Monthly Archives: August 2013

Day 155: I remember now

Imp Campsite [mile 1324.7; SOBO 306.3]

Oh, the Whites, the Whites, the Whites. I forgot how beautiful you are, and how in love with you I am.

I’ve been here twice before, that I recall: once during a family vacation when I was about 16. We climbed Mt. Washington, then—in a car, of course, and I was terrified on the auto road. And the top of the mountain was frigid and dense with fog, so there wasn’t much to see beyond a few yards of boulders. But I loved the Whites and they haunted me until 1992, when I went back to camp. That was in Crawford Notch. There were so many stars in the sky that I thought I’d die of beauty.

(Note to self: Look at the stars every night. I’ve seen so many dawns, but no stars on this hike. I’m usually asleep by hiker midnight—ie, 9 PM.)

This morning I hit the trail late, at about 8:30, and walked to the Rattle River. I think I remember that river! It jogged such a strong sense of deja vu! It may be a similar river, somewhere else, that I visited—except that there are signs to the Mt. Washington auto road just a couple of miles down the trail, which makes me think that my 16-year-old self is the one who saw those stones and listened to that prancing water.

The morning was easy walking, then a steady uphill into elevation. I’m still driving a jalopy of a body so the climbing was slow, but as far as ups go, this one was easy. Some hints of Maine near the top, but drier. The bog bridging doesn’t have the same characteristic rottenness. The planks smell like WD-40, and I have no idea why.

The day was hot summer, and it felt magnificent. It was ear-popping good to be back at some higher elevations (still nowhere near as extreme as it’s going to get). And I never thought I’d say that.

I could have gone farther today, but I couldn’t think of a reason why. So here I am on a platform at Imp. First night for my Exped Air mat, my new socks, my new fleece. I feel like the gear is finally acceptable for New England.

There might be some rain tonight. I’m just happy to be here.

Oh! Reunions! Today I saw Steamer (the breast cancer guy dressed all in pink; he has pink hair now, too). I saw Kokopelli, who used to travel with Didi the wonder dog. Kokopelli’s the guy who hiked last year and made it to 60 miles from Katahdin before sustaining a severe knee injury that knocked him off the trail. (He had to send Didi home a while back.) I met both of those guys in Virginia.

Remember Little Sass? I met her at Aquone when she wasn’t hiking, then at Partnership Shelter after she started her thru. Saw her today! And I saw a hiker named Pretzel, who remembered me; I can’t place where we met.

A NOBO asked me if I thought it was a good idea for his non-hiking (but physically fit) wife and 12-year-old daughter to come summit Katahdin with him. I told him no, I didn’t think that was a great idea, and we talked about it a while.

Actually, I talked to a lot of people today! It was exceptionally social on the trail.

The Whites. It’s going to get so hard. But this may possibly be the most beautiful place on earth. At least to me, and to those me’s I used to be. 🙂

Tomorrow: The start of the hard stuff. I’m nervous! But I’m planning to take it slow and enjoy it while I can.

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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 19 Comments

You’re not going to believe this

Two SOBOs are here. And they just said, “You’re Karma? We found your headnet!”

LOL.

Trail synchronicity. Sometime’s it’s literally astonishing.

They sent the headnet home, but they’re going to have it mailed to my brother.

Wow. 🙂

Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 7 Comments

Day 154: Whiteout

Gorham, New Hampshire

So sorry for the recent photo overload. There’s so much beauty! I’m having trouble restraining myself.

Supplies? Check. Pack packed? Check. Outfitter (such as it is)? Check.
And tomorrow it’s into the next bit of legendary terror: The Whites. I’m trying not to overthink it, while still thinking about it to exactly the degree I need.

Scary!

But that’s tomorrow. Today I had a lovely breakfast and an enormous amount of coffee (as usual). Then the innkeeper’s mom drove us to the post office and the outfitter. I sent my Neoair home; I’ve switched over to my slightly wider Exped. Same R value, but better for this terrain, I think. My gear hasn’t been precisely right since I hit Maine. (And today Herc ribbed me for having a sleeping pad fetish. I can’t say he’s wrong, lol. Sleep is my luxury item.)

The outfitter was tiny and combined with the town hardware store. I didn’t need any hardware (although god help me, I actually looked down the aisles). What I did need was fleece.

Because I flipped, I wasn’t able to follow my planned long-term strategy–ie, get the winter gear back at Glencliff, before the Whites. Then I was nervous about Katahdin, then the Hundred, then southern Maine and Mahoosuc… and you know, my Whites planning mechanism never really kicked in. Until yesterday. That’s when I realized, or decided, that I didn’t have enough warm clothes. I needed a fleece shirt and a heavier pair of socks to sleep in. I haven’t been above 5000 feet for a long time! I had to wrap my head around it again!

The little hardware store had both the fleece and the socks, so I guess it was exactly the right size after all. And a good thing, because it looks like I’m in for some rain tomorrow afternoon. Yay, Whites!

This afternoon I handled the rest of the prep work—packed up, sorted out the food. Some new hikers have arrived. I met the Professor back on the morning after the norovirus knocked me flat for 36 hours (although I didn’t mention that to him at the time; I was too exhausted to do anything but grunt, and I was actively trying to stay well away from other hikers). Then I met him again at Greasy Creek hostel.

I got pics of Jordana and of SOBOs Herc and Hobbit, who are here now. Yay!

And that’s been my whole afternoon. Sitting, eating, packing, eating, and staring at my book and map while nibbling the end of my pen. And eating. I actually feel like I’m getting fat. Too much food, not enough miles.

I’ll be glad to head out the door tomorrow. I want this part finished!

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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 6 Comments

Day 153: Summer returns

Gorham, New Hampshire

It was summer in Maine… er, New Hampshire, today! Seriously, I can’t believe I’m out of Maine and intact. Mostly.

I was up at 4:45 this morning and on the trail at 6:15. I had to do a 12-mile day in a new state; if the terrain was at all Maine-like, it could have taken 12 to 15 hours, so I wanted an early start. As it turned out, the terrain was blessedly trail-like, and I got to the hostel at… oh… 4:00.

A little bird told me there’d been a moose mama and her calf hanging out at Gentian Pond, where I was camped. I looked for them in the morning, but I think they were still asleep somewhere.

Then the walking. It felt utterly liberating to just walk! No heavy mental stuff, no… watching every footfall. Just walking, walking, walking. The roots were dry. I can’t tell if that’s just from the recent rainless stretch, but the atmosphere itself just felt drier than Maine.

And hotter. It was summer today! It felt great. The sweat was pouring off the hikers, me included. The tops of the mountains, near treeline, were boiling: a gray desert. And I was making good time!

You know how many times I’ve fallen since I got into New Hampshire? Nada! (Knock wood.)

Random: I found a tent stake today! Rawr!

About 4 miles out of Gorham, a hiker passed me. He said there were two section hikers down below who had no water. None. Zip. He’d given them a pint or so, but in that heat this was going to be a problem. There was no water source for more than 6 miles, going northbound. Sure enough, I went down the trail and talked to them: no water. And they were out of shape. The guy’s face was red. He’d hiked the section before, about 30 years ago, and was trying to do it from memory. Apparently his memory included a lot of brooks and ponds. I gave them most of the water I had. I knew what I could handle, and it was only a few miles to town. But they were in over their heads. I hope they’re OK.

Then I passed a dozen or so NOBOs. I’m in the bubble now and seeing a lot of people I know. Today: Schweezel, whom I met with Codewalker back before Trail Days. Schweezel’s now hiking with a guy who’d heard of me and whose name I’d seen in the registers: Sir Pantsalot (LOL). When I got to the hostel, guess who was here? Codewalker. Also Violet; the last time I saw her she was slackpacking with Blackhawk and Pathfinder.

And you know who else is at the hostel? Jordana! The last of my bunkmates from March 6 at the Hiker Hostel! It was so great to see her! I have to try to catch her at breakfast to chat. This house must have 15 hikers, maybe more. Chaos!

Oh, coincidentally, the hostel owner (who just took over the place) has a son on the trail now. You know who it is? Nimble! The guy who slept next to me at that shelter in the tropical storm.

One final piece of synchronicity. The tip of one of my poles broke; I lost the metal piece, then the rubber bent like an old carrot. I’d say it’s about 70% reliable now, and twice that bend has suddenly left me hanging an inch overstretched in mid-air. I was hoping the outfitter here had tips and could replace them so I’d be at 100% going into the Whites. But a NOBO here, Subaru, had spare tips for the same brand of pole. He helped me get the old one off and put the new one on. That’s definitely some trail karma there.

What else? Not much! I’m so tired I can’t think straight. Oh, thank you so much to trail angel Judy for sending me some goodies! And to my brother for sending me new shoes!

And now some sleep, perchance to dream. When I take another actual zero (as opposed to an errand zero), it’s going to be in a hotel, I swear.

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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 3 Comments

Day 152: No pain, no Maine

Gentian Pond Shelter [mile 1304.9; SOBO 286.5]

Lookit, lookit! I’m outta Maine! No matter what else happens on this hike or how far I get, I can cross off both the longest and the second-longest states on the AT, and that’s huge.

And how was it, crossing into New Hampshire? Well, there was this brown ribbon winding through the forest… a trail, yes! That’s what you call it! It’s been so long since I’ve seen one that I forgot! 😉

I know it’s going to be horrible in about three days, or maybe even tomorrow. I’m just going to go ahead and enjoy tonight.

So I woke up on my tent platform and nothing had collapsed. I have mixed feelings about the platforms. I can’t really guy out the tent properly, so I worry about the wind and the rain. On the other hand, the flatness underneath is a blessing; the footprint doesn’t get so wet; and I don’t have to pull slugs off the tent before I pack it up. That’s always a bonus!

I hit the trail at 6:45. Oh, last night at the shelter I ran into someone I’d met briefly back at the Captain’s in Virginia: Why Not, from Sacramento. Also, Magic Scout; he recognized me, rather than vice versa. That happens sometimes; right here at this shelter is somebody I met in passing way down in Tennessee: Barbarosa. I remembered his sharp blue eyes and his red hair and his kilt; he didn’t remember me at all, lol. I also remembered his old hiking buddy Misery; ironically they’d separated and Barbarosa just ran into Misery again at his last town stop. Trail synchronicity!

So it was my last day in Maine. It was terrifically windy all day; the gusts were so fierce on the mountaintops that they kept snatching my pack and pushing me off the trail. My pants were like giant air balloons, and I was afraid I was going to take off and be blown back deeper into Maine. The horror! (This wind feels like it’s hauling weather; I suspect it’ll be raining when I hit the Whites.)

Right out of the shelter there was a climb, then a gorgeous mountain view, my last sunrise in Maine. And after that, the trail turned… well, is hideous too strong a word? Hell, no! The trail turned hideous. Basically it treated us to a round of Maine’s Greatest Hits. There were rock scrambles like Mahoosuc and climbs like Katahdin. There were steep, finger-clawing ascents up moon-topped mountains. There were bogs so deep that they’d actually swallowed the bog bridging.

It made for an interesting morning! But around noon came the long-awaited signpost.

I leapfrogged all day with SOBOs Herc and Hobbit. They’d stopped at the border for a celebratory lunch, and they were kind enough to take a picture.

Oh, and shoot! I almost forgot! Two tenths of a mile before the border, I passed the 1300-mile mark. I’ve gone through three pairs of shoes (this pair here was destroyed by Maine; if I didn’t have shoes waiting in Gorham, I’d be duct-taping them together). I’ve seen snakes (two today!) and toads and bears and moose and deer and squirrels and chipmunks. And I’ve learned so much so far. I’ve got a long way to go before I could claim any expertise, but I think I’ve reached the journeyman stage as a backpacker. Literally.

The first few miles of New Hampshire were relatively easy walking. Oh, there were ups and downs, but they had less… malign intent than the climbs of Maine. Or maybe I was just excited.

There were some reunions today, and some new inteoductions to people I’d heard of but never met. The reunion: Slim Jim! I met him with ODAAT back before Trail Days, and we stayed together at the Wapiti (woppity, lol!) Shelter. That’s interesting, that I ran into him and Iced Tea within a few days of each other. I also finally met the infamous Double D. I don’t know why I knew his name; the registers, maybe. I stumbled across him and he had everything in his pack spread out on the ground. He’s got a great trail dog with him—Dixie. I have no idea how she’s going to handle the massive rebar cliff walls in the early Maine section.

I met a great pair of NOBOs: Paisley and Mr. Gigglepants. 🙂 How can you not love that trail name? We exchanged some skinny. Apparently water is a big problem in Pennsylvania. They had to hitch into town twice because they were out and couldn’t find any. Note to self: two full liters through the home territory.

The leaves are starting to change and fall up here.

But who cares? It’s not Maine!

Tomorrow: A long day into Gorham. Pray for easy hiking!

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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 18 Comments

Day 151: I got nothin’

Full Goose Shelter [mile 1295.3; SOBO 276.9]
Miles to the border: 4.9

Well, that’s interesting. Tomorrow I hit two huge milestones within 0.2 mile. What are the odds of that? I’ll hit 1300 miles, then a few steps later I’ll cross out of Maine. Maybe forever!

Where to start? Honestly, I’m bone tired. If I were ever going to skip a day of journaling, today would be it. But since half the point of journaling is to help me figure out what these 5000 photos are, I don’t want to skip a day. So I get to torment you again! But take heart; no matter how tormented you’re feeling, it can’t come close to the sadistic misery I dealt with today.

I didn’t set the alarm, but I was on the trail earlyish: 6:45. I was nervous as hell already. The Arm, the Notch. These are legendarily awful.

Well, the day dawned brightly and not very chilly; halfway down the Arm I changed into shorts.

I actually got to the Arm at about 7:15… or at least, I assumed it was the Arm because the mountain started going downhill, steeply. And the verdict on the Arm?

Not bad at all.

Pesky, I’d call it. It was just another downhill in Maine: slabs of rocks, very steep, but manageable given sufficiently slow speed. I took some pictures and I’ll put them below; as a point of reference, in all cases keep in mind that I was coming down. A lot of times I’d get to the bottom and turn to look up and snap the photo. (If you’re using a phone, do you still ‘snap’?)

After about thirty minutes of Arm, I realized that it wasn’t that bad. I’d done worse descents regularly—the day before, in fact. Coming down Speck was hair-raising. But my brain was concentrating so fiercely, on high alert, that I realized I was exhausting myself before the actual entree: the Notch. So I put on my headphones and listened to music for the rest of the Arm. (Also, weather conditions today were perfect; I wouldn’t have wanted to climb down the Arm in the rain.)

It took about two hours.

Then it was time: the Mahoosuc Notch, the hardest mile on the Appalachian Trail.

Well… first of all, I dispute that. For me, any mile in the Gateway on Katahdin was two or three times harder, at minimum. In fact, that section of Katahdin is a lot like Mahoosuc, except vertical instead of horizontal, a mile in the air, and about twice as long. Your mileage may vary.

But that said, I found the Mahoosuc Notch to be a vile, nasty piece of sadism. It felt more like hazing than hiking. And since that right there is the best I have to say about it, I’ll shut up. I survived, and that’s what counts! If you want me to make your ears smoke, talk to me about it in person or in private. 🙂 Otherwise, I’m sure other journals are describing it in vast detail.

I will say that I found the one place where being a midget is an advantage: I didn’t have to take my pack off at all (although it required a finely tuned sense of spatial geometry and some sideshow-quality contortions). Going SOBO may have helped with that.

I was dead tired after Mahoosuc. There’s an unlisted stealth site just at the south end (no water), but I decided to drag myself up one more EKG spike of a mountain to the next shelter, and here I am. I had to pitch my tent on my first platform. I don’t like it! But I know it’s the shape of things to come. I’ll get better at it.

Tomorrow: 1300 miles and New Hampshire at just about the same instant! Also, the last four miles of Maine are supposed to be horrible. Of course. 😉 Maine says, ‘Don’t let the border hit you in the butt!’

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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 3 Comments

Day 150: Craziness! Sheer craziness!

Just about at the toppy tippy top of the Mahoosuc Arm, stealthed on the side of a mountain in a spot that’s big enough for just about half this much tent [mile 1290.9; SOBO 272.5]
Neverending miles to the border: 9.3

Last night at around 6:30, with the sky darkening toward twilight, came an unwelcome visitor: a steady drizzle pattering in the leaves.

Say what? There wasn’t supposed to be any rain! I guess 10% doesn’t mean zero after all! Maine equals rain, at least in ’13. But it had cleared up by morning, and the tent was nearly dry.

I hit the trail at 6:15. That point turned out to be important later.

So the morning was pretty uneventful—so uneventful, in fact, that I wasn’t even sure I’d have any cool photos. It was all just more Maine. The descent do
n into Grafton Notch wasn’t terrible. I wore the knee brace off and on all day because man, my left knee hurts on the downhills. But so do everybody else’s knees, so it’s all good. 🙂

Grafton Notch itself is a state park. That was good for three reasons: It had a privy with its own toilet paper, it had a trash can (which, I swear, is like finding diamonds out here), and the trail was basically graded and engineered for dayhikers—ie, stairs and such, and not the most treacherous route that could be found. So the 2500-foot elevation gain in about 2.5 miles wasn’t bad, as these things go.

I’m amazed at the way my standards have changed.

The last bit was steeper, but the hiking was good. Sunny day, just cool enough and breezy enough to contain the bugs. I hiked in shorts and stopped for lunch near the last false summit of Old Speck Mountain.

The false summits up here are different from the ones in the south. In the south, it’s like you’re climbing an ice cream sundae and everytime you get close to the top, you look up and realize that somebody’s added another scoop. Here, first of all, having 20 feet of straight trail is a rarity. So you climb your rock wall or whatever, and think you’re at the top. The trail turns left and right and left and right and left and right, and boom! Another rock wall. It’s never entirely clear that you’ve summitted, even when the trail starts going down.

So I had my lunch (Spam!) and looked at the book and thought ‘Hey! I’m in great shape to finish the Arm and get camped!’

I forgot one of my cardinal rules of the AT: If the mountain’s good going up, it’s terrible going down. And vice versa; they mostly seem to have one better side and one worse side.

Dear sweet gods, the other side of Speck Mountain was hard. It was a sheer descent down a rockface. The rock wasn’t smooth enough to slide on, but the bumpy spots weren’t really big enough for footholds. This time, I think the southbounders got the fuzzy end of the lollipop. It took a long time, and the effort to not pitch forward was strenuous.

I finally got to Speck Pond Shelter at a little after 2:00… eight hours to go seven miles. I stopped to look at the book: a mile uphill, then the dreaded Mahoosuc Arm—another fuzzy lollipop for the SOBOs. I debated and debated then decided I was done, even though it was early.

While I was sitting there, some NOBOs rolled up and they looked shellshocked. They were like, “Are you going SOBO? That was hell.” Also, a guy just broke his ankle in the Notch, and he was in the process of getting rescued. Helicoptered out, one guy said.

Joy.

Then things got a little funky. I went to see the caretaker about a site. (That shelter costs $8 to tent. At the moment, I didn’t care.) The caretaker and some other guys got to talking about where I was heading, and they were all “You can do the Arm in two hours!” And before I knew it I was all pumped up and enthusiastic and on my way again. Yeah! It was 3:00, but I was all set to do the Arm in two hours!

Idiot.

I made it wbout a half mile uphill and realized No, no, no. I was probably a half-hour from the start of the Arm, that crazy slab of rock. If those young athletes could do it in two hours, I was probably looking at three. Possibly four. And I’d already hiked over eight hours! My knees were throbbing… just a freaking recipe for getting injured.

So I stealthed. My tent doesn’t fit here, but space and flat land are at a premium. There’s a log in my living room. If it rains, I’ve got a problem, because the bathtub floor is riding on a hillock.

But here we are! Good judgment prevailed over peer pressure. Believe me, I still beat myself up ruthlessly over not making the miles… but I’m trying to let it go for Maine and New Hampshire. I don’t want to be the one wiith the broken ankle.

Right?

So first thing tomorrow: Finish climbing this mountain, then wheeeeeee, down the Arm. Then the Notch.

Maine won’t let go of me!

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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 6 Comments

Day 149: Baldpate

Baldpate lean-to [mile 1283.3; SOBO 264.9]
Miles to the border: 16.9

Unexpected nero today. Baldpate Mountain killed my knees, and there’s another two miles of steep downhill to Grafton Notch then four uphill to Old Speck Mountain, where I was going to camp. Can’t do it.

Stopping here works out better, anyway, for a few reasons: 1) Dead knees. 2) Hopefully I can manage ten miles tomorrow and avoid paying the fee to tent at Speck Pond. 3) Assuming all the above works out, I get to split the Arm and the Notch into two days. Which would be great! (If I’d realized how hard Baldpate was going to be, I would have stayed tonight at Pine Ellis again—Grafton Notch is one of their shuttle stops. Pine Ellis is a great resource for hikers doing sections around here, and a lot of the hikers I’ve met in this area are doing just that—staying various nights at Pine Ellis and getting shuttled to the various trailheads.)

So right now I’m in my tent enjoying a delicious early dinner of what I lovingly call ramen gazpacho: ramen noodles reconstituted with cold water and chowed out of a baggie. Living large! 😉

It was cold again last night. Summer’s over for me, I’m afraid. The Whites won’t exactly be tropical, and by the time I get through them it’ll be fall. Sad thought, but pretty, too. The leaves in lower New England should be spectacular this year, given the rainfall. I’m already seeing the occasional spot of crimson here.

Makes me wish I’d asked my brother to send me my downmat; the Neoair isn’t quite cutting it at night anymore.

Anyhoo. Up early, and immediately the trail started climbing. This was a sliding board kind of day. The rock surface was rough but so steep that I had to go slowly. A couple of times I had to crawl because of the lack of footholds, and I stayed on the sliding board only by getting a tuft of moss in a deathgrip. Poor moss. Sunny, though, and the day warmed up nicely. And Baldpate was worth it. I think it’s my new favorite mountain!

These mountains have such innocuous names for such marvels. Old Blue. Moody. Baldpate. (‘Pate’ is a word that really deserves to come back into common usage.) I don’t know what I was expecting. Somehing Dickensian, maybe. Hikers have been talking about this mountain for days; I just figured it was steep.

Well… yeah. It was. But it was the moon up there, baby! The rock was phenomenal: rough and pocked, and in places swirling with ancient motion like a fingerprint. That rock moved. Just behind the solidity, about a gazillion years behind it, that mountain was liquid.

The striations were cool: black rock that shed red water, and blossoms of crystal. And green lichen that bloomed in fat circles like nowhere else.

I spent a good part of the morning above treeline (hiking, mind you, and not just smelling the roses; the trail stays up there for quite a while), and that’s what did my knees in. It was a constant downward angle, slow and cautious; this was a mountain you really could fall off the edge of. (Or into the bog, because of course there was a festering bog on top, with bog bridging. Welcome to Maine!)

Gorgeous. Silent. Blue. Up there, it seems you can reach up and tickle the bellies of the clouds.

Then came the descent, of course. There were stairs, a few hundred of them, as well as sliding boards and rooty-rocky precipices. Thank you for those stairs, MATC! (There’d also been some ladders on the ascent, where the slabs of rock were too high to negotiate.) All things considered, I think the SOBOs had it easier today. I’d rather crawl up a mile of rock slabs than come down, and if I have to come down the other side, I’m happy there are some stairs.

Tomorrow I might break down and use the knee brace. It doesn’t seem to help with much but the pain; but that’s where I need the help!

Hopefully the next time I write I’ll have finished the Mahoosuc Arm and be staring down the maw of the Mahoosuc Notch: the hardest mile on the trail. Even with the delay of a day, I think the forecast is for good weather. I’ll be thrilled when the Notch is done.

Hard to believe I’m this close to Mahoosuc. I’ve been dreading this moment for quite some time. 😉

Oh, which reminds me! I almost forgot! I had a reunion today. Waaaaay back at Clingmans Dome I met a Marine named Raider. (He’d been injured and was now out of active duty.) There are people on the trail who do little miles and people who do big miles, and then there are people who do monster miles. Raider did more miles than anybody I’ve heard of all year. He came out of the gate doing 25s and 30s.

He roared northward and developed a stress fracture in his tibia in New Hampshire. He went on for another 55 miles and slipped on a root (of course), which slammed him into a rock and broke the bone. Broken leg! He’s just back on the trail and says he’s slowed down considerably.

Welcome to Maine! Where the rocks and roots are in cahoots, and the land, it wants you gone.

Oh, and I almost forgot this, too. There was a pair of grouse on Baldpate, and I got pretty close to one. The pic is blurry because it was running away, but can you see it? I’ll put the bird pic last. The bird’s on the left side. Where’s Waldo? When those grouse freeze, they really blend into the background.

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Day 148: Drama-free zone

Frye Notch Lean-to [mile 1279.8; SOBO 261.4]
Miles to the border: 20.4

Last night the wind had teeth. It was like a sharp taste of late fall, and there were no warm spots under my quilt. I wasn’t wearing my puffy and I couldn’t rouse myself to sufficient consciousness to get out in the chill long enough to pull it on. Tonight? Puffy time! Also gloves, fleece hat, and sleeping bag liner.

But we’re chipping away at Maine!

It was a cool clear day. I’m sure your average hardy Mainer would be out taking a swim and calling this a heat wave. Wimpy me, though… I never did break out of the pants and long sleeves. Although I came close during this afternoon’s long climb.

It was a chatty kind of day. Everybody wanted to talk (me included). I probably spent 45 minutes today just yacking with people—and that’s an unheard of amount of time. Usually, even with all the NOBOs going through, my total human interaction for a day might be five minutes. I’m told that after the NOBO bubble passes, in September and October I’ll be lucky to even see one person a week. I like solitude, but that much of it’s going to take some getting used to. The trail’s already a little spooky, to tell you the truth.

So. I got up this morning and for the first time since April I had to wear my puffy while I packed up. Cold!

I was out and walking shortly before 7:00. Today’s plan was a more normal mileage day. The book showed a long down then a long up, neither seeming particularly steep. Lies! Well… truth with some of the edges filed down. The trail was all Maine today, and actually very nice hiking in spots. But there were the obligatory EKG waves of climbs: mountains without names, just up and down. Generally, though, a good day. For Maine.

I had a couple of reunions. Both guys recognized me before I recognized them. The first was Steady State. I’m not sure I mentioned him. I think we met back in the Smokies or shortly after. It’s hard to tell sometimes because all the guys have big grizzly beards at this point, so they look a bit different than they used to.

The second guy was the German, Iced Tea! I know I mentioned him a couple of times. I met him at Wapiti (woppity, lol!) Shelter the day before Trail Days, then again a week or so later.

Iced Tea has an injury. He crossed the Maine border with a lot of overconfidence (his description, not mine). He’d done the Whites! He was invincible! Three miles into Maine he slipped on a root, so fast he wasn’t even sure what happened (sound familiar?), and managed to get a six-inch gash on his leg. He got into town and got patched up, then came back to the trail with antibiotics. Infection’s a big risk out here. Oddly (or maybe not), I’m told there’s a lot of MRSA in New England on the trail. Iced Tea has to change his dressing once a day.

Anyway, he was standing on a bog bridge while we were talking. We said our goodbyes and he walked to the end of the log and stepped off… splurch! Calf deep into black mud, which turned his foot and his bandage into what my shoe looked like last week. Welcome to Maine! Enjoy the next 250 miles!

Of all the states so far, Maine seems to have this weird malign consciousness. It really feels sometimes like Maine doesn’t like this trail running through it—that we’re an abscess under its skin, a kernel of corn at its gumline. Maine doesn’t like hikers at all. And it wants their shoes!

Anyway, the day went on. The trail was deeply overgrown in spots, but generally well blazed. I had conversations with several section hikers who’ve been staying at Pine Ellis. That place is fantastic for sectioners. They drive up and get shuttled for three chunks of trail. It works out perfectly. I get to hike the last of those sections tomorrow. Today, though, I came down to the road crossing and there was David waiting to pick up one of his sectioners. It was nice to see him again. Trail angel!

The afternoon was a long climb up an unnamed mountain. The bugs got fierce! But after a steep descent, I made it to the lean-to. Right now some hikers are just arriving at the shelter. I don’t recognize the voices but I might sneak down later to see if I know them.

Tonight: Cold! I can already tell!

And tomorrow: a big mountain. Baldpate. Mahoosuc’s coming like a freight train!

PS: It never ceases to amaze me how much things on top of mountains look just like things that live under the sea. We’re blips in the vast life of this planet.

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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 5 Comments

Day 147: Oh, Maine, you crazy kid. Don’t ever change.

Hall Mountain Lean-to [mile 1269.3; SOBO 250.9]
Miles to the border: 30.9

Half-day. When you fall off the moose, you get back on. But you don’t jump into the Kentucky Derby; you just trot around the block a couple of times and enjoy the success. 😉

Today was cool, more or less sunny, and… are you sitting down?… not raining! The breeze blew steadily, which kept the bugs away. Kind of a perfect hiking day, really. Yeah, everything was dripping and slimy and slippery, but I went slowly and climbed a couple of mountains, and that was progress. Back on the moose!

That one steep descent really was. I passed a couple of northbound hikers (I don’t know whether they were doing a long section or a thru; I kind of got mixed signals, and the conversation was over before I had a chance to ask). I asked them how the trail below was, and they looked at me glumly and said, “It’s all stairs and rebar.” And I thought, Stairs and rebar! Hot damn! That’s a vacation!

It wasn’t really a vacation, but I did enjoy the stairs and rebar parts.

At one point I passed an Outward Bound group on their third day in the wilderness. I’d stopped for lunch and ended up having a nice conversation with one of the young guys. He’s loving it out here and being away from the technology. But he was hungry (they’re given a bagel and a piece of cheese and set loose in the woods for 72 hours), and it didn’t seem fair of me to chow down on Oreos and beef jerky while he stood there salivating. So I saved lunch for later.

I met one NOBO I knew by name: Funnybone. And he was a funny guy. Very optimistic, very entertaining. Then later, climbing up Hall Mountain, I passed two more: Chupacabra and OB. I’d seen Chupacabra in the registers, and he turned out to be kind of impish. The name suited him! But OB was somebody I’d met before. Way back near Erwin, doing the Humps, was where I met Pathfinder for the first time. She was traveling with OB and Headbones; they were slacking SOBO and giving out trail magic. So it was great to see OB again. He’s going to text Pathfinder and tell her I said hi.

We chatted and exchanged trail info about the Whites and the Hundred.

It was a lazy, chatty kind of day. I knew I was doing low miles, so there was no need to rush.

And that’s about that, I think! Slow day, but I got exactly where I said I was going to get. That’s a victory. Thirty miles and we’re done with Maine!

Tomorrow: a long slow down then a long slow up. Partly sunny with a chance of rocks.

I’m glad I stuck it out. Big thanks to Blackbird and David at Pine Ellis hostel.

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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 5 Comments

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