They made it! On Monday morning, September 27, at 10 o'clock, Every Hiker's Dream and RickRock reached the summit of Mt. Katahdin. In 174 days, they walked at least 2,160 miles and climbed 180 named mountains and countless hills. Along the way, RickRock lost his sandals and nearly 25 pounds. Dick lost a shirt and 48 pounds. Both found that fulfilling a dream is not easy-but is worth the effort.
A few weeks ago, I came across this quote from Daniel H. Burnham: "Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood."
Sunday, September 26: Dick and RickRock had pushed themselves to make up the three days they'd lost because of the heavy rains and swollen streams. They had pushed so hard they reached the base of Katahdin a day ahead of schedule. Now they were camped at the base of the mountain, with only 5.4 miles between them and the summit, 5.4 miles that shot straight up.
On the way to the campsite that morning, Dick walked alone to Abol Bridge. He had glimpsed the mountain for several days, but always at a distance. From Abol Bridge, Katahdin loomed like a sleeping giant, waiting to devour those who dared scale its sides. In the middle of the bridge, he stopped and stared at the mountain. "There you are," he said, acknowledging his opponent. Six months of anticipation and uncertainty pounded in his chest. He had left his family and friends, risked his health and safety, all in a quest for something he still could not define, not even to himself. Now, he faced the final obstacle. Softly at first, he spoke to Katahdin. "I'm here," he said aloud. "I made it." The adrenaline he would need tomorrow rushed through him. He spread his feet in a defiant stance, squeezed the railing, and shouted up to the giant: "I'M HERE! I MADE IT! JUST TRY TO STOP ME!"
Morning would be a long time coming.
Monday, September 27: Restless, unable to sleep, Dick rose before the sun. Captain, a young man from Delaware, had risen at 3 a.m. He, too, had tossed and turned all night. With a headlamp to guide him, he started hiking. At 4:40 a.m., Captain signed the register at the beginning of the ascent. By 7:30, he stood on the summit, the first to arrive that day.
As though the day itself had been special-ordered, the combination of a clear blue sky, temperatures in the mid-70s, and the absence of wind set the stage for victory.
At 10 o'clock, Dick and RickRock were the next to arrive. On the way up, they made a pact to finish together. Rick had been a runner in college and carried orange tape to stage a finish line at the summit. Dick had envisioned using his poles to create a "V" for victory.
Since the summit of Katahdin is the end of the AT, hikers leave their heavy packs at the base of the mountain and carry only the barest of necessities for the climb. For Dick, that meant food, water, his poles, and a disposable camera. For several hours, he and RickRock stayed at the summit to greet the others who made it to the top. Dick said that meant a lot of hand-shaking, countless hearty slaps on the back, followed by still more hand-shaking.
In a world where there is no coincidence, where serendipity and destiny intertwine, it would be no surprise to have the image of that final summit captured with more than a disposable camera, to have the experience recorded with more than the words of an absent wife. It would be trail magic of the highest order.
Exactly twenty years ago, on September 27, a group of four thruhikers reached the summit of Katahdin. Those same men came back this year to repeat the experience of the final climb. One of them is now a freelance writer on assignment with National Geographic Traveler magazine. He had come to Katahdin, along with one of the magazine's photographers, to record the reunion. For a current perspective, the writer also interviewed several of this year's thruhikers, including Every Hiker's Dream and RickRock. Using fancy lights, the photographer took their pictures and promised to mail a copy to each of them. The article is scheduled for publication in the summer of 2000, just when a new crop of thruhikers might be looking for the inspiration to keep walking.
History has shown that, on average, of those who set out each year with the intent to thruhike the AT, only ten percent complete the trail. Through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire, strangers greet northbound thruhikers with, "Good luck." Once those hikers reach Maine, strangers say, "Congratulations." And with good reason.