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

Day 136: Caratunk, ME

Day 136. This northern Maine terrain is something else. A couple days ago, I’m trudging up impossibly steep mountains with nothing to hold on to, and now I’m running down well-groomed trails of soft needles. The Appalachian Trail sometimes, I just don’t know. Do I love it or hate it? More often the former, though too close to call some weeks.

My 10 mile hike today went way quicker than I expected. We didn’t actually get up in time for the sunrise, but I was packed up and on the go by 6:30. After that, it was a very casual and very swift romp through the woods in just 3 hours. I wasn’t even trying to speed, but I averaged nearly 3.5 mph the whole way by taking leisurely steps. It helped that most of the trail followed a flattened path around lakes and streams, providing almost no elevation change. And at times, there were even stretches with no rocks or roots to stub my toes on. I was amazed to realize I could look up and see the forest most of the time. That felt oddly unusual …

After passing many beautiful ponds and waterfalls, I quickly arrived at the Kennebec River around 9:30am. I was even able to stop and appreciate many of the woodland and waterway views as well. I was especially amazed at a section of the trail that walked along a man-made dam on the edge of Pierce Pond (below).

When I reached the river, I found a line of people all waiting for the ferry. At two passengers per voyage, it is not the most efficient vessel during rush hour. The ferry captain (canoeist) took people back and forth from one side to the other, battling the growing force of winds on the 500 foot wide river passage. The Kennebec is huge, especially where the trail crosses it, as it is the joining of both another river and an upstream lake. And it’s deep too, as I towed across, I saw the middle to be at least 15 feet deep. No, you cannot ford this river. And with the rushing speed of water and waves, you definitely can’t swim it either.

Unfortunately, not everyone respects the danger of this river. In talking to our captain, I learned someone did die already trying to swim it this year. Future hikers, don’t be dumb, don’t try to cross this river on your own. It is so dangerous in fact, that you have to sign a waiver form just to get in the canoe for your lift across.

One positive spin on this whole death trap thing though, the canoe ferry is officially considered part of the AT, as is signified by the white blaze on the bottom of the boat. If you want to be pure to every inch of the trail, the ferry is the trail to take. I had to get a picture of that (below) before thanking our oarsman and moving on (cover photo).

After that, it was a nice leisurely walk up a short hill to “town”. The township of Caratunk is basically a few houses (one of which is a Hostel), a B&B, and a couple white water rafting companies. Each rafting company has a restaurant/bar attached to it, but all these structures are a few minute’s drive from each other. I tried to get a bed at the Caratunk House hostel, the one place within walking distance … but they were full. So, instead I am lodging at the Sterling Inn B&B a few miles south. Both were nice, though the latter is definitely a step up for roughly the same price. I decided to splurge and get a private room fo $45 instead of a bed in the shared bunk room for $30. The trip is almost over, I think I can pamper myself a bit now.

The Sterling Inn is very nice, and has its own little general store for resupply to boot. They sell everything a thruhiker could need, and at decent prices, so I bought a couple days of food for my next leg of the hike. Only 2 days to Monson and the entry point of the 100-mile wilderness. After shopping, I took a leisurely nap, watched some TV, and jumped on a shuttle to the Kennebec Brewery for dinner. Decent food, fantastic beer … but crowded with rafting tourists.

The night ended with a group viewing of the final film of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in the Inn’s living room … I won’t waste your time explaining why this franchise is an AT hiker favorite, as any of my readers can surely see the similarity of my hike to Frodo’s march on Mordor and Mt. Doom. Seriously, it’s a great comparison and every AT hiker knows it well.

After the past week, Caratunk was a welcomed day of rest and relaxation. My ankles and knees needed a break to strengthen up again, and my soul needed some hot food and cold beer to recharge. Tomorrow morning I head out again, and I feel ready to take on what’s next. Only 150 miles to go! Inching forever forward, one day at a time….

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 2029.4
  • Start Time: 06:25
  • End Mile: 2039.7
  • End Time: 09:30
  • Miles Hiked: 10.3
  • Miles to Go: 151.2
  • Lodging: Sterling Inn (Caratunk, ME)

Day 135: East Carry Pond

Day 135. Big day today. Bittersweet day today. Big bittersweet day today. I climbed my last big mountains, I saw my end goal, I fell more, I made a rookie planning mistake, and I experienced a perfect evening at a new favorite campsite.

But first things first. Last night I mentioned the search and rescue team that came in looking for a hiker. Well, early this morning I learned that she was indeed found about an hour later, atop the exposed Bigelow West Peak. She fell and hurt her ankle badly around 5pm and couldn’t hike down from the alpine summit. Not sure if I was broken or just badly sprained, but when they reached her around 11pm they bandaged her up and stayed with her until the morning. The rescue team considered carrying her down, but it must have been pretty bad because they called in a helicopter to med-evac her instead. Everyone within 10 miles heard the helicopter come in, so word of the story spread among hikers quickly. Sounds like all is well, and hopefully she isn’t too badly injured. Crazy experience though. If it makes the local papers, I’d like to read up more.

I learned most of this while I too was at the summit of Bigelow and then Avery mountains (about 1 mile apart). Like I said, word spread fast. At the summit of both were a handful of people either heading south or day-hiking, and I sat chatting for some time. A very nice mother and daughter sat with me for some time, and gave a nectarine and turkey sandwich to me. Fresh fruit?! Real meat?! I was in heaven.

But I was also a bit sad, as I knew these were the last big mountains on my hike until Katahdin. Both were over 4,000 feet … but after today, I won’t rise much above 3,000 feet elevation again until Katahdin. There is one section towards the end that gets above treeline (White Cap Mountain), but that appears to be it. Oh well, that should make for better trail/hiking conditions.

I also had a great moment at Bigelow’s summit, when I saw my destination for the first time in the distance! There was a time earlier that it was supposedly visible, but this time I saw her myself. Katahdin is within sight! As you can tell in the photo above, I was slightly excited. Slightly…

I did fall twice today though. That was annoying. I mean, come on! I was so graceful for so long, then NH and Maine come along and turn me into a clumsy clod. Ugh, sooooooooo frustrating. The first fall was coming down Avery, and only scratched the palm of my hand a bit. But the 2nd, time … owe. Little Bigelow is a small peak after you get down from the big ones, and I took a bad step on a small rocky area of the descent. One of those ankle breaking steps I just talked about. But instead of letting it snap my ankle, I somehow knew to let myself fall to the side instead (#LeanIn). Unfortunately, that brilliant thinking led to painful results. There was nothing to soften my fall but more pointy rocks, and I banged myself badly in multiple places. Thankfully nothing broken, but my legs are grossly scratched up again. I threw my poles in anger and screamed, “COME ON!” to nobody.

I seriously don’t get it! I don’t think the trail is that much harder right now, in fact it’s mostly quite pleasant in this part of Maine. But I think my ankles have loosened too much or its simply gone to my head. Like a professional athlete with a bad case of the yips.

Maybe I need to just accept it. Falling is simply a part of me now, and I need to anticipate it and embrace it. So, I brushed myself off (painfully) and told myself I can handle a fall or two. That I won’t let this trail beat me. And I meant it. The AT will not break me, not so close to the end.

… Then I had to go retrieve my poles, angrily, which were 20 feet down the side of the slope.

When I arrived at the West Carry Pond Lean-to at 5:30, I realized I had made a huge mistake in my planning of this day. I put in 18 miles already today, with some tough climbs … but stopping here put me in a pickle tomorrow. I would be 14 miles from the Kennebec River, which can only be crossed by “ferry”. It is extremely dangerous and stupid to attempt to ford the Kennebec. Remember those times playing Oregon Trail as a kid? When you choose to ford the river, only to see your wagon sink? And then learn you lost 3 oxen, 4 bags of clothing, and that little Jimmy died?!

Well, this is basically the place where real-life Oregon Trail outcomes occur. People have lost gear or even died by foolishly trying to ford swim the Kennebec. It’s over your head in the middle, and an upstream dam can release rushing water quickly without warning. This is why a volunteer uses a canoe to bring people across during hiker season. But this “ferry” only runs from 9am to 2pm. Hiking 14 miles by 2pm, even in good conditions, would be risky timing. I didn’t like the chances of arriving in time, and missing it would mean I have to wait until the next day. I don’t have a spare day right now to wait for a ferry.

So, long story short, I hiked on. I decided to go an extra 3.7 miles to the East Carry Pond, and setup camp at a well-established stealth spot near a sandy beach. I did those 3.7 miles in under 90 minutes (hurray for flat trails!) and soon found the campsite.

And what a campsite! This pond is actually a huge lake with private cabins and boats on it, and the beach was incredible. Not too big, but with clean white sand at a low-grade entry, which allowed for a pleasant late-night swim and bath. If I could own a summer home in Maine, this is where it would be.

A trio of ladies are here as well, who hiked the AT a few years ago when they retired. They came out for a week of hiking together in Maine and made sure to include a night here, their favorite spot. I thanked them for letting me share it with them, and we all sat on the beach, watching the sky darken as the sun set behind us. We agreed to wake up early tomorrow and watch the sun rise over the water together as well. This place is something special.

I feel much better hiking 10 miles from here to the ferry by 2pm. Especially if I’m starting just after sunrise. On the other side of the Kennebec River is the town of Caratunk and a planned hostel/resupply stop.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 2007.8
  • Start Time: 08:15
  • End Mile: 2029.4
  • End Time: 19:30
  • Miles Hiked: 21.6
  • Miles to Go: 161.5
  • Lodging: East Carry Pond stealth site

Day 134: Horns Pond Lean-tos

Day 134. Big day today! As you can tell in the enthusiastic photo above, someone has reached a big milestone on their Appalachian Trail journey. Spoiler alert, it’s me. Your humble and obedient blogger, Sharkbait, has officially put 2,000 miles under his feet on his way from Springer Mountain to Katahdin.

Ok, so that photo was actually closer to the 2015 mile mark, but no one had put sticks on the ground at the real place, and I forgot to do it too. So a few miles later, an old signpost did just fine to commemorate the moment for me.

Today was a nice hike. Not as good as yesterday, as the open ridgeline walks were gone again, but still very pleasant. With a few exceptions, today’s trail was very well groomed. Wide, soft, and sans obstruction. There were a few steep areas on Crocker’s south and north peaks, and again coming up from the Highway 27 crossing into the Bigelow mountains, but nothing as bad as Maine gave me a few days ago (screw you, Moody Mountain!). Oh and the mosquitos were bad, but manageable.

Overall it was a pleasant day hiking. I opted not to go into the town of Stratton at the Highway, and instead hiked the 5 more miles up Bigelow Mountains to the Horns Pond Lean-tos. I didn’t need a hotel again so soon, and I’m good on food supply for a couple more days … but it was a hard temptation to pass up nonetheless.

I arrived at the shelter area pretty early and was impressed with the condition. This campsite is huge, complete with 3 shelters structures, 2 brand new privies, and a half dozen tent areas next to a gorgeous pond. A caretaker stays here during peak season, and he/she has done a wonderful job with the whole area. There are even big plastic buckets with secure lids at each tent site for your food. No need to hang my food bag tonight, nice.

A few other weekend campers are here with me, and I sat at the Pond with them for a while when I first arrived. The 3 of them were very nice, and asked me many questions about my experience over the next hour. While chatting, I took a dip in the cool water, gave myself a much needed bath, then sun bathed on the rocks. It was, simply put, a GREAT way to end the day.

We then all ate dinner together, where I learned that they are part of a volunteer group that helps maintain the AT and it’s wilderness conservation in Maine. They had plenty of stories to share as well, and I enjoyed hearing about their passionate work to maintain these hiking lands as I ate. We also swapped animal stories. They liked my late night bobcat encounter back in PA.

I never did see the caretaker, but if I do tomorrow, I will commend him/her on the fine privy craftsmanship. These two pig toilets are immaculate. Shiny, odor-free, and overlooking an incredible view. Who knew a toilet could be so impressive!

As it was still early, I worked on last week’s video after dinner. I know this one may be confusing to follow for those who didn’t follow along on the blog during the week … but hey, that’s not my fault. Sure I was in Gorham, then the AT, then back in Gorham, then back on the AT where the pictures left off the day before … but viewers will just have to read my story to learn why. (Answer: Appalachian Trail 1, My loyal Friends 0). I’ll try to post it tomorrow.

Tomorrow also brings the South Horn, Bigelow, and Avery Mountains. They look steep in my guidebook, but I already climbed up most of the elevation today. And I hear it is a lot of fine ridge walking again, so that sounds nice.

Oh, and no, I didn’t pee on that awful family last night. But in chatting with the other guy who tented in the area too … he agreed I should have.

… Ok, sorry to end on a scary note, but just as I finished typing this up, a search and rescue team walked into camp. It’s about 9:30pm, and apparently a hiker named Jennifer activated her SPOT device (emergency locator beacon) just north of here, near the top of South Horn. They were hoping for information from SOBOs, who may have last seen her. I stepped out to talk and help, but didn’t have much to offer. They thanked me for what information I could share (mainly that she wasn’t here and I hadn’t seen her), and continued on. It’s late and dark, and that’s a scary situation for an emergency in the woods, but I hope this hiker is found quickly and safely.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1989.2
  • Start Time: 07:40
  • End Mile: 2007.8
  • End Time: 17:10
  • Miles Hiked: 18.6
  • Miles to Go: 183.1
  • Lodging: Horns Pond Lean-tos

Day 133: Spaulding Mountain Lean-to

Day 133. Full disclosure, I finished and scheduled last night’s blog before I actually got back to the hostel. There was no cell service there, so I assumed I’d go right to bed after my outdoor shower. Not the case!

We had an awesome campfire until after 10pm, and it was fantastic! After my fun outdoor shower, a bonfire was lit by the guests. The owners of the hostel, Steve and Cathy, made popcorn for us, then brought out a guitar and asked if anyone played. I said I did and would be happy to play as long as people wanted, which ended up being late into the night. Besides me, there were 9 others congregating around the fire, and everyone joined in singing songs at one point or another. It was a perfect evening and one I’ll surely never forget. As I went to bed, Cathy joked that this hostel has always reminded her more of a rustic summer camp … being a camp guy myself for years, and still sitting at the fire, I told her I couldn’t agree more.

Side note, contrary to my confusion yesterday, Steve and Cathy do have a “home” on site. But it’s no more than a 1-room cabin next to the unattached 1-room kitchen. The whole property is just timyb1-room buildings and flower gardens . You can see their home in the pic below. From left to right is their bedroom, kitchen, hiker bunk house.

Then, guess what happened when I woke up this morning? I had the BEST day in Maine! It’s true, all the whining and complaining (mostly out loud to myself) the past week was all forgotten, as today brought a fantastic day of hiking again.

Beautiful trails, incredible summit views, a mile of gorgeous ridge walking in the sun, and even a waterfall. When I think back to this state of my journey, I know I’ll think fondly of today. Before lunch, I had scaled Saddleback Mountain, The Horn, and Junior Saddleback’s peaks … each providing breathtaking views in all directions. In fact, from the top of Saddleback, you could even make out Mt. Washington to the south and (supposedly) Katahdin to the North. I couldn’t see the latter, as it’s still 200 miles away … but they say it can be seen.

Some other fun anecdotes today. The Piazza Rock Lean-to privy had an interesting feature, so I learned. If you ever feel like pooping in the woods AND playing cribbage with a friend … this is the place for you! I’d love to meet anyone who actually attempted a game, haha.

Also, found some blueberry bushes on the summits today. They were not ripe yet, but they are getting close. Maybe a few weeks away from good fruit. Another alpine berry was starting to bloom there also, which may have been crowberries, but I’m not sure. I have only seen those in Alaska, but they looked and tasted close to the same. Don’t worry, they weren’t anything poisonous.

I also had a fun rest-stop at the Poplar Ridge Lean-to. This is one of the oldest shelters on the trail and is known for its informative binder of Q&As that accompany the registry. A volunteer built it up over his 50+ years of maintaining the trail in this area, and he had a good sense of humor. There are nearly 75 responses to hiker inquiries over the years, my favorite being #18 pictured below. Affirmative action mosquitos … brilliant.

Only a couple problem areas today. One was my 7th fall, which was totally my fault. I lost the trail (per usual) near the waterfall, and was using my Guthook app’s GPS to find it. But I was also walking, and I stepped on a loose rock, causing a rough stumble down the dirt hill. I scraped up my leg a bit, but nothing too serious. So, I yelled at myself (out loud of course), cleaned the leg as best I could in the stream, and hiked on.

The other annoyance today came at the end. When I arrived at the Spaulding Mountain Lean-to, another group of teenage girls were here. A different group than before, but still annoying as they took up all the camping areas in front of the lean-to. But that wasn’t the worst of it, I found a secluded place to string up my hammock about 50 yards behind the shelter and then went to get water. When I came back, a loud and obnoxious family of 3 had decided to setup their tent RIGHT NEXT TO ME.

I mean, come on. There were at least a dozen other tent sites between me and the shelter. Why go next to me?? And I’m not kidding, their tent is literally 3 feet from the end of my hammock. When I walked up, they jokingly said, “we hope you don’t mind, we couldn’t find another place.” I thought to myself, that I would be happy to find them one … most likely in the creek, where I wanted to throw their tent (with them inside) into.

I’m a nice, inviting, friendly and social guy … but this is seriously invading my personal space. They loudly ate their dinner on a log between our tents (no joke, 1 foot away from me) and then loudly “went to bed”. I write that in quotes because they proceeded to talk, giggle, bicker, and make loud movement noises on air mattresses for the next 2 hours. I can hear every word of their conversation, and every breath they exhale as I write this.

A really crummy way to end such a nice day. I was wrong to think that teenage girls would be the problem here. This married couple with their 25 year old daughter all sharing a small 3 person tent, close enough for me to pee on them, are. Hmm, maybe I should do that. A little late night revenge pee? It’s better than my other dark homicidal thoughts right now…

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1970.5
  • Start Time: 07:30
  • End Mile: 1989.2
  • End Time: 18:10
  • Miles Hiked: 18.7
  • Miles to Go: 201.7
  • Lodging: Spaulding Mountain Lean-to

Day 132: Rangeley, ME

Day 132. I awoke this morning very rested. I usually have a good night of sleep when in my hammock, but last night was especially comfortable. It may have been the hot dogs last night, it may have been the soothing river sounds, but I slept like a baby. I did hear something big clomping around the campsite just before bed though … moose again!

In the morning, I had a quick, cold breakfast and then headed out for the day. I only had to get to the town of Rangeley by 4pm, 14 miles away, so it wasn’t going to be tough. After a mile or so, I got a nice glimpse of Rangeley on its lakes in the distance and took a photo (below). The next 4 miles were very easy, as a soft and wide trail wove around the massive Moxie and Sabbath Ponds to a lean-to on the other side. At the shelter, I had my typical morning snack (trail mix, snickers, fruit leathers), filled up on some water from the lake and then headed out again.

The rest of the day was equally nice terrain. I traversed a couple hills so small that they didn’t have names, and eventually made it to another big lake called South Pond. I noticed a few cabins sprinkled along the edge of the ponds today, which I thought would be nice to own for someone who lived up here. If I could drive to a house on a secluded lake, I may appreciate Maine a bit more.

The only real problem today was the bugs. Although not terrible, I combatted mosquitos and horseflies most of the day that were attempting to harvest their winter blood stores from me, and most were successful. It was a hot day again so my DEET kept sweating off, but I managed to survive with the help of my head net and arm sleeves. With all the stagnant lakes and creeks in this part of Maine, that may become daily wardrobe going forward.

I arrived at the highway to Rangeley at 2:30, with plenty of time to spare. It’s 20 miles to town, and not a great location to attempt to hitch, but about 1/5 of a mile up the road is a hostel called The Hiker Hut. Besides being a way to get a ride to town, this hostel is also a very unique place to stay. As they describe themselves, the Hiker Hut is a “restful sanctuary along the Sandy River with flower gardens, hummingbirds, and pet chipmunks”. It is more like a tiny community than a hostel. They have a property of land with gardens and decorations all over, a bunk house, a couple private cabins, an outhouse, and an outdoor propane-heated shower … but not much else. No plumbing, no electricity, no cell service, nada. I assume the two caretaker/owners have a house on the property somewhere too, but I did not see it. I did see a tent at the entryway … perhaps they live in nylon year round? I’ll have to ask tomorrow. I arranged for a bed in the bunkhouse at $25, which also gets me a free shuttle to town, shower, and laundry. Then I hopped on the 3pm shuttle to downtown Rangeley.

Rangeley is a “big” tourist town, and it was crowded. They have a couple outfitters, restaurants, ice cream shops, and gift shops to accommodate all the hikers, skiers, bikers, and kayakers that come through each weekend, and all were packed today. I grabbed an early dinner with Much Obliged at a sports bar, enjoyed an ice cream shake (below), then watched some ducks floating on the lake. It was peaceful and relaxing, even if in a bustling trail town.

The shuttle came back for us at 7pm, which was much later than I would have liked. But without cell service, there’s no way to call and ask for an earlier pickup. I suppose I could have hitched back, but didn’t see a strong need. I took a late shower, hopped in bed and called it a night. The next 3-4 days are supposed to be tough, with some steep 4k peaks to get over (Saddleback, Spaulding, Crawford, Bigelow). But after that it should be smooth sailing. I’m on a tight schedule now, so no more Zero days or Nero days if I want to make it to Katahdin by the 24th.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1956.5
  • Start Time: 07:35
  • End Mile: 1970.5
  • End Time: 14:30
  • Miles Hiked: 14.0
  • Miles to Go: 220.4
  • Lodging: The Hiker Hut

Day 131: Bemis Stream

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

Day 130: Andover, ME

Day 130. Had a great day today. It was a short day, as I decided not to alter my original plan of stopping in Andover, even though I just had a hostel stay 2 nights ago. But I had to come in either way to get my resupply box, so I made it a casual 8-mile Nero Day and took my time both getting up and hiking.

There were some rough mountains today though, as Maine continues to show off it’s treacherous climbs and steep summits. Baldpate Mountain’s West and East peaks were way up there. Following yesterday’s crazy climbs, this was not too hard, but it was seemingly non-stop for miles. I felt like I was climbing up the largest rock in America. Not rocks, rock. It was like one giant rock 3,800 feet high and smooth as a baby’s bottom on both sides. Not the easiest hiking, as that makes for more of the sheer/steep trail I rue, but it was at least above alpine line for a long stretch that gave breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.

After the summits, the trail followed a stream down towards Dunn Notch, which created some excellent waterfalls and swimming holes. I arranged for a ride to town from a dayhiker I met early in the day, and knew I had a couple hours to kill before she would reach the parking lot at the bottom. So I decided to take a short side trail (0.2 miles) to Upper Dunn Falls, a hidden gem of a swimming hole that resembles something you’d see in the movies. I hadn’t seen many people today, so was looking forward to a private dip in the cool water while basking in the hot sun. As I approached the hidden falls though, I heard the most disheartening sound a 37 year old man could hear in this setting … teenage girls. A troop of 15 or so middle school aged girls had all dropped their backpacks and had taken over the creek with their screams and giggles.

Being wise enough to avoid that scenario at all costs, I made an immediate u-turn and went back to the AT’s familiar white blazes. I followed the creek a mile further to the road, and was pleased to find another awesome swimming spot waiting for me just before the end … and this one was empty. Score! I dropped my back and sat in the cool water for a spell, letting the day’s pain wash away with a huge smile on my face. Here’s a pic of my special place.

After drying off, I went up the parking lot and road. While waiting for the dayhiker to arrive, a truck drove by and offered me a lift to town. Preferring not to wait another couple hours, I hopped in and thanked the driver for the offer. He took me to downtown Andover 8 miles away, which is a 1/2 block stretch of 4 or 5 buildings, but ripe with good food offerings. I had lunch at a really nice place called the Red Hen, then walked to the hostel down the road.

The Pine Ellis Hostel in Andover is an interesting place. Not bad, per se, but I’m also not sure I would recommend this to too many other hikers either. The house is old, with a lot of old signs and rules, but the bedrooms and beds are nice, clean and comfortable. However … if they tell you that the only available beds are in the rear overflow bunkhouse, keep walking. That is a converted garage that smells like mildew and looks like a murderer’s workshop. You can do worse (The Dungeon), but you can DEFINITELY do better.

Other than that, the hostel is fine. They charge a lot for shuttle rides to Walmart or the trailheads, and the 4 elderly people jointly managing it are a bit odd, but also very friendly. There is a nice porch out front where we all sat, enjoyed a few beers, and compared strategies for the next few days. I am a bit behind schedule, but think I can make up a day easily before the 100-Mile Wilderness (assuming I don’t lose a day for storms or other unplanned reasons). #fingerscrossed

A big group of us are all in town, most here with me, but others also tenting for free behind the Red Hen restaurant. About 8 of us in total. We all went to dinner together at the small diner inside the General Store, taking up the whole bar area available, then all retreated back to our alerting quarters. After doing laundry and organizing my resupply box, I’m going to get to bed early now. I want to try for at least 20 miles tomorrow, so scheduled a 7am shuttle in the morning.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1926.0
  • Start Time: 07:45
  • End Mile: 1934.0
  • End Time: 12:05
  • Miles Hiked: 8.0
  • Miles to Go: 256.9
  • Lodging: Pine Ellis Hiker Hostel

Day 129: Baldpate Lean-to

Day 129. Another visiting group has come and gone, and I’m back on the trail alone. I’ve been so fortunate with the friends and family that were willing and able to join me on my hike, it truly has made a world of difference to enjoying this adventure fully. I may possibly have company for Katahdin, but otherwise I’m hiking solo the rest of the way, and although all my guests were fantastic, I’m also looking forward to enjoying the solitude and camaraderie of other thruhikers over these last 3 weeks.

Speaking of other hikers, man I’m seeing a lot of them lately. Mostly Southbounders, whose bubble I appear to now be in. I met at least a dozen thruhikers going south today! It’s funny to think they are just starting, while I’m on the home stretch with the end in sight. Almost makes me want to turn around and hike back to Georgia with them after I finish!

Getting back to the trail wasn’t too bad today. The rental car could just barely handle the paved logging road at 15 mph, but my friends got me within a mile of the Carlo Col Trailhead around 9am. It ended too quickly, but it was a great 3 days with Los Tres Gatitos. We said our goodbyes and then I headed back into the woods again.

The weather today is perfect. High 60s and sunny, with minimal wind. I didn’t necessarily need to hike as far as I did today, but it was so nice I enjoyed the additional time on the trail. It took me about an hour to hike the 3 miles back to the AT, and I marveled at how much lower the creek was from yesterday. There were st least 3 places where crossing caused severe wet boots 24 hours ago … but now, not a one. I bounded back up the mountain in an hour and was putting official miles under my feet by 10am.

The trail was decent today, with great views, but with a ton of steep climbs to get to them. Many areas had ladders or steps drilled in the rock to help you scale the boulder faces safely, and it was slow going at first. But eventually I put Mt. Carlo, Fulling Mill Mountain, and all 3 summits of Goose Eye Mountain behind me.

Then it was time for Mahoosic. The dreaded, scary, deadly, Mahoosic Notch and Arm.

Which, ended up being nothing dangerous at all and just a really nice hike! The Mahoosic Notch was a ton of fun, as I maneuvered through the giant boulder field with care and ease. This Notch is so unique in that it’s trapped in a low valley with limited access to the elements. The temperature is much cooler, with chilly air coming up from below the boulder field, and ice cold water pouring out to drink from in some areas. Seriously, it was the coldest water I’ve had on the whole trail, and it was spectacular. There were even patches of snow on the ground in areas that clearly never see the light of day! They say this is the toughest or most fun mile of the trail, and it was definitely the latter. It took me an hour to get through all those crevices and tunnels, but I loved it!

Still, it would have been much harder and dangerous if wet, so I agree with all the recommendations of waiting out bad weather and doing this section on a dry day … as well as the mountain (Mahoosic Arm) that follows.

The Arm is another steep super climb up to a summit, lined with sheer rock slabs the whole way. It is so steep and smooth that it would be near impossible if wet, so I again secretly my friends for their desire to avoid it yesterday. Instead I got to enjoy it comfortable today, and enjoy it I did. The views at the top were amazing and well worth the challenge.

After that, it was a slow and steady walk down to Grafton Notch, where I just missed a chance at trail magic. Passing SOBOs gave me the heads up of the awaiting food, but I must have arrived too late, as nothing was there. Oh well, this was a nice day, so I didn’t feel the need for any magic anyway. There was a huge wooden AT symbol on the road though, which was a neat surprise, so I took a photo (above). Also, I was offered a can of beer from a dayhiker earlier as well, so I had that to look forward to with my dinner later.

After a few more miles uphill, I arrived at the Baldpate Lean-to. In Maine, they call them Lean-tos instead of Shelters for some reason, though the setup is exactly the same. Only difference is the name, which is odd. Much Obliged is here at the Lean-to, as is another NOBO I’ve heard about named Manimal. That guy is a character, I’m glad I met him as he is a fun storyteller and goofy guy. There are others here as well, but none I know by name.

I made up some miles today from this past week’s double audible, but I’m still 8 miles behind schedule. Easy to make that up, so I’m not worried. My estimates have me summiting Katahdin exactly as planned on the 24th, but I’m thinking I will likely shave a day off my plan in the upcoming 100 mile wilderness. So it’s more likely I’ll arrive at Baxter State Park the evening of the 22rd. This is good, as it gives me a couple chances to hold out for a beautiful day for my final climb up the northern terminus. Fingers crossed for a good weather day!

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1909.6
  • Start Time: 09:00
  • End Mile: 1926.0
  • End Time: 19:40
  • Miles Hiked: 16.4 (+3.0)
  • Miles to Go: 264.9
  • Lodging: Baldpate Lean-to