Friends through-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Madelyn Given among them (in middle).

Baxter State Park: Appalachian Trail Part 1

The last time I hiked Katahdin was a few years ago, at the end of my trek on the Appalachian Trail, as a northbound-through hiker from Springer, Georgia. It was also my greatest feeling of success when I climbed to the peak of Katahdin that beautiful August morning.

The first time I went into Baxter State Park, many years ago, our family was day hiking on the Daicey Pond Trail with my college roommate and her group of hikers. Coming along the trail at a good clip was a young couple, thin as two rails, with layers of dirt on them, passing us like we were standing still. My roommate called to them, “Are you through hikers?” They turned around, smiled, and hollered back, “Yes,” and continued on down the trail.

That was the first time I had ever seen Appalachian Trail (AT) through-hikers. I was so thrilled with their accomplishments that the memory stayed with me another 35 or more years, until I had an awakening one night in November of 2008. That awakening was so unusual and real that the next morning, I knew I was going to do the AT.

I knew no one personally who had accomplished this feat, but from November to March of 2009, I prepared in earnest. On March 27th I set out and hiked every day from dawn to dusk from Springer, Georgia, through 14 states, heading straight to Maine, to finish at the top of Katahdin. By the time I reached Maine I had lost 50 pounds, had hiked through a two-day blizzard with snow sometimes up to my hips, rain for days on end, and had many adventures with wild animals, too.

I had three AT friends I had met in Virginia and Pennsylvania: Crank, Spammy, and Boss. The photo at the top of this blog post is of Crank, Spammy, me and two other thru-hikers at Bigalow Mountain lean-to in July; Boss is taking the photo. We had spent much time together and we were hoping to finish together at the top of Katahdin. They had bought plane tickets to fly home after completing Katahdin, but as they hiked closer to the AT finish, they realized they had miscalculated the time it would take to get there. They had to do one all-night hike to make their flight home. At this point I decided that was not for me, and we said our farewells after the Bigalow Range.

The last time I was in real civilization before entering Baxter State Park was in the tiny town of Monson, Maine. I stayed overnight at Shaw’s Boarding House, enjoyed a big meal, and bought supplies to last me for six days. Even though I was hiking alone, and I would be entering the 100 Mile Wilderness at dawn, I was confident I would complete the trail.

I hiked alone, rarely meeting up with anyone. I was ahead of most of the northbound hikers that season. I encountered rain, a muddy trail with roots to fall over, and a bunch of mountains to climb. I had to cross streams, several gorges, and a wide river. I crossed one rushing gorge by holding on to a cable over my head, but as I inched across, one foot got caught under a rock. My arms were tired from holding onto the cable, I had a heavy pack, and the water was frigidly cold, but I had to do something. I let go with one hand, took my trekking pole and wedged it under the rock, and pried the rock far enough to get my foot dislodged. I made it to shore and collapsed. I was trembling, but I couldn’t stop for long, as I had to move to warm up again.

I camped out by a lake one night, a swamp another night, and set up my tent in a lean-to, as I was the only person there. The last night I set my tent up in the middle of the trail, since there wasn’t a soul anywhere nearby, and there was no other dry place to set it. In the middle of the night, a moose walked by my tent. I was too tired to even move inside the tent. It stopped, sniffed, and lumbered off down the trail.

When I came out of the 100 Mile Forest I crossed the Abol Bridge. It had taken me only four days. I had hiked 2,153 miles and now I had less than 20 to go. There was a campground where I stayed the night before entering Baxter State Park. I was on cloud nine with happiness that it would soon be over, yet thrilled that I had experienced the adventure of a lifetime.

I had cleaned myself up at the campsite, got up before dawn as usual, and walked into the woods following the white 3”by 6” blazes. I was ready for an easy day through the Park to Katahdin Steam Campground. I had hiked less than a mile when I fell off a slippery log and landed in muck, becoming completely soaked from my neck down. I was so mad that I had finally gotten cleaned up that morning, only to spend another day totally covered in muck!

I met up with some day hikers near Daicey Pond, and they were awestruck to meet up with a through-hiker coming from Georgia. The older man in the group had fallen and was bleeding from his scalp. The family was more interested in me than taking care of the elderly grandfather with blood running down his face. I saw one person had a bandana around her neck. I suggested they tie that around his head, which they did. The idea had not seemed to occur to them. I took a minute to talk with them and wish them a pleasant walk, and then I checked in with the ranger at Katahdin Stream Campground.

(posted September 29, 2015)