Day 20: Back to work.
Catfood and I started our day at five am. Grabbed a quick shower before heading back to the trail; its nice to feel clean, even if it will be short-lived.
My oatmeal worked out well, although it was more food than I could eat. Then we went to the road and after thirty minutes of effort, I hitched my first ride and froze in the back of a truck! Maine is chilly in the morning, even in early August!
Entering the trail, there were some Coke and Mountain Dew cans floating in a cold stream, but it was too early for us to really use so we passed them by. We traveled quickly in the morning and stopped at a beach at lunchtime for a quick swim. It looked like there was one, maybe two, houses off in the distance and the lake seemed otherwise private to them. Kinda cool.
Continuing onwards, we passed several hikers actually going south bound today. There were two guys section hiking and I think they were a really sore. Then a dog ran back to us as we approached the next hiker; it was Steppin Wolf and his dog Magnolia who we had met in Stratton. They seemed to be making good time. Maggie looked to be having a good time, too, while SW thinks he may have a cracked tooth. He may try hurrying to Gorham, the next big town we'll see, but that's several days ahead.
The second half of the day got really hot and a NOBO had told us the water source at the shelter we were staying at was terrible so at our last water source, a river, we stocked up on extra water. Water's really heavy. Carrying a third liter up a big hot hill was not fun. By that point, we were about 15 miles in and running low on energy. And getting sore. So we stopped for a quick, no cook dinner. Mine was a Prego pasta meal that was precooked. It was good. And, I burned off some weight in my pack!
Based on our water supplies, we were trying to determine if we kept hiking a few more miles or stopped at the shelter with the bad water. We were beat up, so we stopped. I'm happy I didn't have to climb another mountain today. Three early morning miles will have us at a better water source and I should have about a liter to get me there. No oatmeal for breakfast though, I'm rationing that last water! Looks like pepperoni and poptarts. Whatever.
18 miles completed today and hoping for the same tomorrow to reach Andover for a quick overnight with resupply, a hot meal, and hopefully some beer before continuing forward.
Day 21: Oh boy!
So, Catfood and I started today with the water left over from yesterday and a bad water source. We were dragging right from the start and crossed two mountains to start. Then we had to descend the second one, Old Blue.
The descent was one of the most painful of the trip. For a short period as I was going down, I just wanted to cry (I didn't, just giving you the frame of mind). It hurt. We made it to the bottom of the hill and ate what would've been our dinner and I just laid sprawled out on the crowd for 20-30 minutes.
But, we still had 10 miles to go if we were going to make it back to town. So, we continued. And then on the immediate ascent, it started to rain. The rain gave me a small boost as I cooled down; and then my energy crashed going up the hill. There was a sharp descent immediately afterwards, several boulders actually having iron bars pounded into them to climb up and down.
And as soon as we got to the bottom, it was right back up the next hill. Starting at 7am, we had managed to cover 13 miles by 4:30pm, the last couple taking nearly an hour each. We could either stay at the shelter or push the last six miles. So, I ate some fruit snacks, a stick of cheese, and a bar of some sort and we continued. I had a quarter liter of water and the water source was again garbage.
Surprisingly, the next six miles were some of the best trail I've had in Maine and we flew. I was actually able to shuffle down some hills! Shuffing was a huge relief to my feet and legs which have been pounded the last three weeks. I made it to the end with a drop of water left!
And, this was where the fun began. I had issues getting reception all day. We were unable to set up a shuttle ride into town or even reserve a room. At the road, there was zero reception. We figured we'd have lick hitching. There was no traffic passing through. It was eight miles to town.
So, we started walking hoping that karma and trail magic would save us. Fortunately, I got a text from Dusty, and realized that I could get messages through as we walk. I sent her a message asking if she got it and got a text back so I texted her a # for a hostel. Then I got a few more texts from Dusty and wondered if my phone was just catching up on texts!
Then, I managed to get a dial tone. I got through to a hostel! It was full, but they'd come get me and bring me us to town. As soon as I hung up, I got a series of texts from Dusty. I had given her a bad number. Someone from a different hostel was coming to get us. And we had bunks! Fortunately, I still had reception enough to cancel the first pick-up. As we were a mile from the trail, we stopped there and hoped we had gone the right direction.
And then we were picked up by a little old lady in a minivan and brought back to town. Late night getting our stuff in order, but we are clean and dry!
Now to figure out the next few days, we have the hardest mile of the trail ahead and bad weather ahead. Stay tuned.
Day 22: Slack Packing!
Well, after a lot of back-and-forth, Catfood and I decided to slack pack today. That means we basically took everything out of our packs except for a small amount of food and water. We got dropped off where we finished last night and had a ride setup at the next trail head to bring us back to the hostel.
It was definitely easier with light packs, but still jarring on the body. We went up Barepete Mountain, which was supposed to have some beautiful views, but we were trying to stay ahead of the weather and all we could see where the clouds blowing over.
We flew up the last part of the mountain and got to the bald, a huge exposed area where we had limited visibility, and were trying to get across as fast as possible! Although, I did pause to grab a few blueberries in the way up.
Once we got to the descent, we heard a few cracks of thunder, but it seems like the weather largely held out for the day. We stopped at the shelter on the backside to drop off toilet paper and a pen for the log, courtesy of the Cabin where we're staying.
Upon getting picked up, we came back to a family style dinner. It felt like a big family dinner at your grandparents house. This hostel has a great atmosphere.
Speaking of trail karma, we met up with Stepping Wolf in town and he saw a dentist about his tooth. The dentist is not going to pull his tooth. Instead, he's going to get a set of fillings, free. He just needs to hang out in town for a week or two until his appointment. The trail has a funny way of providing what you need. It brought up the discussion of whether this only happens on the trail or whether we're just in a position to recognize these things that are always occurring around us, but we're too busy to in the real world to recognize them.
Of note, after some discussion with Catfood, I've finally settled on a trail name. Running Man. I figure, it's fitting, and thankfully, I've had some opportunities the last few days to get a few minutes of shuffling in. A nice change for the legs and feet. And, bringing hope back that I may eventually pick up a little speed. Can't wait to get a little faster moving trail.
We're taking tomorrow off with rain looming and will do the hardest mile of the trail under the sun on Sunday.
Day 23: Tractor races!
Enjoyed a lazy morning and caught up on some sleep after a big breakfast.
Then it was about checking out the town. Andover was having their annual town celebration! Similar to running across Tennessee, I'm convinced that the towns along the journey are just as important as the trail miles. Granted, a little more expensive.
I missed the morning parade, but I did go see the tractor races! It was hilarious, and not something I would have ever expected to see on the Appalachian Trail.
Then we went to a local place, the Little Red Hen, for their Saturday night Italian buffet. Food was good and filling. And, then the rain started. I was happy to be going back to the hostel for the rain.
Interestingly, there were a bunch of hikers behind the restaurant. They are able to set up their camps for free, although they need to pay for showers, etc. Still a good deal to keep things cheap.
Back to the trail tomorrow.
Day 24: Hardest mile?
So, got a good breakfast and then Catfood and I got dropped off at the trailhead. Today was a day I had been fearing since I started; the Mahoosuc Notch. I was actually getting anxious on the car ride. Would Maine break off my body after all or would I survive?
Despite a good breakfast, I started off sluggish. It was cold and windy, then transitioned to slightly rainy. Definitely the most uncomfortable weather yet, and we had planned for today's good weather. Ugh.
Went up and over Speck Mountain, another 4000 footer and above treeline. Catfood had long left me behind and I'd leap frogged a bit with Firefly, another flip flopper that started from the same area as us this morning, until she too left me behind. Things were not starting well. On a cool note, there was a small group hiking around me with a dog that kept running ahead of and behind me. I could see the enjoyment from sharing the trail with man's best friend.
Fortunately, the weather started to lighten up and I had taken in a few snacks. I was able to drop my windbreaker and before I knew it, I could up to Firefly who was talking to two NOBOs on the trail. She caught up to a moment later and we made the descent down Mahoosuc Arm together. Supposedly, it was going to be a nasty descent, but it wasn't that bad. Granted, Firefly did start calling me Buzz, as in Buzz Lightyear, because of my numerous "falls with style." I was doing a lot of sliding down on my butt. Some intentionally.
As we neared the bottom, Catfood came down the hill racing after us. Apparently, he stopped at a shelter for an hour and was waiting for me. He sent two messages back; I never received the second one. I figured I'd catch him at some point.
We took a good break, and then it was time for the Mahoosuc Notch. The Notch can best be described as a mile long jungle gym, climbing up, around, and under rocks. It was fun and tough, but unlike what others had said, we made it through without ever having to take off our packs although we did have to squeeze and limbo a little bit. We made it through in 1:10, which is supposedly a good time. "Toughest mile" of the AT complete.
Of course, Maine was not done with us yet. Then a long climb where I bottomed out of energy again and into the shelter. Our 10 mile day was complete, as planned, and physically tired but not destroyed.
Arriving at camp, I ate some mashed potatoes with tuna mixed in. Not so bad stoveless so far, except that I packed way too much food! I gave Firefly a few bars as she said she was running low en route to Gorham.
Four miles left in Maine! Woohoo! (Oh, and three more mountain peaks. Damn.)
Day 25: Catfood, Firefly, and I set off from the shelter past the Notch today. Planned for 16 miles, but immediately started into some tough ups and downs. Maine was not releasing it's hold easily.
After what seemed like the longest four miles, we finally hit the ME-NH border. Spoke to some NOBOs there and got the obligatory picture.
Then it was into New Hampshire! So exciting! Except we continued to rock climb and deal roots and mud. It seemed a lot like Maine.
We stopped for lunch and talked to two day-hikers that are local to the area, one working at the base of Mount Washington, and talked about the weather in the White Mountains. The previous day, there were 89 mph winds on Mount Washington and average (summer?) temperature of 49 degrees. Brrrr! And with our luck predicting the weather...
As the day went on, I quickly wore down. Catfood and Firefly went on ahead towards the campsite for the night so I slowed to a meander and took a seat to enjoy the silence. And a few minutes later, I heard someone hooting down the mountain as Catfood came up behind me. They took a wrong turn and added some bonus miles.
I picked up my pace and walked with Catfood towards the targeted camp site. We stopped at a lake where the trail was a little confusing and waited for Firefly. At that point, we met a couple that were also going south, but they were going to do the eight miles to Gorham that night because they had run out of food. That means they were going to be doing lots of night hiking.
I was washing myself off by the lake when Firefly showed up. And then it started to drizzle.
We started moving quickly...and Firefly vanished on us. And then it started to down pour. We were racing to the Trident Campsite and it seemed as if we would never get there. By the time, we made it there, we were both drenched.
We had no idea where Firefly was; we were moving quickly and she vanished. We figured she'd be set up at the camp site. She wasn't there. Oh shit. After searching the whole campsite, we decided we just needed to set up because she could be anywhere and she's an experienced hiker.
Catfood and I set up our tents side-by-side, both a bit rigged to fit into the space. My small pole was on a very tenuous position on boulder. I hope it holds. And after setting up, I had a nice puddle inside, but I was able to clear it up with my bandana.
Once I got situated, I put on dry clothes, but everything else was damp. Let's see how the night goes.
Day 26: Into Gorham!
So, moving was tough this morning. Fortunately, I did not kick my tent pole off the precarious boulder it was standing on overnight, which likely would've taken down Catfood's tent, too.
Last time I was rained on, the rain stopped as I set up my tent and the rain never reached the torrential level. This morning, EVERYTHING was still soaked. The inside of my tent looked like it was raining along the edges. But somehow, the inside of my sleeping bag was still dry and warm. I finished my pepperoni and ate more of my.block of cheese trying to delay the inevitable. Until I had no choice, I could hear Catfood packing up his tent. I put on my wet clothes, underwear included, and packed up.
The first mile was very slow, cold, and uncomfortable. Then my clothing started to dry, at least. Only two climbs and seven miles to town. Atop one of the mountains, I was pigging out on blueberries. So good and sweet, even if they are a lot of effort picking in ones and twos.
As we neared town, someone said they had seen a girl matching the description of Firefly. Good to know she was still alive.
Exiting the woods, we did a little road walking and called up Paul at the Libby B&B and Barn Hostel. Luckily, we made reservations the previous day because he's full for the next two days with the NOBO bubble starting to reach us. Shelter space may be limited over the next few weeks.
We dried our stuff out, picked up my box sent from Rangeley, and made a Walmart run. I picked up a lighter phone charger to replace the monster I've been carrying and tweaked my pack gear a little further. Getting lighter. Unfortunately, Walmart did have a $40 40L pack, but it looked a bit precarious and Firefly confirmed it was not a good choice. I'll either try for a long hitch to the next big town on Thursday or survive until Lincoln (~74 miles) which has multiple outfitters. I need a new pack -- I need something smaller, both in fit and capacity.
As for tomorrow, "hey y'all, watch this." Catfood, Firefly, and I getting dropped off to the south and attempting a 21 mile slack pack going north across three or four four-thousand foot mountains and back to the hostel tomorrow night. I've avoided Ibuprofen ("Vitamin I") for soreness this far, but I may give in for this push to keep up. Thankfully, we're zeroing the following day and I'll be slowing down for the rest of the Presidential Mountains.