A BirdBrain Maine AT Adventure
The prequel -
One night, late in the summer of 2012, I sat scanning Netflix for something interesting to watch. In my search, I came across a show called “National Geographic: The Appalachian Trail”. My evening’s entertainment was set. I did not know it at the time, but my next summer’s plans were being chosen too. As I watched the documentary, a desire burned within me. If only there was a way to do this. If only I knew someone else that wanted to do this.
Several days passed. I forgot about the dream of hiking the AT and got on with life. One day my brother-in-law and sister came over to visit. He commenced to describe a show he had recently watched on Netflix about the Appalachian Trail. All of a sudden we were finishing each other’s sentences about our desire to walk this trail. Within minutes it was decided. We were going to walk the Maine section of the AT next summer.
As an afterthought, we looked at our wives. They were speechless and so were we. After all, we go sailing together every summer. The men had just summarily dismissed the women. After many embarrassing disclaimers, they let us off the hook. They saw what this meant to us. We could go and they would support.
All that was left was planning. A plan we did. We studied blogs and maps and guides. We picked brains. We bought gear. We took in shake down hikes. We exercised and dieted. We waited. And finally the night before the hike came. July 5, 2013 was the last time I would sleep in my bed for a month. It was off to Baxter in the morning.
July 6 -
Our support group (Ellie Luggah's wife and my wife) drove us to KSC. Ellie Luggah is my brother-in-law.
It should be noted that reservations are required to camp in Baxter. I prefer as far up the Hunt trail as possible and off the stream. The stream is loud. If you want to get in, reserve early. If you want your pick, reserve earlier.
We arrived about 10 AM. Technically that is earlier than you are supposed to arrive, but sites clear out early.
The 4 of us took in the Owl. If you are driving to Baxter and plan to head south, it may be a good idea to do a gratuitous hike the 1st day and start the real stuff the next full day.
I have heard a lot of complaints about the rangers in Baxter. I have no clue which ranger they are talking about. I found them all top notch people. At the gate, the ranger asked us of our plans and gave good advice tailored to those plans. We told him that on day 2 we were driving to Roaring Brook and taking in a big loop into the pond and over Hamlin and back to KSC. He told us to make sure we pass the gate before 7 AM or we might get shut out. I do not fully understand why. It does not matter. It was great advice that saved day 2. If we got shut out, day 2 would have been messed up.
We had great weather on day 1 (while hiking). It poured at night. This would be a common thing on our walk. It rained only 1 day in the entire month of our walk. It rained several nights.
The Owl is beautiful and worth a side walk. We found the camp sites to be spacious, the rangers friendly, and the company the best.
July 7 -
We drove to Roaring Brook at about 6:30 AM after breakfast. The girls walked around a few ponds in search of moose (none were seen). Ellie Luggah and I hiked into Chimney Pond, across the cut off to Hamlin, up over Hamlin, across the Saddle, up over Baxter, and down the Hunt to KSC. This was about 12.4 miles in 10 hours. The scenery kept slowing us down. Stinking beauty. It always gets in the way of making time.
Being early July, the black flies were not bad (for Mainers). I heard a lot of complaints about them, but only noticed them on the Saddle. The wind blows pretty good up there. Any fly that can navigate that wind deserves to bite me.
Take plenty of water if you plan to do such a loop and drink it. It is so easy to not drink enough. We stocked up at Chimney Pond and did not have another good source until KS Falls. The Tableland had a spring, but it was mostly puddles.
We picked this loop because we did not want to just go up and down the Hunt. I highly recommend Hamlin. It also allowed us to check off another 4000' hill. We ended up doing 12 of the 14 in Maine.
July 8 -
It poured like crazy the night before we walked out of Baxter State Park. This was probably the hardest rain of the entire trip. The tent I shared with my wife that night leaked. I got about an hour sleep at the most.
That morning we had a huge breakfast and said our goodbyes until Monson. We were to meet up with the girls there on the 17th, take a zero, and resupply. My pack weighed 41 lbs. My hiking partner was not sure of his pack's weight, but it was well over 50 lbs. He teased me because I was a gram weenie. I can tell you I was not enough of a weenie and things would change in Monson.
That day we walked 13.4 miles to Hurd Brook Lean-to. We took in every vista and Blue Blaze within reason. I understand that serious AT hikers don't do that. That is why I will never be a serious AT hiker. I am out there to see the beauty and not just to get from point A to point B. We took our time and enjoyed the trip.
The black flies were thicker and would remain so for several days. It was a bit comical watching hikers from away dealing with these critters. They all complained of running low or out of bug spray. I did not use mine and left it behind in Monson. The best defense against these things is to walk a bit faster and swat when not moving. They only bugged me when they got in my eyes, which was often.
There is a small store at the Abol Bridge. It isn't much, but doesn't need to be for the area. It has plenty of ice-cream and we indulged. While at the store another SoBo asked where we were supposed to drop off the yellow cards from Baxter State Park that showed we left. I had no clue and did not even know we were supposed to do such a thing. I guess you are supposed to get one from the ranger when you are walking out of the park so they know you left. Hopefully they are not still looking for me. I dropped the ball there, but made up for it by signing at every AT box.
I hung my bear bag via the PCT method and did so wherever I was able. Most of the time I was the only one to do so. That's fine. I don't mind being different. I also stayed away from the rat traps (lean-tos). I am amazed at what pigs hikers can be. It is unbelievable what they leave behind. Most of it collects in the rodent stations. I pitched my tarp and slept well.
July 9 -
Walked 12 miles to Rainbow Lean-to. We seemed to be traveling at the same rate as 5 other hikers. Us old farts were taking in Blue Blazes too (thus the mileage variances).
For those that worry about appetite issues on a long walk, don't. I had very little hunger for the 1st few days. I forced myself to eat as best I could and gave away food to the Yogis. It is normal. I worried about it at the time, but my hunger came eventually.
I tried to fish along the way. I caught a few here and there. My starry dreams of trout flying out of streams was a fantasy. The fishing gear was dead weight. I will never lug it again on a long walk.
My tarp bivy combo turned out to be a bad choice. Many people told me it would be. But hey, what do they know. Obviously more than I. I slept on top on my bivy and braved the bugs. Good thing I am from Maine. The local bugs only eat people from away.
I saw a moose at very close range. It was in one of those spots where you are watching the boards squish into the peat. I heard a crash crash crash. Looking up all I could see was alders trashing like a dust devil was going through them. Eventually the swaying stopped. I stared for minutes at what I thought was a boulder in the area where the trees stopped moving. Then the boulder walked behind a larger and real boulder. I was staring at a moose 30' away and could not see it because of the poor lighting. It was the only moose I saw on the month walk.
A few tips: The north east section of the Rainbow Lake has the best swimming of the entire AT in Maine. I swam every time I had a chance. The south western trail along Rainbow Lake is very poorly marked. Stay on the trail. It is the real one, even though there are very few blazes. At the south end of Rainbow Lake there is a Blue Blaze to a view of Baxter from the dam. Don't miss it. It is only a couple hundred yards. You find these things if you look around and do more than walk to the end.
July 10 -
This was a tough 13.9 mile day. The terrain was not bad, but my hiking partner's feet were in trouble. Everyone's feet are different. I cannot wear anything with high ankle support. He needs that support. He was wearing expensive Asolo hiking boots. I was wearing cheap New Balance trail runners. But that was not the real issue. I was using Bodyglide Skin. He was using moleskin. I used zero moleskin on my entire walk and had no blisters. I cannot rave enough about this stuff.
The other problem was we were carrying too much stuff. If I was eating, the pack weight would have been coming down. However, I was not. His pack was just painful to look at. My brother-in-law does not complain at all, but it was hard to watch him carry that thing. He adjusted his pack about 10 times. It wasn't until we got to Monson that he made peace with the load on his back. Tease if you want. I will do anything within reason to save a half a gram. The hike is just painful when you carry too much.
At about 10 miles in we came to the northwest shore of Nahmakanta Lake. We went for a swim. This spot has a nice stealth campsite. Given our issues, we decided to set up camp. I had my shelter up when giggling voices seemed to surround us out of nowhere. Girls in their 20's started pouring in. They were running up and down the beach yelling to each other about where to set up camp. One girl noticed our spot and proclaimed there was plenty of room over here.
Here is where I will lose many a reader. Ellie Luggah and I are happily married. If I was single and looking, there might have been a different end to this story. But we had no interest in sharing a lake with 13 giggling girls. No words were spoken. We both started packing. As we made our way back to the trail, we noticed several girls that were almost naked by now. Those ones did not know we were there. I looked at my hiking partner and said, "You are a good man."
We agreed to push on to Nahmakanta Campsite. It isn’t much of a spot. The lake was better. I arrived several minutes before my partner at a stealth site that was occupied by a hurting Sobo that could not go on. He was going to rest there and get to the nearest road in the morning. As I assessed his condition my partner arrived. I told him the situation and stated that I did not believe this was the spot. He said he was not going to push on only to double back. I said I would run ahead and look. I did just that. I ran a few hundred yards to the real spot and ran back to get him.
I caught a couple fish and tossed them back. I had hopes of eating trout, but could not catch them fast enough for my partner. We ate lasagna instead. It tasted good. This was a sign of things to come.
That night I hung my bear bag. My partner’s rope got stuck on a branch. Given my "let me do it" attitude, I grabbed the rope. I pulled hard. It came down. When it did, it sounded like a gun going off. The carabineer hit me in the chest and knocked me over. If the trajectory was an inch or two higher, it would have hit me in the face. Lesson learned. I hung the bag. We made a fire, talked, and went to bed.
July 11 -
We decided today would be an easy day. Ellie Luggah's feet were a mess and we were in no hurry. We took in a Blue Blue, picked Blueberries, and enjoyed good company at the best campsite on the Maine AT.
For those who are on a schedule that says get it done as fast as you can, the section between Whitecap and Baxter is the place to do it. We were on no schedule. Such constraints is reason 50 something I will never do a thru.
Today we walked together. This was not the norm. It is uncomfortable to try to match paces. By the time we got to the Bigelows, we had it figured out. I would pass him on the ups and he would pass me on the downs. Today was all about relaxing and enjoying the beautiful day.
After the spring and small hill we took the Blue Blaze to the top of Pataywadjo Ridge. This is a Blue Blaze that gets little travel. It was tough to follow in places. The AT is so beaten down that much wildlife avoids it. So many more little creatures live on Blue Blazes. We met a mother partridge that tried to lead us away from her brood. I kept talking to her and telling her I was moving by as fast as I could.
The ridge was covered with Blueberries and had nice views of the lake below. It was only 0.9 miles up and 0.9 miles down (well worth the detour). I don't like Blueberries, but helped my partner pick. This would happen several times. We enjoyed the view and relaxed and then pushed on.
As some have gathered, we ended our day at Antlers Campsite. I will not bore by telling the history of the Camp that causes this name. It is worth looking up though. This site is huge with many flat plots that will accommodate many groups of shelters. We were the 1st there and set up on the point. It is hard to describe why this site is so appealing. It had it all. Easy pitching, a great view, good swimming, good fishing, good water source, good fire pit, plenty of fuel for the fire, no bugs, etc.
It did have one problem. This place had spiders in the privy the size of a small mouse. I have never seen such huge spiders. Of course I don't live down south. The privy was new and tolerable (not like many on the trail). But when you opened the door they would scurry like mice into corners.
I caught several smallies, which was fun on my ultralight setup. We swam and relaxed. As evening approached, 4 fun guys in there late 20's or early 30's showed up. I loved making campfires and would do so whenever I could. This was a serious matter. I would drag dead trees about 3" in diameter from whatever distance it took until there was enough for a good long fire. These guys joined in on my efforts and we had the best campfire of the entire walk.
I wish I could relay the stories. Some are too blunt and I took my fair share of ribbing. I learned a long time ago that if people are talking to you they are okay with you. It is when they stop talking to you that you should be concerned. If they tease you, it is best to join in on the fun. I have had great fun laughing at myself over the years. Insecure people miss out on this joy. The hilarity began with an innocent question from a guy named Shaun. He asked if we were married. I said yes, but not to each other. That set the stage.
July 12 -
Before getting into this day a few details are in order. My hiking partner is an early riser. I am an aware sleeper. When I hear his tent zipper, I pull the valve on my air mattress. This leads into a few terms we were learning. The deflating of mattresses is called hiker's alarm clock. Whatever time you retire is hiker's midnight. And standing in the smoke of a campfire is putting on hiker deodorant.
This day was another short day. We were on the trail by 7 and done walking by 11:30. In retrospect we could have pushed on and should have. We walked only 8.3 miles and took one Blue Blaze to a beautiful Pond. Again, we walked together until we were off the Blue Blaze again. But I am getting ahead of myself.
The Blue Blaze was a 0.2 mile sidestep to Cooper Pond. So much scenery is missed in the name of getting there. Cooper Pond has a nice view of Jo-Mary Mountain as a backdrop. A picture of this spot is with this report. I rock hopped out to the rock behind the large boulder in the picture. From there I caught some more Smallmouth Bass. When I had enough, I realized that hopping back would not be possible. The launching area from one rock was no good for as landing area. I had no choice but to wade to shore. After arriving back on the AT, I told my partner to head on ahead and I would change stockings. His feet were still a mess and this would allow him a head start.
I took my time changing stockings and drying my feet. About 15 minutes had passed when I started walking again. It took about 2 miles to overtake Ellie Luggah again. Perhaps I should explain his trail name at this point. My sister collects elephant ad nauseum. It is unbelievable how many of these things she has. So, when it came time to pick an avatar to lug, the choice was obvious. It had to be an "Ellie". And since he is from Maine, he became Ellie Luggah (lugger). Only a few hundred yards before overtaking Ellie Luggah and shortly after crossing Jo-Mary road I jumped a very large deer with bright white spots. It was odd how large this thing was considering it still had spots.
We walked together again until Cooper Brook Lean-to. This walk is very easy. We should have pushed on to Mountain View Pond or the East Branch Lean-to, but Cooper Brook was a nice spot and we were in no hurry. We went swimming again and I fished again. As the day progressed this campsite got very crowded. My appetite was back with a vengeance. This would be our last lazy day until Monson.
July 13 -
The beginning of our walk this day would belie what was to come. From Cooper's Brook to the tote road at the base of Whitecap (minus the jaunt over Little Boardman), you can't find much better walking in Maine. We were screaming down the trail.
Little Boardman had a couple surprises. The trail was not clearly marked. Northbound, this would not be an issue. Some idiot thought it would be cool to lug the detour sign to the peak. Little Boardman is a relatively new addition to the trail and the old trail around it is still visible. I honestly don't understand what would possess a person who hikes this far, to vandalize the markers intended to help them.
The other surprise was while I was gazing at the glimpses of Whitecap. Maine trails are uneven at best in places. The ground was not where I expected as I stepped down. I went face first with the momentum of 30ish pounds on my back. But the good thing about bumbles is that they bounce. And bounce I did back to my feet like people were watching. My partner did not have the pleasure to see this graceful move. That would be enjoyed in turn on the next day.
At Logan Brook Lean-to we decided we had enough lazy days and agreed to push on to Sidney Tappen Campsite. We decided this in part because of the pace we were on, in part because the privy at Logan Brook was the worst we had seen so far, and mostly because we wanted to explore all of Gulf Hagas the next day. So we pushed on to another spot that did not have a privy or shelter.
I do not know what people would call trail workers. Angel is not the proper word. They hold a place slightly above angels. It is an absurd thought that anyone would build the stairs up Whitecap that has been placed there. Imagine the effort just so we can walk like we are going into a city library. No words can be written to describe my thanks to these people. I would do it without them. It is not expected by me. But, I nonetheless, enjoyed them.
It was another beautiful day as we sat on top of White Cap just letting the views slam into us from every direction. Only time and bees could drive us away. All downhill from here. Or so it looked like on the maps.
The last down off West Peak was tiring. The downs bother me much more than the ups. I have meniscus issues in my right knee. They do not slow me down much, but they really hurt at times. I was hobbling by the time we rolled into Sidney Tappen. 17.1 miles and a few hills. This was a bit more of a test.
The last few hills would not be so bad if it weren't for the "200 yard" downhill to the Hagas Spring. I dropped my pack and headed down with our collapsible bucket (another item to be replaced later) to get some water. When I arrived I saw the trickle that I had no hope to get a bucket under. Another SoBo was there and let me use a bottle to fill my bucket. I was very thankful. This was not just 200 yards and it was steep. It is amazing how many things seem to just work out on the trail.
That night we had the site to our own. Which was a very good thing. There is little space to camp at Sidney Tappen. I cannot recommend stopping there. Nonetheless, it was a good day. It was a challenging day. It was a satisfying day. The next day would even be better.
July 14 -
This day was a nice walk down a gradual hill. However, it was not without event. We explored all of Gulf Hagas and somehow missed the Hermitage. It was another beautiful day.
As we followed Gulf Hagas Brook I could not help but be amazed how these things grow. The spring by Sidney Tappen was barely a trickle. But as we headed down the hill, the brook seemed to grow out of nowhere. I understand that the mountain feeds the brook from many underground sources. However, the sheer volume of water is hard to comprehend. One would think the mountain would run dry at some point.
As we crossed the brook after Carl A Newhall Lean-to, my partner fell in the brook. I showed a genuine concern for him. After I was assured he was fine, I started to tease him. I did not tease him just a little. It went on for a few minutes. Who knows how long I would have ribbed him had I not fallen on my back shortly after. The good thing about an excessively large pack is that it makes for a good cushion when you fall backwards. He showed concern for me until he was sure I was fine. Then he gave me the treatment I deserved.
Gulf Hagas is worth the detour. But describing it as the Grand Canyon of Maine (as some have done) is ridiculous. It is picturesque, but small. The slate can be very slippery. We discovered this as we swam in various holes. I have heard the fishing is great there. I am no proof of that statement. Though I tried, I caught none.
When we were done admiring, fishing, swimming, and goofing off, we headed for the 1st real ford. So far all the streams we met could be crossed by rock hopping. Not once did I have to use my water shoes. The West Branch of the Pleasant River is another matter. Your feet are going to get wet. I was glad to finally justify the 8oz of water shoes. The crossing was slippery but easy.
A few hundred yards toward the Chairback Range we picked a stealth camp site. Again we were in very sparse companion. Hikers don't seem to like sleeping in tents. I did not even have a tent and I had no desire to get under a roof. On top of Whitecap, I had left instructions with my wife that I needed a tent by Monson. This sleeping on top of a bivy was getting old.
As I wrote in my journal that night, I wondered if I would lose Ellie Luggah in Monson. Both his feet were a wreck and one knee was bothering him. He was very quiet when I questioned him on it. I had very little pain anywhere and no blisters. I never acquired blisters, but pain was to come soon. Tomorrow meant the Chairback Range and a little hill I would like to level.
July 15 -
Today was another beautiful day. The walking was getting more aggressive. A lot of planning went into this trip. A few errors were made. Going south was not one of them. We were out of shape. The southern half would have killed us had we started there.
My hiking partner's feet were still killing him. I let him head up the Chairback Range ahead of me. We were to meet at Chairback Gap Lean-to if I did not overtake him 1st. Elevation profiles, maps, and signs in this area seemed to be a bit off. The 1st part look steep on paper, but did not seem so in person. Regardless, I was sure I would catch Ellie Luggah before the 1st plateau. I did not.
I did see a fisher. For those who have not seen a fisher, imagine an animal that is fast enough to catch a squirrel and tough enough to kill a porcupine. This thing is a souped up black weasel. It is a ghost of the woods. They are very common, but seldom seen. This was only the 3rd one I could recall seeing that was not in one of my traps from when I was a teenager. It is a beautiful and graceful animal that I am happy to never kill again.
The 1st rise to the top of Chairback Mountain is a rock scramble similar to many portions of the Hunt Trail. I turned around at about 3/4 the way up this climb to enjoy the view. As my eyes moved from the horizon to the steep boulder slide below, I saw a disturbing thing. I saw a water bottle perched on top of a large boulder that looked like my hiking partner's. I debated for about 5 minutes if I should climb back down. In the end I moved on.
When I arrived at Chairback Gap Lean-to, my partner was not there. I started texting him frantically. A NoBo arrived shortly. He described a person that could have been my partner that he passed just moments before. I scurried up over Columbus as fast as I could to see if it was him. I questioned 2 more NoBo's. I was half running at this point. As I reached the top of Columbus Mountain, text messages started coming back. My partner had taken the Blue Blaze to East Chairback Pond. I had barely missed him as he took this detour. His choice was reasonable. We were taking many Blue Blazes. I told him I was low on water and would meet him at brook between Third Mountain and Columbus Mountain.
We had a happy reunion at the brook. It was agreed to not separate as much and to have more frequent meetings. I moved faster on the ups and he went faster on the downs. We eventually got into a rhythm where we were passing each other often. We hiked together until 4th Mountain. That is where I lost him until the bog on the other side.
4th Mountain sucked. I went up over that thing without stopping, but cursing it the whole way. By the elevation profiles, the 1st hill of the day should have been harder. It was not even close. I did not meet another up like this until Hall Mountain. The bog on the other side was full of Pitcher Plants. I lingered there for about a half hour until we met again. There we agreed to meet and stop at Cloud Pond.
By the time I got to Cloud Pond, I was exhausted. As I walked between several tents that were already setup, I was asked if I needed help. Yes, I said, show me the quickest was into the pond. I was directed to continue ahead and go right in. I dropped my pack, stripped a bit, and strolled in. A little advice for those visiting Cloud Pond: Do not dive into it! There are huge hidden boulders everywhere. It was my habit to dive into ponds. I was too tired and walked into this one and discovered the rocks.
In a bit, my partner arrived. We pitched shelters and discussed the day. After talking with many of the NoBo's we decided to stealth camp at Little Wilson Stream the next day. A mother/son hiking team was particularly entertaining. I described our experiences going over the last 2 ranges. I asked them both at once if we were biting off more than we could chew. The son said, oh yes. The mother blurted an emphatic NO! She was emphatically right. I don't fault the boy. After all we are old. We slept well that night and prepared for the down.
July 16 -
The theme for today was down. Yesterday was 11.7 miles of mostly ups. Today would be 12.6 miles of mostly downs. As I have already mentioned, I have meniscus issues in my right leg. The downs of today started a series of leg issues for me that would last most of the rest of my Maine walk.
Just after cresting Barren Mountain, we entered a section of fir trees. As I walked just behind my partner I heard a sound that stopped me in my tracks. It sounded like a chickadee with a cold. Maine is littered with Black-capped Chickadees. But there is another chickadee that lives here that I have never seen. I knew instantly that there were Brown-capped Chickadees in these trees. I tried in vain for 20 minutes to get a picture of one. They were all around me, but the contrast of the firs against the sky would not allow a good photo. I was glad to see them though.
I caught up with my partner at the Barren Ledges. The views from the ledges were spectacular. I imagine many miss these views if the weather was not good. We had no such hindrances. The weather was good every day through the 100-mile Wilderness. We "wasted" quite a bit of time on these views.
Next was a couple mile long down. A little over half way down, we met a trail crew that appeared to be made up of all women. There might have been some men there, but I saw none. They were moving large rocks to create a stairway. One of the workers asked us to be careful. I said I would go around because I stunk. What appeared to be the leader said not to worry and that they stunk too. This started a small debate over who stunk more. Finally, seeing I could not win, I said "Sounds like someone wants a hug". This was enough for my sane partner. He lowered his head and made for the nearby Long Pond Stream Lean-to. I sheepishly followed.
I do not recall which stream or brook it was that we swam in at the base of this long hill, but they had great bathtubs. We swam in so many of these that we started calling them our Jacuzzi. The cold water was hard to get into at times, but it was a life saver for my legs.
We climbed the next hill and walked past Wilson Valley Lean-To. After another bath in Big Wilson Stream, we climbed over our last hill to Little Wilson Stream. This stream looked like it should be full of trout. Maybe it is. I could find none. I grew up fishing for trout in Maine. After the 100-mile Wilderness, I felt like I did not know how to catch a fish.
We made another campfire and set up our shelters. Just as we finished eating a NoBo couple arrived. Some here may recognize the names of Zippy and Diddo. They are a very upbeat couple. I asked Diddo if her name meant that she was Zippy too. She laughed but did not really explain the meaning. They summited Katahdin just a few days later.
Tomorrow would mean an easy 7 mile walk to Monson. Our packs were getting lighter. They were not getting light. That would happen in Monson. Monson would mean a new tent, resupplies, and a zero on the 18th.
July 17 -
Only 7 miles before we were out of the 100-mile Wilderness. The elevation profiles appeared to show a very easy day. Looks can be deceiving. It was not all that hard, but it looked very easy. It was up down up down all morning. The girls were to meet us in Monson. We were going to get out of the woods before they arrived. All looked good.
Just after Leeman Brook Lean-to my right quad started to tighten. I drank plenty of water throughout the month. I used Nuun as an electrolyte. Hydration was not my problem. Favoring my right knee was. By the time we got to Bell Pond I was in trouble. At this point I was in agony. Of all the pains I thought I would face, quads were not on my radar.
When we exited of 1st leg of our month long journey, I looked for a spot in the stream to soak my leg. Just downstream from the outlet of Spectacle Pond I found another beautiful Jacuzzi. After a half hour soak in the cool water my leg was feeling better.
With a sense of accomplishment we headed for town with our thumbs in the air. We walked the 3.8 miles into town without an offer of a ride. With about a mile to go my leg started cramping again. I knew it was just a matter of time before I would be hobbled again. I decided to pick up the pace and left my partner in the dust. I drank a large Gatorade bought from the gas station and returned to Lakeshore before we reunited.
My hiking partner and sister were staying at Lakeshore. My wife and I were staying at Shaws. The guys decided to check in and wait for the gals in our respective lodgings. Both establishments have great management. Both are friendly and accommodating. We ate suppers at Lakeshore and breakfasts at Shaws. I highly recommend that plan. Shaws requires a head count the night before. Lakeshore serves supper as you come in and order.
The hostels are a family environment. You are encouraged to shower and borrow some of their extra clothes almost immediately. Who can blame them? We took the large bedroom near the corner of the street. It has 2 beds. One was used to spread out gear and reassess. You can use your imagination on the other.
I will list a few of the gear changes on the next day's report. When it was time for sleep the skies opened up. It rained for the 1st time since the last night in Baxter. I could not help but chuckle. Good weather seems to follow my vacation. It has been a running joke for about 15 years. We sail about 2 weeks a year. We always get good weather. This is not lost on my hiking partner. He sent me a text that said something like "I would not expect anything else".
July 18 -
A zero in Monson. We drove up to Greenville and window shopped, then drove to Rockwood and looked at a big lake for Maine. The food was great and the company better. My legs continued to have issues and my partner's feet were slowly healing. More on that later. This entree is more about gear and the changes I made.
As I planned for my walk, I drove more than a few experienced hikers batty with my postal scales and gram reduction giddiness. As it turns out, I was not enough of a gram weenie. Turns out I did not like lugging an average of 34 lbs over hills for more than 100 miles. Who would have knew?
As I sat in my room that afternoon, I looked at everything. I asked myself over and over, 'do I NEED this item?' The fishing gear was cut. All stuff sacks were cut except one small diddybag and my food bag. The 1st aid kit was greatly lightened. I did not use one 1st aid item during the entire trip. I looked at it differently now. Instead of a 'might I need this?' attitude, I asked myself what would happen given an emergency and I had zero 1st aid items. If there was an alternative to the real item, I left the real item behind. I bought a lighter bucket. The bivy and tarp was cut. A single man Llbean tent took its place. My fleece got cut. If it got cold, I would wear my Packa.
Some things were changed or even added. I added more Nuun and some tea bags for mornings. The plain oatmeal was exchanged for sugary oatmeal in lesser daily amounts. The beef jerky was exchanged for thin pepperoni sticks. The parmesan cheese was exchanged for string cheese. Things tasted different on the trail. My cravings changed. The net effect was my daily food allotment went from about 1.5 lbs to 1.4 lbs. My suppers and gorp were so calorie dense that this was plenty.
The new load felt much better. Loaded for the next leg, it weighed about as much as it did coming out of the 100-mile wilderness. The packing went like this: Trash-bag liner 1st. Big Agnes 45° sleeping bag with Exped ul7 air mat in sleeve were loosely rolled and stuffed in bottom. Tent was loosely set on top of that. Poles were on one side. Food bag went on top of that. Extra clothes (not much) filled in voids. Diddybag went in next and Packa filled the remaining voids on top. Maps, filter, daily walking food, water bottles, camera, and avatar were on the outside of the pack. My partner carried the stove.
That night as I ate a pizza for the 2nd night in a row, I noticed my legs swelling. They were swelling fast. My stockings acted like compression sleeves and the skin above the stocking bulged. I hobbled back to Shaws and drew a cold bath. I sat in the tub until people started knocking on the door. There are 2 bathroom and this was serious. I got out. I did not sleep well that night. At 3 AM I drew another cold bath. This got the swelling down enough to dare to try the next section. More on that in the next entree.
I have no pictures for my zero. That brings up another point. My camera weighed more than 2.5 lbs. If it weighed 20 lbs I would still have carried it. It was my item I could not live without.
July 19 -
As we ate another huge breakfast at Shaws, we discussed our aches and issues. Ellie Luggah's feet were much better. He dropped more weight out of his pack than I. I am not sure of the changes. I am a school kid jumping up and down about the half gram I saved. He just does it. He borrowed a pair of my boots from home and agreed to use my Glide. The boots were not the issue and were swapped out a few days later. The Glide was the cure.
However, the real issue was my legs. They were like huge Vienna Sausages. They were like cankles that went all the way to my hips. Getting the picture? I did not want to stop. I have lived with pain for decades. It is just pain. One cannot stop living. The compromise was for the girls to drive around to Shirley-Blanchard Road and assess things there. This would provide a 6.3 mile test.
We got a late start. Very late for my partner. He is up around 5 most mornings and ready to go soon after. I could never keep up with him on that. We walked the 6.3 miles in about 2 hours. I talked with a NoBo thru about my legs. She laughed and said that I should not have stopped walking and assured me I would be fine. That was enough encouragement for me.
About a half mile from the meeting I found an abandoned Coleman folding shovel. It only weighs about 2.5 lbs, so I thought I would pick it up and make the meeting light. My wife was very concerned about my continuing. When we met, I told them I was fine but refused to carry my partner's trowel one more step. I dropped my pack a produced the shovel.
The girls asked if we got soaked. It was more of a curiosity question. It was obvious we did not. They explained that the driving was difficult through the torrential rain. I said that we heard it in the distance, but that rain avoids us. On their return trip they had to take a detour because a large tree that had blown over in the "distant" storm.
Soon we were following the picturesque West Branch of the Piscataquis River. This "river" is full of boulders that make it sound like a continuous waterfall. We spied a deer in the middle of a set of rapids. This provided a break as we watched it for several minutes. Because of the noise of the water and wind direction, it had no clue we were there. Alas, we had to move on and in doing so jumped the deer.
At Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to, we decided to make for Moxie Bald Lean-to. The weather forecast called for lightning storms in the afternoon for the next few days. One should not be on top of Moxie Bald in any threat of lightning. It is a huge granite lightning rod with trees growing on it hiding the danger. It would mean a 17.9 mile day. We would have to keep up a quick pace to avoid that day's storm because of the late start.
Crossing the West Branch of the Piscataquis River was our only ford that was a test. The recent rain made it difficult. I was glad for the rope. Once on the other side, I dropped my pack and went back in. I got about midway and laid on my back while gripping the rope. This made for an interesting body surfing bath.
Soon my quad pain in my right leg returned. Next came cramping in my left calf. We had been changing into water shoes at every ford. But I was falling behind. When I reached the Bald Mountain Pond outlet, my partner had already changed over for the crossing. I knew if I stopped it might be the end of my day's walk. So I barged right through. About a mile later he caught me again. I explained my situation and insisted he continue. The black clouds were surrounding us like a huge horseshoe.
I did my best to keep him in sight. With about a half a mile to go and lightning getting closer, I clenched my jaw and gave her all I got. The wind was picking up and I was gaining on my partner. You could feel the air lifting. I knew I had just minutes to make it. I am spoiled. I was in pain. I did not want to get wet just now. So I said a little rhetorical prayer. I asked God if He loved me and would He allow me to get my tent set up before the downpour.
As I arrived moments after my partner, we gazed at the packed area. He noticed a sign pointing to the left for more tent sites. One person in the shelter asked if we needed room there. There is always room for one more. I said thank you, but no (we don't do lean-tos). We scrambled over to a small clearing and set up in record time. I dumped my pack, set up the tent and chucked things in. Just as I was climbing in the skies opened up. I turned to my partner just as he was ready to toss a "small" I had left on the ground. He smiled and said, "I would not expect anything else".
July 20 -
Very short day. Very reflective day. We only walked over Moxie Bald Mountain (4.3 miles). As an aside, I am a Mainer that is protesting the removal of the word Moxie. It is not Bald Mountain. It is not Bald Lean-to. The word Moxie should not be removed. If I am the only person on the planet left saying Moxie Bald, so be it. Moxie Make Mainers Mightier. Moxie. I feel better.
The walk up Moxie Bald was painful. My legs were killing me. I am not a wimp. I have walked and run for the last 30+ years with 2 meniscus tears in my right knee. Why not get it fixed and stop whining? Someday I will. When I do it will be with better methods than existed when they wanted to do it in 1981. I know too many people that have had the fix and cannot do what I do. I will take the pain thank you.
The view from on top of Moxie is surprisingly good for the elevation (2629'). We got there early. It was cloudy. There was a low ceiling. A higher elevation would have been in the clouds. We sat up there for about an hour. Finally my partner got up and left. He was especially quiet this day.
We arrived at MOXIE Bald Mountain Brook early. This brook leads to Moxie Lake. Hmmm..... The guide books speak of an old logger’s camp along this brook. Nostalgia made this a choice I looked forward too. We crossed the brook in search of the old camp. Several hundred yards later we doubled back. Finally we settled at the brook. The camp was there, but gone. Only a few metal objects remain.
The nearby lean-to was huge, but empty. To my knowledge, it remained empty that day.
Today was the low point of our trip. I was hiking with a quiet easy going matter of fact person. He was hiking with a loud spastic walking embarrassment. We were both there to be there. As we sat around the fire that night, my partner blurted that he was considering getting done in Stratton. He said he didn't just want to get there. I fully agreed, but was not helping. I was failing. I was constantly assessing strategy and distances. He just wanted to hike. But we had reservations and a resupply schedule. I had to find the balance.
I am not sure I ever found that balance. Fortunately the mountains were coming. The Bigelows saved our hike. A beautiful walk on the 22nd helped too. But tomorrow presented another challenge. One more distracting day and the rest of the walk would be grand.
July 21 -
This would be our last so-so day on the walk. Things just got better and better from here. Don't get me wrong. We were having a great time. It was just that the pains were adding up. We did not just want to endure. We wanted to live.
A quick note before getting into the climb up Pleasant Pond Mountain: The guide books talk of a water source as you climb the hill. It says it is the last water source for 5.7 miles. Do not believe this. This is not a water source. Do not drink this water! Get your water at Baker Stream 0.6 miles east instead. Take a look at the stagnant pool that this trickle comes from and you will see why I advise this. That water would kill a cactus.
The climb up Pleasant Pond Mountain was deceiving. Again, the elevation profiles did not seem to match. It wasn't that the climb was tough. It was that there was many ups and down that were not shown. We were always a mile less than we thought we were. As an aside, I wonder when we will drop that silly word “Pleasant”? Why not just follow suit with Moxie and call it Pond Mountain? Moving on.
On top of Pleasant Pond Mountain, I tried to communicate with the girls. My shoes were failing fast. The shoes already had some mileage before our walk. Now they were falling apart. I finally got enough info out. 'Call New Balance in Skowhegan to see if they have MT610 in 11EEEE. If they do, buy them and have them for me in Stratton'. As I shut my phone off, I heard a buzzing. Within a nanosecond of it stopping, I was nailed. I ridded the world of a yellow-jacket. It left a present on my hand.
The weather was nice again. That never got old. On the steep climb down, my quad pain came back again with a vengeance. If all the hills were ups, I would have been fine. The downs killed my legs. When we got to the lean-to, it was off to swim again. We dropped our packs and found our way to the pond. The Blue Blaze to the pond leads to a long dock. I ran down the dock and dove in. After about 30 minutes of swimming and soaking we headed back.
After getting water we sought a place away from the lean-to. Those things were often crowded. I liked sleeping by myself. I just don't get the popularity of them. We found a spot on the west side of the stream. The conversation was much easier tonight. It was light.
As I was teasing my partner about the chair I built being better than his, we saw a woman approaching. In disbelief, I watched as my sister came strolling down the path carrying an entire shoe store. Don't ever give a project to my sister. She will do it 15 times better than you asked for. She did not call New Balance. I swear if they did not have shoes for me, she would have sown a pair. She brought another model in 11EEEE. They were not my exact shoe, but sufficed. They were slippery (more on that later). She also brought old hiking shoes from my home and her home. We had a good laugh and visit. My partner swapped his shoes out from a pair I lent him in favor of the ones he wore through the 100-mile wilderness.
Today was a very good day. Shoes were exchanged. The weather was great. Seeing my sister was hilarious. We had another nice campfire. Tomorrow was my birthday. That night I asked God if He would heal my legs for my birthday.
July 22 -
My birthday. I have a knack for avoiding people on my birthday. I hate events where people feel an obligation to be nice just because of the date. I love many of the events. I just hate the obligation part. I was mostly alone on my birthday today. It was one of my best in memory.
The day started with a long slow 5.5 mile down. Which we covered in about 2 hours. We were way ahead of schedule, so we decided to find a soda. We sat at the Maine Forest Service building debating which way to hunt for a soda.
Just then a van came from the south and dropped of a few hikers. I thought surely these guys could help. So I threw my pack over my shoulder and ran the couple hundred yards to where the van was unloading. I asked the driver for directions. He said hop in and that he would take us to a store only a mile away. Six miles later he dropped us off at what turned out to be a bar. Mainers can be jerks. He must have thought I was from away.
We found a soda machine in the basement in the employees section. We sat on the couch for a bit. I stewed as we watched beer brew. My partnered smiled. After downing the sodas, we headed back upstairs and prepared for a long walk back to the trail.
We walked about a mile before 3 girls in there 20's in a pickup truck going the wrong way turned around and offered us a ride. They knew where we were going. The driver explained that she passed us near the bar but could not stop at the time. She came back to make sure we had a ride after doing something important. We thanked her and hopped in the back. Mainers can be such nice people. She must have known we were not flat-landers.
Down the hill to the river we went. There we met a man who enjoyed his job way too much. He was laughing and joking. He had us fill out a sheet that asked everything except your underwear size. Then it was into the floating White Blaze. I took the bow. Half way across the Kennebec the ferryman complimented my canoeing skills. I told him I was just providing momentum and letting him chose direction. Once on the other side, I gave the ferryman 2 gold colored presidential series dollars. He understood my joke and thanked me.
Next came a 3.5 mile up. What a beautiful walk. I lost track of how many waterfalls we stopped at. Many were Blue Blazes. Some were bushwhacks. This was the most relaxing walk of the entire trip so far. We took our time. We viewed falls from every perspective. If you are ever between Pierce Pond and the Kennebec on the AT you must stop at all of these falls.
In due time we arrived at Pierce Pond. This a typical Maine Pond. The water is clear and cool. The scenery is great. We set up camp and dove in. This pond drops off fast. The spot where you jump in has to be 10 feet deep. This brings up a sad point which I will let be told by those who know best via the following link.
As we sat in the deacon's seat, my partner stated he had a surprise. He had cooked a cake in his bake packer and squeezed frosting from a tube over it. I took one bite and told him to get over here. Between the 2 of us it was gone in about 30 seconds. Delicious. He also made a trinket box. I will post a picture of both.
Soon other hikers showed up. IceBeard from WhiteBlaze arrived. Others I did not know came too. Most went to make breakfast reservations at Harrison's Pierce Pond Camps. I am told it is delicious, huge, and not to be missed. We missed it. I had plenty of oatmeal.
That evening we watched a deer swim the length of the pond. We listened to the loons wail. We watched a red sunset. It seemed like yesterday's discouragements were decades ago. And yes, my legs did not hurt at all.
A BirdBrain Maine AT Adventure (part 2)
Non hikers are about a psi shy of a legal ball.
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