October 10, 2008
This is a 5-month long series of blog posts that are the entries in my journals written on most evenings as I hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1993. The journal entry appears first — indented — and then any additional commentary from my 15-years-removed perspective follows.
This is my third and final “recollection” journal entry, as the journal itself stopped on October 7th. Thsi entry contains the story that I’ve probably retold more than any other story about my experience on the trail.
Sunday, October 10th was cold and misty. But, Mt. Katahdin was open, and we decided to head for the summit. It’s a ~10-mile hike, of which the second half (give or take) is above treeline. I was carrying my pack, but it was virtually empty. My plan was to propose to Julie at the summit.
The best laid plans…
We got above treeline, and it was cold. And wet. And windy. With limited visibility, so no particularly scenic views. And, there were places along the trail where rebar had been driven into the rock to give hand/footholds for the climb. Now, I already knew — and knew quite well — that Julie didn’t like being cold. I also knew she wasn’t a huge fan of heights…but didn’t realize exactly how much she wasn’t a fan of heights. As we were facing yet another scramble up a rebar-embedded boulder, she said, “You know, Tim, I think I’ll just go back down below the treeline and wait for you. You go ahead and finish.” She wasn’t mad or even upset, but she was uncomfortable.
And. Totally. Oblivious. To. My. PLAN!
I thought fast, realized that I’d be a total ass if I prodded her to keep going, and I figured that “close to the summit” was pretty darn close to “at the summit.” I decided I would propose on the spot.
There was a minor complication, though, in that I had been terrified that I would lose the ring ever since I picked it up from the post office in Stratton. I had wrapped it and re-wrapped it in a big wad of packing so it was a bundle that was a couple of inches across that would be pretty hard to misplace. I needed to get it unwrapped, so I told Julie to turn around and look the other way while I tore into my pack and started tearing off the wrapping.
I failed to realize that “the other way” happened to be “right into the teeth of a hard, cold, wet wind.”
It took me a good minute to extricate the ring.
I told Julie she could turn around.
Tears were streaming down her face.
I proposed, she accepted, we kissed briefly, and then we temporarily parted way while I finished the trail. Yes, Julie did cry when I proposed…but she was already crying, and it was purely a case of tear ducts reacting to the environment. But, the facts are the facts.
As it turned out, the boulder where we stopped was the last actual “climbing” part of the trail. After that climb, there was a half mile of flat, easy walking to the summit (which was completely cloud-covered, so pretty unspectacular).
Meanwhile, Julie decided to wait for me where she was and do jumping jacks to stay warm rather than heading back down below the treeline. At least one thru-hiker who knew of my plan — Pooh Bear — came across Julie by herself and assumed the worst! But, we got that straightened out on the summit.
I was back within a half-hour, with a minor touch of frostbite on my nose, and we headed on down from there.