Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
September - and then the rains came
Day 169 - Gentian Pond Campsite - 11.8 miles - 1874.1 total
Did a truck hit me? That’s what I felt like all morning. I debated another day off but after a late breakfast, some phone calls, and an early lunch, I finally hit the trail around 12:30.
The terrain seemed so easy today compared with the bigger White Mountains but it was still rough and hard. There were three ponds along the way and not much other water. Lots of dried up springs and streams.
I got to the shelter after sunset but during dusk. There, I found Ahab, Bare Chest, Plantar, GrizzWaldo, and ???
Day 170 - Full Goose Shelter - 9.6 miles - 1883.7 total
Mount Katahdin as a goal?
For 1,800 miles, we set goals - the next town, the next pizza, the next visit by friends and family, and of course, the next state line. We know that this trail eventually leads to Katahdin but that is rarely ever considered a goal. It’s just too far away and too inaccessible.
Today, we crossed our last state line. Our more immediate goals remain the same. I’m looking forward to a visit by some friends this weekend and to getting to Andover. Our long-term goals however now include Katahdin, the northern terminus of the AT. It now seems so close and we now think that we will in fact get there and within just a few weeks. There’s only 276 miles left. Just 10 miles per day will get us there before the end of the month.
Today’s hike was long and slow. I did not carry enough water and got dehydrated. There were sections that seemed misplaced from Mahoosuc Notch. I had hoped to get through the Notch today but that was not meant to be.
Approaching the shelter, I could hear voices - a lot of voices. There were two large groups from Colby College here. They were friendly and conscientious of us thruhikers. Food was offered and accepted and then a friendly bunch gathered around the fire. It was now dark by 8:00 so we are using our lights more in the evening. People are starting to go to sleep earlier again and sleep later, too. It drives me crazy because I have a hard time staying in bed, much less being asleep for more than eight hours.
Tonight’s late night (apres 9:00) entertainment was a short glance at the stars. Our field of view was limited but Cassiopeia was visible so I was able to find the Andromeda galaxy. That now seems to be my benchmark for determining if the sky is clear.
Rumor still has it that Walking Home is off the trail. That made my entrance into Maine today somewhat bittersweet. I had hoped that she would catch up to me while I was in Boston for three days. It would have been great to walk with her and Mule again. I was also hoping that Trail Trotter and Whittler might catch up but I’ve had no news of their whereabouts since they left for their break in Vermont.
I had been in a lull with few hikers nearby and now I find myself in quite a large group. I do not think they will be slackpacking though so tomorrow may be the last I see of them for a while.
Day 171 - Grafton Notch - 9.7 miles - 1893.4 total
Knowing I had to get to Grafton Notch for a ride to the Cabin, I got up and out before 6:45 for the first time in quite a while. I was very glad to catch Yak and Yo at the very beginning of Mahoosuc Notch, supposedly the hardest mile on the AT. Together, the three of us puzzled our way through the maze of jumbled house sized boulders. At times there were arrows pointing up over rocks and down below rocks - the same rocks. It was up to personal preference whether you went over or under.
It typically takes two hours to go through and it is normal to have to take your pack off to push or pull it through the sticky spots. It took us the normal two hours to get through. I only took my pack off once. At that point, the pack went over a hard part with help from Yak and Yo while I crawled under. I do not recall Yak ever needing to take his pack off and Yo took hers off a number of times. It helped so much to bounce ideas about routes off the others. Often we took the same route and often we found three different routes. It was so much fun going through with others. We took pictures of each other as we climbed through/around/over the maze.
At one point there was a crystal clear stream flowing across the Notch. It was so clear, it was actually difficult to see where the water was. You just did not expect to see a streambed there. The Notch was also very cool. Sun penetrates only the surface rocks for a few hours a day. It’s not unusual to find ice there in deep holes year round. We did not see any though.
The climb up Mahoosuc Arm was steep and I was glad to be going up rather than down. Speck Pond was beautiful but I did not have time for a swim. I was surprised to find Sir Pee-a-lot there. I had not seen him since Front Royal, Virginia. I ate a quick lunch and set off up Old Speck. Once again, I was glad to be going up when I got to some cliffs that were difficult to negotiate going up. They would have been harder going down.
I skipped the side trip to the summit. The descent was fairly easy and I was glad when Yak and Yo caught up with me again. We continued our conversation from earlier, mostly about travel in foreign countries. We compared some Nepal stories but mostly, I just listened to tips and tricks of travel in Africa and other parts of Asia.
Once down in the Notch, I met Bear, one of the owners of the Cabin. We hung out for a while waiting for Fish and Abe, some southbounders to show up. Patch, another northbounder, and I rounded out the crew heading for the Cabin.
Once at the Cabin, we settled into a kind of communal living situation. We cooked, cleaned, and ate together. The day’s slackpacks always worked out, and life was good.
Lord, a southbounder has been here for a week. Songbird and Caboose are here. Caboose remembered me from Wayah Bald. He was the one who carried water up to the summit for me. I had never been able to remember who it was that had helped me that day but now I will always remember.
Day 172 - Maine 17 - South Arm Rd. - 13.3 miles (slack) - 1906.7 total
Songbird, Caboose, Patch, and I hiked this section mostly together. I would fall behind here and there but we would always break together. We met Jilebi and Rhubarb along the way, two people I have been following since Georgia. It was a pleasure to meet them. Many people I’ve hiked with have have spoken well of them. Jilebi is also the author of some wonderful little caricatures of themselves that document trail life. It’s always a pleasure to find them in the trail registers.
Tonight, Wandering Taoist has joined our little community.
Day 173 - Maine 4, Rangeley - Maine 17 - 13.1 miles (slack) - 1919.8 total
We drop off Songbird and Caboose who are continuing north and then drive to the northern end to hike south. Patch, Loon, Wandering Taoist, and I pass many of the same people we saw yesterday. We stopped at Little Swift River Pond to go canoeing, Sabbath Day Pond Lean-to to take a nap, and Long Pond for a swim. On our way back to the Cabin, we stopped in Mexico to go shopping and did not get back to the cabin until after 8:00, a late night.
Day 174 - South Arm Road to East B Hill Road - 10.1 miles (slack) - 1929.9 total
Patch, Wandering Taoist, and I practically ran up Moody Mountain. After that, I walked on my own for the day, just catching up for breaks at Sawyer Notch and Hall Mountain Lean-to. Saw Ahab, Spoonman, Captain, Hutch, Miles, and Bi-Polar Disorder among others, most of whom I had not seen since Connecticut or Virginia. I wonder who we will see tomorrow.
Ten miles took me seven hours today. I hope I’m just tired due to lack of sleep. Maybe one good night’s sleep will help.
Back at the Cabin, we found Loon and Lord working on the teepee cover. There are two teepees in the yard, both in need of covers. It would be fun to stay there when they are completed.
Day 175 - East B Hill Road to Grafton Notch - 10.3 miles (slack) - 1940.2 total
Saw lots of people I had not seen in a very long time… Wingley, Crasher, Hummingbird, Jiffy, Court Dog, Wounded Knee, Walking Home, Mule, and JoJo. It was so good to see Walking Home and Mule and to know that rumors of her flight from the trail were greatly exaggerated. We had a little mini-reunion standing there in the middle of the trail for about 30 minutes. They had news of others on the trail within a week or two behind. Sky, Raven, Trail Trotter, Whittler, Cassiopeia, and Freak Dog among others. I’m unlikely to see the others while I’m still on the trail but I will slow down now so Mule, Walking Home, and JoJo can catch up.
I would like to revisit Dunn Notch sometime and visit the falls. The Baldpate Mountains were spectacular with wind whipped clouds racing across the alpine region. Sustained winds were probably in the 30-40 miles per hour range. With higher gusts that gave a bit of a tug off the trail. With slightly soggy conditions left from the previous night’s rain, it took me eight hours to hike the 10 miles. I’m slowing down.
Day 176 - Eddy Pond (tent) - 3.7 miles - 1943.9 total
Our 7:30 am proposed start did not materialize. It seems impossible to leave the Cabin before 9:00am. With a stop in Rangely, we did not get on the trail until about noon. I knew I could camp at Eddy Pond but decided to move on if I got there before 2:00. I was there at 1:45 but decided to stay anyway. The pond was beautiful, I knew I would have it to myself, I was in no rush, and I hoped to see a moose at dusk.
I set up my tent and went to sit by the pond. It was nice to have time to sit and read. There was a family of four waterfowl there. They never came close enough for me to get a good look but some of their behavior was loon-like. Their call was not. Chances are they were ducks. Maybe I will get a better view in the morning.
It started raining around 4:00 so I crawled into my tent, read, napped, and ate. The rain passed by 6:00 so I went back to the pond. The water fowl were roosting on a rock for the night, the water extremely still except for the occasional jumping fish, and the peace in the immediate area was disturbed only by two very noisy, persistent, and amorous dragonflies chasing each other around. Once, they caught each other in mid air, mated, and fell to the water, before finally getting their act together and flying off together as an attached pair. A lonely cricket chirped not far away.
Either noise carries very well in these conditions or there’s a road closer than appears on my map. I think the former is the case. The noise is not bothersome, just unexpected. It must be coming from the road I left from today.
It’s 7:15, nearly dark, and starting to rain again. I’m back in my tent listening to a distinct quack from the birds. They must be some sort of large duck. They can make a racket and seem to love splashing around.
No moose came by tonight.
Around 8:00pm, well past dark on this overcast night, as I was reading, I started to hear noises. Human made noises. A southbounder came down and ended up camping with me. It was nice to have someone to pass time with instead of going to sleep at 8:00.
Day 177 - Spaulding Mountain Lean-to - 15 miles - 1958.9 total
Saddleback Mountain just went on and on this morning. You can only see the next shoulder from each shoulder, not the summit. Finally got to the top and had beautiful views amidst spectacular fog banks. It was my first Maine 4,000’er. Just a little while later, I got my second when I passed over the Horn.
I ate a quick lunch at the Poplar Ridge Lean-to and was pleasantly surprised to find the going significantly easier as I made my way down to Orbeton Stream. There, the crossing was easier than I expected and I decided to push on to Spaulding Mountain Lean-to. Once again, the going was pretty easy and for the first time in quite a while, I could actually walk two miles per hour. It started to rain a bit as I walked but the showers held off until I got to the shelter. Almost immediately, there was a brief but soaking shower. My timing was perfect.
I was surprised to see Patch there. He was taking it easy as he was not feeling well. The shelter was full tonight.
Day 178 - Maine 27, Stratton - 13.5 miles - 1972.4 total
More threatening skies as I woke up. Put my sleeping bag in a plastic bag just in case. It rained lightly on and off coming down off Spaulding and Sugarloaf Mountains. I stopped for a King-size Snickers bar shortly before the river crossing. The rocks across the river were exposed though wet. I was not crazy about crossing on the wet and likely slippery rocks but with the rain worsening, I knew that the water would rise and make the crossing much worse or impossible. For me, the South Carabasset this year was a rock hop, not the ford promised in the book.
With the rain getting heavier, I thought to just hitch to town from the road but with no traffic, I decided to just get it over with and just hike the mountains. While the trail itself was a bit easier than others, getting over the two 4000-foot Crocker Mountains in the rain was a chore. My feet were soaking wet and started hurting by the time I got to the summit of the north peak and I still had five miles to go. It was a long five miles but went fast enough. Once down on the road, most of the traffic was going the wrong way.
Finally a couple of cars came in my direction. The first one, a huge new pick-up, ended up passing me and doing two U-turns to come pick me up. I was sopping wet and dripping from head to toe. The older couple in the truck was so helpful. They stopped at the post office just minutes before it closed so I could pick up my maildrop and loaner backpack. Then they dropped me at the White Wolf Inn where I got a single for $20. The room even had a view of the brook, rising with rainwater. That view was much better than the view of the road.
I unpacked, turned on the fan, and started drying everything out. My pack was soaking wet and needed to be dried before I could mail it to Dana for repairs. I did not bother to go out for dinner. The dining room just downstairs was dry and suited my tastes.
Day 179 - Stratton - 0 miles - 1972.4 total
The rain stopped and the day dawned with cool clear skies. An easy day off. Ate. Did laundry. Mailed my (now dry) backpack to Dana (I wonder if I will ever see it again.) Ate again. Watched bad TV. Unsuccessfully tried to change my watch batteries as there was no watch repair place in the vicinity. Made phone calls. Watched more bad TV. Watched the brook continue to rise in the back of the hotel. Slept.
Day 180 - Safford Notch - 10.4 miles - 1982.8 total
While I did manage to get out of town at a reasonable hour, I got a late start on the trail when I stopped to talk with Norma from Ipswich, MA at the trailhead. It was after 9:00am before I started hiking. I had a rough day. One knee - one ankle - my jaw - and general malaise were my complaints. I hope I’m not coming down with something. I just went slow but was a bit discouraged.
I met a number of interesting cross-bred dogs; a Shepherd/Corgie mix (shepherd body, corgie legs), Collie/Retriever (body and hair of a retriever with a washed out collie white color), and Plato’s Rottweiler/Chow mix (chow tail on a mini-rottweiler). I saw an ermine at the South Horn Pond Lean-to area.
Coming down from Avery Peak was like entering a mini Mahoosuc Notch. Huge house-sized boulder to get around. Going into the campsite was the same. At one point, the trail even went under on big boulder forming a tunnel of sorts. When I got to the campsite, I met Plato (and his dog Sadey) who gave me a bit of an orientation. Then I was able to get water and set up my tent just before it got dark.
One other interesting animal sighting today: I saw a beaver in the brook behind the hotel this morning. The water was back down and it was probably trying to do damage control.
Day 181 - West Carry Pond Lean-to - 12.2 miles - 1995.0 total
The easy climb up the East Peak of Bigelow was a welcome start to the day, especially when we found out that we might make a planned hiker-feed after all. We had just about twenty minutes to get to the trailhead but it as too far and we arrived after the gravel pit was cleared. Too bad.
After that, it was an emotional afternoon. We passed a road that had "2000M" painted on it facing the northbounders. We had seen countdown numbers on the trail but it never occurred to me that they were for "me." It did not matter that the current "real" 2000m mark was now still 10 miles distant. It just helped me understand the enormity of hiking the entire trail. That got to me while I was hiking.
Shortly after the road crossing, we had our first major bog crossing. I got across the first on with my boots on but the second one stymied me. I had to change into my sandals. There was a bog bridge there but it was floating around three feet from the south end of the bog and five feet from the north end. On top of all that, it moved more than just a few inches here and there and sank quite a bit when stepped on. I thought it would be "gross" to walk in the bog water but mostly it was just a cool and refreshing experience.
Then, at the shelter, Yak and Yo showed up so we had a mini-reunion. Apparently, they had been close behind me (just minutes at times) for days. It was fun to share some great treats (thanks Lori) with the group. Then I watched Plato doing some strange form of yoga. It was not yoga, it was just the typical contortions that thruhikers with under powered radios go through to find and maintain any minimal reception in the backcountry.
Went to sleep to the sound of coyotes howling after not being able to concentrate on my journal writing.
Day 182 - Kennebec River/Caratunk - 14 miles - 2009 total
Listened to a laughing loon while eating breakfast today. Then moved on and was pleasantly surprised to make easy time in these "flat" areas. The beach at East Carry Pond was inviting but too windy and cool. The hawk at the north end of the pond did not attack me as it had others but was breathtaking to watch. I caught up with Yak and Yo who had gotten an earlier start at the Pierce Pond Lean-to and we walked to the Kennebec together. The falls on Otter Stream were beautiful.
Shortly after East Carry Pond, we crossed the "real" and "current" 2,000-mile mark. Thankfully it was not as emotional as yesterday’s event.
The crossing of the Kennebec was fun in Steve, the Ferryman’s, canoe. Coming down to the river, we had seen the gravel bars high and dry in the river. In the few minutes it took us to get to the river, they had disappeared. The level of the river had risen a foot or more in just a few minutes. It was easy to see why the river is nearly impossible to judge when to ford.
As we crossed, we watched a family of loons take off, or in one case, just splash around.
I found out today that my easy rock hop across the South Carabasset last Friday was a waist high ford in the river just three hours later. Yak and Yo got very wet on that crossing.
Day 183 - Bald Mountain Brook Lean-to - 14.7 miles - 2023.7 total
Up and hiking with Yak and Yo by 6:40. It’s fun hiking with people whose pace and style is at least compatible if not the same. My leftover pizza made a great mid-morning snack. Our pace exceeded two miles per hour for the first time in weeks. Only walking together did we go that fast. There were no "boots off" fords today and just one rock hop ford that required some thought. We climbed one mountain today but at less than 3,000 feet, it just did not take a huge effort.
It was so nice getting to camp with plenty of time to relax and read before dinner. Then after dinner, Yo came visiting and regaled me with stories of the trail and Africa.
Day 184 - Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to - 13 miles - 2036.7 total
Woke to rain and a slow start with Yak and Yo. It had stopped raining by the time we got to the top of Moxie Bald but everything appeared to be socked in. Then there were breaks in the clouds and we could see some mountains quite dramatically framed in the clouds. There was a lake below that added to the drama. We took a quick break at Moxie Bald Shelter where we saw Grizzly and Mo packing up to head to Monson. We stopped for a lunch break just before our first ford and my first ford of moving water. The knee-deep water mentioned in the guidebooks was only ankle deep but still required us to change into our sandals. On the other side, we quickly changed back into our boots and moved on. It was starting to rain again.
We got to Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to with plenty of time to sit and relax. The rain never showed a sign of letting up so Yak, Yo and I fetched some water for the night. Instead of the Ramen Noodle dinner I had planned, Yak gave me a flavorful Lipton Rice and sauce meal. It was a great change.
With sunset now coming before 7:00pm, I’m getting frustrated at the length of the nights. I’ve never been one to sleep long hours and I get antsy when lying down for more than nine hours or so. My back, neck, hips, and shoulders all start to hurt if I have to stay in bed too long. I try to stay up as long as possible but writing my journal and reading by headlamp is tiring, especially when you are trying not to disturb others who go to sleep with the sun.
Tonight Yak, Yo and I were the only ones in the shelter. It had started to rain steadily as we approached the shelter at 3:00 and has not let up since. There was a dead mouse on the bench by the fire ring, apparently killed by a hiker and left as a message to other mice. I can not think of any other reason. The patter of rain is steady on the trees and ground outside the shelter and the ring of drops on the metal roof is nearly as steady. Every now and then, there is a faint, deep, rumble that probably comes from the rising river coursing through the nearby curve that gives Horseshoe Canyon its name. The bold chipmunk that had been paying us visits looking for crumbs has either stopped calling on us or it is now too dark for me to see it. Now is when the mice usually come out to scavenge around the shelters. But I have not seen any little dark shadows scurrying below and the rain is certainly too noisy for me to be able to hear them if they are nearby.
With this rain, we are concerned that we may not be able to ford the east branch of the Piscataquis River tomorrow. We are all nearly out of food so we are hoping that in this dry year, even a heavy rain will not make it impassable.
It is now just past 7:00pm. I will try to read before going to sleep…
Day 185 - Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to - 0 miles - 2036.7 total
MAROONED BY FLOYD!
It had rained steadily all yesterday afternoon, evening, night, and into this morning. We once again took our time getting ready to leave hoping the rain would let up. We said good-bye to a woman, Joyous Tears, who had arrived after dark last night. She was trying to get to Caratunk to meet friends. Why she did not just call them from Monson, we do not know.
We left the shelter just after her and were amazed at how yesterday’s dry streambeds were raging and how the fast river through the Horseshoe Canyon was now an impossibly fast and high volume torrent. Without much discussion, we noted the height of the water against some landmarks and retreated to the shelter. We were a bit surprised that Joyous Tears had not returned to the shelter.
We had just 2.25 miles before our ford but with that amount of water here where the water level had been so much lower yesterday, we just assumed we would not be able to get across until the water started receding.
Back at the shelter, we examined our food situation. We each had enough for dinner and a very minimal breakfast if we were to find ourselves here overnight. Twice, Yak and Yo went down to the river only to find the level unchanged. While none of us wanted to stay here another night, we settled into the shelter for the day. We talked about moving the two miles to the river in the hopes the river would recede but no sooner had we nixed that idea than the rain which had abated for a while, started up again.
Yak heard on his radio that this county was under a flood watch or warning. Duh! The rain was to come to an end in the afternoon with some showers to follow. Well, after the rain ended here, we had more rain. Not showers, rain.
We ate our dinners and joked that we no longer really had any food to hang in our food bags. We had nine miles and a river ford to do tomorrow on just a snack or so apiece. It promises to be a very hungry nine miles and we are already looking forward to stuffing our faces once we get to town.
We now go to sleep knowing that if we cannot ford the river tomorrow, we will be totally without food. This is an uncomfortable position to be in. I cannot help but to note the irony of the timing in relation to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement when I would usually do a 24 hour fast.
Day 186 - East Branch, Piscataquis River - 2.3 miles - 2039.0 total
Beautiful weather and blue skies promised a great day of hiking today. It was just nine more miles to Monson. It was apparent as we set out that though the river was down, it was not nearly as far down as we had hoped. Two days ago, the river was a calf high ford when Joyous Tears came across and it was obviously higher than that now. Even getting to the river was tricky. A side stream that fed the river required a difficult log crossing.
Once at the confluence of the east and west branches, we scouted around for a better potential crossing site. Where the AT crossed, an overflow from the west branch blocked our passage. We worked our way up the east branch and stepping through marshy bog, found a slower looking area but it was obviously deeper than a ford.
We found a good place to pass some time and come up with schemes for getting across the river. Yak made a PFD with his thermarest and his pack’s hip belt. We discussed ways of floating our packs across on our thermarests or stringing a line across to use for safety as we crossed. With the water being very cold and our fast water experience being limited, I was concerned about becoming a "foolish" statistic.
Our food had now run out and we were now weighing whether crossing high water while we still had energy reserves made more sense than waiting until we ran out of energy but had a much more tame river to cross. I preferred to wait knowing that our strength relative to the river’s was miniscule and the change in our strength would be much smaller compared to the change in the river’s.
The afternoon sun was warm and Yak wanted to give the swim a try. With trepidation, we watched as he worked his way upstream and were relieved when he made it across safely. He came back to try to convince us that we, too, could swim the river. It just did not seem likely that we could get us and our gear across the river.
We eventually decided that Jack would go for food. He crossed back over and I made my way back to the smaller overflow of the west branch. I crossed to the middle island while Yo bagged some supplies for Yak. Then she tied a line to the bag, a rock to the line and with some difficulty, she got the line to me so I could pull the supplies across the small west branch overflow. Only then, did it become apparent that there was no way I could get the bag across to Yak. He eventually set off with no money, wearing nothing but his shorts and aquasocks.
Yo and I reversed the process to get Yak’s supplies back onto the "mainland" and then got me back. We had just finished setting up camp when Yak returned. He brought food and a longer line that would float instead of sink. I once again had to cross the overflow. Thankfully, the line was long enough - just, Yak was stronger than me, and he had a good arm. His toss was good and I was able to get the line and food to the "intermediate" island. Then I was able to get the line to Yo and she pulled the food across. I then made my last ford of the day and Yak swam back one last time.
Without money, Yak had tried to appeal to people at various hiker establishments in Monson to help us out with our situation. Nobody was very forthcoming but one person suggested raiding the hiker box for food. He came back with an interesting mix of foods to hopefully get us through one or two more days of being stuck here. Just getting the food across made it apparent that we were not going to be able to get packs across anytime soon - even if we could swim ourselves across.
We had a filling meal of beans, cornmeal, and Spam, followed by Lipton-like Beef Noodles and Mrs. Shaw’s homemade peanut butter cookie squares. The river only receded about one foot today. If this slow rate continues, we may be here for a while yet with Yak swimming across for more food in a day or two. I hope it does not come to that.
Day 187 - Monson - 6.7 miles - 2045.7 total
Checked the river first thing in the morning. It had gone down but was still impassable. The dragon’s breath on the river was beautiful however. I spoke with Yak and Yo, and Yo, like myself, had tossed and turned last night. We were both worried about Joyous Tears, the woman who was headed southbound and likely blocked by the west branch. Also, we knew more rain was headed our way on Tuesday and with the rate the river had gone down the previous day, we were going to need a boat to get out with our equipment before the new rain.
We ate our "refugee food" oatmeal with a bit of sugar for breakfast. Then we started preparing for the day. I was going five miles back to look for Joyous Tears and encourage her to join us at the east branch. Yo would come with me as far as the shelter two miles back to make sure we did not miss her at the loop by the Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to. She also wanted to pick up some books that were there. Then she would head back to help Yak prepare to swim the river once again and go for help and to find someone with a boat.
Shortly before Yo and I set off for the shelter, Yak caught site of a moose crossing the river along the route of the AT but we could not see if it crossed all of the way.
Then Yo and I left for the shelter. She went around the canyon while I stopped at the shelter. It was apparent that Joyous Tears had not been back to the shelter. When I met Yo at the south junction, she had obviously not met Joyous Tears along the loop. While not surprised, we were disappointed. It meant I had to go three miles further to the west branch of the river. Without Yo along, my imagination went wild. We were all a bit concerned that Joyous Tears might have tried to ford the river before it was passable. We knew she was anxious to get to Caratunk to meet some friends. I could only imagine what I would or would not find when I got to the west branch. The trail paralleled the river which also fueled my imagination. The river was still raging muddy, wild, fast, and high.
Thankfully, when I got to the west branch, I found Joyous Tears high and dry and still stranded. Once Joyous Tears realized that she was not alone on this side of the swollen river and that I came to ask her to come back to the other crossing, she certainly shed some tears of joy and a lot of relief.
While there, I was able to talk (yell loud) to Miles, Hutch, Bare Chest, and Second Wind who were all on the other side of the river waiting to cross. They had not missed any of the "true" white blazed trail so far and were unwilling to take the high water route around this section. I explained the river situation at the east branch and encouraged them to take the road. As I left, they were still trying to find a way across the west branch but where the river had been ankle deep three days earlier, it was now deeper than chest high.
Rather than walk back with Joyous Tears who would be going slower while carrying her full backpack, I ate some much needed fuel in the form of Fig Newtons and Peppermint Patties that Joyous Tears had so I could try to get back to Yak and Yo before Yak went for help. I kept a good pace going back, stopping to pick up the occasional piece of clothing that I had discarded on the way out.
Just after I passed the shelter, I was crossing a stream that had been raging two days earlier and during this fourth crossing, I noticed a bottle that had been seemingly discarded by an earlier hiker. We just had not noticed it with the water rushing by or even earlier in the day when Yo and I were distracting each other. I was about to just step over it when I noticed the color of the water in the bottle was different from the stream water. I bent down to pick it up only to discover that I had found an apparently unopened bottle of Jack Daniels. I had to laugh because of all of us who had just stepped over it, I, the non-drinker, found it. I put it in my fanny pack knowing that Yak and Yo would likely appreciate it.
When I got back, Yak and Yo were relaxing. I asked them if they would like some Fig Newtons. They just looked at me in disbelief. Then I explained that Joyous Tears, who was following me back, had given them to me along with the candy. Fig Newtons, as it turns out, are Yak’s favorite cookies. Only then did I pull out the bottle of Jack Daniels and enjoyed watching their jaws hit the ground.
They had been cooking lunch when I walked up so we ate out "refugee food" TVP with peas before eating the Fig Newtons, the last of the peanut butter bars, and shots of Jack Daniels for Yak and Yo. Joyous Tears then walked up. She was effusive when showing her gratitude that I had come to get her and that all of us had been thinking about her and were worried about her. When we explained our plans, she pulled out a cell phone to try to call for help. We had a few ideas about who might be able to help, starting with Steve, the Ferryman, who had brought us across the Kennebec. Not surprisingly, the cell phone proved useless.
By the time I had gotten back to Yak and Yo, they had surveyed the river again and had good news. The water was receding at an accelerating rate and Yak had walked across in chest deep water along the route of the AT. After lunch, he was going across again to go for a boat. When Joyous Tears heard this, she decided to try to get across with her pack. By the time we got to the river, the west branch, which had been hip high the day before, was now only calf deep. The east branch, which had been chest deep in the morning, was now only waist deep on Yak. As Yak crossed, Joyous Tears plunged in after him, not even waiting for him to finish crossing. With some difficulty, she got across so Yo, a petite woman, decided to try to get across without her pack. She could not make it across and turned back to safety.
Just then, Second Wind showed up having successfully, but dangerously and with much difficulty crossed the west branch five miles back. He just plunged into the east branch and had little difficulty crossing. He let us know that the rest of the gang I had talked to earlier in the day would soon be following.
Before you knew it, the guys were shedding their packs on the far side and lending a hand. One of them worked with Yak to get Yo across. She lost her footing a number of times but they kept her on course. Then, they all came back across to try to help Yak and me pack up our camp and get us across the river.
I packed up and changed into my thruhiker bathing suit (i.e. black underwear). Bare Chest grabbed my backpack and we made our way to the crossing. As he started across, the other guys asked if I needed help crossing. Given my experience yesterday, I said "no," I thought I could get across on my own. As I waited until Bare Chest got through the worst of the crossing, a flotilla of kayaks came downstream towards us. I am sure we presented them with a curious sight. Some of the guys had come back into the water to spot me just in case I went for a swim so the kayaks ended up lining up downstream just in case I or any of the spotters ended up going for a swim. Without my pack, I had no problem making a slow crossing of the river. Once we were all across, the paddlers wished us good luck and went on their way.
The Jack Daniels was passed around and everyone eventually left for Monson feeling great. We had a good fast hike to route 15 and after just a few minutes of hitching a pickup beeped from the trailhead parking lot across the street. It was Keith Shaw who knew from the earlier arrivals that we would be there looking for a ride. Our trip to town was punctuated by the appearance of a beautiful Great Blue Heron standing by the side of the road.
At Shaw’s, Baltimore Jack showed me around after I checked in. We all cleaned up and then made our way to the only place in town still serving food at that hour, the local Mobil Gas Station Minimart. There we had pizza loaded with more stuff than I have ever seen on a pizza. Thruhikers who normally inhale a large in one sitting had a tough time getting just half of it down. My ten inch mushroom pizza had way more mushrooms than most but I was hungry and managed to polish it off. For dessert, I ate a Klondike bar, an ice cream sandwich, a Fudgesicle, a couple of Little Debbie Swiss Rolls, and a candy bar. All of this, I washed down with a liter of orange soda. I stayed up late (10:00) talking with Second Wind and another Shaw’s guest.
Day 188 - Monson - 0 miles - 2045.7 total
French Toast and hash browns at Shaw’s for breakfast. Yum! Spent time with Single Malt and Baltimore Jack doing laundry. I was stymied with my maildrop as I did not yet know what the plans were for resupply in the 100 Mile Wilderness. Enjoyed sharing yummy brownies my mom sent. (thanks Mom).
I walked into Appalachian Station for lunch and sat down with Overpacked, Hubini, and Zorro, all of whom were mostly done with their meals. Zorro took off almost right away and when I finally got around to ordering, Overpacked ordered another meal. Then the waitress told us that Zorro had treated all of us to lunch. What a guy!
I took some time to check my email at the library. When I got back to Shaw’s, I heard that Walking Home and gang were expected momentarily. The hours passed and it was apparent they had gotten lost on a logging road when taking the high water bypass. When they finally came in just in time for dinner, I was already on my way to the store with Yak and Yo. We had a quick reunion knowing that I would be able to see them after dinner. We brought our dinner back to the house, ate, and then I made my last phone calls before getting back on the trail for the last time on the way to Baxter.
Finally, late in the evening, I found out what the situation was with a mid-wilderness food drop. I gathered Yak and Yo’s food, and quickly pulled my food drop together. Bruce, a friend of Walking Home’s that I had met in Pennsylvania, would be bringing us our food to Jo-Mary Road and maybe walking with us a bit. I repacked my backpack, got ready for bed, and visited with my friends for a while.
Day 189 - Wilson Valley Lean-to - 10.4 miles - 2056.1 total
Managed to choke down a "two by" at Shaw’s (two eggs, two sausages, two pancakes, two bacon, hash browns, donuts, and more). A "three by" would be three of each, a "four by" four of each, etc. It is all one price and you can order whatever you want, Keith just asks that you eat it all. When you are done, you can order more if you want. Keith’s been known to serve two "four bys" to the same person for one breakfast. Oy!
After a very quick trip to the post office to mail my last mail from the trail, and a trip to the general store to pick up some Gatorade (strawberry-kiwi), we were off to the trail in yet more questionable weather.
I started off walking with JoJo which was great because I had never really had time to talk with her before. Then, after a break, I was slowing down so I ended up walking with Walking Home. It was great to catch up and finally find out what she had been doing since we split up in Connecticut.
In the slippery conditions, I took a fall at one point. I was fine but I hate falling. Later on, I fell again. Once again, I was fine but falling twice in one day scared me. It’s not like I had not spent any other time walking on slippery rocks, yet these were only the 4th and 5th falls I’ve taken on the entire AT. I got a bit upset but quickly pulled myself together and moved on.
It was foggy all day and occasionally rained but we got past two fords without any problems. At Big Wilson Stream, we had a laugh when I was warned that the water was mid-thigh high and yet for me, it was only knee high. I just hitched the legs of my lycra shorts up and stayed dry. Most other had to continue on with wet shorts legs.
We made it to the lean-to just as it started to raining and decided to stay rather than push on to the next shelter as planned. Our timing was perfect. It soon started to pour. Yak, Yo, and I are a bit leery of getting stuck again but unlike our last predicament, the 100 mile wilderness has roads nearby. They just are not used that much.
It was so much fun being together again with Mule and Walking Home. JoJo and Court Dog complete the group. I’m looking forward to having fun together. The Mule train, in somewhat different form, is now back together again.
Day 190 - Cloud Pond Lean-to - 8.7 miles - 2064.8 total
Blow downs and fords.
More obstacles than we could have anticipated slowed us to a crawl today. The recent storms have loosened the earth and left the tree roots with nothing to hold onto. Then high winds came along and just pushed the trees over. Passing by these trees is difficult as they are in full leaf. It is nearly impossible to push through the downed vegetation along the trail. Bushwhacking around them on the steep hillsides is a lot of hard work.
The rain yesterday has raised the water level in the streams and once again, rock hops are now fords and what is usually a knee deep ford is nearly impossible. Mule, Court Dog, and Yak managed to get across upstream from the AT but when Yo tried, she went for an unexpected swim in order to get across. It obviously was not a good crossing so Mule scouted a good crossing about 1/3 mile downstream from the AT. There, JoJo, Walking Home and I were able to cross. The water was hip high on them but only thigh high on me, and the current, though strong, was manageable.
We had lunch at the Long Pond Stream Lean-to and realized that is had taken nearly five hours to go less than five miles.
We had some views under the clouds from Barren Ledges but then ascended into the clouds. Light rain fell as we climbed further up the mountain. At one point, I took a flop and almost landed in a deep puddle. I was turtled on top of my backpack and the only thing keeping me out of a deep puddle was my feet planted not-so-firmly on a rock in the middle of the puddle. Once Walking Home realized I was OK and laughing, not crying, she took out her camera and snapped a picture of me. Argh! (I love you too, Walking Home ;-) Finally, she helped me up out of my predicament.
The side trail to the lean-to was a long wet one, at times going over the edge of the pond on puncheons, not bridges. It is unfortunate that we could not make it to the Chairback Lean-to today. With the weather, we did what we could. The Chairback Lean-to would have been drier and put us in a better position to get to our food drop in a few days.
At the shelter, we ate, and played Phase 10, a card type game. We will keep a running score until the game ends.
Day 191 - Gulf Hagas Trail Junction (tent) - 12.6 miles - 2077.4 total
Another miserable day dawned this morning. Lots of fog blowing directly into the aptly named Cloud Pond Lean-to made for a cold, damp, start to the day. After yesterday’s rain and with today’s fog, the trail was a soggy mess and often a stream itself. Rocks and roots both were treacherous. It took us five hours to cover seven miles and we still had four more miles to our biggest ford. We all had doubts about our ability to cross after so much rain. Our morning’s hike had one redeeming quality. Everyone except Yak and Yo who had both already gotten good views of moose on the AT saw a big bull moose with a beautiful, huge rack. It was apparently just hanging around in one boggy area because we passed by the area in three separate groups and all saw the same animal.
It was a very windy day and shortly before our lunch stop, we finally had views of our surrounding area. We could see White Cap, the mountain range we will go over tomorrow and off in the distance, I think we could see Katahdin.
After our lunch stop, we descended a slide and then JoJo, Walking Home, Mule, and myself walked together down to the Pleasant River (west branch). We played the "name" game and managed to keep our minds off of our individual aches and pains.
At the river, we thankfully found the ford an easy one and were soon across the river and headed for a campsite that Walking Home knew about. It was a beautiful site with plenty of room for all of us.
At this point in our trip, we are all tired and our bodies are all overworked. Each day holds little reward and only Katahdin, just 80 miles away, keeps us going. With bad weather, we are no longer having fun. With sore knees, back, hips, ankles, feet, etc., we are no longer having fun. Together we will get through this. As tired as we are, this is still better than work and none of us really wants to go back to what we were doing before and where we were doing it.
Day 192 - Logan Brook Lean-to - 11.4 miles - 2088.8 total
Finally. It was so nice to wake up to good weather. The trail is drying out and so is our gear, including our boots. All day, I could watch the dry spots on my boots growing larger. The dry spots were challenged all day by wet and muddy trails but I always found a way around or over the troublesome area.
At the first shelter, just four miles after we started, we found that the people who had started into the wilderness a day ahead of us had spent the night there. The climbs over Gulf Hagas and West Mountains went quickly and I caught up with the Mule train on Hay Mountain. I had needed a long break at the first shelter we passed to tend to a couple of annoying blisters.
Finally, on White Cap, we had a great view of Katahdin and took a nice break in the beautiful weather to just appreciate the view. Crusher was there and took our group picture - seven times with our seven cameras, or was it just six).
Logan Shelter was small but we fit in as tenting here was minimal.
Day 193 - Jo-Mary Road (tent) - 15.4 miles - 2104.2 total
After a sleepless night brought on by going to sleep much too early, I was the first one up this morning. I took it slow and easy for the first few miles to the East Branch Lean-to but after that, I just took off. The terrain was easier, my pack was light (no food), and with no significant hills, I felt great. I stopped at Kokadjo-B Pond Road and ate most of my lunch while waiting for the others to catch up. We moved up the trail just a bit to take a lunch stop on the sandy beach by Crawford Pond. The weather started letting up and we had some sun on and off during lunch. I continued on without my pack cover but almost immediately had to put it back on when a shower passed through.
When I caught up with the guys at 3:30 on Jo-Mary Road, they had been there for 1.5 hours. Bruce had dropped off our boxes and taken Irmo, L’il Dipper, and M&M to the store. Walking Home and gang soon showed up and Bruce, with his wife Nancy, soon returned and brought Walking Home, JoJo and me to the ill-provisioned store. There was a great campsite right by the road so we decided to camp there. Bruce and Nancy had intended to hike with us but with our late arrival, they would have just camped with us. Then, M&M had been sick on and off for a while and was not doing well so they ended up taking him to the hospital in Millinocket instead. We had a bit of a weenie roast and sat around a very pleasant campfire for a few hours. It was so nice to stay up later than usual.
We had hoped Bruce and Nancy would come back but it is now late and they are not here. We are now all in our tents and judging from the lack of lights in the other tents, I am likely the last to go to sleep tonight. The terrain between here and Katahdin is relatively easy with no climbs greater than 500 feet. Hopefully our bodies will recover a bit from the NH/southern Maine grind and we will be ready for Katahdin by Thursday.
I have been having blister problems on my little toes due to the wet weather. I am hoping the good weather we are expecting will dry things out a bit - including my boots.
Day 194 - Nahmakanta Lake, South end (tent) - 15.2 miles - 2119.4 total
The mice have been incredibly active in the wilderness. They have gotten into my food bag at least twice and chewed holes in both Mules and Walking Homes tents while they were in their tents. My tent also had a hole chewed in it but that was when it was packed up and hung in my backpack one night. Last night, they forced Walking Home out of her tent. Even after she had taken the food out of her tent, they still kept going into her tent. She gave up her tent to the mice and ended up spending a very cold, wet (condensation), night sleeping outside on the ground.
The walking in this part of the wilderness is mostly flat but still challenging. There are a lot of rocks and roots, mud and bog bridges, and the occasional stream crossing. Today, even though there were a couple of streams listed in our Data Book as "fords," we were able to get across everything without taking our boots off.
At the Potaywadjo Lean-to, the shelter register was filled with the more somber entries of those about to finish their thruhikes. Earlier, at the Antlers Campsite, the register in the privy, "Port Relief," was filled mostly with comments about the privy (a beautiful little "house" complete with reading material, mirror, curtains, extra chair, and a basically useless wash basin).
It was a long hard day for Walking Home. Every step is painful for her now. We are all tired. The countdown began days ago. There are just 41miles to go.
Tonight is a cold night. I am wearing almost everything I have with me and it is only 8:30. I am part way into my sleeping bag already. I just hope I have enough gear to keep me warm for the last few days. I ate a double dinner tonight so I should have the energy to stay warm overnight. Time will tell. With any luck, we will not have as much condensation on our tents in the morning as we did this morning. It is frustrating to have to carry the extra weight of a wet tent.
Day 195 - Rainbow Spring Campsite (tent) - 14.5 miles - 2133.9 total
If yesterday was a mousy morning, then today was a moosy morning. From my tent, I could hear Yak and Yo having a discussion about getting the food bag down. Then I could hear Yak pulling the food bags down from the tree. When I heard some noises approaching my tent and then behind my tent, I assumed it was Yak bringing my food bag to me. It did not occur to me that his breathing sounded funny or that it would not normally take him so long to leave my food bag at my tent.
Then, while I am still in my sleeping bag in my tent, I see this moose head appear over the foot end of my tent. Through the no-see-um netting and in the still dim light of dawn, it looked more like a black, cardboard, cutout of a moose gliding along until the legs made an appearance behind the head. I had camped at the end of a road that led directly out onto the beach on which we were camped. The day before, I had wondered out loud if there was any chance that I might be camping in the path of any vehicles that might try to visit the beach. It turns out that I was blocking this moose’s normal morning route to the beach and water. Not wanting to vary from its usual morning routine, it did not go around my tent (there was plenty of room), instead it apparently stood behind my tent for a few minutes before deciding to just step over it. That is when I watched first the head, then front legs, then body, and finally back legs appear basically overhead.
I got my first picture from the tent of its behind as it approached the water’s edge. Yak, meanwhile, had returned to his tent for his camera. He got a bit too bold when trying to get a picture of the moose and scared it off a bit. It went back into the woods with Yak following. At one point, the moose charged Yak but was scared off once again when Yak stumbled.
I finally got out of my tent when I realized the moose was probably going to stay in the area. I moved away from the beach down some old dirt roads and eventually found myself playing "Red light/Green light" with the moose. It had come out onto the road and was sort of aware of my presence. When it walked, I walked. When it stopped, I stopped. It would them look back towards me but I was never moving when it looked back. Eventually, it turned back towards me and I got a couple of great shots of the moose at it looked at me. Only after I took a bunch of pictures and returned to the beach did Yak tell me that moose eyes turn green in flash photos. It will be interesting to see how my pictures turned out.
Today’s hike was represented on the last map of the thruhike, There were 41 maps representing the 2160.2 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. This 41st map has the last 40.8 miles to Katahdin.
There is an incredible amount of water in Maine. We often find ourselves walking along brooks and streams, from pond to pond, or lake to lake. Today’s tour of water was interrupted by a small climb over Nesuntabunt Mountain where we were treated to an amazing view of Katahdin. From there, it is only about 16 miles as the bird flies to the Big K but us earth-bound beings have 36 more miles to walk.
After worrying about drought and fires for so much of our hike, to see so much water and be affected by floods, high rivers, and streams seems so strange.
Yak got a fire going at the campsite tonight and we enjoyed one of our last nights together. Husband and Wife joined us. We mouse-bagged our food but just a few minutes later, while we were still at the fire, the mice had already gotten onto our bags. We will just have to keep our food with us in our tents and hope for the best. At least this time, I got a picture of the critter on my mouse hung food bag. "Say cheese."
Tonight, we are being serenaded by loons, ducks, and owls. The stars are now plentiful and bright as the moon is rising later at night. I can hear noises in the forest. Some are just leaves falling to the ground to form the colorful autumn blanket we have been walking on. And some are the destructive mice just waiting to chew more holes in my tent to get at my food. How well will I sleep tonight?
Day 196 - Daicey Pond Lean-to - 18.7 miles (7.5 slack) - 2152.6 total
Walked with Yak and Yo for most of the day. We marveled at some of the huge boulders near the shore of Rainbow Lake. We made good time up to Rainbow Ledges for yet another spectacular view of Katahdin. We stopped to eat the last of our snacks before the final six miles to Abol Bridge where we intended to call it a day.
At the Hurd Brook Lean-to, we caught up with Husband and Wife just finishing the last of their Ramen - dry. We stayed just long enough to add our addresses to the register and set off within sight of Husband and Wife who left just ahead of us.
We found some trail magic from Walking Home and her sister at the road and left the last two cans of soda for Walking Home and JoJo who were behind us. We turned on the road to head for the bridge and store and met a man looking for Husband and Wife. We were a bit surprised and told him that they should have been ahead of us. Perhaps he had missed them?
Walking across Abol Bridge gave us yet another spectacular view of Katahdin. We did not dally long as the microwave at the store was calling to us. I started with two ice cream bars (no Ben and Jerry’s), then a pizza, then a BBQ pork sandwich and Doritos, and then some cookies. By this time, JoJo and Walking Home had caught up with us as we had all made excellent time to Abol Bridge. The going had been easy and even though we had planned on staying near the bridge, there were murmurs about possibly going all the way to Daicey Pond.
I realized then that there were a couple of slackpack opportunities around so with that possibility, everyone was up for seven more miles if they could be slacked. I approached Husband and Wife (who had gotten off trail and came out behind us) and their friends to see if they were going to Daicey Pond and if they could slackpack us. It was funny because even Husband and Wife had not thought of that. Needless to say, they were happy to help and carry all seven of our packs to Daicey Pond for us.
We scrambled to buy three more days of food at the store in case we got stuck waiting for good summit weather and loaded our packs in the car.
Yo led us off at a blistering four mph pace along some beautiful and easy terrain next to the Penobscot River. Seeing rafters on the river brought back memories of my only other trip to this area, years ago, when I had done some rafting nearby. After the first hour or so, the terrain got a bit rougher so we slowed down a bit. We still managed the 7.5 miles in 2:20, much faster than any of us thought possible.
As we arrived at Daicey Pond, we were approached by a man who asked if we were thruhikers (remember we were not carrying backpacks). When told we were, he explained that he was doing an article for National Geographic Traveler magazine. He had hiked in 1979 and had just finished a week long reunion hike with three other ’79 hikers. The article would be half the reunion and half about this year’s hikers. Then he asked if we knew Walking Home. She was a few minutes behind so we told him she was on the way.
He had heard about her and about how she is carrying some of her son’s ashes. Her son had been killed just about one year earlier. The writer wanted to interview her and the rest of us. Also, he is working with Chris Rainier, a photographer who had worked with Ansel Adams and already has a couple of books out. Would we be available for a photo shoot the next morning on the way up Katahdin? A photo shoot?!?
We signed in at the ranger station where I picked up a yummy care package from friends (Thanks Sue and Randy). By this time, Walking Home had arrived but our backpacks had not. We also finally got the name of our interviewer.
It was David Brill, a name we all recognized. His book about his 1979 thruhike, "As Far as the Eye Can See, the Adventures of an Appalachian Trail Thruhiker," is considered one of the better books for capturing the spirit of thruhiking.
Brill interviewed Walking Home at the picnic table by the ranger station while we were waiting for our packs to show up. As he was talking with her, one of the park managers showed up to ask if we knew any of the names on a sheet she was going to post. There were five names on the list but no trail names. They were on this list because they had come in contact with someone who was diagnosed with Hepatitis B. We immediately wondered if that had been M&M who had gotten off the trail a couple of days earlier but I realized the timing had been wrong. The Hep. B diagnosis was made before he had gotten off the trail.
Our packs finally arrived and we settled into the lean-tos. It turns out one of the thruhikers there was on the Hep B list but had received the vaccine already. He has two weeks to find out of that was enough.
There is quite a crowd here at Daicey; Hutch, Miles, Crusher, Animal Cracker, Husband, Wife, Yak, Yo, JoJo, Walking Home and myself. We were having quite a feast because with the current weather report, we were now planning on summiting the next day rather than take a day off. We all had tons of extra food and no reason to save it. We were up relatively late with pre-end-of-hike preparations. Then, I realized once again how difficult it is to point out the Andromeda galaxy without being able to show people a star chart. We finally went to sleep well after 9:00.
Day 197 - Mt. Katahdin - 7.6 miles (~2 miles slack) - 2160.2 total
Some slept soundly but many of us had a sleepless night. It seemed kind of silly because we were "just" climbing another mountain today. As the forecast promised, we woke up to foggy skies.
I ate a bit more than usual for breakfast because I knew I had plenty of food. It was strange packing my pack for the last time on the trail. We met David Brill in the parking lot. He slackpacked us to the Katahdin Stream Campground where we were able to borrow daypacks from the ranger station there.
We packed the daypacks and made our way over to the photographer and other ’79 hikers. We could not find Mule and Court Dog at the shelter they had reserved for tonight so I went back to tell the photographer that we were ready to go. Walking Home and JoJo had gone ahead. As I was telling the photographers that we were ready, Mule and Court Dog showed up. They, too, were nearly ready so I told them to meet us at the photo shoot. Then I started up the trail.
The photo shoot took place at Katahdin Stream Falls, about one mile up the trail. I walked slowly waiting for the photographers group to catch up. Once they caught up shortly before the falls, I went ahead to let Walking Home and JoJo know that Mule and Court Dog were catching up.
The photo shoot was supposed to take 15 minutes. It was probably more like 45 minutes. Because they had already taken pictures of Yak and Yo at the Katahdin Stream Campground we were surprised when Yak and Yo walked up behind us. We had thought they had already gone ahead. Their packs had even gotten locked out of David’s truck. They just left them at the truck for David to put away when he went back down. Oops!
The photographer and his assistant had scoped the area the previous day but it still took some time to get their equipment set up. Then, the photographer positioned JoJo on the bridge with the falls behind her and took quite a few pictures. Across the bridge, he positioned Walking Home sitting on a rock with the stream to one side. He spent more time with her getting her to look here and there. Finally, he had me pose in a more dramatic setting straddling a crack between two rocks with the stream well below me. He kept me talking, animated, and smiling, and he kept me looking straight at the camera.
Then, it was finally time to hike. I caught up with the group and we hiked together for a while. After a break, Yak and Yo went ahead, I was walking alone, and JoJo and Walking Home were coming up behind. We hit the middle section of the hike up the Hurt trail. The boulders were huge and there were times when I had a very difficult time climbing up. Many of these situations scared me because what is often difficult to go up is often more difficult to come down. I became very concerned about my knees. Above treeline, the wind was blowing so I stopped to put on my wind breaker. I could hear and see JoJo and Walking Home behind me and knew they were catching up so I just kept moving. Some of the rock scrambles were getting even harder and I started to get upset knowing that I had to descend the along the same route.
For some reason, I do not remember any of the guidebooks about the AT mentioning that Mount Katahdin is the hardest mountain to climb along the entire AT. I was finding the going to be similar to a vertical Mahoosuc Notch, ostensibly the most difficult mile of the AT.
The weather was now just blowing fog. The end of the thruhike was just a couple of miles away and I can be very emotional, very easily. (I have been known to cry for such things as Hallmark commercials. ;-) All of this combined to make me very upset right as (or perhaps because) Walking Home and JoJo caught up with me at a particularly difficult section. With their help, I just kept moving up the mountain and was very relieved to finally reach the tablelands. The last 1.5 miles to the summit are much flatter and easier than the middle section.
With 30 mph blowing fog and mist, the visibility was reduced to 10-20 feet max. The weather was not conducive to spending any time on the top of the mountain. The rest of the thruhikers who had preceded us all passed us as we approached the summit. They were on their way down. We gave hearty congratulations to all of the others that we had camped with the night before as well as Mule and Court Dog.
We arrived at the summit to a very anti-climactic scramble to try to get a summit shot in the wet blowing, fog. Walking Home went off to a special area to remember her son and to scatter the ashes she had carried for over two thousand miles. JoJo, Yak and Yo found a place to be out of the wind with another couple out for a day hike and had something to eat. For a while, I just stood in the wind a cried. Eventually, I took shelter from the wind but it was a long time before I could stop crying. I did finally calm down enough to join the rest of the group but was still much too upset to eat so I started down on an empty stomach.
By now, the rocks were wet. Many were slippery and the going was slow and in some places, dangerous. We took our time and eventually made it down below tree line where we stopped to eat some more, or in my case, to eat. There was a Gray Jay (also known as Robber Jay or Canada Jay) ready to steal food from our outstretched hands.
By now, my knees hurt more than at any other time during the entire thruhike. Even during the "easy" sections during which I would normally go fast, my knees hurt enough to really slow me down. We finally made it back to the campground just after 5:00 and found Yak and Yo celebrating with Mule and Court Dog as well as Grimm and Friends.
While David Brill had originally planned on driving us to Medway, it was out of his way. Grimm’s friends were going that way anyway and offered to drive all of us. We squeezed eight of us into their Volkswagen Camper van and made for Medway. Our first distraction was a moose running down the middle of the road directly in front of the van. It finally veered off the road so we could continue. We saw a couple of more moose along the way as we exited the park.
When we finally got to Medway, we stopped at a dog kennel to pick up Grimm’s friend’s dog and then finally arrived at the hotel. They stayed to make sure that our reservation had been changed and that Yak and Yo could get a room, too.
Pizza and salad were delivered for dinner and we stayed up a bit later than usual watching TV before going to sleep.
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