Sarah Jane Hatfield, a former graphic designer at The Mountaineer, has embarked on a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. During her journey, she’ll be sending dispatches from the forest, which we’ll publish each Wednesday.
This week, we join Hatfield (now a grandma) as she returns from Florida, briefly reunites with her trail kids and surpasses the 1,600-mile marker.
“Keep on going, and the chances are that you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it. I never heard of anyone ever stumbling on something sitting down.” — Charles F. Kettering
Monday was filled with mixed emotions. Sadness because I was leaving my daughter and beautiful grandson. Happiness because I was flying to Providence, Rhode Island, where my sister, Jennifer, was waiting to pick me up.
After a two-hour delay, while sitting in seat 17F, we were finally cleared for takeoff. It was only a two-and-a-half hour flight, yet I sat on that sold out plane for more than four hours. Every toddler and baby let us know that they weren’t happy, either. It was a tough wait for everyone involved. Once cleared for takeoff, the passengers erupted into applause. We were wheels up and headed north.
I was going back to the trail. I had plans to stay with my sister from Monday through Wednesday morning. Then she would drive me to Sudbury, Massachusetts, to meet with my trail kids, Patterns and Disco who live there. Those two offered to drive me to Dalton, Massachusetts, where I’d return to the A.T.
The time spent with my sister, Jennifer, at her beautiful oceanfront home in Portsmouth was extremely relaxing. It was filled with much-needed sister time. She worked from home Tuesday, and I enjoyed watching her do her thing. She’s a chief people officer who’s in charge of people and culture for a tech company. She’s good at what she does, and it was nice to witness that.
Wednesday morning eventually rolled around. My pack was stuffed with food for the trail. Jennifer drove me the hour-plus to Sudbury, where Disco lives. It was good to see him again. He even had a fresh haircut. Disco’s parents were eager to meet me, racing home to do so. His dad, Bill, watches all of my videos, and is a huge fan. They insisted on taking me to lunch, and I’m never one to turn down a free meal. They were good company, asking me lots of questions about the trail and my gear.
After eating, Disco and I made our way to Patterns’ house. His parents are also huge fans of Pringles (aka me). His mom, Tracy, was so adorable — she couldn’t believe I was standing in her house. It was cute. We waited for Patterns to get home from work, which ended up taking much longer than originally planned. I was hoping to get a few miles in on the trail Wednesday. But that plan changed, and I was OK with it. Once Patterns walked in the door, we headed out. He looked exactly the same: scruffy beard and long, shaggy hair — as though he’d just stepped off the trail. I said goodbye to his family, and we hit the road.
It was a two-and-a-half hour drive to the hotel. I arrived in Dalton around 10 p.m. Wednesday, with plans to hit the trail first thing Thursday morning. Broccoli Rob was perfectly placed 35 miles south of me. That was good, because I would be able to get a few reconditioning days in before we were reunited. He was insistent on catching me, now that he knew the exact location of my trail re-entry. He did two straight 25-mile days during my first 48 hours back on the trail. That’s really pushing it.
On the third evening, he texted his daily mileage check-in. He was only nine miles behind. I jokingly told him that maybe I’d sleep in the next morning if he promised to leave early. If we did that, we’d meet around lunchtime Saturday. We liked those plans.
Being back on trail has been magnificent. It feels as though I never left. Push. Mileage. Up hills. Down hills. However, nothing could compare to that Saturday morning when I slept in, then slowly packed up camp and headed north on the trail, as slowly as possible. The faster I went, the longer it would take for Brocolli Rod to catch me.
This reasoning went on for the first mile of the day — a mile that took me two-and-a-half hours to mozy through. I was looking at everything, smelling trees, walking backward, taking pictures and texting Broccoli Rob every five minutes asking him what mile marker he was at. He always reported without hesitation. We were excited to see each other again. It had been 20 days since he walked me to the bus stop in Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania.
He had a gnarly climb up and over Mt. Greylock Saturday. I’d done it the day before, and I was hoping he’d see great views, like I did. He left camp at 6 a.m. and cranked out his day. In his last mileage text, I discovered he was just a tenth-of-a-mile behind. There he was, Broccoli Rob! I’d already dropped my pack, and his came off after our first hug. We embraced a few more times, then sat down across from each other. We caught up.
A couple of hours later, we made our lazy day plan. We picked a campsite about 3.5 miles. On our way there, we swung by a grocery store that was a half-mile off trail and took another long break. We raided their hot deli case, salad bar and fruit bar. We ate out in front of the store, sitting on the ground. (Don’t worry, we washed our hands first). Only after finishing up did we notice a picnic table off to the side, in the shade. Go figure.
We eventually made it to camp in the early evening. Broccoli Rob likes cinnamon whiskey, so I pulled two shots and we toasted. He asked if I was ready to keep up, and I assured him I was. After doing some math, we found that we needed to average 13.4 miles per day to summit Mt. Katahdin by the end of September. Piece of cake.
The next day, Sunday, Broccoli Rob and I hammered home a 20-miler, with high miles planned for early next week. We’re back at it.
“To Katahdin!” I yelled while taking Broccoli’s arm.
Even though I jumped ahead by 275 miles, I still like to relish the milestones. This week we passed the 1,600-mile marker. That means we’re less than 600 miles to Katahdin. We also crossed into Vermont — so close that I can taste it.
Follow along on YouTube at Katahdin or Bust.
Weekly mileage: 44.9.
Appalachian Trail mile marker: 1,616.