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.
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!
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.
So first thing tomorrow: Finish climbing this mountain, then wheeeeeee, down the Arm. Then the Notch.
Maine won’t let go of me!