Day 138: Monson, ME

Day 138. I wish I would have taken a photo of my shelter setup last night. I didn’t think of it until I had already packed up, but it was quite the sight. Picture this: me warmly nestled into my quilt in the far corner of the Lean-to, two ropes hanging above my feet with everything hung up to dry. socks, short, pants, underwear, shoes, rain gear, backpack … everything. It’s a good thing I put my gear inside a dry bag within my backpack, because that was soaked through as well. A backpack rain cover can only do so much in a storm of that magnitude.

But all is well! My extra clothes were dry, as was my quilt, so I slept great. Though, funny story … So, apparently I move around a lot while I sleep. I toss and turn often throughout the night, and doing so somehow causes my pad to shift down and to the left throughout the night. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night to find I am literally hanging a foot off the edge of the raised shelter floor, and gently rubbing up against the sleeping hiker next to me. I don’t understand how my rolling over can move me (and my bed) in the same direction every time, but it definitely does … constantly while I sleep. I’m usually able to reposition myself before any spooning happens with a neighbor, usually.

Last night was a packed shelter, so I warned Traveler not to be surprised, and to push me away if he wakes to find me invading his personal space. And not to get any romantic ideas! It’s a funny phenomenon that I can’t explain, though it does strengthen my reasoning for hammocking as often as possible. I woke up and moved myself back to the corner about 6 times throughout the night.

In the morning, i took my time getting ready. Everyone else was gone by 7am, but with such an easy day ahead of me, I casually packed and ate until 8. It was going to be a beautiful sunny day, and flat as a pancake as I followed a river to the town of Monson. I figured I would likely average over 3mph the whole way, so had no need to rush out early, and I was right.

The trail was as easy as I had seen the last couple day’s, but now with almost no elevation change. Maybe a 30 foot climb here or there, but that was really it. I did have to ford the river a couple times, but given the day’s heat, I did not mind at all. The cool water was refreshing on my bare feet and calves as I walked across, and they quickly dried again in the hot sun. There were supposed to be many of these river crossings in Maine, but the water has been so low thus far that I really haven’t had to walk across anything deep until now. There was one other ford crossing, and that was pretty much the excitement for the day. I had lunch at a shelter, then reached the highway to Monson around 2:30.

Monson is a small but heavily hiker-supported town. There are s few hostels, a general store/deli, gas station, and a couple restaurants (though both were closed today). I am staying at a huge hostel called Shaw’s, which can hold a couple dozen hikers indoors, and more in an overflow tenting area. And it’s full. I called yesterday to make a reservation and I’m glad I did, or I’d be tenting outside under my tarp.

Since this is the first town and resupply stop for SOBO hikers, Shaw’s is also a makeshift outfitter. Their barn is converted to a storefront, with every hiker food imaginable for sale inside. They also sell every piece of gear you could need, including backpacks, pads, bags, poles and more. I’m guessing they make a killing from the SOBO crowd wanting to swap out poorly chosen gear for lighter (more expensive) alternatives. Similar to Mountain Crossings back at Neels Gap in Georgia, where I eagerly dropped $160 for hiking poles (best purchase decision ever).

My bunkmates from last night’s shelter are also enjoying Shaw’s tonight, as well as some old familiar faces. We sat discussing the 100-mile Wilderness plan with each other and decided to all go through together. To finish this thing out as a group. Some of the group have been hiking together for most of the journey already, but me and some others decided to join in as well. In total, it will be me, Traveler, Honey, Moon, Candy, Mr. Perfect, and No Need. In addition, it seems likely Treefall, Stumbles, and Candyman will join as well, though they haven’t decided yet.

In addition, we are taking a Zero tomorrow. Besides it being our last trail town to rest in and enjoy, it’s going to thunderstorm all day. No thanks on that one, I’ve learned my lesson. We routed out the last 115 miles and realized that we can easily arrive at and summit Katahdin on July 23rd. If weather is bad that day, the 24th.

I’m looking forward to finishing with a group, as it was how I started this journey and it feels right to end it that way too. They are all very nice hikers, similar in style and age to me, so I’m glad to join them. I will likely still hike alone, unless our paces match, but there will at least be shelter company. We also agreed every dry night will be a campfire night … another thing I haven’t done too much since the start of this adventure. I feel good, I’m happy to be on the verge of finishing, but am very much looking forward to a last rest day tomorrow out of the rain.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 2058.5
  • Start Time: 08:00
  • End Mile: 2076.4
  • End Time: 14:35
  • Miles Hiked: 17.9
  • Miles to Go: 114.5
  • Lodging: Shaw’s Hiker Hostel

Day 137: Moxie Bald Mountain Lean-to

Day 137. That Sterling Inn was really nice. I had a tough time leaving this morning, and would have probably enjoyed taking a day off there. But by 8am I was antsy to get moving again, so I knew there was no point in delaying my departure further. Plus, there were scattered thunderstorms in the forecast today, and I thought it best to get ahead of any weather troubles out on the trail.

In retrospect, staying off the trail and Zeroing at the Sterling instead would have been significantly wiser.

The rain hit around 9am, a heavy and constant flow from the sky that saturated all my rain gear instantly. But I pushed onward, determined to get to the Pleasant Pond Shelter for a chance to dry off and snack. It was only a couple miles and I arrived around 10am, soaking wet but happy. To be honest, it wasn’t that bad hiking in the morning showers. The trail was nice and the rain helped mute the smell of fir trees that have been overwhelming me the past few days.

Fir trees are everywhere in the NE. They look a lot like pine trees or spruce trees, and provide the soft needles that layer the trail so kindly up here. They don’t smell like pine or spruce though, instead they give off a strong scent like that of a persimmon fruit. I used to like that smell, but not so much after weeks of it being the only odor for miles a day. So, some rain to dilute that nauseating scent was welcomed.

I took a nice long break in the shelter and the rain soon let up, so I walked on. Pretty soon, it clearer up completely, and the sun came out to greet me atop one of the 2 climbs in today’s hike. I laid my rain gear out to dry in the sun on the mostly exposed summit … and then I saw them.

Blueberries! Ripe, fresh, sweet and welcoming blueberry bushes lined the top of Pleasant Pond Mountain, just waiting to be picked. Mountain berries have a special place in my heart, so this required some immediate foraging. It wasn’t enough to fill up a bottle or anything, but I was able to collect a couple big handfuls and enjoyed my treat in the sun (photo above).

I walked slowly down the other side of the mountain (only a 1,500 foot elevation change over 5 miles), and then stopped for lunch at the next Lean-to before my final climb of the day. This was looking to be the nicest 20 mile day in weeks, I was feeling very good as I threw my pack on again, ready to head out. But then I heard thunder. And the sun very quickly fell behind grey skies.

Now, a much wiser man than me would either wait out an impending storm in the comfort of that shelter, or just call it a night and setup a bed right then and there. As you can probably guess, I was not that wiser man. I thought to myself, “Its only 4 miles up and over Moxie Bald Mountain to the shelter on the other side. I can do that in an hour and a half and be safe and dry, long before anything hits.”

I’ve been thinking I’d like to convert this blog to a book when I finish. If I do, I’m going to title it, “Wrong Again: What Not to Do on the Appalachian Trail.”

I’m seriously sorry in advance to my wife, parents, in-laws, and future children for what you will read next. It was an ignorant and stubborn decision that could have ended very badly (even if it does make for a good story). Today’s lesson is a simple one kids, if you hear thunder in the mountains … DO NOT CLIMB UP TOWARDS IT!!

It was just 2 miles up and 2 miles down. Easy peasy, I thought. It started to rain lightly about half way up, and when I reached the very exposed 2,800 foot summit, the thunder was much now deafening. The view atop the mountain was spectacular, and I could literally see the storm moving across the valley towards me (photo below).

Just then, I saw a flash of lightning in the distant storm cloud. Using the tried and true method of counting the seconds until thunder, I estimated the focus of the storm to be 8 miles away. Still, seeing lightning scared me enough to het moving. Unfortunately, this particular mountain has a nice 1 mile stretch of exposed summit .. which under normal circumstances would be beautiful, but for my current situation felt deadly. To be on a high peak, above tree line, watching a storm approach .. and carrying aluminum poles in each hand, was about as dangerous a situation as you could put yourself in out here.

I moved along the ridge, hastening my pace, but either my 8 mile estimate was way off or that storm moved fast. Five minutes later (still on the exposed ridge), the rain tripled its force, and added pea-sized hail to its now torrential downpour. I stopped to quickly put on my rain coat and looked up just as a bolt of lighting crashed through the sky, striking the ground not 100 feet from me. Thunder clapped at the same exact instant, and I knew without a doubt that I was now in very serious trouble. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen an actual lightning strike before, but I won’t forget that terror any time soon.

Now I was running. Full speed down the ridge of smooth granite slabs, desperate to get below tree line immediately. I had no concern for slipping on the wet rock, and although I fell twice, bounced up instantly and sprinted on. I ran past continuous rock cairns marking the path, through nonstop puddles of collected rain and hail stones, and amidst countless more booms of deafening thunder. Someone had pissed off these mountain gods, and they were taking their anger out on me.

After 15 minutes of sprinting, I was finally low enough to feel safe. Of course this was also when the storm started to clear, so I slowed my run to a light jog and tried to catch my breath. I had literally been on top for the very worst of it!

A mile later I walked into the Lean-to campsite, soaking wet but ecstatic to see room for me under the dry shelter. Sitting under the comfort of the roof, I hung all my clothes and gear to dry while I retold my daring stupid story to Traveler, Honey, Moon, and Candy that were already there. They had come in long before the storm, and kindly made room for me to sleep. A few hours later, 4 more NOBO hikers strolled in (Stumbles, Candyman, and two I don’t know). I seem to be the only moron in the group, as everyone else was wise/lucky enough to avoid that climb in a thunderstorm. Oops.

I cooked dinner and laid down to rest, thinking to myself that besides hiking through an electric storm, and nearly dying in the process … it was actually a pretty nice day. 🙂

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 2039.7
  • Start Time: 08:15
  • End Mile: 2058.5
  • End Time: 16:10
  • Miles Hiked: 18.8
  • Miles to Go: 132.4
  • Lodging: Moxie Bald Mountain Lean-to