Sunday, June 30, 2013

Day 18: Black Brook to Andover

Miles today: 10.1
Miles total: 256.9

Currently sitting in a bed at Pine Ellis Hostel...

Well today was everything a town stay should be. I hiked to a road, got a hitch, checked in to the hostel, did laundry, showered, ate ate ate, and hung out with new friends. Now to be a little more specific.
The hike this morning started out with a steep ascent, descent, and ascent. I was prepared for this, and I was happy to reach Hall Mountain lean-to, a sign that  the worst climbing was over with. A six-mile downhill stroll to East B Hill Road was all that separated me from Andover. I was bogged down by mud as usual, but it also seemed that trail maintainers had made it exactly as far as the lean-to and then abruptly stopped. I was driven insane by constant pine overgrowth whipping at my face, making it impossible to avoid the mud pits as I deflected the bows with my hands. After this was over, I began to pick up speed until a muddy downslope completely swept up under my feet, sending me tilting backward. I caught myself with my hands but the back of my pack still went in the mud. I'll use this opportunity to explain about cursing. It is a known law that emotional outbursts of any kind are encouraged on the AT. I don't just save mine for mountaintop celebrations. No, I freely unleash obscenities whenever I get a chance. First, guttural sounds come out, giving the alarm. Then, any string of profanities in any order may appear. Frick has a high probability, however. My frustrations ran high because I was anxious just to get in to town. The same thing happens when I'm ready to reach the shelter at the end of my day.

To make a long story long, I got to the road. I waited for a hitch and only got a lost New Hampshire-an looking for a trail somewhere. I started to walk towards cell phone service when I heard a motor behind me. I quickly turned, thumb at the ready, but it was a dirtbike (I grunted). The bike pulled up next to me and the driver told me he had taken many people into town. Not being one to argue, I hopped on, sure I would be thrown off on the way. Well I didn't catapult off and I rolled up to the hostel in style, shaking my chauffeur's hand and walking to the door. I was greeted by fellow sobo Manly the Pterodactyl, who was curious as to who could be SO COOL. I got a tour from the owner David, a Guatemalan who makes jewelry from moose turds (I can't make this up) and soon I was clean, laundered, and eating lunch in town with Manly. We crossed the street to Andover's only other establishment and there sat Commissary, a sobo with whom I share a lean-to a couple nights back. He was joined by his brother, who has lived on or near Hilton Head for the past 13 years. The world got smaller. Back at the hostel, we found Sprout and Turducken, the two sobos with whom I camped last night. More time passed as David played his Native American drawn flute and drank malt liquor (again, I assure you David is real) and we found ourselves eating again, this time at the Andover General Store. One calzone, many sodas, and a milkshake later, we spotted Kyle, Sarah, and Stella the puppy from two nights ago. Andover is a town of reunions! I'm getting shuttled back to the trailhead to start my last leg of Maine tomorrow morning. After pancakes at the general store. Duh.


Pictures: clouds can actually make for a cool view, the sun is out (see my shadow???), a pack of ATVs rolled up to the ice cream store.

Day 17: Sabbath Day Pond Lean-to to Black Brook Campsite

Miles today: 17.0
Miles total: 246.8

Currently sitting in my tent...

Another uneventful day of cloudy and rainy hiking. It's starting to wear on me but I will hold up. I headed out of the shelter this morning back into the slop. I kept my feet dry for as long as I could by dancing along rocks and roots to avoid the mud and water on the trail. Eventually I was warmed up enough to plunge in, a task made easier because I had on my higher socks today. A medium-difficulty climb up Bemis Mountain put me at my resting point, Bemis Mountain lean-to. I aired out my feet and made my peanut butter tortilla, a complicated family recipe, while I read the shelter register. I wrote my entry and was back on the trail. Not much else to say about the hike other than I saw the SUN today, which put me in temporarily high spirits until it went back behind the clouds. On top of Old Blue Mountain, I shouted "You're my boy Blue," an Old School reference that no one was around to appreciate.

On my way down the mountain to the campsite, I met a fellow sobo named Puck. He carries a hockey stick as a sort of hiking staff. He seemed pretty cool, and I'll probably be leapfrogging him as I go in to Andover. At the bottom of the mountain I met Turducken and Sprout, who had just (and I mean just) parted ways with their canine hiking companion Huxley. They thought he'd have a hard time in the White Mountains up ahead, so he went to stay with Sprout's parents. I was selfishly disappointed to have missed out on a second day of dog-in-the-camp. Alas. But the two humans are quite nice, out here from the Bay Area! We got a little bit of sun at the end of the day to partially dry our clothes and now it's off to bed. A steep climb awaits us in the morning, but fresh legs are always ready for such challenges.


Pictures: An actual view between the clouds, why I haven't taken summit pictures lately, and my reaction to climbing to 3600 feet just to see clouds.

Day 16: Piazza Rock Lean-to to Sabbath Day Pond Lean-to

Miles today: 11.2
Miles total: 229.8

Currently sitting in the lean-to...

I woke up this morning to the sound of rain on the shelter roof. So the Rooster didn't crow as early this morning. I did my morning chores mostly from my sleeping bag. I curled up and waited for a break in the rain. When it came, I put on my rain jacket and rain pants, since it was a cold one, and I was off for my 1.8-mile hike to the road into Rangeley. I waited for a hitch at an inopportune spot, then I decided to walk to a better spot. When I wasn't looking, a guy in an industrial van pulled up and offered a ride. He dropped me off at the diner, so I of course dug in to an omelet and coffee. I walked around the surprisingly large village, locating the movie theater I had dreamt about. To my dismay, Man of Steel was not on the marquee. I had underestimated just how small a movie theater could be. Disappointed, I decided I would not be staying in Rangeley tonight. I still stopped by the library to use the internet, where the guy that runs the local hiker hut offered to drive me back to the trail. I told him that sounded like a plan, and he said he'd be rolling out in about an hour. That's enough time for some fast food, I thought to myself. I was right, and soon I had a veggie burger with salty, salty fries and no idea where the hiker hut man would be found. I aimlessly walked the street, confident I would pass his car. I was right, and I hopped in his truck next to a northbound thru-hiker named AJ. He had started in mid-April, making him the fastest hiker I've encountered. He's been pulling 30-milers for like a month. No matter how confident you are, there is always someone faster.

Back at the trailhead, I decided I would hike the easy 9.4 miles to the next lean-to. The ground was basically one big puddle, but the journey was unremarkable and pretty easy. I made it to the shelter having taken zero pictures on the day. I've got to remember to take pictures in towns! The good news is that there's a couple thru-hiking with their puppy named Stella. I love hanging out with people at shelters, hanging out with puppies takes it to a whole other level. I got her so excited that she peed a little. I am such a dog person. The mosquitoes are biting so I'm climbing in to my bag.


Picture: the one I lazily took from my place in the shelter.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Day 15: Spaulding Mountain Lean-to to Piazza Rock Lean-to

Miles today: 16.9
Miles total: 218.6

I didn't get saturated today! I started off with my pack's rain cover on, under the assumption that it would soon be pouring. I was wrong, although the thick, humid air remains and the trail is often standing water. The first part of the day meant climbing up Poplar Ridge. It was a hard climb, but I shouldn't have felt so tired. The last couple hard days have sapped my legs. I made it over Saddleback Junior, The Horn, and Saddleback Mountain by 5, just in time for my normal dinner! All day I leapfrogged with Mutt and Slips, two sobos from the last lean-to. Tonight I'm sharing the lean-to with three guys out fishing. Massachusetts accents and everything but really nice. They gave me a peanut butter and chocolate s'more, so they're friends of mine. I'm thinking of going in to Rangeley for a snack and maybe a movie, since I just found out they have a movie theater that I can stink up.

The shelter in which I sit is located at mile 218.6, exactly 1/10 of the way along the trail. This means I am permitted to look at a fire intently and to be reflective. So here is what I thought about today while I was hiking:

1. The hundred mile wilderness was actually the perfect way to start a hike. Now I know how much food I need, and every resupply will be shorter than that. And my pack will never be heavier.

2. The human body is incredibly resilient. Every night when I hike in to camp weak and sore, I imagine I won't be able to walk the next day. Somehow I wake up every day and feel almost pain-free. I've fallen down at least 20 times in the most painful-looking ways, I've tried to impale my temple on those stubby branches on the sides of trees, I've been bitten to death by bugs. And yet, my body forgives me.

3. Hiking 10 hours in a day gives your mind a lot of time to wander. I was really worried where it would go. But I sort of go in to a trance and thoughts harmlessly drift through my head, sometimes sticking. You have a lot of time to gnaw on thoughts out here, which I think is good.

4. This entire trip depends on the hospitality of others, and people totally deliver. Giving rides into town, offering snacks, leaving trail magic. If anyone ever doubts the innate goodness of people, they should spend a couple weeks on the trail.


Pictures: the climb up Saddleback, and the clouds rolling in on Saddleback.

Day 14: Horns Pond Lean-tos to Spaulding Mountain Lean-to

Miles today: 18.6
Miles total: 201.7

Currently sitting in the lean-to...

My plan for today was to hike less than I did (remember yesterday?) but excitement got the better of me again. I got some spring water near the lean-to on the advice of Brick House, a girl staying at the adjacent lean-to. It was amazing, just like she said. It looked awful at the source, but in my bottle, it rocked my world. It was a pretty uneventful five-mile hike down to the road to Stratton. I didn't put on bug dope and I was viciously swarmed, but that's neither here nor there. I quickly got a hitch from a fly fishing guide and his pupil. I went to jump in the back of his truck but he let me sit in the cab. I was happier than a dog on a road trip. In Stratton, I restocked on food then had first lunch, which was a sandwich, a soda, and an ice cream bar. I went to the library to upload this blog, then I rolled back down the street for second lunch in the diner. It was really friendly and I talked to the workers since it was slow. Then Brick and her step-dad came in from the other room. I saw clouds rolling in so I was anxious to hitch back to the trail, but the conversation was nice (real people!!).

I got a ride back from a stereotypical Canadian; he was super nice and told me all about moose. The trail ahead was a sustained climb out of the gap, but I was fueled up and ready for the challenge. Thunder rumbled and I quickened my pace. Near the top of Crocker Mountain, the rain started. It got harder as I neared the top. Happy Ending, one of the Stoners with Boners crew, has a term for such situations, which I will euphemistically refer to as a "hate frick". As in, "Boy those next mountains look tough, but we're just gonna hate frick it and get over them." Anyways, I believed myself to be in a hate frick situation. I had to get over Crocker to my campsite. So I slogged along as the rain got harder, as it trickled down my neck, as it started to soak my back. Soon the trail was a stream. I hiked faster to stay warm. That's when I realized: I wasn't overheating for once! My body running hot has long been a curse. Sweating in dress clothes, soaking thin T-shirt armpits, you name it. But today this trait was my greatest asset. I cruised up over North Crocker, South Crocker, down into a notch, over the shoulder of Sugarloaf Mountain (summit trail to the side? Forget that.), and over Spaulding Mountain. I was at this lean-to, six miles farther than my goal, around 7:30, way later than I like to hike. But here I lay, next to 5 other hikers. Somewhere along the line I decided to shoot for the next lean-to, but we'll never know. Also, I saw a fox yesterday.


Pictures: the beer in town that carried me 13 more miles, and some plaque commemorating the completion of the AT. I didn't take my phone out all day because of the rain, give me a break.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Day 13: West Carry Pond Lean-to to Horns Pond Lean-tos

Miles today: 17.9
Miles total: 183.1

Currently sitting in one of the lean-tos...

Today was a normal day on the trail. I woke up and got going at the usual time, covered good mileage in the morning, then stopped at a shelter for a break and to refill my water. Next came a climb up Little Bigelow Mountain that forced all the water I had just drank out of my pores. I descended into Safford Notch then stopped for lunch. The big challenge of the day was right ahead: Bigelow Mountain. It was my first time climbing above 4000 feet since Katahdin, so I knew I needed a break first. Nonetheless, I got my butt kicked and couldn't take enough breaks on the way up. I climbed above treeline and triumphantly ate a Clif Bar as a hoard of flying insects tried to eat me. My original plan was to tent between the two peaks of Bigelow Mountain, but it was early so I decided to head on down to Horns Pond. Doing so meant climbing up West Peak, the higher of the two, and over the South Horn. My body had pretty much given up on walking at that point, but my mind prevailed.

So here I sit in the lean-to, not having to pitch my tent and enjoying the shelter from these sporadic late-afternoon rain showers. I sit in my sleeping bag enjoying Crystal Light in my water, which I made too concentrated but WOW it is good. I'm just five miles up the trail from Stratton, where I'll resupply and eat some town food tomorrow, oh yes oh yes. Still trying to decide where my next town sleepover will be, but that's for another day.

As usual, I leave you today with a few pictures. The first is my view of Little Bigelow from regular Bigelow. The second is a typical sweaty face you'll see after I've climbed my last peak for the day. And last is a view of the rain from my lean-to. Just imagine how smug I was, out of the elements and reaping the benefits of an early start. Suckers!


Day 12: Caratunk to West Carry Pond Lean-to

Miles today: 14.0
Miles total: 165.2

Currently laying in my tent...

With another day comes more knowledge about backpacking. Figuring out all the small things makes the overall experience much better. For example, I finally learned to get my tent pitched the way I like, and as a result my tent didn't take on water during last night's thunderstorm. I've also learned how to move around in here comfortably (here's a tip: don't pitch on a slope if you don't like sliding to one end). I've learned that it's useless to keep my hiking clothes dry because I sweat so much; I might as well hike right through the rain and enjoy the shower, like this morning.

I got to sleep in because I was waiting for the ferry. I awoke to only a few drops of water tapping on my tent, so I took my time using my absorbent towel to wipe the condensation from the inside, careful not to miss a spot. I finished my routine inside my tent. Did you not read about my routine? Now's your chance to do so and come back. It's riveting. When I was ready to leave, I put on my clothes that had been out in the rain all night getting clean, then started to wipe down the outside of the tent. Obviously this was the cue for a downpour to start. I hastily rolled up my soaking wet tent. Oh well, practice makes perfect!

I was the first person to take the canoe ferry this morning and soon I was across the Kennebec. After hiking in solitude through this surprising level of humidity, I stopped at a lean-to to air out my tent. And to dry out my feet. I am extremely paranoid about hurting my feet in any way, so I pamper them as much as I can. An uneventful day of hiking caught me up to a ton of sobos: the Globetrotters, the Bobs, the Stoners with Boners, Leg-it, and Moto. They were splashing in the pond when I got to the lean-to, and I joined them. Even better news: they had found shampoo in the lean-to. Now I'm kind of clean. They cooked up a snake they had killed, saying it tasted like bacon. It seems like a good crew, so I hope we get to Stratton, a town a couple days out, around the same time. Pete, a guy tenting behind the shelter, said he'd buy us all a beer if we met in Stratton. I hope he likes going to the bar in the early afternoon. Because I'm a man with a plan! My next town stay will be in Rangeley, less than a week from now. The body is feeling rested after today, a requirement for hiking some mountains tomorrow.


Day 11: Moxie Bald Mountain Lean-to to Caratunk

Miles today: 18.8
Miles total: 151.2

Currently sitting in my hot and sticky tent...

Today started off an hour late to recover from yesterday's long miles. I climbed Moxie Bald Mountain and before long the high humidity had me soaked in sweat. I got to the top and spent 20 minutes trying to figure out where the trail went next. I had to eat a twix to quell my frustration. I descended and stopped at a lean-to for a rest. Inside already were Fireball and Lost, a veteran who was badly injured and is now living with some kind of machine inside of him. A cameraman is following him on his thru-hike attempt.

Next I climbed Pleasant Pond Mountain, which slowly gained altitude but seemed much harder. I came to the lean-to on the other side of the mountain and met four people, one of whom was Lost's cameraman, Bill. Bill taught me about edible plants in the woods, like Indian Cucumber, strawberries, raspberries, and white pine needles for tea. He also told me the next 6 miles to Caratunk were very easy. I wanted to use fresh legs while I had them, so I headed out. The miles were indeed easy, but my shin started acting up again, whining about another long day. I understood, but I was also happy to find more trail magic at the trailhead, in the form of cans of beer and some lemonade. Awww yeah. Tomorrow I have to wait until 9 to move out because that's when the Kennebec Ferry begins operation. The Kennebec River is too deep to ford so the official AT route is via canoe. It's starting to rain, so I'm going to batten down the hatches. Until tomorrow!


Day 10: Monson to Moxie Bald Mountain Lean-to

Miles today: 17.9
Miles total: 132.4

Currently sitting in the lean-to...

Today started late (7!!!) and all the people at Lake Shore House rolled ourselves over to Shaw's for all-you-can-eat pancakes, eggs, hash browns, sausage and bacon. I also enjoyed 25 cups of coffee. I really miss that stuff. Almost everyone except the Sobros and I planned on staying another night in Monson. Around 10, I started getting restless and said my goodbyes to all the great people I've been hiking and living with for the past week. We had gotten really close, so I just had to promise them all I'd see them down the trail. I hope I do.
Walking outside, I thumbed along the road hoping to hitch the three miles to the trailhead. After a few failures, a man in a truck pulled up and I hopped in the bed. I was soon on the trail again! It was a late start but the relaxation was worth it. I stopped for lunch at Horseshoe Canyon lean-to, where I found Big Swirl tucked up in his sleeping bag. He was enjoying a short day. A 17-year-old section hiker named Switchback popped in and let me know that the 9 miles to the next shelter was easy and that I could get there tonight. And I'll be darned if a high schooler didn't convince me to double my mileage.

The most magic of all trail magic happens when the trail angel doesn't stick around to see the joy they are bestowing on hiker folk. Near a road crossing, I found a cooler (pictured) filled with water, beer, and soda. Guess which one I took. The only small downside is that I have to carry an empty Miller High Life bottle until Caratunk in a couple days. Not bad! My nightcap beverage is warming up this otherwise empty shelter as I listen to moose calling to each other across the lake. I still haven't seen one!


Friday, June 21, 2013

Day 9: Leeman Brook Lean-to to Monson

Miles today: 3.0
Miles total: 114.5

Currently sitting in the Lakeshore House common area...

My name is Rooster. Just before I went to bed last night, Smooth came up to my tent and told me the news. Apparently "Early" morphed during the campfire conversation. Now I have to live up to my reputation as an early riser. Everyone was up early this morning. The Sobros were in Monson by 6 am, eager for all-you-can-eat breakfast. Doc, Mulligan, and I hiked the three miles to the road. We put our packs down, took off any hats and glasses we had, smiled, and put our thumbs out for a three-mile hitch to Monson. Someone headed in the other direction pulled up and took us to Greenville, a larger nearby town, before bringing us back to Monson. It worked great, and we bought groceries for our resupply in the well-stocked grocery store. Also, Mulligan and I bought Crocs for camp shoes. I really hate to say it but I love them and have no regrets.

In Monson, we got to our hostel, Lake Shore House, at 9 am. For 25 bucks, I got a bunk and all the hospitality in the world. Rebekah treats guests like family, and the shower felt AWESOME. We put on some borrowed town clothes (see the picture of Mulligan) and went to the gas station, where I bought pizza and coke for second breakfast. After laundry and hanging out, a few of us went to a great barbecue place, where I had an ice cream cookie sandwich, a grilled cheese, and thai noodles. So not barbecue at all, but it was good. Got some more phone calls done, then I had dinner and a couple drinks at the pub downstairs. A few people are staying in town tomorrow, but I'm headed back to the trail. Feeling good, so it's time to roll on after this restorative day. It's sad to say goodbye to these good friends from the wilderness, but I'm sure I'll see them again. And I've got to hike my own hike.


Day 8: Cloud Pond Lean-to to Leeman Brook Lean-to

Miles today: 16.1
Miles total: 111.5

Currently sitting in my tent next to the lean-to...

Today was another semi-mountainy day but it was made so much sweeter because I'm going to MONSON tomorrow, which means food, shower, laundry, and food. This will be the first trail town I get to visit, so I'll be living large. But that's for tomorrow's post. Today, I left Cloud Pond at 6 (Mulligan suggested my trail name be "Early") and hiked. Some good views and 3 river fordings later, I find myself at tonight's lean-to, 3 miles from the road into Monson. Also here are Mulligan and the Sobros, as well as people we caught up to: Big Swirl, Pineapple, Houston, and Connor. All nice to talk to as we sat around the fire. Mulligan and I are going to hitch into town together tomorrow then the fun can begin! But today I want to share something very exciting with you: my morning routine.

Just how does "Early" get going so fast?? Well let me tell you. I wake up and lay in my bag for five minutes to contemplate life and what I will eat, which is always the same anyways. I climb naked out of my tent (no joke, no one is awake yet) and I quickly grab my hiking clothes and rain jacket for warmth. I shove my sleeping bag in the bottom off my backpack. Then I roll up my sleeping pad and put it in its stuff sack. I put my extra clothes in their stuff sack, put these two sacks on top of my sleeping bag in my pack, and I compress them down rrrrreeeeaaaalllll hard for space. Then I make my breakfast of instant oatmeal and protein powder in cold water, and drink that down. I also eat pop tarts. Then I pour what's left of my water in my food cup/cookpot to get any remaining oatmeal or powder, then I drink it down. I put my snacks for the day in my hip belt pocket of my pack, and I put the food bag in my pack. I put my peanut butter and tortillas in a bag on top so I can get to them. Then I brush my teeth with the last of my water. I break down my tent and that goes on the exterior of the pack under some straps. I hang my extra pair of socks to dry on some other strings, I put my rain jacket back in its pouch, I adjust my one trekking pole from 115 cm (to support my tent) back to 125 cm (to support me) and I'm off! Aren't you glad you read this???


Day 7: Carl A. Newhall Lean-to to Cloud Pond Lean-to

Miles today: 16.9
Miles total: 95.4

Currently in my tent next to Cloud Pond...

Trail magic! It happened to me for the first time today. Trail magic is a random act of kindness to a thru-hiker. I ran in to Don, a trail maintainer, as I was climbing Chairback Mountain. I talked to him about my thru-hike plans and asked him about growing up in Maine. He also told me that the two varieties of I've been seeing on the trail both belong to moose. Apparently, in the winter moose have less juicy foliage to snack on, so they make scat that looks like giant deer pellets. In the summer, the succulent plants they eat make for large dung. Who knew?!? Anyways, I stopped at the Chairback Gap lean-to for lunch. And 70-year-old Don soon followed. How fast is this guy? We talked a while longer and Mulligan showed up, asking if anyone lost a can of beans. It was Don's lunch, so he was grateful to have it back. He offered us snack bars and an apple. Oh my god the apple was so juicy and crispy and tasty, I hated to share it with Mulligan, but he's alright.

Mulligan and I hiked on down the mountain then did some ups and downs over Columbus Mountain, Third Mountain, and Fourth Mountain. I guess they ran out of names. For the first time in Maine, water was scarce and we had forgotten to grab some when we had the chance at a stream we forded early in the day. Most of the end of our hike was spent complaining of cotton mouth and fantasizing about soda. The shelter tonight is right on Cloud Pond, and that's just as beautiful as it sounds. It's really hard to capture Maine's beauty in photographs, at least for this novice. Today was a hard day, but here we are at our goal. The Sobros just arrived, but I'm in my tent for the night, hiding out from the tiny blood-sucking black flies. They are out in full force. They must notice my hiker stench, which is coming along quite well!


Day 6: East Branch Lean-to to Carl A. Newhall Lean-to

Miles today:10.8
Miles total: 78.6

Currently sitting in the lean-to...

Well let me start by saying that Maine had been very flat so far, other than the initial climb on Katahdin. My flat-land trail legs are ready to go, as the last couple days showed. However, today's hike reminded me that the AT is a path through the mountains. I got up at 5 so I would have another peaceful morning hike, and I was on my way by 6. I snapped a picture of the privy (the outdoor toilet) before I left, just so those at home would know what I'm talking about. It was an easy couple miles out of camp until the trail turned upward to reach Logan Brook lean-to. Nothing uncomfortable, just some effort. I stopped at the shelter to have a snack, drink some water, and write in the register so those following me would have a friendly note. Right out of the shelter was a 1.4-mile climb up to 3650 feet on top of White Cap Mountain. After some sweat, I reached the top and put on my rain shell to keep the cold wind out. I was happy to have climbed 2400 feet since camp and to have a great view all around. Pleased with myself, I descended the mountain. Then climbed up Hay Mountain. Then West Peak. Then Gulf Hagas. I began to get frustrated because the downhills were both less rewarding and more painful than the uphills. My legs are sore but I've gotten here at noon, so I will have plenty of rest. To be continued at the end of the night...

Hi again! Just got done with dinner and now I'm in the tent. Mulligan rolled in first, so we chatted and figured out plans for Monson, the town we'll be getting to on Friday and the end of the 100 mile wilderness. We're excited to eat town food and shower for sure. The Sobros got here next. Two of them have trail names now: Smash and Friar Bob. Sam remains unnamed. Blackhawk changed to Smooth because the first name sounded too serious. And just before I shut myself in my tent, Chef and Up arrived. So we all survived our first mountain day, and Sam shrieked for joy when he heard there were tacos in Monson.


Day 5: Potaywadjo Spring Lean-to to East Branch Lean-to

Miles today: 19.5
Miles total: 67.8

Currently sitting in my tent...

Squeezing 9 people into an 8-person shelter last night was not a big deal. Mulligan just slept perpendicular to the rest of us. It was my first shelter stay out here, and it beat setting up my tent. On other days though, I like the space of tenting. All the guys in the shelter last night turned out to be really nice. It was good to meet a new crop of sobos. Among them were Murphy, Blackhawk, Up (the crazy guy who summitted Katahdin in the rain), Chef, and of course Mulligan and the Sobros, who have received many collective trail names (Dirty Mike and the Boyz, etc) but noo individual trail names yet. Speaking of which, neither have I! That will happen when it happens though.

I hiked out a little earlier than the others today in hopes of making another long day to a East Branch, 19.5 miles out. The trail was nice and flat to start, along with no mud, rocks, or roots to dodge, and it wasn't raining. So I was cruising and enjoying the time to myself for a bit. I got to East Branch Lean-to around noon and found the Sobros already eating. I joined them and soon so did everyone else from the last lean-to. We all decided that a long day was possible. After refilling water bottles, we headed out in scattered groups. I caught up to Murph at a water crossing and we ended up hiking the rest of the way up and over Little Boardman Mountain together. He completed a northbound thru-hike in 2010, so I pumped his brain for information, which he graciously supplied. We had to ford Pleasant River at the end of the day, but everyone made it across alright with Murphy's advice to face upstream for stability.

Today's first picture is of one of Maine's countless glacial ponds; the second is a lookout from Little Boardman Mountain.


Day 4: Rainbow Stream Lean-to to Potaywadjo Stream Lean-to

Miles today: 18.2
Miles total: 48.3

I'm not going to be modest: today was a solid day. I woke up at 5 and got on the trail with Mulligan at 6. We moved slower than the Sobros but we had the early start. I felt much better going more slowly. We hiked up and over Nesuntabunt Mountain and reached Wadleigh Stream Lean-to around 10:30. I was amazed. We met a guy from Israel who had been hiking for about a month and was jonesing for a cig. Sadly we couldn't deliver. We ate an early lunch and hiked on. We saw a couple of streams to ford in our guides, but they turned out to be nothing. Both were easy with just a little water up to my thighs. We got passed by the Sobros at some point and saw a broken down truck from like the 50s. It was upside down. How did it get there?

It was muddy a lot (usual in Maine) and then it rained later in the day. We put on our pack covers and booked it to the shelter, where 7 other sobos were waiting, but we made room! We'll see what we can do in the rain tomorrow.


Day 3: Hurd Brook Lean-to to Rainbow Stream Lean-to

Miles today: 11.5
Miles total: 30.1

I woke up last night covered in sweat. I was bundled up in my sleeping bag and its liner, so I was really toasty. I grabbed the bear bags off the line and ate a breakfast of oatmeal with protein powder as the Sobros woke up. We headed out by 8:30, with a fairly gentle 1000-foot climb ahead of us. I felt good and the climb was over before I knew it.

Later, we caught up with the others from the shelter last night and we all stopped for lunch. Flip had found an old rusty machete and was carrying it around making sinister faces. I headed on with the Sobros again and we made it to Rainbow Stream in a couple hours, getting in at 2, with the others close behind. There was a bog bridge to cross the stream that I liked. After that, we washed off in the water and enjoyed the sunshine. I chatted with Mulligan and Wes about mileage plans for the rest of the hundred-mile wilderness. I'm about to make some dinner then get to bed early. Feeling good today!


Day 2: Katahdin Stream Campground to Hurd Brook Lean-to

Miles today: 13.4
Miles total: 18.6

Today I embarked from KSC and noticed the Sobros were an hour ahead of me. I decided to try to catch up to them by Abol Bridge, about 10 miles away. Today was a cakewalk compared to Katahdin, which we have actually stopped referring to by name out of spite. A few miles in, I found a stream to ford. It was looking rough but I had to try. I got about halfway across and had water up to my waist with nowhere to go, so I decided to try another spot. I told another sobo about my difficulties and we decided to try again. He went first and got swept about 20 feet down the river. Valuing our packs, we followed the blue-blazed high water bypass, avoiding 2 fords and shortening our trip by around 0.1 miles. The purist in me frowned, but I rationalized by saying I want to get to Georgia.

Determined after the side trip, I cruised and caught up with the Sobros, who had been slowed down by taking of their boots for high water. Sam was giving Rob a piggie back to avoid the hassle of removing them. We walked quickly to Abol Bridge, the beginning of the 100-mile wilderness, a stretch of around 100 miles with no paved road crossings. The Sobros resupplied while I enjoyed a Pepsi and petted a cat. We booked off again, and soon I couldn't keep up, dropping back for the remaining 3 miles to the shelter. Lesson learned: don't push yourself too hard.

After dinner, we chatted with other sobos in the lean-to and I met Hannah, Mulligan, and Flip. Flip can do a back flip and Mulligan reached the peak of Katahdin on his third attempt. The guys convinced me not to sleep with my food, and they heped me hang it from a branch out of reach of black bears. Feeling good now that I've gotten to relax after a hard day.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Day 1: Katahdin

Miles today: 5.2 
Miles total: 5.2

Well today was the day. I woke up around 5:30 and opened the curtains to see a sunny day that looked like it had begun long before. I had to re-check my watch. Maine is weird. By 7 I was at Katahdin Stream Campground and after grabbing a daypack and signing myself out, I headed out of the campground on the Hunt Trail (also the AT) up Katahdin. The sunny day brought many blessings, and one of them was actually being able to see "the Greatest Mountain" from 4200 feet below. Another blessing was not having to walk through a stream running over the trail. Praise Pamola!

The first mile was really nice with barely any elevation gain, then it started getting steeper. That trend continued until I busted through the treeline and I was greeted with a couple of rebar handholds, and so began the hand-over-hand scrambling. I loved it, but it was pretty tiring. After following the white blazes over all the boulders that looked like someone crumbled a giant block of feta cheese on the top of the mountain, I reached the much flatter table lands, where I caught up with the Sobros, the optimistic group from yesterday. I followed them up the following gentle slope to Baxter Peak, getting to know them along the way. The peak snuck up on me, and before I knew it I was posing for pictures behind the sign and relaxing with my new buds on the surprisingly comfortable top of Katahdin. The views were amazing. Ponds were scattered all over the flat land nearby and the mountains turned blue in the distance. I couldn't believe I was really there.

When we were done snacking at mile zero, we turned around and technically started our sobo hikes, walking the five miles back down to the campground. The hike downhill was pretty uneventful, just some jello legs as I got towards the end.

This first day changed a lot about how I perceived the trail. It was the hardest 10 miles I have ever walked. It erased any cockiness I ever had about this undertaking. I am excited for everything that's ahead, and I'm really tired. I anticipate these blog entries getting a lot shorter. So happy to have one day under my belt.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Day -1: Millinocket, ME

If this post turns out weird, it's because I'm typing on a bluetooth keyboard attached to my phone. Slow going, but this is how I'll be doing it on the trail, which by the way begins TOMORROW! Today started late, as I was making up the sleep I missed the night before. So now I'm feeling good. I headed to Baxter State Park, where I met Ranger Bob at the visitor's center. He continued the trend of really nice people I meet in Maine. We bonded over being left handed and he finally sold me on bringing a head net to keep the black flies out of my face. Apparently those things love all the ponds around here, and they're huge. Anyways, Ranger Bob told me that the namesake of the hotel where I'm staying, Pamola, is not the owner's wife, as I had guessed. In fact, Pamola is a Native American mythical figure, a confusing eagle-moose-man hybrid. I'm told Pamola controls the weather and releases rock slides on people who litter. I think he views me favorably because the weather is looking good for a Katahdin climb tomorrow. Pamola must have seen me pick up a cup in the forest that one time.

Next, I drove in to Katahdin Stream Campground, the starting point of tomorrow's hike and the place I'll be staying tomorrow night. The approach road for the campground is also the AT, so my introduction was in a vehicle. After preparing for what felt like forever, reading countless books and trail journals, I felt like I was stepping out onto holy ground. At the ranger station, I met a father and daughter embarking on a post-graduation section hike tomorrow, as well as a few SOBOs who turned back on a Katahdin summit attempt because of the crummy weather. Those guys could have been miserable, but they had nothing but optimism on their breath. "Guess we'll try tomorrow!" one of them said. That's a valuable trait to have.

After chatting with the ranger and getting my site reservation set, I was back off to Millinocket, where I got to buy food and my head net! After a Chinese dinner from the restaurant attached to the hotel, I'm enjoying one last hotel stay before getting an early start tomorrow. I expect 8-10 hours round-trip, plus like 13 hours of summit photos, so it'll be a long day.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Day -2: Hilton Head, SC to Millinocket, ME

As the title of this post suggests, I am TWO days away from starting my thru hike. Last night, I laid wide awake, wondering what I had forgotten to plan for. It was impossible to distinguish between healthy excitement and gut-wrenching anxiety. After a few hours of rolling around in my sheets, running through scenarios in which I inevitably keeled over somewhere along the Appalachian Trail, I woke up at 4:30 AM to catch our flight (which my Uncle Dave drove us to...thanks Dave!!).  The plan was to fly in to the Bangor airport around noon, but our flight from LaGuardia to Bangor was cancelled due to mechanical problems with the plane. Luckily we were got rescheduled for a Bangor flight at 6:30 tonight, in first class. Yeah. The extra layover time allowed us to burn through two $25 meal vouchers and to play with a couple of the iPads that are ubiquitous in the terminal. Literally every table has a pair of iPads attached to it. I estimate the total number of iPads in LaGuardia at well over a thousand, no joke. I wonder what kind of deal you get buying in bulk. My favorite scene of the day was a line of travelers posted up at a bar, which was of course outfitted with iPads. Some people even had their MacBooks open in front of the tablets. Gah. It's about time for me to say goodbye to such displays of technological overkill, with the exception of a few gadgets I'm taking on my hike.

So now we're sitting in the Pamola Motor Lodge in Millinocket, Maine. I don't have much to say about this state yet, since we got in around dark and we drove straight here after landing. What I do know is that Katahdin, the first mountain on my hike and the northern end of the Appalachian Trail, sits 45 minutes away. Tomorrow I'll stock up on the food I need to complete the upcoming 100-mile wilderness (more on that later), take a peek at Katahdin, and chat with the rangers in Baxter State Park. And on Thursday, I'll embark on what I hope will be a 2186-mile hike.