Day 170: Rangely to Poplar Ridge Lean To // 10.7 miles. The guy who gave us a ride back to the trail took a look at the sky and gave us a warning about how bad the weather would be up on the ridge north of the road. Nothing to do about it. Spent the day climbing up Saddleback Mountain and Saddleback Jr. Another double peak, with three miles between the peaks above tree line. I thought the Whites were over? Luckily Phoenix and Johnny Appleseed had warned us about southern Maine. It was windy and cloudy and cold all day, so we were socked in with very little visibility. As we started our descent the clouds cleared a little and we could see that it would have been amazing views. Oh well. We got awesome weather for Franconia Ridge, and you can’t win them all. Plus, the guidebook shows no immediate letup in mountains to climb, so we’ll get to try again. We ended up high in elevation when it was time to camp and hunkered down the best we could. It was very cold and windy, but my sleeping bag is doing well, so once I’m in there I’m good.
Day 171: Poplar Ridge Lean-to to Crocker Cirque Campsite // 14.2 miles. There was some hint of sun in the morning despite the chill so we were hopeful for better weather. Started off with a big downhill, then headed back up again. We were both tired and cold, not talking much, just a grinding it out type of day. At lunch I called my mom because we had some signal. It’s a nice distraction and helps pass the time so quickly to just chat. Sometimes I feel like we all just have the same conversations over and over out here, haha: how far we’re going that day, when we’re planning to finish, food, and where everyone is or we think they are. The sun started to come out and I sent Mom pictures of flowers we passed along the way while she followed our progress for a few miles in her copy of the guidebook. I even hiked in short sleeves for a little while! Lots of beautiful fall leaves on our descent down to the river which was to be our first ford. We got across with no wet feet because someone had put a slippery plank over the deep part, and headed back up one more mile to camp.
Day 172: Crocker Cirque to Horn’s Pond Lean To // 12.4 miles. Climbed the Crockers in the morning. It had gotten weirdly warm and we were sweating again, which is fine with me after all the cold and wind. Double peaks are a mental game because as soon as you get the rush of triumph and relief of summiting, you remember you have another summit to do before you’re actually done. I just pretend the first summit isn’t there 🙂 The leaves are still wonderful and we had a pretty clear day with nice views, and that definitely helps with motivation and mood! After we came down, we hitched into Stratton with a new-to-us hiker name Moma (hard to believe we’re still running into people we haven’t met yet) for some lunch and resupply. We ate burgers and drank apple cider in a motel restaurant. I was just sitting outside the grocery store talking to my mom when someone came up and asked, all concerned, if I was okay. There are plenty of times out here when it would be reasonable to ask me that, but at the time I wasn’t upset, just chatting. I assured the person I was fine, then remembered my reflex to see if I could get us a ride back to the trail out of the interaction, but it was too late. We saw a pickup pulling over for some other hikers just as we started trying to hitch, so we ran over and jumped in too. Pickup trucks drivers are good bets when hitching, we joke, because they like to show off how much stuff and people they can fit in the bed. Once we got back to the trail it was a long, long, long climb to the ridge at the base of the climb up to the Bigelows. I’ve been looking forward to getting through these mountains for awhile. After this we’ll have some much easier trail with fewer super steep ascents and descents and lower elevation overall. Can really use that right now!
Day 173: Horn’s Pond to Flagstaff Lake site // 12.8 miles. We spent all day going through Bigelow range. It was tougher than expected but very pretty and the leaves are definitely in their peak now. I don’t really know what I’m talking about but I can’t imagine them getting any better. Most of the day we were looking down on this big, beautiful deep blue lake to the left of the ridge crest. I wasn’t looking at the book much because I didn’t want to anticipate all the climbs and everything, so I was totally surprised when in the evening the trail descended right to it just in time to camp! It was almost too good to be true: a perfect flat campsite in the trees at the edge of this pristine lake, surrounded by brilliant fall colors, and the clouds had all burned off so the sun setting was intense. AND there was no one else there. Definitely too good to be true. We availed ourselves of the sun and the solitude to take a quick dip in the lake and lay on the warm rocks in the sun. It felt so good. Just when we had gotten in the tent to sleep we heard someone hike up, shine his headlamp around, and murmur to himself, “What is this place?” in wonder. My thoughts exactly, dude.
Day 174: Flagstaff to Pierce Pond Lean To // 15.1 miles. The elevation profile was finally (finally!) reasonable. Very satisfied to have the Bigelows behind me. So, very little climbing today but the trail was really rugged and it was difficult to keep a good pace. We debated trying to rush ourselves and make it to the Kennebec River before the “ferry” (a man in a canoe) made his last run of the day, but we had to admit we were just a little too far and it wouldn’t be reasonable given our pace so far. We stopped four miles short of the river fairly early in the day. Tomorrow we have only the four miles left to the river and then a little walk into Caratunk. where we’re going to stay the night. The ferry doesn’t start until 9am so there was no need to push it, and that felt great. We’re camped alongside another lovely lake. I remember watching AT documentaries while we were planning our trip and seeing people complain about drinking “tea water”–the water from the lakes is brown from tannins, but as long as you filter it it’s fine. I don’t mind it at all if it means camping at these “ponds”!
Day 175: Pierce Pond to Caratunk, ME // 4 miles. We are completely worn out. We start hiking and both agree it’s high time for a break in the pace and night inside. We reach the Kennebec River just after 9 am. There are no directions for the ferry anywhere and it’s not clear what to do, so we explored along the bank for a clue, then saw a man waving to us from across the river. We wave back and he paddles over and has us sign a waiver, which includes that he must be the one to load and unload our packs. Fine by me! He talks the whole time he paddles us across. Apparently it’s a common place for hiker mishaps, because the ferry schedule calls for adjustments some don’t want to make, so they try to ford the river. It looks completely doable–when we went across it was probably only thigh high on me–but it’s easy to underestimate, and upstream is a dam, so without warning the level can rise quickly. I was happy to stay dry. Once across, we walk through Caratunk and follow signs to use a free phone on an abandoned building to call for a ride. No one is answering any phones for awhile, so we just sit there in the sun, sleepy, retrying different ride options until someone finally picks up. A nice older guy came and took us back to his hostel. We resupplied there but decided to stay at the lodge down the road where we could get some beer and hamburgers. It was too early to get into a room, but the front desk girl told us she would let us know as soon as it was ready. We ate lunch, then ended up sitting in the lobby waiting all day long. I felt kind of obnoxious because we don’t smell that great, but we didn’t have anywhere else to go. Finally they let us go up. Shower, more food, a night in a bed. It’s hard to believe, but we’ve got a rough plan now for finishing, and this should be our last night in town before we’re done. “Hard to believe” doesn’t even cover it.