One year ago today my family laid Don to rest. Along with his good friends Steve and Mike, I had the privilege and honor to eulogize my brother at his memorial service. With a heavy heart I spoke of Don’s love of the outdoors. Of how he loved to fish and hunt and walk in the woods. I spoke of his love of baseball and how much he loved the Braves. I talked of how much he loved his family, and above all I spoke of his faith, especially in the last weeks of his life. Our family mourned Don’s death, but more importantly we celebrated the life of a truly good man. A good husband, a good father, a good son, and a good brother. On the one year anniversary of my brother’s service I hiked throughout the day with Don on my mind.
The one thing that I recall most vividly after Don’s diagnosis of ALS was how he regretted not having a disease he could fight. My brother never quit. His opponent just overwhelmed him. In some ways that’s what the Appalachian Trail has done to me. It has tested every physical muscle in my body. It has attempted to get in my head and invoke almost a mental torture. It has left me bruised, cut, scraped, battered, and so tired that I could hardly think. But unlike Don’s bout with ALS, The AT has given me the opportunity to fight back.
Today I think I made my peace with this trail that I’ve had a love/hate relationship with since I first stepped foot onto it. I promised myself at 7:00 this morning that I would enjoy hiking today whatever the trail had to offer. The AT rewarded me with about as agreeable a 17.2 miles as any I’ve confronted over the past several weeks. Sure, the rocks and roots and mud continued; however, I just took them in stride and focused on the bigger picture. For the past five months and eight days I have enjoyed a privilege that not many get. I’ve had the opportunity to spend each of those days with nature. Today I appreciated that opportunity.
Molar Man and I hiked with a purpose today. We reached the Rainbow Stream Lean-to, a distance of 2.2 miles, in less than an hour. With confidence, I walked the log bridge across the stream and snapped MM’s pic as he made his way to the other side. That first hour set the tone for the remainder of the day. After the brief break at the shelter we didn’t stop again for almost four miles until we reached the Rainbow Lake Campsite. Some section hikers were breaking camp at the beautiful setting. The trail then continued to wind around the lake for a while. I looked over my left shoulder often, expecting to catch a glimpse of an isolated fisherman on a boat. None appeared.
When the trail finally moved away from the lake, it elevated over 400 feet to Rainbow Ledges. With cloud cover in all directions, Molar Man and I had no views while we took a short lunch break. The climb up the ledges, over some almost level rock face, actually seemed easier hiking than over the roots and through the mud. We stopped again at the Hurd Brook Lean-to where Funnybone, Double Nickel, and Rich were also taking a break. They all plan to summit on Monday, so hopefully we can hike up together. From there Molar Man and I hiked strong, reaching the Golden Rd. before 2:30.
The AT turns right at the road and heads toward Abol Bridge. From the middle of the bridge we were treated to a view of Katahdin. Clouds rolled over the mountain as I paused to admire its enormity. Below in the Penobscot River a fisherman appeared to be fly fishing for trout. After crossing the river we passed a trading post on our way to the parking area where Sweet Tooth was waiting. From there it was back to Millinocket where the three of us will join Susquehanna Slim and his lovely wife for dinner tonight. It will be the first time I have seen Slim since he summited on Friday. For Molar Man and me that event will have to wait until Monday. Just two more days on the Appalachian Trail.