Reaching the Northern Terminus--September 14
September 14, 2017
Our Appalachian Trail journey has revealed to us some of America’s regional differences and diversity. At the beginning of the trek, conversations with those we met were carried on in slow Southern drawls. Conversations in the Middle Atlantic states seemed a bit harried and brisk, while the people we interacted with in New England had a tendency to punctuate their speech with interjections of "ayuuh" and add an "r" to words that end in an "a" (such as sayingWest Virginar).
Yet we found that these differences are greatly overshadowed by the experiences and heritages we all share in common, and this was most evident in the small town of Monson, Maine. Laurie and I went to hear some local musicians who gather for a jam session every Friday evening in Tim’s Monson General Store. Fiddle tunes familiar to all of us from the Southern Appalachian Mountains, such as Redwing and Golden Slippers, bounced off the aisles of groceries, sodas, and hardware supplies. New England accents disappeared so completely when singers belted out Honky Tonk Angels and I Fall to Pieces and songs by Woody Guthrie and Jimmie Rodgers that I could have easily believed I was back in West Virginia or Virginia.
Monson is the final resupply point for northbound Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. Beyond the town is the "100-Mile Wilderness," with no nearby towns or paved roads. Wilderness is somewhat of a misnomer, though. Logging roads cut through the wilderness about once every 15 miles, providing automobile access to places that would normally be unreachable to those unwilling to carry heavy backpacks. On Sunday of Labor Day weekend, Laurie and I sat in amazement as we watched more than 40 people ford the West Branch of the Pleasant River in just a ten minute period. Of course, there is a good reason why such a multitude was in the woods. Just north of the river are The Hermitage, a stand of old growth white pine trees, and Gulf Hagas, a narrow slate wall canyon where dozens of spectacular waterfalls crash through the 500-foot deep chasm.
Laurie crawled out of the tent early one morning to answer the call of nature and came running back to tell me a moose was in the woods a few feet away. Looking into the forest, I couldn’t see a thing, just a bunch of brown tree branches. And then one of those branches moved! The bull moose had brown and tan antlers that stretched for two to three feet on each side of his head, and when he stood next to the campsite’s privy, his rump was as high off the ground as the outhouse’s roof. I’m still mystified as to how something this big with such humongous racks on their heads can walk through a woods crowded with low-growing branches and thick undergrowth.
Pemadumcook Lake gives us our first good view of Katahdin, the peak that marks the end of the journey for northbound Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. (Some people say it should be written as Mount Katahdin, but since Katahdin is Abenaki Indian for The Greatest Mountain, that would be like saying Mount The Greatest Mountain.) The summit is contained within Baxter State Park, a 204,733-acre wilderness preserve that was donated to the people of Maine by Percival Proctor Baxter, who served as the state’s governor from 1921 to 1924.
We begin our ascent of Katahdin at five o’clock in the morning, quickly rising above tree line and onto the mountain’s rugged slope, where we negotiate a route that is so precipitous and rocky that Henry David Thoreau turned back before reaching the summit. For us, however, Thoreau Spring marks our final watering spot. This is it. The final mile of the Appalachian Trail. The last mile. We can hardly contain ourselves and begin to run and yell and burst into screams as we reach Baxter Peak, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Kissing the sign, we celebrate with 14 others who have just hiked and completed the full length of the Appalachian Trail.
However, those of you who have followed my reports from the beginning know that Laurie and I are on a different kind of Appalachian Trail journey. Most hikers average more than 15 miles a day and finish the trail in five to six months. We, however, have wanted to take our time and have averaged less than 10 miles a day and, as we knew from the outset, this slower pace necessitated us jumping from northern Virginia to New York so that we could reach the trail’s northern terminus before the weather became too cold in Maine. We’re now ready to return to New York to hike southward and complete our hike of the pathway’s full 2,174 miles sometime near the end of November. MacAfee of Knob, the Amazing Appalachian Bouncing Dog, will rejoin us once we get south of the rocky trails of eastern Pennsylvania.
Labor Day has come and gone, America’s vacation time is over, and most Appalachian Trail thru-hikers have come to the end of their journey. Yet, we continue to hike on.