The climb up Mt Katahdin was not easy. I won't say it was the hardest climb on the trail, but it was definitely top tier. It was more scramble than hike, with several quite sketchy areas. I think I would have enjoyed it more if my full pack didn't keep threatening to knock me off the boulders/cliffs. As it was, it was just one last hurdle.
The climb was only 5 miles, but it took me several hours to ascend. I'd gotten a "late" start that morning (0600), so the other thru-hikers (Flossie, Grey Squirrel, Peppa, Hyperbole, Sassafras, Chef, Alpine Pirate, and Johnny Utah) were already up there. A few meters from the top I asked if anybody knew where the Appalachian Trail went. As I walked the last few feet, they broke into cheers and applause. Not gonna lie, that was a good moment.
But not as good for me as for other people. Some people were describing the mountain as sacred. Several people were crying. I was trying to figure out the best route down. I mean, I was happy, but I didn't quite have that immense overwhelming satisfaction most of the others seemed to have. It took me a lot of introspection to decide why. And then a while to decide to mention it, and how to do so. Which is why this post is so long in coming.
I think that for many people, maybe most, hiking the Appalachian Trail is the most challenging thing, mentally and physically, that they will ever undertake. To complete it can be validation, passing the test that they've put before them. The Appalachian Trail is an incredible test of oneself, but it is not the most mentally, physically, and spiritually challenging thing I've ever done. Not even close.
That honor belongs to the Korengal Valley. Battle Company understands. No single day of the trail was as physically demanding as some of those patrols, when I would carry as much as four times as much weight as I did on the trail. Roughing it? I had more amenities during the last several months than I did during that deployment. We had no electricity there, but on the trail I could charge my phone every few days. Heck, I had a phone. In the Korengal I had to volunteer for an extra foot patrol to get to a phone. No one I knew on the trail was killed or wounded. And the AT was only 5 1/2 months long, not 15.
I don't mean to imply that the trail was easy. It wasn't. But I had accomplished my goals for myself within a couple of months, and I kept hiking because that's what you do. Finish what you start. Quitting was never something that seriously crossed my mind. Several times I wished I'd never started, and there were times when I sort of fantasized about getting an injury that wasn't quite serious, but debilitating enough to get me off the trail. But even when I was hating life, I knew I was still going on.
So I guess that's why, when I summited, I was happy, but not ecstatic. But I did have a good time on the mountain. One gentleman, a former section-hiker, gave me a necklace. He claimed it was "magic." I asked what kind of magic, and he replied "You'll have to find out." So I asked if it was good magic or bad magic, and he replied the same way. That's a little worrisome. So now I own an unknown magic necklace. This didn't work out so well for Frodo.
I hiked down a different trail, still challenging, but nowhere near as nerve-wracking as going down the way I came up. Of course, I sprained my ankle. Not bad, but painful and annoying. Considered taking pain medicine, but hadn't so far on the trail so figured I could sick it up. At the parking lot, met a nice couple from Ohio who gave me a ride all the way to Bangor, where my flight was taking off the next day.
And for those curious, in the last register, I wrote ...Dary! Thus completing what I believe is the longest "Legen...wait for it...dary!" ever. Beat that Neil Patrick Harris.
I was sad I didn't get to see a lot of the hikers I'd grown to know and love, but I have most of their contact info and I've already been in touch with quite a few. But I'm happy to be home. I'll probably do a gear review and general advice/what worked for me in a few days, but reintegrating into real life is rather hectic. And it's frustrating that I have to find a bathroom when I need to pee.