I was absolutely thrilled to be out of the White Mountains. Giddy, even. I had conquered what was rumored to be one of the most rigorous stretches of trail. Unfortunately, not all of my new hiker friends made it through. The last time I saw a handful of them was during the first few miles into the towering mountain range. The White Mountains tend to claim the end of a thru-hike for many. I never understood how someone could quit 1800 miles in. That’s over 80% complete. The idea completely puzzled me until I actually stood in the middle of it and literally experienced the blood, sweat and tears myself. But, somehow I held myself together and managed to pull through–the Maine state line was less than 20 miles away!I made it through the White’s with no serious injuries, but I could feel my plantar fasciitis begin to flare again. It was time for new shoes. I couldn’t continue to ignore my need for foot care. Negligence had almost cost me my trip once. I decided to take a zero day at the White Mountain Lodge and Hostel, so I could rest and hopefully get new shoes. Sadly though, the further north I travelled, shoe selections became slim pickings. The small outdoors store in Gorham only carried Merrels and none of them fit my swollen ogre feet. So, what do you do when the next nearest outdoors store (well, sort of) is 30 miles away and you have no way to drive there? You hitch hike.
I suppose I walked about 3 miles or so until I finally got my first ride. He was a 50-something year old well-traveled business man. His expensive car smelled of fancy cologne. Luckily, he was passing through the area on a business trip and had hiked part of the AT himself. He told me he was going about 15 miles in my direction and could take me as far as that cross roads before he would have to turn off. I happily accepted and jumped in. We talked about traveling, politics and finding a purpose in life. It was an interesting 15 miles! Unfortunately, I can’t remember his name, but I’ll never forget the hospitality.I attempted to thumb a ride at the cross roads for a bit before giving up and walking on. There wasn’t much traffic in this middle of nowhere location on a weekday. I started to wonder if I would walk all day and be forced to find a place to stay in town that night. After a few miles, I finally caught a break! A nice younger german couple pulled over and invited me to hop in. The man spoke no english, but the woman’s was fluent enough for us to communicate. She made it clear that if I had been a man they would’ve never tapped the brakes. They were heading to catch a flight to the next destination of their extended vacation and just happened to be passing through in a rental car. It’s all about timing, I suppose! The woman was horrified that I was hiking alone, and even more anxious about me hitch hiking solo. But, I assured her everyone had been kind so far. Luckily, they were turning off in Lancaster, which is exactly where I needed to go. Thrilled to finally arrive at the shoe store I thanked them, bid them farewell and ran inside. There was ONE pair of salomon shoes left in the store to fit me. One. I even received a thru-hiker discount!
Because it took hours to get to Lancaster, NH from Gorham, NH, I probably should’ve begun hitch hiking back immediately. But, I decided to test my luck and eat a celebratory lunch at the Irish pub instead. I had eaten there while passing through a week before. When I went in and sat down, I recognized the regular at the bar who I had spoken with just a week ago. We caught up over lunch and when I finished my meal, he offered me a ride back to the hostel. Score! Things just have a way of working out. Upon returning to the White Mountain Lodge and Hostel I gathered my things, said my goodbyes and hiked out. Since it was late in the afternoon, I only got a few miles of hiking in before night fell. I decided to stealth camp at the nearest flat spot and call it a night. I felt kind of lonely as I set up camp. I began reminiscing of the days when I would camp with “The Fam” and how we almost always enjoyed sitting around a fire together. I missed laughing with them. But, lonesome times like these are good for me, I told myself. They force me to delve into my mind and feelings, sorting things out that I never allow myself to contemplate. Everyday life allows us the distractions of co-workers, phone calls, radio, TV and social media. We often ignore ourselves, our thoughts and feelings–and understandbly so. It’s not easy being alone in your own mind when you don’t want to think about certain things. Like guilt. While alone, I would often beat myself up about Sugar. Or I would think about how I had in someway neglected my family. I would wonder if I had accomplished what I should have by 29 years of age. I might ponder at the fact that most of my high school classmates are married with children and wonder–is there something wrong with me because I’m not? The ‘what-if’s’ and ‘if-only’s’ can drive a person crazy. Somehow, though, I think it’s important to work through those thoughts instead of allowing yourself to bottle them up and mask them with everyday distractions of life. It’s like detox for your mind. It’s not pleasant and almost painful. But, it’s worth it.
The next morning, I woke up and realized the day that I would cross into the 14th (and final) state of my trek had finally come. Today I would officially have hiked from Georgia to Maine. I still had over 250 miles before reaching Katahdin, but it didn’t not lessen the emotion I had for reaching Maine. In fact, I was so excited to reach Maine, I almost didn’t notice when I reached mile 1900! Almost. Rebel Yell told me that he would wait for me before the state line because we had crossed into so many states together, why not the last one? I hiked quickly most of the day to try and catch up. I had intended to just eat snacks and not stop for lunch, but as I hiked near a beautiful lake, I decided not to miss out on the wonderful view.
As I was filtering some water and enjoying my lunch, I noticed a small sign near the water. I climbed down to it and felt a wave of emotion wash over me as the words processed in my mind: I turned and once again and admired the beautiful view thinking of how this woman once stood here doing the same. She had decided this was the place in which she wanted to be a part of forever and her loving husband had made sure her final wishes were respected. I wondered about what kind of life they had…what their story was. As I faced back toward the sign, I noticed dog tags hanging down. I reached out, gently grasping them in my hands, as I read the name punched into them: Peter S. Lowell.
I could only assume that Mr. and Mrs. Lowell were finally eternally reunited there at that beautiful spot on Dream Lake. Life is beautiful, but passes with haste. What a special reminder to enjoy each day! After admiring the serene resting place once more, I packed up my things and hiked on.
I found Rebel Yell and mile or two before the state line. Daylight was running low so we picked up the pace, placing bets along the way as to which side of the trail the sign would be on. He guessed right, I said left. As we caught up on happenings from the day or two before, we finally saw it in the distance. On the left, I might add. We had finally reached MAINE!
I stood there staring at the sign, I thinking back to my first day on the trail. How unseasoned and nervous I was. I remember actually asking someone how to use my trekking poles properly. Now here I stood at the beginning of the end very confident in my ability to thrive on the trail. I was finally, really in Maine. If some horrible accident or injury was to occur, at least I had hiked from Georgia to Maine.
Well, I can’t wait to tell you all about the rest of my trip. After all there is almost another month and 300 miles of the hike to share!
But before I go, here are a few additional pictures from this stretch of trail: