My summit of Mount Katahdin was more than I could have imagined. Mountain Goat, Goat, and I got up at 2 AM and took Katahdin overnight. The hike was brisk but not cold and even though it was a cloudy night, the moonlight illuminated the trail in front of our headlamps just enough that we didn’t lose our way. Halfway up, Mountain Goat’s headlamp went dead (even though he just got new batteries for it) to add a little extra excitment to our trip. We got around that by putting him between the two working headlamps, and hit the summit right around 5 AM. It was an incredible high. We cheered as the sign came into view and we all ran up and kissed it.
Although the three of us hit the trail at 2AM we had to wait about 3 more hours for the rest of our group to wake up and make the climb. So about 20 feet from the summit sign we found a cove under a rock big enough to shield the three of us from the steady (but not fierce) wind and watched the sunrise as I made coffee. The sun was hampered a little by clouds far out on the horizon, but eventually made it over them and gave us the beauty we were waiting for.
Figuring we had enough time before the others arrived, we decided to hike Knife’s Edge and back. We all threw our backpacks into the cove and ran to the trail. We hiked what was more of a jungle gym than a trail, and I yelled with excitement practically the whole way there and back. Knife’s Edge is celebrated in the hiking community as one of the most exciting trails on the East Coast, and even though it was only a mile long, it did not fail to live up to my expectations.
Eventually everyone else made it to the summit and we all hugged, celebrated, and took lots of pictures. But the crowds of day hikers were soon reaching the summit, so the three of us decided to head down and meet everyone else in Millinocket, where we were staying at a hostel for one last night.
As I was following the trail down from the summit, it didn’t hit me that my hike was over. With the exception of a few tweaks in our behavior, today was just like every other day. We got up early, hiked until we had a good view and enjoyed it with a cup of coffee. After taking the view in for a while, we headed down the mountain to a trail town. After showering and getting laundry done, we went into town and had some dinner and beer. If you read Mountain Goat’s trailjournal (link is in his profile) you would notice this is a common chain of events. I will admit though, our partying that night was much heavier than usual. But even then, we woke up the next morning, grabbed breakfast, and talked about the previous day. This was a routine we had grown accustomed to for the past 5 months.
But then I looked at the time and realized I had 10 minutes to run back and get on a shuttle to the bus station. I hugged everyone one last time and ran back to the hostel to pick up my pack before diving into the crowded shuttle right before it left.
Sitting in the bus, my heart sank and I pulled my hat down low to hide my swelling eyes. Reality was finally setting in. My goal was fulfilled and now it was time to go home. I spent the last 5 months hiking from Georgia to Maine, but now I was on a series of transfers at bus stops making my way back to New Jersey. My mind was in shambles. Yesterday, I was a successful thru hiker celebrating the biggest accomplishment I have every completed. Today, I was just a tired, smelly, broke crazy looking guy that hadn’t shaved in a few months and needed a clean set of clothes, heading back to live in my parents’ basement.
I had heard a lot of people talk about post-trail depression, and I figured it would hit me, but I wasn’t expecting it to hit so hard, so fast. When I got home and was able to take my mind off of things as I saw my family and played with my dog. It was only when I would lay down and have time to think that it would hit me again. I spent the next few weeks meeting up with friends I hadn’t seen since before my trip. The stress associated with being off trail was slowly mellowing, but I knew the only way to get over it was to have a new adventure. I had traveled the 2,000 miles and climbed Katahdin, but it was time to figure out my next ascent.