Abol Bridge to Katahdin Stream Campground
Big Tent Camp to Overwhelming Stress Camp
AT miles: 10
Total miles: 2194
Elevation change: 1024ft gain, 554ft loss
With just 15 miles and one mountain left to climb, how can I feel so scattered and spread so thin? Why does this end to the AT feel like anything but a triumph? I’m falling apart when I should feel stronger than ever. It’s a mixture of a few things I think: lack of sleep, losing my routine, and stress about the next leg of the ECT. The thing is, I don’t have just 15 miles and Katahdin to climb. There are 726 miles coming after that, and a complicated dance of logistics happening over the next day and a half that could fall apart in so many ways. The stress that accompanies the excitement of finishing the AT and the beginning of the next leg of the ECT will all be worth it once the dust settles, I know it, but swirling in the middle is destabilizing and unnerving. I just want to hike. It’s what I’m good at. Fortunately, after all the waking that I’ve done in my life, I’ve learned that I can do just about anything I set out to do if I take it one step at a time. Having the support of Spice and my brother is a great comfort as well, even though it is a challenge to keep up my energy for them in addition to my crumbling psyche. One day, perhaps even tomorrow, I will laugh at the absurdity of my stress, but today I am in it, and am just hanging on, living the dream.
Of course, one of the worst thing for stress for me is being idle when it feels as if there are a million things to do. And with just 10 miles to hike, a lot of today was packed full of achingly relaxing leisure time. With no rush at all, and after a late night, Spice and I snoozed until 8am. The sun was shining brightly through patches of scooting clouds, and Tango, as little as he is, spread limbs outstretched in the middle of the tent, squishing Spice and me to the outer perimeters. We all dozed as long as we could, but eventually needed to move our legs and meet the day.
Katahdin was shrouded in cloud when we walked across Abol Bridge to check out the view, but after seeing it yesterday, I could still feel its presence. It was up there in the mist, and I lifted my chin, looking up, imagining that it was twice as tall as it actually was. Maybe I would catch a glimpse of the imaginary summit if I concentrated hard enough. Alas, nothing.
Back at the van, we stirred Arthur from his Mountain Standard Time slumber. We were hungry, after all, and started with tea and crescent rolls. Then Spice did her thing with a tofu scramble that filled us all for the arduous day ahead. We digested and recapped our nights, then it was business time, packing up the van and spraying our Canada gear and clothes with a fresh dose of permethrin to keep the worst of the bugs away. Would it work? Who knew, but we had to try.
At around 2pm, after another round of snacks and a sprinkle of rain, Arthur and I hefted our light loads, leaving Spice to take Tango to his doggy slumber party in Millinocket (no dogs allowed in Baxter State Park). We had 10 miles of easy hiking to camp at Katahdin Stream Campground, and she had a couple hours of driving to meet us there. The trail was smooth and flat, passing by an elaborate collection of informational kiosks and registration slips, then we were in the park. The sweet walking continued for many miles as we paralleled the mighty Penobscott River through lush forest, not unlike anything in the 100 Mile Wilderness. It was the same land here, even if we humans placed borders around it.
I felt good to be moving north again after the long layover. Restful as it had been, part of me, or a lot of me, just wanted to keep moving and get on with it. And now I was. A light rain dampened the leaf canopy above us, then dripped onto our shoulders as we hiked. In the warmth, neither of us grabbed for our rain jackets, but it was easy to catch a chill when we stopped to look at the river or let the few other hikers pass. We made great time, eventually turning to follow Neowadnehunk Stream uphill towards the mountain. We discussed at great length the forces behind flowing rivers, and our future hiking plans, and Arthur joked that all it ever did was rain in Maine as the drops thickened and pelted.
Big Niagra Falls was a powerful sight to behold, and even Little Niagra was worth a visit long enough to munch on a granola bar. The tanic water rushed and misted, adding to the rain, dampening the air itself. By the time we reached Daicey Pond, the uphill was done for the day, and we cruised around the quiet shores, watching the mist swirl and hearing distant campers enjoy their day. Grassy Pond was next, but it was the moss that stole the show. It was as deep as I had seen so far, yet I would not have thought twice about it if not for Arthur experiencing this type of forest for the first time. The mosaic of moss and lichen was special and something to notice. I was glad for the reminder.
We strolled into camp a little before 6pm and found our lean-to amongst the others. The campground was surprisingly unpopulated for such a popular spot, but I didn’t mind except for the notable absence of Blackbird. I’d expected that Spice would beat us there, but the big black van was nowhere to be seen. Arthur and I dropped our stuff under cover, and finally pulled on rain jackets over our soaked shirts. Then I went a-wandering, to see what I would see, to find what I would find.
I didn’t find Spice, but she pulled in as I was heading back to base. It was good to see her even though it really hadn’t been long apart at all, but my feelings were validated by a tight embrace and her story about how she was almost not allowed to enter the park. That would have suuuuucked. I started a campfire to keep the bugs down, but we all stuck in the van, pitching in to create a broccoli mac n cheese casserole that warmed all three bellies with salty gooiness.
Despite all the warm food and warm company, unease grew large in my gut and shadowed my mind. I was behind on writing and phone chores after all this socializing, and I didn’t have the mental energy to minimize that stress to an appropriate magnitude. That pit in my stomach was the most obvious, but it mixed with the subtler emotions and end-of-trail stress to create a wicked brew that had me crawling in my skin. I just wanted to be done with the AT, and a week in the future. Everything would be settled and fine in a week, but for tonight, tired and left with my thoughts, I wanted to be anywhere else. Katahdin didn’t matter anymore. I would have teleported to a beach somewhere in an instant. Call my hike a LASH, or whatever.
By the time we finished cleaning up and prepping for tomorrow, I was dead tired and oh so ready for sleep. Spice and I said goodnight to Arthur, and bundled into our tent, pitched in the lean-to for mosquito protection. As frantic as my mind whirled, sleep came easily. I was more exhausted than I knew, which was no surprise. My carefully crafted routine and entire life for the past three months was turning to dust around me. Knocking down those comforting walls of the expected and known was hard work. I hoped that I could build new, better ones with Spice’s help on the ECT.