I stopped keeping a journal on my last segments of the Appalachian Trail. What follows was written from memory in 2018, sixteen years later.
October 5, 2002
White House Landing to Nesuntabunt Mountain
Today’s Miles: 9.7
Trip Miles: 483.5
This was a sunny, beautiful day of satiation, spent lounging in the green grass beside the lake at White House Landing. Blue skies and white puffy clouds punctuated the scene.
Everything was perfect. The owner’s young son was starved of playmates, and carefree thru-hikers were more than happy to oblige. The family dog wanted nothing more in life than to run and retrieve sticks thrown by our hands. SoFar went for a swim. Other hikers arrived and played a game of horseshoes. Everyone was joyful and content.
Occasionally the air horn would blow and the boat would take off across the lake to retrieve more hikers. Yahtzee, Sandfly, Kubiak, Skeeter, and Jeannie arrived as we were ferried back to the trail.
It was a leisurely afternoon’s hike, and soon we were at the peak of Nesuntabunt Mountain. The overlook on the summit featured another commanding view of Katahdin, with a lake in the foreground and bands of red and yellow foliage stretching all the way to the mountain’s base.
I was first to arrive at Nesuntabut, where I immediately sat at the overlook to take in the view. SoFar wasn’t long behind, and I heard him snap a photo of me before he approached.
These were such great days.
October 6, 2002
Nesuntabunt Mountain to Hurd Brook Lean-to
Today’s Miles: 17.7
Trip Miles: 501.2
The morning views on Nesuntabunt were even better than last night.
Hollywood and SoFar and I were still in camp when Yahtzee, Sandfly, and Kubiak caught up with us. They were followed shortly by Skeeter, Jeannie, Stock, and Kelly. Formerly we were a loose affiliation of hikers, but today we became a team. I suspect that it was never even officially agreed upon, but from here forward we would stick together to the end.
Again I’d like to remind you that out of this group of ten, six of us were from Pennsylvania, and five of us started our hikes last year, in 2001. Trail magic.
We cruised through the day and accumulated almost eighteen miles as though walking on air. Hiking late into the evening, I remember how Kubiak talked all about his experience of thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
We came upon a sign that listed landmarks up and down the trail, complete with their associated mileages. I’d seen maybe hundreds of signs like this throughout the journey, but this one made my jaw drop. It read:
KATAHDIN: 20.5 M
Not two thousand, not one thousand, not even two hundred… but twenty. Just twenty miles.
October 7, 2002
Hurd Brook Lean-to to Katahdin Streams Campground
Today’s Miles: 13.4
Trip Miles: 514.6
There wouldn’t be many miles to hike today, so most of us slept late on this second-last morning on the Appalachian Trail.
It was a short walk from the shelter to the end of the hundred-mile wilderness. A paved road signified the boundary where we’d formally enter Baxter State Park, home of Katahdin. This place at the north end of the wilderness is called Abol Bridge.
We gorged on snacks and discovered that Abol Bridge sells beer. Everybody was there, and we spent the entire afternoon outside the store. We took turns buying 12-packs of beer. You’d think it would be impossible to get any more happy, being so close to our goal, but beer is beer and it worked wonders. This was perhaps the best impromptu party that I’ve attended in my entire life.
Eventually somebody realized we still had to hike almost eight more miles to reach the first legal camping in the state park. I imagine it’s rare to find a gang of ten backpackers walking drunk for such a distance through the sunset and into the night, but that’s exactly what we did, and the distance seemed like nothing of consequence.
I clearly remember paralleling a narrow mountain stream with strong current. There were a couple of places where the stream had to be crossed on treacherous logs. Performing such a maneuver was a little unnerving and required extra care in our intoxicated condition, but all went well.
Sunset was magnificent – our last sunset on the Appalachian Trail. It was well into dusk when we reached Daicey Pond Campground. This is an iconic location where many thru-hikers spend their last night on the Trail, and I’d seen several wonderful photos of the area, but ending the day here wasn’t meant to be.
The Baxter State Park rangers had established a new thru-hikers-only shelter in 2002 called The Birches. It was almost three more miles down the trail at Katahdin Streams Campground. By now we were in the dark of night, hiking by headlamp, and for most of us the buzz of Abol Bridge was long gone. We were fortunate to find the Birches site to be vacant when we arrived. Tomorrow, of course, would be the big day.
I think I got some sleep.