Tag Archives: Mount Katahdin

So close you can almost touch it . . .

I have seen Katahdin from Abol Bridge a few times. Each time I try to put myself in the hiking shoes of a NOBO who gets that gasp-inducing view from the bridge before trudging into Baxter State Park — bound for Katahdin Stream and that last big energy surge to Baxter Peak.

As a SOBO, I saw this view the second day of my thru-hike. I have seen it since a few times and always think, “What must this feel like for a NOBO? How much emotion can one heart take after coming nearly 22 centuries of miles to get here?”

I took this admittedly mediocre pic on my phone a couple of years ago while accompanying my buddy, Tortilla Tosser, as he wrapped up the 100-mile Wilderness, close to finishing his four-decade-long section hike. What a glorious spot to pause a little over long and contemplate MacKaye’s vision. How lucky all of us are — those who love wilderness — that this place clings to its sacred character.

 

 

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Tortilla Tosser Conquers the Big K

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Tortilla Tosser (AKA Tom LeVert) reminds me of Civil War soldiers when he poses for photos looking as if he just witnessed a Biblical tragedy. When I reached the world famous Katahdin trail sign with him recently, I managed a smile, but he — characteristically — mustered a scowl. Little wonder considering we then had to make our way in dense fog across the Katahdin Table Land and scramble down the steep scree and boulder slope known as the Abol Trail.

Tom is now a shoo-inn to complete a 40-year section hike of the AT. Katahdin and Maine’s 100-mile Wilderness were the biggest stumbling blocks in his path, and over the past couple of weeks he completed that section. He has about a week’s worth of hiking remaining to complete what began back around 1977.

The majority of the trek has taken place over the past 15 years. Tom and I have done most of it together. Since I had completed the 100-mile wilderness for the second time years ago and had been up Katahdin three times already, I was glad when Steve Skinner and Eric Graves agreed to hike the section with the Tosser last year. Sadly, Tom got sick early in the hike — a result of dehydration caused by a medication imbalance. He not only could not hike, he had to stay in the hospital for a few days.

So, when we started up Katahdin at 6:30 a.m. one recent morning, Tom — a week short of his 71st birthday — was dealing with a low confidence level. As it turned out, he had no cause for concern. As he, David Hiscoe (a 1973 thru-hiker and mid-60s type) and I hiked up those challenging, rock-strewn slopes, we were passed by scores of young men and women who had started months ago at Springer Mtn. and were scampering upward like young ferrets. We, the oldest guys on the mountain that day, ascended at a much more — shall we say — deliberate pace.

But, by God, we got there. Tom had no problems. He was strong, self-assured and happy to check the biggest box of all for a section hiker. I made him hug me, and since Tom is very uncomfortable with the concept of hugging, it was akin to embracing a bundle of sticks.

Hiking the 100-mile wilderness with him was very hard work. But at night, as I lay in my tiny tent next to northwoods lakes listening to the cosmic call of loons, I realized how lucky I am — at my age — to be active and engaged in the Maine backcountry. I first did the wilderness on my thru-hike in 1973. Then I joined my daughter Laura through the 100 miles in 2004 as she embarked on her SOBO thru-hike. Being out there again was a privilege I will treasure pretty much forever.

It has been an honor hiking with Tom LeVert all these years. Tom is a man of the highest integrity and humility. I describe him as being totally guileless. His Christian faith guides him quietly. He still works for a living and is a respected professional in the field of personal investing. But he also is an expert on history with an amazing general knowledge of world history that would shame many highly placed academics. I have learned much from him by just asking questions as we hike along together. His friendship has been a gift in my life and his example is one I could never imagine living up to. So, old friend, congratulations. You only have to climb Katahdin once to complete a section hike, and I’m glad I did it a fourth time to be with you. Stay vertical and keep walkin’!

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Exception for SuperStacey!

imrs.php.jpegI’m wary of stories concerning people beginning AT thru-hikes (or in the process). Before I began my 1973 Maine-to-Georgia trek, I was approached by a reporter who wanted to do a feature on my planned hike. I demurred and asked her to wait until I finished. After I hit Springer, she interviewed me for a story that ran nationally in Grit.

I make an exception for Stacey Kozel who recently passed the halfway point of her NOBO thru-hike. Stacey has suffered from lupus for more than two painful decades. An attack a couple of years ago short-circuited her central nervous system and left her immobile. But refusing to stay down for the count, she labored mightily to regain control of her arms and upper body. Sadly, her legs remained paralyzed. Researching on her own, she discovered a microprocessor-enabled device known as the C-Brace. She battled the insurance people and received funding for two C-Braces at a cost of $150,000. Her ability to walk was restored, and she began practicing wearing a pack and walking on uneven terrain.

Then, she announced she was going to hike the AT in 2016.

Not only is she struggling mightily to make her enabling technology serve mile after mile, she is having to protect her hardware from the weather and other rigors of the AT. She is also serving as an ambassador for all people struggling with disabilities. If she can do this, she feels, she can inspire others. I only wish she had been among the Katahdin-bound thru-hikers I met this year near Springer Mtn. I would certainly have insisted on a hug.

So, I suspend my “don’t applaud until they are finished” rule for Stacey. I love her spirit, and I look forward to hearing what she thought about the rugged trails of New England after she triumphantly scales Katahdin later this year. Stay vertical, my hiking friends, and keep walkin’!

 

 

TIME FOR SOBOS

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As predictably as night follows day, SOBOS are gearing up to begin their annual lemming-like diaspora from Katahdin toward Springer. Those who have started already have borne the brunt of attacks by black flies and mosquitoes large enough to drain gallons of blood, not to mention the sloshy remains of last winter’s snow and this spring’s rain. SOBOs are an odd breed who begin their long peregrination by climbing the most difficult climb on the entire AT and then turning around to retrace their steps downhill to Katahdin Stream.

Then, after an easy stroll down to Abol Bridge, they enter the 100-mile wilderness. Here is an observation about the 100 miles from THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story:

Wilderness is a state of mind. For a NOBO, the view of Katahdin from Whitecap is as close to an expansive wilderness view as a thru-hiker will see. You may see vapor trails in the sky and a column or two of industrial smoke in the distance, but roads, structures and other signs of human impact are hard to pick out. It is a fitting finish, a cooldown at the end of a long workout, a century of miles to wind down the greatest adventure a person will likely ever have.

For the SOBO, the 100 miles is an amazing beginning. After a one-day emotional tornado at Katahdin, the first long stretch of trail is an old Disney nature flick in gaudy color, with blue lakes, azure sky and accommodating wildlife.

Some accounts portray the 100 miles as remote, intimidating and so dangerous it can’t be finished by normal mortals — a canard disproven regularly by thousands of ordinary hikers. It has its challenges, but it is not overwhelming.

The reward of finishing for a NOBO is the view of Katahdin from Whitecap and later, just after emerging from the wilderness, the close view from Abol Bridge.

As I look back now, I remember the day I began the AT at Katahdin in 1973. I was 21 and just out of college. It was the day Grandma Gatewood died. I have just enough lack of humility to think that on that day, I took the WWII generation torch from Emma Gatewood and trudged  ahead carrying the banner of the Baby Boomers. This year, God bless the Millenials. The adventure is as fulfilling as ever!

 

 

 

I was very, very smart!

Back in 1973 when I skipped graduation at the University of Georgia to head to Mount Katahdin for a SOBO thru-hike of the A.T., I had great confidence. I had just received a college diploma, so clearly, I was very, very smart. I was so smart that I did very little research and planning and found myself in Maine in early June after a winter of massive snowfall and a spring of torrential rains. The trail was a quagmire, and the air was filled with black flies and swarms of mosquitos so large that I occasionally saw them fly by holding small mammals in their clutches. The photo below depicts my very,  very smart self walking across logs on the edge of a north woods lake that was overflowing its banks. The trail was under 18 inches of water. That’s how smart I was. I will give myself credit, however. I kept going and things got better. By October 20, I was proudly striding up Springer Mountain. It can be done, I tell you. So, stay vertical and keep walkin’. (Photo by Bob Bruggman, all rights reserved).

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