Looking back a year and a half later it often seems unreal, like a different life. In my day to day happening I sometimes find myself wondering if it was real at all. At the same time that journey changed my life and even a year and a half later I still have vivid memories of those last two days.
On September 16th I plunged ahead with a ridiculous energy. I got an early start even by my standards and I flew through the miles. The day was gorgeous and seemed to encourage me on and on. I remember coming out of the 100 mile wilderness to the camp store around 10 o’clock. To early for the restaurant to even be open. I sat out in the hot sun seeking the little shade from the overhang munching on my lunch supplemented with a cold drink and a cookie.
I remember that crystal clear view of Katahdin from the Abol Bridge, seeing it looming large against the sky, inviting me to climb it. I remember entering Baxter State park and the trails leveling out and soft with a layer of pine needles. Those last 21 miles glided by as if I was in a trance. I reached the parking lot and ranger station at the foot of Katahdin at just 2:30. I remember milling around the parking lot congratulating hikers coming down off the mountain, done with their own adventures. I kept an eye out for a hitch into town but it didn’t end up working out so I just loafed around until four, anxious to get into Millinocket. At four o’clock a shuttle came to take hikers into Millinocket and I jumped on.
I remember about 20 minutes into that bumpy van ride, getting back into cell service and being able to text my beloved that I was on my way. She was waiting for me in town. I remember so vividly seeing her out the window of the van as we pulled into town and I can still recall the smell of her hair that day as I embraced her at last after five long months.
We got a dinky little tourist cottage for the night and then went out for our first date since April. We had dinner together in the little down town strip, delighted in each others presence. It was the reunion I had dreamt of and more.
We woke bright and early the next morning and went into town for the early breakfast at the AT Cafe, where I signed my name on their ceiling tile. Fueled up and ready to go we drove into Baxter and began hiking up Katahdin. My pack empty of all but lunch and water and my beloved by my side, I rejoiced in the world I was in. Katahdin however, was not just going to lay down and be a stroll in the park. My beloved tackled the mountain, her first, with such determination. She pushed herself all the way up in spite of some of the most treacherous climbing of the trail. At the top I celebrated. I was done. Over 2,200 total miles when the approach was added in. 5 months and 2 days. We took our pictures of triumph at the peak and I was giddy with moment.
My love also surprised me at that moment, by revealing her gift to me for the next few days. She had reserved us an off grid cabin on a lake, where we could just sleep and canoe and eat for two days before going on to see our friend Kate.
The way back down was a test of my beloved’s steel, but even when her muscles faltered and exhaustion began to set in, she refused to let it overcome her and fought on all the way down. We got back to parking lot around 5 pm. The AT was over, but our adventures were still only just beginning.
Since completing the trail my beloved Alexandra and I have married. Among those who celebrated our wedding with us were Recalc and Tiger Mike. Recalc returned to the trail the summer of 2016 and summitted Katahdin himself on August 18th, 2016. I still keep in touch with Recalc. Tragically, Tiger Mike passed away this passed December after complications from heart surgery. I still cannot truly comprehend his absence and he is sorely missed. I am thankful that he achieved his dream of completing the Appalachian Trail and the I had the privilege of sharing that dream with him in part. I hear occasionally from Soda about various hikes or trips across the US that he has planned.
My wife and I have begun our next adventure and moved to Kazakhstan in August this year. If you are interested in following our upcoming adventures together you can find them at asacredwander.wordpress.com.