The air is growing colder, the days shorter. Fallen leaves the same shade of crimson as the stars that hung in my grandmother’s windows are beginning to blanket the forest floor. Light filters through the leaves still hanging from branches as if through stained glass.
For so long, thousands of miles in fact, this hike has felt like spinning in circles on a hamster wheel. The scenery and the people change but the end goal always seems more or less out of reach. Until now, that is. The wheel is slowing down and the destination, Mount Katahdin, is within sight.
Most of the bullet points on the trail’s to do list have been checked off.
The wild ponies of the Grayson Highlands.
The rocks of Pennsylvania.
The so called hardest (most fun) mile scrambling over boulders in the Mahoosuc Notch.
Today, I did my last resupply in my last trail town. My previous attempt in 2015, and all the time I spent going over the trail in my mind in the years between my two hikes has made this experience more surreal than I expected.
A family member asked if I wished the hike would be over already or never end. The honest answer is a bit of both. Infrequent showers, sleeping on the ground, and hitching rides a few times a week have all become the new normal. At this point I just don't want to miss a thing.
So when I rolled into a dead end town in the middle of the week and a friend noticed the pub had a dance floor and a jukebox, I knew it was going to be a good night.
Another twelve person group known on the trail as The Dirty Dozen made it to the town the same night. Beards sprinkled with granola and oats for safe keeping abounded. Short shorts and Hawaiian shirts with more tears than buttons were the fashion staples of the night. The motel and hostel filled up so I threw my tent on the lawn next to a river.
Someone fired up the jukebox as hikers filed into the dark pub.
Bearbag, the tallest of the three New Zealanders with a thick orange beard, challenged Orphan Andy, a relatively short man easily recognizable by his straw hat, to a dance off.
You could hardly hear Missy Elliot’s “Work it,” playing on the jukebox over all the laughter. The dancing involved a lot of high knees, squatting and aggressively swiveling hips. At one point, Andy was thrown over Bearbag’s shoulder.
Waffles, the Dutch taxi driver, kept the jukebox going all night.
Later on, Bear Bag lifted Switchback, off his feet and spun him round the dance floor. It looked far more graceful than you'd imagine. They and the third kiwi, Dusty, have all been friends since they were twelve years old.
Locals tried to get in on the action but it seemed they couldn't handle the heat. We closed down the bar and walked across the street to the motel and budding tent city.
Back in the woods, we walk overtop bald mountains and around lakes with stony beaches. Trees with serpentine roots wrapped themselves around boulders the size of my car. Dusty’s booming laugh carries through towering trees, bogs and mountainsides.
At river crossings, I lay on the hot rocks with my sore feet in the cool water. So far, only one toenail is loose.
With 115 miles left, I'm on my way.