I've been meaning to write a summary of my thru-hike since I got back about 6 months ago, but I found that I can't really do it justice with words or images. Some have tried (read the books As Far as the Eye Can See or the A Walk in the Woods or look at these photos) but you can only truly understand once you are a few months in. A commonality I found amongst all my fellow hikers was that we couldn't really explain it, but we felt compelled to do this. The trail called us there. A thru-hike may not be for everyone, but it was definitely for me.
My reasons for walking through the woods for five and a half months were varied... I wanted to challenge myself physically and technically, I wanted to clear my mind, I wanted an adventure, I wanted to know what is truly essential, I wanted to discover more about myself and this planet, I wanted to raise money for Abby and awareness of Mitochondrial Disease, and I wanted a fresh beginning... to hit the reset button on life. I achieved all this and more (like growing an epic beard).
Now that I'm back in the "real world" I feel I have a sharper focus on life. In the six months since I returned I've changed jobs, moved into my own place, met new friends, and even implemented an idea or two. Stripping down to the bare necessities of life gives you a greater understanding of what is truly important. I understand the power of taking one step at a time. I know I have the patience, determination, and support to accomplish anything I dream.
I want to thank everyone for the support I received. I don't think I would have made it without: My parents who traveled thousands of miles to help me. My friends who joined me, left comments on my site and on facebook, and donated to the Fitzpatrick family. My fellow hikers I met along the way. All the countless trail angels who provided food, drink, shelter, and encouragement. And most of all, my incredible dog Kooper, who was my constant companion through it all.
I can hear the calling. What's next? Anyone up for Patagonia? The PCT? Te Araroa?
Images and Video of my 2010 AT thru-hike with my dog.
In mostly chronological order.
See more at http://onahike.com
Music: Worn out shoes from perpetually walking on a dream.
"Worn out Shoes" by Joe Purdy
"Perpetuum Mobile" by The Penguin Cafe Orchestra
"Walking On A Dream" by Empire of the Sun (The Tremulance remix)
The White Mountains of New Hampshire are home to some of the most difficult terrain on the Appalachian Trail. That combined with "the worst weather in America", you can understand why I was feeling a little nervous going in. The weather turned out to be perfectly clear and sunny the whole way through. All the heavy and bulky winter gear I lugged around was mostly unused, but I am grateful for staying dry and having daily breathtaking views. Moosilauki was first, known for its steep and slippery north side. Kooper and I had no problems. Going down is much easier for Kooper because he has no fear of jumping or sliding down the rocks. I, on the other hand, take my sweet time to avoid any knee injuries. We stayed at Chet's hostel in Lincoln, then got back on the trail carrying 5 days of food. Chet is an avid outdoorsman that opened the hostel (which runs on donations) after he was wheelchair bound due to a fuel canister explosion. Soon after I began my hike out of Kinsman Notch, I realized I left my denatured alcohol (cooking fuel) at the Glencliff hostel. So I hunkered down and commited to hiking the full 17 miles to the next roadcrossing back to Lincoln. Turns out the climb up south Kinsman Mountain was the hardest climb yet. Every 10 feet was like a puzzle, trying to figure out how to get Kooper and myself up the cliffs of rock. Without a pack it would be fun, with a fully loaded pack it was sloooow. As I neared the Franconia Notch roadcrossing late in the evening, I came across the first AMC Hut, Lonesome Lake. The huts are large bunk houses that provide a bunk, dinner, and breakfast to guests (for about $90 a night). They function totally "off the grid", so aren't as nature-destroying as you might think. So I asked if they had denatured alcohol and they did! They also asked if I wanted to work-for-stay, where I would clean out their fridge and they would give me dinner, breakfast, and a secret tent spot behind the building (you are not allowed to tent near a hut, in fact you are only supposed to tent in designated places in the Whites that charge $8). So I didn't have to go back to town afterall! Next up was Franconia Ridge which is a thin above-treeline ridge providing amazing views all the way up to the top of Mount Lafayette. Lots of scrambling up rocks, but you don't care because of the views and cool strong winds. Even though it was a relatively short day (12ish miles?) I was happy to pay 8 bucks to collapse at the Garfield Campsite. The next day was more alpine hiking amongst short pine trees, waterfalls, and a nice flat stretch to a stealth camp spot (avoiding the $8 fee at the offical spot a few miles back). The next day I originally wanted to stay at Lakes of the Clouds hut, but from what I was hearing from various caretakers, forcing them to take in Kooper (dogs are not allowed in huts) would not be good. So I took a short day, hung out at the Willey House, and stopped at the Mitzpah Hut/campsite along with 12 other through-hikers and all of us got WFS. Up next was the Presidential Range, an entire day above tree-line. The views were once again amazing, especially of the Great Gulf valley, Grand Canyonish in its vastness. As I passed Lakes of the Clouds Hut, the top of Mount Washington (second highest peak on the AT) was engulfed by a dark cloud. I hiked up anyways and the skies cleared just as I reached the top. Not much of a view up there due to all the touristy buildings (you can drive or ride a train to the top). Interesting that candy bars are cheaper at the Huts than on Mt. Washington, even though the Hut croo have to carry everything on their backs over miles of rocky terrain. Speaking of rocky terrain, the trail from Washington to Madison was a brutal field of rough rocks. We got to the hut but were denied WFS, so we went down a very steep side trail to a stealth camp spot (right next to a no camping sign >_> ). Another exhausting day down. In the morning we went down the Pine Link side-trail (there are hundreds of trails in the Whites) that goes straight into Gorham, NH. Spits you out convieniently next to Burger King :) To finish out the Whites, I left my gear at the White Birches Campground hostel and attacked Wildcat, Carter, and other peaks carrying only water and food for the day. Without a 35-40 lb pack, steep climbs can actually be fun! Even still, the rough terrain can wear you down. Kooper plopped down a few times, forcing me to take a quick break. We took another side trail to get back to the road before it got dark and rainy (I forgot to bring my headlamp). 18 miles of hiking through the Whites takes a long time, even without a full pack. So, I made it out of The Whites alive and well. I will miss the scenery, huts, and abnormally sunny weather. In a few days I'll be in Maine, which is as rugged but probably won't have quite the views (and a cold front is coming). The desire to reach the finish line may be all that keeps me going from here on out.