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Post-hike thanks!

This has been a whirlwind of two weeks since I finished the trail. Two days after I summitted (and the day after my “for fun and photos” summit), I was driving 70 mph down I-95. In one hour of driving, I covered at least two days worth of hiking! That was just the beginning. I visited Boston, had a job interview in Connecticut (three days off-trail!), and drove cross-country to Colorado. I’m finally back in California, reunited with my laptop (surprisingly bittersweet experience), am past my usual post-hike-technology-avoiding phase. This means I can finally post pictures, fill in gaps on my trailjournal, and answer all the questions readers have been emailing me about my hike.

But first—this hike would not have been possible without the help of many people. Enormous thanks to (as I thought of them) “my West coast support team,” my parents, who not only diligently sent out the 20-or-so boxes I packed and labeled back in March before I left, but even more magnanimously, took care of my student loans while I was out hiking. Thanks Kaasama and Sir!

I am forever grateful to my “East Coast support team,” Brian Davidson, who luckily lives on the same time zone as the AT, and was willing to take my calls at all hours. There is no way I could have beat the record or hiked the whole trail without crying if it hadn’t been for my “emotional support team,” and I am still so surprised and honored that he signed up for the job three days before I left for the BMT.

Many thanks to those on the trail who walked with me. Special thanks especially to those who inspired me to hike farther than I had planned, those who night-hiked with me, and those who pushed me to go through with my biggest mile days. Thank you Will, Ben, FaceJacket, the Dude (and his dog, Cayetano), and Highlife.

I am also incredibly thankful to my hiker friends from past trails. Thanks to Pi (who I hiked many hundreds of miles of the PCT with in 2009), whose friendship, support, hiking and ultra-marathony advice, and gift of a tarp (!) made it possible for me to beat the record this year. Pi’s most valuable advice for me as I attempted to beat the record was that enough food and enough sleep are optional (kids, don’t try that at home!). Thanks also to the world famous Lint (we hiked together for hundreds of miles on the PCT in 2009), for the support, stories, and AMAZING maildrop in Stratton. Thanks also to Frogger/Frogs, who taught me so much about ultra-light backpacking and thru-hiking. Good luck to him, wherever he is hiking this year.

Thanks also to American Hiking Society, and their partners, GU and Backpacker’s Pantry. This AT hike was unsupported, but AHS and its partners helped me out on my CDT hike last year and I still had some goodies leftover (albeit, past the expiration date) that I used this year. Between the two hikes, I must have eaten 50 pounds of GU Chomps and never got tired of them.   Good nutrition is key to good hiking and I feel so lucky to have had access to such easy to make/easy for the body to use calories.

Lastly, thanks to all the trail angels, maintainers, land conservationists, and trail advocates out there. Hikers may get the glory, but those who do the work behind the scenes are the ones who really deserve all the credit.

Grand finish to a speed hike

The victorious finish
The victorious finish

Woke to a beautiful (if buggy day) and all the people who were southbounding for the weekend told me I would have a great summit day, Made Abol Bridge by 9 and got some food for the last 15 (20, if counting the way down from Katahdin) miles and ordered myself two breakfast sandwiches–I was pretty hungry coming out of the 100 Mile Wilderness. I kept telling myself to hurry, hurry. I remembered the line from “Gattaca” about saving no energy for the way back. I remembered the line from “Return of the King” about not saving food for the way back.

I frequently think of the AT (or any hike) in terms of a computer/video game, especially Oregon Trail. In some ways, I felt like my last 15 miles on the AT were the “final level” of the game where all the demons from past levels come out and I have to battle them. The fords in Baxter were high and swift–probably the gnarliest I’ve forded on any trail. It wasn’t going to stop me (and I wasn’t about to take tbe blue blaze bad weather route either–I hadn’t taken a bad weather route the whole trail and wasn’t about to right before the end, though I think it’s a good idea depending on the situation). Then, I saw a snake. But the worst challenge flung at me was the nasty sky filled with thunderheads that emerged as I went up Katahdin.

At 12:30, I rushed past the sign so didn’t know what class day it was. I got pretty far up the mountain without seeing anyone, and was actually concerned it was a Class 4 day (no one is allowed up and if you are caught, they confiscate your gear and never let you in Baxter again). At first, I pretended the rumbling I heard was the water sloshing around in my pack, but then, even over my headphones, it became very obvious. I was scared but kept moving—I *had* to finish that day. Finishing in 80 days was so important to me–I would bring the gap between the male unsupported record and the female unsupported record to less than 3 weeks (a gap that I find really unfortunate). Finally, I saw people on the mountain, but they were all headed down in fear. I kept going up, telling them that I was finishing the AT and nothing was going to stop me.

Finally, I heard a huge clap right by me, and with much thought, decided to turn around. Getting the record was important to me, but I have all sorts of other things to look forward to other than hiking, and it just wasn’t worth the risk. I had a choice and I didn’t have to continue. Turning around was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made in my life. I was 2.5 miles from finishing my hike, and was going to wait another day by my own choice. I kept thinking of all the friends I would disappoint–especially my friends Lint and Pi from the PCT who were sending me encouraging texts along the lines of: “Sleep is for the weak.” (Just kidding, kind of). I also felt like I had pushed it so hard, had abandoned so many potential friends, meals, interesting conversations…all to make it to Katahdin and finish quickly.    I kept thinking of the zero I could have taken, the night hikes I didn’t need to do, the rain I didn’t need to walk in…but I knew I was making the right decision.

I walked down the mountain and it took all the energy in me not to cry. (Not crying during the entire hike was one of my big goals). At 2:45, I walked down to the ranger station and chatted with Ranger White (?) for a bit, told him the situation. Sometime during our conversation, *every* cloud in the sky disappeared. Ranger White said, “Well, normally we don’t let people up past the cut off time, but…” and kind of waved his hand. A big smile crossed my face and I ran up the mountain.

Of course, when I got to the Tablelands (about 1.5 miles in), the skies were looking thunderheady again. But I pushed on, going faster than I thought myself capable. I kept telling myself to move quickly and get off the mountain before the lightening started again. I touched the sign at 6:01, grabbed a quick photo, and ran down. By the time I was a mile down, the skies had cleared again.

I went back on the 5th (a *beautiful* day) with my boyfriend and had the pleasure of climbing Katahdin in Chacos over 10 hours and had a Mammoth Double Nut Brown (he had my favorite beer, only found in the Eastern Sierra, shipped out for the occasion). Katahdin was *way* more fun this way than the more-or-less two times I had done it the day before. I got lots of photos on top–at least one of which will turn out.

And thus ends a spectacular thru-hike. I met my goal of not crying and not doing anything I felt unsafe, and exceeded my goal of hiking it in 81-86 days by at least a day. I had a ton of fun—which I hadn’t really been expecting. And, my lesson on the last day, that finishing the trail at all costs is not worth it, was a good reminder. In the register at Kathadin Stream, I wrote “If I can turn around because of lightening, so can you.” I’m not sure the people I consider “real” record holders–Odyssa or Dave Horton or others would have done it. But I know I made the right decision for me. It’s just lucky the sky cleared up so I could have my righteousness and my finish.

Thank you’s and photos to come!

Keeping up with Liz (circa 2008) is no joke

Doing the same miles that Liz (I) did in 2008. Staying at the same shelters, getting to town and leaving town at the same times. The pace is exhausting. I have so much respect for Liz doing it like this in bad weather, as her first thru-hike, with Lyme Disease!!!

Saw Katahdin from the top of Saddleback. I was ecstatic. Saw a moose coming up to Spaulding Mountain.

I’ve noticed that as I write in trail registers, my grammar and spelling is starting to fade. I’ve still got quite a bit of energy left, but am excited to be a normal human (instead of a hiking machine).

Just answering a few questions people have emailed me along the way:

Castaway—I’ll answer your questions next time I have internet.
Trek—I haven’t been eating nearly as much ice cream as I would like to be.