Maine. My home state, the final state on the northbound Appalachian Trail, the second longest state on the AT and arguably the most primitive and natural section of trail on the entire 2200 mile journey. Within miles of crossing the New Hampshire border we came face to face with what we call the most difficult range of the AT, the Mahoosuc Mountains. As we hiked the northern New England section of the AT our fellow hikers talked about two sections of the upcoming trail more than anything else: The White Mountains and the Mahoosuc Notch. The Mahoosuc Notch, or Mahoosuc Mile, is considered to be the hardest mile of the entire AT. With the Notch buried deep in the middle of the Mahoosuc Mountain range, the range itself gets very little attention and is consequently a very underestimated section of the trail. The Mahoosuc’s only take up about 75 miles of trail but it made us earn every one of those miles the hard way. As opposed to many of the other mountainous sections where we would make a big climb and then attempt to follow a ridge line, the Mahoosuc’s did not have a ridge line to follow. Making it through them and getting to Andover took five days of long and difficult hiking, with never-ending steep ascents and descents on rock ledges, boulder fields and a few stone steps if we were lucky!
Leaving the Green Mountains of Vermont was one of the more bittersweet moments we had on the northern part of the Appalachian Trail. Lindsay and I both looked forward to tackling the looming challenge of the White Mountains partly because of the beauty that the big peaks and ridge lines of New Hampshire held on a clear, sunny day but also so that people would stop talking about how hard they were going to be. It seemed like “The Whites” produced a near-paralyzing fear for at least 100 miles before the first climb. Considering the fact that a blind man (Bill Irwin) had thru-hiked and people in the 80s thru-hike every year we assumed that some of the anxiety might have been from slightly exaggerated stories and tales. Nonetheless, we decided to err on the side of caution and take a rest day to load up on calories and resupply our food in the beautiful New England town of Hanover, NH. As long as erring on the side of caution is having a self-cooked pizza feast at the community pizza ovens with a case or two of Long Trail Ale then we were very safe in our preparation for embarking on our White Mountain Adventure.
Ahh, Vermont. Delightfully scenic, unique, varied and a bit one-off, Vermont. For the first 100 miles of this state, the Appalachian Trail and Long Trail share the same pathway separating just past Rutland, Vermont at the Maine Junction. As you may have read in our previous post, The Slackpack Experiment, we ended our 230 miles of hiking sans-backpack in Bennington, Vermont. Bennington is located only fifteen miles past the Vermont border, resulting in our purposeful decision to put backpacks on at the start of the Green Mountains. Not only did we start back up carrying our houses on our backs again, but we did so at the reappearance of real mountains. This led to a bit of apprehension about the endeavor to come and whether or not we would be able to make the mental and physical transition to backpacking again.
After managing to successfully leave the Doyle Hotel relatively unscathed, we pushed on further into Pennsylvania. As you may have gathered from the previous post The Halfway Hangover we didn’t greet this task full of gusto and vigor but rather kept plugging along, putting one foot in front of each other. Unfortunately, at this point in the hike, the upcoming rocks seemed to be the topic of any hiker conversation, just leading to a building sense of dread for the last 80(ish) miles of Pennsylvania after leaving Port Clinton, PA. So how bad were they really?
After we folded the rafts up and put the paddles away, the time came to put on our backpacks and start walking north again. Lindsay and I chose Harper’s Ferry as a convenient meet-up point with my parents after the Aqua Blaze so Hunter could go home for a three-week vacation. After three very busy days spent packing up from the aqua-blaze, meeting up with family in Harper’s and doing necessary preparations to continue on by foot, all of a sudden Lindsay and I were alone on the trail again. Because Harper’s Ferry also worked conveniently for the rest of our hiking crew to meet with friends or family for a visit or hike, it meant that everyone left north from Harper’s on a different day. For the first time since Georgia, Lindsay and I hiked purely on our own; without the dog and without other friends all we could do was talk to each other!