As a former thru-hiker, it’s like this every year. Summer is just not complete until I spend an overnight with “my people” on the Appalachian Trail in Maine. So, this past week I hiked into Hurd Brook lean-to to reconnect with any thru-hiker I happened to meet on the trail to share a few tales.
It’s only a little over three miles south from the Golden Road near Abol Bridge, to the first log lean-to south of Baxter Park on the AT. I planned for just one night, and the next day I’d turn around and hike out. The trail is as easy as it gets in Maine, but still it’s moderately rough in spots, as it crosses three small ridges over some rocks and bog bridges.
It only took about an hour and a half to hike to the lean-to. Shortly after arriving, another hiker arrived; an older guy named “Energizer.” That was his trail name and like a true thru-hiker would, I didn’t ask his real name.
We talked for quite a while. I found out he was from Maine and that he has been hiking the trail in sections for the past 10 years. “I’ve got about 1,300 miles left. I’m hiking all south, then, I’m planning to hike Maine last. I want to finish by climbing Katahdin” he said. He and I talked until after supper. I found out he was educated at Bangor Theological Seminary and had a daughter who graduated from College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor.
The sun set over the tree tops and soon after, it got chilly enough to crawl in the sleeping bag. Around 7 p.m., three headlamps appeared in the woods on the trail. One guy said, to one of his mates, “It looked OK for tenting until I turned my headlamp on. It’s all roots. Eventually they all found a spot flat enough to set up their tents near the lean-to.
Soon, the three had a small fire going in the fire pit in front of the log structure. I crawled out from under my tarp to be sociable. By the light of the fire, they all looked, well, alike. There was Martin “Giggle” Lieb, Brian “Calculator” Snyder, and “Mike D.” They were in their late 20s or early 30s and trail wise.
They had hiked 20 miles that day and all agreed that the view of Katahdin from Rainbow Ledges just south of the lean-to was awesome. We joked and told stories while they cooked their supper and ate. After a few more laughs and food stories, we all turned in.
We fell asleep under stars, but woke up to clouds, but no rain dropping from the sky. We all gathered at the fire ring to share a few more stories. Finally, at some point the talk got thoughtful, because thru-hikers tend to lean to the philosophical.
When the talk turned to how it feels to be so close to the end of his 6½ month journey, “Calculator” responded, “I don’t necessarily want to finish any more, the same way I wanted to finish when I began. I feel like I did when I first started, though; excited, and nervous.”
Once the conversation had turned to the subject of finishing and how it feels to end, “Giggle,” spoke next. “I feel good about it. I’m ready to go do something different. You know, I’m tired of eating crappy food. My feet hurt in the morning and at night,” he said. At 6-foot-plus on a big frame, “Giggle” wasn’t complaining.
“But,” he continued, “at the same time I have my reservations about going back to doing normal stuff and going back to work and, you know, it was frustration with all of that that brought me out here in the first place.”
Soon, we all turned to packing up and hiking to Abol Bridge. I got out first, expecting the others to catch me before I got back to the road. They didn’t, but there was another hiker waiting at the Abol Bridge Campground and Store for the shuttle service to arrive from Millinocket to pick him.
“Turn Around” was his name and like the other guys, had hiked from Georgia, starting in late March or early April. He and I shared our stories and before long, the others arrived. When “Giggle” showed up, “Turn Around” exclaimed, “I haven’t seen you since Vermont.”
“Giggle” and “Turn Around” caught up on the news of who else had finished their hikes so far and other trail news. I had to head back to reality from my brief overnight. We all said our “glad-to-meet-yous” and “good byes.” “Great company and wish I could have hiked more with you,” I seem to recall saying a lot.
At one point, right after I woke up that morning, I felt like I was the one who was finishing my own hike back in 1994. Of course, my hike ended in Andover, Maine, after 1,901 miles. I had already hiked Maine’s AT twice. Finishing in Andover wasn’t really part of my plan, but when I got there, I had done it all. Going end to end didn’t matter. I suppose our hikes couldn’t have ended more differently. But still, I can identify.