Day 142: Potaywadjo Spring Lean-to

Day 142. I had a lot of time to think today, more than usual actually. The 23 miles I hiked were basically all flat, with only a couple small mini climbs of a few hundred feet bookending the day. It was hot though, so any time the trail exited the green tunnel, the temperature instantly felt 15 degrees warmer.

Much of the trail walked around lakes and ponds today, so you felt the heat enough to notice it. I’m not complaining though, I wish this weather would last through the end of my hike. Spoiler alert for future posts, it won’t. The forecast calls for rain and thunderstorms all next week, starting Sunday. And my current schedule has me trying to climb Katahdin on Monday (sigh).

To combat the heat, we took many water breaks, and enjoyed a fantastic swim in Jo Mary Lake. By the time we got to the lake, it was late in the day and that swim was a life saver. The lake had a gradual entry along a spectacular sandy beach, and kept that sandy floor all the way out past the drop-off. The water was warm at the edge, and comfortably cool in the middle, so it was hard to leave. We swam there for a good hour, loathing the decision to eventually hike on.

It was only a couple more miles to the shelter after that, and by the time I got there, my shorts were dry again. Yeah, it was a hot day.

So anyways, lots of time to think. Perhaps a bit deliriously from the heat. While walking, I decided to rank the states of this hike from least to most enjoyable. I thought it would be fun to reminisce on my feelings over the past 5 months, and try to remember what I liked/disliked about the journey up America’s east coast. So, here’s my list, going only off the selected memories my partially dehydrated and heat exhaustion induced mind could recall:

AT States: Least to Most Favorite

  • N/A. New Jersey – Still haven’t hiked it, as I temporarily skipped those miles. But I’ll do them in late August and update this list with my to be determined opinions.
  • 13. Pennsylvania – No shock here, I wasn’t a fan. Even the nicer areas in the southern half (e.g. Boiling Springs) couldn’t outweigh the horrid rocks of the north. I had my worst day on the trail, coming out of Port Clinton in the rain, and dehydrated myself badly climbing out of the Lehigh Valley. The weeks of rain and rocks had minimal memorable highlights for me, and I doubt I’ll seek walking trails there again in the future.
  • 12. New York – I still need to make up some miles prior to Herndon State Park, but the majority of the section I did was rough. Steep staircase climbs, blown down trees EVERYWHERE from the recent tornado, and limited shelter options for comfort. It was great to have my dad out there with me for this, but the trail itself was relentlessly difficult. Maybe southern NY is better.
  • 11. West Virginia – It’s low on the list because I barely saw it. The 4 miles I hiked through and out of Harpers Ferry were nice, but didn’t add much to the weight of this trip so heavily memorable in other places.
  • 10. Connecticut – Not bad, but not great. I loved the small towns along the trail (e.g. Kent), but they were expensive stops. And although some nice mountain climbs were provided, the trail to the summits in this state were no cakewalk. I recall some tough descents on rocky ledges in this small section.
  • 9. North Carolina – It was a big deal when we first crossed into NC, but I don’t recall anything spectacular blowing me away in this state. Well, that’s not true. The Roan Highland area was amazing (and oh that Mountain Harbour Hostel!), and the many “balds” were fun to traverse in the strong winds … though I didn’t get to enjoy them too much, given how cold it was. It snowed too many times to count. I loved Hot Springs though, that was one helluva trail town. Maybe this one should be higher..,
  • 8. Georgia – The approach trail to summit Springer Mountain was ruined by rain, but the climb and summit of Blood Mountain made up for it. I made some good friends in Georgia that would become my hiking family for weeks, and loved the crowded social experience of meeting so many other hikers at once. The weather was great, and the top of Georgia Hostel was a nice way to end the section.
  • 7. Maine – I’m very torn on this one, so I purposely slapped it right in the middle of the list. I didn’t hate anything more than southern Maine. The only day I wanted to quit this trail was the one coming out of Andover (damn you, Moody Mountain!). I had some friends join, but it was tough on them, making it tougher on me too. But then you leave Rangeley (and the awesome Hiker Hut Hostel), and everything changes. It’s a beautiful trail, full of great swimming spots, spectacular views, and blueberry-topped summits. The 100-Mile Wilderness is legitimately the best hiking outside of Shenandoah National Park. I’m not sure why most books/blogs I’ve read in the past fail to highlight this so well … its probably because the authors have simply checked out by now. Plus, it has epic views of your final destination to guide you to the finish line. I like this part of Maine a lot.
  • 6. New Hampshire – Very difficult hiking, but countless rewards! The views from the summit of these rocky mountains outweigh the technical difficulty of the climbs to get there. The huts are a great asset, and a very fun experience … as both a guest and Work For Stay hiker. However, the Franconia Ridge, Presidential Range, and Wildcats are deadly in bad weather. I had some close calls, some painful falls, and some exhausting walks on those days where rain clouds covered you in a wet blanket of fog. Was Dartmouth in NH? I think so, and that stretch out of Hanover was great too.
  • 5. Tennessee – The Smoky Mountains are the real gem here, providing epic climbs and views from well-groomed trails and massive stone shelters. My first 3 days in the Smokies are some of my fondest memories hiking, with sunny skies and pleasant weather. Then the temperature fell 40 degrees and the skies dropped 2.5 feet of snow on us. However, the winter days were beautiful, and once I got a new sleeping pad, the nights were too. After the Smokies, the trail constantly criss-crossed with NC, but I can’t recall which day was where. Erwin had a nice movie theater, so that’s a tick in the pros column for TN too.
  • 4. Massachusetts – I loved the trails and shelters in MA. I don’t think I had as many issues with bugs here that others do, so I thoroughly enjoyed it. I really enjoyed Mt. Greylock, I saw my first bear, and I had great weather. I loved the half-day spent in Dalton (shout out to Huevos home town!), and who could forget my epic Climb of Insanity out of Cheshire.
  • 3. Maryland – Short and sweet. The civil war history was really pleasant to hike through, and the shelters were all very well maintained … most being fairly new. I loved the tiny stretch of trail in MD and plan to return to the many state parks and landmarks we passed through in the future.
  • 2. Virginia – Whereas most people quit in VA, I was re-energized by it. There were so many amazing areas in this 500 mile stretch, I barely recall them all! The Grayson Highlands, The Blue Ridge Parkway, McAfee Knob, Shenandoah National Park … the list goes on and on. I stayed at my favorite hostel (Woods Hole), and my least (Mountain Garden), and made many new friends along this stretch. And then there was lunch at The Home Place … mmmm, yum.
  • 1. Vermont – I loved Vermont. So much so that I want to come back and finish the rest of The Long Trail. I had some trouble with bugs, but the weather was mostly great and the trail was amazing. I never really experienced “ver-mud”, and loved traversing the many ski slope mountains. Killington and Manchestor Center were great town stops, and the walk into Hanover was beautiful. A+ time in VT.
  • And that’s the list! So much of this is based on the most prominent memories, the friends along the way, and the weather I experienced … but that’s ok. It’s all part of the journey and adventure that has made up this epic hike!
  • Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

    • Start Mile: 2119.5
    • Start Time: 07:05
    • End Mile: 2142.6
    • End Time: 17:00
    • Miles Hiked: 23.1
    • Miles to Go: 48.3
    • Lodging: Potaywadjo Spring Lean-to

    Day 141: Logan Brook Lean-to

    Day 141. It was peaceful and pleasant at our stealth site last night. For one thing, it was just us and no other sound. No creek, no roads/rails/cars/trains, and no other hikers. I pass a lot of SOBO hikers every day out here now, and they tend to be a bit loud around camp at night. Nothing to blame them for, as I remember when I was green and eager on the trail back in March. These first few weeks are so exciting and new, and i recall the desire to share it with new friends at night. I’m happy for them at the start of their own adventure, but the silence was also nice.

    In comparison, some kid tonight spent an hour setting up traps for mice and squirrels around the shelter. I didn’t have the patience to explain why this was inappropriate, nor the desire to ask what he’d do if he caught one. It was just loud and annoying and I did my best to ignore him. Hike Your Own Hike, I guess.

    Most SOBOs are very nice though. It is fun to pass them on the trail, as they are excited to chat and hear of what’s coming up. As Happy pointed out weeks ago, most NOBO hikers want nothing to do with friendly conversationalists on the trail … but not me. I still like to stop and talk, crack a joke, or ask about their first week. It’s just part of my personality, so it’s hard to turn it off.

    My hike today was tough but rewarding. I was warned this would be the most difficult day between Monson and Baxter State Park, and it didn’t disappoint. The morning consisted of climbing up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down the 4 Chairback Mountain peaks. They had some pretty rocky sections, sending painful memories of the Whites to my mind, but they were small and easily manageable in comparison.

    My feet and back were still beat up by lunch though, so I dropped my bag on the ground at Carl E. Newhall Lean-to and laid down exhausted. A quick 10 minutes of shut-eye, followed by a big calorie intake got me moving again around 3pm. Then it was up the quadruple peaks of White Cap Mountain. Not to be outdone by the Chairback range, they too offered impressively steep ascents and descents. However, this time the Maine ATC club had helped out, building some nice rock steps for most of the would-be difficult areas.

    Side note, most of the trail today was extremely well groomed. For most of the non-summit walking, it felt like easily the the best trail conditions in all of Maine. The 100-mile Wilderness … not really so wild after all.

    At the final summit of White Cap, we were greeted with a momentous view – the first up-close and clear view of Katahdin. We weren’t exactly sure if the giant peak in from of us was her, as it’s still 65 miles away by trail … but a group vote agreed it was too big not to be. Google maps swayed the vote by telling us it was only 25 miles away as the crow flies. So, if that’s true, it looks monstrous and beautiful. I tried pointing it out in the cover photo above.

    There was also another surprise atop most of today’s summits … blueberries! And lots of them. This time I filled up my cup and enjoyed a sweet afternoon snack in the sun. Man do I love me some mountain berries. Especially since I’m a bit light on snacks in my food bag this time.

    From here on out it is pretty flat and manageable, like gliding a plane in for landing. The last of the big challenges are behind me and only one more important one remains ahead. Over the next 3 days, I’ll get many more views of Katahdin from the small hills or lakes I traverse, as it comes closer and closer into view. Then, to the top!

    Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

    • Start Mile: 2097.0
    • Start Time: 07:15
    • End Mile: 2119.5
    • End Time: 18:30
    • Miles Hiked: 22.5
    • Miles to Go: 71.4
    • Lodging: Logan Brook Lean-to