June 13 ~ Daicey Pond Campground at milepoint 7.6 south, 1 days since start of hike, averaging 7.6 miles per day
Jake and I climbed Mt. Katadhin today - the northern terminus of the AT. There was no brass band to greet us but we heard the fanfare anyway. It felt like a big deal because here at the very top (5,250 ft.) we would walk past the first set of white blazes that mark the Appalachian Trail from here to Georgia.
The day began with the ringing of the loudest motel phone I have ever heard, signaling our wake-up call at 5 a.m. The Best Western in Millinocket, Maine is as close as we could get to the park and still find a bed to sleep in, and that left us with at least an hour of morning drive to Baxter State Park. The Rangers recommend an early start because the climb is a long one.
Climbing out of bed at that hour was no mean feat either. I felt torn between the need to finish a letter back to the office with final requests for my assistant, who will try to maintain order with my law practice while it goes into suspended animation for six months, and the intense desire to huddle under the covers for a few more minutes with Beth. We celebrate our twentieth anniversary this year - can you believe we are going to have to do it on the Trail) probably in some rural outpost in Virginia)? I knew that saying goodbye to her was going to be vary hard and saying goodbye to Lily, our thirteen year old was going to be equally hard. She had begun to feel some sadness about our departure during the last few days before the hike. And it was hard. As we all piled out of the car at Abol Campground for the start of our climb up Katahdin, Beth, Lily, Jake and I tried to lighten the mood with humor but there were tears as well. A full round of farewell kisses and hugs - - long hugs - - then a few more, and we were off. Jake and I had already said our good byes to Jessica, my 29 year old daughter, who lives in Florida and who just got married two weeks ago; she is now embarked on her own happy adventure as a newlywed.
Jake and I left our back packs at the ranger station at Katahdin Stream Campground and took day packs up the Abol Trail, the steepest climb I have ever done. The last mile and a half - - above tree line - - is all rock and jangly boulders pitched at an angle that occasionally leads to minor rock slides. We could have taken the longer but less steep Hunt Trail, but that trail is the AT, and we wanted to save the poetry of our first steps onto the Trail for the peak of Mt. Katadhin.
We found half a dozen people at the peak, and another half dozen arrived while we were there. God blessed us with mild weather and only a very slight haze, so the views on every side were extraordinary. A wilderness of lakes and forest stretching to Canada greeted us. The brass plaque at the summit told of the gift of this land in 1931 by Percival Baxter, to be forever a "sanctuary for wild beasts and birds." I was hoping we would see more of the birds than the beasts. But I could see that the first leg of our journey - - the 100-mile wilderness is what it is called - - looked quite undeveloped. In fact the only outpost of civilization visible from the peak was a finger of smoke from the paper mill back in Millinocket.
And so we began with our first steps on the Trail. The way down seemed no less steep than the way we came, though it was definitely longer. Climbing down steep rocks is in some ways harder then climbing up, perhaps because of the element of uncertainty about the footing below.
I stumbled my way down the mountain as best I could. Jake on the other hand, seemed to be dancing over the rocks like a mountain goat. I say "seemed" because for most of the day he was a distant figure - - far ahead of me until we stopped for water breaks together.
I reminded myself throughout the day that Jake is 19, and I am not. At age 53 I should not expect myself to keep up with him. My main problem, however, is not age but clumsiness. It usually takes me a few days of hiking until I regain that unique sense of balance that trail hiking (perhaps it should be called "rock dancing") requires - - the mountain equivalent of sea legs. Until then, however, with my two hiking poles flailing, my gait resembled that of a wounded elk who has been badly over-medicated.
I finished the day thankful that I had suffered only a few scrapes and no fatal or even seriously debilitating injuries. We picked up our packs from the ranger station and plodded on for another couple of miles to a campground where we found a lean-to reserved for AT thru-hikers.
I asked Jake if he was excited about completing the first day of our journey and he nodded - like me, too tired for animated conversation. Yet excitement only begins to describe the feeling of starting an adventure that had been on out minds for so many years.
7:15 am - Katahdin Stream CGD. We are here! Tine to drop off our packs at the ranger station and drive back to the Abol trail to begin.
8:00 am - Abol Stream CGD. Ready to start hiking and say our good byes. It is good to finally be off. I will miss Lily and Beth greatly.
12:35 pm - Baxter Peak. We made it! This is where it all officially begins. It feels very strange to only start our hike after a days hard climb. Abol Trail was steep and difficult; we were glad we left our packs at the campground. Once we got to Thoreau Peak, though, our reward was sweet: flat land and sunshine. We had a pleasant lunch on Baxter Peak - the flat bread worked nicely - and met a friendly gentleman from Quebec and a young man who was beginning a month-long hike on the AT.
Miles on Abol Trail: 3.8 Miles on Appalachian Trail: 0 "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
Early evening - somewhere on the way to Daicey CGD. The climb down from Katadhin was somewhat difficult and particularly hard on our feet, but it eventually leveled out and became very easy on the way to Katahdin Stream CGD. We picked up our packs and filtered some water, and now we are on our way to Daicey Pond CGD. Dad left his camera behind though, so I am waiting here while he returns to get it. I am hungry.
Slightly later evening - Daicey Pond CGD. We arrived about half an hour before sunset and paid $6 to sleep in a lean-to. It bothers me a little that we have to pay to sleep here, but it is a very nicely-maintained campground, so it is acceptable. We had a nice dinner although our stove gave us some trouble, and met some other thru-hikers from NC and AL.
I would like to say the dinner we had was the best I have ever tasted, but I can not in full honesty say so. It was particularly good though. I am very tired. I do believe I will sleep well tonight.
Cold Katadhin winds Send us swiftly on our way. Our long trek begins.
June 14 ~ Hurd Brook Lean-to at milepoint 18.6 south, 2 days since start of hike, averaging 9.3 miles per day
Davids entry: Today we entered the 100-mile wilderness, considered by hikers to be the most challenging portion of the Trail. The sign posted along the path where it plunges into the wilderness states: "Caution. It is 100 miles south to the nearest town at Monson. There are NO places to obtain supplies or help until Monson. Do not attempt this section unless you have a minimum of 10 days supplies and are fully equipped. This is the longest wilderness section of the entire AT and its difficulty should not be underestimated. Good hiking." Suffice it to say, the sign got our attention, even with the last two words, which we assumed were added for ironic purposes.
We knew this moment would be coming, and we also knew that we did not want to carry 10 - 12 days worth of supplies this early in our hike, especially over some notoriously difficult climbs that lay ahead. We had learned two months ago, via the internet, of a former thru-hiker named Spencer Knoch, who for a modest fee, would drop off supplies at the mid-point of the wilderness. We mailed Spencer a box of provisions on June 6, with the understanding that he would leave them hanging in a five gallon bucket under a bridge on the Jo-Mary Road, a logging trail that snakes through the wilderness. Spencer had used this technique before and found that neither bears nor raccoons could reach the bucket or open it. Of course that left me wondering whether we could count on being able to reach it ourselves. But Spencer sounded trustworthy - he now leads hikers on expeditions for a living. And so we entered the woods with faith in Spencer and hoping that our aching legs would carry us the distance.
Our limbs reminded us today - a day of gloriously smooth paths along streams and rivers - that we had climbed a mountain the day before. Jake and I both noticed how painful it was going down a set of stairs leading to a bridge at Abol Campground, the last vestige of civilization before the wilderness. My big toes are bruised from the downhills, and my quadriceps burn. But we count our blessings too: no blisters, no horrendous bug bites, and we have encountered no snakes at all (yet).
Jake and I each saw a moose, however, and plenty of smaller creatures, including several rabbits who were almost entirely unafraid of us.
At the Abol Campground store, we bought a few more provisions and some postcards. This would be our last opportunity to write home until Monson, and we also decided to mail our first journal entries. I had assumed that Jake and I would each write separate entries and read each others before they went out. But Jake balked at the idea, preferring to keep his entries private until we returned and could read them on the internet. Surprised, I nevertheless offered him my few pages for his review, but he declined. "I think it would be better," he said "if our styles did not influence each other." And maybe he is right. But it will be a novel experience (for us as well as for anyone reading these journal entries) to have two parallel accounts of the same hike. On the other hand, we are really, in some ways, on two separate hikes but doing it together.
At Abol store I asked about the number of thru-hikers this year, and I was directed to a trail register where I found the names of 31 Southbound hikers who had preceded us. In addition, there was one - but only one - northbound hiker who finished the AT before we even started. He signed his trail name: Mile Slave (which he must have been to reach Maine from Georgia so quickly).
At the shelter this evening, I looked at the clothes I have worn the last two days and will be wearing for several more days and realized that vanity has no place in these woods. For one thing, there are no showers, an apparent oversight by the people who laid out the Trail here. In addition, because of the ever - present black flies, many of the hikers wear bug helmets - a loose fitting globe of mosquito netting held away from the face by a thin metal band. It would be hard to imagine a more unflattering contraption that you could wear on your head. But out here, no one cares - no one even notices. And so tomorrow after trying to keep the little buggers away from my face with insect repellent with only limited success, I will take the plunge and don my helmet like everyone else, and be thankful there are no mirrors in the 100 - mile wilderness.
Jacobs entry: Sometime after noon - near a river Woke up this morning with very sore legs. Surprisingly, although I turned my ankle badly yesterday, it does not hurt today. Probably my high boots saved me from injury. We are bound for the Hurd Brook Lean-to today and should make reasonable time. The young man we met at the Baxter yesterday is named Dan, and hikes a pace very similar to ours, so we see him often. We hiked past some pretty waterfalls this morning, and all day we have been hiking alongside some body of running water. Today is a pleasant change from yesterday, but is a different sort of way. Now we have quiet streams and greenery rather than impressive peaks. Lunch was tasty.
Well past noon - Abol Bridge CGD. Did not take us as long as I thought it would to get here. The last few miles along the river passed very quickly. There is a cute little camp store here where we replenished our lunch supplies. I did not know why they call this the hundred mile wilderness - it does not seem very wild. There has not been much eventful today. There was this one neat thing - a bridge that had been broken in two and fallen at one end so it had a twisted, funhouse look to it. It was quite an impressive bridge, too. The storm that broke it must have been very large. We move on to Hurd Brook Lean-to soon. My hips hurt.
Later - just past Abol Bridge. Oops. This is where the 100 miles wilderness starts. We were not in it before - that is why it did not seem wild. Makes sense. Foreboding sign at the entrance to the trail.
Dusk - Hurd Brook Lean-to Sakes alive! Today was the hardest easy days hiking I have done. Katahdin took more of a price from me then I realized, most in the form of sore muscles. I almost dread waking up tomorrow. I completely ran out of steam 2 miles or so in from Abol Bridge and had to keep taking breaks. A good solid 10 - minute break and a snickers bar helped that though. I veritably flew through the remaining trail until a privy popped up out of nowhere. I was astonished. I thought there was no way we could have gotten so close, but a few hundred feet further I found the shelter, and a welcome sight it was! We came across Can Do and Cold Feet for the second time today - they're on their last section in the North before going South to finish.
A noise amongst trees Maybe moose, or deer, or just Deadwood in the breeze?
Wildlife sightings for yesterday and today: 1 moose 2 rabbits, both rather unafraid 1 chipmunk who seemed rather love tons of our food tons and tons of bugs.
June 15 ~ Rainbow Stream Lean-to at milepoint 30.1 south, 3 days since start of hike, averaging 10.0 miles per day
Davids entry: Although still aching a bit as we get used to carrying our 40 - 45 lb. packs and the daily rigors of the Trail, we managed another 11 - mile day over relatively easy terrain. To reach Georgia by the end of November, we are planning to increase our average miles per day to 12 soon, and then 14 by the time we hit Massachusetts, and 16 when we cross the Mason- Dixon line.
We stopped for lunch at a knoll overlooking Rainbow Lake and counted our blessings - among them three days of good weather. Thunderstorms are predicted for the next two days, according to the bulletin ar the Katahdin ranger station.
The black flies and mosquitos continue to be a problem. Jake is amazing - he is using no insect repellant and dons his bug net helmet only occasionally. The bugs do not seem interested in him. I, on the other hand, am the object of their affection. After trying the bug helmet for a while, however, I switched back to using DEET - a shorthand for some diabolical chemical with a name too complicated to spell or pronounce. My fear of being devoured by insects led me to begin researching the alternatives to DEET two months before our hike. A recent Consumer Reports study confirmed what I feared --- namely, the good-smelling, organic, citronella- based products with names like Naturapel have little if any effect on the bugs. My doctor had given me a Travel Medicine catalog with some versions of DEET that resist absorption through your skin, and so I sent the catalog their biggest order in months, and have been slathering it on each day. No ill effects, so far.
This is our third night on the Trail and our third night staying at a lean-to - a three-sided log structure with a tin roof and a privy located nearby. They are built and maintained by various trail clubs in each state. There is nothing inside except a wooden platform, often constructed from small-diameter branches (they're called "baseball bat" platforms) so as to make sleep a more invigorating experience. (I hope this does not sound ungrateful - these trail clubs do a wonderful job.)
Jake and I had the lean-tos to ourselves the first two nights; this evening we shared it with two fellow thru-hikers. We did not mind - the platform was big enough to hold six or so, assuming that the six people knew each other pretty well. Jake and I each have a small tent in case the shelters get too crowded or we have to stop for the night between shelters, which are spaced about 8 - 12 miles apart along the Trail.
One of the benefits of starting in Maine is the relative solitude. Today we saw only one person on the Trail. The hikers coming north from Georgia have a very different experience. We heard a few days ago about a woman who ended her thru-hike from Georgia after only two weeks because there was an average of 25 people at each shelter. I enjoy the company of hikers but, of course, one can have too much of a good thing. The black flies of June in the northern woods of Maine are, for Jake and me, a welcome exchange for the crowds coming out of Georgia.
Jacobs entry: TRANSCRIBERS NOTE: I did not receive a journal entry for this date from Jacob.
June 16 ~ Nahmakanta Lake (south end) at milepoint 40.8 south, 4 days since start of hike, averaging 10.2 miles per day
Davids entry: This evening we camped, after 12 miles of hiking, at a sand beach on Nahmakanta Lake. As we pitched our tents on the sand, I was struck by the contrast between the lean-to we had passed 2.5 miles back (Wadleigh Stream), which faced the woods and smelled musky even before hikers arrived for the evening, and the scene that lay before us. A beach with the sun setting over the low mountains that ring the lake. Evergreens reflected in the water, as a loon swims by bobbing into the lake for some dinner. And not another hiker anywhere in sight.
My reverie was broken when, as we were preparing supper, I realized that I had lost one of my shirts. I had fastened it to the back of my pack to dry out, and the safety pin had evidently popped. When you have only three shirts to begin with, each one counts - though Jacob, more of a minimalist than I, has only two. I decided to hike back to the spot where I had pinned the shirt to the pack, hoping I would find it along the path. And I did, but I found something else besides. I re-discovered the joy of walking without a 40-45 lb pack. There was a spring in my step. I felt so liberated that I did not even mind the mile or so of back-tracking. I scurried back to our campsite, trophy in hand, knowing that Jacob would be relieved that his father had managed not to get lost in the darkening woods. (He had reminded me to bring a flashlight and take it slow, because of my wobbly ankles.)
Evening preparations consisted of hoisting our food bag and cookware bag several feet into the air on a cord suspended from a tree - a nightly precaution because of mice, chipmunks, and raccoons - and stowing the rest of our gear for the night. Jake an I each jumped into the lake to cool off and jumped out just as quickly - all thoughts of swimming vanished when I realized how cold the water was.
As we hunkered down for the night into our tents, warding off insects as we dashed through our mosquito net doors, I nearly had to pinch myself as I looked out at the lake. The only scene I can recall that comes close to being this idyllic is the beach in Truro where we rent a cottage each summer. But this is quite different. The solitude and the quiet are so relaxing that I quickly abandoned my evening plans for writing letters and reading. I laid back, and breathing deeply for several minutes, drank in the stillness.
Jacobs entry: Lunchtime - near a logging road. Hey it is the weekend! Got off to a late start again this morning, despite going to sleep early and getting up early. It just took forever to pack for some reason. I felt a mouse run over me for the first time last night, and I am sure it will not be the last. Now I know why some hikers eshew shelters for their own tents.
Maybe around 3 ish - Nesuntabunt Mtn. We had a leisurely stop for lunch before the approach to Nesuntabunt. The food must have helped, because the ascent was not so difficult as I had imagined. Drew water from a rather sketchy source: a large pond. It was the last source of water for a while on a hot day though, so I believe it was a wise decision.
Some more sightings: - Finally saw some of the pretty type of dragonflies, the kind with all iridescent body rather a drab brown one. - A mother moose and two children, near the pond. They jumped in and swam to the other side when they heard us. - A chipmunk approached after lunch when I had been sitting still for a long time. It must not have noticed me, because when I turned my head to get a better look, it startled and dashed away chirping. It was the first time I had ever heard a chipmunk make a sound.
Nice view from Nesuntabunt.
A little past sunset - Nahmakanta Lake Well, we wound up pushing past Wadleigh Stream lean-to, and camped on the shore of this lake. It was a very pleasant setting - we even got to take a quick dip to cool off - but the bugs got very bad very quickly. The black flies seem to have completely abandoned their uneasy truce with me. It is hard to convey just how idyllic this place is (modulo the bugs). I will read a little now and fall asleep to the sound of those funny chirping frogs whose name I can not remember.
June 17 ~ Jo-Mary Road at milepoint 56.0 south, 5 days since start of hike, averaging 11.2 miles per day
Davids entry: The big news today is that we met our intrepid Trailplace transcriber, Rick Towle, for the first time. I say "intrepid" for good reason. He drove three hours up from Litchfield, Maine, to the AT, reaching our expected destination for the day (a dirt logging road where we were to pick up a food drop) early in the morning. He then cross-examined the few hikers coming by until he learned that we might be just north and hiked up the Trail to find us. The distance from the logging road to us was a few miles of the most bug-infested terrain we have encountered yet. So, please join me in a round of applause for Rick. He wanted to meet us before we got out of Maine, and now he knows why we want to get out of Maine. It is beautiful, but the mosquitoes are ferocious.
The other big news of the day: our bucket of supplies, mailed two weeks ago to Spencer Knoch, was hanging under the Jo-Mary Bridge, right where it was suppose to be. Jake and I breathed a sign of relief. There is five more days (at least) of the Trail ahead of us and our provisions, by design, were down to some gorp, a half-used package of powdered milk, and two granola bars. If Spencer had forgotten us, we would not have perished but we would have had to leave the Trail, slogging out of the 100 - mile wilderness on the logging road. When I saw the bucket hanging under the bridge, I began to climb down the steep rock ledge of the embankment, holding on by my fingernails, and feeling very brave and more than a little frightened. How, I wondered, was I going to carry this 5-gallon bucket back up if I could barely keep my grip on these rocks without it? That is when I noticed Rick sauntering down an easy side path to where I was standing and asking, "do you need a hand?" More like a head, I thought.
Jake, Rick and I camped for the night near the bridge, with the roar of the Jo-Mary Creek beside us. We swapped a few recipe ideas over dinner, and called it a night. This was a 15-mile day for Jake and me, and a challenging day for Rick as well. Our muscles are toughening a bit - cramping a bit too. I have cut back on my Ibuprofen intake a notch.
Before closing this entry, I will mention another aching hiker we met on the Trail today. He calls himself "The Bull" (his trail name), and he groaned as he hoisted his pack. He looked to be in his early 60s and he was only 40 miles or so from finishing a north bound hike of the AT, which he has been doing, piece by piece, for a few years. We compared notes about footwear and such, and Jake asked him why he was hiking the Trail. "Because it is there," he said. "I do not really enjoy this - it is too hard. But I do it because it is there." He gave me an earnest look, eye-to-eye, and said, "You are doing a good thing there, hiking the AT with your son," He turned to Jake and said "Look after this guy." Jake said, "I will" and we marched on.
Jacobs entry: "Can not stop, bugs will eat me, can not stop, bugs will eat me!" I have been in the mood to move this morning. The terrain is flat and beautiful, and I can not stop walking.
Evening - Jo-Mary Road Tough day. Fifteen point two miles and the longest we have done so far. The land stayed flat, which helped significantly , although the trail was rougher in some places than others. I came up with a couple more scraps of poetry today, one haiku:
Sitting on the lake Birds cry at the setting sun, Mourn the passing day.
And one riddle-poem in the tradition of Bilbo and Gollum:
I creep without moving, and grasp with no claws, I drink but don't swallow, and eat without jaws. I live underground, but you'd best look and see, For if I come up you may well trip on me.
Rick Towle, our transcriber for Trailplace, came out to meet us. It was fun hiking with him for the rest of the day; he really energized us to hike more quickly. Dinner was delicious - we had Liptons Noodle Dinner. Bugs were bad again. White Cap Mountain is tomorrow (probably). I sure would not mind another day of flat ground.
June 18 ~ East Branch Lean-to, Maine at milepoint 67.8 south, 6 days since start of hike, averaging 11.3 miles per day
Davids entry: It is Father's Day - a day that usually begins at home with breakfast in bed. I had forgotten, but Jacob, bless his heart, had not, and he showed up at the door of my tent at 7:00 a.m. with granola bars in hand - our morning rations. I ate mine with my feet still tucked in my sleeping bag. At the end of the day, When we reached this shelter, twelve miles down the Trail from where we woke, he made dinner AND cleaned up. I cannot think of a better way to spend Fathers Day, notwithstanding the sore muscles.
My arrival at the lean-to was marred by an unplanned dip into the East Branch of Pleasant River, which we had to ford just before the shelter. I am sure the river is pleasant enough if swimming is your goal, but my feet found their way to a slippery rock that dumped me, pack and all, into the river. My leg got banged a little, and everything from my waist down was soaked. Fortunately, Jake and I have gotten into the hiker's habit of stowing everything in little zip-lock bags - there must be 50 or so in our packs and all our various pockets. And then, just for good measure, the entire inside of our packs is lined with a plastic trash compactor bag - made from plastic so thick, that it will probably never decompose. Thus, I emerged from the river with my belongings much drier then I was, and limped to the lean-to with my injured shin and wounded pride. I was glad that Jacob had already hiked on ahead, because spinning off a rock inelegantly into a river with a full pack is the sort of thing most people prefer to do alone.
The pace of our hiking the last two days was improved by having Rick Towle with us. We parted company mid day at a logging road where he had parked his car. We not only enjoyed getting to know him but we also found that, with the three of us hiking together, there was added synergy and the miles passed more easily than before. We hope to see him farther down the Trail, when we hit the mountains near Straton, Maine.
The bugs abated a bit this afternoon with the falling of the first rain of our hike. (We have been blessed, until today - Day 6 - with mostly sunny skies and no rain.) I finally figured out why Jacob has been able to get by using NO insect repellent and no bug helmet: the bugs respect him. Because of his love of all living things and his concern for the environment. Jacob does not kill insects and has not for as long as I can remember. At home if there is a bee or a mosquito flying around, he will shoo it out of the house or capture it and release it outside. I think the bugs up here must know this about Jake, and that is why he has gotten only a few bites - probably from the few uninformed or unprincipled mosquitoes who do not know any better. I, on the other hand, have never hesitated to swat the little *!@#'s, and look where it has gotten me - a DEET-drenched hiker who still can not keep them entirely at bay.
The lake by the lean-to is quiet this evening with the sky lit up in shades of red shining through tall pines. The shelter register (a spiral notebook with comments from previous visitors - a feature of every shelter on the AT) speaks of a moose who visits the shelter on a regular basis. We fall asleep wondering if we will see her tonight, or in the morning, sauntering through our camp.
Jacobs entry: Slept better than usual last night, although I still wake up several times during the night. I had an odd dream in the wee hours of the morning about a class in which we were given toy light sabers and fought a mock battle with them. Then we were given toy guns and had to sit through a long lecture. We never used the guns.
Evening - East Branch Lean-to Rained for the first time today. It was a very light sprinkle and would have cooled me off pleasantly but it portended more violent rain so I hauled heinie to the shelter rather than taking it slow and enjoying the rain. Of course the rain never did get worse. Two shelters today, so two riddles:
Orange eye glares out from under scarlet-tinted lids, Sees beneath the sea and sky where yesterday is hid.
June 19 ~ Carl A. Newhall Lean-to at milepoint 78.6 south, 7 days since start of hike, averaging 11.2 miles per day
Davids entry: Jacob and I climbed four peaks today - it was exhausting. The first peak, Whitecap Mountain (elev. 3,650 ft. -- approximately 2,400 feet above our starting point), is one of the tallest I have ever climbed with a full pack.
We hiked very slowly - or, more accurately, I hiked very slowly, and Jacob graciously waited for me at each summit. I decided to take the advice I had received from friends - to remember to have fun. I tried to figure out how to make these climbs fun. I said to myself anyone - even me - can climb these hills if you take them slowly enough. And so I stopped after every couple of steps on the steepest sections, and gave myself permission to slow the pace down to an hour per mile. Presto! I found myself enjoying the climb. My mantra was: you are very lucky to be hiking with your son. I stopped once in the morning to meditate for a few minutes, and then again in the afternoon - it cleared my mind and allowed my legs to recover a bit. I hardly ever take the time to do that when I am not hiking, and I should. (By the way, to give you a sense of the day's peaks, imagine climbing the stairs of a 240 - story building, then down 50 flights, then up 25, down 50, up 30, down 75, up 25, and down 75. Imagine that the stairs are covered with odd-shaped rocks, many of the stairs are missing, and that you are carrying a 43-pound pack.)
I watch the rocks very closely as I climb and particularly on the downhills. The uphill rocks are my friends -- they have never hurt me. They wear me out, but I seldom fall. The downhill rocks are my enemy. I have rarely gone hiking without at some point turning one or both ankles on the downhills.
I have seriously sprained my ankle every few years since I was in high school. I do not know where I was when God was handing out sturdy ankles - I was probably asleep or checking my email - but I got what was left over. My physical therapist told me before this trip that the ligaments in one ankle are pretty well shot from the repeated sprains, and the other ankle is only slightly better. So he recommended some high tech ankle braces, which I have worn religiously since Katahdin. So far, they work. But I focus a lot of attention and intention on every downhill step. I think about what a serious fall would mean for the future of this trip with Jacob, and I am reminded of a quote that I carry with me from a famous 19th century climber, Edward Whymper - words that appear on the wall of the visitors center at Mt. Washington: "There have been joys too great to be described in words, and there have been griefs upon which I have not dared to dwell. And with these in mind, I say climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are naught without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning, think what may be the end." Words to live, and hike by.
A final thought: I have been trying to figure out why the Trail for the last 20 miles or so is covered with more moose droppings than I have ever seen before. I have come up with the following ruminations:
(a) The forest service estimate of 30,000 moose in Maine is off, by about 2 million.
(b) The estimate of 30,000 moose is correct, but they are very well nourished and eating a high-fiber diet.
(c) The number of moose in Maine is very uncertain but it is obvious they are trying to discourage thru-hikers.
I hope I have the answer by the time we get out of Maine.
Jacobs entry: 11:00 - White Cap Mtn. This morning, got up early for the first time (6:00) and headed up this big rock. It is the first big climb we have done since Katahdin, and it felt great! Well, that is to say, it felt great after we were done. Met a fellow named Lazyboy last night, and we have been hiking more or less with him today. The views up here are terrific. For some reason, though when I look down at the hills I am reminded of a CG landscape. I spend too much time with computers. Saw a couple more snakes today. I think since I started seeing them I have become more attuned to them because I keep seeing more and more.
We have got three more peaks to climb today, although we do not have to go all the way to the bottom for each one. Oh, and the trail does not go all the way to the summit of White Cap. What a rip!
Very lame riddle today: You lose some on a hot day, You lose some on a sad day, This vital substance is not what you think, There isn't an ounce in the water you drink.
June 20 ~ Chairback Gap Lean-to at milepoint 88.5 south, 8 days since start of hike, averaging 11.1 miles per day
Davids entry: This was Day 8 of our hike - 30 more miles and we will be out of the 100-mile wilderness, the section of the Trail I feared most. Jacob and I have settled into a rhythm of hiking that feels manageable and even enjoyable. So, here are our rituals of the day. We have started hiking early - a little after 7 a.m. the last two mornings, but sometimes much later. One of us - usually Jake - pumps enough water to fill out four one-liter bottles. With the purifier this takes a while depending on how far our water source is. We have been staying at lean-tos because they usually have a spring or stream (as well as a privy) nearby and it saves us the bother of setting up our tents.
Morning rituals also include Jake pulling out of the food bag our breakfast (granola bars) and then laying out our lunch (P,B & J fixings), morning snack (GORP) and afternoon snack (candy bar), and putting them in an accessible place in his pack. He stows the rest of our provisions in the cavernous main section of his backpack where they will stay till suppertime. (We allocate the food to Jake and other gear to me so as to distribute the pack weight in proportion to our body weight and strength: I get a somewhat lighter load than Jake - it is about 45/55 ratio.)
After breakfast we stow away sleeping bags, sleeping mats, and gear, pack our water bottles, check the lean-to one more time for things we might have left, strap on our packs, and head out.
In a minute or two Jake is well ahead of me. In five minutes he is no longer within sight. This is OK with me. We try to agree on a place to meet - a fail-safe point. Today it was a river we had to ford, five miles from our starting point. (This time I made it across without falling, although Jake watched me carefully from the other side, with camera in hand, to record my expected dunking.)
I caught up to Jake again at lunch time at a side trail where he had agreed to wait for me. We left our packs and took the side trail down a steep embankment to a kettle pond surrounded by pines - just to have a look. (The water was serene.)
At each of our meeting points, we scrutinize our trail maps to figure out how far we are going to go that day and asess our progress. The maps also have a distressingly compressed profile chart of the terrain, showing all the peaks and valleys.
Each days hiking seems to have a high point (no pun intended). Todays epiphany came at the peak of Chairback Mountain. There, after a nearly vertical climb up a rock slide, I sat on a rock ledge looking out at what seemed like hundreds of miles of pines, dotted with ponds here and there on a rolling and mountainous landscape. With the wind in my face and the sun nearing the West, it was a jaw-droppingly beautiful sight.
On our last leg of hiking for the day, Jake invariably arrives at the shelter or tent site before me and he has picked out our dinner du jour. There are five to choose from : macaroni & cheese; beans and rice with dehydrated vegetables; curried rice with vegetables; couscous with vegetables; and some variety of Liptons noodle dinners or the equivalent from Pasta-Roni. All were taste-tested at home and found (a) to be palatable (mostly) and (b) to cook quickly (so as to save fuel and thus reduce our pack-weight).
While dinner is cooking, we each claim a portion of the shelter and roll out our sleeping bags and gear. We have been spoiled because we have had the lean-tos more or less to ourselves. Occasionally we have had to share them with one or two other hikers. But mostly the lean-tos are empty because the northbound thru-hikers have not begun to arrive and will not cross our path until we reach N.H. We have heard through the grapevine that there are so many northbounders leaving Georgia that it is not unusual to see 20-25 stopping at a lean-to in one night. The floor of most lean-tos is approximately 8 x 16 (i.e., 128 sq. Ft.) or less - not enough for 20-25 hikers. So some use tents and the others are getting to know their fellow hikers in an up close and personal sort of way. Only about 5% of thru-hikers go South, which is one of the advantages of hiking the contrarian route - more solitude and more elbow room in the shelters.
Once we have settled into camp for the night, our shoes come off rather quickly, so that the days toll of blisters and other foot damage can be assessed.
Dinner is prepared by setting up a tiny Whisperlite Stove (which looks a bit like a metal spider) and a fuel bottle. The whole apparatus collapses down to nothing; it fits in a stuff sack no bigger than a softball, and the red metal bottle with Coleman fuel (white gas) is about the size of a small thermos.
Because I do most of the cooking, Jake usually takes care of the dirty dishes. There are only two - the pot and the pot lid. Jake eats his dinner out of the pot, after pouring my portion into the lid, which doubles as a plate.
Dessert consists of either a candy or granola bar, then we start preparing for bed. It may be only 7:30 or 8 p.m., but we are tired. One of us hangs our food bag from the ceiling of the lean-to. This will keep mice and chipmunks out of our provisions.
Teeth are brushed and other personal matters attended to. In my case the days final dose of DEET is applied to keep the bugs away. Occasionally, one of us will try to stay up a bit and read or write a journal entry, but that effort usually fails. Sleep overtakes us quickly.
So that is our day, every day. We will get a little variety on Friday when we visit our first trail town, Monson, Maine. We already have visions of real food, prepared on real stoves. The guest house proprietress there who calls herself The Pie Lady, was enterprising enough to post a small sign on a tree on the Trail, telling of her AYCE (trail abbreviation for all-you-can-eat) breakfasts and dinners. Be still, my heart.
And so to close, I will treat you to a little trail humor, or what passes for humor on the AT. Q: What is the difference between a thru-hiker and a homeless person? A Gortex. Q: What is the difference between a day-hiker, a weekend backpacker, and a thru-hiker? A: A day hiker sees an M&M on the trail and steps on it. A weekend backpacker throws it into the woods or packs it out. The thru-hiker picks up the M&M, wipes it off, eats it, and then digs around it to see if there are any more.
Jake and I probably have not become true thru-hikers yet. Of course, we have not been tested - we have not, as of yet, encountered any M&Ms on the trail.
Jacobs entry: Midmorning - The Hermitage The Hermitage is a stand of very tall white pines, "some as high as 130 feet," surrounding a little clearing maybe 30 feet across. It is not tremendously impressive; the trees are tall, but not remarkably so. It is just a pleasant little place. It is nice to lie down in the clearing and look up through the hole in the trees at the clouds drifting by in the most blue sky.
Late afternoon - Chairback Mtn. While I am sitting here enjoying the view and the wind, I would just like to recount a little drama of the natural world I observed several days ago but do not think I recorded. It is a true story, and not a parable, though you may take it as such if you wish. I had sat down to wait for Dad in a wooded area, and after resting for a little while, noticed a spider web very near my head. In the very center sat the arachnid proprietor himself, and nearer the edge there was a fairly large fly who had evidently just gotten stuck. It was struggling and struggling to get loose, and gradually made progress towards the edge of the web. The spider made no move to try and stop it until it was nearly free of the web. Only then did the spider dash out to the edge of the web and start flailing away at the fly, but even then he did not bite it, he only hit it with his foremost legs (which if I remember correctly, are like antennae). Moments later the fly broke free. It even seemed that the spiders flailing had hastened the flys escape. The spider then scurried back to the center of its web and deftly spun around until he was again facing the direction he originally was.
A Giant's ring on a blue cloth, Made by little diamonds as they drop.
June 21 ~ Long Pond Stream Lean-to at milepoint 99.4 south, 9 days since start of hike, averaging 11.0 miles per day
Davids entry: The main event for us today was rain, and plenty of it. We have had 3 days out of our 9 days on the Trail so far in which it rained. But the first two rains were mere sprinkles compared with this one. It caught us between shelters and so it made sense to press on. Veteran thru-hikers say that if you are not willing to hike in the rain, it will take forever to get from one end of the Trail to the other.
By the time I reached the last mile of our 10.9 miles for the day, I was beyond caring whether I got any wetter, because I could not. My shoes and socks were wet, as were my clothes - even gortex pants and jackets have their limits. At that point I realized how delightful it was to feel in some ways impervious to the rain - it held no power over me.
And yet it felt wonderful to reach the log lean-to with its tin roof and dry sleeping platform - a veritable Hilton for a sodden hiker. Jacob, as usual, arrived first and had his clothes festooned over the various nails and clothes lines hanging from the walls of the shelter. With mine added, it looked like our primary occupation in the lean-to was laundry.
Earlier in the day we encountered two young northbound hikers who were completing a 500-mile AT trek that started in Massachusetts. I had two questions for them. First, how bad were the "blow-downs" (trees that have fallen across the Trail) further South - we had heard there were four miles of uncleared trail. Second, since they had passed Monson, Maine, we wanted to know whether they recommended Shaws Boarding House or the Pie Lady. (Shaws is the traditional choice of thru-hikers when they reach Monson.) They recommended Shaws. One said, "I have hiked 1,000 miles on the AT and I have never had better food. We stayed two days." They had heard mixed reviews from people who stayed with the Pie Lady. So, on that thin slice of data, we made our decision: Shaws became the new vision that drew us on.
In the lean-to this evening, I found an entry in the trail register that gave a different reason for continuing. The entry was left by a northbound hiker, a semi-retied consultant, whom I had met when our paths crossed 30 miles north of here. Going by the Trail name "Fun Tracker," he looked to be about 60 years old, and he was just completing his second AT thru-hike. His smile was extraordinary; he was gleeful. His entry was accompanied by a little drawing, which our transcriber will not be able to incorporate in this journal. It was an undulating horizontal line, a simplified version of the landscape we have been walking. On the downhill slope were written the word "fun," and the same on the upward slopes all across the page.
I am not sure I subscribe to the "fun, fun, fun" philosophy of the thru-hiking. Of course, I am still new at it, but it seems to me that hiking the AT is more like a pilgrimage. At least it is for me. And in most pilgrimages, the ordeal of getting to where you are going plays a large role in making the trip meaningful. Even if walking in the rain can be fun, the rocks are slippery and the risks are real. Falling hard on your bottom or your top (and I have done both) is not fun - never will be. But the challenge of trying to stay right-side-up in a storm and making it to your destination for the night in one piece begins to sharpen the senses to a keen edge.
Jacobs entry: I had lots of vivid dreams last night. They were fascinating. I have been having a lot of dreams since I have been on the trail. I love it.
Evening - Long Pond Stream Lean-to Long day. I have not had much of a chance to write because it has been raining heavily since two. When I got to the Barrens, a scenic viewpoint, I tried to go out and look down at the rockslide, but whenever I went out, the wind (and rain!) pushed me back. It was like the weather did not want me to see the Barrens. Oh well. This was the first real rain we have had since Katahdin. It really was not that bad. I am glad to have experienced bad weather before I left the 100 mile wilderness, or I probably would have sent back my rain pants. It was not fun, though. I could barely see because of all the fog and water droplets on my glasses, and we had many long, steep downhills to navigate.
There comes a new one every day, It never leaves or dies, Yet never is there more than one To fill a dreamer's eyes.
June 23 ~ Monson at milepoint 114.5 south, 11 days since start of hike, averaging 10.4 miles per day
Davids entry: I woke up this morning determined to find out, as quickly as possible, if Jacob made it safely to Monson.
By 4:30 a.m. there was enough light to start loading my pack, and I was on the trail a few minutes before 5:00. I had to tip-toe around the shelter to keep from waking R&R - two thru-hikers from Ohio - who managed to sleep through it.
Three miles of hiking brought me to the highway into Monson, and it must have been my lucky day; I stuck out my thumb and the first car picked me up. I made it to Shaws Boarding Home at 7:30 and Jacob greeted me at the door with a big hug. I was relieved, to say the least.
I got the full story of his evening hike over breakfast, around a table of thru-hikers. Keith Shaw was serving enormous plates of eggs, potatoes, and pancakes to a grateful crew. The OJ and coffee was exceptional. This is the kind of breakfast that is almost never served at the lean-tos in the 100-mile wilderness we just left.
As we did our errands - laundry, post office, phone calls, some re-supply - we were impressed by how friendly Monson is to hikers.
I have to admit, however, that before coming here I felt a little ambivalent about leaving the woods. After 10 days there, I had become so acclimated to it that it felt like a spell of some kind would be broken once I came into town. I suppose one of the skills that thru-hikers develop is the ability to make that switch on a more-or-less weekly basis.
Shaws is unique because the meals here provide thru-hikers with the opportunity for socializing and discussion. Keith and Pat have had nearly 29,000 guests stay with them - most of them hikers - and they have been rated the #1 stop on the entire AT by several Trail guides. So, their Home is a landmark for thru-hikers. I am glad we got to experience it. I am going to miss the breakfasts.
Jacobs entry: Mid morning - Shaws Boarding Home Hooo-ee! What a day yesterday, We got up fairly early and were going to try to make it to Monson by evening. The first section of the trail was just 4 miles of horrible maintenance. As someone aptly pointed out in the register, "This section of the trail is maintained by a blind, drunk monkey." There were blowdowns everywhere, the trail was vague and ill-blazed, and the going was very slow. I waited quite a while for Dad at Wilson and met three rather old ladies who gave me some sandwiches. Then we moved on. The second half of the day was also very tough. We had several fords, and I managed three of them without taking off my boots by hopping from rock to rock. Of course, on the last one I slipped and fell in. Fortunately, I only got my feet wet. Unfortunately, I got my feet wet. I also misunderstood where I was and thought I was near a shelter, so I walked probably a mile and a half in wet boots thinking all the while I would soon be at a shelter where I would take a nice long break and change socks. I also stepped in mud somewhere along the way and got my leg stuck in up to mid-shin. Anyways, after a while I became very demoralized and sat down to take a breath and recoup a little. Moments later, Footprints (this great fellow we have been hiking with for the last 3 to 4 days) caught up and said "What are you doing sitting down? We are almost there! " so I got up and started hiking along behind him. He set quite a brisk pace and we were at Leeman Brook Lean-to (the last before Monson) very quickly. Now, when I sat down back there, I had thought "No way am I going to make it to Monson tonight." Dad decided to stay at Leeman and go in to Monson the next morning. When we arrived at Leeman Brook Lean-to, though, Footprints told me he was planning to have some dinner then and push on to Monson, despite the growing darkness and threat of rain, and his determination inspired me. When Dad arrived shortly after, I was ready to push on. He tried to talk me out of it - he was going to stay at Leeman regardless - but I wanted to get to town that night. I pulled out my secret weapon - my last dry pair of socks - and my headlamp and Footprints and I headed out. The last three miles to Monson were simply beautiful. Happily, it did not rain. The sky was clear and the stars were out, and as we passed pond after pond we heard chirping and peeping madly. And then there were the fireflies. They were all over the place. They were all over the place. There was one spot where we, just stopped and turned our flashlights off to appreciate it all. There were fireflies in every direction, the first I had seen on the trail. Also as we walked there were many leaves that had fallen on the ground upside-down and positively sparkled with dew. I think the upside-down leaves sparkled especially because the fine veins on the undersides broke up the dew into very small droplets that all reflected the light a little differently. Another example of the beauty of fractals in nature. We also heard, but did not see, both a moose and a coyote or wolf. Near the end there was a chorus of loons that treated us to a nighttime concert. When we finally got to the road, we sat down on our packs and rested. The first car that came along stopped and picked us up. The driver was a plumber from a few towns over who scuba dives in his spare time. He dropped us off in front of the Pie Ladys, but we just got up and walked to Shaws. The owners were asleep, but there were plenty of hikers awake in the bunk room, so we spent a few hours chatting with them. Some were old friends, like The Grizz and Ratbag, and some we had never met, but had read entries in shelter registers from them. They had almost all hiked in that morning and were leaving the next morning. Finally, at a quarter till two, I turned in. It felt totally delicious to sleep in a bed.
I was so busy yesterday, I even forgot to write down my riddles for the day. This first one is not exactly as I wrote it in the register, but I like this version better:
Always underfoot, yet never in the way, He'll run when you chase after him, And when you stop he'll stay. Yet though you'll never see him go, He's always gone ere end of day. --------- Charcoal snake has a thousand tails, with a lamp upon each one. Travels many places, yet never leaves where it's begun.
June 24 ~ Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to at milepoint 123.8 south, 12 days since start of hike, averaging 10.3 miles per day
Davids entry: More errands this morning in Monson as we tried to gather the supplies we will need for the next six days. Our mail drop box did not arrive; the folks at the post office seemed concerned but said delivery times (advertised to be about 8 days) are not reliable. Fortunately, we were given a big supply of Ramen noodles by some fellow hikers whose mail drop box was overflowing, and we picked up a few other provisions at the general store in Monson. Keith Shaw drove us out to the trailhead - about 3.5 miles from town - and we were in the woods by 2:30 p.m.
It was a little disorienting at first - after luxuriating in town with running water, good food, etc. - to be suddenly immersed in the forest. I had to regain my "trail legs" and my sense of how to stay on track. The Trail is well blazed in most places - at each Trail marker (a white rectangular "blaze" approximately six inches high and two inches wide, painted on a tree or rock) you can almost see the next one. In some spots, however, the blazed tree has fallen, or the blaze is old and faint, and sometimes the Trail crew has simply spaced the blazes thinly (probably wanting to use some restraint for the sake of forest aesthetics). I had trouble at times during my first few days on the Trail and, every now and then, wandered for a hundred yards or so on an unblazed side trail until I realized I was slightly lost. Now, at Day 12, I was finding that hikers develop something akin to a sense of smell about where the Trail goes. The tell-tale signs are apparent in most places - matted leaves, exposed roots, mud here and there. In some places, however, the signs are less apparent or point in different directions and instinct begins to kick in.
This all works pretty well if you stay on the Trail. However, when nature calls, a hiker sometimes has to reach for the small orange plastic shovel that most thru-hikers carry, dig the toilet paper out of the backpack, and deliberately wander off the Trail. The recommended distance is 200 feet. But today I decided that privacy warranted at least another 200 feet or so. When I started back to the Trail, I realized I did not know where I was going. I had somehow gotten myself turned around, and walked quite a distance in the wrong direction. I retraced my steps and then realized I had done such a conscientious job of hiding the evidence of my visit (this too is the recommended procedure) that I was just getting myself even more lost. (This seems to lend further proof to the adage that no good deed goes unpunished.) I started feeling a little panicky. Jake was probably 20 minutes ahead of me on the Trail, and I knew of no other hiker behind us.
My mind turned to the disparaging headlines that would be written about me - I would be recorded in the annals of AT history as the most inept hiker of the year 2000 ("Lost his way in northern Maine woods while heeding natures call.") I thought about blowing my emergency whistle, and decided that I was not ready to begin calling attention to my situation. I found a landmark - a large fallen tree - and began to circle it in an ever widening path, hoping that the laws of geometry would eventually bring my expanding spiral to a place where I crossed the Trail. After a few minutes of circling, my backpack came into view - right where I had left it - and it was never such a welcome sight (all 43 pounds of it). Lesson for next time: spot a landmark or two when going on side trips.
Relieved that I had escaped total embarrassment, I finished the 9 miles that brought us here. An easy hike today - the flatest path and best footing we have had to date. But tomorrow we climb Moxie Bald, which has a steep summit.
At the lean-to Jake entertained me and the three other hikers camping here with riddles. At each shelter, Jake has been leaving rhymed puzzles in the shelter register. When we got to Monson, we ran into several hikers who have been following his puzzles closely, wondering if their answers were correct. They were delighted to meet him in person - Jake is becoming a bit of a celebrity among those following behind.
Jacobs entry: We really dragged our feet leaving town this morning. We had a nice long breakfast, and hung around town for a while, since we had to wait till nine to find out whether our maildrop had come in yet. Finally we found out that it had not come and was not going to. Fortunately, we also found out that some folks we had met earlier (named R&R) had a whole lot of extra ramen noodles in their maildrop, so we got some of those from them. We also got some supplies at the general store, so we should be ok for food. Then we went to the laundromat for lunch-our second time eating there. It was quite good. Then, finally, we got back to Shaws and got a ride to the trailhead. The nine miles to the lean-to seemed to fly by. Scott, Rebecca, and Jason were there, and we had a very pleasant evening around a campfire. I told a few riddles and Scott and I played harmonica. Scott is learning to play also, so our skill levels are not too far apart.
I decided to try a limerick form for todays riddle. The limerick is often considered a low and pedestrian form of poetry, but that suits me fine, as we are all nothing but pedestrians on the trail.
A needle not made for sewing, Or knitting or spinning or growing Unique in the world. It stands and it twirls, But never does point where you're going.
June 25 ~ Moxie Bald Mountain Lean-to at milepoint 132.7 south, 13 days since start of hike, averaging 10.2 miles per day
Davids entry: We left camp this morning ready for a 13-mile day, but rain loomed as we approached Moxie Bald Mountain, and we stopped short at this shelter. The idea of being on top of the mountain with possible lightning and rain moving in scared us. So, after a 9-mile day, we spent a long afternoon, looking out at Moxie Pond (very pretty) and then a very heavy rain.
Saw a lot of wildlife today. At 6:30 a.m. a large but benevolent-looking moose wandered by our shelter. She and I looked at each other, and I could tell she was less impressed by me than vice versa. Later, while hiking, a snake scurried away from my shoe - each of us probably a little shaken by the experience. And finally, while stopping for lunch at a stream crossing, Jake and I watched a duck swimming along with 7 or 8 ducklings paddling along in her wake; they wiggled when she wiggled, and they almost looked like an extension of her tail.
I noticed myself relaxing today as I hiked. For long stretches I resisted the impulse to look at the Trail map and instead just rolled with the flow of the blazes and the Trail. A close friend of mine who has done a lot of hiking predicted that I would reach this point of relaxation within about 5 days, Well, I guess I had a lot of unwinding to do because Jake and I are now into Day 13.
I am glad Jake and I have the shelter to ourselves this evening. We had a chance to talk, to do some writing, and have a quiet dinner together. We will have plenty of time down the road to make up the miles that we postponed today.
Jacobs entry: Nice day today. Hiked with Scott & Rebecca for a while once they caught up with me, and told riddles and talked about Napster. There was a rather difficult ford where I had to cross five times to find the trail on the other side. Once we got there we found a crude grave that was essentially a pile of rocks. The "headstone" was a pair of sticks that had once been tied together to form a cross, but the horizontal piece had fallen off so we tied it back on with some twine. After that, we hiked together for about two miles until Scott realized he had left his purifier behind, and I went on to catch my dad, who had gone ahead.
5:00 - Moxie Bald Lean-to Arrived here fairly early and rested a while. It is starting to look like rain, so we decided to stay here and do the mountain tomorrow. The others decided to go over despite the dark skies.
Also, there was no register here, so I got to leave one! Traditionally, the person who leaves a register leaves their address with it, and someone will mail it to them when it is done. It is a nice souvenir of the trail.
I speak with borrowed tongues, Issue forth from borrowed lungs. My words are few but vexing, And perhaps perplexing. I have no ego but speak of myself, Lay though I may on a dusty old shelf.
June 26 ~ Pleasant Pond Lean-to at milepoint 145.8 south, 14 days since start of hike, averaging 10.4 miles per day
David??s entry: This was a good, solid day of hiking - 13.1 miles, including two peaks that wore me out (Moxie Bald Mt. And Pleasant Pond Mt.). The latter had a series of heart-breaking "false peaks," so that 3 or 4 times I thought I had finally made it, only to discover that more climbing lay ahead. A pond near the campsite gave us a place to cool off.
Jake and I are looking forward to a pit stop tomorrow in Caratunk, Maine (pop. 100), featuring a general store, post office, and take-out restaurant that serves pizza.
Jake and I have finally adopted trail names. The custom is to take on, or be given, a name for use on the Trail, and to sign the trail registers with that name. Trail names have a leveling effect, eliminating the traces of class or ethnicity that cling to some proper names. They are also, in some cases, amusing or self-deprecating or simply descriptive of the hardships and joys of the Trail. Among the hikers we??ve met so far: Wounded Knee, Footprints, Fun Tracker, The Bull, R&R (a couple), Turtle, Lazyboy, Krusty the Clown, Crash, and Thunder. Others, who are preceding us southbound are: Mother Goose, Army of 1, Sole Survivor, Freight Train, Moose Killer (who evidently was attacked by a moose), Sleepy, Ripshin, and Hawk.
So, what are our name? Jake has adopted the name "Gollum" (from J.R.R. Tolkien), in keeping with his posing riddles in most of the shelter registers. I??ve adopted the name "Pilgrim," in keeping with the spiritual dimensions of the hike for me and many other thru-hikers. Thru-hiking on the AT ha become a secular pilgrimage, in which the point of the journey is the journey itself, not the destination. In his book "The Art of Pilgrimage," which I bought along for the first leg of this hike, Phil Cousineau defines a pilgrim as "a wayfarer who longs to endure a different journey to reach the sacred center of his or her world." That??s me, for now - one of several thousand modern day pilgrims trekking across the mountains.
Jacob??s entry: Another weekend come and gone. We got up fairly early, though not as early as we intended. Had some nice views from the top of Moxie Bald, and caught Scott, Rebecca, and Jason before they left Bald Mountain Brook lean-to. All but Jason had gotten there the previous night before the rain started, but Jason got lost and was caught in the rain for a while. It was a tough hike today, with lots of false peaks on the way up Pleasant Pond Mtn. Also, there was something interesting on the top of Moxie Bald - the remains of an old lookout tower. Evidently the cables snapped during a big storm and it was never replaced.
Great ship without sails from southern port sets forth, With a crew clad in tuxedos, it drifts off slowly North. But when the ship begins to sink, the crew soon proves its worth. None stay with the ship, they all dive in, headfirst!
June 27 ~ Pierce Pond Lean-to at milepoint 155.5 south, 15 days since start of hike, averaging 10.4 miles per day
David's entry: In hiking, as in other things, all's well that ends well. However, the day began with two major frustrations and an annoyance. At 7:30 a.m. we began a fast hike over the 6 miles to Caratunk, so that we could resupply, make phone calls, visit the Post Office, and get lunch - all before 12 noon, our last opportunity to ferry across the Kennebec River. So, the first frustration came when, in Caratunk, we found that the general store folded, the lunch spot is not open on Tuesdays, and a fellow hiker was using the only pay phone. That left me with lots of time to talk with the Postmaster. Jake and I were going to have to tighten our belts and make do in the grocery department. We have just enough food to stay on the Trail for another 3 or 4 days, when we should reach our next mail drop in Stratton, Maine.
The second frustration came when it was my turn to use the phone. I had not spoken with my wife Beth in 15 days - the longest we have been out of touch since we were married in 1980. She can only be reached in the ten-minute intervals between her psychotherapy clients' appointments. So, after begging the fellow hikers for phone access at 9:50 and 10:50 and paging my wife on her beeper, I discovered that the pay phone does not accept incoming calls. Thank God for the Postmaster, who let me take a call on her line. By the time the logistics were arranged, Beth and I spoke for about three minutes. I was relieved to hear that things are OK at home. The call got me in touch with how much I miss the rest of the family. I think the Postmaster was a little surprised to see a thru-hiker in her office with tears in his eyes.
Crossing the Kennebec River by canoe was fun. The ferryman, Steve, has been doing this for fourteen years, and seems to love his work.
Our final annoyance of the day came within a few minutes after crossing the river. Rain moved in and quickly drenched us and kept drenching us over the nearly four miles from the river to the next shelter. I am becoming accustomed to hiking this way, though I confess that I generally prefer drier conditions.
And dry was what we got when we reached the shelter; the sun appeared and left us as completely dry as the rain had left us sodden. Our clothes were festooned over branches and rocks along the edge of the pond near the shelter, and within a couple of hours we were dry again.
Jacob and I basked in the sun, along with a few other hikers, reading and enjoying the view of Pierce Pond. Each of us swam a bit - the pond is fed by several springs and is remarkably clear. The shelter register contains breathless comments from previous hikers about this being the most beautifully situated lean-to on the entire AT. And I cannot disagree, though we've only seen about 10% of the AT so far. As the sun sank over Pierce Pond Mountain, the sky lit up in shades of deep blue and orange reflected in the pond, and a loon swam into view through the pines. I was left speechless (a rare state, for me).
I decided to set up my one-person tent by the shore, and Jacob decided to sleep directly under the stars (in a sleeping bag and bug helmet), so that we could look out at the water and soak up a little more of the magic.
[Jacob's entries will come later on David wrote.]
June 28 ~ Little Bigelow Lean-to at milepoint 173.0 south, 16 days since start of hike, averaging 10.8 miles per day
David's entry: Today was a big mileage day for us: 17.5 mile, our longest to date. Two things made it possible. First, the terrain was not too bad today. Some of it - the Arnold Trail - has been used since Colonial times. (Benedict Arnold led a force here that tried to reach Quebec City but found that carrying their "bateaux" from lake to lake was unmanageable; the terrain is not so bad if all you're carrying is a back pack, but I'm glad we left our bateaux at home.) Second, our engines were stoked this morning with an extraordinary pancake breakfast at Harrison's Camp - a wilderness lodge (no phone, no electricity) located .3 miles from Pierce Pond. Tim and Fran Harrison serve a special hiker's breakfast of eggs and 12 pancakes, reputed to be the best on the AT, and I would say among the best I've had, period.
Time and Fran have been running this log-built lodge for 15 years. The decor is out of Woodsman's Journal. Mounted deer heads and a bear, whose last stop was at the taxidermist, adorn the walls, along with photos from fishing expeditions. The Harrisons have been home-schooling their children for much of the year, with apparently good results. Their 10-year-old daughter Aimey is startlingly bright and quite independent. (Perhaps her sophistication shouldn't surprise me - the bathroom at the lodge was the only log-built facility I've visited that had the New Yorker among the reading material.)
Aimey told Jacob and me about her encounter with a bear when she was six years old. She was at the pond by herself. "What did you do?" I asked. She said that she recalled reading in a Boy Scout manual that "all you have to do is bang two rocks together very hard, and the noise will drive them away - it hurts their ears!" Did it work? I asked. "You bet." (Note to self: begin carrying rocks in backpack.)
Before leaving the Harrison's, Jacob and I each bought some lemonade from Aimey - she runs a lemonade stand from a small log cabin that her father built for her. We need more stands like this along the Trail.
Other excitement of the day included an unexpected encounter with a hawk. The shelter register here warns hikers about this particular hawk - "an unfriendly but beautiful goshawk" that nests near the Trail. As I walked by, she began squawking at me from a branch 50 feet from the Trail. I stopped to admire her but apparently she didn't appreciate my attentions, because she swooped down from the tree and flew straight at me. With a wingspan of about three feet and a fierce gaze, I could tell this hawk wasn't fooling around. I ducked, and she flew over my head. I thought to myself: That's one brave bird. After all, no matter how scared I was, I'm still a lot bigger than that hawk and I'm carrying two hiking poles. I suppose her goal was just to scare me enough to make me leave and be quick about it, and she succeeded.
I also stopped today at a tiny sand beach; it was big enough for three or four people, if none of them sat down. But I arrived by myself and took a 20-minute break to swim. Because there are no showers at the lean-to's - actually, nothing at all but three walls, a roof, and a nearby outhouse - I rarely pass up an opportunity to go jump in a lake these days. The water was a bit cold, and I am usually a coward when it comes to jumping into cold and unfamiliar bodies of water. But we had hiked seven miles in warm weather at that point, and I needed a dip. Later, I caught up with some other southbound hikers, and asked if they had gone swimming there. "No," they replied, "there were to many leeches," Eeek! - I shuddered a bit, and tried to recall everything I know about leeches, which is basically nothing except what I saw in the film "African Queen," in which Humphrey Bogart emerges from a river covered with the little beasts. I asked the hikers if I would know it if the leeches had attached themselves to me, and they replied "Oh yes - they work quickly, and they're sloppy eaters."
My last stop just before reaching the shelter came when I was passing the foot of Flagstaff Lake. The two southbounders who told me about the leeches - a young couple named Scott and Rebecca - were resting on a boulder and invited me over for some GORP. They were headed for the same nearby lean-to that Jake and I were aiming to reach for dinner. So it felt like stopping for hors d'oeuvres, only no one bought us drinks and the peanuts were mixed with raisins and M&Ms.
Tomorrow we are going to sleep late, while our legs try to recover from a 17.5 mile day and we prepare to climb the 4,000-foot Bigelow mountains in the morning.
Jacobís Entry We had a very hearty (and delicious) breakfast at the lodge near Pierce Pond, and talked a little with the family that runs it. Left at 9, still undecided on the question of whether to do a 10 mile or a 17 mile day. The first 9 or so miles flew by, and shortly before the first Lean-to I came to a side trail marked "Arnold Ponts, 50 yards." I should stop here to make a historical note: the swamp we had passed through that morning was the same one Benedict Arnold postaged through in goodness only knows what year. Anyhow, we were in Benedict Arnold country. The side trail sounded nice and short, so I set off to check it out. Quickly, the side trail became a poorly maintained side trail, and shortly thereafter it became a *very* poorly maintained side trail. After that it more or less ceased to exist as a trail. It didnít properly end - in fact, you could still see the faintest trace of where a trail had one been - but it became completely overgrown. I had to crawl under successively lower tree branches until I felt like Alice in Wonderland. Why did I keep going? Mostly stubborness. At each step I considered turning back but didnít want my work up till then to go to waste. Finally, I got to the end. The view was not remarkable. I didnít return empty handed, though. I found an old Nikon lenscap someone had dropped - an indication that someone had been out there at some time after the invention of the camera, contrary to what the condition of the trail seemed to indicate.
It wasnít far the next Lean-to, and we met 4 Northbounders there. We decided to push on and do a 17.5 mile to this place (which BTW is beautifully maintained). Everyone made it, a although Jason was rather late because had had to backtrack to retrieve his water bottle, which he had dropped while we were waiting for him . Scott commented, "With his luck, Jasonís flashlight will die 30 seconds after he turns it on." Lo and behold Jasonís voice soon came from the darkness, "Hey, can someone come get me? My flashlight went out."
June 29 ~ Horns Pond Lean-to's at milepoint 183.2 south, 17 days since start of hike, averaging 10.8 miles per day
David's entry: We climbed four peaks today - two of them quite high and the other two even higher. My knees ached when we reached this lean-to. But the steepness of the climbs made the dramatic 360 - degree views all the more breath-taking. We were lucky to get clear and sunny weather - we were able to see Mt. Washington, Mt. Katahdin, and a chain of mountains in Canada. In every direction there were mountains - too many to count - stretching out in undulating bands of blue-gray across the horizon, as far as the eye could see. This was probably the most spectacular day yet for mountain gazing. In the book I just finished I came upon the following quote, "The sense of the sacred awakened by mountains has the power to transform lives." I left the peaks of the Bigelow Mountains feeling jolted by some of that power.
Along the way, I noticed some sign of trail construction, including a cache of hardhats, pulleys, cables, and canvas strapping. I asked one of the trail caretakers, Phil, who was camped by myself between two peaks, how the trail crews move the huge rocks that form stairs in some of the steeper sections of the Trail. "Brute force," was his answer. They don't use power winches or hydraulic anything - just a big crew with strong backs.
When I arrived here to meet Jacob, I had a bit of a fright. The Trail guide notes that there are two Lean-to's here, not just one. And sure enough the white blazes led me to a small clearing with two log lean-to's. The only problem was that Jacob (and the two people he was hiking with) were nowhere to be seen.
Now, as a father, part of my job is to worry and, in situations like this, to consider all of the potentially catastrophic possibilities. I thought: Jacob's gotten hurt and the other two have carried him off the mountain, or one of them is hurt and Jacob is doing the carrying. They had to do all of this quickly and therefore couldn't leave a note for me.
I scouted around the site and found, to my relief, two more shelters - new ones. There, Jake had just finished making dinner and was relaxing with the other hikers. So, once again, I was worried for naught. Daniel Boone was once asked if he had ever been lost. "No," he replied, "but I was bewildered once for three days."
Two energetic rabbits circled our shelter as we prepared for bed. With the darkness came a gentle rain, and then more rain, pinging on the tin roof of the shelter in a way that made our accommodations feel much cozier. It's the contrast that brings things into focus, just as the harshness of our climb through the steep wooded hills earlier today made the view from the stony peaks seem all the more radiant.
Jacobís Entry Afternoon - Stafford Notch Campsite
Not much going on so far. Made it over little Bigelow, cooking curried rice for lunch since supplies are low.
Evening - Horn Pond Lean-to Nice day today. 360 degree views form the top of Bigelow
June 30 ~ Stratton at milepoint 188.4 south, 18 days since start of hike, averaging 10.5 miles per day
David's entry: Today was a resupply day: 5.2 miles of hiking, hitch a ride into town, and spend the rest of the day doing laundry and errands. The town library has internet access, and so I enjoyed reading the Guestbook comments at Trailplace. The librarian also helped me find some information about the health risks from using iodine to purify our water. (We will be relying on iodine until we get a new water pump filter in Andover, Maine.) Apparently we're OK unless we notice bulging in our thyroid glands. I'm not sure which is worse - bulging glands or drinking untreated water, but I hope we get to Andover without finding out.
We're staying at a hostel for hikers, attached to a motel, and there's not much more to say about the town other than the fact that folks here are quite friendly to hikers, notwithstanding the fact that we look more than a little bedraggled as we stagger into town. Jake and I each have 18 days worth of beard - which is to say less than an actual beard but something quite like it. It amazes me that drivers here will pick up people like us trying to hitch-hike into town from the Trail. After all we not only look suspicious and smell worse, but we're carrying sticks (our hiking poles)! I would certainly think twice before picking up someone like me.
But people are not only friendly along the Trail, they go out of their way to help hikers in many different ways, most of them relating to food. On the AT, this is called "trail magic" - unexpected and wonderful kindnesses extended to hikers by strangers. One hiker I met today told me that he received an offer - out of the blue - from someone he met at a trailhead to come for a steak and lobster dinner. Since Jacob and I are vegetarians, we don't get many offers of lobster and steak, but we were thrilled this evening when two people we had just met gave us a package of Yves (non meat) Pepperoni and a ziplock bag full of TVP (texturized vegetable protein); it's not steak, but for us it's the next best thing. In addition, a Trailplace correspondent named Mother Hen has generously offered us accommodations at her home near the Trail in New Hampshire. And, even before we left on our hike I was surprised to receive wonderful gifts out of the blue from friends: a hiking stick, a lightweight camera tripod, homeopathic remedies for joint pain, and a Jewish "hamsa" (a lucky hand symbol on lightweight wood with a prayer for safe travel). My theory about trail magic is that it provides the giver with a connection to the experience of the Trail in a generous, heart-felt way. And for us hikers it is very moving to be the recipient of so many good wishes.
Whoops, didnít write much last night. It got late fast. Anyway, Bigelow was very nice but difficult. The Horn Pond Lean-To was interesting - They are in a very sensitive area, so there are signs and barriers all around showing where not to walk. Thereís a very pretty pond nearby - remarkable for how high it is. Also, the privies are not the standard pits - theyíre special composting toilets. All the waste stays in a big metal box and is heated by its own decomposition until any pathogens are destroyed. It is then put on drying racks and eventually distributed as rich soil. Sonya the caretaker was very friendly a were the two Northbound sections hikers who had arrived already. I ate some dinner and the four of us went back part ways up the mountain to see the sunset. It was quite a lot of fun even though there were a lot of clouds in the sky and the sunset was less than spectacular. We stayed on the peak a little while talking about cell phones on the trail and co-housing and ecology, and set off down to the Lean-Tos in the growing dark.
A couple interesting things happened during the night. First, I had a bag of gorp in my pocked and unthinkingly just took it out and left it on the sleeping platform. During the night, I heard some scurrying near my hand, and when I woke up a squirrel had eaten a hole in the bag. Thatís the only animal-eating-our-food experience weíve had.
Also, I had my first food dream. Itís somewhat faded, but it was primarily about fixing a veggie burger with all the toppings
July 1 ~ South Branch of Carrabassett River at milepoint 196.6 south, 19 days since start of hike, averaging 10.3 miles per day
David's entry: We spent the morning in Stratton, doing our part for the local economy and making several phone calls. It felt wonderful to be back in touch with my parents, my two other children, and my wife. One of the calls was briefly interrupted by the arrival of Stratton's annual July 4th parade, which passed about 15 feet from the hostel where we were staying. I'm sure Jacob will describe it in his journal entry. It was great. I especially liked the steel band - these Mainers have rhythm!
Once we were ready to go back to the Trail, we stuck out our thumbs without much luck until a handsome, gray-haired fellow in an old Camry wagon pulled over - Russ Chirstensen, candidate for state Senate in this district. He gave us each some campaign literature, and we had a wonderful chat. He is a hiker and former Legal Services lawyer. Much of his career was devoted to helping refugees obtain political asylum. He came within 39 votes of winning a seat as the state representative for Bangor, running as a progressive Democrat. In short, my kind of guy. He dropped us off at the trailhead, we wished him luck with his campaign, and he wished us luck with ours. Our goal for the day was to reach this river, and we made it by 7 p.m. or so. The peaks we crossed on Crocker Mountain - north peak and south peak - were steep and a good climb (4,250 feet) but the path was well maintained and that makes all the difference.
I spent much of the day singing as I hiked. This is easier to do on the downhills than the uphill parts of the trail. I also tend to sing only when there is no one else around, and if you could hear me sing you would know why. But I find it entertaining, and it focuses my mind. The words of the song become mantra-like once you've sung them several times, and with a limited repertoire each song gets sung a lot. Before leaving for the hike I xeroxed a bunch of songs onto small cards and had them laminated at a copy shop so that they could be carried in my pocket without disintegrating. Then I put a couple in each of our maildrop boxes. unfortunatley, we did not get our first box until Stratton, so I've been singing "Ripple," by the Grateful Dead and "Shalom Aleichem," a Hebrew song of the Sabbath, for about 20 day now. Suffice it to say, I've got the words down pat, even if the melodies sometimes elude me. There's a passage from "Ripple," one of the Dead's more philosophical tunes, that I especially like:
There is a road, no simple highway Between the dawn and the dark of night And if you go, no one may follow That path is for your steps alone.
In Stratton, I got a whole new batch of song cards in my mail drop, and so I was chirping like a canary all day trying them out. They're mostly folks songs, including a particular favorite, "Satisfied Mind," recorded by Bright Morning Star.
Tonight we camped by the river with two friendly hikers from Maine - a married couple - an assistant principal named "Bodygaurd" and an aerobics instructor named "Hot Toes." The former has played and coached basketball, soccer, and baseball at levels up to college, and the latter specialized in step aerobics. So, even though they are my age, I could see, as they passed me on the Trail today, that they set a lively pace. I'm going to try and keep up with them as all four of us head south tomorrow, with a nearly vertical climb of Spaulding Mountain as the first order of business. I can feel my knees throbbing already.
Transcribers Note: I have note received any journals from Jacob, but they are coming.
Jacobís Entry: Late afternoon North Peak Crocker Mountain
Yesterday was a typical town stop - we did laundry, had lunch, bought groceries, etc. One thing of note happened: my polyproplene sock melted in the dryer! Fortunately, I was able to buy another pair at the sporting goods store.
Late Evening - Carrabossett River About to go to sleep, just wanted to finish off todayís entries. We arrived here to find Hot Toes and Bodyguard already camped at the unofficial campsite, but there was plenty of room left. They were very friendly and happy to see us. They had a fire going and chatted with us while we cooked dinner. Bodyguard kept offering to help us do things like setting up our tents and hanging our food.
July 2 ~ Poplar Ridge Lean-to at milepoint 210.0 south, 20 days since start of hike, averaging 10.5 miles per day
David's entry: Today was day 20 and we passed our 200 mile point - gratifying, but still less than 10% of the Trail. The day began with a climb of Sugarloaf and then Spaulding Mountains - the first leg was so steep I spent an hour and a half covering .8 mile. That's really slow, even for me.
Later in the day we reached a ravine leading down to the Orbeton River. My jaw nearly dropped when I saw how steep it was. At first I could not believe that the people who laid out the trail expected someone unaided by ropes, wings, or perhaps a helicopter to make it safely down a rock embankment that seemed to have no place for hands and feet to grab on. Then I saw the familiar white blaze at the bottom, and began considering my options. The only good ones involved my figuring out some way to climb down. So I slid my hiking poles down the rocks - I knew they would be useless - and began to inch my way along the rocks. I found that I could keep myself from falling by going down backwards - the way a toddler first learns to descend stairs. Then I had to figure out how someone would climb this embankment, and just do it in reverse. Small fissures in the rock provided a place to grip, and the occasional root or branch gave me a hand-hold. Then I just held my breath, said a quiet prayer, and soon found myself at the bottom.
Other excitement today: I saw my first deer - a doe and fawn - whose hoof marks I had been following on the Trail for about a half mile. They apparently left the Trail, because the marks disappeared and then suddenly crossed the Trail, pausing to give me a quizzical and frightened look. I tried to give them a look that said "Please don't run away - I'm your friend, and it would be really cool if you would stick around for a minute or two, and even let me pet you - I have some granola bars in my pack that you might enjoy..." but they were gone even before the thought was complete.
We are beginning to see more northbound thru-hikers during the last few days. They all look very fit and happy (some deliriously happy) to be near the end of their journey. Yesterday it was Old Spice, Medicine Man, and his uncle, Ausable Mike. Today there was Hardcore. He got his name by leaving Springer Mountain in Georgia in January and crossing the Smokie Mountains on snow shoes. When I met him, the first thing I noticed was a good-sized Bowie-knife holstered on the shoulder strap of his backpack. This is an unusual accessory for a thru-hiker because of the weight, and because most thru-hikers do not kill wild boar and other woodland creatures for food. (There is, in fact, an almost universal preference for Pasta-Roni and Lipton's noodle dinners.) So, I asked him about it, and he said the knife was something he had always hiked with, for many years back, and that he did sometimes find it useful. He recalled using it recently to help a fellow hiker open a can of tuna fish. This would be something like using a hammer to swat a fly - no doubt very effective, but perhaps not the best tool for the job. Later, as we parted, I thought to myself how remarkable it is that I could encounter a guy wearing a large knife, out in the middle of the woods, with no one for miles around, and feel unafraid. To be sure, he had all of the trappings of a thru-hiker: a ridiculously large pack and, because he was a guy and headed north, five months growth of beard. But I have to admit that if I ran into the same guy on the streets of Boston - night or day - I would be scared. Something about his gentle manner told me, instantly he was OK. Also, I know on a gut level, that a bad hombre, looking to kill and maim and generally mistreat people, would probably find some easier place to do it than the trail we were hiking.
Our day ended at this lean-to, which was more than full when we arrived. Fortunately, Jacob and I had tents, but even the tent sites were scarce. This was the most crowded shelter we've encountered to date, but similar crowds probably lie ahead. Jake and I arrived here late - having spent some time on the Trail having a good father-son chat. I learned that he would like me to treat him more as a co-equal hiking partner, and less a worrying (and worrisome) Dad. So, I will try. We ate our Pasta-Roni by flashlight, reading a wonderful Q&A left at the shelter by the caretaker, David Field. A former chairperson of the Appalachian Trail Conference, he has been looking after this shelter and this section of the Trail for 42 years. One of the items on his 9-page guide, called "Poplar Ridge Trivia": Q: Why are moose pellets always symmetrical/identical?" (Journalist's note: they do, in fact, look almost exactly alike, about the size and shape of the little foil-wrapped chocolates that are sold at Easter time, only not in pastel colors.) A: "So you can tell they're moose pellets."
So that's the news for today from the land of roots, rocks, and scenic vistas. Tomorrow we climb the notoriously challenging Saddleback Range, and hope to see the fireworks in Rangely by the end of the day.
Jacobís Entry Noonish - Spaulding Mountain
Only two notable events so far. First, I took a sizable detour up the wrong path. We were supposed to go up a steep talus slope today, so when I came to such a place with evidence of a trail going up it, I started going up. Of course it wasnít the trail, and of course I didnít realize that until I had gone a good quarter mile of very steep climbing and the trail petered out.
The second event was a porcupine sighting. As I walked along the trail I heard rustling and saw movement ahead to the right. A porcupine had been frightened by my approach and started climbing a tree. I took a bunch of pictures, then backed off a little and sat down waiting for him to come down.. He stayed in the tree for a while, and at one point I think he scraped some bark off the tree and ate it. Finally, he backed down the tree and started walking away.. I followed him for a little while and he climbed into another tree when I got too close, but he didnít go as high this time, and he came down again much sooner. I think he had gotten used to my smell, and had decided that if I were going to eat him, I would have done so already.
July 3 ~ Rangeley at milepoint 220.8 south, 21 days since start of hike, averaging 10.5 miles per day
David's entry: Today - Day 21 - was a study in contrasts. It began with a bit of unpleasantness and ended with a heavenly respite from the rigors of the Trail. I was awakened at 4:30 a.m. by loud voices and the sound of a cooking pot being banged at the lean-to. A small group of loutish high school students with two adult leaders had spent the night and evidently did not care that they were surrounded by sleeping hikers. I call them louts for a good reason: last night they were heard making several lewd comments to one of the women camping nearby, and they got a stern talking-to by Hot Toes, who is a high school teacher as well as an aerobics instructor. This morning I figured it was my turn to read them the riot act.
I walked up to the group of them and asked if they were all hiking together. They paused in the noisemaking and gathered around. One said "yes, we're all in a group." "Has anyone here told you how inconsiderate it is making a racket at this hour?" I asked. "No," one of them aid, "You're the first." One scowled at me; two others stared blankly. They pointed out that a pair of thru-hikers - Scott and Rebecca - had packed up at 4:30 a.m. and left. I asked "Did you notice how quiet they were about leaving?" "Yes - very quiet," they answered. "Well, there's a reason: they're thru-hikers and they know that the folks still sleeping need their rest," I said. To my surprise, two of them apologized. One of the adult leaders seemed a little miffed but thanked me for talking with them. I climbed back into my tent and listened while they continued their seemingly endless packing-up, in voices that were at least a little quieter.
Jake and I began hiking a little after 8 and were immediately faced with a series of three tough climbs up the Saddleback Range. I am convinced that today's path was laid out by the same sadistic trail planning team who designed yesterday's precipitous descent to Orbeton Stream. The only difference: when they designed today's path they were feeling particularly misanthropic. Boulder piled upon boulder, with an occasional white blaze, pointed the way up.
In the trail registers, one hiker described this method of trail design as the "bowling ball" technique. The planners take a bowling ball to the top of a mountain and let it roll. Whichever way it goes - that's the trail. The preferred method involves the use of "switch backs," which zig-zag across the face of a mountain with a gentler pitch.
The trail registers, by the way, continue to be a source of amusement. One of them contained the following comments after we hiked through a miserable stand of blown-down trees over a four-mile stretch: "Who maintains this part of the trail - beavers?" "Q: If a tree falls in the woods, where does it land? A: On the AT, of course."
Once we got up to the high ridges of Saddleback, clouds obscured the views that are ordinarily quite dramatic. I met two young hikers at one of the summits preparing to descend. They had spent the night up there without water. When I offered them some, they declined, saying that Jacob had just given them a drink. At the next summit, I met two young women huddled over their lunches, looking quite chilled - no wonder: they had brought no jackets, rain was falling, and the wind was crossing the summit at about 25 mph. Yikes! No wonder the rescue squads are kept busy in these mountains.
Though the weather was a bit dicey, is was fascinating to watch the clouds blow past the mountain tops, in some cases clinging to the face of the mountain like cake frosting. Walking for a mile or two above the tree line is exhilarating because you can see in all directions, even if you don't see far. After hiking through a tunnel of trees, with the contours of the land only partially in view, suddenly you can see every nuance of the landscape, the "bones" of the mountain exposed, and covered with clumps of tiny alpine flowers (diapensia is the only one whose name I can ever remember).
Jake and I stopped at a shelter on our way down the mountain to get out of the rain for a while, then hiked the last mile and a half to the highway. Our goal was to hitch hike to Rangeley and stay with a friend from Boston who has a vacation home there. We were pleasantly surprised to get a ride with two very friendly folks who enjoy hiking and were familiar with the Trailplace web site, where Jake and I put our journal entries. The driver (I think his name was Bill) said "I've probably been reading your journal along with the others."
We called my friend (a fellow lawyer) and got picked up by his wife (a judge) who drove us out to their beautiful house on the edge of Lake Mooselookmeguntic. I used their phone to call home and find out if everything was OK; my mother had had some minor surgery and was doing well. Jake and I then were treated to a fabulous home-cooked dinner of salmon, shrimp, salad, rice veggies, baked beans, strawberries and ice cream - did I mention the cold Rolling Rock? And there was fudge! This is the type of dinner that thru-hikers dream about.
Jake went out with the family to watch the July 3d fireworks in the mist and I just sat - enjoying being in a warm and dry place and reading. With a shower and clothes in the washing machine, and a cup of tea, I felt decadent, and I liked it.
Upstairs in their guest house, I scrutinized a large poster showing the footprints of various creatures. Yup - the one I saw today was a bear. Well, that was a close enough encounter for me.
We got to the shelter late last night and it was already full. We were happy to encounter Scott and Rebecca (who we thought were far ahead of us) and Hot Toes and Bodyguard there. There was also a sizeable group of weekenders - they were in the shelter, despite the rule that large groups are supposed to tent and leave the shelters for individuals and small groups. All told, the site was quite crowded and I wound up backtracking a few yards to find a viable tent site.
Today was rather difficult going over the Saddlebacks, but not too bad. The main obstacle was the threat of rain, which made me nervous about being on the ridgeline. The views from the top were not expansive, but they were still nifty. They looked like Japanese watercolors with the tops of mountains just poking up out of the clouds.
I was very surprised to find a small pond near the tip, especially considering the warnings on the map about no water for six miles. Admittedly, it looked like it might have dried up after a week of hot weather, but it was quite full at the time, and there was even a path leading down to it. It was especially mystifying in light of the fact that Iíd just met a Northbound couple that told me they hadnít had any water since the afternoon the day before. (I gave them some water from one of my bottles).
The climb down was pretty easy. There was a neat side trail to a place called The Caves. A boulder fall had created a small cave system through which the trail ran.
July 4 ~ Sabbath Day Pond Lean-to at milepoint 230.2 south, 22 days since start of hike, averaging 10.5 miles per day
David's entry: More pampering this morning - Day 22 - as our friends in Rangeley made us waffles for breakfast and then drove us back to the trail. Before getting in their minivan, however, they took a picture of us, and we asked their six-year old to join us in the photo. He is a would-be AT hiker and he had really taken a shine to Jacob. All of this attention made us feel like minor celebrities - entirely undeserved, since all we have done so far is hike for three weeks.
We hiked the first mile or so today with my friend Jim, his son, his 10-year old daughter, and her friend, so that the kids could experience some of the Trail and Jim and I could chat for a bit. We parted when one of the kids had enough, and Jacob and I trudged on. It felt good to be hiking in the woods in clean clothes and fresh socks, and then - bam! - I slipped off a log into a muddy swamp. Both feet went in past my ankles, and the clean feeling was gone. Oh well, I had almost an hour of it. I decided to walk through the nearest stream, and dissolve as much of the mud as possible, even if it meant thoroughly soaking my feet and shoes in the process. Call it vanity or squeamishness, but somehow it was easier to tolerate thoroughly wet feet than thoroughly black, mud-encrusted feet.
Although the Trail was relatively easy today, I found it hard to get motivated. My legs were aching, and the smallest uphill seemed like a chore. Discouragement is an occasional visitor on the Trail, and thoughts of quitting sometimes dash fleetingly through my mind. When that happens, or when the Trail seems too hard, or the living conditions too rough, I turn my attention to two humbling thoughts.
Humbling thought #1: about ten years ago Bill Irwin hiked this Trail blind, with the help of a seeing eye dog. Grandma Gatewood hiked the Trail in her seventies, and Verna Soule, age 73, is hiking the Trail right now. Earl Shaffer, the first person to hike the Trail from end to end, did it again, at age 79, and I think there have been even older thru-hikers. If they can do it, I probably can do it.
Bumbling thought #2: a few miles from here there is a Navy training camp where would-be Seals go on a training exercise in which they must survive for 20 days in the woods with nothing but the clothes on their back and a hunting knife. They are given no food, and I believe the ground rules prohibit using the knife to obtain food from hikers. Instead, they are supposed to kill frogs and snakes and perhaps larger creatures, and eat them raw unless they can invent a means of building a fire. I keep trying to imagine how a vegetarian like myself would fare on a training mission like this, especially if it was before blueberries were in season. But more to the point, I feel like a complete wimp - with my gortex raingear, down sleeping bag, nylon tent, white gas stove, Lipton's noodles, extra shoes, toothbrush, and even dental floss - whenever I think of what the Seals go through. If they can handle 20 days with just a knife, I should be able to keep going, with all my cushy paraphernalia.
At the lean-to this evening, a remarkable thing happened. A northbound thru-hiker named Pigpen arrived and produced from his backpack a watermelon! And not a dinky watermelon - this one weighed slightly more than 18 pounds! Pigpen had carried it approximately 3 Ĺ miles, up some steep terrain, to share it with his fellow hikers. When non-hikers perform acts of kindness like this for hikers, it is usually called "trail magic" (Our friends in Rangeley, for example, performed some wonderful trail magic.) But I think the term should apply to fellow hikers as well. And watermelon of all things! It is the very antithesis of the foods hikers carry - food from which every possible drop of water has been squeezed. Pigpen handed out slices until it was gone, and there was rejoicing around the shelter.
Just then rain began to fall. Then we heard thunder. I crawled back into my tent, wondering about the forecast for a week of fair weather, which we had just heard 2nd hand from a hiker with a radio. My tent was going to get a little wet, with this downpour, but I enjoyed the privacy, especially with 8 hikers in the shelter. I fell asleep listening to the pounding rain on my tent roof, hoping that the tent would prove to be stronger than the rain.
Jacobís Entry: Little Swift River Pond Campsite
Yesterday we got into Rangeley about 5. While we were waiting at the pizza place to be picked up to go to Dadís friendís house, we ran into Hot Toes and Bodyguard; who had gotten ahead of us and greeted us very warmly.
Jim and Beth who we stayed with, were wonderfully hospitable and gave us a nice dinner. They were having chicken but fixed some salmon for Dad and some beans for me. The fireworks in Rangeley are on the 3rd, so I went to see those while Dad opted to stay at the house.
July 5 ~ Elephant Mountain Tent Site at milepoint 242.9 south, 23 days since start of hike, averaging 10.6 miles per day
David??s entry: The rain was just tapering off this morning as I awoke. The first order of business inside my little tent was damage assessment. It's a rare tent that does not get at least damp inside after a thunderstorm, and mine is no exception. Jake and I wanted to get on the trail by 8:00 a.m., so that left no time for drying out a damp tent and sleeping bag. I packed them up as is, and as a result was probably carrying 1-2 pounds of water in my backpack. Later, when we crossed a large expanse of rock on the way up Bemis Mountain, I stopped and spread all my wet gear out in the sun. It took almost an hour to get it dry, but it was worth the effort.
Crowded at the shelter yesterday. When I arrived, I met Cool Shoes, who had been there for a while Soon after, Hot Toes and Bodyguard arrived. Then came a Northbounder named Foot Loose. A little later two young folks arrived - Northwind and Billboard (both Northbounders). Then Dad arrived, and decided to tent it - to avoid the crowd. Three other Southbounders whom I didnít recognize showed up soon after. Then a group of about 13 kids with a camp arrived, all between 12 and 15 probably. They were quite noisy but they gave us food (as you will soon see) so I have no beef with them. Finally two more Northbounders - Pigpen and Journeyman showed up. Pigpen had stopped at a produce stand at the last road and bought their biggest watermelon (15 pounds!)and had carried it four miles to the shelter. He cut it up and shared it all around. There was plenty of it, and it was delicious!
Later, when it was quite dark and we were mostly in bed, some of the camp kids walked up to the Lean-To with a lantern and a big pot, and said "Anyone want some beans? We couldnít finish them , and we donít want to carry them out." Of course half the people in the shelter leaped out of bed. There were tortillas too, so we made burritos. I found a large stick in mine, and didnít care - I was eating food I hadnít had to carry! Again, it was delicious.
Later - Jct. Clearwater Brook Trail Had a day of very good hiking today. Bemis was enough to get the blood pumping, but not difficult at all, and once I got on the ridgelow it was smooth sailing. I met Turtle and Willow for the first time today, which was neat. Actually, it turns out I saw them on the other side of the road into Stratton. They were being dropped off to continue hiking just as a car pulled over to give me a ride.
We pushed on past Bemis Mountain Lean-To tonight, wanting to get a little closer to Andover tonight. Hot Toes and Bodyguard stayed there though as did Cool Shoes. HT & B are getting off the trail at Andover, so the last weíll see of them will be in town, Iíve really enjoyed hiking with them. Tonight weíre staying at an unofficial tentsite with Mother Goose, Rabbit, Ripshir, Turtle and Willow. Itís a good thing our tents are small, or thereís be no place to camp.
Youíll find me at the back of every fairytale and novel, Every person meets me in their time, though many grovel. Though you search, youíll find me not in a rainbow or a Mobius strip. But with patience you may, in a rope of a slow bus trip
Starting out in the morning with damp shoes and clothes is an eye-opening experience when the wind is gusting to 30+ m.p.h. There were serious white caps on Sabbath Day Pond, and the only cure for the chills was to keep moving.
The storm that passed through left the air crisp; the visibility today from the peaks was exceptional. As I looked out from the rock ledges on the Bemis Range, the views of distant mountains and green valleys was so clear that I could make out the individual trees even at a distance. Everything looked vivid. I wondered whether I should pinch myself because I just felt very lucky to be spending this time hiking amidst such beauty.
When I look at mountains, I get the same feeling as when I look at the ocean. It is humbling to be in the presence of something much greater than ourselves, and it makes me feel peaceful inside.
The climbs today were not as steep as some we have seen, but there were plenty of them. By the time we reached the tent site, we had crossed six peaks. My legs have been aching, so I rewarded myself when I reached the highest of the peaks - Bemis Mountain (elev 3,592) - with a slightly mashed snickers bar and two ibuprofen.
Jake and I had to make dinner quietly because, even though it was only 7:30 p.m., some thru-hikers have set up tents here and are already sleeping. I climbed into my freshly dried tent and sleeping bag and thanked my lucky stars for the gusty but sunny day that allowed me to dry it all out. We have heard from some northbounders that they encountered three weeks of rain in April. I can't imagine dealing with that night after night. On the other hand, even on good days, Jake and I are dealing with adversity on the Trail of a kind that I never dreamed I could happily endure. In his book, "A Walk in the Woods," Bill Bryson talks about deprivation as the central experience of thru-hikers: everything we ordinarily take for granted, from dry clothes to indoor plumbing is gone. Another book I've read while out here - "The Hobbit," a favorite of Jake's and the only book on hand when our maildrop did not arrive - describes the contentment of the hero, Bilbo Baggins, when he returns from his encounters with goblins, elves, giant spiders, trolls and the dragon Smaug: "the sound of the kettle on his hearth was ever after more musical than it had been in the quiet days before his adventure."
Tomorrow we will hike to a trailhead and hitch hike into a small town, Andover, Maine, get a mail drop, and enjoy some creature comforts. But tonight, I am enjoying the warmth inside my tent and the edgy feeling that comes from wondering whether we'll have storms tonight.
July 6 ~ Andover, Maine at milepoint 246.2 south, 24 days since start of hike, averaging 10.3 miles per day
David's entry: Today - Day 24 - began at 5 a.m. with the sounds of nearby hikers folding their tents and a large thrush beating its wings as it dashed from tree to tree. The cold night air left moisture condensing on the inside of the tent, but the outside is strangely dry. Anyway, today it didn't matter because it was (glory, hallelulya) a town day.
The hike down to the road to Andover goes up first to the top of Old Blue Mountain and drops precipitously. At one point along the Trail, a small outcropping of rock breaks through the trees and all of a sudden I saw the road almost directly below. It could have been a scene from Hitchcock's "Vertigo." I tried to take the descent slowly but I knew Jacob was waiting at the bottom for me. I also knew that our friend and transcriber, Rick Towle, was down there with a vehicle to transport us into town.
How, you might ask, did I know these things? Hikers are friendly and helpful people, almost without exception. Each of the northbounders that I met this morning gave me the news, with updates. They also gave us detailed reports on the accommodations and restaurants in Andover.
When I reached the road, sure enough - Rick and Jacob were sitting were sitting on the tailgate of a red pick-up truck Rick had borrowed. He drove us into town and drove us to the Post Office and library. It turns out that the best pizza in Andover (IMHO) is made at the Citgo station, where there's a lunch counter at the back. Jake and I both felt a powerful craving for pizza, and Rick joined us. Rick had just finished 6 days of hiking, and so we each ordered the 16" jumbo size pizza - a mistake, as it turns out, because we were no match for it.
We are staying at Pine Ellis Rooming House, where hiker's accommodations are $10 per night, breakfast extra. We are enjoying meeting some of the southbounders who were a day or two ahead of us at Katahdin, and whose trail register entries we??ve been reading: Mother Goose, age 52 (I'm told) and doing her 4th thru-hike; her hiking partners, Rabbit and Ripshin; and two teachers from North Carolina, Blue Light and Martha Stewart (her register entries contain useful decorating tips for life on the Trail). Our friends Bodygaurd and Hot Toes are staying here also - we'll be saying good bye to them in the morning, as they return to civilian life after two weeks of hiking from Monson.
Tonight I called my mother, my wife and daughters on the phone and felt a pang of loneliness - not for the first time - because of the distance.
The last of the evening was spent with laundry and reorganizing our gear. Three boxes were waiting for us in Andover: our mail with drop food, another box with some back-up gear (e.g., better rain pants), and a box of maps. A fourth box, which we forwarded from Monson did not get here. Jacob pointed out what a sad commentary it is that we could have carried the box on foot and gotten it here faster then the Postal Service, and we were walking virtually the toughest possible route from Monson to Andover. In any event we have what we need for the next leg of our journey: our staples, some maps and gear, and a new addition - protein bars from Trader Joe's! These will give us the strength to do what needs to be done, with some very tough climbing in the Mohoosuc Range that stands between us and New Hampshire, 35 miles from here.
Had a nice town day ate too much. Itís getting late so Iíll write more tomorrow.
July 7 ~ Stream Next To East B Hill Road at milepoint 256.5 south, 25 days since start of hike, averaging 10.3 miles per day
Day 25 began in a small trailer in back of the Pine Ellis boarding house in Andover. I opted for the trailer instead of one of the bunkrooms because it seemed private and sunny (it had a lot of windows) and because I had never slept in one before. I forgot to ask whether it was heated. Temperatures dropped into the forties overnight. There was no bedding in the trailer, but I curled up in my sleeping bag and enjoyed looking out at the trees when the sun came up.
Later in the morning we said goodbye to Hot Toes and Bodyguard, who became our friends and hiking buddies during the past week. Theyíre hiking the Trail one section at a time during vacations.
The folks at Pine Ellis fed us a great breakfast, took us to the Post Office, and then to the trailhead. As we unloaded our packs from the pick-up truck, Paul (the co-owner) handed each of us hikers an apple - a Pine Ellis tradition - and we were off. ( I thought the apple was a nice touch.)
The first 4 miles were intensely steep - up and over Moody Mountain and then up Wyman Mountain. It took me an hour per mile and my legs ached, but Jake and I were determined to make it a 14-mile day (or at least Jake was), because thatís where the next shelter was. I did a quick calculation and concluded that I would have to average 2 miles an hour for the next ten miles if we were going to get to the shelter without the use of flashlights.
So, for the next 6 miles - almost all down hill at a gradual slope - I flew. It felt great to have gravity working for me for so many consecutive miles. But when I reached the bottom at 6 p.m. - with 4.5 miles of mostly climbing left to do, some fellow thru-hikers suggested that Jake and I spend the night. They had all set up tents by a stream in a lovely stand of birches and maples. Jake and I conferred, and I told him that the chances of my making it to the next shelter before dark were slim to none My legs were shot. Jake could have done it easily, but he was kind enough to call it a day and we pitched our tents.
I hope Jake will continue to tolerate my slower pace. He could easily hike another 50% more miles per day than I. So far we are sticking together, and I have my fingers crossed that it will stay that way.
One of the reasons I was slow this morning was worrying about my wife Beth. She was having a medical procedure, and I wanted to be back home to accompany her. Instead, her sister Ellen was there. So Beth was, of course, in good hands, and she has an excellent doctor. But I was worried, to say the least. I had arranged for Ellen to send me a signal on the beeper that I carry (with the sound turned off, so it doesnít get me ostracized from the ranks of thru-hikers). When I did not get a signal, I went to Plan B. I reached for a tiny cell phone (one of those Star-Tac numbers that weighs only 4 oz.), which I began carrying today for the first time. It came in our Andover mail drop, and I am experimenting to see if it will work better than the beeper. I called a special voice mail box that the people at work set up for me, and sure enough there was a message from Ellen: Beth was fine, the procedure went smoothly, she íll be going home - nothing to worry about. I sat there on the slope of Wyman Mountain and cried tears of relief, and tears of sadness about not being there.
I am missing a lot by not being home. I am missing 5 Ĺ months of my daughter Lily growing up; sheíll be nearly 14 when I return. I find myself missing the regular contact with my family and friends very much. One of the hikers we met (trailname: "Strolling Astronomer") wrote in the trail register - approximately two days after he started - "I miss my wife!" So do I.
1:00 Sawyer Brook Well, I came to this little brook and thought, "No prob, itís an easy rock-hop across." Then I thought, "But wait, itís always the easy ones that get you."
"Youíre right," I replied, "I should take it slow and careful." So I went across very slowly and carefully and ---suddenly a rock slipped from under my feet and I fell in. So here I sit, hoping my boots will dry out a little before I can no longer resist the desire to get hiking again.
2:30 - Hall Mountain Lean-To Anyway, to recount yesterday - well, not much happened. We slept in a little and hiked to town. When we got to the road, we finally met up with Rick Towle! He gave us some soda and a ride to Andover, which was great. We went to the local gas station /pizza place and each ordered a large. None of us finished. There were a lot of people at Pine Ellis Bed and Breakfast, where we stayed. We hung around for a while and did townish things. In the morning we had omelets. They were delicious. Paul from Pine Ellis gavie Mother Goose, Ripshir, Dad, and me a ride back to the trail in his pickup. I rode in the bed of the truck. I loved going fast and feeling the wind, and soon found myself wearing a BFEG - a Big Fly-Eating Grin.
July 8 ~ Baldpate Lean-to at milepoint 264.5 south, 26 days since start of hike, averaging 10.2 miles per day
Day 26: Jake and I were up at 6:30 and on the trail at 8 a.m. Before de-camping, we chatted a bit with three section hikers whose tents were near ours at the brook next to East B Hill Road (is that a strange name for a road, or what?): a mother hiking with her daughter and her sister. I had asked them the night before if they minded our camping nearby - it seemed like the polite thing to do, but Iím not sure what I would have done if they objected. There we were at the bottom of a canyon, it was getting dark, and there are only so many cleared spots. They said fine, and I told them we would try to pitch our tents a reasonable distance from theirs. I can understand their being somewhat suspicious - I would be too. In fact, every night, when Jake and I are sleeping in a Lean-to, it is possible that some thoroughly unpleasant people will roll in, roll out their sleeping bags, and join us at very close quarters for the night. So far weíve been lucky - we have liked virtually everyone weíre met. (Of course there was that couple up on Spaulding Mountain, whom Jake described - accurately, as far as I could tell - as "boring," but boring is ok, especially when youíre out in the woods all alone.)
Today we climbed Baldpate Mountain - three peaks fairly close together, topping out at 3,812 feet. I tried my best to maintain a good pace on the uphills and failed badly. My knees, calves, and quadriceps are all complaining. I also have to stop frequently and catch my breath.
At 8:45 or so, I was passed by two thru-hikers - Blue Light and Martha Stewart - whom we have recently gotten to know. A nice couple, they are both elementary school teachers in rural North Carolina. I tried to keep up with them, but could only maintain their pace for about 45 minutes, during which time I learned about their work and their poverty-stricken students. They both are avid cyclists, and their legs have taut elastic bands in places where my legs donít even have places.
After I inched my way up near the summit of the first Baldpate peak, above the tree line and with gorgeous views in every direction, the wind had picked up and was pushing me - thank God in the direction of the summit. At one point, the wind gusted to about 30 mph, and it pushed me over - not so surprising when you consider (a) that my center of gravity is a lot higher with a 43-pound pack on my back, and (b) that I am fairly clumsy. Along with the wind came a bank of rain clouds moving in on us. It was fascinating - and just a little worrisome - to see the dark wall of showers from that vantage point. I continued hiking up the mountain as the clouds neared us. Jake asked me to please hurry while I set up our camera for a quick shot of the two of us next to the summit sign.
On the way down, with the strong wind at my back, new possibilities for falling over presented themselves. But I managed to scurry safely over the broad expanses of open rock that led from one peak to the next. Jake and I saw a lot of day hikers coming up for the views even as the weather was closing in, and then I realized: oh yeah, itís Saturday! Good day for a day hike, if your day job isnít hiking all day.
One of the day hikers was a volunteer trail maintainer. In spite of the iffy weather, I could not resist the impulse to stop and talk with him. He was carrying a bow saw -- this is a sure sign of a trail maintainer, inasmuch as log poaching is now quite rare in these mountains. I thanked him for all the great work that he and his colleagues do to keep the trails open. I asked him what they do. He said that besides painting blazes and clearing blowdowns, itís mostly "getting the Trail out of the water or getting the water out of Trail. This is done with split log bridges that enable hikers to stay out of bogs and "water bars" that divert water running down the Trail. I could have talked with him for hours, but I had to press on.
When I reached this shelter, Jake and I conferred again and, for a second consecutive day, decided to make a short day of it. Only 8 miles of hiking but a tough day nevertheless. My legs thanked me for stopping short of the 10.5 we had planned. When the terrain flattens out in the middle Atlantic States and Virginia, weíll have opportunities for much longer mileage each day. For the moment, I am trying to be kind to my legs so that they will get me there.
No Entry Today.
July 9 ~ East End Of Mahoosnc Notch at milepoint 273.9 south, 27 days since start of hike, averaging 10.1 miles per day
Davidís entry What a night with the mice last night! Jake and I were sleeping at the Baldpate Lean-to, with four other hikers tenting nearby and one other hiker - Rabbit - sharing the Lean-to with us. Everyone was asleep by 8:30 p.m. An hour later, I heard a gnawing sound and woke up. Ok, so there are mice at this Lean-to. Big deal. There are mice at every shelter on the AT. Then the little *!#@? scrambled over my head and toward my gear. I swatted at it, but it scurried away out of sight. I zipped my sleeping bag up to my neck, but couldnít sleep. The thought of this hyperactive rodent crawling into my sleeping bag plagued me. My body was jut aching for sleep, but my mind was about as awake as it could be. I had face it: I am a total wimp when it comes to rodents.
There was just enough light, with a waning sunset and the moon fighting its way through the clouds, for me to set up my tent. With rain a distinct possibility, I slid the whole contraption into the Lean-to. (Itís quite a small tent - maybe 30" wide and 7í long.) I tried to do this as quietly as possible, which apparently wasnít very quietly, according to Jake. I did manage to sleep through the night, until I heard one of the rodents rummaging around in someone ís backpack. I peeked out of my tent and could see it was Rabbitís pack, hanging from the shelter wall. I gave the bag a whack. I thought that might scare the little bugger and send it scurrying back to its colleagues with as good a scare as the one I had earlier. Then all was quiet. I lay down again. More munching coming from the backpack. Another whack from me. Soon I got tired of this cycle. I looked down at Rabbit, and he was already awake and staring at me, probably wondering why I was attacking his backpack. I told him what I was doing and he said he would take over, and I slept for another hour or so. Rabbit told me over supper this evening that he never heard anything from his pack. Perhaps I was hallucinating. But it will probably be a while before I sleep in a Lean-to again unless I have the tent around me.
This morning we watched the squirrels circling ever closer to our food. One climbed up on an unattended jar of peanut butter and nearly toppled it before I shooed it away. I was trying to imagine what sort of squirrel ingenuity it would take to roll one of those jars to a safe hiding place and open it. Perhaps they just chew through it, or possibly use it as a trophy - a bit of household decor.
After we finished watching the squirrels, we got down to the dayís business: climb down the rest of Baldpate Mountain (2.5 miles), climb up Old Speck Mountain (3.5 miles), and then over another mountain (Mahoosnc Arm - 2.0 miles), and down to Mahoosnc Notch (2.0 miles). Everything today was steep, except for a quarter mile stroll that the Trail took around Speck Pond. Iím mostly OK on the downhills, though they scare me and hurt my knees. But Iíve gotten to be quite slow on the uphills, and Old Speck was a killer: 3,000 feet of continuous ascent to a summit of 4,180 feet. This is like climbing the stairs of a 300-story building with no respite. I managed to do it in 3 hours but it would have taken me almost twice as long but for two day hikers from the Boston area. They were cruising up the mountain at medium speed and we chatted for a few minutes. Then I followed them up, and up, and up. We enjoyed chatting, and I knew that keeping pace with them was my life line up the mountain. At the top, where a side trail goes to the very summit we met Jake, who had been waiting for an hour. (This gives some idea of our relative speeds.) Jake and I ate our PB&Jís and then went to the summit, where we climbed the fire tower. Itís only a 35 -foot structure, but with my fear of heights, it felt like 135. I gave myself a little pat on the back for bravery after climbing up the metal rungs of the tower, and two pats for climbing back down. (Great views, by the way.)
When we got back to the trail, we found pieces of chocolate on our packs - a nice bit of trail magic from our two Boston friends.
Three other remarkable things happened today.. First, on my way up Old Speck, we met a neighbor from Acton, a close friend named Sam Dorrance. HeĎs about Jakeís age, so Iíll let Jake say more in his journal entry. But we were astonished and pleased to bump into Sam; he was with a group of high-school-age hikers in a program similar to Outward Bound.
Second, I did something I never thought I would do. I approached some weekend hikers who were coming down Old Speck Mountain and asked them for food. Well, "asked" is not quite right. I asked them where they were going, and when they told me "back to our car," I offered to buy any extra trail food they wanted to part with. I did this because Jake and I were running low. We anticipated that we would be short about one dayís worth of provisions before getting to Gorham, N.H., our next town. We didnít realize how difficult this section of the Trail would be - mostly the fault of my aching legs. We had even given away 2 dinners and 2 breakfasts to other hikers at Andover because we thought we had too much. So here I was "yogi-ing"- a hiker term that sounds better than "begging." (I think it comes from Yogi the Bear.) The first group accepted some money from me and sold me some freeze-dried apple cobbler, some pancake mix, and a package of sunflower seeds. The second group would accept no money, and gave me some cheese slices, a can of tuna, and half a jar of peanut butter. Add this all together and you have quit an interesting dinner for two.
Finally, I got up the nerve to say something to Jacob about our relative pack weights. Our plan was to shift weight to him as we used up our food, which he carries. But even after giving him my Yogied provisions, I was carrying too much. Jacob very generously agreed to take a lot of our common gear (cooking pot, stove, fuel bottle, repair kit) from me. This helped a lot. Then later in the afternoon, when we got to a very challenging downhill slope, he left his pack below, and came back up the hill to fund me. He took my pack and hiked with it down the hill, so that I could do the half mile or so without any pack at all. He said, "I realized we are out here for somewhat different reasons. I really like the physical challenge, and youíre trying to make this as enjoyable an experience as possible. Let me take your pack for a little ways." My knees felt happy to be hiking for part of the afternoon without that infernal pack, and I was happy, as I scrambled over the rocks and roots, thinking about what a wonderful son I have.
Jacob's Entry: Evening-East End of Mahoosuc Notch
Havenít been writing much lately, donít know why. There were a lot of weekenders out today, and several of them gave us food, which we were very grateful for.
Also, we had a very cool coincidence today. As I was hiking up Old Speck, I ran into Sam Dorrance hiking down! He was doing a hike with a youth group and had no idea I was in Maine. He knew I was thru-hiking but thought I was in Georgia. It was great to run into him on the trail.
July 10 ~ Carol Col Shelter at milepoint 280.9 south, 28 days since start of hike, averaging 10.0 miles per day
Davidís entry Day 28 - For me, this was our toughest day yet. We hiked through Mahoosnc Notch, known on the AT as the most difficult mile on the Trail. "Hiked" isnít exactly what we did. It was more like a jungle gym with rocks varying from the size of a small car up to garage size - a three-car garage. There were no iron bars, log ladders, or any of the other "hiker aids" that trail maintainers will sometimes install to make a difficult section possible. Perhaps they think it would detract from the mystique of the notoriously challenging Notch. It took me three hours to cover the one-mile stretch, and I had to leap over gaps in boulders that make me shudder to think about as I am writing this.. (I thought to myself: Iím really glad my parents and my wife canít see what Iím doing right now - theyíd freak out.)
The good news was that we were climbing through this maze of boulders on fresh legs - it was our first challenge of the day. The other good news, for me, was that Jacob stayed with me through the Notch, and we helped each other through some tight spots. The bad news was that it had rained through the night, and it was raining hard when Jake and I broke camp this morning. So our spirits were dampened, not to mention our tents and nearly everything in our packs. Oh, and did I mention the rocks? Nothing like wet rocks to make a tough day even more interesting. Although the sun made brief appearances - such as the one that occurred 30 minutes after we had loaded our packs in a driving rain - the boulders never dried out all day.
So this all sounds like a rather miserable experience? Well yes and no. It was scary in places, and exhausting. But it was also exhilirating to conquer this dreaded mile. It feels good to know thereís nothing ahead of us worse than what ís behind us - at least in terms of terrain.
The rest of the day was no cakewalk, however. The mile that follows the Notch is almost vertical in places and we had streams of water coming at us down the Trail. We crossed five peaks in the space of six miles - all of them in the 3,000 - 4,000 foot range. What made these peaks interesting was that the rains returned intermittently, swept along by gusts that may have been 50-60 mph at times. The weather conditions change very fast on these mountains, and theyíre fascinating to watch as fronts move through the valleys, and the clouds roar up and over the peaks.
At one point the sun came out, and I sat basking on a rock ledge. My feet were complaining about my wet socks and wet boots. So I put on my last pair of dry socks and the dry sneakers I had buried in the bottom of my pack. I started back onto the Trail and 15 minutes later the rains returned. This time I was just below a tree-less summit and I could see the wind driving the rain sideways across the rocks, so I hunkered down under a canopy of tiny evergreens. There I got a gentle soaking while listening to the gale. This evening when Jake and I reconvened, he told me that he was on the summit when that front blew in and there was hail mixed with the rain
Later, when the rain subsided I reached the summit and watched the next front approach the mountain. It was fascinating. The clouds that cling to the mountain like cake frosting were rolling up and over me. At one point I could see nothing but white. I was covered with frosting. Then, as the clouds blew over, the winds picked up, the rain returned, and I decided that I was not standing in the safest possible spot, even if there was no lightning or thunder yet. I moved down from the summit, watched more of the weather show, and then finally decided that I had tempted fate long enough playing amateur meteorologist on a mountain. I found my way back into the woods and down the Trail, where the slippery rocks made the rest of the day a nearly constant challenge.
Suffice it to say Jake and I were both relieved to finally get to this shelter - a nicer cabin than most. It was chock full of boy scouts and other hikers, but the boy scouts shared some camp-made pie with us.. (Quite good by camp standards Ė i.e. not the sort of thing I would be likely to eat at home.) I set up my tent, which I had aired out on a rock ledge at lunch time. Jake and I ate out dinners by flashlight because we got here so late It was a long day.
But this shelter is exactly one half mile from New Hampshire! Tomorrow morning we will be finished with Maine. Not that we havenít enjoyed it. I love Mainers, and the Trail here has actually been wonderful, even if it has sometimes left me at the end of the day feeling like a punch-drunk boxer bouncing off the ropes, barely able to stay on my feet.
They say if you survive Maine, you have a very good chance of making it all the way through New Hampshire, which is evidently called the Granite State for good reason. Much of the granite is located in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, which we will reach in a few days. Jake and I have hiked some of that section, in bits and pieces, albeit with lighter packs. We have some idea of what weíre in for.
Our near-term vision, however, is Gorham, where we plan to stay at a hostel called Hikers Paradise.
No entry today.
Last modified Thursday July 25, 2002