Tired, sore, and in desperate need of a shower, I made the hike up to Hillside after a long weekend of trekking the Mahoosuc Notch. I couldn’t wait to take my pack off, get cleaned up, and call my parents to tell them how naïve I was when I ranked backpacking as my top choice for COOT.
When I filled out the preference form, I remember ranking backpacking at the top of my list for two reasons: I wanted to find out what Maine had to offer, and there was a pile of stinky camping gear in my garage that my brothers had left to age in the Texas humidity. I eagerly submitted the form and waited to hear what adventure I would embark on.
Once I found out I was sentenced to hike the Mahoosuc Notch, also known as the so-called hardest mile of the Appalachian Trail, I was honestly terrified. Fortunately, one of my friends had been dealt the same fate, so I figured I would at least have a familiar face to suffer beside. Unfortunately, she was in the ‘A’ group, abandoning me with strangers in the ‘B’ group.
Here’s the part that gets me: when the form asked about physical activity level, I wrote that I went on walks around my neighborhood every day and used to do OrangeTheory classes. Nothing about that translates into backpacking the hardest mile of the Appalachian Trail. Seriously, the most treacherous part of my recent outdoor experiences were the cracked sidewalks and walking on a bridge over the Southwest Freeway. Yet, the divine leaders of COOT decided to take me from the flattest place possible at 50 feet above sea level and sling me up the Notch. My lungs were neither appreciative nor capable.
Nevertheless, I shipped up my brothers’ camping gear, tried on my twin’s hiking boots that are definitely too big, and did my best to stay calm. Making a sincere effort to tell myself it wouldn’t be that hard, I decided they wouldn’t put me in the group if it were too dangerous or I couldn’t do it. After all, they obviously read my application and knew I wasn’t an experienced backpacker … right?
Cut to my group’s duffle shuffle when I learned that everyone else in my group was basically Alexander Supertramp. With my BlueBell Ice Cream pocket knife and never-been-used sleeping pad, I felt like one of the celebrities in “Running Wild With Bear Grylls” who had no clue what they were doing and cried about having to eat a cricket.
To cheer myself up from the embarrassment of being the only one without a clue as to what was about to go down, I called my parents and tried (and failed) to go to bed early. I started my day after a restful three hours, which I would love to blame for my trouble on the trail. In reality, I can’t hike to save my life.
Right off the bat, I slipped into my role as caboose. One of my leaders stuck with me in the back, for which I am very grateful, yet there is a special type of embarrassment that comes from them yelling for the front to stop so I could catch up. While I was wheezing and red in the face like I just had to run a mile outside in 90 degree heat, everyone else was perfectly fine. Nothing is quite as humbling as that.
Despite my huffing and puffing and blowing theoretical houses down, I trudged along the trail, doing my best to keep up with my group. There were more than a few moments where I thought about finding the nearest road and hitchhiking back to campus or wondered what would happen if I fell down the mountainside. Butt-sliding became my best friend, especially when we reached the Notch.
Let me set the scene for you, dear reader: there were boulders, extremely large ones that you have to scamper up, down, and around for a mile. There are gaps you have to cross, sometimes by jumping, that probably would have killed me if I fell into them. There were also a couple of times I had to squeeze through boulders, which made me fear I would end up reenacting 127 Hours. For someone who was already having a rough time and very unsure of what exactly she was doing, bouldering was not the mood lifter I needed. If I didn’t have the group I did, it would be my seventh level of hell.
My group was incredible and really made me love the trip, despite what this piece may make you think. Without them, my experience would have been completely different, and I wouldn’t have had as much fun as I did. In all seriousness, they encouraged me when I felt like I couldn’t do it, shared stories and anecdotes, sang songs on the trail, and were the best introduction to the people I was going to meet at Colby. I’m sure it was incredibly annoying making them wait for me to finally catch up after five minutes of being the slowest hiker alive, but they were kind and patient and an amazing tramily (trail family).
And to be honest, I loved the hike. The views at the end were gorgeous, and finishing made me feel proud of myself. It made me realize just how much I love that we have cars to take us places. I don’t think I’ll ever experience the same joy as when I saw the minivan pull up to take me back to civilization. Even crammed beside the smelly packs in the back, I felt like I was in heaven.
My experience was definitely unforgettable, and I don’t know anyone back home who can say their college orientation was backpacking part of the Appalachian Trail. I’m glad I did it, but perhaps even happier that I didn’t fall into a hole in the Notch, but who knows. Maybe if I had fallen in, I would’ve ended up back at sea level.
—Kathryn Stone ’26