Now the tricky thing about starting the AT at the northern end is that technically our hike wouldn't start until we'd summited and begun hiking back down. And the day our hike started there was a 90% chance of thunderstorms, so the rangers were warning most hikers off of going to the summit... but we'd already been delayed a day (from the late plane that made us miss our bus) and we were feeling good. I can't say we weren't warned of the weather or the challenge--but I think to say that Katahdin kicked our butts doesn't even begin to cover it. We went up the 'easier' Hunt Trail, and a pretty good portion of it was bouldering (which we weren't expecting) and very rough trail. The funny thing is that when we tell people we're from Colorado, they're immediately impressed--like this should be easy for us. And we kind of thought so, too. Before. But even at high elevation, most trails we've done in Colorado are really smooth and have a well-established feel, and trails out here are just ridden with roots and rocks. There were two or three places hiking Katahdin that even had metal bars drilled into boulders so you could hoist yourself up or down a rock face. That would've been plenty to take on, but there was also a storm building up as we got above tree line. So we raced to the summit (more ridiculous trail), snapped a couple pictures, and raced back down as fast as we could manage. I was so terrified of the boiling storm and booming thunder that my whole body was shaking--and just as we were nearing tree line a bolt of lightning burst at the ground probably 100 yards away, so close Andy says he could hear it sizzle. I've honestly never feared for my life the way I did as we raced for those trees. My stomach feels queasy just thinking of it... of course, that may be partly the french toast, bacon, eggs, potatoes, sausage, orange juice, and coffee I had for breakfast.
Which brings me to my Coulda Shoulda List. I can't speak for the rest of the trail, but for this section (Katahdin & the 100 Mile Wilderness) here's what I'd do differently. And trust me when I say I've had a good bit of time to ponder this list :)
- Wait until a great (or at least decent) weather day to hike up Katahdin. It's a huge effort to get up there, so you may as well get a view at the top and, you know... survive. Also the rangers will do their best to help you change camping arrangements (you have to book camping to stay in the park, but the rangers don't want to have to rescue you!)
- Consider (non-waterproof) trail runners in place of boots. Trail runners are like beefed up sneakers. I have waterproof Gore-Tex boots, and I love everything about them except for how effectively they hold water. There are so many streams to ford out here (plus so many puddles) that we just started plowing right into the water with our shoes on... and then I'd slosh along in my boots until the next ford. Trail runners get faster, but the water also has a chance to leak out.
- Bring extra toilet paper... and then bring more extra toilet paper. We almost ran out, and it was at the point that I'd stopped blowing my nose for fear of getting down to leaves. I don't know about you, but I'm really not okay with leaves.
- Bring more ibuprofen. I'm not much for taking pain-killers, but with my body still breaking into the hike I can't make it more than a few hours in the morning without some ol' vitamin I to subdue the aches.
- Pack less weight... and then pack even less weight. I think this is going to be a continuous process, but some of the things we sent out at White House Landing (close to halfway through the wilderness) included my fleece, Andy's vest, an extra Camelbak (there are vast quantities of water in Maine--no need to carry extra), and antiperspirant. We'll probably also send away our down jackets since it's been a lot warmer than we'd expected--we're so used to Rocky Mountain weather, we were thinking it'd be a lot cooler in the evening. In retrospect, there are even more things I would've shipped to Monson just to start with less weight... like my iPod and chargers (not many chances to charge before here anyway)
Alright, well it's the Fourth of July and Rebekah (one of the owners here) is going to take us to Greenville to resupply and watch a parade! I guess I haven't really addressed the serendipity part of my title, but let's just say that despite everything that has gone wrong (delayed start, lightning, failing muscles, failing gear (everything from Outdoor Research has broken!), a bug bite over my right eye that bled and then blew up like a balloon, mosquitoes, black flies, obscene quantities of rain, temporarily getting lost, falling, rashes, a scary hungry bear encounter... that's Andy's story more than mine), I feel really, truly happy to be out here right now doing just what we're doing. Happy Fourth!