Monday, August 26, 2013

The 100 Mile Wilderness and The End

Right now I am sitting on the big, plush couch in my brother's den, in front of his oversized TV. It's a scene I dreamt of for so long. 

On Thursday August 22nd, at 8:30am, I summited Katahdin. The whole crew was there: Gonzo, Maineiac, Yardsale, Mudmouth, and the triplets, Ocean Spray, Umble and Twilight. (To clarify for further reference: Umble and Twilight are twin sisters and have a twin brother who didn't hike. Ocean Spray and Umble have been dating for several years and the three soon collectively became known as the triplets to other hikers. We have been traveling around them since Virginia)

We had spent the past week passing through the 100 Mile Wilderness, which begins right outside of Monson. It took us a week to traverse this last, famously beautiful section. In that week we had only half a day of rain. Mudmouth, with her unwavering positivity, had been saying for several states that we had a week of sunshine coming. She said she knew it to be true because we deserved it. After a season where we rarely went more than three days between precipitation, we got a solid week of sunshine as we walked by half a million ponds and streams in the mossy, Maine forests. 

Mudmouth, Yardsale, Gonzo and I arranged to have a food drop halfway through the week brought by a hostel in Monson. They told us a location on a logging road about halfway through the wilderness and gave us clues to find a two five gallon buckets with our food in them. This saved us from carrying a huge load of food over a long stretch of miles. Mudmouth and Yardsale had the forethought to include a bottle of whiskey in their drop. After picking up our food, the four of us began sipping as we walked and this was the spirit of the 100 Mile Wilderness. We were in a constant state of celebration and spent a large amount of time enjoying ourselves by sitting by streams and reading, fly fishing, or painting pondside. 

After so much difficult terrain through New Hampshire and the beginning of Maine, we had finally passed into the flat stretch where the only mountain left was Katahdin. In the last days we were seeing several views a day of the mountain we had been headed towards for over five months. The day before we summited we popped out of the 100 Mile Wilderness at Abol Bridge, one of the most famous views of Katahdin. The nearby camp store was our last chance at real food on the trail so between the eight of us we bought them out of all the hotdogs, buns and baked beans and planned
 to cook up a feast that night. Little did we know what was waiting for us. 

We hiked into the Katahdin Stream Campground where the AT brings you to the base of the mountain. There is a shelter for thru hikers only, but it is far removed from the action and costs each hiker $10 to stay a sleepless night there. Thankfully, we arrived on a special night. There was a couple in the campground who had come across two shelter sites by donation and they were encouraging thru hikers to stay there instead of paying money. Besides providing a free place to sleep right near the trail, they also fed us! There was hamburger, stew, subs and all the picnic sides. 

Just about the time we were ready for bed Ocean Spray's mother showed up with a whole other spread for food for us! Having built up an insatiable need for food over the months, we were pleased to eat more. 

That night no one slept well. We all felt like a small child on Christmas Eve, sleeping at the base of the last mountain on the Appalachian Trail. Gonzo, Mudmouth and Yardsale hit the trail before the night was over, having to stop often and rventually wait for sunrise. Maineiac and I stuck it out until just before day break and set out just after 5am to head up Katahdin. Even after all the way we had come, it was still a strenuous climb. Once we broke out into the alpine zone it was all rock scrambling from there. It was a foggy morning and we couldn't see much of what was around us. Several times we thought we saw the iconic Katahdin sign before us only to find out it was not. 

We reached the top so early that we had ample celebration time for just the thru hikers before the day hikers began to shown up. Half a million pictures were taken and champagne corks were flying everywhere. 

Besides our group three other hikers also summited that day. Two were thru hikers, Garfunkel and Sundance, and the third was Sundance's girlfriend Michelle, who had hiked all of Maine with him. They reached the top about 30 minutes behind us and there right in front the the sign Sundance got down on one knee. The words were lost in the wind to those of us standing over to the side but from Michelle's reaction we knew the answer. 

We knew the triplets would take a while to get to the summit because they had family hiking up with them, but we waited as long as we could in the chilly wind before we headed back down. Just below the summit, where the sign was barely visible, we crossed paths with them. The five of us burst out into song, singing "We Are The Chamipons" by Queen and we stepped to the side of the trail and have them high fives as hey passed. Ocean Spray's mom manned the camera with a huge smile on her face and Twilight and Umble's brother and friend just watched the strange scene unfold. It was one of the more surreal and favored moments on the trail for me. 

We hiked back down to Katahdin Stream Campground and hitched a ride to Abol Campground to wait on the others to come down. Ocean Spray's mom had reserved two campsites for us all and when they got down the mountain she had yet another spread for dinner. Soon Maineiac's aunt and grandmother joined us with even more food. We cooked up our hotdogs and made jiffy pop over the fire and drank champagne. It was a bigger celebration than we could have asked for to commemorate the end of our hike. 

The next morning my brother Evan came to pick up Mudmouth, Yardsale, Gonzo and I. We stayed the night in Millenocket and had a lazy recoup day. Then at 9:30 the next morning we set off towards home. 

But first we made a stop at Maineiac's aunts house. Since the day I met Maineiac at Fontana Dam he had been talking about the pig roast his family was planning upon his return. We had finally made it, five months later, and Maineiac had earned his huge gathering. The rest of us hauled it down to southern coastal Maine, just outside of Portland, to His aunts house to join in the fun by lunchtime. When we got there we were showered with adoration by very member of his overwhelmingly large family. 

We were also reunited with our friend Cinderfella, a French hiker who was headed south and crossed out path only a few days before. We had a great time t the last shelter on the AT talking to Cinderfella about our hiker and about his travels down from Canada to the trail. He was trying to hike or hitch all the way to Mexico to study ruins and when in Millinocket Maineiac's family spied him on the street. They picked him up, fed him and offered him a deal he couldn't refuse. They proposed that he should come to the coast with them, stay for a few days and then travel to Boston with the part of the family that was flying back to Texas, then take a bus to NYC to visit for a few days and finally fly down to Texas and stay with them as a French tutor for their children, using their house as a home base for his travels. This is how Maineiac's family is. They take you in and spit you out as one of their own. 

His aunts house was a poster child of New England living and there was a gorgeous and wildly tasty spread of food. We played frisbee and drank beer and the triplets showed up as well. 

From there we drove into Portland for coffee and continued on our way to New Hampshire to drop off Mudmouth and Yardsale. We arrived at Mudmouth's parents house, their temporary landing pad, around dinner time but only stayed for a few moments. Gonzo, Evan and I continued on to Brooklyn to drop Gonzo at his sister's apartment, stopping for a later dinner, and made it into the city just shy of midnight. 

On the drive home Evan said that he felt like he had just taken part in the closing scene of a movie. A group of friends come together in the wilderness and eventually have to part ways: one hosts a farewell party in coastal Maine, two are dropped off in rural New Hampshire, another is dropped off in the bustle of New York City and then there is only one left, fading off into normal life once more. 

For me, I think I am still enjoying the comforts of life in society a little too much to miss the trail just quite yet. The toilet flushes and there is always toilet paper already in the bathroom. I can shower everyday in a clean shower. The bed has a pillow topper mattress and two great pillows. Cold water comes out of a fridge full of food and I don't even have to treat it. It even rained and I didn't get wet. 

I know I will miss it soon and already there are things I am seeing around me that I understand less than before. Most have to do with TV and the Internet. It will be an interesting transition that starts with the small things.


 This is our first official view of Katahdin. We sat there for quite some time and looked at it. 

 Katahdin as you are crossing over Abol Bridge and into Baxter State Park.

 A different angle of Katahdin. If you can't tell, by this point every time we saw Katahdin we had to stop and take a picture of it. 

 Our little group at the sign! Mudmouth and I (Rainbow Braid) up top. Maineiac to the left and Gonzo on the right and Yardsale below. 

The most important picture every thru hiker takes!

The extended crew in Maineiac's aunt's back yard! Twilight up top, in the middle left to right, Me (Rainbow Braid), Umble, and Yardsale, and on the bottom left to right,  Mudmouth, Maineiac, Gonzo and Ocean Spray.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

To Monson

So as of right now we are only a week out from Katahdin! We are in the town of Monson, the last town on the trail!

After leaving Rangeley, the days blur together as we hiked over more of the strenuous mountains that had been beating me up for a long time. I can't remember too much in specific besides one slightly traumatizing situation. The morning we were to walk into the next town, Stratton, it began to rain early in the morning. As always when we wake up to rain, we all telekinetically decided not to get out of our tents. As I laid there, falling in and out of consciousness, I began to realize a little bit of water creeping closer and closer towards me. I began to strategically place things away from the growing puddle. Before the end of the down pour I was laying in a half inch deep puddle. Though nothing was wet because of my amazing tent, it is still needless to say that getting out of bed that morning was not fun. My tent weighed about five pounds more than normal because it was soaked, which didn't pair well with the hellish climbs we had over the seven miles into town.

When we arrived in Stratton, we went to an inn and pub for lunch and ended up getting a room as well. The rain had continued well into the day and we were not so keen on sticking to our original plan of simply going into town to resupply and eat. Instead we sat around in a room all day and drank beer in bed while watching movies and eating town food. It was one of the best town stops I have had in a while. The ability to shower and dry everything I owned was exactly what I needed at that point.

When we left Stratton the next day we had a string of beautiful weather. We hiked over the last of the big mountains, which besides being particularly beautiful, also made me very happy for the sake of being so tired of big climbs. The next day was almost all flat and we did big miles while being very lazy and stopping a lot but we still made it into camp early. It was a great feeling.

The day we hiked into Caratunk, a so called town that is no more than a post office and an inn a few miles away, we had to cross the Kennebec River. This means waiting at the river until 9am when a guy shows up and unlocks a canoe on the opposing shore line and paddles across to bring hikers two at a time to the other side. This is pretty fun and definitely new but it was also a little obnoxious because we had over 15 hikers waiting by the time he showed up. We had found ourselves in a bit of a large bubble these days and it make for slow passage over the river.

In Caratunk we hitched to a rafting outdoor center with a brewery connected. The food was amazing, the beer was great and best of all they had a free pool, hot tub and shower to be used by any customer. It was a hikers paradise! But after many hours of being distracted we finally hit the trail again.

It was only a day and a half to Monson and a fairly uninteresting section as well. These flat lands have a good amount of river that we are always having to ford. When rain doesn't get your shoes then the AT will place a knee deep river with no bridge and a limp rope stretched across just to make sure your feet don't get feeling too good.

We are staying the night in Monson and are a few days ahead of schedule. My wonderful brother has taken two days off of work to be able to pick me up on the 23rd, which was the original day I thought I would finish. Now we are a few days ahead of that as a finishing date but this leaves us with a little bit if leeway with the weather when we reach the base of Katahdin.

Whatever day it is that we finish, it barely feels real that I am even this close. I don't think I will register it as real until I am in a car headed home. Even then maybe I will only think that I am on a very long hitch with a person I've missed a lot, going to a place I've been dreaming of going back to for a long time... It surely didn't feel real that I had even started the trail until I found myself tucked into the shelter for first time on that first night.

The Photos:
1. Lakes and Ponds of Maine. So many!
2. The 2,000 mile marker. Right outside of Statton, ME.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Beginning of Maine!!

Town time is tight these days as we rush into the last leg of our trek so I am going to make this a quick update. We are now in Rangeley, Maine! It is the second town stop in Maine. The first was Andover.

We came to the road, which was barely even paved over and waited a long time before a car even came by. Then of course when five hikers jump up and stick their thumbs out, the reaction wasn't the best. We had met back up with Yardsale, Mudmouth and Maineiac a few days prior and our group size sometimes makes town experiences difficult.

Finally a guy in an old Honda with his dog stops and says he will take all five of us. After we cram in the car he asks us if we plan to eat, which of course we are, and he offers to make us steaks! He took us back to his camp, a small off the grid cabin he built himself, and made us a steak dinner with all sorts of veggies at 10am!! Even more crazy, after we eat, he lends us the key to the Honda and lets us drive it to town to resupply at the General Store. So with bellies full of amazing food, we find ourselves in a car cruisin' along a backwoods road in Maine with the windows down and the radio up singing along to 90's tunes! It was wild to suddenly be in the situation with a handful of friends you have walked over a thousand miles with. When we got to the town of Andover, it was little more than a crossroads with buildings on one side, but the food there was great. After eating (again!) and resupplying we headed back to the camp and our new friend took us back to the trail.

Rangeley is the town we are currently in and last night we were lucky enough to stay with Maineiac's cousin, Dana and his wife Casey. Both of them have worked on trail maintenance crews before and are big fans of the outdoors. Dana picked us up after he got off work and took us back to their place where Casey had chili cooked up for us. We had brought some beers along and sat up late drinking and hanging out. In the morning Dana made pancakes for breakfast and dropped us off at the IGA grocery to resupply.

So far Maine has been good to us, at least the towns have. As for the terrain, I am convinced it is trying to kill us all. There has been mountains that we have climbed that I thought no human had been on until I found myself on top of it. It seems most mountains are sheer rock faces that we are climbing up, strapped into nothing and with big packs on our backs. If it is a level area there is sure to be a lot of mud around. Most times there are small board walks to walk on but once, as I was leading the five of us along an exposed ridge top one day, I stepped off of a board walk expecting a few inches of mud but not worrying about it as my feet were already soaked with rain and mud. To my surprise, after that one step I found one leg almost waist deep in mud! Mudmouth and Gonzo each had to take an arm and pull me out as I tried to keep my shoe from being suctioned off my foot. When I was out we all had a good long laugh at such a ridiculous thing happening. Then it proceeded to hail on us as we ran off into the safety of the woods. This is what hiking in Maine is like.

We only have 50 miles or so until the trail flattens out a good bit and we don't have such huge climbs anymore. We are also all making plans for rides back to civilization after we summit Katahdin and are hearing stories of friends who have already made it. Both these things are pretty exciting!