The Wrap Up

Well I’ve been home for a couple of days and have enjoyed the rest. Getting home was a little wild. 4 hitches and 3 flights later I made it home last Tuesday night. I was greeted by my family and it was wonderful to see everyone. I should post some pictures later on but this will probably be my last entry (and a long one, I am presuming).

The most common question I get back home is asking how the end was. Most of you have kept up with my journey and know up until the end. I will do my best to try and explain to you how I felt and the way things were. The easiest thing to start with is the details.

The 100 Mile Wilderness leads up to the final push. I would have liked to taken as much time as possible in my final days but I didn’t really have the time and didn���t want to carry eight days of food so I pushed myself a little. I miscalculated my food but was able to get some off people carrying too much and hike about 20 miles a day for 5 days. All my friends were either way behind me or already done so I figured I would be alone for the last bit. Fortunately a friend from back in Vermont and New Hampshire, Ishmael, had taken some days off and I caught him. We hiked the 100 together and ended up summiting together as well. It was really wet, which made for rough hiking but we were so close to the finish it didn’t really matter. To tell you the truth it never really mattered. You enjoy sunny and clear days more but you learn you have to deal the (and occasionally enjoy) the rain in order to for there to be sunny days.

The day I climb Katahdin, it was partly cloudy and chance of rain. It rained all night the night before and stopped in the morning so I took advantage of it. Woke up early and hit the mountain hard. I passed the only people in front of me about halfway so the rest was a time of quite reflection as I climbed my last mountain. It was an odd feeling. Most thru hikers talk about the end being bittersweet. Happy to finish but sad to be leaving the life you have been living. It was my 150th day, so I spent most of my time thinking about the journey I had walked throughout those days. Ups and Downs, smiles and frowns.

About a mile out, I could see where the top was. I decided to not look at it but to hike the trail. I kept my head down and walked exactly as I had done for 5 months. Knowing the end was out there but not being able to see it. As I climbed, the terrain got flat and I knew I was close. Before I knew it there was a big wooden sign in front of me. I knew what the sign looked like. I had seen it a thousand times before in pictures from past thru hikers that litter every stop on the trail. I tell people that I’ve seen a thousand pictures of people with the sign and they all look different. It was now in front of me.

There was a couple who had taken a different trail up who were at the top as well. After about two minutes, they left and I had the mountain to myself. I sat on a rock and stared at the wooden sign. I cannot tell you what I was thinking at the time. It was one of those times where you are thinking about everything but also nothing. I just stared. After about 20 minutes, I stood up and approached the sign. I stood an inch away. The moment of the end had come and I touched the sign. I can say with no shame that a tear or two was frequent throughout the last mile as well as at the top. I was done.

I spent the next two hours on a rock by myself. Dozens of other day-hikers showed up, took pictures, talked to each other, enjoyed the mountain. I went hours without saying a single word. There is no way to compare the feeling with words. I sat there as an emotional castaway utterly unable to relate to anyone. I do not mean this in a negative way but my feelings would go unheard. Much like now. Surreal.

Ishmael was behind me and I waited for him. I eventually picked him out and watched him approach. I will never forget how it was to see him reach the top and know that only I knew how he was feeling. He gave two fist pumps with his poles about 30 feet out when he saw me standing next to the sign waiting for him. He walked directly up to the sign and fell as he reached it. He tried to talk but the emotion, the feeling, kept his words from being understandable. Untranslatable to those who will likely never understand. I understood the mumbles completely. About 50 people watched as he lost it in pure ecstasy and bliss. They had no idea what was going on. A couple, who we hiked with told some people what we had done and word quickly spread on the mountain top. They watched grown men cry and sit with the heavy burden of our journey on our shoulders. They just watched. Later, we were greeted with congratulations and questions about our journey.

It took me three hours to shake the heavy burden of my thoughts and celebrate. We offered hugs of accomplishment and smiles of indescribable joy. We took pictures, lit cigars, and enjoyed a bottle of champagne that I had carried the last 114 miles. Some of the day hikers spoke to us and each other as heroes, but none of that mattered. We were heroes to ourselves.

The weather turned on us and we had to leave. We had about an hour and a half of the most intense storm I experienced on the trail. Nickel-sized hail above treeline surrounded by lightening is as about as dangerous as it gets. But we made it down the mountain and eventually home.

It is good to be home. My body needed it. It is not built to be pushed physically everyday for five months. Near the end I got weak and was more tired than I had ever been on the trail. It was a funny feeling the next morning, waking up and having to tell yourself that there is no more hiking left. You were done.

People think the trail is a 2176 mile path that leads from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. I don’t even know what to say to that. I know my attempt to tell you what it is will be futile but I am going to try.

The trail becomes your life. Completely. Every single day, for as long as it takes, you have one goal. Every second of everyday is set for reaching this goal. At the beginning the goal is so far away, so overwhelming, you can’t even comprehend it. Everyone I talked to experienced the enormity of the task at the beginning. Several are willing to admit feelings of great fear and an unprecedented burden that even lead to tears. But you walk on. Eventually that goal fades and your life becomes simple. Walking north is just what you do. It is who you are. Nothing else matters really. There are ups and downs but you never worry. You do everything you can to enjoy everything. The wild blueberries were ripe throughout the second half of Maine. Every time I saw them, I would pick as many as I wanted. I spent hours one day picking around 500 hundred of them. On my way up Katahdin, I passed some blueberries. I was so focused on reaching the top that I passed them by. But I asked myself, ���If I don’t stop and pick the blueberries, then why am I really here?’ I went back and told myself never to forget that.

Hiking becomes as second nature as breathing. Your mind has so much free time that most of the day is spent in deep thought. About the past, future and the present. You begin to question everything. You boil the importance of everything you knew and learned down. You learn what is important to you and have revelations on life. The people you hike with become your family. A family of friends only wanting to help the other.

One thing everyone experiences is kindness. I cannot tell you of all the wonderful people I met. The compassion and graciousness. I can tell you without a doubt that I believe in good people and always will. I have hope in everyone. For those who showed me compassion or kindness on the trail, I will never be able to repay them for what they did.

It’s 4 am and I can’t think about anything else than this. I’m not even sure this makes sense. Just my thoughts poured out. I can think of two things that completely changed my journey. The two people who by far had the biggest impact on me were Master Alex and Allgood. Allgood carried a mandolin the entire trail. Most people think that is crazy. These are the people who cut their toothbrush in half and assign themselves schedules. Allgood has an amazing ability to realize a moment and make the best of it. Most of the time in these moments, he would bust out his mandolin and just pick bluegrass. He played for entertainment sometimes but the majority of his play was for the moments. We would hit a mountain top, a vista, a waterfall or stream, hell anything. He would just pick bluegrass for hours on end sometimes. No one ever talked. We were all taken into the moment and realized it. Nothing else matters. These moments would also occur in shelters or around campfires after a deep discussion or whatever. Sometimes half a dozen guys would sit around in silence or to bluegrass and would say nothing. Everyone in thought and knowing everyone else was in thought. These are the times when I would have the realization that I was exactly where I needed to be in my life and doing exactly what I needed to do. No worries. Master Alex is from Quebec and sometimes has a funny way of saying things but it always makes sense. One day we were sitting around discussing what we wanted to do for the day. It was a debate for the rational/typical verse the irrational/spontaneous. He looked up at me while sitting on a rock with his big bushy beard and in complete seriousness and a slow tone said, ‘You can do…whatever you want’. From then on whenever any of us found ourselves making a decision we would remind each other. “We can do…whatever we want.” These things changed the trip for me. And though they would never ask for anything from me, I am forever indebted to them for it. I did whatever I wanted and even when I left Allgood, I would find myself in those moments and be able to hear his bluegrass faintly in the distance.

I knew after about a month and half I would never be able to explain this. I still can’t. This post is getting long ( I know), but I could talk about this for as long as you wanted. In the Shenandoahs I came across an entry in the register from a southbounder from the year before. Upon reading it, I knew then that this is how I would explain it. It is from H. M. Tomlinson’s 1912 book The Sea and the Jungle.

“The finest passage in any book of artic travel is in Warburton Pikes’ Barren Grounds, where he quotes what the Indian said to the missionary who had been speaking of heaven. The Indian asked, “And is it like the land of the Musk-Ox in summer, when the mist is on the lakes, and the loon cries very often?”

You feel at once the country the Indian saw around him would be easily missed by us, even when in the midst of it. For taking the bearings of such a land, the sextant, and the miles already traveled, would not be factors to help much. Now the Indian knew nothing of artificial horizons and the aides to discovering where they are which strangers use. But in summer the mist of his lakes were but the vapor of his musings, the penumbra of the unfathomed deeps of his mind whereon he paddled his own canoe; and when the wind-fowl called it was memory heard; it was his thought become vocal then while he dreamed on. I myself learned that the treasures found in travel, the chance rewards of travel that make it worthwhile, cannot be accounted beforehand, and seldom are matters a listener would care to hear about afterwards; for they have no substance. They are untranslatable from their time and place; and like the man who unwittingly lies down on the hill where the little people dance on midsummer’s night, and dreams his pockets were filled with fairy gold, waking to find pebbles there instead, so the traveler cannot prove the dreams he had, showing us only pebbles when he tries. They are like the Indians lakes in the summer. They have no names. They cannot be found on the best maps. Not you nor any other will ever discover them.”

You should probably read that again. I have read it many times and always read it twice.

Here, I have tried to translate the untranslatable. No matter what I say, I feel that I can only show you pebbles. Unless you are there and do it you will never fully understand anything I have said here. Most of you will never hike the Appalachian Trail. I encourage you and pray that you find your own trail. Your own Katahdin. I promise you will never regret it. Thank you so much for listening, I have honestly enjoyed writing this and all the comments from friends, family and strangers. It means more to me than you know and I wish great things for each and every one of you.

- Trill

 

Pictures from My Trip

You all know how I love to take pictures, so you can imagine how many I was taking while hiking with Trill.  I have whittled all the pictures down to this selection.  Enjoy.

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Brandon Explains How it Felt to Enter Maine

I shot a quick video while we were in the inn in Stratton of Trill explaining how it felt to enter Maine, his final state.

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(QuickTime Version)

 

A few days hiking with Brandon

Below is my account of hiking a few days with Brandon just before he entered the 100 mile wilderness.

The plan was to fly up to Maine, hike with my brother Brandon (a.k.a. Trill) for about 5 days on the Appalachian Trail and leave him at the beginning of the “100 mile wilderness” (100 mile stretch without any roads or ways out other than to hike it out).

I had a late flight into Portland, ME, picked up a rental car, and found a cheap-ish hotel just outside the city for the night.  I woke up the next morning (a little late) and began the 3+ hour drive up to Stratton to meet Brandon.  Since I had most of the day and haven’t ever been to Maine I decided to stick to back roads on my trip up there.  I didn’t have a really good map, and following the road signs became a bit tricky.  Thanks to my phone and Google Maps, I was able to finally meet up with him just as he was getting off the trail.

What a sight and smell.  Brandon has obviously lot a good bit of weight, added a spectacular bushman beard, and the stench to go with it.  When you are out in the woods, without a shower, you get used to the smell but seeing as I had just showered that morning, he stunk.  I quickly shuttled him into town and we grabbed a hotel room a quaint little inn.  While Brandon showered I enjoyed the view over looking a little creek from our hotel balcony.  Brandon was filled with stories from the trail and was really excited to have someone to share them with.  He told me all about the crazy people he met on the trail, some of his own crazy experiences and his general out look on life.  While he tried hard to explain how things on the trail are, I can tell that he will never be able to fully explain the journey he has been on for the last five months to anyone who hasn’t been there.  It’s hard for even me to explain how he’s changed to you here.  I think he has a new outlook on life, nature, and who he is personally.  All good changes, but changes nonetheless. We spent the whole night just catching each other up on what’s been going on in our own worlds.

The next morning we slept in a bit and hit the trail about 10 AM.  Since we got a late start and it was my first day we decided to do a short day and spent the night in the first shelter about five miles down the trail.  The hike was pretty nice to start with, but had a few climbs near the end that slowed me down.  He of course had no trouble.  That first night we had the shelter all to ourselves (aside from a caretaker that had her own cabin).  He showed me the ropes in regards to how he settles into a shelter, cooks dinner, and just enjoys his life.  The only downer that night was the fact that the bugs were out and they have a fondness for my ears.  All night they buzzed in my ear making it difficult to get really good sleep.  I guess he’s just used to it.

The following morning I was to wake up at first sunlight and get a jump start on him since he hikes faster.  Brandon has telling time by the sun down to a fine science and I had not picked up on it the first morning.  I thought it was about 6 AM when I woke up, but it turned out to be closer to 8 or 9 when he finally woke me up and told me to get a move on.  I got about a hour jump start on him.  By the time he caught up with me, the rain had begun.  The whole day it rained.  This day we were shooting for about 15 miles with two big mountains to cross (4000+ feet in elevation) and one smaller mountain later.   With the rain we quickly decided that we’d do another shortish day and pull into a shelter about 7.5 miles down the trail.  The two big climbs were spectacular.  The views they offered were awesome, however getting to the top wore me out.  He had no problems with it and blew past me on the way up, only to sit in the rain at the top to wait on me.  It was such a great feeling to get to the top of each of these mountains, turn around and see where you had come from.

Unfortunately on the way down from the second mountain I slipped on way down and twisted my knee pretty bad. I was able to hobble over the the last mountain but was very relieved when we finally made a shelter.  Somewhere crossing that last mountain we crossed the 2000 mile mark of the trail.  With each step, I could tell Brandon was having mixed emotions.  He had now hiked over 2000 miles from the start of this trip, but with each step he was growing ever closer to it’s end.  It was still raining cats and dogs when we pulled up for the night, but luckily were in a shelter with a few other folks who were going through the same thing.  I guess that’s part of the journey.  You get to see God’s spectacular creation from mountain tops that few others get to experience, but you may have to learn to find the beauty in His life giving rain in order to get there.

Having started with two short days, it was time to make up some miles.  Luckily the following day held 17.6 almost completely flat miles.  This time I did get up at first sunlight, grabbed some breakfast to eat while hiking and left Brandon asleep in the shelter.  I was able to get about three or four miles down the trail before Brandon caught me.  During those miles we crossed a road, that at one point was closer to the 2000 mile mark, and someone had spray painted “2000 mi.” right in the middle.  The rest of the day we pretty much hiked together, stopping occasionally along the some of the many mountain ponds we wound around for a snack.

My knee was really giving me trouble most of the day and I had decided that there was just no way for me to continue another 40 more miles hobbling along like I was.  We were to cross a major road the next day and I went ahead and made the decision to pull off there and let him continue alone.  It was a really hard decision.  I wanted to continue hiking with my brother and spend more time with him, but I knew I just couldn’t and that the right decision was to get off before I really messed up my knee or worse didn’t make it to the end in time to catch my flight to New York City for the rest of my vacation.

Having made up my mind I soaked in everything I could of our last night.  We got into our shelter with plenty of day light left, made dinner, set up camp and then went swimming in the beautiful pond next to the shelter.  From the other hikers I gathered that this shelter was one of the better ones for spending the night.  The shelter was clean and flat and had the most amazing view of the sunset from inside the shelter.  The only problem was the bugs.  The bugs were again out in full force that night causing everyone in the shelter to get up in the middle of the night to reapply bug repellent.  We also had a huge storm blow through that night that apparently woke up some of the other hikers when it was blowing rain inside the shelter.  I was so tired I slept right through it.

The night before a gentleman from some hunting camps about a half mile from the trail came by to tell us about his 12 pancake breakfast he served to through hikers for a modest fee.  Brandon and another man from the shelter took him up on his offer which worked out perfectly.  It gave me just enough time to hike to the ferry and let Brandon catch me there.  Now this ferry was pretty neat.  It is the only place on the trail that goes through a river that is too large to just hike through or cross on a bridge.  The ATC therefore pays for a local outfitter to man a canoe throughout the season to ferry hikers across free of charge.  You simply arrive to one side of the river, wave a flag to signal the ferry, and take the canoe across.  They even have a white blaze painted right on the bottom of the canoe so you know that it’s part of the official trail.  We crossed together, and this is where I said goodbye.  I arranged with the ferry man to drive me about half way back to Stratton to pick up my rental car, and Brandon waited with me for a little while until his lunch break.  We traded some gear and I left him most of my food.  The food he didn’t want to take, another through hiker that we had camped with came by shortly after and graciously took the rest.  We said our goodbyes and he continued on down the trail with 15 more miles to that day.

I had a great time and have a new apreciation for his amazing accomplishment.

 

Home, Sweet Home!

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Brandon (Trill) is back home!  He arrived back in Atlanta tonight around 11:30 pm after only sleeping 2 hours in the past 40.   He’s been on a mini-adventure getting back from Maine to Georgia, though this time it didn’t take him almost five months.  His grandmother and grandfather came up from Alabama to greet him along with his parents and myself.  As you can imagine, Mom is glad to have her much skinnier and much hairier son back close to home.  Here are a few pictures of his arrival.  The beautiful sign is by his cousin Claire.

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He Did It!

Brandon texted us this morning to say that he summited Katahdin today at 10 AM.  Congratulations Brandon (Trill) on your amazing accomplishment.

 

Katahdin Tomorrow!

Brandon called from Abol Bridge 15.1 miles from Katahdin and wanted us to let everyone know he will climb Katahdin tomorrow. What a great accomplishment, an amazing journey.

 

Almost There

Trill called on Tuesday to say he was beginning the 100 Mile Wilderness , 114 miles to go but who’s counting.   Actually approaching the end of this amazing journey is bittersweet for him.   He was excited Tuesday though for this next challenge.

Having this website has been fun for many of us tracking his progress and so many people have come to the site to check  but not always posting a note.  I thought it would be great for Trill aka Brandon to have a congratulatory note from all who have been checking in over the past 5 months. So sign on and post a quick note that he can read when he finishes and returns home.   Thanks to all for your interest and prayers.

 

Maine Update

Trill’s brother Ben has joined him on the trail at Stratton, ME and will hike with him to Monson.  From there, Trill will have the 100-mile Wilderness and the climb up Katahdin on his own.  Almost there!  Ben normally does the  updating to this site so you may have a few days of slow news but he will have lots of pictures later!  Can’t wait to see if Ben acquires a trail name during the week.  It didn’t take me long to get “+12″ but I had to work at it.

Katie Beasley has updated Trill’s hike in the Auburn Plainsman again.  Thanks Katie!  Here is the link to the latest article.

http://www.theplainsman.com/sports/2008/jul-17/mcmath_nears_trail_hike_finish

Keep the prayers lifting.  He plans to summit sometime near the end of the month.  Trail magic is still happening thanks to DaleAmerica and others that Trill doesn’t even know about yet.  The journey has truly been the destination.

 

“The Whites”

Trill has sent in some pictures from his trek through the Whites!

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sunset-from-fire-wardens-tower-before-the-whites.jpgsunset-from-fire-wardens-tower-before-the-whites2.jpgsunset-from-fire-wardens-tower-before-the-whites3.jpgmoosiauke-fog1.jpgmoosiauke-summit-during-storm1.jpgmoosiauke1.jpgbrandon-at-moosiauke1.jpgthe-amazing-morning-view-i-had-at-beaver-brook-shelter-if-you-notice-it-was-before-6am1.jpgan-intense-section-of-trail-in-the-whites1.jpgfranconia-ridge-whites1.jpgmount-layfayette-whites1.jpggalehead-hut-whites1.jpgwebster-cliffs-whites1.jpgsomewhere-above-treeline-whites1.jpgmount-washington-whites1.jpgview-of-pinkham-notch1.jpgself-portrait1.jpgbrandon-and-border-sign1.jpgborder-sign1.jpgmain-border1.jpglast-nights-sunset.jpgmahoosic-notch1.jpgmahoosic-notch21.jpgmahoosic-notch31.jpg

  1. Sunset from fire warden’s tower (before the whites)
  2. Sunset from fire warden’s tower (before the whites)2
  3. Sunset from fire warden’s tower (before the whites)3
  4. Moosiauke fog
  5. Moosiauke summit during storm
  6. Moosiauke
  7. Brandon at Moosiauke
  8. the amazing morning view I had at Beaver Brook Shelter (if you notice it was before 6am)
  9. an Intense section of trail in the whites
  10. Franconia Ridge (whites)
  11. Mount Layfayette (whites)
  12. Galehead Hut (whites)
  13. Webster cliffs (whites)
  14. somewhere above treeline (whites)
  15. mount washington (whites)
  16. view of Pinkham Notch
  17. Self Portrait
  18. Main Border
  19. Border Sign
  20. Brandon and Border Sign
  21. Last night’s sunset
  22. Mahoosic Notch
  23. Mahoosic Notch2
  24. Mahoosic Notch3