Day 9: My first 0.
Enjoying a day of rest in Monson. I passed on historical Shaw’s Hostel for the Lakeshore House, but that view? The food is awesome, and the live music was fantastic last night. That’s not even mentioning Cari, one of the caretakers that picked me up on the side of the road yesterday, and Rebekah, the owner. From the time I walked in the door, I was treated like I was first class. Granted, I did pay big money ($50) for my own room. But, did you see the view?
Had a family style breakfast at Shaw’s with a bunch of other hikers. You had people everywhere including tents out and about in the front yard as well as a hippie van or two. Crazy. Just walked in and sat down, eggs to order, bacon, potatoes, pancakes, and OJ. Then I went food shopping in the barn. Seriously. When I was done, I paid and told them I had breakfast, too. All on the honor system — pretty amazing. It’s unfortunate that the rest of our world has moved so far away from this culture. Life in a small town.
I picked up a knee brace to help alleviate stress from the upcoming miles and mailed out excess gear. Even shipped my pants. That may have been a mistake, but I did drop some weight.
Lastly, I checked out the Appalachian Trail Center here in Monson. Intended more for those going north, the woman did try to give me safety tips for fording. Maybe she’s read my blog?
All set to return to the trail at seven am tomorrow. In the meantime, have you seen that view?
Day 10: Easing back into the trail.
Had breakfast at Pete’s Place, right beside the Lakeshore House with Gogo, a girl from Quebec who was heading north to finish her 550 mile long hike. She had done no other part of the AT; just taking a walkabout (and doing it well). Interestingly, she had met her husband while he was riding across Canada and they had biked Scandinavia together, but this was her first journey alone. Her husband said everyone should do one long journey alone to find themselves and one with their partner to find each other. So, she was excited to be having her moment. I’m not sure I disagree with the husband’s claim, either.
The trail was easy today, just nine miles to the first shelter. Seeing a lot of NOBOs closing in on their finish. Talked to Predator, a name he earned because he’s a Nashville Predators fan, by the single ford crossing today. Just some light conversation and arrived to an overcrowded shelter full of people. One was a Scottish guy with the trail name Highlander (he even had a kilt) and a lacrosse team. Fortunately, the lacrosse team set up hammocks outside and then Highlander continued to get closer to Monson, although he wasn’t entering town until tomorrow.
Knee felt good until about the last hour, then it started to stiffen up. I’m concerned that I don’t have the patience to slow up enough to let it adequately mend and the omnipresent fear in the back of my mind that my knee will end my adventure. Arriving at camp at 12:30 with nearly eight hours of daylight left and easy trails was tough to swallow. Ironically, graffiti here at the shelter says “Leggo your ego.” Maybe.
On the brightside, I feel otherwise well rested from Monson. The quiet stay was just what the doctor ordered. A quiet environment with literally no other stresses was good for the mind.
Along with that, I’ve begun reading Grit, a book that so far looks at evaluating people for their stick-withitness and that being a significant indicator for success. Needless to say, when I took the self-exam, I didn’t do very well. I acknowledge some self-bias, but I can be a little whimsical. Suddenly Springer Mountain, GA, is seeming a long way away, too.
The book did trigger some introspection, though. The early part of the book discussed having a life’s purpose. I’ve kicked around some mission statements over the last several years, but always overly wordy and complex. The book makes the point that for everything you’re doing, ask why, and usually there will likely be many layers, but when you reach the “just because” point, you’ve reached the purpose.
One example the book mentioned was Tom Seaver, who’s passion was pitching, and everything he did was based off what he needed to do to pitch and pitch well, year after year. This included what he ate in the off-season or just wearing a shirt to the beach so he didn’t get sunburned and be unable to throw for a couple days. Everything could eventually be traced back to that one point.
For me, I think I achieved the most concise summation of my purpose today:
To live a full life and positively impact others.
I opted to go with the “and” because there’s a duality there; there’s a selfish piece that I need and I need both halves in order to be “successful.” I find purpose in helping others, although another example in the book kind of points out there are different ways to achieve that purpose. While I’ve committed the last four years to working in a school, that does not necessarily need to be how I achieve that purpose. It doesn’t mean I’m quitting my job tomorrow, but it is good to understand the why behind it and understand there are other options to still satisfy that purpose.
Some of the other things that fall under positively impacting people would include being an example, someone that people can look up to and follow knowing that person will help them get somewhere better. To an extent, this ties in with the crazy stuff I do because in the end, anyone can accomplish it. I’m just an average Joe. It also means doing things well and leaving them better than I found them, ideally so whoever follows will be set up for success and I do the best that I can for those I’m working with/for.
Now, I intentionally saved the second part, living a full life for last. What is living a full life? For me, this is exploring, traveling, taking risks, growing, developing weaknesses (like public speaking and, one day, I’m going to learn to dance) and developing relationships with friends and family. Even when I’m doing these journeys, they are more fun when I can share and communicate with the people that matter in my life.
Saying all that, positively impacting others is exhausting to me. Some people are energized through social interaction, but it leaves me absolutely wrecked. After a day at work, I come home wiped. I need to recharge. The adventuring, disconnecting, and unplugging allow me to do that. Despite being on the trail, after the last few days off, I feel more refreshed than I ever did last summer when it was go go go all summer long. I needed that quiet time enjoying the view. I feel like if I needed to go back to work tomorrow, I’d be ready. I never felt that last year.
In a way, I guess part of this trip is already a success then…but I need to show some grit and stick it out a little bit longer. Georgia, I haven’t given up, yet.
Day 11: Had a great night of sleep after spending the evening talking to NOBOs. It was probably in the 40s; I slept with my windbreaker and beanie and was very comfortable. It helped having another easy day, meaning I was in no hurry to get out into the cold air.
The trail was absolutely beautiful today; primarily flat and quick without too much up-and-down or mud. Had an uneventful ford site, which I’ve learned that I cannot take for granted, either.
Even the mountain was welcoming today, about 1400 feet up and another 1400 down, but mostly walkable without having to do too much actual climbing. Views off the mountain were incredible and while I was up there, up came a family of four. I was impressed, but I couldn’t let them beat me down.
So, I won the race down, but the drop, even as mild as it was, relatively speaking, hurt. I’ve become a lot more cautious from day one as I’ve taken enough falls and am afraid of the pain from jumping down too much. Of course, in my hesitation, there’s even more pain…it’s like a dagger being stabbed into my knee. Not good.
Then, the real theatrics began at the shelter. First, up came two NOBOs. They started eating, and continued eating. Then smoking. Then stalling. And then it started drizzling. And the NOBOs just kept coming. Current count is nine NOBOs huddled in the shelter away from the rain; eight of which are sharing war stories and pot. The rain has continued and everyone has mutually agreed to stop, them all being a day’s hike from town. Fortunately, I’ve got a short hike in tomorrow, too.
My big dilemma is my knee – do I continue until I can go no further; especially shooting for the end of Maine and playing by ear? Do I flip to easier terrain? Or do I head home, recover, and figure out a new plan? To be determined.
Day 12: Houston, we have a problem.
So, I survived the night, grateful that I was the first to the shelter and claimed the section next to a wall rather than being cramped between two people, especially as much as I toss and turn all night. And, I had “a little” more space!
The trails were not difficult today, but the morning did not go well. My mind was going to places that I’m not going to discuss here.
And then I made it to the top of Pleasant Pond Mountain.
The views were amazing; I also had cell and data reception. I made a call, sent a some texts and WhatsApp messages, and even briefly responded to Facebook. I spoke to people that told me what I needed to hear, even if it wasn’t what I had been looking for (thanks Mom, Dusty, and Chris).
With 6.5 miles from the top of the mountain, mostly down hill and not at crazy grades, I was making good time. And then, we had an issue… (you can skip down to the pictures if you’re a little squeemish, and I’ll finish with the non-gross stuff)
I noticed my pee was a slightly off the other day — just a drop. Today, I stopped to pee, less than a mile from town and it was pretty bloody. Peed again upon arriving at lodging and initial returns did not look good. No discomfort, besides 12 days of abuse on my feet and legs — expected wear and tear. Anyways, I’ll wait and see how things look in the morning. Not pushing forward three days to the next town until my urine looks clear.
|9 hikers in a shelter — yes, there are two hammocks hanging off the ceiling. They didn’t want to get wet so they got creative.|
|Another picture from Pleasant Pond Mountain. Enjoyed this for 30-45 minutes while rallying my spirit talking with people.|
So, I made it to Caratunk (a “town” of 60) at about three pm and went directly to the Caratunk B&B which is about 150 yards off the trail. The proprietor is Paul, an older gentleman, accomplished thru-hiker, and, by looking at the newspaper clippings and awards, he was very active in advocating for gay rights in Maine. I’m sure he has some stories he could tell. His hostel is only for hikers; anyone else, he tells them it’s full.
Everyone talks this place up for it’s milkshakes, and at $4, it was a thick, plentiful shake (I had vanilla AND a thick slice of banana bread for another $1)! I also managed to get the last room as it is a small home, but like my time at the Lakeshore House, quiet and full of character.
The whole of the hostel went to a rafting company’s restaurant for dinner, $8 all you can eat tacos, plus a Pepsi. Rafting is really big up here. There’s plenty of “streams” and rivers, that’s for sure (Maine’s got some BIG streams).
Sadly, I haven’t been able to get a Dr. Pepper since I started this hike, due to no lack of effort, I assure you. Food was good, but there’s no cell reception here. Even the Wi-Fi at the hostel (DSL), the connection is in-and-out. I spent two hours downloading now book to my phone. To stock his small supply store, Paul has to drive two hours away, although he now orders a lot online, too. It’s amazing that people still live like this!
Well, we’ll see how the rest of the night goes and there’s a good breakfast on tap. If everything checks out okay in the morning, I’ll purchase two additional days worth of food and head off to Stratton. If not, I guess we’ll wait and see.
Day 13: Unplanned zero at Caratunk B&B.
So, everything was good to go this morning; however, I ate a big hearty breakfast and overall leg soreness convinced me to take a day of rest. Figured the rest of the body would probably benefit, too. My biggest struggle is remembering this thing not a race. I’m used to pushing through pain towards the finish line, but the finish line was never 2000 miles away. Something I could afford to learn is taking the opportunity, particularly when I have the time, to slow down.
Paul and Boulder, his one man staff, run a tight ship here. Breakfast was huge and, by 10am, it seems like the house is clean and ready for more guests. I’ll be retaining the same room, especially paying an extra $5 to keep the private room. Easy decision.
I took advantage of the time to do some sun salutations, stretching, and rolling my legs using my Nalgene bottle to loosen some of the tension points. I probably need to do this the end of each day’s hike and will certainly go through the routine before leaving tomorrow.
Now, Boulder hiked the AT back in 2006. To give you an idea about him, he left the house last night to camp by the nearby river, which apparently he does frequently. There’s a special breed of characters along this trail; they look at and treat life differently. He thinks since his hike, social media has had a large negative impact on the AT. Now the shelters are noisier as people are trying to talk back home and they’re always on the phone on the tops of mountains. The trail has lost a lot of it’s solitude.
Being myself guilty of talking from the tops of multiple mountains (it’s the only way to get reception up here!), I can understand where he’s coming from and agree, there is a loss of solitude. The thing I’ve been taken aback by are all the hotel/hostel reservations and had an interesting talk with Paul. I expected I’d be able to just walk into most places and grab a bunk, but people are calling days ahead to make their reservations, a large cultural change. If I’m hiking my all, I have an idea where I’m going to be, but not with total certainty. I hate planning. On the brightside, once I pass the large NOBO bubble that I’m sure is coming, there should be a lot of available bunks in their wake.
Regarding the loss of solitude, as much as I’m an introvert, I enjoy sharing the journey with others and journeys like these make me realize how much I need other human interaction. It’s going to be quiet as a SOBO, something I’m already experiencing on the trail. But, among my worst fears is being totally, utterly alone. Alone on a deserted island? I’d crack. Quickly. I think every inanimate object would have a name inside of a week and I don’t know if Humpty Dumpty (or in this case, my mind) could be put back together again.
So, personally, I like having a means to maintain that connection on the trail. Maybe that’s a weakness being unable manage alone? And, partially, it’s probably a bit of an attention grab, but some images deserve to be shared with the world, right?
The rest of the day was spent in a rocking chair on the porch, enjoying a book, a couple Cokes, a pulled pork sandwich, and some burgers. Paul and Boulder both said I looked very at peace; I almost wish I had more time to stay.
Day 14: Another hostel, and another hard departure. I felt significantly better than the prior day; the knee still a little gimpy, but not ready to sit somewhere for several days.
I had my things together before breakfast, but couldn’t leave until near 9am anyway as I had to await the Kennebec ferry which was less than half a mile into today’s hike. While the knee felt better, I am continually reminded of my ankles each of which I turn no less than five times a day. I grabbed one last Coke and slice of banana bread before leaving this place of peace.
Walking down the road, my right ankle was screaming in pain for a good minute before I managed to get the right pop, realigning everything for the day’s march.
Today was going to be a day of good trails. Fast and gentle. Of course, the weather also meant a day of marching in the rain. Rain in the woods is not like normal rain. For starters, it never rains as hard on the forest floor as it is in the open. But don’t be fooled, that is the extent of the forest’s kindness.
Instead of dealing with a quick rain shower, the forest will continue to drizzle on you for hours as the rain water slowly makes it’s way down each layer. And, just when you think you may have escaped, you end up on a one to two foot wide pathway lined with bushes on each side. And each bush is covered in wet leaves. Unavoidable wet leaves.
As an added benefit of the late start, it also meant a late arrival at the shelter. At least later than I have been. I arrived shortly after it had filled up. Looking into the rain, and the sun actually made a brief appearance, I got my first opportunity to set up my tent in the wetness.
I hate setting up a tent in the dryness. Now I’m closeted in with my wet shirt and socks. Nor did I have the motivation to cook. I don’t particularly care for peanut butter, but I was eating it by the scoop out of the jar. I got the peanut butter from a hiker that received a package at the hostel. It’s 190 calories per two tablespoons. I figure I’ll get the energy I need for tomorrow, along with protein, and what I’m really excited for is the potential for the empty jar. I saw another hiker using one to prep oatmeal a few nights prior for the morning. I may do the same, prepare some cold oatmeal for the morning giving me some different menu options.
The benefit of marching in the rain today means I should have two nice and sunny days to deal with my next set of mountains. Mountains are hard enough without slick rocks. Hopefully the gamble was worth the soak.
Day 15: Into the Mountains
So, another late start today. Didn’t get moving until 7. Among the worse things in the morning are putting on damp clothing, and I knew my socks and shoes were a wreck from the night before. Adding to that, I tried to get water from the pond near the shelter and it was very choppy with the wind, breaking right on top of my left foot.
Within two hours, that insole was wrapped around my ankle and a good three inches or of my shoe. The insole has been liveable when dry, but I didn’t foresee that happening any time soon so I out the insole in the mesh pocket of my pack.
The first few miles today where easy hiking, slightly muddy, but gentle. As I neared my big climb for the day, I decided I wanted a break to refill water, have a snack, and relax. I was going to wait for the next shelter, but my shoulders needed a break and there was a perfect little area along a little brook. I took out my peanut butter and the book on my phone and had a great lunch.
Then it was time to attack the mountain. The first couple miles we’re surprisingly strong and then I just wilted as I neared the summit. Maine is a brutal place to start a thru-hike, but the state is absolutely gorgeous between the mountains and all of the water. Today I tackled Little Bigelow. Tomorrow, Bigelow and then town.
I was struggling a bit the last couple miles and within a mile of my campsite I managed to slip on another boulder, repeating the injury to my wrist from 10 days earlier. And then I stepped into knee deep mud. At least I switched to shorts and wasn’t still in pants.
Arriving at camp, I set up a nice taut tent for the second straight day. It’s almost as if I know what I’m doing out here. Or appears that way, anyways, and then talked a little with another group of NOBOs.
I saw a group of SOBOs while I was zeroing in Caratunk that where supposed to leave south the next morning, but I haven’t seen them again. So far, every mile of this journey I have walked alone.
Now, I don’t have a trail name yet. I’ve had a few recommendations that I’ve just blown off – Blueberry and Disney, but I’ve been thinking on one Sparky (NOBO) suggested in Monson, Hidden. I mentioned how I’m always alone when I do all of my stupid things, and in a lot of ways, it’s probably descriptive of a lot of my personality, even if it’s unintentional. I don’t know, I may take that name after all. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.
Day 16: Jealous of the Eagles
So, it was a slow start today. It was in the 40s and knowing I had a low mileage day ahead of me, I was in no hurry to leave my sleeping bag. I started on the trail at eight am.
It was pretty quick into the climbs this morning, about two-thousand feet up to go. The climbs came easily today and the views were unreal. I hit Avery Peak and then West Bigelow Peak, looking over yesterday’s hike and at what’s in front of me. I felt like I was on top of the world and felt a little jealous of the eagles that easily soar at that height. Outside of Katahdin, definitely the best views in Maine. At least, so far.
While sitting on West Bigelow Peak eating a cliff bar, Hanz and Franz (SOBO brothers) passed me. They needed to be at the road by five pm where their dad was meeting them. Current time was 11:30 and I’d hiked about three miles in over three hours. Eight miles to the road and a little more than five hours to go.
Okay, so this was the first time SOBOs had passed me on the trail. I definitely kicked it up a notch and the legs responded about as well as they have. The descent still hurt, but once I got past the hard stuff, I was able to shuffle a good portion of the last few miles (in between tripping and turning my ankles). I made it to the road just after four pm, despite talking to a few people along the way. This is the best my legs have felt in over a week, hoping that the worst is past. Tomorrow, no knee brace as I want the muscles to adjust appropriately to the trail rather than allowing a weakness to build there. If I need to out it back on, I can.
I never caught the brothers, but they said I arrived at the road just five minutes after they did. The younger brother needs to go finish high school and then he’s enlisting with the intent to become a Ranger. This was definitely na good warm up. The older brother is continuing on, and as they were pushing a good pace, I expect that I’ll see him again sooner than later.
I rode to town with the brothers and we also squeezed Catfood, who I met in Caratunk and who just did the last stretch in two days, into the vehicle as well. Catfood and I grabbed food at the White Wolf Inn and then went to the grocery store to resupply. Definitely an interesting mix of people at the hostel here; but, I’m just about reset for tomorrow.
I’m hoping to make good time to Rengley, the next town, 32 miles off. Less than 100 miles to get out of Maine, but there aren’t any easy miles left. Can’t wait to get to Vermont. Counting day one for 5.2 miles and my two zeros, I’m only averaging a little over eleven miles a day. I’m ready to get rolling…after the White Mountains.