I don't know about you, but I have thoroughly enjoyed travelling the Appalachian Trail through the eyes of Mike over the past few months. On Labor Day he achieved his goal and made the final climb of Mt. Katahdin, successfully completing the challenge he had set for himself and begun 6 months earlier. Mike graciously found some time to answer a few last questions about his amazing journey.
Tell us about your last day. What time did you get up and hit the trail? What thoughts were running through your head?
The last day was Labor Day. I got up shortly after daybreak, but I don't know the time because my iPod Touch stopped working a few weeks ago and I haven't been able to tell time. I was pretty pumped, but at the same time I knew there was a massive climb to do so that tempered my enthusiasm a bit. The real excitement came when I started to approach the summit. At that point, my thoughts were all over the place but a dominant theme emerged: "Is this really happening?" It's difficult to explain... I had fantasized about this moment for more than six months, and then it's here and it's very overwhelming.
How long did it take you to climb Katahdin and how strenuous was it?
I'm estimating it took 4-5 hours to climb Katahdin. It started out as a typical climb, but then about halfway up there was a one mile stretch where you climb over 1,700 feet. That is the steepest one-mile stretch of the entire trail, so I'd been wondering about it for a while. There was a lot of hand-over-hand climbing and hauling yourself up over ledges and boulders. Some people turned back because it was too strenuous.
Although it was difficult, I feel like the rest of the AT prepared me very well for what I encountered on Katahdin. After almost 2,200 miles of hiking, there was really nothing the trail could throw at me that I hadn't seen before.
Describe your emotions as you stood on top of Katahdin and looked backwards at the trail you just finished? And I KNOW you looked back at where you came from!
When I reached the top, I was overwhelmed with emotion and thought I might collapse. I touched the sign at the summit and hugged it, which made everything seem more real. I just couldn't believe that this moment I had dreamt of for months was finally here. Everything I did for over six months was dedicated toward reaching this one moment... and now it was here! It was one of the best feelings of my life.
There was a beautiful 360 degree view from the top, and yes I looked back on the trail. I was incredulous and couldn't grasp that I had actually hiked this far. It's just so far, and over such difficult terrain. I still can't believe I hiked the entire AT. It will probably take a while to sink in!
How many days did it actually take for you to hike the entire AT?
I started around noon on February 25th and finished sometime in the early afternoon on September 3rd.
Now that your AT hike is over, what were the highlights?
The people. When I think back on the hike, I don't typically think of mountains or the terrain, but rather remember the people I met along the way. People who gave me rides into town, let me stay in their home, fed me, camped with me, hiked with me, encouraged me, wrote blogs about me, the whole nine yards. I met a lot of amazing people, and I remember each and every one of them.
What part did you absolutely not like at all?
The pain. I endured unbelievable pain at times, and am still in pain even as I type this. But it was all worth it!!
What was the first thing you ate when you came down off Katahdin?
I didn't have to wait until I came down from Katahdin to eat, because there was a group of very kind day hikers who gave me a bag of grapes, an apple, and a bottle of water. Further proof that people make this trail special, not the mountains...
Do you think you’d ever hike the AT again?
If I thought it would help kids, then absolutely. But I think people might enjoy seeing me hike different trails, like the PCT or CDT.
How do you feel your hike has changed you personally? What impact did it make on your life?
I speak my mind more now and say and think what I feel. I have a lot less fear and much more confidence. Have you ever heard the song that says "I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying"? Well that's how I'm living now! I'm going after my dreams and nothing can stop me. Not even 2,184 miles of mountains!
You’re about to begin the next chapter of your journey. You plan on hiking the Ozark Trail, again for your Hike4Kids charity. What’s the length of the Ozark Trail, when will you start, are you going alone?
I plan to start the Ozark Trail within the next week. Several people have offered to hike with me, but we'll see what happens. Hiking with companions is difficult because people go different speeds and have different styles. The Ozark Trail is about 250 miles long and I hope to complete it in about 2-3 weeks. My scheduled completion date is September 29th. I am trying to coordinate the end of my hike with the Ozark Trail Association's annual mega-event.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your AT experience? Any plans to write a book about it?
I have taken copious notes about my experience and a book is in the works. The only problem is I do not know the appropriate "tone" for the book. When I speak to people in person, they are most entertained by stories of the outrageous characters I met and funny events that occurred. But when I write the blog, people are most entertained by inspirational events. So, I'm not sure if I should write an inspirational story about overcoming odds or an entertaining story about some of the wilder experiences I had along the trail... I would like to intertwine the two themes, but that could prove to be a larger challenge than hiking the AT!
Please tell me that your Hike4Kids charity raised some money.
Currently in the neighborhood of $7,000. I'm hoping to hit at least $10,000 by the time all is said and done.
More important than the money we raised was the people we inspired. I believe there are people out there who will go and do a little more with their life as a result of Hike4Kids. I know I will!
And so, Mike closes this chapter of his life and moves on to the next. Please consider helping him reach his goal of raising $ 10,000.00 (or more) and make a donation to his Hike4Kids charity. You can do so through the Hike4kids website.
Don't forget to go over to the Hike4Kids FB page and LIKE it for current information on his hike across the Ozark Trail.
Mike, it was a pleasure getting to know you and I enjoyed our impromptu interviews.
(all photos courtesy of Mike McLaughlin. Do not reproduce without permission)