When I last left my hiking tale, Picker, Grinner, Frosty and I had just gotten to Monson in time for breakfast. We were hustled into showers and given clean clothes to put on while ours were in the washer. We decided to stay in Monson for the rest of the day. A bit of hiking terminology: a zero is a day in which no walking is done. What we were doing is called a nearo (sometimes written near-0), short for near-zero. It's one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a day. You only need to pay for one night at the hostel or hotel, but you have all the fun of a town day.
Anyway, breakfast was great – unlimited pancakes, eggs, and some of the best home fries I had on the trail. The big event of the day was the World Cup final. The town of Monson is extremely small. There was one bar and one convenience store as well as the hostel we were staying at, named Shaw's. We watched the final at the bar. I was disappointed that the Netherlands lost, but I remember it being a really dirty game, so I guess the better team won in the end.
Frosty got a six-pack of beer for us to split, and it was through this beer that we met Wounded Knee. The four of us had taken a seat to chat and drink the beer, when Wounded Knee showed up with one of the beers in his hand. He began regaling us with hiking stories and bad jokes. Later, we figured that he probably thought he was paying for the beer by telling us his great stories. I think we would have been happier if he had just taken the beer and left us alone. (Cruel, but true – at least he did provide an excellent topic of conversation over the next month.)
After a rather fitful sleep, Picker, Grinner, and I left Frosty in Monson. He wanted to stay another day to rest after the 100-mile wilderness. Unfortunately, it was the last time we would see him on our hike – he got a stress fracture in his foot and stopped about 50 miles later.
As we were being driven back to the trail, we were given a warning about a "bahd hikeah" (a bad hiker in the heavy Northeastern accent that is common in Maine). He had apparently chosen to swim a dangerous river for which a ferry is provided after heaping abuse on the ferry operator. He would not be served in Monson – my first hint that there is a little network of hostel operators up and down the trail. We actually did cross paths with the guy, and he looked more like a motorcycle enthusiast than a hiker, but other than that, there was no indication that he was really a bad guy.
The next day, Grinner was not feeling great. I think it was for this reason that we did not go very far. On the subsequent day, it became clear that Grinner was really sick. Luckily, they had a cell phone with them, and were able to call Shaw's. Grinner was picked up, and as she left, she told me to take care of Picker. Which showed that she hadn't lost her sense of humor, because Picker is a bad-ass Army veteran who had been in Iraq.
Picker was obviously concerned about his wife, so we made a plan to get to the next town as quickly as possible. We got to the Kennebec river (the one with the ferry) unfortunately after the ferry had stopped for the night. Partly to give myself something to do, and partly to cheer Picker up, I decided to find us some sodas. The small town of Caratunk is near the trail at that point, but it didn't even have a convenience store, so I had to hitchhike to a small resort that had vending machines. It was my first time hitching a ride, and I was glad that it worked out well.
The next day, we caught the first ferry across the river. When one imagines a ferry, it is usually a fairly large boat. This was not. It was a small canoe, operated by a local hippie. I helped row us across the river, and we set out as fast as possible. That was our first twenty-mile day. The scenery was great, with a nice waterfall near the trail, but we were in a rush to see Grinner again. Near the end of the day, the trail was rerouted, adding an extra couple of miles to our day. We were quite glad to get to the campsite on the North side of Little Bigelow Mountain.
This put us only about 15 miles from Stratton, where we assumed that Grinner would be. However, there were two big climbs between here and there. We must have gotten to the top of the first fairly early in the morning. We crossed a road in which someone had painted "2000 mi.", meaning that we still had two thousand miles to go -- even after almost two weeks of hiking.
When we got to the camp site five miles from Stratton, there was a decision to make. We had done 10 miles, but it had been 10 hard miles. The rest of the way to the road would be all downhill, and there would be no more camping possibilities. Picker left the decision up to me, but I could tell that he really wanted to go on. After a rest for my back (which still hadn't gotten as strong as would get), I decided that we should try to get to the road. We also talked to a northbounder who said that the trail was pretty easy and that we could make it. At that point, I had not learned to mistrust everything northbounders say.
I would have done well to mistrust the northbounder. The descent was really difficult. However, I did see a beaver, so that made it kind of worth it. When we got within two miles of the road, Picker started running. I trotted along behind him, and we got to the road within thirty minutes. We called the Stratton motel and were heartened to find that Grinner was already there. She was feeling better, which was a huge relief.
Since we had gone faster than expected between Monson and Stratton, and since Grinner still wasn't 100%, I decided to take an actual zero in Stratton. I got a ride to Rangeley to get some better shoes and hiking poles at the outfitter there. I still have those poles after more than 4000 miles, so I feel comfortable recommending them.
The other big event from our zero day in Stratton is that we found a lady that was selling pies from her house. She didn't have the proper food license to sell slices, so we were forced to buy a whole cheesecake. We had no choice in the matter. I think we showed great restraint by not eating the entire cheesecake in one sitting – we saved some for breakfast the next day.
Oh, and one final story from Stratton. We had caught up to Wounded Knee by getting there a day earlier than scheduled. During conversation, he mentioned that he had an injury that he needed some help putting a bandage on. Somehow, I was volunteered to help him out. It turned out that he had a really bad chafe on his bum and couldn't quite see it to put the bandage on himself. So I got to help out with that. Blech.
In the next installment, we go through Southern Maine. This includes some of the most scenic and dangerous parts of the trail, including the Mahoosuc Notch.