I'm sitting in an airport, breathing the recycled air and jet exhaust, so I thought I'd write a bit more about my hiking experiences. I don't have my trail guide with me, so I won't be able to include as many details as I would like, but hopefully I can recall the things that made the biggest impression on me.
The 100-Mile Wilderness
Right after the huge challenge of climbing Mount Katahdin, southbound hikers on the Appalachian Trail must deal with about 100 miles without any stores or conveniences. As I mentioned in my last hiking post, this means big and heavy packs for the hikers. Also, my lack of experience meant that I was carrying things that I didn't really need, so when I set out on the first morning I was really loaded down.
I got out of camp a bit later than Oblio and his dad, and walked out of Baxter Park. I don't remember too much about the first day. There was a decent-sized river that we walked beside for a while and I thought I saw a beaver or some other water animal, but I couldn't get close enough to get a picture.
We officially entered the 100-mile wilderness when we passed this sign, and didn't walk more than 100 yards before we saw some moose dung. That seemed like a good sign to me. Where there's dung, there's animals. A couple of miles later, it was time to call it a day at the first shelter on the AT. The log in the shelter warned of rodents, so I immediately decided not to sleep in it. We also met some northbounders (nobos in AT parlance). At that time, I viewed them as something like heroes. These were people that were just 10 or 12 miles from finishing the same hike that I was on. Wow! They were so close to the finish line that they were going on. They would probably do half the miles that we had done in the entire day in that evening.
The next day, I got up fairly early. There was a small hill, and then the trail goes around a lake. The trail was mucky and the boards (called "bog boards") that were placed for people to walk on were disintegrating. Finally we got away from the lake and the trail conditions became a bit better. We crossed this bridge and got to the Rainbow Stream shelter (I see that Picker and Grinner got there before me). I took a small nap on the pine needles behind the shelter and cleaned off my legs in the pool below this waterfall. Finally, I started walking again. About two miles later, I stumbled and decided that I must be getting tired and that I should look for a place to camp. Luckily, I found that Oblio and his dad camped just a few hundred yards later, so I stopped there for the night.
I don't really remember much about the next couple of days. On one of them, I got bitten by a mosquito on the lip, and my lip swelled to twice its normal size. There was also a river that was reputed to have good swimming, but the water was quite warm because it is lake-fed. I hiked a couple of miles past it and camped at the lake that was the source. A float plane landed on the lake while I was there, but it was all the way on the other side of the lake, so it wasn't too bothersome. I had a quiet night, but Picker and Grinner didn't; there was a group of Quebecois Girl Scouts at the campsite next to the river and they stayed up late chattering.
Picker and Grinner passed me early the next morning in what would become a pattern. The two of them were much more efficient than me in the morning, especially while I was still cooking oatmeal for breakfast. That day was the first where I had a big choice to make. Would I hike fast and get over White Cap or would I stop just before it? I didn't have a data book at that point, so I had no real way of knowing how hard White Cap would be, but people had been hyping it for a while as a pretty hard climb.
When I got to the shelter just before White Cap, I made the choice to go on. The next shelter was just two or three miles away and it wasn't yet late. This turned out to be a slight mistake. The climb up White Cap wasn't too bad (though it would turn out to be too much for Oblio's dad – he had to be helped down the mountain and he and Oblio called it quits there), but there were about three more mountains to go over before I got to the campsite. It was in that moment that I first learned the value of having a data book, though I don't think it quite sunk in until I got through with Maine.
Another reason that hiking over White Cap that evening was a mistake was that there was a large group of Quebecois boys at the campsite and they kept making noise until about one the next morning. However, I did get woken up by a moose, so maybe that's a wash.
The next day was probably my shortest full day of hiking on the trail. I was clearly tired from my adventure (and the noise made by the boys) the night before and I just walked pretty slow in the morning. I also had not counted on the climb up the next mountain – Chairback Mountain – being straight up. People in Maine have clearly not heard of switchbacks, because there were none. When I was getting very close to the shelter at Chairback Mountain, there was a large climb on talus (big rocks that are just sitting on each other with nothing to keep them from falling). That's also not my favorite thing.
I had told myself that if I didn't get to the shelter by 3, then I would stay there. I met an older man that was already staying at the shelter and asked him what time it was – he said that it was after three, and I was quite relieved. We talked for a while -- his trail name was Frosty and had been on the trail for a day longer than me. I was a bit proud of myself for passing someone already, but Frosty had taken a bit of a side trip.
I went to set up my hammock, and while I was doing that, I heard Picker and Grinner arrive. They had stayed at the shelter before White Cap and we had not seen each other that day. She asked Frosty if he'd seen me, and when he pointed me out, Grinner came running over and gave me a big hug. That was a huge help for me to have someone glad to see me at the end of what was my first really hard day on the trail. It was just one of the reasons that I give a lot of credit for my success on the trail to Picker and Grinner.
I stayed with Picker, Grinner, and Frosty for the rest of the 100-mile wilderness. There were more mountains and campsites, but nothing that stands out too vividly in my memory (though this waterfall is pretty nice). Frosty turned out to be a great hiking companion as well. His pack was lighter than everyone else's, so he had no problems keeping up, and he has a great sense of humor. He had planned a lot better than I had, and finished all the food in his pack by breakfast on the final day before we got to Monson. I think he had to eat turkey stuffing because he had eaten some breakfasts for supper on an earlier night. Luckily, we were only a few miles from the road, so no one starved. (That being said, everyone was talking about food at that point – we were getting pretty hungry and all of us lost quite a bit of weight.)
We called Shaw's in Monson from the road and they came and picked us up. It was great to get out of the wilderness. The people at Shaw's were so nice and especially great at dealing with tired hikers. They quickly got us into the showers and gave us a nice all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast.
I think I won't get into all that happened in Monson today, but leave that until the next installment of the saga, where we'll meet Wounded Knee. Stay tuned.