For northbound thru-hikers, the 100-Mile Wilderness is the next-to-last section of the Appalachian Trail on its long route from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin. While not formally wilderness by any legal definition, this vast expanse of forestland from Monson to Abol Bridge is nonetheless very primitive and wild.
Stephen Clark, longtime editor of the Appalachian Trail Guide to Maine, coined the colorful label in the 1980s to alert AT thru-hikers to the dearth of resupply points along this remote stretch of trail, still largely the case today.
On my first day in the Wilderness I carried a light daypack, and after 15 miles of washboard ridges, thick spruce forests and gnarly stream crossings, I met my wife near Long Pond Stream. We drove to our camp on a pond in nearby Willimantic, and I enjoyed a final night of semi-civilized comfort.
The next morning, I shouldered my backpack loaded with a week’s supplies and struck off across the Barren-Chairback Range. I saw no one all day as I grunted over Barren, Fourth, Third and Columbus mountains, then camped alone at Chairback Gap Lean-to.
A day north, I stayed at Sidney Tappan Campsite, a cold and windy spot high in the Whitecap Range. After dinner, rather than retreat to my tent I built a fire, my first since spring in the southern Appalachians. Alone once again, I sat for a long while in the gathering night, staring into the flames and reflecting on the hike.
March 18 seemed a very long time ago, and it was hard to grasp that I’d actually been walking for more than six months. As I faced the end of the trail, the trek had become something of a blur in my mind, of states and scenery, campsites and one-pot meals, blue skies and rainy days, trail towns and trail angels, and thru-hiking friends come and gone.
Aches and pains were finally getting the best of me, with both knees, left hip and right heel giving me problems. Thank goodness for Ibuprofen. As for my boots, I hoped the gobs of epoxy would hold them together for a few more days. Reality had caught up with me at last; it was time to be done with the hike and I knew it.
From the apex of 3,600-foot Whitecap, glorious Katahdin stands tall just 60 trail miles away across a magical stretch of wooded country dotted with pristine lakes and ponds. I watched the lunar eclipse from the sand beach at Crawford Pond, and a still big pumpkin of a moonrise from my tent site amid the red pines on Lower Jo-Mary Lake.
I holed up for two nights at Debsconeag Lake Wilderness Camps to escape a 24-hour storm that dropped more than 5 inches of rain, then pitched my tent for the last time at Rainbow Lake, retiring into my sleeping bag well before dark, emotionally and physically exhausted.
At Abol Bridge, my wife and three friends were waiting with smiles and cold beers. The following day, we enjoyed a merry hike together into Baxter State Park to Katahdin Stream, where I registered with the ranger and got my official 2,000-miler application. For the record, I was northbound thru-hiker No. 831 to sign in this year.
At first light on Sunday, Oct. 4, we headed up the Hunt Trail, the final five miles of the AT. Beyond Katahdin Stream Falls, it took almost four hours of boulder scrambling and nearly 4,000 feet of elevation gain to reach the Tableland. Traces of snow on the rocks glinted in the bright sun of this perfect autumn day as we happily strode the last mile.
Just before noon I turned and kissed my wife, then sprinted the remaining 100 feet to the summit and hugged the famous Katahdin sign. After 2,189.2 miles and 189 days through 14 states, my 38-year dream to hike the Appalachian Trail a second time was realized.