When I last left off the story of my Appalachian Trail hike, I was in Stratton with Picker and Grinner. We left Stratton and almost immediately I could tell that my new hiking shoes were going to bother me. They had a harder sole than I was accustomed to, and so my calf muscles were feeling some pressure.
We made it to the top of North Crocker Mountain and met up with Wounded Knee again. He was as socially awkward as ever, and I don't remember much of the rest of the day until we met him again at the end. I was limping because of the pain in my calves, and Wounded Knee made some remark about how fast a hiker he was, considering that he had beaten me to the camp site.
The next day, my calves were even more sore. It was also raining for much of the day. We stopped for a long break about 10 miles into the day so that we could dry off and avoid the rain for a while. After the rain had stopped, we climbed Saddleback Junior and went on to a brand new campsite just past the summit.
Some of the nicest views in Southern Maine came on the next day. Rather early in the morning, I caught this photo:
We were glad that we had waited until after the rain had stopped to climb Saddleback, which I think is the mountain that can be seen here:
First of all, it would have been cold and unpleasant if it had been raining, but more than that, we got some great views. Here is the view from the top of Saddleback:
After descending Saddleback, we got to a road crossing near Rangeley, Maine. We got a ride to the store from a person who had completed his hike a little earlier and was helping hikers on his way back south. After we had gotten back on the trail, Grinner realized that she had left her hiking poles in the trail angel's car. This was a cause for some consternation, but we had to keep pushing on. Picker simply lent Grinner one of his poles, and we kept on hiking.
Our hike that evening led us to a pond with a canoe docked on it for hikers to use. We took the canoe for a spin and filtered some water from the pond (though pond water is generally not very good).
After our little paddle, we had a nice weather for most of the next day. It was a good thing, too, because after a fairly easy morning, we had a highly treacherous descent followed by a steep ascent. By the time we had reached the shelter, it was raining again.
When I awoke the next day, the clouds had dropped and fog had set in. Luckily, Bemis mountain doesn't have any views to speak of anyway. However, it does have one feature of the mountains in Southern Maine: trail that is a fairly sheer slab of rock, often with a stream running down it. This is, needless to say, difficult to walk on. I slipped multiple times before lunch, and was not having a great day. On top of that, after lunch, there were two big, steep climbs.
At the end of the day, we got to a lean-to which contained a hiker who said that he had simply stayed there all day. He had some rather depressing stories about how hard Southern Maine had been, but in a way, it cheered me up. I could really see that others (even Northbounders, who had already come more than 1900 miles) were having trouble too. As long as I wasn't alone, I knew I could make it.
Our plan the next day was to make it to Baldpate Lean-to, just short of Grafton Notch (which contains the southernmost road that the trail crosses in Maine). However, as we were nearing the shelter, we came across a group of teenagers. We went to the shelter and found an even larger group of teens. They had completely taken over the shelter and were engaged in several loud games, completely disturbing the peace of the outdoors. In fact, the object of one of the games was to scream for the longest. It was terrible.
Luckily for me, I had been lobbying to go on to Grafton Notch for most of the day anyway, so I was pleased when Picker and Grinner got fed up with the teens and decided to go on. We made it to Grafton Notch and found some trail magic. I don't think I've described what trail magic is yet. Sometimes people who live near the trail will leave food or drink on the trail for hikers. In this case, a kind trail angel had driven his truck to Grafton Notch and was sitting with a cooler full of Nestle chocolate milk. I don't think I have ever been so happy to drink milk, and it started a tradition for me of having a chocolate milkshake whenever possible in town.
We hiked about halfway up the next mountain after our refreshment and set up camp for the night in the middle of the woods. This is known as "stealth camping".
We finished climbing the mountain the next morning, and went in the fog past Speck Pond. It made for a couple of rather pretty pictures of some lilypads:
Going down from the pond, we had more trails on slippery sheer rocks. Grinner got stuck for a couple of minutes at one point and I had to help her get down.
At the bottom of the hill, we had finally reached Mahoosuc Notch. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of it (I was trying to remain as focussed as possible), because it is one of the most interesting features of the trail. It looks like someone took a bunch of house-sized boulders and shook them so that they landed randomly at the bottom of a valley. There are some pictures at the wikipedia page that give a good impression of what it is like. Note especially the arrow painted on the rock – those are essential to making it through in a reasonable amount of time.
In any case, we did the one mile through the notch in about two hours. For me, it was not the most enjoyable: I took a bad fall right at the entrance to the notch, so my hands were hurting from stopping the fall, and I was a bit shaken up. It was all I could do to keep my concentration and not fall again.
Finally, we got through the notch and I found that I was out of water. There was no choice but to go on to the shelter to get water. I hiked up the hill as quickly as I could, and fortuitously found a water bottle that someone else had dropped. Not knowing the provenance of the water in the bottle, I wasn't able to drink from it, but it would come in handy later in the night.
I set up my hammock and Picker and Grinner decided to stay in the shelter. It was their first time staying in a shelter with other people (they had tented until then), and Picker came over to gripe about it a bit. After supper, I went to throw my bear bag. At that point, I still wasn't great at it (and I guess I'm still not), but one throw was so unfortunate as to be comical. I had attached my water bottle to the line that would hold the bag up on the branch. On this particular throw, the water bottle arced behind me and came straight down on a sharp rock, splitting into multiple pieces. I was glad I had found the other water bottle, but it was a pretty bad end to a rather unpleasant day, which should have been a lot more fun.
Run to the border
The trail away from the shelter was nearly as hard as the trail to it. There were ladders and rocks to climb up. Early in the morning, as I was trying to climb up one of these rocks, I lost my grip and fell again – this time five to ten feet. I was extremely lucky not to get hurt. I think the weight of my backpack caused me to fall backwards onto it, keeping me from being too badly injured. However, I struck my jaw on a rock on the way down, and it would be sore for a couple of days afterwards. After bad falls two days in a row, I was eager to get to town.
First, though, we needed to cross the border between Maine and New Hampshire. Here is a picture proving we did it:
We didn't make it to town that night, but we made it within about six miles. When we finally got to Gorham, NH the next morning, things were already seeming better to me. We were in town and could hang out in a hostel for a fairly cheap zero day. Also, the trail angel in whose car Picker had left her poles had left them at the hostel, so she got those back. There was a place for me to get a milkshake. So at least for a day and a half of not-hiking, I was a pretty happy hiker.
Just past Gorham is the beginning of the White mountains. I will go off on my own in one of the toughest sections of the trail.