Day #69-A time for town and a time for trail; Miles hiked: 5.1

The rain really did show up today and it poured for hours. I was thankful dry and enjoyed a slow morning at the Stratton Motel. We went to get breakfast, did laundry, and just hung around.

This afternoon, the rain slowed from a downpour to what I like to call the “hiker drizzle.” I decided that if it wasn’t going to pour, I best get on with hiking as my time to summit Katahdin fast approaches.

I did all of the “work” of the climb up to the Bigelows and camped just below the peak by a beautiful pond.Overall, an uneventful day on the AT besides the wonderful conversation I got to share with others waiting out the rain.

Day #68-Sirens of Stratton; Miles hiked: 4.2

When I was in 9th grade English at CAK, we studied Greek mythology and the story of the sirens that caused a ship wreck because of their voices calling sailors in from sea. The town of Stratton did that to me today. I started rolling early with plans to come in, charge my devices, eat a meal, resupply, and leave by noon.

I am writing to you tonight from the Stratton Motel. Oops.

My last big mountain of Maine before Katahdin (18 miles over treeline) was supposed to be tomorrow, but there is a 100% chance of rain and thunderstorms. With the gentle convincing of Trout, the owner of the local motel and a former thruhiker himself, I decided to wait the weather out in town where there are hiker-sized breakfasts. However, before I got to town, I passed a huge NOBO milestone-2000 miles! My own 1000 mile marker is just 1.25 days away.But back to Stratton…staying in town today has allowed several of my friends to catch up and new ones to roll in as well. We had a great time watching the muddy mess our clothes made in the washer and making a hiker playlist at the local grill.My Katahdin summit date is pretty well set at this point, which means I’ll have to make up the miles that I’m missing today and tomorrow soon. However, I know I’m strong and the terrain is a piece of cake after the Bigelows.

From my motel paradise that will serve as a storm shelter tomorrow, I bid thee goodnight.

Day #67-Marking off milestones; Miles hiked: 17.4

This morning I set off into the terrain where Inchworm lost her way with extra careful attention to the blazes and a solemn tone.

I was also the first one out of camp and therefore the “silk blazer,” or hiker charged with knocking down all the spider webs across the trail from the night before. It’s a wonderful feeling to have cotton candy in my glasses.Not too long into our hike, Earth Heart and Knots caught up and we completed the first stream ford of Maine together. Anywhere else there would be a bridge across this river, but the Maine way is to just hop and wade across.A few mountains later, we reached the place where the final connection was made to finish the AT in the late 1930s. It’s crazy to think how many lives this path has changed over the years, my own included. I believe the Lord has created his people to go on pilgrimage with him (Israelites in the desert, Jesus in the wilderness, John the Baptist, the list goes on…). I have no doubt the AT is one of those pilgrimages and am so thankful to be able to share that with others.And no day on the AT in Maine is complete without climbing 2500 ft in 2 miles just to go over some mountains. Gotta love it!More adventuring tomorrow while I set up my tarp in a relatively root-free ditch by a spring on trail. Earth Heart and Knots have continued on, but I have decided to call it a day and hang out with some SOBOs and their pit bull, Bruce.

Day #66-Saddle up to Saddleback; Miles hiked: 20.1

Today contained an ambitious mileage goal for Southern Maine terrain, but I really wanted to try and catch some of my lady friends so off I went into the sunrise.

I spent my morning walking with a new friend, Tracks. I enjoyed learning about his story and how his two thru hikes (PCT and now AT) have shaped his life perspective. Here’s the back of his head while we gaze at the mountain we had to climb that afternoon: Saddleback.About 6 miles and several hours, here’s the reward for all of our efforts:Let me tell you about this next picture…I broke my trekking poles (thankfully not my leg) a few days back and had new ones overnighted to a hostel right off the trail. I picked them up and since it was Sunday, needed to carry my old ones (that I refuse to part with) dozens of miles to the next town. This awesome family on top of Saddleback saw my plight and offered to mail them home for me! What amazing trail magic! I must say, the culture of the AT is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced. I’ve almost grown to expect perfectly timed kindness like this and can’t wait to apply that to my life at home in new ways. It’s almost like a taste of heaven!My walk across the Saddleback ridge continued into the sunset where I got some great views of the Bigelows and other peaks to come.I stopped at the Poplar Ridge shelter, the last place that Inchworm (a woman from Brentwood, TN who lost her way on the AT and passed away before she ever made it back in 2013) was seen. There was a memorial in the shelter dedicated to her; I spent some time praying for her family and friends that she left behind.

On a more positive note, I did manage to catch up with four awesome women that I look forward to hiking with in the coming days: Earth Heart and Knots, two ladies around my age, and River and Puddles, two ladies my mom’s age. There have not been nearly as many women on the trail as I had hoped or expected (at least around me), so some girl time was a welcome treat!

Day #65-Goodbye town, hello High Peak region; Miles hiked: 17.0

I’ve made it through the boulder scrambles of Southern Maine, now it’s time for the state’s highest peaks (besides Katahdin, of course). And guess what? It’s raining!

The warmup mountain of Maine’s big boys was Old Blue, a lovely climb when I’m toting up 12 pounds (yes, my appetite has increased to something ridiculous) of food. Check out the view of fog:About 5 soggy miles later, I encountered a rarity in Maine-trail magic! While rapidly consuming a soda, I got to interact with a really cool SOBO from Canada. It was a good time to help him reflect on the challenges he’s encountered so far on the trail and look forward to the miles to come.It was time for me to move ahead of the hikers I’ve been with for the past few weeks and meet some new faces, and I got to sit and look at this beautiful lake on my temporarily solo journey. What a neat place to reflect for me too:

Day #64-Home is where the dome is; Miles hiked: 0.0

Man, what a restful day. The Human Nature Hostel in Andover, ME was simply too nice to leave behind. I’ve had a great day of sleeping in, sewing up holes in my gear and trying to glue the soles of my shoes back together, and eating nonstop.

I made some mail drops for the more remote areas of Maine with some other hikers…here’s our food explosion. The rest of the day has been rather uneventful besides watching Into the Wild and chowing down on chips. But check out how cool this place is!It’s a geodesic dome hand-built by a former thruhiker with amazing views. Perhaps the most blissful moment I’ve had on trail was using the roofless outdoor shower under the stars last night. Before we sinned and needed to wear clothes, I imagine that’s what life was like!

Even with a 90% chance of rain tomorrow, it’s back to the trail and onto Stratton!

Day #63-Escape from the woods; Miles hiked: 4.1

The alarm went off at a record 4:30 am today. Why? Because we want to get out of the woods! There is a new hostel that runs a shuttle 45 minutes from the trail to Walmart and that sounded like too good of an opportunity to pass up. Since the terrain can unexpectedly drop our pace to 1 mile/hour, we started early. Check out the view from Moody Mtn (a pain in the butt to climb) just after sunrise:We did make it in plenty of time to the road and enjoyed some pancakes that a local dropped off while we waited for the shuttle.Up next was a shuttle through the middle of nowhere to Mexico, ME. There is no Mexican restaurant, but there is the last Walmart on the AT. For NOBOs, this is the last chance to be hiker trash outside while we repackage food and eat deli items on the sidewalk. Always great fun! While there was no Mexican in Mexico, the one and only restaurant in Andover hosted an all you can eat Mexican buffet tonight! I was too busy stuffing my face to take pictures, but here’s the crew hanging out on the porch afterwards. After that much food consumption, I have declared tomorrow a much-needed zero day. Southern Maine has been treacherous in the rain and my body needs time to put itself back together after all of my falls (yes, there have been more).

Day #62-Bald Pate, lightning, and friends from home; Miles hiked: 16.3

After fueling up on leftover pizza and soda for breakfast, it was time to journey up one of my favorite mountains in Maine: Bald Pate.

At least for a moment, the sun came out for our climb!Sitting on top of Bald Pate really shows how wild Maine is–there is nothing except wilderness as far as the eye can see.

My friends pushed on and I decided to eat my lunch until I saw a thunder cell quickly building in the distance. I’m not a fan of lightning, so I got moving. Sure enough, the rumbling started just a few minutes later soon followed by the downpour and light show. I was close enough to a shelter to make a mad dash and only caught a few raindrops before I got to safety. Other hikers at the shelter had the same idea.Because we all got crammed into the shelter, I got to walk out with a man named Moses. Turns out he’s from just outside Knoxville. We spent 5 miles reflecting on what he has received on his journey and what he still needs from his time on the trail. Please pray for closure for Moses on a difficult personal situation and direction on what’s next after the trail.

I also met and walked with a guy named Spenders today who is full of life and wisdom. I hope I get to spend more time alongside him in the coming miles.

On a lighter note, I’m still waiting to see a moose. There were signs of one around the shelter we stayed at tonight and a dog started barking at something that must have been the moose. However, I didn’t catch a glimpse. Better luck next time!

Day #61-One two-sided day; Miles hiked: 9.7

Today had a very rough start with an incredibly happy ending! The rain continued through the night and into the morning. But today, we had to move on and venture through Mahoosuc Notch–the hardest or “most fun” mile of the AT. This mile-long boulder scramble would indeed be fun if it wasn’t soaking wet and raining. However, the show must go on!Since I’ve done it before, I was able to keep spirits high and offer some alternative routes as we played “hiker playground” for almost two hours.The rain continued and the temps dropped as we climbed up the incredibly steep Mahoosuc Arm after the Notch…1500 ft in 1 mile.

At lunchtime, 8 other hikers rolled into a shelter and we collectively decided we needed something positive to happen. A few days ago, Ms. Janet (one of the AT’s most famous trail angels) told me to text her at the shelter with an eta into the next road. I did just that, and the day turned around!

On the walk down to the Grafton Notch, the sun started coming out and we had a hiker trash “yard sale” in the parking lot to try and dry out our things.Ms. Janet rolled in with her van and whisked us away to “Grafton Notch Popup Hostel,” a local vacation home of a former thru hiker. Showers and laundry were a great surprise!Dinner was at the local brew pub where we enjoyed hearing the locals jam to karaoke. My Father sure does know how to lift his kids’ spirits and I’m so thankful I get to share that with the hikers around me.

Day #60-The Maine event; Miles hiked: 14.5

Southern Maine is kicking our butts, but we have arrived! The fog is still resting in the Mahoosuc Mountains…especially around water like this pond.However, after a really steep climb up to Mt. Success (the last mountain of New Hampshire), the fog broke and gave me and my new friend Grey Squirrel a nice view.Poor Grey Squirrel fell in the shower a few days ago and is having a hard time-please pray for his speedy recovery! It’s town that’s dangerous for us wilderness dwellers…

And finally, the Maine event-we crossed the border!!!I sat for a few hours by this sign to congratulate NOBOs crossing into their last state and offer a space to talk about what the trail has given them and what they still need from their journey. Only 270ish miles to the finish line. More Maine adventures tomorrow!