When I started this epic journey in March, my plan was to summit Katahdin on August 28, the first anniversary of my brother’s death. Those plans were not meant to be. I realized that I would need a little longer when I was back in New Hampshire. Two days ago I figured out why. August 26 and 27 last year were two of the most difficult days of Don’s life. Then one year ago today he was released from his agony. At 7:55, the time he was officially pronounced dead by a hospice nurse in his home, I stopped in the middle of the trail and said a prayer. And I felt my brother right there with me.
The past two days have been hard. I think they were supposed to be for a reason, just like so many things that have occurred on this hike. Not to in any way compare with Don’s last two days, but mine too have been challenging. I’ve tripped; I’ve fallen; I’ve bled; I’ve feared that my next step might lead to disaster. But through it all, I’m OK. Today all went well. For Don, one year ago today, he too was OK. His faith sustained him during those last agonizing days because he knew that soon he would be OK. With Don on my mind and his spirit by my side, I hiked strong throughout the day. As I walked today, everything was OK.
After a peaceful night’s sleep in the Logan Brook Lean-to, I awoke at 5:20 to see Molar Man already stirring. When my watch alarm sounded ten minutes later, I was stuffing my sleeping bag into its sack. A few minutes later All the Way roused himself and also began packing up. The one “young kid” in the shelter, 23 year old McJetpack, even stirred despite the early hour. I took an instant liking to the lad from a Chicago suburb when he arrived at the shelter last night. An affable fellow, he said this would be the earliest that he would be the last to leave. I told him I would see him up the trail as Molar Man and I headed for the white blazes at 6:04.
With an exceptionably agreeable trail, we hiked at a better than two miles an hour pace for the first four miles. A ford had been listed in the AT Guide at the East Branch of the Pleasant River; however, we were able to rock hop without difficulty. Shortly thereafter we began our only climb of the day, a 700 foot ascent up Little Boardman Mountain. Even though the little guy only stood at 1980 feet, the last 400 feet were steep. At the top we ran into Double Nickel and a section hiker, Rich from St. Simons, GA, who was completing a section hike he started back in 1979. Now that’s perseverance. Rich carries a trumpet which he plays every night. Kind of made me think of Gabriel.
After Little Boardman the trail became (to quote Slim) “a walk in the park.” Sure there were a few rocks and roots, and some boggy areas with board walks, but mainly it was a fast path. At the Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to we stopped for lunch. McJetpack was also there. Since I won’t be staying in the woods anymore I offered him a salmon packet. He graciously accepted and then filled my water bottle from the brook for me. As Molar Man and I returned to the trail for 3.7 more miles, Goose and All the Way showed up. I’ve been around them regularly now since early in New Hampshire.
Those final short miles of the day sped by. In fact, the whole day did. On the gentlest trail I’ve seen in weeks, we knocked out 15.4 miles in seven hours, thirteen minutes. At Jo-Mary Rd. Sweet Tooth was waiting. She said she had just provided some trail magic for McJetpack before we arrived. Who says this is a 100 mile wilderness? It did, however, take us 35 minutes on the logging road to reach the main highway. From there we made our way to Millinocket. So tonight I’m in a motel. Tomorrow and the three days thereafter, Molar Man and I will return to the AT to slackpack the remainder of the trail.
Today turned out to be a good day to hike. I passed two good fishing ponds on this day especially dedicated to Don. He would have liked them both. I smiled as I thought about memories we shared. I became emotional when I thought about our baseball conversations that are no more. I regretted that he is missing the Braves’ successful season. I thought about Lisa and Brent and how much they miss a kind and loving husband and dad. But most of all I was grateful as I hiked for Don’s life and for his faith. My brother is OK and I will be too as I hammer out 56.0 more miles on the Appalachian Trail.
Don with a large mouth bass
Lisa and Don – September 2011
How truly special your amazing hike has been. Thank you for sharing so much with all of us so that we could enjoy, pray along for you and remember Don always. God’s continued guidance,love & blessings! Special thoughts for you,Lisa, Brent and your dear mother. Susan
Mike, this is beautiful and I certainly needed to hear this today. I found it comforting. I pray for your safe return. God Bless,
Mike, this is very touching. It’s extremely tough to read and not get choked up. I think about Don often and selfishly wish he were still here with us…even though I know he is much better off without all the pain and discomfort.
What loving words and thoughts as you remember and honor Don. My thoughts and my prayers have been with all of the family and friends that loved and miss him.