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Week Twenty six: Ascending for the last time

Sunday October 2nd, 1983
I didn't get a wink of sleep last night, and I can tell that I have Katahdin on the brain. I'm almost done!!! Only roughly five more miles up, and then the return.

We all began our ascent up the mountain by 7:30am - by this I mean my whole family and friends! Although it was a dismal morning, mom and dad hiked up about a mile before returning. Of course they were physically holding me back, but how could it be any other way? I had been practicing for this continually for six months. The other thru hikers flew past us while I, Dia, my uncle Harold, and Sonny slowly continued upward. I wasn’t interested in showing off. I already knew my abilities quite well. I had also learned back in New Hampshire that this wasn’t about ego, but was about sharing the end of the journey with the people that meant the most to me.

It was all forest for the first couple of miles, but a stiff climb none-the-less. Once above tree line, the going got really tough, and Dia had a hard time navigating over the huge boulders littering the mountainside just as she did with the blowdowns in the south. The trail builders had installed iron bar handholds to facilitate climbing some of the larger boulders near the gateway.

After much negotiating Dia, Harry, Sonny and I eventually (seven hours later) set foot on the summit at about 2:30pm. On top we were showered with a bit of rain, but even this could not dampen our spirits. I went up with my pack nearly empty save for food for the four of us, raingear, and wine of course. The rain shower was short in duration. No views were to be taken in other than the sea of clouds, and the final summit sign indicating the end of the trail (or the start of the trail if going south). We all celebrated with a chug of red wine and a portion of "Dynamite" which I had carried up.

After taking the obligatory summit photos, I donned a dress and hat donated by my girlfriend’s mother (an old Easter dress and hat that she had worn years ago) and took alternative summit photos. It was a tribute to Fuzzy Jim and I’m sure that it will be one of those firsts that is an insignificant memory lost in time. There were a few others on the summit, but they were hunkered down in the rocks so our party was probably the only ones to see me in drag. While dressed, I toasted Fuzzy Jim.

Going down was much easier for my novice friends, and we returned in about half the time - by 7:00pm - which was good timing because it gets dark earlier this time of the year. Due to this, that it had become dark in the woods surrounding the trail, and I had the only flashlight so it was slow going. My brother was having difficulty seeing in the dark, and my cousin Sonny had worn crappy boots that came to a point and he had to walk down the last of the trail to the bottom backwards. Nightfall was quickly approaching, and Mom and dad had begun to worry as they sensed it was taking us a great deal of time to complete the round trip. In reality the delay was due, of course, to my entourage of flat-landers with sensitive feet and shortness of breath.

My parents had gone back to the cabin until late afternoon, and my mom stayed at the cabin to prepare dinner for us while my father drove back to the trail head to wait for us. They were worried when it took so long for us to get back - especially since they were able to gauge our turtle pace by the other group that had already made it back to the cabin hours before us.

My parents and Damien’s mother had rented the cabin for the weekend so my dad drove us back to the cabin. Once at the cabin, we all congratulated each other and the party began. Damien’s mom had brought a bottle of champagne and a bunch of plastic wine glasses. Damien’s brother stacked them into a mountain shape and poured the champagne into the top glass. The drink then cascaded into the lower tiers until all glasses were filled and we drank and ate until we couldn’t any more. At that time we were probably unaware that we had just become probably a few of the first 1000 hikers to have thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in one season.

Such was the culmination of a six month 2000 mile adventure up the eastern seaboard, and I felt elation. I had accomplished a feat that few could say that they did. For the first time in my life I had completed something extraordinary and did it under my own power. Through the cold rains of spring, the searing heat of summer, the seemingly endless elevation changes, the lack of water I was able to tough it out. The rewards were many though and that helped me through. I had been on a wondrous journey living in the open, the wild, and being free to do as I pleased. I had given myself the power of self-determination. It was me and only me that coloured my world. This trip made me appreciate the family that loved me without reserve. The hikers that came in and out of my life became lifelong and deep friends. We were all from various backgrounds yet we all shared a commonality of purpose and that made all of the difference. Thru-hikers are lone wolves that by happenstance gather into a pack for the purpose of self-discovery. No one leaves this endeavor and is unchanged.

 

(Marcel on the summit of Katahdin) (Marcel and Dia on the summit) (Marcel, Harold Montville and Sonny Barube on the summit)

(Marcel Montville, the first thru-hiker to summit Katahdin - in Tribute to Fuzzy Jim Berlstein)

(Fuzzy, you taught me spontaneity and a zest for life. Rolling with the punches that life throws at me and coming up smiling. You showed me not to take myself too seriously. Determination was one of your traits that we both shared. In times when I needed distraction from a daunting task you provided that for me, and without that I may have quit. I guess that you could call me a student, and a colleague for we shared both connections. You helped many with your whit and humor, and we all thank you for that. During our time together in the class of '83 we spoke of how we would finish with class. Mr. Berlstein decided that he would complete this self appointed task by finishing in a truly unusual way. Unfortunately he suffered from an injury and was not able to complete, but some months later I honored that craziness in memory of my friend.)

(Fuzzy Jim entertaining the troops in Kent, CT)

Overall, I hiked 2,145.3 miles along the Appalachian Trail (not including off trail hikes) - involving 176 days living and hiking in unfamiliar suroundings!

What a time, and what an end!!!

(Sonny shows that this is the end!)

Gonzo! Appalachian Trail Journals ©1983