The Most Difficult Mile

When I first began this journey in Georgia, I would often come across people who became curious when they saw my large pack. “How far are you hiking?” They would inevitably ask, assuming I was out backpacking for a couple of weeks. “Oh, I’m just heading to Maine,” I’d respond, and watch their eyes bulge before the onslaught of follow-up questions ensued. Now I find it hard to believe that I am actually here in the final state of my northbound Appalachian Trail thru-hike. These days when people ask me where I’m going, I have to be more specific: “I’m heading to Mt. Katahdin!”

The New Hampshire-Maine state line was a welcome sight.

Soon after crossing the state line, while still elated by reaching the 14th and last state in my journey, I was greeted by the most difficult mile on the AT: Mahoosuc Notch. When entering a section of trail that your guidebook describes as winding its way “through a deranged jumble of boulders at the bottom of a deep cleft,” you know you’re in for it. This part of the AT is well known in the hiking community, and something we all had been anticipating since the beginning. And Mahoosuc Notch did not disappoint.

It took over two hours for me to scramble, hop, and crawl my way through the boulder field. I cannot say that I hiked Mahoosuc Notch, it was much more akin to rock climbing. Just when I made it up one house-sized boulder, I would have to stop and contemplate my next move. There was even one part where we were directed by white blazes (the official mark of the AT) to squeeze through a narrow cave-like space, which required taking off one’s pack and either pushing it ahead or dragging it behind.

Mahoosuc Notch: a jumble of boulders wedged in the cleft between two mountains.

Despite my best efforts of planning, at one point I got myself in a proper quandary. As I came to an enormous boulder, I had the option of squeezing around it or climbing up it. I chose to ascend it as this appeared the easiest of the two options, and from what I could tell on the ground, I believed I’d be able to continue on higher ground just beyond. After lugging myself with my heavy pack on top of the boulder, I suddenly realized that there was no way down to where I needed to go, unless I wanted to drop from my perch – something that would surely result in broken bones. Worse yet, I had situated myself in such a way that it was also impossible for me to go back the way I came. I was stuck, literally, between a rock and a hard place approximately 20 feet below. 

Arrows and white blazes occasionally helped guide us, but mostly we were left to judge how best to skirt around the giant obstacles.
Facing the possibility of great bodily harm, I decided it would be best to ditch my pack. This would hopefully allow me to make the precarious rock climb I needed to do in order to extract myself from my predicament. Off came my pack, and I hoped as I released it that nothing of importance would break upon its impact with the ground. Unencumbered of my load, I was amazed how much more nimble I felt, as I cautiously grabbed handholds and eased myself down. Upon reaching the ground, a close examination of my gear revealed a crack in my ukulele (a luxury item I carry for my entertainment in camp), but no other harm was done. Most importantly, I escaped without bodily injury!

This narrow passage between boulders necessitated removing one’s pack and crawling in order to pass through.

We all carry around burdens at times – sometimes out of necessity, other times out of obstinance or fear. While lugging that weight around under normal conditions is tolerable, there may come times where it inhibits you from moving forward. If you find yourself stuck, try shedding your load, even if it’s only temporary. You may just find it possible to cover ground that you previously thought impossible.

Until our paths cross again,

     Ashley Sylvan

3 thoughts on “The Most Difficult Mile

  1. Having read many posts on Facebook of your journey, tonight I finally decided to read all of your “Ramblings”. I have mentioned to your mother about how impressed I have been of your AT undertaking, but having read through your writings I am truly impressed with your mental strength and determination. What a book you could write from this adventure. Take care and I hope your last leg of this trek to Mt. Katahdin is a safe one.


  2. Thanks Sarah! That was a great read! I am glad you are safe. It is wonderful and amazing that you have journeyed so far and gained such insight into life. Godspeed.


  3. Reading your diary is almost like being there. I absolutely love the way you write. Hope you publish a book! It’s good that you gained experience along the way before you got to this difficult challenge. Stay safe! I knew you at St. Paul’s and worked with your Mom at KCC. Your Dad was my husband’s doctor. Also went on many dive trips with your Uncle Rick. Praying for you!


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