Katahdin: The End of a Walk
My hiking and summit partner, Pied Piper repeated that word over and over. We were standing at the top of Baxter Peak on Mount Katahdin — the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail — and facing a thick, sturdy sign that had been in our dreams for years.
But it was believable. I was there, on top of the mountain I’d been walking towards for five months. It was 10am on September 10th. I had started my hike at 7am, signing the trail register with my trail name, the number of persons in my party and what trail I planned to descend once at the top. I had reached the end of the trail
For the first few moments at the sign, I was alone. I had not expected this. The summit is a popular destination and most hikers have a crowd waiting at the top. The day was clear, sunny, windy and cold, but otherwise perfect. I could see for miles.
Soon Pied Piper and Rooster joined me at the sign. Rooster let out a yell. Pied Piper began to cry and exclaim, ‘unbelieveable’. Begira trotted up and offered to take everyone’s summit photo. These were all hikers I’d met for the first time within the last 48 hours. Not the crew I expected to summit with, but that doesn’t seem to matter much at all. We were fast friends once we realized we would reach the summit together. All thru hikers at camp the night before were connected in a visceral way. This was it. The end.
I didn’t collapse with emotion as I expected. I did cry, but it was before I reached the peak.
Katahdin is what is known as a massif mountain: multiple peaks along a ridge line, rather than a singular defined peak. So, hiking toward the summit I had my eye on one peak, but Baxter Peak was in reality closer. I climbed up over a protrusion of the mountain just below the summit and looked up to see the silhouette of the sign. I wasn’t ready for the vision. I slowed my walking as my breath sped up and I began to cry.
At the top a cycle of emotions coursed through my mind and heart: elation, disbelief, melancholy, sadness, relief.
I turned around and looked south. 2,191 miles away sat Springer Mountain, where I began walking on April 1st. My summit day marked my 150th day on trail. I am a thruhiker.
I am incredibly grateful for the support I received for this trip. Every email, dollar, care package and newsletter sign up was a reminder of my desire and intention for a thruhike.
I needed help to embark on this journey and asking for that support was one of the most difficult things I’ve yet to do in my life. But by asking, and pushing through discomfort, I found confidence, freedom and a greater capacity within myself. We can unlock these aspects on our own, but this journey has shown me that when we humble ourselves to reach out and connect, there are realms created that transcend our solitary existence.
You have been an important part of this walk. Knowing that I had people cheering me on and reading my words was a comfort and an inspiration. The accountability of a supportive community kept me motivated for Katahdin. The thoughtful emails and responses to my posts kept me writing.
There’s something to be said for words not being enough to describe the experience.
But of course I will try my hardest to try to find those words.
I have many more to share. There are stories I haven’t listened to, and posts I’ve outlined in my mind but not on paper. My own personal reflection will undoubtedly foster personal essays. I am excited to continue exploring the recordings I gathered on the trail. The Ones Who Walk will continue at least throughout the end of the year, perhaps longer.
For now I wanted to share the summit with you and express my gratitude. I’m headed south on a train, outrunning the imminent bad weather on the east coast. I’ll keep you all updated on my return home and what’s next for me.
I’ll leave you with some words a trail angel gave me in the 100 mile wildnerness:
Walk safe, walk smart, walk in peace.