Fellowship in the Wilderness

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir
“The Appalachian Trail is a footpath for those who seek fellowship in the wilderness.” – AT motto

When I first started my thru-hike of the Florida Trail this past January, I had the idea that I was a pilgrim on a journey to reconnect to myself. Every morning I would arise from my tent to greet the dawn in quiet meditation. I prepared my breakfast with intention and ate it in gratitude. I tried so hard to focus only on each step I took, to contemplate the beauty around me. But even amidst all of the ritual and natural surroundings, I was still fighting a battle within, a battle between my life before the trail and my life on the trail.

I started falling into a pit of depression and there was no one around me to talk to about it. Alone, I turned to my journal to reflect on my innermost thoughts. When that method wasn’t enough, I would call friends and family. But it was difficult to express what I was experiencing to them. It wasn’t their fault, but it only made it worse. I needed someone who was going through the same transformation I was going through, though I didn’t know it at the time.

On April 4th, I finally began my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. The trail official starts on Springer Mountain in Georgia. In order to get to the summit, tradition has us start at Amicalola Falls State Park. We take an 8.5 mile approach trail, which includes 604 stairs adjacent to the beautiful Amicalola Falls, purported to be the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi River.

Multiple landings allow one to catch their breath and to take in the magnificence of the rushing water of the falls. It was on the first landing that I met JT, who would later earn the trail name Feel Good. Feel Good initiated the conversation, asking me if I was there to begin a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. I responded affirmatively. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just met the person who would become one of my closest friends on the trail.

We hiked together for about 300 miles before our respective speeds led to our parting ways for a bit. But in was in those first formative miles of the trail that I learned what I was missing on the Florida Trail – the companionship of a fellow pilgrim.

Since then, I have met hundreds (over a thousand?) people, all seeking some small bit of fellowship in the wilderness. We each hike our own hike, but we all shared in the same struggles. We all had painful days, rainy days, sad days. But we also shared in the joy of a meal, took in the beauty of a view together, and were glad when we accomplished feats we weren’t even aware we were capable of achieving. These are the people I wish I had to fellowship with on the Florida Trail.

My journey is not yet over. I still have 600 miles until I finish my hike. My best guess is mid-November. I’m looking forward to finishing. And I am fortunate to have a small cadre of folks who are still hiking south toward Harpers Ferry, WV.  But now I know that even if I have many days of hiking on my own, there are now folks I can call to share my struggles and joys with, people who have also been there and done that. Whether we realize it or not, we need one another.

They say that life after the trail can be hard to readjust to, especially when the trail makes things so much simpler. I don’t want to readjust. I came out to hike in order to readjust from the person I was before to a more whole person. And that is now my struggle for the next few hundred miles – to wrestle with how to make sure I can take what I’ve learned out of the wilderness and into everyday life. Wish me well. I’ll let you know what I find.


Want to help? I only have another month left on the trail! Funds are tight and I could use a little help to resupply the last remaining miles on the trail. If you are willing and able to make a contribution, please head over to www.paypal.me/trekreef. Any contribution helps and is gratefully appreciated. Thank you.
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The Hundred Mile Wilderness

CAUTION!

IT IS 100 MILES SOUTH TO THE NEAREST TOWN AT MONSON. THERE ARE NO PLACES TO OBTAIN SUPPLIES OR HELP UNTIL MONSON. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS SECTION UNLESS YOU HAVE A MINIMUM OF 10 DAYS SUPPLIES AND ARE FULLY EQUIPPED. THIS IS THE LONGEST WILDERNESS SECTION OF THE ENTIRE AT AND ITS DIFFICULTY SHOULD NOT BE UNDERESTIMATED. GOOD HIKING!

MATC


I’ve known about the Hundred Mile Wilderness most of my life. Like the AT, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about it. I guess that’s just how it is when you grow up hiking in New England. And even though I had section hiked most of the AT in New England over the years, I had never done this section. So, when we arrived in Maine, I had a deep sense of excitement and a healthy fear of heading into this fabled forest.

There seems to be a rather flippant attitude among some thru-hikers about their ability to hike the Hundred Mile Wilderness. They enter with four or five days of food, promising any who will listen that they will bang out 20-25 mile days and be done with it. Piece of cake. For this reason, the Maine Appalachian Trail Club posts signs at both ends warning hikers – like the one I feature below and quoted above.

100MilesSign

We decided not to underestimate its difficulty and arranged to take four days of food and to have our friend, who offered such a kindness, to meet us at a logging road half-way with another four day resupply. We were hoping to be done in six days, which is the average for a thru-hiker with strong trail legs. Here are some highlights from my personal trail journal – these are not full reports, but rather short excerpts.

Day One
Rainbow Stream Lean-To
CuppaTea brought us to the trail head at Abol Bridge, where we left off yesterday. We have entered the Hundred Mile Wilderness. It’s been kind of magical, thus far. A mixed birch, aspen, and evergreen forest with babbling brooks everywhere. Every boulder is covered in the brightest green moss I have ever seen. Red squirrels and chipmunks dash around in all directions, the former chattering at us as we pass on by.

The terrain is bumpier and rougher than we expected. Rocks and roots abound, but otherwise the elevation doesn’t change more than five to seven feet every so often. I I breathe in deep for these woods are fragrant with a rich bouquet of juniper and fir accented by the earthy humus which covers the forest floor. I miss CuppaTea, she’d love this.

Day Two
Potaywadjo Spring Lean-To

My gosh, the roots and rocks are fiercely horrid. I can only stand it for the beauty of this place. If the fae and spirits of Native legends abound, it’s here, in these woods. I don’t think I have ever seen a fully grown juniper tree before walking among them here. Perhaps I just never noticed them before.

We were treated to some splendid views today of ponds and lakes. Our biggest hope however, is to see a moose while we traverse the trail in Maine. The terrain remains somewhat level – though we know that is not to last. Big mountains coming up. I’m absolutely in love with the hemlock bog we walked through to get to this lean-to. Who knew that the atoms which burst from the heart of a dying star could one day form such beauty?

Day Three
Cooper Brook Falls Lean-To
It rained hard last night, a good soaking rain. Maine really needed it – the drought has hit the water supply hard. So many of the springs are already dry. We weren’t sure when the rain was expected to stop and asking around didn’t help. Ever play the childhood game called ‘telephone’? It’s like that. Most thought it was predicted to last until mid-afternoon. A sizable minority said 11:00. One fellow said 9:00.

Once the rain ended (at 9, by the way), we began our quick hike out to Jo-Mary Road to meet CuppaTea. When we came out, she was waiting for us with hot coffee and snacks! Oh, sweet splendorous morning! Real coffee! With real cream! And real sugar! We got our resupply and off we went. The rest of our hike went well, ending at this magnificent location with a cascading brook and sweet swimming hole.

Day Four
Sidney Tappan Campsite
We didn’t quite make it to the lean-to we had planned on for tonight. After climbing Little Boardman Mountain, White Cap Mountain, Hay Mountain, and West Peak, we just could not bring ourselves to walk just two more miles over Gulf Hagas Mountain to the Newhall Lean-To. Plus, our friend Larry Bird is here. Her knees are not doing well and I’m worried for her. She’s a strong hiker though, and I know she’s got this.

White Cap, at 3650′, is borderline with the timberline. It had a mixed evergreen and alpine ecosystem and the view was quite wonderful. Resting upon the summit, we chatted with a few section hikers as the wind blustered about in every direction.

Day Five
Chairback Gap Lean-To
Holy exploding atoms did I wake up on the wrong side of the sleeping pad this morning. My less-than-stellar mood didn’t last long, though. Unfortunately, Stryder had a far worse morning than I did.  Like most great comedy, you can’t plan for the funniest moments.

After walking almost a mile round trip down to one of the murkiest water sources to collect three liters of water, Stryder came back and began to filter it. The way a Sawyer filter works is by squeezing the bag until you’re done filtering. That’s it. Well, after starting to filter the small, one liter bag, it exploded. Water everywhere. So he began to filter the larger, two liter bag. As he applied pressure however, it, too, leaked all over the place. In total disbelief, he tossed the bag, causing it to fly about 40 feet into the air and land on the low hanging branch of an eastern hemlock tree.

The way the bag soared made me start laughing. I couldn’t help it. The whole scene was funny. That’s when he started throwing his trekking poles as javelins in an attempt to get the bag down. And that’s when the bag further exploded, raining murky water all over Stryder. I felt truly awful for laughing, but it was too funny. He started laughing at this point. But that’s when he noticed the trekking pole also got stuck up there. Using his other pole, he finally got both down and shared in a good ten minutes of raucous laughter with me.

Day Six
Wilson Valley Lean-To
Did I mention that on day one, I had half my food stolen by squirrels and Stryder had half his stolen on day three? Yeah, that happened. I highly recommend odor proof bags when hiking in Maine.

Tomorrow we see CuppaTea. I can’t wait to get out of the Hundred Mile Wilderness. It kicked our butts. It was beautiful – but between the food-stealing squirrels and the body-destroying terrain, I am glad to be done.

If you’d like to help me with staying on trail, a typical resupply costs me about $50.00. Gluten-free food can be hard to find, expensive and, while I appreciate the resupply box efforts of friends and family, it’s much easier for me to buy the food myself so I can pick and choose based on upcoming needs. You can make a contribution to my trail fund via http://www.paypal.me/trekreef. Any amount is gratefully appreciated.