Editor’s Note: Westbrook native Gretchen Carroll, who goes by the trail name Ukalady, hiked from Georgia to Maine along the 2,189-mile Appalachian Trail. She spent 186 days on the trail and so far has raised $1,665 for Rippleffect scholarships.

I am an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker! I can hardly believe the amazing journey is over. The final day of the hike was beautiful, warm and sunny with blue skies and only a little bit of haze on the horizon.

The final ascent to the top of Katahdin was filled with emotion. I had to force myself to look down at the trail rather than ahead at the summit so that I wouldn’t stumble or twist an ankle in the last 100 yards. I was thinking about all the aspects of the trail I would miss and felt a lump rising in my throat.

When I reached the terminus of the trail I hugged the sign. I was elated and incredibly proud of myself for having successfully completed the entire Appalachian Trail. I was relieved and thankful I had never gotten sick or injured. There was also sadness, knowing my life was going to change and I would have to adjust to living indoors. My journey was over, I had achieved my goal. It was amazing!

My friend Amanda made the hike up Katahdin with us. She took numerous photos of Chameleon and me at the top. I could have stayed there for hours but we knew we had to head back down in order to be out of the woods by dark. We made it back to the parking lot by dusk. I gave Chameleon a huge hug. We had done it!

On the trail, anytime I told another hiker I was from Maine they would respond, “You’re hiking home!” Well, yes and no. Yes I am from Maine, but I don’t live very close to the trail at all. When I did cross the final state border into Maine, I was surprised at how excited I was to be “home,” despite being in a part of Maine I had never been to before.

Shortly after entering Maine, Chameleon and I hiked through Mahoosuc Notch. This section of the trail was described as the “most difficult or fun mile of the AT” in our guidebook. The trail goes through a boulder pit for one mile. At the beginning it felt like a playground for adults, climbing up, over, around and under huge rocks. As the hours wore on and a light rain began, the fun began to fade. I was tired, sore, scraped, bruised and hungry. I was happy to be through it and even happier that my ukulele had survived the rocks. Someday I hope to hike through the notch again with a daypack and fresh legs.

The 100 Mile Wilderness – a remote section from Monson to Abol Bridge near Katahdin – did not seem all that different from the rest of the trail. We did carry more food than usual when we entered but walking in the woods was very familiar to us. Chameleon and I had hoped to see moose but we never did. Several other hikers saw them in the woods, by a pond, or even walking on the trail. Before we entered the wilderness I arranged for Amanda to meet us at Katahdin. Chameleon and I hiked more miles per day than we had anticipated for the first few days, so our last days on the trail were leisurely and relaxed. It was great to really be able to savor trail life. We went swimming, slept in, had campfires, and I sang every night. It was a wonderful way to spend our final days in the woods.

If you would like to see more pictures, hear more about the trail, and have your own questions answered, I will be giving a presentation at Walker Memorial Library in Westbrook on Thursday, Oct. 8, at 6:30 p.m.

To read more about my adventures on the trail visit www.mtnrvr.blogspot.com.

To donate to the money for outdoor education scholarships at Rippleffect visit www.gofundme.com/GretchenAT.

Ukalady navigates a tricky boulder-strewn section of trail near the Maine-New Hampshire border known as Mahoosic Notch. The notch is only one mile in length but takes hikers several hours to navigate.Ukalady and hiking partner Chameleon stand triumphant atop Katahdin at the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.Ukalady, a.k.a. Gretchen Carroll of Westbrook, is one happy and satisfied hiker after reaching her goal, the top of Katahdin, after hiking for six months on the Appalachian Trail.

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