Monthly Archives: July 2013

Day 130: Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you

Stealthing… oh… I have no clue. Let’s call it mile 1161.4 (SOBO 143)

Is it possible that mosquitoes can be like vampires, and suck so much blood out of you that you’re exhausted? Yesterday the bugs were fierce and plentiful. I didn’t wear the bug pants because of the heat and the fords and th bushwacking, and I paid. Oh, did I pay. I have dozens of bites that are red and itchy. Vampires!

This morning they were at my tent early, banging at the mesh like hikers waiting for an All You Can Eat to open. And I was so tired I just could not motivate. At one point I had my quilt packed up and actually unpacked it to cuddle up some more. I’d half decided I was going to just zero in the tent and sleep—my food supply can handle one extra day—but I’d like to get past the Kennenec River tomorrow if possible. The Kennebec’s too dangerous to ford so the ATC provides a canoe shuttle service, but the hours are limited. I’d like to get that bit of logistical headache out of the way. And some miles are better than no miles, right? So I finally managed to pack up and hit the trail at about 8:15.

But the day went downhill. The trail, alas, did not.

Oh! I should do the quick injury report first. The knee thing is just some sort of bone bruise—that bone right under your knee and slightly to the outside. I must have banged it when I fell. It’s a little swollen and hurts to the touch, but it doesn’t hurt when I walk on it. The rest of me is generally covered in bruises, scratches, and bug bites. Maine is stressing both knees, and they complain a lot. The recurring issue seems to be the right ankle (and the Achilles tendons, which have been problematic since Georgia). Next time I’m in a town with an actual drugstore, I’ll pick up an ankle brace to add to my contingency pile. And that’s it for injuries, knock wood. Not bad!

I did fall once today; I slipped on a sliding board of rock. There are two kinds of rock on the trail; my highly technical terms for them are ‘nonskid’ and ‘skid.’ I’m not any kind of geologist, so I don’t know what types of rock they really are. I’m guessing the difference is some sort of porosity issue, but what do I know? All I do know is that the skid rocks are slippery as hell, and the nonskid rocks aren’t. Virgina has a lot of skid rocks. Katahdin, thank all the gods that ever lived, has a lot of nonskid rocks. Yesterday I was on a mountain made of nonskid rocks, so I felt solid and balanced and unslippery as I marched along. This morning was mostly skid rocks… and of course, my feet slid out from under me and I went sliding down a slab. No harm done, though… and I left the rock a little cleaner than I found it.

So where was I? Oh, yeah. The day going downhill. I felt actually sick today: headachy and really exhausted. I just couldn’t get moving. Wherever I am, it took me six hours to get here—and I don’t think it’s six miles. I was cresting this last (I hope) bit of mountain, hot and dragging and with my head throbbing, when I spotted this stealth site. Before I knew it, I was pitching my tent. I have about a liter of water, which should get me to the next source. And it’s early, but what I think I need is about twelve hours of sleep. So here I am. It destroys my itinerary, but there’s one upside, sort of. I’d wanted to stop by Pierce Pond to pay my respects to Parkside, the young hiker who died there last year. It looks like I’ll actually be staying at that shelter now, if tomorrow’s terrain is Jeckyll Maine instead of Hyde Maine (Hyde was the monster, right?).

But here’s my dilemma. When the tent was nearly up, I realized I’d pitched it four feet from a load of moose poop. What do you do? Who wants to sleep four feet from poop? But then I rationalized it by saying that out here, whenever you pitch your tent the odds are high that you’re pitching on some poop or other. At least moose are vegetarians. And maybe I’ll see one tonight, if it needs to take a crap! (I’ll stick a picture of moose poop down below for my citified friends. Don’t say I never did anything for you!)

In more somber news, hiker Inchworm has apparently gone missing in this area. I met her in Georgia. We’d corresponded a bit before starting. I knew she was having issues back then; she must have flipflopped. Anyway, I hope hope hope she’s OK and is found soon. It’s easy to get lost up here if you’re not super vigilant about the blazes and cairns, and sometimes even if you are. [Edited to add: I’m told the missing hiker is a different Inchworm! I’ll still be watching for her.]

And that’s it. Toads 2, Snakes 1! And I saw another one of those fat birds, this time on the ground.

Tomorrow, I hope, the Kennebec.

Edited to add: I forgot! Two reunions today!

When I woke up I heard voices down at the shelter, so I stepped down to see who was there. One of them was Gard! He was one of the two buddies back in the Smokies. I can’t remember the other guy’s name. Freight Train? Anyway, the buddy was leaving the trail with Achilles tendinitis, and the two guys shared the cigar they’d been planning to smoke at Katahdin. Very poignant.

The second reunion was with Stumbles! I met her back in Tennessee. She was the first young woman I met who was speed-hiking as fast as the speediest guys. She still is, apparently; she’s with a group of them.

Good luck to both Gard and Stumbles on their finishes!

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Day 129: Lost sheep

Bald Mountain Brook Lean-to [mile 1154.9; SOBO 136.5]

I got what I planned for today—twelve miles—but it wasn’t easy, and it took me about ten hours. I saw in a register at lunch that El Flaco (of the 2011 Hiker Trash Tour, lol) did ’18 easy miles’ yesterday and it still makes me want to tear my hair out! But not all that much. Just a little hair and just a little tearing. And I can’t compare unathletic me to somebody doing his third thru-hike. It’s comparing apples and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.

So! I woke up and it wasn’t raining! It was cold, though! And I continue to be exhausted. I had those two long driving days, then Katahdin, and I’ve been hiking eight to ten hours a day ever since (well, five on the day I went to Shaw’s). I might only get twelve miles, but it’s still busting hump for eight hours. I’m going to have to break down and take a zero at some point. I’ve been trying to hold out for a town with maybe a couple of restaurants or a place to sit and drink a cup of coffee. Monson wasn’t it, and Stratton isn’t, either, I don’t think. I don’t want to waste the zero!

So anyway, between the cold and the tiredness, I couldn’t move. I didn’t hit the trail until 7:45, and first hour or so I fretted over that ford that was coming up. The day was overcast, but the cloud cover was breaking up and letting cracks of blue appear overhead. And it was warming up, too… slowly.

I finally turned a corner of trail and found a giant pile of discarded gear at the top of a steep little hill: a pack, various shoes and insoles, clothes, odds and ends. And I realized that the stuff was waterlogged junk that hikers had tossed there after they ended up in the drink, and I started to get nervous. (It wasn’t only the north side, either; there was an equally impressive mound of crap on the other side.)

The steep little hill was the river bank. I could hear the rush of the water. I inched my way down, root to root, and finally got a glimpse of what I had to ford. My reaction? The words I say so often up here (loudly and with feeling!) that they probably should be my trail name: “You have got to be shitting me.”

This was a river. Not a brook, not a creek. It was impressively wide (to me, anyway) with a rope strung just south of the junction of two smaller streams that wrapped themselves around an island. The problem was the current. I could see it, coming from around the far side of the island, where the water bounced and descended some invisible underwater shelf. The crossing went directly into the current, and directly up that shelf.

Sigh.

The first thing I did was take the carabiner from my bear line and affix my poles together. I figured the current would be grabbing at them, and if I had one hand on the rope, I didn’t think I could reliably keep hold of both poles with the ofher hand.

Then I did all the usual stuff: changed my shoes, checked to make sure my electronics were baggied, and sacrificed a chicken. I stepped into the water and holy shit was it cold! It’s been going down to 53 at night in Monson.

Then I gritted my teeth and got hold of that rope and yanked it down and tucked it under my arm. That was the plan, mostly—to keep the rope under my armpit and cling for dear life.

The bottom was slimy and bouldery, and I nearly lost my balance, but the armpit rope and my poles kept me up. The water actually only came to just above my knees, but the strong current, and walking up the boulders that made the shelf… it was scary. Then boom! I was on the other side! Whew!

After that, the trail turned technical in the Virginia sense: flat as a pancake, but so littered with slippery boulders that walking was a slow challenge. I took one nasty spill early: I lost my boot in a black bog and went sailing. My knee came down on a sharpened bit of old tree trunk and I reflexively went soft to avoid impalement, so the top of my head crashed into the bank of the… well, the bank of the trail, I guess it was. That whole area was a morass of mud and swampy water. Luckily, my fontanel closed up last Thursday, so I was fine.

I ate lunch at a lean-to by a gorgeous lake (and found a hysterical trail register entry from Billy and NotYet—hey guys, here’s a message from the past!), then set out to climb Moxie Bald Mountain. It was a long, steep slugfest—not too technical, just an uphill trail through the woods, with no switchbacks.

The views from the top were spectacular. On the far side, the trail got slightly more technical for a bit, and I started to hear some guy shouting “Hello? Hello?” When I got close enough, I called down to him: “Are you OK?” It was 4:30 by that point and already getting dark in the woods.

He was lost. Maine plays a great game of Hide the Blazes. If the sun hits them right, you can’t see them at all. The guy’s here on a yearly trip with friends and a bunch of boys, and he got separated from them. Guess what? He lives in West Chester, basically a half-hour from where I live. I tell you, between that guy and the Bucks County couple in Shenandoah who thought there would be more convenience stores and who ran out of food, and me slipping and flopping all over the trail, we’re giving Philly a bad name!

After the lost guy was settled, I fell again, and this time I thought the hike was over. I was rushing because it was getting dark, and I tripped over a root, and when I came down my knee slammed into something—another root, as it turned out. I literally saw stars. I could hardly stand up. But I limped on it a bit and tried to shake it out, and I think it’s only bruised. I did hobble the rest of the mile and a half to this shelter, but everything seems to wiggle and move the way it should. It’ll probably be a painful couple of days, though.

That’s the thing: The biggest factor in finishing a hike is luck. Not willpower or stamina or determination or courage. A fall a half-inch in the wrong direction sends you home.

Knock wood.

PS. I saw a fat strange bird in a tree. It let me take a picture. Any idea what it is?
PPS. Toads 3, Snakes 0!

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Day 128: Back to the grind

Stealthing somewhere after Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to [mile 124.5?]

Breakfast at Shaw’s was great! French toast (no pancakes this time), eggs, sausage, bacon, home fries, all you can eat. I’m actually a great AYCE customer for the restaurants because I can’t eat all that much in one sitting. I’m the gal who makes it possible for somebody else to come in and wolf down four helpings of everything. Not that any of that matters, because nothing’s quite as boring as a hiker’s food diary. So let’s move on. Oh, I did drink about a pot of coffee. Town treat!

Sue from Shaw’s got us back to the trail at about 9:15: me, Flaco, and two young section hikers, a pair of women, who don’t have trail names yet. (I suggested Maps for one of them because she kept whipping out her map to look things up; it was highly annotated.) Flaco and the women got out in front immediately and I never saw them again.

It rained all day. The forecast was for dire storms, but apparently the really bad stuff hit slightly eastward, so the local prediction was downgraded considerably. Still, there was a river ford today, and I was nervous as hell about what the rain might do to the water level.

The mosquitoes apparently didn’t get the memo that they’re supposed to stay inside in the rain. (Very ironic, given that I was just telling Blackbird last night that they haven’t been bad. D’oh!) They were beastly. I got chewed up. They attacked in herds and left multiple bites at a time. One time I slapped my leg and killed three of them. Did you ever read that Grimm or Anderson fairy tale “Seven with One Blow”? Sort of like that. Er… well, nothing like that at all, really. But it came to mind.

I had my rain jacket on (for warmth, mostly; the forest in this chunk of woods is mostly deciduous, so the canopy kept the rain upstairs like thousands of tiny umbrellas), and that kept the skeeters off my arms. My legs, though… I finally broke down and DEETed them, even though the river crossing was coming up.

I hiked all day waiting for that river crossing. I passed a couple of northbound section hikers who said the crossing wasn’t bad and the water was only up to their calves. Well, let me tell you… here’s the issue. I’m not really super short, but I’ve got disproportionately short legs. When I got to that river, finally, the water was well above knee level on me. This, of course, has me very nervous about tomorrow’s ford, which those guys said was harder and had a water level up to their knees. That’s probably upper thigh for me. And the guide says tomorrow’s ford can be dangerous in rainy periods. Whee!

But I’m ahead of myself. One day at a time! I finally got to today’s ford—the East Branch of the Piscataquis River (tomorrow is the West Branch). Being a compulsive categorizer, I tend to put the fords into two categories: beach fords and boulder fords. The beach-type fords are wide and shallower. The rocks on the bottom are smaller, from baseball size to marbles, just like you’d find on a stony beach. The water is slower moving, and in general you can see the bottom. The water can still have unexpectedly deep pockets (it’s hard to look down into clear brown water and judge the depth with any precision; today, halfway across, I put my pole in and almost lost my balance when it went a foot deeper than I thought it would). The rocks on the bottom are still round and slippery as oiled glass.

The other type of ford, the boulder type… those are the ones that really scare me. The water moves fast and hard with a lot of weight behind it. The ripples and waves and little rapids obscure the bottom, and the water’s usually dark or black from the churning of the riverbed. You can’t really see what’s down there. A lot of the steps are taken by feel. The boulders are too big for me to straddle, and their rounded edges mean I can’t wedge against them; my legs slip right around them as though they were greased pigs. And the poles are nearly useless; they slide off the rocks, too.

I think tomorrow’s ford is a boulder ford. Today I was thinking, though, that this has to be a skill set. It has to be possible to get better at it. So I used the easier beach ford to practice, and I figured a couple of things out.

First of all, I can slow down. I haven’t been going fast by any means, but I can stop thinking about walking and just go one step and not move until I feel entirely stable in that position, if that’s possible. It’s just cold water; nothing bad will happen if I stand there for ten seconds between steps. Second, instead of pushing my poles as though I were walking, I can lift them vertically out of the water to minimize the ripples (ie, so I can see better) and to keep the river from trying to snatch them, which makes me fumble at them, which affects my balance.

Tomorrow’s ford has a rope. I can’t do that shimmy thing, but maybe I can figure out some better way to use it. If I can reach it.

Anyway, bleh. I’ll be so glad when that part’s done.

I got across the beach ford just as the rain was stopping. A couple of miles afterward I came to the shelter I’d been aiming for, but Flaco and the women had gone on. (Not Yet and Billie passed through yesterday.) The shelter was empty. It was getting late in the afternoon. Normally I probably would have stopped there, but the area seemed to be more amenable to stealthing than the Maine terrain has been, so I decided to push on and hope to find a site in a bit. A mile is a mile, right? Especially for us low-endurance types.

I made it just about a mile, I think, and found this site close to the trail. There’s a waterfall rushing in the background (as usual, in these Maine nights). The skeeters chewed me up while I was setting up. Tomorrow will be bug pants time. And the timing was good; the rain seems to have resumed out there.

And here we are! A couple of firsts: the pushing past the last shelter (a first for Maine, although I was doing it a lot before Virginia), and the nero resupply day. I might be getting better at this; I’m pleased! Progress is progress!

Tomorrow: The ford two miles into the day, then a steady ascent followed by what looks like a steep climb to Moxie Bald Mountain.

Ford. Grrrr. Still, a good day! 🙂

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Day 127: Shaw’s

Monson, Maine

It is hard to do everything in one afternoon! I’m so tired that I almost forgot to update.

I was on the trail at 6:07, and heading like a bat out of hell for Route 15—the road to Monson. It was breezy and sunny, and all Maine: stone and roots and water and mossy mountain hills. The roots have dried out a little, and I slipped a few times but didn’t fall.

I figured the shuttle driver from Shaw’s would be dropping off the breakfast crowd, and I wanted to grab her before she got away. I was too late; but when I stepped out of the woods, guess who was in the parking lot? Not Yet and Billie! (Hi, guys!) We caught up a little bit; they’d gotten ahead around White Cap. And both of them were stung again by bees!

The shuttle driver came right back for me, bless her heart, and she whisked me to Shaw’s while Not Yet and Billie took to the forest. And guess who was zeroing at Shaw’s? Flaco and Floss (see below, lol). It was a great day of lounging and resupplying at a gas station and eating actual food. And huge thanks to Javelin, who went to heroic efforts to maildrop me some AquaMira and enough snacks to keep me on my feet until Stratton. Happy birthday, Javelin! 🙂

Shaw’s is fun—a big white house full of hikers. At the moment the hikers are mostly NOBOs, having a little silly fun and bonding for the last leg of the journey. My favorites are the SOBOs and the flippers, though; they’re still loving the sunrises and looking forward instead of back.

Monson is a tiny collection of clapboarded buildings, many of them run down or for sale. Some of the locals are already packing up and heading out for the long winter. A sleepy town on a pine-fringed lake, but listen! The people here are insanely friendly! Everybody had a smile or a joke, from the window guys installing shutters to the clerk at the post office. The South has nothing on Monson.

Tomorrow: Right back on the trail! I’m already tired. It’s well past hiker midnight and I haven’t even packed my pack. I just finished getting my gear organized and the food managed. There’s supposed to be torrential rain tomorrow… aaaaand, a river ford. Can I possibly tell you how much I’m not looking forward to that?

Anyway, after tonight, I’ll probably be radio silent for the next week or so, depending on phone coverage. Heading to Stratton!

(River ford tomorrow, yuck yuck yuck.)

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Day 126: Splat

Stealthing at Little Wilson Stream [mile 1225.5; SOBO 107.7]

Well, I’m four miles short of where I wanted to be tonight, and seven short of Monson. The last three miles took me three hours, and I muffed a stream fording and ended up in the drink. I was soaked again and freezing, so I made camp to get warm and dry.

I fell today. A lot. Yesterday’s torrents seem to have coated all the rocks and roots with machine oil. I slipped on almost every downhill. Mostly I caught myself, but seven or eight times I came down hard on the softest part of me. No harm done except some bruises and scratches, but after a while I lost faith in my balance. I got severely cautious, which slowed me down considerably. On the other hand, it was probably prudent.

Yesterday really wore me out. I woke up late and unrested with sore calf muscles. It was nearly 8 by the time I hit the trail. The sky was cloudy and it was chilly; my clothes were still soaked from yesterday (let me tell you how much I love putting on filthy soaked icy underwear and socks), including my shoes. I think today was the whiplash effect after yesterday: For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.

Tired, I muddled through the first slippery couple of hours until I came to the first ford. There were three of those on today’s menu, and my stomach was already tied up in knots about them. The rain yesterday has everything fast and black and swollen.

I stood at that first stream for a good five minutes trying to figure out how to do it. There was a rope stretched across, luckily. Then another hiker rounded the bend. It was T, now trailnamed Floss, whom I’d met at the bus station waiting for the bus to Medway! His head was shaved (mohawk) and he had a new pack, but he looks like he’s taken to trail life super fast. Then again, he’s a professional athlete: semi-pro bike racing. He summitted Katahdin in three hours.

I’d decided to just wade in without changing my shoes, but I waited for Floss to go first. He just grabbed that rope and wrapped his legs around it and shimmied right across. Highly impressive! And not something I could do on my best day. 😉

So I wobbled my way over. It was frightening. The round rocks underwater, too big for me to easily straddle, are unbelievably slick. They’re like plate glass sprayed with oil, and in the dark water you can’t see the beginning or ends of them or whether the stream bottom takes a sudden plunge, which it often does. It’s highly unsteady work, and I’m not that steady to begin with. Even with one hand on the rope, one of my legs got swept sideways around a boulder and I almost went in. But I made it to the other side. Yay!

Floss slowed down and hiked with me for a few hours, which was great. I do love to have company! We stopped for lunch at a lean-to. When I checked the register I saw that Not Yet and Billie, plus El Flaco (sorry about the earlier misspelling!), had stayed there last night and would all make Monson by tonight. That made me a little sad. I’m a day behind all my SOBO buddies now. Deja vu. But I’m happy to have met them all—great people, all of them, and I wish them the best for their hikes.

After lunch, Floss speeded off to make Monson. (He’s already doing 18- and 19-mile days.) I continued to flop my way along, pausing every now and then to fall on my ass just in case the ground had forgotten what I felt like. Then I came to the second ford.

This one had a rope, too, but it was too high for me to reach. So I waded in carefully and got almost to the other side when the current and the oily boulders just toppled me into the water. It was scary. One leg smashed into a rock and I jammed a couple of fingers. The water wasn’t deep, though, and I waded out just fine—but me, my clothes, and my pack were all soaked again. An unexpected swim in a freezing stream! Yay!

I upended my pack to pour the water out of the side pockets, then put on my wet jacket and buff for warmth. The sun still wasn’t out, and the breeze had some bite to it. There was one more ford on the menu, though, and I figured I might as well suck it up until that one was finished.

Floss had heard that the terrain between there and Monson was easy, but it actually turned a little technical. I climbed a bit of a cliff, but my confidence was really shot after the falls and the swim, so I was waaaaay slow.

Then I got to the third ford. It was another fast stream with big oily boulders and no rope, but this time I managed to get across without dunking myself. It’s such a crap shoot.

Right on the other side of that stream was a campsite. It even had a rock sofa. The sun had peeked out a bit, so I decided to pack it in and try to dry myself out. What’s with this freezingness? You’d think it was Maine or something!

The shoes and socks are hopeless, but I got everything else down to reasonably damp. Oh, crap! My bra’s still out there!

***
Moments later, after a painful hobble out to the sofa: Stray underwear recovered! And that’s one more piece of nice dryness for the morning. Good thing I went out there; I forgot my drenched socks were flopped on top of the tent.

Anyway, I hope those seven miles to Monson tomorrow aren’t too bad and the weather cooperates. I want to try to do all my errands in one afternoon, which would be a first for me (and it’s my goal for this SOBO leg).

The Hikers’ Gossip Network is alive and well and living in the north. Here’s what I’m hearing.

Iris from the Netherlands, off the trail. She finished Katahdin then went back to the AT Lodge for a day to recover, then made it a mile and a half into the HMW and decided she couldn’t do it. I heard she’ll be heading south and doing nice bits and pieces of the trail.

Psyche from the AT Lodge: off the trail after Katahdin. I don’t know how far up the mountain she made it, but she started 2 minutes after I did and clocked back in 2 minutes before I did, and I didn’t pass her. That must have been a long day.

That’s 50% of the people who stayed at the AT Lodge with me, not counting the young guy who’d tried the HMW three times. They day he summitted it took him 21 hours; he slept on the mountain.

OleMan at the Lodge is reporting that an unheard of 80% of people he’s dropped off southbound this year have called him for a rescue of one type or another at Katahdin or in the HMW. Happily, I’ve beaten that statistic on both ends of the trail now.

Another hiker fell in the HMW, landed on a rock, and hurt his shoulder badly. Last I heard, he was off the trail.

It’s All Small Stuff, who flipped up here from (I think) Rockfish Gap: off the trail. His mother had a heart attack and he had to get home.

I’m still here, luckily! But one day at a time… and tomorrow is Shaw’s in Monson. I’ll try to hit the trail at 6 in case the terrain is bad.

Looking forward to a shower and some sort of people food!

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Day 125: Monkey bars

Long Pond Stream Lean-to [mile 1117.8; SOBO 99.4]

Before I get to the day, I’ll jump directly to the most critical piece of business: Toads 2, Snakes 1. That last toad was big, too. He’s right here somewhere, right around where I pitched my tent. When I was scouting locations he jumped across the path. So here I am. How could I argue with a toad?

By all rights, today should have been terrible—but it wasn’t! It was magnificent. That’s been true of most of my SOBO days so far. When I look at the disparate events of the day, they should add up to bad. Yet somehow the days keep feeling wonderful. Flipping north was such a good decision. I feel like Springer to Harpers Ferry was my shakedown hike, and now I’m having the adventure.

Today should have been bad because it poured. All day, unrelenting… a cold rain that alternated between a steady soaking and a downpour. My first rainy day SOBO, and it was a doozy. More on that in a bit.

But first: the terrain. The terrain here is crazy wild. First of all, I’ve redefined my notion of steep. It used to be that steep meant… oh… a 45-degree ascent, something like that. I’d look up and think, Crap, that’s steep. Up here, steep is nearly vertical—and it’s the rule, not the exception. Up here, I look up to see how steep the hill is and it hurts my neck to tilt my head that far back. Usually I’m looking at a slightly sloped wall of rocks and roots with a tiny white blaze far, far above. And I think, How in hell am I going to get up there?

But you know what? Once the time element is removed, it’s fun as hell! It’s a jungle gym!

The roots here are enormous, like great brown tentacles thrusting over the rocks. The rocks are enormous—slabs of gray poking up between the roots. It’s as though the rocks and the roots are locked in some kind of death battle. But all of that makes the hiking fun. All that stuff to grab hold of!

Every step is like a big geometry puzzle. Can I grip that root? Will my foot fit in that crack? Is that rock slippery? And the climbs go up and up until the hillside reaches rocky cliffs, usually at or near freeline, then it’s a flat walk with magnificent views (not today, though).

I’m enjoying the hell out of it. It’s not fast work: today I managed 12 miles in 11 hours. But I’m fine with that now. I’m no racer; I never was.

Now, today’s issue was with the rain. I had my mojo this morning! I was up and on the trail in an hour, at 6:30 AM. I walked about two hours, I think, when it started to drizzle. I didn’t even put my rain jacket on. Even though the sky was overcast, I thought it’d be like the other rains I’ve seen in the HMW: light and brief, followed by sunshine.

No. The rain started pounding down, and it was a chill rain, too. By 10 I was in my rain jacket, and at noon I was soaked through and cold enough that I put on rain pants, too. The terrain was too technical to just walk a little faster to get warm.

Which brings me to today’s unholy combination of rain and the jungle gym. Today’s hiking required great care. The roots and rocks were slippery as ice. The trail filled with water. Sometimes it was six or eight inches deep, with a slick of red pine needles on top like a cranberry bog. Sometimes it felt like I was walking in a creek. But the surfaces were so slick that every step had to be planned and tested.

And it was fun! My feet were so icy that they had headaches. The only water I had was the frog-poop stuff from last night, and it grossed me out so much that I didn’t want to drink it. I couldn’t stop for lunch because it was pouring so hard. But somehow, I did 12 miles, and BOOM! it was suddenly 5 PM and I was at the lean-to I’d been aiming for.

I think it was the rain, truth be told. This was head-down walking.

I ended up playing ‘find the blaze’ for a good portion of the day.

And here I am in my tent, in dry clothes and my puffy and my quilt. I’m not warm yet (I miss my down pants!) but I’m getting there.

A great, great day. I saw moose bones, which was freaky, and in a place called Fourth Mountain Bog, pitcher plants! Pitcher plants in Maine; this trail is a strange and wondrous place.

I called Shaws to reserve a space for Thursday night. With the NOBO bubble coming through, I want to reserve ahead when I can. I think I can resupply at the convenience store in Monson without driving all the way to the next town.

And that’s that! I don’t know what tomorrow’s weather is supposed to do, but whatever’s coming from the sky, I imagine it will be falling on roots and rocks and mossy cliffs. 🙂

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Day 124: El Flocco and Lady Gray

Chairback Gap Lean-to [mile 1106.9; SOBO 88.5]

I’d wanted to go three more miles today, but Chairback Mountain was a little tougher on the ascent than I’d expected. It worked out, though, because I got to meet a celebrity.

It was cold again last night! In fact, it was cold enough to keep waking me up. But it was one of those situations where I could have pulled out more clothes if I could have forced myself to do it. But no; better the warmth in hand than the momentary coldness that would have to be endured to get better warmth. Idiot. 😉

Upshot: I was sluggish getting up and out into the chilly morning. And it was chilly: fleece hat and gloves chilly. So weird! Just a few days ago it was insanely hot (and will be again, I’m sure).

So I got a late start. And when I walked out of the tent site area, a hiker was just coming down the hill from the shelter. El Flocco his name was—‘the skinny one,’ he translated it. (Did I spell ‘flocco’ right?) No… not skinny. ‘The scrawny one.’

El Flocco was entertaining as hell. He’s a big-miles hiker, but he graciously slowed down and hiked with me for a couple of hours. We had a great conversation. This is his third thru-hike; he hiked NOBO twice, in 2010 and 2011, I think he said, when he was 53 and 54. So at 56 he decided to do a SOBO.

I picked his brain! He was a real trail character—great sense of humor, great stories. He’s summitted Katahdin four times. I asked him if the Whites were as hard as Katahdin, and he didn’t even hesitate. “No way. Absolutely not. Katahdin is easily the most difficult thing you’ll do on the trail.” He went on to clarify that the Whites have challenging parts, like Mount blah and blah, which I couldn’t quite process, never having been there and apparently beng genetically unable to tell one dead president from another.

I got all sorts of other tidbits from him. Thank you, El Flocco! He doesn’t treat his water unless the source looks dubious (yes, one of those folks). He’s done some trailwork. But best of all… he didn’t see any ponies in the Grayson Highlands during his first thru. LOL. We compared bitter pony stories. It was exactly the same for him—everybody had their adorable pony encounters, and he and his buddy were the only ones who didn’t see any. He said he went back there for a weekend and the ponies were so thick he had to push them out of the way to get through the trail.

Anyway, great guy. A lot of fun. I might see him in Monson if he zeroes there, but otherwise he’ll be a day ahead of me then, with an increasing margin.

A couple of miles after that came the river fording I’ve been dreading for days. I don’t like those stream crossings at all. When the underwater boulders are big and slick there’s no control at all to be had, and the rushing black water feels like all it wants to do is sweep you away.

I got to the river, and laughed. It was wide enough, but because the weather’s been so dry, it was only shin deep, even on me. The bottom wasn’t big boulders, but more like a flat stony beach. Some of the rocks were softball sized and they were all slippery, but it was easy walking. The worst part was the fact that the water was frigid; that first step was a shock!

After that the trail stayed flat for a while, then the climbing started. Chairback Mountain was magnificent—but on the way up was another one of those nearly vertical rock climbs. I started to say ‘You, sir, are no Katahdin,’ except a tiny voice in my head screamed Ohmygod, this is almost just like Katahdin a little bit!

It wasn’t like Katahdin. For one, there was only one way to fall. For two, it only lasted a few hundred feet. And for three… actually, two are probably plenty. I got through it one rock at a time, and the view from upstairs was magnificent. I even caught a glimpse of the big K—the last view of it, I think.

Coming down was steep, steep trail—not rock climbing, but tough. I made the executive decision to stay at the next shelter. While I was down getting water from the fetid puddle that passes for a spring (there was a frog living in the puddle!), two hikers showed up at the shelter: Dragonstick and the famous Lady Gray. Dragonstick is doing a jump-around flip-flop. I think he said he flipped to New England from Waynesboro, and he’s heading north, then after Katahdin he’ll go… oh, I don’t know. In any event, it’ll be the whole trail in various pieces.

Lady Gray is somebody whose journal I followed before I started hiking. She does big miles, so even though she started the day after I did, I never had a prayer of catching her. That’s a benefit of flipping that I hadn’t though about. I’ll get to meet some people I know of but never had the opportunity to meet.

Lady Gray skipped two states. She did it after hard thought, and she evidently talked about it in her journal over at Trailjournals.com, if you’re interested. But the fascinating thing to me is how ready she is to be done. A lot of the NOBOs I’ve talked to are ready to be done. I had a nice chat with the ridgerunner today who said that NOBOs are doing 20 and 25 miles through this ungodly terrain because they’re ready to be done.

And it occurred to me that I’ve been out for the same number of nights as Lady Gray, and more nights than some of the guys who are whopping through now. I’m ready to be done, too… but I’ve got three months to go before I finish! That’s a lot of freaking hiking. Of course, even if I’d stayed NOBO and had a faster pace, I would have been out for another two months anyway.

I passed a boatload of NOBOs today, maybe 15 or 20. I heard that 27 of them left Monson yesterday. It’s going to be sardine-ville in the shelter areas for the duration of the northbound bubble. That’s something to keep in mind. I wonder if the bulk of them are through the Whites yet? That would be a bad place to not have tent space.

And that’s it! Today: Toads 1, snakes 0. And the toad was in my yellow drinking water.

Tomorrow: Hrm. Mountains and pine trees and rocks, I imagine. And at least one bog.

Oh! Speaking of bogs! I fell today. My pole caught in a root and tripped me into a bog. I splatted sideways into three inches of black mud, and my knees went into it and my hand went into it… and the first thing I did was look for the last corner of the Cliff Bar I’d been eating and heave a sigh of relief when I found it. I ate it, too. I must be a hiker!

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Day 123: Guess what I saw?!

Carl A. Newhall Lean-to [mile 1097.0; SOBO 78.6]

Well, there it is. As of today, I’ve walked a hair more than half the trail. Yay! To celebrate, I walked some, and ate a delicious PowerBar and camped earlier than I’d intended to. Just another day at the office!

I think a squirrel just divebombed my tent. It sounded like a rat on a trampoline.

Last night was cold! I mean fleece hat and puffy cold, and if my gloves had been handy (no pun intended) I would have worn them, too. And all day today was blissfully chilly and breezy, with no humidity to speak of (and no bugs!). I wore long sleeves for most of the day, and here I am at dinnertime in my puffy under my quilt. It feels like fall, or maybe spring, given the bright sun and the cloudless blue sky. Perfect hiking weather, and I heard it’s supposed to be like this for the next few days. That’ll be a great way to finish the Hundred, if that report’s correct. (I might have to wear long pants tomorrow though. Or maybe not; there’s a big river fording in about five miles).

White Cap wasn’t bad at all: a steep rocky mountain. I do think my definition of ‘hard’ has been permanently altered; also, I think SOBOs may have had it a little easier this time. Going up, we had a few hundred steps in the mountainside. On the other side, they had a steep rocky trail. But it wasn’t Katahdin steep—ie, vertical. The whole area reminded me of Roan Mountain and the Roan highlands—dense pine and deep shadows and silence.

White Cap was above treeline, so no stealthing (but stunning panoramic views of all those lakes and hills). I’m going to assume that’s the rule around here, and plan on doing my stealthing in the gaps when I need to.

After White Cap came two more mountains. Neither was above treeline at the top, but man, were they steep, particulalry coming down. My right ankle is feeling a little strained (that’s the one that got tweaked on Katahdin), and my bad knee is throbbing. Some wise people have pointed out that even though I’m in trail shape, I’m in Virginia trail shape. I haven’t climbed anything big since Mt. Rogers, I don’t think… have I? Anyway, the three today were much steeper than Mt. Rogers. I have to ease my joints in as though I’m starting fresh. It would suck to have come this far and have to quit because of an injury.

Today’s score: Toads 1, snakes 1. It almost feels like a sports thing, doesn’t it? I give the edge to the toads. The snake was a beautiful caramel-colored specimen, but the toad was massive—the biggest I’ve seen yet.

And speaking of massive…. I was just starting up the third mountain, just past a little tenting area called the Sidney Tappan Campsite, when I heard a big rustle and a sound like a horse snorting. There, not ten feet from the trail in the trees and brush, was a moose. Ohmygods, that’s one enormous animal. HUGE. When I say it was ten feet from the trail, I mean its tail was ten feet from the trail and its antlers were twenty. A big, huge, ginormous male, eating salad. It looked at me then calmly went back to gnawing the brush just like a cow. Then it lifted its head and started munching on a tree. Its nose (snout? muzzle?) was as big as my backpack. What incredible animals.

That made my day. 🙂 The best halfway present the trail could have given me.

Then came the last bit of wicked steepness. That’s when I decided my ankle was on the edge of being injured. I might tape it tomorrow. I don’t know; I hate to start taping things a week in. It doesn’t give you anywhere else to go. Plus I’d rather have it build up strength on its own.

I looked at the book, and I guess I’ll be hitting Monson first thing Thursday morning. (I could squeeze in there Wednesday night, but with the drive required for resupply, I’d have to stay there Thursday anyway.) The plan is to try for Shaw’s, get everything done on Thursday, and get back on the trail on Friday morning. If the terrain gets easier in the next couple of days, I’ll try to move it up a day; but I think this is where the fun really starts. I’m not sure I’ll see easier terrain until New Jersey.

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Day 122: A map and both hands

Logan Brook Lean-to [mile 1089.8; SOBO 71.4]

Here’s a sobering thought: I still haven’t completed 50% of the actual trail miles. But guess what? That’ll happen tomorrow (I hope)! Subtract the two intermission weeks and you have four months since I started. If the second half takes just as long, my end date will be November 21. LOL. That would be OK. I’m looking forward to sitting at my sister’s house for Thanksgiving dinner and having the end of the trail to celebrate. I’d have to quit that week anyway, finished or not. So here we go. Wheeee! Hey, if I finish, it will have been a four-season hike. That right there’s a dubious distinction! 🙂

I met a guy tonight who started March 2. The faster hikers are finishing up now. This is so interesting! And you know what’s like a breath of fresh air? Looking in the trail registers and not recognizing any names! It had gotten so depressing before; kind of like looking through old yearbooks. Oh, I did recognize one name in the register here: Goatman! He was the dude from the day of the pissed-off rattlesnake. He signed the register here on 6/21; that’s a fast hike.

Last night the heat finally broke at 7:00 PM with a thunderstorm like gods hurling boulders. The rain roared. I hope anyone still coming down Katahdin was OK; I imagine they would have been near the bottom by that time (although I heard of two guys just last week who couldn’t make it down in time and slept on the mountain).

It didn’t rain all night, though, and my fly was only half wet when I packed up this morning. I tried to get up at 4 and hit the trail by 5:30, but i just couldn’t do it. I think 6:15 or 6:30 is about as far as I can push.

Anyway, it was cooler this morning! What a relief! Except it was just as humid as ever… you could cut the forest air with a machete, if they weren’t too heavy to carry. By midmorning it had heated up again, and the trail was becoming increasingly overgrown. Plus there were some blowdowns from last night’s storm. I started to feel like I was bushwacking, and I had to take off my bug pants to keep them from being destroyed.

Of course, later in the day I had an AT first (for me): I got lost. Then I ended up doing actual bushwacking, which was a lot tougher, and, in fact, something I’m not good at at all.

Here’s what happened. The trail climbed a small mountain. At the bottom and the top were signs saying the trail had been rerouted in 2010. I got past that, came to a spring that was in the book, and kept hiking. Hike, hike, hike… and I came to a lovely pond with no blazes whatsoever.

I was stymied. I walked on what looked like a trail all the way down the right side of this pond, or small lake, until the trail ended. No blazes. What’s worse, my ‘sense of trail’ was tingling hard that I was off the trail. So I backtracked to the last blaze. And lo and behold, I spotted a double blaze a few feet away in the middle of a jungle of blown down pine trees, weeds, branches. Deep squinting uncovered another blaze deeper into the jungle. At that point I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. If I was in the wrong place, nobody was going to stumble along and find me. It’s the Hundred-Mile Wilderness, fer crying out loud. So I girded my loins and gritted my teeth and freaking bushwacked for a quarter mile, following these blazes and hoping they led to something like actual trail. Then the path widened and who should come trotting along from the left? Not Yet and Billie! They had no trouble finding the correct blazes. That’s when I realized I must have been on three-year-old trail.

But listen! While I was bushwacking, I saw moose prints in the mud! They were HUGE. Those are some big hooves, man. I feel like that joke about the blind men feeling the elephant; I keep seeing bits and pieces and relics of moose, with no moose.

Oh, I did see three toads and two snakes today. Toads are winning.

I lost about an hour with that fiasco, so I ended up stopping just short of White Cap Mountain. Just as well, really. I don’t know if the regular Maine mountains will have stealth sites up top, or if it’s all rock. I’m glad to be able to test the waters, with fresh legs. This afternoon was a climb, and my Achilles is sore.

Speaking of waters, I had to ford a stream today. That’s really quite scary. Not Yet and Billie showed up while I was changing shoes, and they went first. Not Yet had long enough legs to rock-hop, but Billie and I couldn’t make all the jumps. I watched Billie basically scoot over, rock to rock, on her rear, and I thought that looked like a perfect strategy. So I copied her.

The fordings are rough because the water’s fast and the streambeds are littered with slimy boulders. And the water’s dark, so you can’t see where you’re putting your feet. It would be very easy to slip or be toppled over… and of course, you’ve got a 30-pound pack on your back. I’ll be happy when that part of the trail is finished.

But you know what I said to myself when I gritted my teeth and moved through that scary water? “You, sir, are no Katahdin!” And then the ford was finished.

It’s actually chilly now, here in my tent as the birds sing in the twilight forest. Not Yet and Billie are up at the lean-to. I don’t think anybody else has arrived, at least not from this direction. (The shelter is on a rocky mountain; the tent sites are few and spread out.)

Tomorrow: White Cap for realz.

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FYI

I’m still in the Hundred-Mile Wilderness, but I found a pocket of service and uploaded some updates. I’ll get caught up wih comments and the rest in Monson. Should be there on Thursday

OK, going radio silent again. Have to save the phone battery!

See you soon!

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