Motivation

Trevor heard about the Appalachian Trail decades ago and has always dreamed of doing it one day.

I learned about its existence through Trevor. I read numerous memoirs of people who have done it. I thoroughly enjoyed these books but never thought about attempting this myself. I saw it as something beyond my physical and mental abilities. I didnt see myself as being able to hike almost every day for 6 months, often in the rain. I couldnt imagine a life where I can be clean (showered and in fresh clothes) only once a week. I read about the bugs and snakes and bears and was sure that you need to be a person much tougher than me to cope with all of those things.

Fortunately I have read those books long ago. When Trevor started talking about doing the AT in 2019, and suggested I should do it with him, the ROMANCE of a 6 month hike was a much stronger factor than the memory of the hardships I read about. I downloaded one of the books again but never got round to reading it – if I did I most likely would have (as before) thought this too tough a challenge for me. Without re-reading any of it and with Trevor’s belief that if he can do it so can I, I agreed to join him. To TRY – I told everybody that only 1 out of 4 makes it (they now say 1 out of 5) and that all we can do is to start and see how it goes.

One thing I realised over the course of the hike is that the REASON for doing something is an important part of the motivation to keep you going.

My reasons for doing this were different to Trevor’s. His reasons were (if I interpret his between the line explanations correctly) the intrigue of the physical challenge, that he wanted to be one of the select group of people who succeed at doing this, and that it would be a novel way of experiencing America.

One of my reasons (initially) was that Trevor was going to embark on this big adventure and I was scared of missing out on an experience of a life time (and an experience of a life time is exactly what it was), but more importantly, my main reason was that I did it as an investment in our marriage. Trevor and I do everything together. The thought that he would undertake something so big and that I wouldnt be part of it, just went against how we conduct our joint life. And to be honest, I was scared that the walk would change him, and that this stranger will return to SA, I thought if 6 months of walking changes a person it will be best if I am with him so we can change together (this was an unnecassary fear: we are still the same people who embarked on this 5 months ago). You will see I talk of 6 months and 5 months: we expected it to take us 6 months but we ended up doing it in 5.

One can therefore summarise it by saying Trevor’s main reason was that he wanted to succeed in the physical challenge, and my main reason was that I wanted to do it because he was going to do it.

The more passionately you want the outcome – and that will relate to your reason for doing something – the easier it will be to stay motivated. Young people who didnt have jobs or didnt know what to do with their lives and therefore hopped onto the trail as a time filler were more likely to get off the trail than those who quit their jobs so that they could do the trail because they really wanted to do it. Trevor’s reason of fulfilling a life long dream was a bigger motivation than my “dont want to miss out on an adventure” (in hindsight it was an adventure but during that first month of sweat and tears the romantic notion of an adventure disappeared quickly), but my reason of doing it with him as we do everything together was a big motivation. However, over time my reason for wanting to complete it changed. I am a finisher, and although it surprises me about myself I am also competitive. Somewhere over the course of all these steps (I became aware of it half way through the hike) I realised I wanted to finish it because I too wanted to be one of the select group. I also didnt just want to complete the journey, I wanted us to do it in a good time; ahead of the bubble and in less than the average time it takes (the ATC says it takes 5 to 7 months so at exactly 5 months we did well, though there are many others that finished in less than 5 months).

As a generalisation it is fair to say that it would be very hard for anybody not enjoying a physical challenge to stay motivated.

I have been asked by many people over the last 5 months what motivated me to get up and walk every day. I have also been asked if I sometimes wake up in the morning and thought that I just didnt want to do it, that I dont want to get up and spend the day walking.

The second question is the easier one to answer: I NEVER woke up thinking I dont want to walk. And probably that is because I was always motivated. What motivated me/how I stay motivated – thats a more difficult question to answer and one that I have wondered about myself (knowing that you are motivated doesnt necessarily mean you know what motivates you).

We had a few things on our side. We like hiking and being in nature. We are physically strong and fit (for our age). Our reasons for wanting to make it to Mt Katahdin were strong. And we were (other than for all the aches and pains and in spite of getting bone tired) having a great time (protected from the ugliness of events and people out in real life, meeting wonderful people on the trail and becoming part of the AT community, visiting quaint little trail towns).

The motivation we needed was therefore to keep us doing something we generally enjoyed. At the same time the target was far away and the task incomprehensibly tough. One of the few times we felt very de-motivated was halfway through, when we thought we have walked sooooooo far, we could almost not wrap our heads around how far we have walked, and we were only half way. Not only that, the second half was going to be much tougher as we will have to do the Whites and south of Maine.

We were motivated by having (subconsciously, not thought through) a long term target, medium term targets, short term targets, micro targets, and very importantly: rewards.

We set off with getting to Mt Katahdin as the ultimate target. But it is almost impossible to set your sights that far ahead, so initially our focus was to get to Harper’s Ferry by 13 June (as we were going to a concert on 14 June).

After our first day on the trail (and being taken by surprise how tough it was even for experienced hikers like us) my target became very short term. My focus was only to cope with the next day. And then the next day. It took a week or two of having as target to survive the following day before I could look into the future and set my target to getting to Erwin. Then the medium term targets became Damascus, Harpers Ferry, the numeric half way point, Hanover, the Whites, the South of Maine, the 100 mile wilderness, and Katahdin. It was only after the Whites that we started really thinking of Katahdin.

At other points there were medium term targets too: entering a next state, getting to a Zero day, getting to 1000km/2000km/3000km – milestone markers.

Short term targets were daily events: having to do Mahoosuc notch, or getting over the Kinsmans, or having to cover x km for the day.

In tough times there were micro targets: getting the next 200m gain in altitude behind us, or just get through the next 3km.

Almost all these targets came with rewards. Huge rewards (getting up to Katahdin made us thru-hikers), big rewards (getting to Erwin gave us time with Mathilda, getting to Harpers Ferry gave us our photo in the halfway album and the trip to DC), nice rewards (town visits and everything going with that), mental rewards (one more state ticked off, a sense of progress at milestone markers) and food rewards (skittels for every 200m ascend, snickers when only 6km left in the day, a snack after 6km, a Mountain House meal iso Ramen Noodles after a tough day).

I stayed motivated by having – right to the end – a strong reason for wanting to finish (if you start saying ‘what is the point of this all’ you will struggle to stay motivated) and importantly, to focus on (and worry about) the appropriate target. And to not “spoil” any reward by worrying about the next challenge while enjoying the reward.

When arriving at our camp spot for the night I took off my shoes and started cooking. Crawling into our tent always created my safe space where I relaxed and rested. I NEVER thought about how it will feel to have to put shoes on sore feet tomorrow, or how the tired legs will feel tomorrow. The reward of the day was shoes off, warm dinner, happiness in tent. I revelled in the reward as if tomorrow was of no concern. Generally “tomorrow” took care of itself.

The same apply to town visits. We would, whilest on the trail, say when we get to town next we should do a,b,c. Only to leave town having not given a thought to a,b,c.

It was important to not worry about future challenges too far in advance. Not saying it wouldnt be necessary to plan ahead. Two weeks before reaching the Whites we had to make a call on which sleeping bags we would take (as it needed to be mailed to us). But it was pointless WORRYING about the toughness of the Whites while we were coping with the mud in Vermont and Trevor’s lyme disease. And when we reached the Whites we didnt worry about Mt Washington and Mt Madison when we still had to do Moosilauke and the Kinsmans. And we didnt worry about the 100mile wilderness when we still had to get over the mountains in the south of Maine.

As I am typing this I am trying to convert how we experienced it to academic motivation factors, which isnt easy. My most honest summary is this:

* you need to really want something (for whatever reason) to be motivated.

* if the target is too big or too long term, set shorter term targets

* the bigger the challenge the more shorter term subtargets you will need – the mental reward of ticking them off and feeling there is progress will in itself be motivation

* rewards lift the spirit and prepares you for the next challenge

* enjoy every reached target and dont spoil it by worrying about the next target in the celebration/reward time of the current target

The End – 6 Sep

We are thru-hikers. In the beginning we were shy to claim the title but now we have earned it. For 5 months we lead a simple life, though physically and mentally challenging we had one focus only, and that was to walk. I know we can walk. We can walk when it is hot and when it is cold and when it is pouring with rain. We can walk when we are tired and when we are hungry and when we are injured. We can walk up mountains and down mountains. We can do rock scrambles that will make rock climbers proud.

Now we are going back to normal life. I need to figure out how to again be a loving wife (iso a hiking partner), caring daughter, dependable sister, fun aunt, considerate friend, sharp statistician, responsible manager, effective housewife, healthy cook, disciplined runner. Quite daunting!

It has been the adventure of a life time. We have seen America in a way few travellers do and we have experienced the kindness and generosity of Americans in a way normal tourist wouldn’t. I have cried as often as I have laughed. Mostly emotional tears but at times tears of frustration or tiredness or from being hurt fall after fall after fall.

Some hikers count their falls, we havnt done that but at a guess I must have had close on 15 and Trevor probably around 10 – both of us had 80% of our falls in Maine.

We have met wonderful people on the trail and are amazed how normal everybody is. Deciding to walk 2192 miles sounds like a crazy idea, yet around 5000 ordinary people set out to do just that every year. The success rate is somewhere between 1 out of 5 and 1 out of 4 making it all the way to the end – and how proud and thankful we are that we are part of the 20-25% who made it.

Was it a life changing experience? No, it was just a wonderful time leading a wonderful life. Did I learn anything about myself? No, I didn’t “find” myself (maybe because I havnt “lost” myself before). Did I learn anything about Trevor? No, he was exactly the man I knew before, who pushes me beyond what I think I’m capable of, who makes me laugh, who knows how to keep me going even when I am in agonising pain or too tired to put one foot in front of the other. Is our marriage stronger? No, it is just incomprehensible that we would have done this without each other. Did I think a lot about a lot of things? Absolutely! It is amazing how you suddenly realise you have been walking for 5 hours and you havnt noticed the time because you were so busy with your own thoughts. My thoughts often centered around how absolutely privileged we are and how many in the world are so much in need of so many things we take for granted. Often though my thoughts were fantasising about the next snack!

It was a selfish and indulgent exercise, focusing on ourselves while we parked life. We have so many people to thank for so many things:

– my mom for encouraging us even though she would rather have us at home

– my sister for taking care of my mom and protecting me from bad news untill after she has solved the problems

– my 2 wonderful PA’s, my sister in law Cecelia (professional PA to high profiled individuals) and my friend Mathilda (PhD in Mathematical Statistics…..but very efficient PA) who sorted out several crises for us from shorthand WhatsApps requests

– Iceman and Barb, whose biggest contribution was that we knew if ever a serious problem arrived (like a critical injury in the middle of nowhere) we would be able to call on them for help, aside from encouragement and endless cold drinks made available to power us on. Somebody said Iceman is not a trail angel but a trail saint

– all my friends and family who kept communicating with me for 5 months, either by frequent comments on my blog posts or messages

– colleagues on my side and on Trevor’s side who stood in for us for such a long period, we owe you big time

– numerous trail angels who treated us with affection and made days more special by being there with something to drink or eat, or leaving water caches in dry areas

THE END

The Unposted Blogs – after the fact

Some of the stories I didn’t want to share at the time it happened :

Murder on the Trail

We heard rumours about a hiker going by the trail name of Sovereign who has been behaving strangely, including walking around with a machete. He had a guitar and pit bull terrier with him. I have a vague recollection of seeing him heading in the opposite direction to NOBO on the first stop we made at a shelter to make coffee, but my memory of those first days are hazy.

On the day we were Zeroing in Damascus (early May) news broke that a part of the trail (about 3 or 4 days ahead of where we were, if I recall correctly) had been closed for a criminal investigation which was under way in the area.

Soon the full story became known. Sovereign has attacked a group of hikers at their tenting spot in the early hours of the morning. Two ran and got away, one man was killed and one girl got badly cut up, but was saved as she played dead and Sovereign left.

He was found and arrested very quickly. We saw the surviving girl at a hostel when we stopped by for a coolie (what other reason could there be!!) and she came round to thank the hostel owner for letting her friends use the owner’s car to visit her in hospital.

Hikers were naturally upset and sad, but nobody I know of left the trail after this.

Sovereign was sent for observation and committed to an asylum – found to be not mentally fit to stand trial.

Snakes

Mathilda gave us a crash course in snakes – there are 3 venomous types to stay away from: rattle snakes, copper mouths and cotton mouths.

In Virginia we started seeing a lot of snakes. Very common was the Black Racer, not a threat to us but still quite a shock when it suddenly slither across the trail in front of you; they can be quite long.

One day I saw something moving in a tree and got the fright of my life when I saw this biggie (which I found out later to be an innocent Rat Snake)

We saw all three of the venomous types, I have photos but no point of freaking everybody out 😀.

Was it a Bear or was it a Deer?

Occasionally notices are being put up warning hikers to avoid camping in an area because of an aggressive bear being active in the area. The night before we walked into Fort Montgommery we tented at one of these shelters. You may wonder why we stayed there given the warning. We already had a long and tough day in 30 plus degree temperatures and my feet were at their worst. We arrived at the shelter after 7pm. We really COULDN’T walk on any further. Besides, we don’t know the size of a bear’s territory: would 1km further make a difference? Or would we need to walk on 3 or 5km to be out of his territory? The area also didn’t have many spots suitable for stealth camping.

Staying there was our only option. There were 3 people sleeping in the shelter and 2 tenting above the shelter, we were tenting alone a bit lower, 150m below the shelter.

We set up camp quite far from where a bear trap was set up, but Trevor later pointed out a motion detector camera on one of the trees close to where we were…..were we in his approach path 😬…?

We were very diligent that night, made sure no Snickers papers in our backpacks, and even our plates and toothbrushes and toothpaste were stored away in our bear cannisters.

We had mash (which is one of the 3 meals on our menu) and bacon jerkey (we don’t like beef jerkey but the bacon jerkey is real good) with a very strong smokey smell for dinner.

In the middle of the night Trevor woke me and said “quiet, I think the bear is here”. I asked why he thought that. He said he could hear it snorting. I then heard it too, and it was moving around, not right at our tent but I would estimate 30m away. We were dead quiet and didn’t move. I just thought how pointless it was that I stored away everything food-smelly in our cannisters but the most food smelling thing were my hands!!! (No I didn’t wash my hands – if you struggle to get enough water to drink you certainly don’t wash your hands!)

I was awake for long, thinking about a night in the Drakensberg when we camped in snow, and a wind came up that flattened all 5 tents in the valley. That night I thought we would die but then woke up the next morning realising the sun was rising and that we were alive!

So eventually I decided to sleep. I woke up the next morning and the sun was rising and we were alive!

Trevor now says he no longer thinks it was a bear, he thinks it was a deer. I don’t know deer so I don’t know how aggressively they can snort, but to me that snorting couldn’t have been from an innocent little deer. We were mocked charged by a bear a few weeks ago (I can’t even remember if I blogged about that) and the sound we heard at Fingerboard Shelter was very much the snorting sound I recall from that incident.

Mt Madison

Mt Madison was the peak after Mt Washington. We did Work For Stay at Madison hut the night before and woke up with howling wind outside. We set out early to do the very short climb (maybe a kilometre) to the top of Madison, which is one big rock pile. It started raining and the wind speed increased. We got to the top in wind so strong it almost blew me off my feet a few times. Visibility was terrible. We had to walk from cairn to cairn, at each cairn looking to find the next one. It was freezing. I was wearing my gloves but they were not water proof and got soaking wet in the rain. We started the long, slow climb downwards. At some stage my foot got stuck between two rocks and I couldn’t get it out. Eventually I pulled my foot out of the shoe, then managed to wiggle the shoe out. I sat on a rock putting my shoe on again. When I removed my gloves to get the shoe laced up I realised how wet they were so I wrung them out. In the mean time Trevor stood waiting, afterwards telling me he thought we were going to die from hypethermia. My morale was very low, I was thinking this is insane and dangerous. Trevor afterwards admitted he was thinking the same, but he knew he had to keep our spirits up so he was making up songs about finding the next cairn/blaze.

It took us hours to get down that mountain and was definitely one of the toughest days of the trip.

Falls

We both had several falls. Sometimes harmless ones and sometimes scary ones.

Trevor fell so badly once that I was convinced he was going to not be able to get up. He stepped up and his foot got caught in a root but his hands were not in a position to protect his fall so he fell on his face, and then his backpack thudded down and slapped him into the ground a second time. There was blood all over his face.

I fell in Mahoosuc Notch. As with Trevor’s fall described above the fall itself was half the story, the backpack slamming your body down a second time the other part. After I fell I just hear Trevor screaming “don’t roll don’t roll” and I realised a bigger injury was possible if I couldn’t stabilise my position. I suspect I cracked a rib and it made walking the next day even harder as my upper body strength was impacted, pulling myself up on roots when we were scrambling up rocks and rock faces were not easy and quite sore. About four days after that I fell twice and one of those times hurt the rib again. Unpleasant.

Trevor had several more falls where he landed on his face. At some point he had 3 of them in 2 days and I was getting worried about concussion when one fall left him with a swelling on side of his head. It would have been interesting to count our falls, in Maine there was hardly a day that at least one of us didn’t fall, and on many days we both fell more than once.

My final fall as mentioned in another post came on our final (pre-summit) day, 8km from the end. This was my worst fall of the trip. I am – 2 days after the incident – still in agony

Mt Katahdin – 5 Sep: Exactly 5 months on the trail

Adrenaline and 3 Ibuferin every 2 hours got me up hairy climbs and through winds almost blowing us off the mountain.

After a 4hr20min climb we made it to the top. I was hanging in there because I am a tough boere meisie but when I saw Tin Can, then Martha Stewart, then Pitstop and a few minutes later Tortoise all on the summit the tears were streaming like raging rivers. Not only are we AT thru-hikers (2019) but somehow we met 4 of our 5 favorite people at the top – even Trevor was hugging them!

And of course Iceman was waiting for us at the end:

Later in town we also saw Froggy and her dad Nametag. What an absolute special day.

Mt Katahdin is beautiful – I would love to climb her one more time in my life: when I am not injured and on a perfect day (sunny, no clouds, no wind)

Hundred Mile Wilderness – 30 Aug – 4 Sep

Day 1 – 30 Aug

We paid Shaw’s to do an early trail drop-off for us as their standard run would have had us on the trail by 9 only, way too late for us as we are going to try to do 26-27km each day.

When Poet dropped us off he recited this to us;

“Drink your deepest now; For the richest stuff settles in the final swig”

We set off and soon got this sign:

The trail was extremely muddy, and rooty, and we had to ford 3 rivers. Trevor slipped and went down into the water during the second crossing, but got back onto his feet quickly before anything in his backpack could get too wet.

This afternoon we had a steep climb which we got to when we were already tired, it was tough going. We were less than half a kilometre into the climb when we saw Platypus ahead of us talking to somebody hiking in the opposite direction. As we got closer I recognise the other person…. Iceman! He was walking south to find us on the trail – his backpack was filled with sodas and crisps which he dished out as the NOBOs came by. I don’t really understand the road network in the wilderness but there are old logging roads which allows one to drive in with a car, which he did and then walked in further. Barb has sent us some of her delicious home made brownies, which we had with our soda and crisps. Then we had to tackle the rest of the hill while Iceman walked back to his car.

The last 2km took us very long, we were carrying 2L water each and we are carrying 6 days’ food, our packs were heavy, we were tired and the hill was steep. We got to our planned stealth camp site, Trevor pitched the tent and I cooked, and we went to have our dinner on the ledges 30m from our campsite. The view was spectacular, without a doubt the best dinner spot of our trip:

Though we had a tough day I feel content in our tent, I always prefer the nights we stealth camp and are all by ourselves. However, we just heard 3 guys arriving and I can hear from the sounds they are staying. I have seen no other flat spots where they can camp so I have no clue what’s going on outside our tent, but for now I am going to not worry about that. Time for sleeping.

Day 2 – 31 Aug

It’s our wedding anniversary. We celebrated by having our favourite flavor Cliff bar (white chocolate macadamia) in bed (sleeping bag) and then got going. We were on the trail by 6am.

I have, for almost 5 months, thought of taking pictures of all the exotic mushrooms we see, but never got around doing it. Taking photos on the trail can be quite disruptive, you have to stop, get phone out, take picture, put phone back – it breaks the rhythm. The mushrooms are something to see though, coming in all shapes and sizes. I have seen white, brown, black, yellow, orange, pink, purple, and red ones. Here is an example:

I fell in the mud today. I stepped on what I thought was a log placed to step on to avoide the mud. But it was actually a dry log floating on a knee deep pool of muddy water (the Americans have a mixture they use in coffee: they call it Half Half, it is Half Milk Half Cream: this was Half Half, Half Water Half Mud). I sank knee deep into Half Half and then toppled forward. I jumped up quick enough to not get my pack damaged but my socks, shoes, hands, legs, and shorts were a muddy mess. Luckily we had to ford a river later so that got rid of some of the stinky mud.

Trevor didn’t laugh untill we were walking again and I said it’s a pity he didn’t have enough time to take a photo as it would have been great for the blog. When he realised I was able to laugh about it he had a good chuckle too.

It was a tough day’s walking. By 10am we have walked for 4 hours and did only 6km, by 11.30 we had done 9km. We were doing the Chairback mountains, there were 4 peaks. These peaks aren’t nearly as high as the 4000 footers, but they have very steep rock scrambles. This, together with a lot of mud on the flat stretches, made for a slow pace. I was extrapolating, thinking we will never make our target for the day.

I was thinking how – over the last 5 weeks in the Whites and Maine – I often relied on roots, trees, branches and other rocks to pull me up or lower me down big rocks. At times 100% of pulling myself up or lowering myself down relied on root/tree/rock. Other times it was just a help, to assist with what my muscles were doing, making it a bit easier. And at times when there was nothing else, it was just a twig/leave I touched – which only helped for balance; I would hold the leave just to get my inner balance kicking in to keep me stable going up or down.

That is a good analogy for friendships and relationships. Sometimes you totally rely on them to get you through some life event. Other times they play a substantial assisting role. And occasionally they merely help you to keep your inner balance. How hard life would have been without those.

Anyway, back to our day. At some stage the terrain eased up and our pace increased. We were on the trail from 6am to 6pm but we managed to do 27km and found a sweet stealth spot to camp for the night.

The wilderness isn’t as remote as we expected. During today’s walk we walked in an area with original pine trees (never been cut down) – there is a trail around the area and we must have seen 30 people on the trail – there is an untarred road and parking lot close to the trail giving access to the “Gulf Hagas” : the trail we found all the activity on.

Day 3 – 1 Sep

Today was going to be our last day negotiating mountains, after today the topography is apparently flat untill we reach Mt Katahdin.

The ascend for today, as for the previous 2 days, were around 1400m, but today it was basically one long (11km) walk up to the top of White Cap Mountain. There were 4 smaller peaks you went over on the way up, but we walked all the way to the top, and then walked down the other side, I was always walking upright. Different to the previous 2 days where I often had to use my upper body to pull myself up spots, or bum-slide down rocks. At the top of White Cap we had our first view of Mt Katahdin:

Trevor had a bad fall today. He has all the complaints going with a rib injury. But he is soldiering on.

As yesterday, there were quite a few day hikers on the route.

We had a very weak signal at the top, enough to receive a text from Iceman to say he will be doing trail magic from noon onwards at a road crossing the trail close to a lake. This was still 17km away, but we arrived there just before 5pm. Iceman was cooking sausage and hot dogs and while we were there, he fed dinner to 9 people. After dinner I wanted to take one of the Twinkies he had on the table, but he said there is special desert for me and Trevor, and out came 2 zip log bag with Barb’s famous brownies. Made my day!

We (as the other hikers) sat around there for an hour or so, but it was getting cold and we didn’t know how far we would need to walk before finding a stealth spot. Iceman told us where he will meet us tomorrow (he is going to be around here untill we summit) and we left.

We only walked about half a kilometre before finding a camp spot next to the pond.

I had enough to eat at Iceman’s trail magic but Trevor always says trail magic is a bonus and you still should eat the calories you carried for the day. Also: tomorrow is going to be cold and rainy so whatever calories we can cram into our bodies will help tomorrow. I cooked Ramen noodles and used the flavoring sachets (which I never do) – it was disgusting! I felt like a child being told she can’t get up from the dinner table before she has eaten her brussels sprouts. The chicken flavoured Ramen tasted worse than brussels sprouts!

We are just over halfway through the 100miles, but we are done with the tougher part. The next part is easier, but the rain is predicted to start at 4am tomorrow – wet and muddy 😩.

Day 4 – 2 Sep

The rain was predicted for 4am and it gently knocked on the door at 3h40. We pretended to not be at home so it left. By 5.10am, just as we finished our breakfast and started the morning ritual of getting ready, it was back.

We walked in the rain. It would have been nice to have our first easy day of the wilderness in sunny weather, but we also felt it appropriate that one of our last days on the trail should be a rainy day. The trail threw many things at us over the last few months and it’s okay for it to give us a little nudge saying “do you remember walking in the rain” – no hard feelings as long as we can have sunshine for the next 3 days….

We ALWAYS step off the trail to let people coming from the opposite side through. We never wait for them to step aside for us. It has been our thing right from the start. Today three women were coming down the trail so we stepped aside as we normally do. The one said, with a big, friendly smile: “no, I insist you come through, you are too close, I don’t want to be between you and your goal”. Later on we stepped off the trail to let another guy through, as he walked by he smiled and said “congratulations”. I’m not sure how these people know we are not weekend hikers but they do – maybe it’s because of how we smell….

Iceman met us on a road crossing. We told him we were going to try to jam the next three and a half days’ hiking into three days. It saves a full day if you can make the 15km in Baxter State Park (the park Katahdin is in) part of the last day on the wilderness as you can’t summit Kathadin on the day you do the 15km – unless you are really fast because they don’t allow you to start going up Katahdin after 10am.

If we can summit a day earlier there will be 2 benefits. It will be on our 5 month trail anniversary. And Iceman can start his drive home a day earlier. He plans to stay here for our summit day but he and Barb are leaving for an overseas trip on Sunday, so getting him home a day earlier will be our gift to Barb.

For lunch we pulled into a shelter. We had our protein bar and meat stick, then Trevor took out one of his snacks meant for the afternoon. I asked him if he wasn’t full. He looked at me in disbelief – how can I even ask that, what is the chance of him being full after one bar and one meat stick!!!!! Well we used to share the protein bar so I was quite surprised that he was still hungry after having a full bar. I suppose the rain and cold weather make it worse.

The walking was quite easy. We targeted 30km for the day and even in the rain (and in spite of mud, slippery boardwalks and rocks and roots) we were at the shelter where we are tenting just after 3. The slippery boardwalks can be blamed for Trevor’s fall today but no new injury.

Day 5 – 3 Sep

We normally start our morning ritual at 5. Trevor found great joy in waking me at 5.07 this morning to say I have over slept. Think it was the first time on the trip. He loves telling how I sit up straight in the tent at 5 and start my routine, I am sure you will get to hear the story from him.

We still managed to get away at 6. To make our plan to summit a day earlier work, we had to do 34km today and we did. Our ascend was just under 1000m, easier than the first 3 days in the wilderness but not quite a walk in the park.

Today the trail gave us a bit of almost everything we have had on this trip – other than ledge walking (which we are getting early tomorrow morning). We had lush green forests, we had eerie pine forest with pine needles covering the trail, we walked next to cascading rivers, rock hopped over streams, had moss covered boulders around us, frogs of all sizes jumping across the trail, nosy squirrels, an array of mushrooms, roots tripping us, mud puddles an Isuzu will get stuck in, beautiful lakes, gentle ups and downs, steeper ups and downs, even a small mountain to go over. Everything but moose.

Iceman dedicated today to us, he met us wherever he could get to the trail – at 7am, at 10am and around lunch time. For lunch he cooked us boerie-rolls, and when I asked Trevor afterwards whether he was full he said yes thanks 😀.

Tonight is our last night camping out here on the trail – tomorrow night we will be camping at one of the Baxter State Park camp sites. I am glad that our last trail night camp is a stealth camping site, all by ourselves, just above one of the lakes. I cooked one of our favourite (freeze dried) meals, We are now lying in the tent and the loons are calling.

Unfortunately we will walk in rain again tomorrow – but so be it. It is our last day on the trail. Climbing Katahdin is – though a tough +/- 10hr job to get up and down again – more like going to your graduation ceremony than it is to go to lectures.

Day 6 – 4 Sep

It should have been a joyful day. We finished the 100 mile wilderness and walked into Baxter State Park. We are sleeping at the Birches. We completed our thru-hike today, all that is left is climbing to the summit of Mt Katahdin tomorrow to claim our prize – a picture at the majestic mountain’s humble summit sign.

But our mood is sombre. I had a bad fall 8km before the end of today. Crossing a river I slipped and fell hard on a rock. I am very sore – again the rib area. I can stand and walk upright without any pain but bending, sitting down, breathing deeply and coughing hurt badly. Twisting, pulling myself up, squatting down, bum slide position: impossible.

When arriving at the ranger’s hut I almost died of pain when twisting my body to take off my backpack. I realised in what a bad state I was, having stopped walking and cooling down I suddenly couldnt move without being in 10 out of 10 pain. Trevor told me to “act normally” – he was nervous that the ranger would withhold the permit needed to go up the mountain if i appear injured. I realised he had absolutely no idea how sore I was, “acting normal” was impossible!

Luckily Iceman waited for us at the end and I got some Ibuferin from him. I took 2 and after 30mins I could feel it kick in. I have more to take tomorrow.

Mt Katahdin is quite a climb – ascending from 300m to 1600m (more than the ascend from Centenary hut to top of Judge’s pass in the Drakensberg) on the Hunt trail (there are several trails but NOBOs must go up Hunt) and called “technical” – that means not walking up but the hands over foot type scrambling up and down. How I am going to handle it with the state I am in we will have to see. I was considering not going up, to not spoil Trevor’s chances of making it, but I’m going to give it a try: I can always turn around after an hour if I am not coping.

We (mainly me) have decided to come down Abol trail (I have heard it’s the easiest) and Iceman (who is sleeping in Millinocket tonight, almost an hour’s drive from here) was going to meet us there tomorrow afternoon. He just arrived at our campsite. After driving from here to Millinocket he heard somebody who just summited and came down Abol said that Abol is quite difficult and may not be the best down option. He then got in his car to drive all the way back here to tell us and to ask if we are sure we want to do Abol. There are so many opinions it’s hard to make a call, but I am just stunned by the energy and effort Iceman put into supporting us: nothing is too much trouble.

I will only have signal to post this when we get to Millinocket tomorrow evening. You will therefore get this post at the same time as the post telling you whether I made it to the top.

If all goes well our final Zero done while meeting old friends – 29 Aug

Shaw’s has been a hikers hostel (owned by different people, the current owners bought it in 2015) for 42 years. We are in a private room and I think our bed has been in the hostel for all of these years.

It rained last night. We lay in bed chatting between 1am and 3am, happy to be dry inside in spite of the rickety bed and sparing a thought for many of our friends who set out into the wilderness yesterday: Firefly, Tortoise, Martha Stewart – they would have very wet tents this morning. The rain has the downside of slippery rocks and mud on the trail but the important upside of boosting flow of water sources.

We booked for the Shaw’s breakfast as we heard it was a shouldn’t-be-missed. It was quite special. They set tables everywhere – in the kitchen, in a little dining room, in the chill area – so it’s a proper sit down breakfast, and a lovely social event. Poet (he and his wife Hippy Chick own the hostel) cooks the breakfast himself, for probably 30 people. He prepares hash browns and bacon beforehand, then do the eggs per your order (fried easy over, or sunny side up, or scrambled – 3 per person!). While this is being eaten he makes blueberry “pancakes” (crumpets!) which is served with butter and syrup. At our table we had TinCan (who is soon going to Guinea with Peace Corps, one of my favorite people on the trail), Pitstop (who lives close to where my brother, sister in law and nephew will settle and who works for a hedge fund Allan Gray invests in), Simon (an Austrian who is already a triple crowner and now going SOBO, having done NOBO 2 years ago) a guy who has lost 60 pounds on the hike (now looks great) and 2 others. The one guy working here (Napster – we last saw him on trail about a month ago) is a French programmer, he summited 2 weeks ago and is now doing Work For Stay waiting for the date his plane ticket is for. Developer cum waiter/cleaner – this experience teaches us a lot. It is an equalizer. Rich/poor, brilliant/average, young/old, male/female, fast/slow: we all need to find the motivation to will our bodies over those final miles, carry our own pack (as we all have to carry our own emotional burden), wash our own dishes (and sometimes other people’s), and do things we wouldn’t consider doing in normal life- nobody on this trail is too larny for anything. Experiencing the thru-hikers’ community is one of the most special parts of this hike. You befriend people you would think you have nothing in common with in your normal life. Because on the trail you have everything in common.

The Shaw’s dog:

We already had the pleasure of meeting up with Napster and TinCan again, both guys we didnt expect to see again. Today we had 2 more surprises.

Lost Larry is an old guy who has already completed the PCT and the CDT, he walks for 14 hours a day and takes no Zeroes. We last saw him in Pennsylvania and have seen his names in registers indicating he was about 2 weeks ahead of us. He arrived at Shaw’s today, saying he just got slower and slower and he has no energy. He plans to take a shuttle to a nearby town to get to a medical centre, he thinks he may have Lyme disease.

This afternoon I saw a guy who reminded me of Platypus. He was the fast young guy who named us “you again” as he would say goodbuy thinking he wouldnt see us again, only for us to crawl into the same campsite as him 3 hours after he had arrived. He eventually pulled away from us and at Harper’s Ferry we saw he was already 2 weeks ahead of us. When I saw this guy I thought he reminded me of Platypus, but his eyes weren’t as blue, his hair and beard bigger than his face and darker than blonde Platypus. At some point I said to Trevor he reminded me of Platypus, Trevor said he saw me doing a double take when I saw him. 5 mins later we saw him again and the way he looked at me with recognition made me say his name – and it was him. He went off trail for 3 weeks with an injury.

There was another guy who happily greeted us, calling us by our other name, “the south africans” – he said he last saw us in Virginia. Unfortunately we cant remember him.

Monson, tiny as it is, is very supportive of the arts, and there are as many art shops/galleries as places to buy food from!

Tomorrow we will set off into the 100 miles wilderness, and from then untill the end at Mt Katahdin we will most likely have no cell phone signal. If all goes according to plan we hope that will be a total of 8 days (though it can take a day or two longer) and in this time I will not be able to post blogs. The rough plan is 6 days in the wilderniss, 1 day in Baxter State Park to get to base of Mt Katahdin and 1 day for the climb to the summit.

We visited the AT visitor centre to hear the options for camping the night before summiting – there is no space available at the best option bookable camp site so now need to try get to the park entrance early early early on to be first of 12 hikers as that is how many non-bookable spaces are made available daily.

We headed out for an early dinner and caught live music – the band (real oldies) plays every Thursday night and the patrons (mostly locals and a few hikers) were very generous and appreciative. They adapted the lyrics to use some of the locals’ names and even sang about “hikers in t-shirts and girls in short skirts” (very much a trail town even though trail doesnt go through the town, its the last town for NOBOs to visit before the end).

What a rich life if you can at 70 still do something you love to do. Who cares if you cant do it the way you did when you were 30 – merely doing it can still bring you joy.

I cannot run or hike or code or derive algorithms the way my 30 year old body and brain could. But I CAN still do these things, and even if slower than in my young years what a wonderful life I have – I can still do it!

Will do the final posts when back on line in 8-10 days time.

Monson – 28 Aug

Early on this morning we had to ford a river – I believe there will be quite a few of them in the days to come:

We had 15km to do getting into Monson, and were at trail head by 11h which is reasonably early. We are also zero-ing tomorrow as there are a few aches in the body we need to solve before taking on the final stretch.

We called Shaw’s (the hiker hostel we are staying at for 2 nights) for a trail pick-up, they said we will have to wait a bit as the car has just left to take someone to the post office. While waiting a woman who was sitting in her car offered to give us a lift into Monson. Her car looked like one of my friend’s car (she will know who I am talking about 😀) – as if she was living in it. Anyway it was a very interesting lift/woman.

She is a farmer, and her life partner Carl, bought up all the quarries in the area – 18 in total – in the eighties. Currently not doing much with it but she drove us up to one. The slate tablet marking JFKennedy’s grave came from this quarry. Monson is apparently known for its black slate and blueberries. She also made us get out of the car and walk a small distance to show us a cave where Ravens have a nest. What an interesting arrival. And we didn’t even exchange names!

Shaw’s looked a bit rough (compared to the genteel Hostel of Maine we stayed at on Friday) but everybody says it’s a wonderful hostel. We showered, went to the Farm Deli for coffee and a sandwich, walked though town (took 5mins), had a beer (Trevor)/glass of wine (me) and then back to Hostel to relax.

While having our drinks the locals started chatting to us. The one showed us photos of his ice house. A little wooden cabin, well insulated, put on frozen rivers in winter. They drill holes in the ice, sit in the well heated ice house while fishing down a hole in the “lounge floor”. Wish I could experience that!

Trevor’s loaner clothes very appropriate don’t you think?

We had dinner at one of only 2 restaurants in town (not counting the “Fine Dining” option) and as where ever we go our very nice waitress asked where we were from, and then what language we speak. When I explained that I spoke Afrikaans, which sounds like Dutch, she got all excited saying she is Dutch, then continued to speak Dutch to me throughout our time there.

We are all set with our re-supply, and the laundry is in the drier so we will really have nothing to do tomorrow other than visiting the AT centre in town to get briefed on the logistics at the end (Mount Katahdin is a popular destination so there are arrangements about reserved places for AT hikers to sleep before climbing Mt K). Only things to do will be resting and eating. I know we are going to be frustrated. We will look at each other and say “we could have been walking now, putting the first day behind us” but we have rationally decided we need to give our bodies a full day’s rest tomorrow to counter the aches and pains starting to set in. It seems to me as if my body has the ability to walk 3343km, but I need to tap another 185km from it. I hope by resting and feeding it tomorrow I can bribe it into cooperation.

Not even an easy day is easy – 27 Aug

We had only one named climb today, Moxi Bald. After that the descend (which we hate) and then the rest of the day and tomorrow’s half day into Monson appeared to be a gradual descend, and easy walking.

Silly me. After all the days on the trail I should know nothing is easy. Easier than you expect at times, and easier than other days at times, but never categorically easy. And so it was today.

On our way up Moxi Bald we went through a maze of huge rocks:

The climb up was fun. It wasn’t too tough and it is a beautiful, bald, rocky summit. We had cell phone reception there so quickly sorted out some logistics and sent a few messages. And then we ate blueberries. We spent way too much time picking handfuls of blueberries. Because it’s tasty, because it’s a novelty, because we were hungry and because we are not sure if we will have more mountain tops covered in blueberry plants.

We did the ascend, gritting our teeth, we knew it had to be done and the easy part should be around the corner.

But it wasn’t. There were miles and miles of rocky trail chewing our shoes and feet. This makes root walking look like child play.

Other than the tough terrain, the slope showed on Guthook as gradual descend is made up of 140 down 120 up, 190 down 160 up, etc. Net slope is downhill but with little bumps all the time.

It was a pleasant day though. The trail was quiet and we often sat next to the water or on a fallen tree not talking. Don’t know where Trevor’s mind was but I was having flashbacks to other times on the trail we did just that.

It came as a bit of a shock to me that I have, in estimating when we should (DV) be climbing Mt K, not realised that there is a 10 mile stretch between exiting the 100 mile wilderness and the camp you stay the night before going up the mountain. That means our final date will be one day later than I thought.

Aqua – 26 Aug

I wrote a long blog then lost it. Here is a summarised version:

We had water as theme today. Last night we slept next to water, this morning we walked next to a river, we then had the “ferry” crossing, this afternoon we had to carry 2kg of water each, tonight we are sleeping close to water again.

Last night would stay in my memory as one of the special nights of the hike. We heard the calls of loons throughout the night. Loons are much loved water birds with 4 different calls more beautiful than even Beethoven’s 9th symphony.

Walking out to the Kennebec river this morning was alongside one of its tributaries, at times on same level and at times on a slope above the cascading river, so peaceful.

Greg, the boatsman at the crossing, made us wait untill exactly 9am before he appeared and started carrying canoe and oars down to the river. We had a good time chatting to other hikers waiting to be taken across, and to Greg himself who was laughing at everybody’s impatience to get going. He, he said, had all day and was on no rush.

After the crossing we stopped at Caratunk house, just a few hundred meters off the trail. It’s a hostel with good re-supply also selling “walk-by-food”. Yesterday (and I suspect it’s the same every day) it was pulled pork sandwiches. We had that (excellent and filled with about half a pound of meat), some Little Debbie’s, coffee, milkshake and ice cream. And naturally Trevor had 3 sodas too. This was a 90min stop.

With all of the calories taken in we headed back to the trail and had good energy to push on a few more hours. We had our last good water source at 2, we both took on 2L of water and carried that all afternoon so we had water not only for the afternoon, but also for cooking tonight and tomorrow morning’s walk. Water is heavy! We are sleeping close to another pond tonight but it’s not great for drinking water.

We have 40km to go to Monson, our next and final town stop. We are considering to Zero there, our original plan was for a Nero only but we are tired and may need to take a day off before our final push. I’m pinching myself : cannot believe we are getting so close!

Breakfast in Bed – 25 Aug

Iceman – don’t judge us…..

It seems (from all sources including state park employers) as if bears are not a problem in Maine. We have been diligent following the “protect your food from bear” rules all along the trail, but have now eased up on that a bit. A few days ago I sneaked our breakfast (a Cliff Bar each – it’s basically a 250 calorie cereal bar which comes in exotic flavours like Blueberry/White Chocolate and Macadamia/Peanut Fudge but all taste roughly the same) into a zip log bag into a waterproof bag into the tent, and 5 mins before it was time to get up I surprised Trevor with breakfast in bed. Since then that has become our routine so you will understand the context when I say:

Our day started with breakfast in bed. We planned 28km day for today. Tomorrow we are crossing the Kennebec river in a ferry (it’s actually just a canoo you are being rowed over in) but the operating hours is 9am to 2pm. We are sleeping 6km before the river, giving us more than enough time to be there by 9am. The 28km was planned to position us for the river crossing. It was also planned to see if our bodies can – now that the profile are gentle ups and downs with even some flat stretches mixed in – go back to the longer distances.

We made the 28km in reasonable good time but were both pretty tired when we arrived at where we are camping. The terrain with all its roots and rocks make for walking less easy than we hoped for. We will have to see how far we can get tomorrow after today’s high mileage. Can you remember the days we were doing 30-35 day after day? That was before the Whites and South of Maine chewed us up and spat us out.

We are sleeping at the edge of a lake tonight – what a beautiful peaceful setting. We walked on the shores of 3 lakes today. They are so beautiful and peaceful, I hope there will one day in the wilderness be an opportunity to just relax on one of the sandy beaches for an hour, and maybe have a swim (the weather has cooled down drastically, unsure if autumn is coming or if it’s just a cold front).

Two people commented on the blog saying it seems like yesterday we set off on this adventure and it is hard to believe we are almost done. For us it doesn’t feel like yesterday, it feels a lifetime away. As a matter of fact, even when I think back at previous states like Virginia, New York, Vermont – it seems as if those were walks we did in the past, not part of the present trip.

I am looking forward to tomorrow river crossing. Right after the crossing there is a meal serving hostel on the trail, I have been hungry all day so I plan to stop for a big meal there! And to use their WiFi to post this blog.