So what are yinz guys gonna do now?

Back in the 'Burgh, once again, M and I met with a reporter from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette today, so stay tuned for info on when that will come out.

San Diego was very pleasant. I spent a lot of time sitting in a diner where the waitresses called me 'mi hija' and so religiously refilled my coffee mug that I nearly went into convulsions. I walked the dog, and went to Balboa Park and flew my kite at the beach on Coronado, until I realized I was only inches from the Navy base, and took it down before they could have a shot at it. We ate at a fantastic Afghan restaurant. Danna had an endless supply of Tofutti Cuties, my favorite vegan ice cream snack.

Last night, M picked me up at the airport, and since I cannot live on Southwest In Flight Snacks alone, we decided to get some dinner at D's in Regent Square before heading home. We drove all the way over there to find the kitchen had shut down well before their advertised closing time (although it does say that the times "could fluctuate" on the website). So we headed to Oakland for some Indian food. When we got to the doors of the restaurant, we remembered that Oakland is the land of the ever-intoxicated college student, where every restaurant has a late-night special. If we could wait a mere 40 minutes, we could enjoy our channa masala at half price. Luckily, Gene's is right around the corner and Yuengling bottles were on special for $1. San Diego may be pleasant, but in Pittsburgh, the price is right. The Indian food was even better after a couple of cold ones, and I slept great last night, not rising until nearly 10 am.

Now it's time to get a job and a place to live. But don't worry...this won't turn into a blog where the answer to the question "what has become of m and k?" is "they moved to the 'burbs and now their only entertainment is paying HOA-violations for leaving the trash can out too long".

Upcoming adventures include:
*Pirates game with the M's family
*Going to the Aldha Gathering
*A camping/hiking trip with K's parents


Post-Trail Travel

Yesterday, I flew from Pittsburgh to San Diego to visit my sister. Two thousand miles. What took us six months to walk was effortlessly completed in six hours. During our AT hike, my trip to San Diego was often the carrot I chased. My sister and I are very close, and we haven't had a lot of opportunities to spend time together since she moved out West and I became a wandering traveler. I'm extremely grateful to be blessed with such wonderful siblings. Speaking of siblings...it's kind of funny that I am seeing my sister in California before the sibling and sibling's girlfriend and sibling-in-law in Pittsburgh! Pete, Meg and Mary...I know you guys are busy, but we have to get together soon!

M is in the woods. He, rather wisely, opted for the quiet, mountainous Laurel Ridge over the hustle and bustle of SoCal. I drove on the freeway yesterday, and boy, if I didn't already have enough reasons to get rid of my car, I-15 would be it. This is the first time, M and I have been separated for any significant amount of time in over six months. It was hard to say goodbye. But next week, we shall be reunited and figure out what to do next. For us, this involves getting some jobs, finding a place to live, working on our book, and planning our next adventure.

In addition to wonderful siblings, I also have several delightful great-aunts, one of whom I'm going to get to see this weekend. Danna and I are going to drive up to Orange County to see Aunt Jan and clan. Who knows what adventures will ensue?

Most of you readers came to this blog for the purpose of tracking our AT journey. As I publish this post, and those to come, the AT entries will be bumped down the page, until they are finally relegated to the archives...very metaphorical for how I am starting to feel about the trip. As the days go by, the memories of dipping my toes in an icy mountain spring or falling asleep to the calls of loons are fading.

Well, I have to go take care of the important business of letting the dog out to pee. She's looking a little desperate, but that could be a ploy to take her on a walk.


More information than you need (or want)

Well, the wrap-up is underway. We're back home and taking stock of our situation... and remembering a lot about the trail. Here's a pile of info for those who are so inclined:

We were on trail for 191 days, from March 3 through September 9.
We took 34 Zero days (no hiking).
Our average daily mileage for all days (including zeros) was 11.4.
Average miles excluding zeros was 13.9.
We slackpacked 10 times.

Here's a graph of our mileage by day. Note the randomness...

And a bar graph of days/miles. Kind of bell-curvey, except for the zeros.

Here's a link to our daily 'itinerary'. I would recommend strongly against using this to plan anything, as our trip was quite haphazard. I suspect it could be useful in determining possible mileages through different areas or whatever. But seriously, hike your own hike.

If there are any other questions answered or informational tidbits you're looking for, comment away.


The Hundred Mile Wilderness and Baxter State Park

We did not do justice to Maine, by neglecting to tell you about the amazing last few weeks of our journey. As we moved through the state, the mountain ranges grew somewhat smaller, and we started to see a lot more water - rivers, streams, and crystal clear lakes and ponds. So what's a hiker to do when there's water in the way? Luckily for us, it was a pretty dry year, and none of the fords were very challenging. If there are rocks to hop, we did that, but sometimes it was just easier to strip off boots and socks and wade across in our Crocs. Even a foot of flowing water exerts a tremendous force as it flows, and the bottom of the rivers were covered with slick, algae-covered stones, so we took our time and used our trek poles to stay balanced, which is what I'm doing here with Caveman of Ohio.

Many of the campsites we stayed at were near water. At Moxie Bald Lean-To, we awoke to an amazing sunrise over the pond, and fellow hiker, JEB, cooked his breakfast out on a rock, right at the water's edge. I never did see any leeches in these ponds, and the weather was warm enough on several occasions to take a mid-day dip. At the top of every mountain, the view included mountains in every direction and, literally, hundreds of ponds and lakes and streams in between them.

The guidebooks warn hikers that the Hundred Mile Wilderness is very remote, and to take 10 days worth of supplies. We found in to be neither more remote that many other sections of the AT, nor very difficult. Lots of logging roads cross the trail and a great deal of day hikers were in the area around Gulf Hagas. We also heard a lot of small airplanes flying and landing on the lakes. There were two major ranges to conquer - the Chairbacks and Whitecaps. As we left Monson, our enthusiasm was beginning to build and we did a pretty big day over moderately hilly terrain. That night, we slept near a waterfall. The next day, we started over the Chairbacks, which ended up being a somewhat demoralizing experience. Every time we thought we had gone over one of the peaks, it turned out we hadn't, and the day seemed to last forever. We were worried about doing the Whitecap range the next day, since they were taller and Whitecap is supposed to be very rocky on top, but we ended up flying over them. After that, the Wilderness is relatively flat, and we flew through a section of trail built over old logging road (no roots, soft pine duff, very flat tread - awesome!).

The excitement was building as we made fast progress through the last section. Maine, to that point, had been anything but easy, and it was fun to see the miles ticking away. As we approached the end of the trail, we began to catch glimpses of Mt. Katahdin, looming high above the landscape. The weater was outstanding over the last week, but the humidity was starting to build up and the temperatures rose into the low nineties on one of the last days. We ended up doing a couple of 20 mile days, rather by accident. At night, we drifted off to sleep listening to the sound of loons calling on the lake.

The Hundred Mile Wilderness ends at the boundary of Baxter State Park. We met a ridgerunner as soon as we got close and she told us that there was some rain in the forecast the next day, so we decided to stall and go up Katahdin the following day. Our last night outside the park was spent with Packrat, Lucky, Umbrella Lady, Habitual Hiker, Rio, Hemlock, Caveman of Ohio, and Bushwacker in a campground that sits on the West Branch River with outstanding views of Katahdin from our tent.

Then...Katahdin Eve! The day before summit! Because Katahdin has the single largest gain in altitude on the entire trail (4,000 feet in five miles), and the weather is extremely unpredictable and often kind of rotten, especially in the afternoon, the rangers recommend that you hike to the base on one day, spend the night, and then start up early in the morning. So we went up to the Birches campground, which is only for thru-hikers, cooked our last dehydrated meal for the trip, and had one last bonfire with our crew. The feel was very much like Christmas, and M and me and Caveman of Ohio woke up at 4:00 am, feeling giddy and nervous. We were up the mountain by 9:00 am and greeted to unbelievable, panoramic, clear views from the top with very little wind. This is highly unusual, but a very pleasureable way to experience your last moments on the AT. Check out the photos to see what the summit looked like.

It's hard to explain the emotions we felt as we descended. Katahdin had become an almost mythic presence in our lives for so long. I don't know if I ever really believed I was going to make it all the way, until I actually did. We had to say goodbye to people we had come to know and love, to rely on and laugh with. We were leaving a lifestyle that was blissfully simple, and incredibly challenging. We were finally thru-hikers, but we were done thru-hiking. We were very, very quiet on the first few miles down the mountain.

Then it sunk in that we were in the middle of rural Maine, 20 miles inside a State Park that has one dirt road leading into it, and we had no idea where we were going to sleep that night, much less how we were going to get back to Pittsburgh. The challenge reinvigorated us, and we started to happily chatter about our memories of the trail and what we were looking forward to at home.


Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

The weirdest part of the journey home was waking up in the Northern Peaks Motel in Gorham, NH, less than 48 hours after summiting Mt. Katahdin.

M and I planned to stay in Millinocket, ME (the town closest to Baxter State Park) for a few days, just to rest and make travel plans and let the whole experience soak in for a little while. However, by Monday morning, we were feeling kind of antsy, so we checked out of our motel and headed for the diner, hoping to find some other hikers and to get a ride. However, the day was dreary, with more rain on the way, and it didn't look like many people were going to be passing through Millinocket that day. We decided to try to hitchhike, just to see if we could get anywhere. Well, it was ridiculously easy, and with two rides, we found ourselves 100 miles south in the town of Bangor. We rented a car and hit the road. M and I have a general policy that we don't take interstates, unless absolutely necessary, so we followed several two lane country roads that roughly follow the course of the AT. That night, we ended up back in Gorham, NH. There were a few hikers in town, but it was weird to talk to them, since they still have 3-4 weeks left of their journey and we were done.

It rained pretty heavily the next day, but we continued on our way through New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. Around dinnertime, we ended up stopping for a couple of hours to go to the movies. That night we stayed near Wilkes-Barre, PA. By morning, the skies had cleared and the drive home through Pennsylvania was beautiful. We resisted the urge to stop and go for a hike in the Allegheny National Forest, since we had to return the car to the airport by 3 pm. After dropping the car off, we took the bus back into town, where we met M's mom for lunch. We had a couple of beers at Peter's Pub while we were waiting for her to finish work and class, and then drove back to Saxonburg with her.

I guess today is the official first full day back in town. Now, we're suddenly removed from our former routine that consisted of eating, hiking and sleeping (and playing cribbage, of course). I've taken more showers in the past couple of days than I did in the previous month. We've been giddy over picking out clothes to wear...after wearing the same clothes every day for months, it's pretty exciting to change your underwear every day.

We're happy to be home, but we're homesick for the trail. M even cooked oatmeal for breakfast this morning, which I thought for sure he would have sworn off that stuff for life.

So, what's next? Everybody's asking...all I can say is, stay tuned.


We Did It!

M and I are relaxing in Millinocket, ME, after climbing Mt. Katahdin yesterday, completing our 2,174 mile thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. The weather was clear and calm for the summit and we have terrific pictures. Thanks for all the support we've received in person and from afar!

A shout-out to Doug, who offered us a ride from Baxter State Park to town the minute we stepped off the trailhead. Have a great weekend hiking!

Now we are tackling our next challenge...how to get from rural Maine back to Pittsburgh.

More detailed information and photos will follow....stay tuned.