September 11 — All-day rains kept us from hiking in Baxter State Park today, so instead we opted to hang out a bit at the Appalachian Trail Cafe in Millinocket, Maine. After all, with a name like this in the town where the A.T. ends, how could we stay away from such a namesake joint?
Immediately upon walking in, we were immersed in the cool vibe of this little place. It’s a local favorite with a unique Appalachian Trail atmosphere, warm and friendly waitresses, and graffiti-laden ceiling tiles. We were told that thru-hikers who finish the trail come here to eat and proudly sign the ceiling tile with their class (i.e. Class of 2014). But wait – these aren’t names – they look like nicknames… Earlybird, Shake-n-Bake, Pacemaker, Tatertot…. Apparently one’s nickname is assumed or given by another fellow hiker, and then that’s your name for the six or so months you hike the A.T.
Which brings us to Jonathan. Jonathan, a.k.a. T.K., was a thru-hiker in 2012, and today he was back in Millinocket waiting on a few friends who are finishing the A.T. within the next couple of days. Jonathan was here to meet them, and also to work on a video project he’s doing that’s related to hiking the A.T.
We got to talking to him in the Cafe, and seeing the rain coming down steadily and understanding that thru-hikers mostly stay on the trail out in the woods and thinking that neither of us would like to be out in the rain all day long, we invited him to join us back at our campsite for an afternoon under our awning where he could stay dry, take a shower in our campground shower house if he wanted, and join us for dinner. He happily accepted, so the three of us came back to our campsite.
As the rain fell on and off for the next several hours, we all hung out at our campsite where T.K. graciously answered all of our questions (and we had lots of them!) about life on the trail for months on end – what he packed, what he ate, how he slept, how he stayed dry and warm, how much his bag weighed, how often he slept in a hostel or hotel along the way vs. out under the stars (“cowboy camping” he called it), what happened if he got sick, … our list of questions was endless, and he patiently and enthusiastically answered each of them and took us into his world as an A.T. thru-hiker.
In return for him sharing with us what it’s like hiking the A.T. – a trail we not-so-coincidentally keep intersecting as we spend time here in New England (we first encountered the A.T. back in Pennsylvania, then again in Vermont, New Hampshire, and now Maine) – we shared food, drink, and a little bit of warmth, both physically and hopefully in human terms, with him.
Okay, I need to comment on my dinner — I didn’t make any old ordinary dinner! We started with gourmet cheeses and crackers [thinking of you, Christine and Kelsey!], then moved on to a maple-glazed pork loin, maple-mashed butternut squash [thanks for the Vermont maple syrup and the inspiration, Pam & Stan!], and homemade applesauce; this paired with a couple of Argentinian Malbecs. If I may say so myself, everything was delicious!
For more information about T.K., check him out on Facebook:
And a personal message to T.K. –
we found your ceiling tile when we went back to the A.T. Cafe for lunch today.
When you walk in, look down the row that’s to the right of the ceiling fan. Yours is the fourth tile down; right over the big table in the center of the cafe; your name right under “Class of 2012.”