that have been with me all 5 million steps from Springer to Katahdin. I appreciate your thoughts and prayers more than I can ever convey to you. I'm done, now I guess I'll come on back home. I'm looking forward to seeing all of you soon. Thanks again to everyone, this will be my last dispatch. "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience." -Henry David Thoreau