Northern Maine

October 7 — Zero Day

Today was the day from hell. Thanks to Northwest Airlines. In the past I have had some pretty lousy experiences with Northwest, but today takes the cake. Lovely.

The day didn’t start out too badly. I awoke, packed, and hopped in the car around 9:25. With yesterday’s fiasco (getting stuck in horrid traffic and missing the plane), it would have taken me until about 11:30 to get to Manchester. Today, it took the proper amount of time, about 50 minutes, and I got to sit in the airport there for a rather long amount of time. No worries, I had an exit row on the plane, and after a pleasant flight on a beautiful day, got in to Detroit with time to spare, even after waiting half an hour for our gate to open up (we were half an hour early). For the next flight, I had seat 1A — I’d be the first off the plane.

I talked to friends also going to the wedding, and it seemed to make the most sense for me to take a cab from the airport. It would be somewhat pricey, but it would mean that Aaron wouldn’t have to come pick me up from Stillwater and race back for the wedding. No worries — I could do that, or rent a car (also a viable option). So I went over to the little-plane concourse and got on the plane with everyone else. The first sign something was amiss was when some old lady had taken my seat. “She has a heart condition,” her daughter told me. I had no idea what that had to do with taking my seat, but I sat a row behind, ready for a quick escape in Tulsa over the woman with the poor heart.

But then something else was awry. The gate agent, instead of taking the manifest so we could close the door, began a long chat with the flight attendant. We sat. And sat. Finally, the copilot (first officer, or FO, in airplane talk) came on to tell us that we didn’t have a captain for the flight. That’s right — they boarded the plane, got us all set to go, while the whole time the captain’s chair was empty. After an hour of empty promises (“he’s flying in … oh but another flight took him”) it became apparent that we were not the only pilot-less flight, and that we weren’t going anywhere for a while.

Finally, they had us deplane. (That’s airplane talk for get off the plane. But do people ever deboat? Or decar? Someday, maybe, someone will explain this langueage.) It’s okay, I kept thinking, I’ll make the reception. The Yankees were losing to the Tigers (as the TV nearby told me in a slow crawl) and a pilot was coming, we were assured. The plane was supposed to have left at 3:06. Around 5:00, word came that the flight was cancelled. By the time they called me to the podium, I was given the option of flying to Tulsa via Atlanta. It would get me in at 10:30.

“No good,” I told them. Reroute me to Manchester. Give me a refund. Sure, you can get a refund, I was told, call Northwest. I did. Sure, you can get a refund, go to the ticket counter. Sure, you can get a refund, go outside security to the main checkpoint. Huh? Well, it turns out that I have to call consumer relations. And boy, are they going to get an earful. (The next spring, they’d refund my flight, and give me a $150 voucher. Which sort of made me feel better.)

The amazing thing, however, is how much I have mellowed on the trail. In the past, I would have been flipping out. Sure, it isn’t the gate people’s fault, but my anger would have had to be directed at someone, right? Today, I took it, much as I have taken all of the events of the last four months and 2,000 miles, completely in stride. Sure, I had missed a good friend’s wedding. (As my dad said: at every wedding there is someone who can’t make it. It’s just too bad it had to be you.) Sure, it was because of complete idiocy on the part of Northwest (incomprehensible, if you will). But life will go on. Today really sucks. Tomorrow can only be better.

I had managed to wrangle some meal vouchers out of the airline, so my dinner (and beer) was partially paid for. I watched the end of the ALDS with a bunch of workers, as they cheered on the Tigers (and I cheered because they had beaten the Yankees — nothing like seeing Alex Rodriguez and the rest of those clowns with sullen, sad faces) and Kenny Rogers poured champaigne on a cop. That brought me back to 2004. Plus, the Yankees were manhandled by the Tigers. I wandered down to my gate and sat down to wait for the flight, scheduled to leave at 9:06. As I was unpacking my computer, I glanced at the screen. Flight to Manchester, scheduled to leave at 11:50.

Come again? I asked a nearby agent. Yup. Midnight. Why? No crew. Uh, Hello? Northwest? Is anybody home?! I thought for a while about trying for the flight at the same time to Logan, but realized that with a car in Manchester it would mean I wouldn’t get to Maine any time sooner and have to take the T home late at night. So I sit here, spending some more quality time in the Detroit airport. And having one of the worst days of my life.

October 8 — Zero Day

I got in at 2:00. We sat around the airport in Detroit making disparaging comments about Northwest and laughing at our plight (some people from the far east had been on planes for days) while all the departures disappeared off the TV screens until we were the only ones left. If I had it to do again, I would have flown to Boston, gone home, slept, switched cars in Manchester, then driven to Maine. Too late. I drove, in some traffic (surprisingly) to Maine, hit the sack after 5:00, and slept until after 2:30. So, no hiking today.

October 9 — 5.7 Miles today, 2029.1 miles from Springer, 145.5 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +800 feet.
Climbs: 3, Wx: 60s-70s, 100%, Shelter: 5, Dinner: 4, Overall: 4.

I should have hit the trail early. I dawdled. I still didn’t feel quite ready, for some reason. Maybe it was the week off (which I think I needed). People were up at camp, which was beautiful and warm, for the holiday weekend, so I milled around until about 1:00, when I finally got in the car for the drive up to Caratunk. There is no good way to get to Caratunk. I took back roads, because it was nice out and I could go 60 most of the time outside of towns. I arrived around 2:30, got on my pack, and, for the most part, said good bye to civilization for the next week or so.

Making it to Katahdin by the 15th was now a major challenge. I had a plan, but it consisted of hiking 6, 34, 23, 29, 29, and 25 miles in succession. Today was six miles, or fifteen if I wanted. I arrived at the shelter around 5:00, quite quickly, but not in time to make it near the next one, or even the ford of Moxie Stream, by dark. I don’t especially mind night-hiking, but I mind night fording (even though all the supposed “fords” have so far been rock-hops, especially with no rain in the past week and a half). Still, it was my first day back. I planned a quick dinner, early sleep, and an early day to a long day tomorrow. The last few days of the hiker register here are barren. I am finishing like I started, the end of the train.

October 10 — 31 Miles (MARATHON), 2060.1 miles from Springer, 114.5 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -80 feet.
Climbs: 3,2,4 Wx: 40s-50s, 60%, Shelter: -, Dinner: +, Overall: 4.

I did it! No. I didn’t finish Katahdin. I woke up before dawn, and made a quick exit. Maybe my long hike is not out of the question. Sunrise was atop Pleasant Mountain, which made for some great views, especially back towards the Bigelows, which appear to be two sets of horns, one the twin Horns peaks, and the other the two main peaks. It really does look like some weird animal rising above the plains.

After about six miles, though, I was less excitable. I whipped out my cell phone. Signal? Yup. So I called dad. I needed some motivation. What fathers are for. “Are you busy at work?” I asked. He replied that he was on his bike, not even at work. Oh, yeah. It was only 8:00, even though it felt later because I was up so early. He gave a decent-sounding forecast, and some other stay-on-the-trail type encouragement.

On I plodded. The terrain was nice — not too hard — although footing was never perfect. Most of the leaves are down now, so they provide padding, but sometimes cover up the rocks and hazards. The trail crosses Moxie Bald, with great views, and then descends to the Piscataquis River, which it follows most of the way in to Monson. The trail fords both branches of the river, and thus far, all the fords have been rock hops.

Maine is the only state with fords, mainly because the Maine AT Club likes to keep the state rugged, rivers are prone to flood during snow melt, and many of the rivers here would require large, intricate bridges in remote locations for little hiking traffic. But without much recent rain, none of the fords so far had caused any trouble. Not this one. I had to stop, take off my shoes and walk through shin-deep water to get across. The MATC suggests you ford in shoes, however, I prefer bare feet. When fording, I like to be able to feel each rock, how slippery or sharp it might be, and even after 2000 miles I have some sensory ability in the soles of my feet. Plus, your feet stay dry.

The trail is rather easy past along the river. A hundred yards past the next shelter, I passed a familiar face. It was Woodstock, who I last saw in Connecticut, and who had gone to Gorham and was “flip-flopping” south. I went back to the shelter and we talked for a while, and he finally convinced me to go in to Monson for the night instead of staying there. He also said the next river crossing, of the East Piscataquis, was a real ford. I got there an hour later, a bit before sunset, and found it to be a semi-rock hop. A few times I used rocks in a half inch of water, or stepped on my heel to keep my shoes dry, but I made it across without getting wet, thus saving quite a bit of time. From there, it was a haul along the trail towards Monson. I considered going on to the next shelter (I didn’t need a resupply) but after stepping in a mud hole I realized I yearned one more shot at civilization. I called in to town for a ride, and was at the Lakeshore House for lodging before 9:00.

When I got to the accommodation, I found out that everyone else there (mainly the woman who owned it and her family) was from Massachusetts. It even got me slightly cheaper chowder, to go along with a quesadilla. Us Bay Staters rarely get such treatment in Maine. Yum. The owner is known as “Double Zero” because of the propensity for hikers to take multiple days off there. I passed on beer, as I wanted an early start, took a shower, and got to sleep.

October 11 — 15.1 Miles today, 2075.2 miles from Springer, 99.4 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -310 feet.
Climbs: 4, Wx: 40s-50, 0%, F, Shelter: 5, Dinner: 4, Overall: 2.

I planned to hike a marathon today. It didn’t quite work out.

I did get an early start. I was out of the hostel by 7:50 and had a hitch to the trail (there may not be much traffic in Maine, but lots of nice folks offering rides) by a bit after 8:00. And I hit the roots. The day had dawned gray and cool, but not wet. Frankly, I didn’t feel good. I felt like I had indigestion, and no amount of drinking or eating would change it. I think I was fighting something. I was really struggling, and quickly revising down my mileage goals for the day. I went by Little Wilson Falls and Gorge, which included a very nice (and large) falls, as well as jutting slate rocks sticking out above the gorge, but only inches wide, which I thought was cool. Little Wilson Stream was a rock hop, but, four miles later, Big Wilson was a definite ford.

I met southbounders who, in the rainy month of June, had to swim Big Wilson; they couldn’t reach the bottom. That sounds wicked dangerous. It is a couple hundred feet across with a strong (2-3 mph) current, frigid water and an uneven bottom. I took off my shoes and slowly made my way across, taking several minutes, and having a minor celebration at the other side. Fording rivers really makes you feel like you are in the wilderness, even if you just crossed a logging road. The 100 Mile Wilderness has several logging roads (it takes advantage of them a couple times and uses them to avoid fords), so it is not that wilderness-y. It is by far the longest section without a paved road (about 97 miles) but does not have the longest roadless section, which is instead back in the Mahoosucs straddling the Maine-New Hampshire border.

From Big Wilson, I made it up to a shelter, after barely crossing Long Pond Stream without a ford, around 5:00. I decided to call it quits, I didn’t feel that great. About fifteen minutes after I arrived, another hiker, called “Commando” came in. Was she going north? Would I have company? No. She was flipping down to Gorham, too. No matter, company in this time and place would be welcome. We both decided that we looked familiar, but could not pin down where we had met. Water was had from a nearby trickle, and we bedded down for the evening, which was supposed to have a bit of a rain storm.

October 12 — 10.9 Miles today, 2086.1 miles from Springer, 88.5 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +1020 feet.
Climbs: 1,4,4, Wx: 40s-50s, 0%, RF, Shelter: 5, Dinner: 5, Overall: 1.

And it rained.

We awoke around dawn to rain. It poured. We sat there and both swore we’d not hike until the rain let up (which, thanks to cell service again, I found out was going to be around noon). I had about twenty miles to the next river, but Commando had less than one. We could see it from the shelter, and it looked much higher, and I told her she’d have a bit of a ford. I almost had to ford Long Pond Stream after ten days of no rain. It had risen fast.

It did sound quite loud. We wondered why. Had there been that much rain? I threw on a rain coat and went to fetch water. The evening before, I had to shove my Nalgene under a little trickle of water. This morning, it was a raging torrent I could barely jump over. I guess it rained. The trail was a stream, and little springs popped up everywhere. We were dry, and not about to go anywhere.

It got brighter as the morning wore on. We talked trail for a while, and at one point I mentioned my cousin (Nate). Immediately she realized where we’d met, albeit briefly. “In Vermont, you were the one running to try to meet your cousin.” It all came rushing back. We had met, talked briefly, and then I ran off on a 28 mile day. It was good to figure that out.

I left a bit after noon. It was wet. I kept myself and my shoes somewhat dry, but it quickly became pretty useless. There were no views off the foggy summit of Barren Mountain, and I slowly made my way down across Fourth, Third, and Second (a.k.a. Columbus) Mountains. Crossing one bog, I encountered sinking and floating bog bridges, and became thoroughly wet. The trail was covered in water or flowing most of the day. My pace was slow, and I had to cross a raging stream in the dark, and didn’t arrive until well after dark, covering, in seven hours, only about eleven miles. Tomorrow had to be better, and the temperature was dropping quickly.

October 13 — 9.9 Miles today, 2096 miles from Springer, 78.6 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -110 feet.
Climbs: 1, Wx: 30s-50, 100%, Shelter: 5, Dinner: 4, Overall: 4.

Friday the 13th dawned clear, dry and cold. I started to get out, then found the air cold, my shoes wet, and myself not wanting to hike right away. I probably would have hit the trail by around 10 if I had not found a frayed copy of The Catcher in the Rye sitting in the shelter. I had last read the book eight years ago (or more) in 9th grade, and started reading again. It is a fun, easy read, detailing those two days in Holden Caulfield’s life. Pretty irreverant, funny at times, and, although it sounds so cliche, I did identify with Holden to some degree.

I thought about that a lot. Frankly, I have often felt unmotivated when unstimulated, as seems to be his problem. He is not stupid, he is just bored. Then I realized something amazing. I had read this book in a class in 9th grade with a teacher who did exactly what his unmotivating teachers had done. (I won’t mention her name, only to say that backwards it is llebpmac.) I never made that obvious connection, but that was one of the English classes where I wrote the same five-paragraph essay time and again (How many times did I write a five-paragraph essay in college? None.) and have silly discussions which were mainly us just answering her prescribed questions.

Now, that class was not as bad as my 11th grade class, where the teacher (backwards: silalam) not only told us what exactly to include in each paragraph, but actually described how to structure every sentence. Is that supposed to instill creativity? Is that going to let any students find their own voice for writing (which I have only really found by reading a lot and writing a lot; it’s interesting, my 12th grade English teacher had us read out of the New Yorker, something I still quite like.)? What a royal waste of time.

Thru-reading Catcher in the Rye also taught me a pedagogical lesson. In high school, particularly in these odd-grade classes, we read books a couple chapters at a time. Then, because the classes were so bleedin’ unmotivating, we had to have a quiz to see if anyone had read it. So in these books which generally have a good flow (Catcher in the Rye definitely included) we read them in choppy sections. Reading ahead was actually discoraged, because then you might have too much insight in class “discussion” and might get answers wrong on the quiz. But it is not the way to read! I much rather would have had them say “Have it read by next Monday,” so that I could take a three hour chunk of time and actually read the book the way it was meant to be read. Engaging, interesting books are hard to pull yourself away from. And we would be pulled away from them every day. What a crock. Now, my even numbered years (8, 10, 12) had much better teachers. Mr. Grant was awesome, Ms. Bresnehan (nee Bower) was as well (instead of reading Julius Caesar on our own for two weeks half of class was us acting it out! It was great! That’s how the Bard wrote it for cryin’ out loud!), and Mr Depeter, while a kooky drunk, knew his stuff. But grades 9 and 11 were awful.

Anyway, I was done reading around 12:30, and was preparing to leave when another flip-to-Gorham-er came by. He was Cowboy, from Portland (Maine). And he had started later than me (June 14) and then done a smart thing: skipped from Shenandoah to Pawling, N.Y. If I hike the AT again, I’ll do the same. He sort of did it by accident, but everyone tells him what a great idea it was—he skipped the dumb part. Then I went north and he went south.

I hiked down, with great views, to the West Branch of the Pleasant River, another proper ford. It was similar to the Big Wilson, a little wider, but less deep. No worries. Then I had a mile along an old road to the entrance to Gulf Hagas, a five mile side loop along a bunch of waterfalls. If time wasn’t so short, I’d have gone. Alas, it is a National Landmark. It ain’t goin’ nowhere, and is only two hours from Camp. I’ll go another time. I met a couple day hikers coming down from the path, and then climbed steadily along a stream to a shelter.

It was getting very cold. I put my socks and shirt from yesterday to dry, set out my shoes, and went to sleep with my water filled and ready for an early start tomorrow.

October 14 — 18.9 Miles today, 2114.9 miles from Springer, 59.7 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -930 feet.
Climbs: 3,4,3, Wx: 20s-40s, 100%, Shelter: 5, Dinner: 5, Overall: 5.

It was frigid, but clear, when I awoke. But frigid. To the extent that my socks and shirt were frozen, my water bottle was frozen (not completely) and (damn!) my shoes were frozen. Frozen shoes are horrible. They are stiff and pinchy and there is only one way to thaw frozen shoes, and that is to wear them. It is a frighteningly painful experience. Shoes like mine are much better than leather hiking boots, as they can be thawed in minutes. Hiking boots take hours. In Wyoming a couple years ago my boots froze solid overnight (it was below 0) and the frozen leather pinched and strained my feet in pain for hours before they warmed, became malleable, and I was able to walk without wincing. Today, I packed my bag, ate my breakfast, threw on my shoes, jumped up, and ran out of the shelter. There are two ways to moderate the pain. One is to warm yourself (and your shoes) up faster. The other is to cause other parts of your body pain, by running with a pack. Frankly, my pain tolerance is quite high right now, so the thaw today was not too bad. Still, it is never a pleasant experience to thaw your shoes.

I then completed the climb up Gulf Hagas (pronounced HAY-gis, with a hard “g”) Mountain, and got my first good view of Katahdin. The big mountain was still sixty miles away by trail, and thirty miles as the crow would fly over these curvy trails, but all of the sudden there was nearly nothing in between it and me, except for some lakes and lots of trees. The huge wall of granite stood up nearly five thousand feet out of the flat lands, and even so far away was fantastic. A new fire was lit beneath my feet (Figuratively. Literally they were still frozen.) and I scampered on.

The ground was frosty. The mud was frozen and crackled under my feet. It was freezing cold up top of Gulf Hagas, Hay and Whitecap (near treeline, the first time since the Bigelows and last time until Katahdin) and the views were awesome. I went down from Whitecap in to slightly warmer (non-freezing) weather, although with the leaves off the birches and a pale blue sky it sure felt and looked like winter. Glorious. At the Logan Brook shelter, I took a break for lunch with a fellow called Mark. He was hiking his last section of trail from Katahdin to Hanover. Why no trail name after 1500 miles? Well, he has hiked the whole rest of the trail in mid-winter. Yup. It’s not as crazy as it sounds, winter is rather pleasant, except in New England. He decided not do to New England in winter, although I mentioned skiing the flat sections of Maine would likely be the fastest and easiest way to go about it.

I then had four flat miles to the East Branch of the Pleasant, which was, thank goodness, not quite a ford. High water in the smaller streams is actually harder to cross than the larger, wider rivers. The larger rivers have slower currents, and have generally sorted out the larger rocks, which were left further upstream. There may be some random boulders in the stream bed, but most of the rocks are rather uniform in size, and even if they are thigh deep, they are pretty easy to cross. Small streams, however, have narrower channels and faster currents, and larger and less-uniformly-sized rocks. So instead of a rather flat bottom, you are essentially scrambling through cold water on slick rocks. In any case, the East Branch looked like a ford, until I bushwhacked upstream 50 yards, found a rather tricky rock hop, and made it across. Frankly, my balance has improved dramatically, as I can land leaps on small targets (rocks) even with 30 pounds swinging around on my back. Should help for ski season. I made a small sign on Rite in the Rain paper and attached it (using sticks as nails) to a cedar tree, informing southbounders of the nearby rock hop.

From the East Branch it was a rather easy hike, with a scramble across the boulder-strewn outlet of Crawford Pond, to the Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to. Going up from the lack-of-ford I met a fellow, Griff, who had just started at Katahdin with the intention of making it to Springer. I wished him good luck (he’ll need it) and told him that if he was in the south in April with all the new northbounders he wouldn’t have to pay for a single beer. Of course, he’d need luck — last year Mount Washington had seven feet of snow in the two weeks between today and the end of the month. And everywhere north of the Whites got three feet from Snowicane Wilma on the 26th or so. Of course, the 80 inches on Washington doubled the previous October snowfall record. An anomaly, alas, but something that would quickly end his hike. As I descended along Cooper Brook, I passed through my last elevation above 1000 feet for twenty miles, the longest such stretch of the trail. The shelter, at the falls, was quite loud from the water spilling over the rocks, but by the time I went to sleep it was 35 and I happily cuddled in to my sleeping bag.

October 15 — 21.5 Miles today, 2136.4 miles from Springer, 38.2 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -225 feet.
Climbs: Nil, Wx: 30s-50, 50%, Shelter: 4, Dinner: 2, Overall: 3.

From the Log (Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to):
“Staying here avec les French Canucks.” -The Wombat, 7.7.2006.
“Hmm…the boy scouts won’t let gay guys lead groups of young men. But they do let weekend warriors who don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground and can’t manage to teach a group of guys proper backcountry ethics and principles. Makes sense to me.” [Forgot to write down author]

I awoke at 2:50. I wasn’t tired. I could have gotten up and gone, but I didn’t want to do more night hiking. Unable to sleep, I read the whole trail log. Then I drew in a sketch of the trail’s profile in Maine, complete with major mountains, rivers, fords, roads and towns. Then I started writing down AT Trivia in the register. I will include it on this page later, but I had fifteen involved questions by the time dawn broke. I got up, put on my dry shoes, and made for the privy, and then left the shelter right around 7:00. Not bad.

Here’s the Trivia (answers at the end of the day’s entry):

      1. This section in the 100 Mile Wilderness is the longest section of the Trail continuously under 1000 feet. What is the second longest section?
      2. What are the three longest sections under 3000 feet?
      3. What is the longest section entirely over 2000 feet?
      4. Maine has 14 four thousand footers. The Trail crosses nine of them (Old Speck, Saddleback, The Horn, Spaulding, Crocker (N and S peaks), Bigelow (West and Avery peaks) and Katahdin. What are the five others?
      5. Vermont has five, 4000ers. How many does the Trail cross? How many does it pass within 0.5 miles of the summit?
      6. New Hampshire has 48, 4000ers. In that state, how many does the Trail cross? How many are within 0.5 miles?
      7. In what year did the Pacific Crest Trail become the longest continuous trail in the world, surpassing the AT?
      8. True of False: Katahdin is always the first point in the country to see the sun?
      9. Springer Mountain has not always been the southern terminus of the trail. When did it change?
      10. It is quite easy, on a clear day, to see both the nation’s largest city (New York) and capital (Washington, D.C.) from the trail. However, is it possible to see any of the capitals of the 14 states through which the trail passes?
      11. Rank the following mountains or ranges with high points over 5000 feet from lowest to highest. Here they are in order from south to north: Standing Indian Mountain (N.C.), Wayah Bald (N.C.), the Southern Smokies (Clingmans Dome, high point), the Northern Smokies (Guyot Spur, high point), Unaka Mountain (N.C./Tenn. border), Big Bald (N.C./Tenn.), the Roan Highlands (N.C./Tenn.), Mount Rogers (Va.), The Franconia Range (Mount Lafayette, high point, N.H.), the Presidential Range (Mount Washington, high point, N.H.), Katahdin. (Note that all these peaks are separated by a gap of at least 1000 feet.)
      12. Maine has about 270 miles of trail. To the nearest ten percent, how much was relocated between 1970 and 1990?
      13. Notwithstanding bridges out, how many fords are there south of Maine?
      14. What is the longest climb for a northbounder (without a descent of more than 200 feet)?
      15. What is the longest such climb for a southbounder?
      16. The 100 Mile Wilderness might be the longest distance without a paved road, but it does not contain the longest section without any road. What are the longest three roadless sections?

It was 53 miles to the Birches Campsite in Baxter. If I had known that you actually could stay there overnight on the night of the 15th and in to the morning of the 16th, I might have thought about doing longer days yesterday and today to try to get there. But, I didn’t know. Today was going to be a thirty mile day, and the first dozen were easy as pie. In fact, I was at a lunch stop well before noon, even though I stopped to talk to Gorham flipper Chewy for several minutes.

Lunch was at the Potaywadjo (I love these Abenaki words, they sing-songily flow off the tongue. Nesowadnehunk, Nahmakanta, Pemadumcook, Nesuntabunt.) Spring Lean-to, which has an amazing, 15-foot-wide, cold, clear spring bubbling through the sand. I still treated the water, but if my goddamn (both bottles had their stoppers and drippers start to pop out because of pressure somewhere, and I had to hold them in to drip the solutions out. It was a pain) AquaMira had run out I doubt I would have gotten beaver fever there. But, why take the chance? Then, I called up my folks for a weather forecast (if Tuesday and after sounded awful, I’d push through the night and summit tomorrow) and, despite a choppy, analog connection was able to establish that they plan to come up and pick me up, despite my pleading at them not to do all the extra driving. Am I disappointed? Not really. But they called from New York, and thus would make a 400 mile round trip on the weekend, then an 800 mile trip (including fetching my car in Caratunk) on Tuesday. I argued, but not too hard. And here is a public thank you, in advance, to them.

I was excited. I broke in to a jog on a flat section. And I slipped on a bog bridge and fell in to muck up to my shins. A stream of obscenities flew. No one heard them, but it felt good. The swearing, that is. The mud sucked. All of the sudden, the 30 mile day looked less and less likely. I had to rinse my feet, change socks, and cross a stream on a bridge (I use that term loosely; it was a bunch of logs haphazardly cut and laid across a wide creek) before I could sit and dry off.

The trail then followed Nahmakanta Stream. Stream is a loose term as well. If this were the south, there would be a TVA dam on the stream, and rafts full of folks would be hootin’ and hollerin’ down the rapids. Nahmakanta “Stream,” which looks to be 25 yards across and three feet deep, sure looks like a river. You could throw a kayak in it and have a blast. But up here, it’s a stream. Luckily, I didn’t have to ford it. The trail skirts Nahmakanta Lake, including, at times, walking across a sandy and gravelly beach. It’s kind of cool, actually, and unlike the ridgeline trail most of the rest of the way. I got to the Wadleigh Stream shelter arond 4:30, and decided 21 miles was enough for the day. Walking in the dark and getting to shelters in pitch blackness was getting really old. I only had 38 to go, less than two percent of the entire trail. So I sat down. Plus it smelled like rain (and sprinkled a bit). I didn’t feel like cooking, so I ate cheese, nuts, candy and tortillas. I found a trashy novel, read it, and got to sleep.

Trivia Answers:

  1. The section of trail across Cumberland Gap in Pa.
  2. Whitecap – Katahdin (Maine, 70 miles), Little Bigelow – Hay (Maine, 100 miles), Shenandoah to Greylock (Va. to Mass., 626 miles)
  3. Damascus to Pearisburg (Va., 160 miles), second place: Springer to the Nantahala River (Ga. to N.C., 133 miles)
  4. The others are Hamline Peak of Katahdin, Sugarloaf, North Brother, Abraham, and Redington.
  5. The Trail crosses zero and comes with in a half mile of only Killington.
  6. The Trail crosses sixteen (Moosilauke, Kinsman [N and S], Lincoln, Lafayette, Garfield, South Twin, Jackson, Pierce/Clinton, Washington, Madison, Wildcat [A and D] and the Carters [Dome, South and Middle]) amd comes within half a mile of nine (Liberty, Galehead, Bond, Zealand, Eisenhower, Monroe, Jefferson, Adams, and Moriah).
  7. The PCT was completed in 1993, and is about 2600 miles long.
  8. False. It is sometimes the first point to see the sun, although other points in Maine can claim this distinction depending on the time of year.
  9. Until 1959, Mount Oglethorpe was the Trail’s southern terminus. It was thirteen miles from Springer by trail, including much of the Amicalola Approach Trail. Oglethorpe was on private land and without 1968’s National Trails Act, there was no easy way to stop development near the Trail.
  10. It is. On a clear day, you can see Atlanta from the trail, and looking down the Susquehanna, Harrisburg as well.
  11. From lowest to highest: Unaka, Lafayette, Katahdin, Wayah Bald, Standing Indian, Big Bald, Rogers, Roan, Washington, Guyot Spur, Clingmans Dome.
  12. About 70% was relocated, mainly off of logging roads and on to harder, but nicer, trails.
  13. There are no proper fords south of Maine (although some streams may be fords in especially wet periods).
  14. The longest climb, for a northbounder, is, of course, the climb up Katahdin, 4600 feet from the Penobscot. Second is the climb up Moosilauke (3800 feet) and third is the climb up to Lincoln (3500 feet).
  15. For a southbounder, the longest climb (notwithstanding the inital climb of Katahdin) is in to the Smokies from the Pigeon River, climbing about 3600 feet over several miles. Then come the climbs of Madison and Moriah, both around 3300 feet.
  16. The longest roadless section are 31 miles through the Mahoosuc Range in N.H. and Maine, 30 miles in the Northern Smokies, and a tie for third, 28 miles in the Southern Smokies and from Franconia to Crawford Notch in N.H.

October 16 — 23.1 Miles today, 2159.5 miles from Springer, 15.1 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -95 feet.
Climbs: 3,4,3, Wx: 40-50s, 40%, Shelter: 5, Dinner: 4, Overall: 4.

Everyone else is done. I have under 40 miles to go. No worries, I started later than all of them.

I awoke to a partly cloudy sky, rolled out of bed, and wandered up the trail. It was my last night alone in a shelter, which is always creepy, because with company there is at least someone to mumble stuff to when things go bump in the night. Not my last alone day, though, as I met more folks (having no days in the wilderness without human contact, and the longest such period remains a 28-hour stretch down in Virginia. The trail goes over Nesuntabunt Mountain and follows Rainbow Stream along cascades and chutes to Rainbow Lean-to, which has a baseball bat floor. I almost fell in on the makeshift crossing of the stream (two logs laid across it) and then plodded along the five flat, nice and boring miles along the shore of Rainbow Lake. With all the lakes and streams the trail in the 100 mile wilderness is serpentine, and actually heads southeast for a couple miles along Rainbow Lake. With the sun out, you can figure out which direction you are traveling. On a cloudy day, it would be most confusing.

I crossed my last little hill and headed down to Hurd Brook, which has a Lean-to, the last on the trail (sort of) on the far side. The stream is a rock hop, but the coolest (and easiest) way to cross is on the most amazing tree of the trail. A cedar fell across the stream, horizontal, but kept it’s root structure in the bank. About twenty feet out from the bank, over the water, two rather large (a foot in diameter) trees are growing straight up out of the log, which provides most of their nutrients, although they have extended roots in to the water as well. It is amazing! And, it makes for a fine, sturdy bridge, on the trunk of a tree!

From the [last] Log (Hurd Brook Lean-to):
To the tune of “Real Men of Genius.” [I thought of this a while ago but never wrote it down. Real Men of Genius are the ads for Bud Light, with most lines spoken but some, shown here with **asterisks**, sung in a corny manner. The ad campaign began in 2000, and was called “Real American Heroes,” but they thought that it might be in poor taste to label guys like “Mr. Too Much Cologne Wearer,” “Mr. Jean Shorts Inventor” and “Mr. Footlong Hotdog Inventor” with the firefighters in the World Trade Centers, hence the new name. It even has a wikipedia entry! I cleaned this up a bit for general radio audiences, as the author used some naughty words with which the FCC might take issue.]

“Today we salute you, Mr. Appalachian Trail thru hiker.
**Mr. Appalachian Trail Thru-hiker.**
You left the comforts of home behind in search of enlightenment and all you found were roots, rocks and mud.
**Stupid choice to leave home.**
Now you’ve just about finished your trek and all you’ve found are blisters, the bottom of your bank account and a deep hatred of hikers.
**Damn this stupid trail.**
So hold your head high, Mr. AT thru-hiker, as you drag your emaciated body across the finish line. Glory will soon be yours when you claim the ultimate hiker prize.
**Worthless damn certificate**
So crack open an ice cold Bud Light, Mr. AT thru-hiker. Your addictive personality told you to do six months when others were doing a weekend. Now you know your money would have been better spent at the bar.

–NICE WORK EVERYONE”–Ork, 8.31

And then, off I went. Through the trees, I saw great, pink lighting on Katahdin. I wanted that picture. I up and sprinted the last mile of the trail, ankles be damned, and arrived at the Golden Road just in time for the sun to be off the mountain. It was pretty, but I missed the shot. I was copying down the real men of genius at Hurd Brook. In any case, I went across the bridge, ate a microwave hamburger at the Abol Store, and unpacked extraneous gear for the climb of Katahdin the next day. Then I made my way down to the Abol Pines campsite along the bank of the Penobscot where there is a brand new (not in the guide books) shelter. It was very nice. I got to bed early in order to get an alpine start and hit the trailhead by 9:00, the cutoff time for climbing Katahdin, now 15 miles away by trail. That’s right. Less than 1/100th of the trail to go!

October 17 — 15.1 Miles today, plus 5.2 coming down, 2174.6 miles from Springer, 0 Miles to Katahdin (!), Net elev: +4662 feet.
Climbs: 4,HC, Wx: 2s-30s, 60%, W, Shelter: -, Dinner: +, Overall: +.

The forecast was for partly cloudy, but when my camp alarm (watch around the headlamp strap) went off at 3:30 it was crystal clear. That’s 3:30 a.m., so it was stars and the milky way. Which I guess is stars. In any case, I was walking by 3:55. The first few miles were along the Penobscot were easy in the dark as I sang song after song (or hummed symphonies), swore when I stepped in mud, and closed the night-hiking portion of my trip with a rousing rendition of Barrett’s Privateers. Just before daybreak, I staggered across a bridge-out crossing of a branch of Nesowadnehunk Stream, which was rather difficult, and then got up to Niagara Falls around 6:45, with the appropriate Three Stooges references. From there it was a mile to Daicey Pond, where I ran, backtracking, to get a picture across the pond, with fog rising from the warm (ha) waters. The whole park was frosty, including some plank bridges across lakes, which was rather harrowing.

From there, it was a short walk on the tote road to the start of the Hunt Trail up to the summit of Katahdin. I had five miles to walk. I stood at 1100 feet. The summit is at 5271 feet, just short of a mile high (by nine feet, although the summit cairn probably hits mile-high), the longest climb of the trail. I started right at 9:00, having hiked ten miles already.

The first mile, to Katahdin Stream Falls, is easy, and well graded. The falls are nice, and adrenaline was pushing my body up the hill. I grabbed water, made a video of myself (should have been doing this the whole trail!), and went on up. There is no easy way up Katahdin. The massive granite peak has withstood millions of years of erosion but the sides are crumbling away, ever so slowly. Thus, the climb is up boulders and ledges. It is mostly hand-over-hand, and I had left my poles below because of it. Good choice, it turned out. I hauled myself up for what seemed like hours, my feet hurting and my knees, where they struck the rough rock, screaming out in pain. At one point I hauled myself up a ledge only to smack my head on the rock overhang above. There was ice and snow above treeline to boot. It was awesome.

And then, I was on the Table Land. All of the sudden, the grades were gentle. This part is, compared with the surrounding area, practically geologically untouched. It was now 1.6 miles over the pink Katahdin granite, ice where Thoreau spring was running down the trail, and patches of snow, to the summit. I practically ran up. It was about 30, with a howling wind from the south. I got to the sign. I was the only one on the mountain (not a frequent occurrence in the summer, but the park, with camping closed, is deserted). I lingered at the summit for a while, cursed the bad batteries I had been sold (two were fine, two were bad) and finally decided, after looking across the Knife Edge (closed due to snow), the snow-covered cairn, and the hundreds of miles I had walked, that it was time to go down. I had done it. I had hiked from Georgia to Maine. It is an exhilarating experience.

I met a local guy, Nelson Daigle, who had come up to the Table Land today. He has hiked Katahdin 26 times this year, and 328 overall. He’s a local guy, and says it’s his version of the AT. Not a bad section to focus on. He led me down the ledges the easiest way, pointed out the last of the mountain cranberries (which taste just like proper cranberries, and which bring my fruit count to seven, including blueberries, blackberries, black raspberries, red raspberries, strawberries and apples). Then we met my parents who had hiked up the trail a bit, made our way down, got in the car, and drove home, as the clouds enveloped the mountain, and, by the time we were south of Bangor, the rain was falling. Dinner at Slates in Hallowell was excellent, and my body was more than happy to no longer have to sleep outside, and no longer have to carry it’s nourishment, and no longer have to pound its knees and feet. I’ll miss it immensely. To paraphrase what Stephen King (a Mainer) once said (originally about Fenway Park): “I love the AT. I love it despite all the things I hate about it.”