Stealthing at Carrabassett River [mile 1215.0; SOBO 196.6]
It’s never easy to leave town; I’m full of anticipation the night before, like the night before school starts. Skittery-excited.
The alarm went off at 5:00 and I got up and packed up, then grabbed coffee from the House of Dead Animals across the parking lot. By the time the White Wolf Inn opened for breakfast at 7:00, I was ready to go.
For a town with four buildings, Stratton has two very good restsurants. Did I say that already? I’m guessing there are tourist destinations clustered all around here—not hikers, but actual people with money and a more discerning palate. Otherwise there’s no way a town that small could support two decent places to eat (there are at least a couple more, but try as I might, I couldn’t eat everything in town).
I had my usual last meal—cheese omelette, bacon, coffee… you know, protein and fat and caffeine! Afterward I hung out in the hostel lounge for a bit and met two southbounders: Blondie (go, Canada!) and Pickles (go, Alabama!). Then Sue from the motel kindly shuttled me to the trailhead. I hit the trail at 8:45.
This whole day felt kind of sinister. I’m not sure why. Was it the weather? It was overcast all day, with rumbles of distant thunder (which I’ll get to momentarily). Was it the fact that I was entering the Inchworm part of the trail?
I actually expected that the trail would be overrun with the search parties, since today was the big search day, but I only saw ten or twelve hikers, mostly NOBO, I think, and a group I thought were section hikers, judging by their out-of-breathness. The trail was dark and largely silent. Once a bird trilled for a minute, then it went silent, too. I remembered that the search was being concentrated on Sugarloaf Mountain, which I’ll hit tomorrow. And also, the search parties will be in the deep woods; if Inchworm were right on the trail, she’d have been found already.
(A tenth-mile back of here was a gravel road with no cars on it. That felt sinister, too. Has she been found? I can’t get internet to get an update.)
So, yeah. Sinister. At one point it occurred to me that I wouldn’t have been surprised to pass Alfred Hitchcock doing a cameo as a NOBO.
Crocker Mountain was a steady but easy (for Maine) climb. I mean, still tricksy-rocky-rooty but I didn’t need to use my hands very much. The clouds obscured much of the view from the top, but I could see the angry thunderheads glaring down, and I c
ould hear distant thunder. I really, really didn’t want to be at 4000 feet elevation at treeline in a thunderstorm.
Plus it was chilly today. Down in town the high temp was only supposed to be 60. I wanted to hurry, to walk faster…. Then I thought about Inchworm. Had she been hurrying to get to town? So when the terrain turned rocky and sharply downhill, when the rain started to come down hard, I stifled the impulse to go a little faster.
But that’s where it got interesting.
First of all, the trail all but vanishes at the top of Crocker. The stubby little treeline pines have put out light green fingers of new growth, as though the sides of the trail want to touch. And touch they do; the only way through is like pushing through a field of Christmas trees for a hundred yards or so. (Did Inchworm lose the trail up there?)
Then after that, and after a chunk of ravine-type descent, all of a sudden the other side of the mountain is a scarred face of tumbled boulders, steep and slippery as you negotiate your way down next to the treetops.
And that’s when the storm hit.
I haven’t been much afraid of lightning on this hike; I’ve been more nervous that lightning would strike a tree and the tree would fall on me. But this afternoon? That was a little hairy. I crept down the patches of boulder field like Gollum while the rain poured and the thunder boomed, and I deliberately resisted the impulse to speed up. That took a little willpower; but a spill on the rocks was more likely than a lightning strike.
And eventually I got through the bouldery bits and down into the thick woods again. The rain stopped and the sun blinked a little before it ducked back inside for good.
I ended the day here at the river. It’s a ford, but I went down and peeked at it and it might be rock-hoppable after today’s rain washes past. If I’d spotted a tent site on the other side, I might have gone for it just to get it over with. But no. A sinister day; let it end on a cautious note. I’ll do the ford firstbthing in the morning.
So here I am. I went into Stratton soaked to the bone, spent two days drying everything out, and it’s all wet again! Not quite as wet, though, except for the shoes and socks and pack. My pack is starting to smell like my socks. That’s never a good thing.