To the Top of Mount Katahdin

Will completed his Appalachian Trail thru-hike on August 7, 2016!
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[[ let’s journey back to the day before the summit…]]

When I landed in Bangor, Maine after midnight on Saturday – much later than originally planned thanks to several flight delays – I realized that it was technically already Sunday, the day that I would hike to the top of Mount Katahdin with Will and he would finish his journey that started way back in February in Springer Mountain, Georgia. This was the day we had been anticipating for months, and the thought should have excited me. Instead, my anxiety only worsened – I had a lot to do before summiting the mountain with Will.

I grabbed the keys to my rental car at the airport and headed for Millinocket, Maine, about an hour’s drive from Bangor. I had never been to Maine before and, in preparation for the trip, I learned this: Maine is scary. Fact: my GPS would fail, my phone would lose signal, there would be nowhere in sight to get gas or to stop for directions, and I would end up stranded and alone alongside one of upstate Maine’s dark, open country roads.

And it wasn’t just the drive to Millinocket I was nervous about. Once I made it there, I had to drive the next leg to Baxter State Park (by 6am the next morning) to meet Will, and THEN I had to make it up Mount Katahdin – the tallest mountain in Maine – on four hours of sleep and no practice. (My pre-hike research via TripAdvisor described the mountain as “very intense” and “not for the faint of heart.” Eeek.)

All of this is to say that, when my plane landed, besides feeling anxious about the obstacles ahead, I was frankly a little irritated at Maine. The thought of traveling down dark, empty roads and possibly losing GPS and cell signal at any moment (I didn’t, by the way) annoyed me. Also, in planning for my visit to Baxter State Park I learned that the park has no electricity and no cell service. I had to reserve a parking spot weeks in advance and I had to arrive at the gate 45 minutes before it opened if I wanted to make it through in time to meet Will. Maine was not making this easy. Why were they so behind the times? Where were my modern-day comforts? And why all the rules?

—–

I learned the “Why” on my drive – that dark, empty, quiet drive from the airport in Bangor to the tiny map dot of Millinocket, Maine. That drive that I had been so scared of. I learned it in a moment when I looked up to see the biggest, brightest stars in the clearest sky I had ever seen. It soothed me and it stirred me at once, as first glimpses of nature’s grandest sights – oceans, mountains, skies – tend to do.

It was then that my heart softened toward Maine. If Maine is “behind the times,” maybe it is purposeful. And maybe they don’t make rules because they are uptight and demanding,

but because they have something worth protecting.

It was then that I realized how much we need Maine – and all of the remote, inconvenient places like it. We need majesty; we need grandeur. Sometimes more than we need comfort.

When I finally met Will at Baxter State Park early on the morning of August 7, 2016, we began our trek up the Great Mount Katahdin. If I admit my fears of being stranded on the side of the road earlier may have been a bit irrational, will you trust me when I say my fears about that Mountain were actually completely legitimate? It was STEEP. It was ROCKY. It was LONG. If the weather had been anything but perfect, I truly do not think I could have made it to the top. If there had even been the smallest drop of rain, the rocks would have been too slippery for me to grasp. (This was more crawling-bouldering-rock scrambling-pushing/pulling-lifting than it was “hiking.”)

When we made it to the top, my entire body and mind ached. I collapsed immediately on a rock. Will smiled, walked up to the Mount Katahdin sign, had a special moment, and then we took pictures. There were probably 30 other hikers at the top, too, laughing and snapping photos and eating their Nabs. There were no fireworks or confetti or TV crews, but there were a lot of really happy, proud people.

We rested, we celebrated, and then we hiked (crawled/scrambled/slid) back down the Mountain.

—–

As Will adjusted back to “regular” life in the weeks following his thru-hike, the question he heard over and over from interested friends and family was simply: “how was it?” But how do you summarize a 5+ month hike crossing 14 states, over multiple types of terrain, through every season?

Will’s time on the trail was a collection of moments – both good and bad – moments that stretched him and taught him and instilled in us both a deep appreciation for our country’s natural beauty and for the people who work hard on its behalf. I’ve learned that there are two versions of the Appalachian Trail: there is the physical trail itself – the wooden signs and the dirt paths, the boardwalks and the blazes – built and maintained over decades by hundreds of dedicated volunteers. And then there is the Appalachian Trail as a subculture – a collection of hikers, trail magic-givers, shuttle drivers, townspeople, hostel owners – who pour their hearts into the trail and what it stands for. There is this subculture of hiker parades and ice cream challenges and cold Cokes on the side of the road – and a feeling of camaraderie that requires nothing more than shared experience to sustain it.

I’ve seen people give and give – to themselves, to the mountains, to strangers they’ve never met before and will probably never see again.

Why?

Because some things are worth protecting – and that goes both for the sky and the trail before us, and the desire to explore and achieve within us. God has given us both and they are good.

Meridith and Will, aka Root Beard

at-certificate

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From New Hampshire to Maine

A sample from Will’s trail journal, 7/12/16:

mt. view - july

“Today would be the day we’ve been talking about for a good while. Mt. Moosilauke was looming over us even at the hostel last night. Known as the gateway to the Whites! We got up and ate breakfast at the hostel, then started hiking. It was hard finding the trail in some spots today since the AT follows other trails through this section. The climb up the mountain wasn’t too bad, spread out over 4.5 miles. The views were awe-inspiring! The first mountain up here to truly break tree line. The hike down was treacherous! Couldn’t imagine doing it in anything but perfect weather.

Took longer to go down than to come up. Ate some lunch at a picnic area before continuing on into a steep and rocky 7 miles to the shelter. Sometimes you’d just be hiking along and come to a rock wall. You’d ascend the wall by grabbing on to trees and sheer force of will, then you’d walk a ways and you’d walk up to a cliff, descending the same way. There was mud that when you stuck your trekking pole in it never touched the bottom. Had to rock hop and/or bush whack around those areas. Tough, tough day but worth it in the end. Got to camp about 8 and did everything quickly but still ran out of day light. Only 8.8 tomorrow but another tough day climbing Kinsman mountain first thing. Staying in town tomorrow night.”


We are officially in countdown mode, and I am SO EXCITED!  Will’s summit of Mt. Katahdin should take place on August 7th, if all goes well. That’s exactly three weeks from today!

Rootbeard still has quite a bit of hard hiking left to do, including the 100-mile wilderness, the wildest and most remote section of the entire AT. So he’s a little preoccupied. I am trying to stay busy as well (mostly by singing Hamilton songs morning, noon, and night) to pass the time, but it’s difficult to wait for it, wait for it

Thank you all for sticking with us on this journey. It’s so much more fun experiencing this alongside you! We want to invite everyone to a welcome home gathering for Will at The Factory Coffeehouse in Mocksville, NC on Saturday, August 13th. If you’re around, I hope you’ll drop in and say hello. More details to come on that!

-Meridith (@thetreelogs)

The Middle Days of Virginia

When you’re not “just getting started,” you’re not “almost finished,” and you’re not technically “half way” either, you’re just in the middle.

That’s where Will is… somewhere in Virginia, somewhere in the middle of his journey.

va ridge

These are the days I thought about in February when Will got serious about this idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail. I thought the middle days would drain him, bore him, and leave him thinking that it wasn’t worth the effort. I knew he would still be running on adrenaline in the beginning, with lots of visits from family and friends and the thrill of something new pushing him forward. But the middle (cue Jimmy Eat World early 2000s) would kill his motivation.

I was sure of this…

…and I was wrong. I have learned from watching Will that the middle isn’t all bad, in hiking and in life. Here’s why:

1) You learn as you go. Will has learned so much through trial and error and is able to put that knowledge to use now. He’s got this backpacking thing down to a science, which makes things easier and more enjoyable than they were in the beginning.

2) It grows on you. Over time, being an AT hiker has become Will’s “new normal.” He enjoys his routine and the hiking community he has embraced. He’s used to trail living now and when he breaks in a town, something feels “off” until he gets back into his natural habitat.

3) You’ve got more to lose. Will would have a lot to lose by quitting at this point. All of the work he’s put in thus far, all of the people who are rooting for him… simple math proves that you’ve got more to lose in the middle than you do in the beginning. That’s strong motivation.

Of course there are days that are challenging for him, and there is a reason hikers have coined the term “the Virginia Blues.” There are times of frustration, boredom, and all of the things I imagined there would be. But I thought Will would want to quit after three weeks, and he hasn’t even had the thought of quitting yet, over two months in. I think sometimes we can get caught up in our thoughts about how we think something is, or might be, or should be- but the only way to actually know is to get outside of your thoughts and experience it. Thinking is helpful only up to a point… and I’m not always right. That’s both humbling and freeing to me. That’s what I’ve learned in the middle.

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Will/Root Beard is at mile 800-something. He is headed for Waynesboro, VA where he will take a day off on Monday to rest his feet and dry out his gear after a long week of downpours and thunderstorms. After that he will head into the second (and final) National Park on the AT, Shenandoah National Park.

I’ll keep you posted! More photos and updates are on Instagram: @thetreelogs. Also, if you’re in the Forsyth County, NC area, check out the May issue of Forsyth Woman magazine for our story (it’s right smack dab in the middle)!

-Meridith