Day 131. I heard a joke on the trail today which (although crude) sums up my feelings of the hike these past couple days. “Maine is like a woman you meet online … she’s pretty in pictures, but a b*tch in person.”
Sorry if that offends anyone, but damnit if it isn’t true about these mountains; and to be fair, a woman told it to me.
But seriously, Maine is no cakewalk! For 3 days now, it’s been severe PUDs (pointless ups and downs), with minimal views that no sane person would seek out for casual pleasure. They have their moments, sure (mainly the small summit areas, when above treeline), but the effort required to get there is so significant that you barely want to enjoy it.
I fell again today, my 2nd time in as many days (and 6th time total). And I have rolled my ankles in painful missteps more times than I can count within the past week. I am lucky my feet are in such good shape, with strong muscles surrounding those weak ligaments and tendons … any one of the dozen twists I incurred today would have likely sidelined my hike for weeks of recovery if it happened back in Georgia. I’m thankful that I’m hiking this section now, and not first, like a Southbounder. The few clearings I did come upon today were spent trying to catch my breath, massage my feet, and eat as much fuel as possible. It was not a horrible day, but it definitely wasn’t easy.
But, on a pleasant note, my hike today began nicely, with an easy 6 mile climb up Wyman Mountain. Gandalf (the one I’ve seen off and on since Lincoln) shuttled back to the trail with me from Pine Ellis Hostel, and we hiked those slowly ascending miles in just 2 hours to the Hall Mountain Lean-to. That was a speedy 3mph, and felt great on the body. After a snack and drink at the Lean-to, we hit the trail again and I immediately fell behind. Granted, he is 20 years old and has more endurance than me … but that wasn’t the issue. Moody Mountain and Old Blue Mountain were, with their near crippling climbs of death defying rock climbing.
Seriously, who maintains the trail up here?? I spent the next 3 hours pulling myself up at least 60 degree embankments that practically required climbing ropes and carabiners. Some had rock steps built up the cliffs, others had rebar drilled into them, but most of the next 4 miles was just trees to grab hold of. I walked more than 20 miles today, but this was more of an upper body workout than my typical leg day.
And at the top? Nothing. Moody was tree’d in completely, and Old Blue had one small rock clearing infested with horseflies. No reprieve there, just a moment to yell, swat, slow my heartbeat for a few minutes, and then move on.
Speaking of yelling, I keep forgetting to mention this fun fact. Since Massachusetts, I’ve noticed I now talk to myself. Out loud. A lot. It’s nothing weird, but when I do something dumb or take a bad step, I yell at myself or the trail. Or, on the positive side, if I see something nice, I mention it to myself. I sing out loud more, I ask questions (“why did you step there if you knew it was a loose stone?!”), and even talk to the animals if the moment is right (“hey bird, I like your song” … “sorry squirrel, didn’t mean to scare you.”)
I am not crazy, I just like the sound of talking where it would be expected in normal life. And if no one else is there to give it, I guess I need to provide both sides of the conversation aloud. I don’t even realize I’m talking until afterwards. And then I usually follow it up with a statement chastising myself for doing it (also out loud). Ok maybe it is weird, but I can’t really control it anymore. I guess it’s just a part of the magical transformation your body and mind go through after hiking alone for 4 months.
Had a couple great moments today too. The negative stories are more dramatic, and thus make the blog more interesting, but there’s always good stuff happening daily as well (if there wasn’t, I wouldn’t be out here!).
First off, I finally saw a moose! Not a dead carcass, like the skeleton I saw a couple days ago, but an actual live moose. It wasn’t very large, and was high atop Bemis Mountain, just before the crowded Lean-to. I startled her, and she ran up the ridge away from me before I was within 50 feet, but she was initially just chilling on the trail. I wasn’t able to get a photo, but it was very neat. Finally my animal sighting bingo card is complete.
Then, coming down from Bemis, just before the creek … trail magic! It was late, after 7pm, but Gandalf had told them I was coming so they waited for me too. Snowman and Teddy were the kind couple who fed us, and soon my gut was filled with hot dogs, bananas and soda. It was actually a big party, as Gandalf, Much Obliged, Treeline and Grits were all at the dinner feast as well. The hosts told us they drive up to this trail crossing (Bemis Mountain Road) twice a week all summer long, from over 70 miles away! They are incredibly caring and generous, and simply love to help out hungry hikers. I’ll say it again, the AT has the BEST community of support!
After that, the 5 of us hikers all headed to a big stealth campsite on the other side of Bemis Stream. Normally this is a river that requires fording, but it was easily crossable today on the rocks. Which was nice, as I didn’t want to end my long day with wet feet. Then we all quickly set up camp, hung our food bags (no one needed to cook dinner tonight!) and chatted into the evening. All of us are old friends by now, having spent multiple evenings camping together at one time or another this past month. Gandalf taught me a new trick to packing my pipe so it burns better, and we all watched and learned with amazement to see it actually worked. That 20 year old kid has a few old man tricks up his sleeves.
Side note, this was maybe the 4th time I’ve used it. A nice luxury item that has collected dust most of the trip.
Going to bed tonight by the river is great. It was a very hot day and I needed a sponge bath bad. It’s also great to have a crew with me here, as I like the company, especially in an area where I’m sure moose or other animals frequent at night. And best of all, I have the soothing sounds of rushing water to ease me to sleep. I guess Maine isn’t so bad sometimes.
Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!
- Start Mile: 1934.0
- Start Time: 07:25
- End Mile: 1956.5
- End Time: 19:45
- Miles Hiked: 22.5
- Miles to Go: 234.4
- Lodging: Bemis Stream Stealth Campsite
OK, so you talk to yourself out loud when hiking, sometimes providing both sides of the conversation… interesting! Then you catch yourself and chastise yourself for doing it… again, aloud! And you converse with animals and birds you see… do they have anything to say, after listening to your thoughts? …and you really can’t control it any more, telling yourself you’re not crazy, no less! Did the moose have anything to say? 😉 Had to ask!
Well, if it’s any consolation, Mike -I talk to myself around the house when I’m alone (most dayz). I cuss aloud when I can’t find something in my cluttered office, or I ask myself where the hell did I put that!
I didn’t think I talked to myself when hiking… but then I remembered… the bears! Mostly in grizzly country, I’m often talking to the bears… yo bear! beer here! better get outta here bear, com’in to get ya bear! You know all about that since you grew up on the trail with your dad. Yes, Happy talks to the bears too. Now if the bears aren’t talking back, I think we’re actually just talking to ourselves! Although I’m convinced they do hear me, and then avoid me. Black bears don’t worry me much, unless a female has cubs nearby, or when I’m hiking through a big, thick patch of berries… any kind of berries! I always carry bear spray for black bears and/or grizzlies.
I have some funny bear stories, and some scary bear stories, but I’ll save them to share over cold beers when your AT adventure is over. I’ve taken up too much space writing this comment already, so I’ll sign off and let you get back to more pressing things… like talking to that squirrel overhead! Oh yeah, I bet you’ll talk to your self up around Thoreau Spring as you approach the top of Katahdin… and you just seem to keep hiking toward the horizon, but it never gets any closer… ‘where the hell is the top?’ Yup, ‘just over the horizon!,’ you’ll respond to yourself.
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(Actually, I’m very happy to be “here” and not in Maine).
18 days to go until Glacier, and I can’t tell you how glad that it is not the AT.
I agree that the trail magic and support the AT community gives is fantastic, but after
looking at the Maine pictures, I think the magic evaporates pretty quickly for me.
Talking to yourself, the rocks, the animals, and to no one in particular is, as you know,
an established family trait. We have learned, through painful experience, that no one wants to listen to us anyway, so we might as well do it whenever we can.
Seriously, this terrain is incredible, and it’s only with a major leap in imagination, could I even consider applying the word “trail” to what I see. I know you’re being careful and cautious, but this terrain most have been chosen by a deranged map maker who was snacking on peyote chips. They could have, at least, dynamited some of this rock for thru hikers. Better yet, the poets or balladeers could end up crafting your whole adventure into a modern-day version of the Odyssey (viz. “Michael Neiman, intrepid explorer with steel nerves [but not-so-steel tendons & muscles], survives 1,000 death-defying ascents and descents on the Appalachian Death March”).
Take care – you’re almost there. Keep on truckin’
mom & Happy
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I have a little bit of Grandpa Mony in me when I backpack. Just a small corncob pipe at night from time to time … it’s a relaxing treat at times (though rare on his hike), it helps keep away the mosquitos 🙂