Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Mount Katahdin—An Appalachian Trail Terminus—Where Stalwarts Are Still Being Created

Bert Gildart: From Katahdin Stream Campground in Baxter State Park, Maine, to the summit of Baxter Peak on Mount Katahdin, (5,267’) it is 5.2 miles. These miles are considered to be the roughest part of the entire Appalachian Trail, for along the route, you must negotiate one precipitous boulder field after another. Nevertheless, Janie and I are extraordinarily proud to say we made it.

Completing the AT is, of course, a much greater feat than our climb of Katahdin. In fact, for one of the three AT hikers we met two days ago, completing the AT was a much greater feat than most people can ever imagine—much less endure.

The three men we met were known as “Pipe Man,” “Professor” and Ole Man (appearing here in that order). The names are derived from certain characteristics. For instance, Professor had once been a professor at a university in Kentucky, while Pipe Man used to smoke a pipe but had given it up.

Ole Man took his name from the fact that he had endured much—had survived, and was now bringing the wisdom acquired from pain and fortitude to the AT. In fact, of the three we met on this terminal end of the Appalachian Trail, his accomplishments were the most notable, something Pipe Man and Professor easily concurred.

In 1971 Paul (Old Man) had been a Marine in Vietnam, when he stepped on a land mine. The blast literally fragmented the lower portion of his leg, requiring years of reconstructive surgery and endless sessions of therapy. But little by little his abilities began to return and though never completely restored, his ability to walk could at least take him a few miles.

“At first I didn’t even want to try walking, “said Ole Man. “I had nightmares about it, but then I went to a physical therapist in Florida, and gradually I learned to use old muscles but in a new way. Gradually, I began to imagine that maybe I could overcome my limitations—maybe even in a big way. That’s when Jamie (Ole Man’s wife) and I began talking about the AT, and shortly thereafter, that’s when we began our journey.

“That was in 2001—the year we began hiking the AT, and the year we really began wondering if maybe I couldn’t do the whole darn thing.”

And, so, with his wife’s logistical support Old Man began hiking the Appalachian Trail, finally (September 7, 2006) ascending and descending in one day, Mount Katahdin. Using conservative calculations, we figured he took over four-million steps to complete his three-year journey.

“It’s something to see,” Professor said. “When Old Man steps his thigh does the work, and the lower part of his leg just kind of flops into position. I can’t imagine the pain and the struggle he still endures.”

Most every one we talked to agreed the last five miles of the Appalachian Trail was the most difficult, the section we are ever so proud to say we’ve now hiked. It’s not easy, even for people whose limbs are whole. In fact, we had some difficulties ourselves, quite unexpectedly extending our one-day trip into a two-day trip.

The last five miles of the AT (or first, depending on orientation) begin at Katahdin Stream Campground, and at first, you think “This is a piece of cake.” But after the first mile, things begin to happen. The trail ascends, and as it does, erosion has exposed some of the underlying rocks. On a wet day, this could be treacherous, but as Ole Man said, “This is a Class One—Plus!—Day,” for the sun shone brightly and there was little wind.

We considered ourselves fortunate, but wind and sunny days can’t do much about altering the size of the rocks nature had placed before us. As we continued our climb the rocks grew bigger and bigger.

Two miles into our climb, we reached timberline and here’s where the going got rough, for the boulders had now grown into monstrous proportions. In some places, they were house-sized. In yet other places, navigating these monolithic structures required that you subject yourself to some uncomfortable exposures. In one stretch, those who maintain the trail had inserted metal hand-holds, and without holds, it would have been difficult for all but technical climbers to thread their way.

In this manner the climb continues for about half a mile, though not always with hand holds. Instead, we found ourselves squeezing through huge rocks, clamoring over boulders that gravity had left inclined at angles. Finally, this section of the AT ascends above the huge boulder field, placing you at what most refer to as a “false summit.”

The good news, here, is that the massive—and sometimes very treacherous—boulder field is behind you.

The bad news is that you have a mile yet to travel to the summit, and though a portion traverses a somewhat open Arctic-like environment called “The Table Land,” the remainder—the last half mile—ascends a steep slope. And it is laced with boulders that although smaller, are still the size of an old Volkswagen Beetle.

We reached the summit about two in the afternoon, having spent way too much time visiting with new acquaintance along the trail. The day was clear, almost brilliant, and to the south, we were looking over an area called the 100-Mile Wilderness Area. This section of the AT demands total self reliance.

To the north, we could see more of Baxter State Park, one of the nation’s largest such park, and it is, of course, the park that features Katahdin. Lakes abounded, and though they were nameless to us, their beauty generated adjectives, and in our minds’ eyes, we could see Lake Sublime, and Lake Other Worldly.

But the beauty here is beguiling, for the weather here can deteriorate unexpectedly, and a number of people have learned that lesson paying the ultimate price. We knew that prior to ascending, but perhaps didn’t realize that getting off the mountain can be even more difficult than the climbing.

On the summit, we met a couple (Not shown here–that’s us!) who suggested we join them and follow a different route down, one that would not require using hand holds with exposures that were shear. They said they’d posted two vehicles and that when we all reached Roaring Creek Campground, some 18-miles from our vehicle, that they’d be able to give us a ride. And so we joined them, but quickly learned this route also had challenges.

Midway down The Saddle Trail, a trail that plummeted at angles that at times varied between 60 to 80 degrees—and that was endlessly covered with large boulders—Janie re-injured an old injury, her knee. We wrapped her knee with an Ace bandage, but the pain diminished her ability to keep up with the couple who’d offered us a ride.

Two hours later, we descended onto Chimney Pond, where the couple had been waiting. Night was fast approaching, and fortunately, Chimney Pond is the site of a backcountry ranger station, and the ranger was there. He suggested the other couple proceed, but that Janie and spend the night in one of the bunk house, and that in the morning we reassess the situation.

The ranger’s name was Brendan, and for a whole variety of reasons, we want to thank him, and hope that as time goes by, we’ll be mentioning his name—and the agency he represent—in various ways.

The following morning, though Janie’s knee had improved, her fastest pace was a slow hobble, for the trail remained rock-covered, and to prevent further injury, prudent travel was the byword. Grimacing for about three long miles, she struggled on, remembering at times, she said, the resolve of Ole Man.

We reached Roaring Stream Campground about noon, and, of course, needed an 18-mile ride back to Katahdin Campground, and here’s where we found that in this world of campers, good people abound. Realizing our plight, Mike Paul of Worcester, Massachusetts, offered help to retrieve our truck.

In this manner, we completed our ascent of Baxter Peak on Mount Katahdin, appreciative of the relative good physical condition we continue to enjoy and in awe now of people such as Ole Man, Pipe Man and the Professor, who had just turned 69.

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