Monday, September 16, 2013

Windows into the Last Weeks

In the darkness I tend to move slower. This is not a quality unique to me as an individual. Indeed, I would only hope that when you wake up in the middle of the night to find your way to the bathroom in the darkness, leaving the light off in kindness to your sleeping partner, that you do not sprint through your house, crushing legos, cats and all manner of other painful things underfoot. We as a species are not actually significantly well-adapted to living in the wild, as we can't see in the dark, have no claws, and are generally just big soft fleshy hairless dumb-dumbs. But we have opposable thumbs and the FoxP2 gene, so there's that.

As I navigated my way out of the front of the shelter, I was struck by how truly the night enveloped me. There were a few other folks sleeping in the shelter, and I didn't want to turn my headlamp on and wake everybody up. I realize that this was not particularly forward-thinking, as the possibility of tripping over a rock and breaking my leg would probably cause a more thorough interruption of people's sleep than a brief flash of light. However, I cannot ever claim that I have ever been a purveyor of good decisions when I am awoken from sleep with a dire need to relieve myself. The brain takes on a laser-beam lever of focus. There is only one goal, and it will be accomplished.

I made my way around the shelter, moving so slowly that I was silent. The night was cloudy and starless, and the forest slept in eerie silence around me. I walked 20 feet away from the shelter or so, and then set to business. Suddenly, the sharp crack of a breaking stick rang out in the quiet. I turned on my headlamp and looked to my right. About 75 feet away was a pair of large eyes reflecting in the glow of my headlamp. The eyes were a few feet above the ground, but I could not see the rest of the critter because it was hidden in shadows. Only the eyes reflected back at me, curious, immobile and green in the light. Based on the height from the ground, I would guess that it was a raccoon on its hind legs, a coyote, a fisher cat, or a bear. None of these critters are high on my list of preferred voyeurs. 

I didn't move. The creature didn't move. On the plus side, due to my initial order of business, I didn't have to worry about wetting my pants in fear. All I could imagine was that giant black nightmare dog from the Never Ending Story. Since I didn't know what kind of creature it was, I decided against trying to scare it away. I had no weapons but my hands and feet, which are sadly bereft of claws, as noted earlier. I decided instead to back away slowly, which took about 5 minutes to make it back to the shelter. I quietly turned my headlamp back off and climbed into my sleeping bag. 

This is ordinarily the part of the story where the heroine would lay awake in fear, her brain pumping potentially life-saving adrenaline in the possible oncoming event of an attack. Instead I immediately fell back asleep. This is not bravery. It is inoculation. If you spend enough time walking over venomous snakes and sleeping in the company of big beefy animals who are long in the tooth, your body just gets plain sick of worrying about it. Whatever fearful thing might be happening, it could always be worse. Case in point, some days after that, Whistle accidentally peed on an active bee's nest in the middle of the night and was stung 8 times. She also then immediately went back to sleep.

The real moral of this story is: turn on your headlamp before doing your business. You won't regret it.


During our Southbound sojourn, we finally crossed paths with M3OwZ3BA! We got to spend an evening with Grim, Whistle, The Hunger, Sunshine and Pretzel. By some stroke of luck, this conjunction in journeys occurred at the site of some truly spectacular trail magic. A small group of M.A.T.C. (Maine Appalachian Trail Club) maintainers, who have all previously thru-hiked, set up each year at a spot approximately 20 miles north of Stratton, Maine. They had all manner of grill food, and they even had a propane-powered fridge to keep the cheese and milk cold. One of these previous hikers was named Fig, and we had the pleasure of meeting him once before when we took a zero with our heroes Bill and Cathy Hine (the ones that made us so much amazing food that we were full for days!). 

The 8 of us youngins' stayed up quite late, singing along to ukulele playing and watching the stars rise over a chilly lake. In the morning, we hugged each other fiercely, knowing that the next time we'd see each other, we'd be meeting at the bottom of Katahdin to climb up and high-five the sky together. Everyone had different plans for hiking speeds, which is absolutely understandable, but we made solid timing plans with Grim and Whistle so that the 4 of us could summit together. It was heartbreaking to say goodbye to the other hikers, but we knew we'd probably see them again someday. The hiker universe works in mysterious ways, that is to say, no one else can stand how we all smell so we really just have to hang out with each other. 


For the first time since the first day, I awoke on my own before the sun came up. When Hotdog was figuring out the appropriate 7 dwarves monikers for our group back in Damascus, she was a bit prophetic in deeming me "Sleepy." I don't remember ever needing this much sleep in my life. Upon reconsideration, I've also never hiked for 10+ miles over mountains on a daily basis. Throughout hiking the trail I tried to resist the temptation of instant coffee, mostly because I didn't want to carry the weight of it. 

The upshot of this lack of constant low-level caffeine saturation is that if/when I do actually consume caffeine, it has a curious effect on me. I look a little bit like a looney tunes version someone drinking coffee: my hat blows off my head, steam pours out my ears, my eyeballs spin in different directions and then I run so fast in place that I burn a hole in the earth before finally exploding off in one direction, flames shooting out from underneath my feet. At least that's how I feel. From an outside perspective I look exactly the same, except that people can't quite keep me in focus because of my barely perceptible constant full-body vibration.

As we were packing up for the last time, it was with excitement that I poured some powdered, "fruit" flavored taurine/caffeine into my water bottle. My water turned a radioactive shade of yellow. The color of champions! We were going to hike Katahdin, and I didn't want my lack of sleep to get in the way. In retrospect, the giddiness of summiting would probably have provided ample energy. All day I felt like my torso was a giant room with trampolines for walls, my heart bouncing wildly and unpredictably around inside. 

We had camped at the Birches Campsite at the base of Katahdin with Grim and Whistle, as well as an excellent hiker named B-Line. It was phenomenal to be reunited with Grim and Whistle, and we felt beyond lucky that we were going to be able to summit with them.

Having trampolines for guts luckily did not throw off my center of gravity, as a solid third of the hike up was technical climbing up slick rocks. It had rained like the end of the world the night before, and the entire first part of the trail was a veritable river, sometimes ankle-deep and splashing all over us. For the first time on the trail, I truly and completely didn't mind getting wet because I knew that my future held a world of accessible laundry. I had dreamt of floating down a warehouse lined with wall-to-wall washing machines, my body born on a cloud. The entire fantasy was shot in soft focus while Barry White played sensually over a crackly PA system. My dreams were not deep. Hikers are not complicated. We're the sort of people who like socks for christmas. 

I had another dream that before I was allowed to summit Katahdin I had to fill out some paperwork at the ranger station. Here were the first 4 questions:

1. Real Name:
2. Trail Name:
3. How many fluid ounces are in 1 cup?
4. If you die while summiting Katahdin and come back as a vampire, may we stake you?

There were more questions, but as is the way with dreams, I cannot remember them. Luckily the real paperwork for getting into the 2,000 miler club for the ATC doesn't include caveats for one's supernatural demise. 

The hike up the mountain was arduous, dazzling and very satisfying. I felt like a superhero hiker, climbing up to the secret meeting place of all of the other superheroes. It was overcast and foggy, the clouds rolling in over the stunning landscape. We could see for what seemed like 100 miles, and then the thick mist would creep over us and turn everything into a white-out loading screen. 

Up on the top there was Grim and Whistle, as well as Apollo, who, by some trick of fate, was able to summit on the same day as us. It was perfect. We also got to hang out at the top with B-Line, who turned 30 that day. Why Not was there as well, and she gave B-Line a clif bar with a candle in it, and we all sang happy birthday while the candle had to be lit 15 times because of the wind. We also summited with Srocket, Beetlejuice, Candy Pants, Soul Shine, Noodle, Still Here and Wilson.

I wish I could tell you exactly how it felt to be on top of Katahdin, but for once, I am at a complete loss for words. There are some things that are good, and there are some things that are very good, and then, even more rarely, there are some things that are very, very good.

Being on Katahdin was none of those. It was something more than that.

It was everything.

Clever Girl

These photos are from our last week or so of hiking. For SUMMIT! Photos, Click HERE.

Descending Katahdin! 


  1. OMFG! That is the best video I have ever seen. Why was it rejected? Music Copyright maybe? I was watching the videos today and said to myself, "Self, Clever Girl and Dump Truck would have made an awesome video for this contest..." You get my vote, 1000 times...


    1. Thank you so much EarthTone!! You're awesome :D

  2. Thanks so much for letting us tag along. Well done gang.

    1. Thanks Beth and Bernie, you guys are our heroes. We still talk about how generous you were to us, and how supportive you'e been all along.

  3. Good thing you wrapped up the trail, because we were running out of adjectives! Fabulous post, tremendous stories (peeing on a bees nest would make anyone whistle!) and wonderful video and pictures. The one with the shadow over the edge of the cliff is just too much. So great. The video was clearly rejected because no other future video would live up to it and they didn't want future entrants to despair. So happy to have you home with us this weekend, and to spend time with dear Whistle. You have been, and will always remain, our heroes. Love, Mom and Dad

    1. D'awww, thanks guys. We couldn't have done it without you.

  4. Replies
    1. Hotdog was there! We relished seeing her in the video! :-) No less than the folks standing on top of Katahdin, she accomplished her AT goals. A star of equal standing... Cheers, Liz and John

    2. I'm glad you guys got to reunite at the end. I was sad to have to stop reading her blog. You guys are awesome. GREAT JOB. It was a pleasure living my dreams through you guys. THANK YOU

    3. Thanks Rob, I'm glad you followed along!! I really, truly appreciate the support and kindness.

  5. Do you know how many times the video is watched by each blog reader? Well if you do than you know I watched it multiple times. So terrifically wonderful. I am sure the rest of your life will be an adventure too. I have enjoyed reading your stories. Thanks!

    1. Awww thank you!! I'm so glad you liked it. I wish I could have summited with all the people we came to love along the trail, but then the whole mountain would have fallen over from all the hikers! Thank you for your continued support and kindness!

  6. I loved your video. But, I bet know why your video was rejected. It's two seconds too long. :-( The limit was three minutes exactly.

    1. I'm glad you liked the video!! And yeah, it's weird actually, the video on my computer is 3 minutes exactly, but after it uploaded to youtube it added 2 seconds. Weird right?! I guess they forgave it though :)

  7. Congrats Dumptruck & Clever Girl! Well done!

    - Macintosh