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.
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.
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!