At the top of the mountain, Hansel, Gretel, Two Bad and Mom had a quick photo shoot with the Katahdin sign. The trip back down Katahdin was more difficult and a bit scarier than it had been to climb up. This time they were looking at the many-foot drops making the fear factor so much higher. Two Bad didn't seem to be having any problem.
"He was jumping around and loving it," Hansel recounted. Surprisingly, going down was no problem for him this time. He was able to use his arms to lower himself over the huge bolders most of the time. He often has trouble on the slow descents because of his two bad knees, but he was able to hop the boulders in stride! Mom, on the other hand, was having a really tough time. She was pretty scared. Gretel led the way, followed by Mom, then Hansel and Two Bad took up the rear.
When they got to the rebar spot, "that was an event, let me tell you. She kind of lost it there," Hansel recalled. She started crying and was getting a little "panic-ie." This was because the only way to get down was to face forward and lower yourself with your arms behind you holding onto the metal rod. You had to kind of slide down until you could get your foot on a particular rock. It was a very big drop (about 7 feet) and it was extremely awkward to be climbing down the bolder backward.
Hansel came to the rescue. He managed to position himself so that he was sandwiching Mom between his body and the rock face. He held onto the rebar around Mom so that she could slide down between his arms. If she fell, she would fall right into his chest. When she started to panic, Hansel looked at her (his face was only a few inches from hers) and kept repeating, "Mom, it's ok. Just look at my face. Just lower yourself down. Your foot is almost there. You can do this..." He and Gretel coached her down the rock while Mom did her best to stay calm. She made it safely and Two Bad followed. He got his leg a little stuck which was hurting his hip a bit, but we was able to fix himself without help.
Meanwhile, I had hiked one mile up Katahdin to a spot called Katahdin Stream Falls. I arrived at about 3 pm with my four signs looking pretty. I made attempts to gather a crowd to celebrate with me, but no one seemed very interested in waiting at the falls for a couple of thru-hikers they had never met. I staked out a good spot for each sign and seated myself on a rock by the water. I had also changed into the surprise Jabeccawalk t-shirts we made for the whole family. I was carrying Mom and Dad's t-shirts too so that when they all came down to find me, I could toss them their shirts which they would throw on in triumph. At that time, I also planned on jumping up waving one of the signs high over my head and whatever people happened to be there would start that oh-so-inspiring slow clap that speeds up into full out applause! Maybe someone would even have some speakers handy and play the "We Are The Champions" song by Queen. In my mind, this whole scene was looking quite momentous! I sat on my rock watching up the trail ready for the first sign of my family. Every now and again the wind would blow over one of my signs and I would hop up to fix it as quickly as I could, the whole time watching up the mountain so as not to miss Hansel and Gretel.
Amanda (me) waiting on a rock beside the falls.
At 4:30 there was still no sign of them. I had switched my waiting rock a few times and talked with every other hiker who was making his or her way down from the top of Katahdin. I asked if they had seen Hansel and Gretel. Some said they might have passed them, other's weren't too sure. I kept waiting. At 5:30 I decided to tape down my poster board signs. I was getting tired of running to pick them up every 10 minutes when the wind knocked them over. Luckily I had a role of clear packing tape that I used to attach the signs to nearby trees. At 7 pm I was starting to get cold and the bugs had made a full-fledged meal of my neck. I was itching and scratching all over. I crouched between my poster board signs to keep warm and block the wind, making sure to sustain my gaze on the trail leading up the mountain.
At 7:30 I was getting worried. What if one of them had gotten hurt? I hadn't seen any hikers coming down in quite a while. Maybe they were stranded up there all alone. What if they took an alternate route down and were already in the parking lot unable to find me? I thought my parents knew I was going to hike up to the waterfall, but maybe they forgot. I decided that if they still had not appeared by 8pm, I was going to gather my signs and head back to the car. It would probably take me an hour to get back since I was still a little gimpy from when I broke my ankle back in April. I was afraid that if I left any later I would have to find my way in the dark.
At 7:45 I started pulling my signs off of the trees. This momentous celebration I had envisioned was not turning out the way I planned. I don't think I have ever sat and stared at one spot as long as I did that afternoon. I wish I could say it was a meditative afternoon with the sounds of water and nature all around me, but it really was just kind of pathetic. I set out on the trail heading toward the parking lot. Not 10 minutes into my hike, I heard someone clomping along behind me. I turned around and saw Gretel moving quickly over the rocks!
"Oh! Hi!" I said. "Wait!" I unrolled one of my signs and held it infront of my chest. "Hooray!!!" I yelled. It took Gretel a moment to realize what was going on. She was very confused to see this gimpy person trotting along by herself with her arms full of poster board, but she started laughing when she realized it was me. Together, we continued our hike through the woods. She told me how difficult it had been to get up and down Katahdin. She explained that she left Hansel, Two Bad and Mom because she really had to use the bathroom (a privy located at the waterfall where I had been waiting). She was going to sit and wait for them at the waterfall, but it was getting cold and dark, so she decided to return to the parking lot and wait with me. She had not expected to run into me on the trail. As we walked, we kept our ears sharp for any sound of footsteps behind us. A few times we thought we heard Mom and Dad's voice, but our ears were just playing tricks on us.
Back in the parking lot, Gretel and I taped the signs to the trunk of the car. It was about 8:20 and daylight was fading fast. It was getting colder so we moved into the car keeping our eyes glued to the place where the trail comes out of the woods. Minutes ticked by and Gretel started to worry. Did Hansel have the head lamps? She thought he had kept them in his pack. But what if he didn't? Maybe she should hike back into the woods to make sure they were ok. 8:45 rolled around and still no sign of them. The sun was officially gone. The suspense was killing us. Where were they?
At 9 pm two small beams of light glowed from woods. It was them! Mom and Two Bad were wearing Hansel's head lamps while Hansel walked between them. They made it! Gretel and I jumped out of the car. "Hooray!!" we shouted, each of us holding up a sign. We threw Mom, Two Bad and Hansel their Jabeccawalk t-shirt. Gretel and I were already wearing ours. After some hugs and some story swapping, we all loaded into the car and drove out of the now pitch black campground.
We had an hour drive to get back into town, which means we didn't hit civilization until 10 pm. At that point, every restaurant and ice cream shop was closed for the night. Our celebratory dinner had to be McDonalds burgers with a McFlurry for good measure. This momentous celebratory finish had definitely lost its luster, but sitting in McDonalds with the whole family together was really all any of us needed. Hansel and Gretel had done it. Knowing that was enough of a celebration all by itself.
The next day we raced to the airport for an early flight all decked out in our matching Jabeccawalk t-shirts. I'm sure we were quite a spectacle, limping our way through the airport with a bunch of hefty backpacks. At least everyone smelled fresh. Two Bad, being the proud father that he is, didn't miss an opportunity to tell other passengers and airport officials that his kids just finished hiking the Appalachian Trail. We got back to NJ in the early afternoon. Pulling into the driveway was a breath of fresh air for Hansel and Gretel. Tonight, they would use a real napkin, as opposed to their shirt sleeves. They would brush their teeth with clean running water. Finally, they would not have to "make their home" from the materials they carried on their backs. After four long months, this adventure had come to an end.
Happy tra... well, just happy!
On the plane!
Lookin' good at Newark Airport.
Gretel and Mom waiting for Two Bad to come back with the car.
A toast of wine, coffee and milk at Taormina's, our favorite Italian restaurant in Kenilworth, NJ.