where we were // days 176-184

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Day 176: Caratunk to campsite north of Moxie Bald, 17 miles. Left Caratunk in gray and chilly weather, leaves falling, rain threatening. It was hard to get out of the lodge’s van and start hiking. Not too hard of hiking, little gentle ups and downs all day. I felt drained, so distracted myself by collecting leaves of every color and arranging them at lunch into a gradient. Toward the end of the day it looked like it was finally about to really rain, so we quickly got over Moxie Bald  and bailed on the side of the trail just as rain started. We (I) decided we (I) really wanted to make it to Monson the next day even though it would be a push, and sleep inside one more time. We’d planned Caratunk to be our last stop and to just pass through Monson on our way into the 100 Mile Wilderness (sounds crazy to me too), but if we made more miles tomorrow we could afford one real last night somewhere warm and dry before the last five day push through wilderness. This sounded really appealing as we huddled there getting damp, so we changed the plan.

Day 178: Moxie Bald to Monson, ME, 19.7 miles. Good terrain, mostly level, and it looked promising for making Monson. It’s nice to have a really big goal with a really big reward for achieving it. We had to ford our first two rivers that day, taking our shoes off and everything. The water was cold but not too bad and felt good on our feet. I listened to Radiotopia podcasts all afternoon thru the long miles, lots of random stories with interesting people, helped the miles go by. Once in town we showered, dressed in loaner clothes from the hostel (sweet!), did laundry, and ate dinner with Moma, Jolly Green Giant and Thespian in the pub below the hostel, run by the same people. I think it was Jolly Green Giant who came into our Flagstaff Lake camp at dark and said, “What is this place?” After dinner we all sat around upstairs reading the odd assortment of books–I had one for preteen girls on understanding your new body. Everyone seemed contemplative and present, trying to relish the last little bit of this crazy experience. It was calm and pleasant, and I couldn’t even focus on my silly book because I just kept looking around and not believing I was there. I know I’ve put a lot of my own mental toughness and resilience into this hike, but no matter how strong you are, there is always the stuff you can’t control–injuries, family emergencies, money issues. I’ve worked really hard to get here, but I’m also very aware of how much–I don’t even know what to call it–grace, luck, fortune I’ve had. The owners of this hostel had a son who drowned in a pond only a few days from finishing his thru-hike several years ago, so that really drove the point in. I came so close to injury myself. I just feel so grateful and amazed.

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We’re carrying five days of food, that’s how much attention we are paying this sign.
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Moose and Teton and the 100 Mile Wilderness.

Day 179: Monson to Bodfish Farm Road, 14.3 miles. We did our chores in the morning and had delicious breakfast sandwiches, perhaps the best all trail. Got seconds to go. The hostel owner’s son gave us a ride back to the trailhead and we walked into the 100 Mile Wilderness, just like that. Another place that was just words to me for so long, and now here I am. We passed a neat narrow waterfall in a canyon and did a lot of short ups and downs. About a mile short of our planned campsite we saw a sign for trail magic. We just stood there looking at it for awhile because trail magic is definitely not expected in the 100 Mile. I was really tired and would usually not walk further than I can see for ambiguous trail magic in a dubious location, but this sign was very specific: “If the sign is here, I am here! Not a joke! Beer + food”. We followed the sign and found Terry’s hunting camp, burgers and hot dogs on the grill, wood stove inside blazing, two ice chests full of beer. Color Bandit, Moose and Teton, German Mad Max and MexB were already there feasting. It was another celebration night, slightly different from the chill one in Monson because I drank four beers. It was super hot in the cabin because of the stove, so when it was time to go to bed I wanted to set the tent up outside and sleep out there. Terry was persistent though, in offering his bunk beds, and everyone else was staying inside so I agreed to do. But when I got ready to lie down I noticed mouse droppings everywhere. Eric’s mattress had clearly been burrowed into by mice. I just lay there sweating, imagining a mouse running over my face in the night. I decided I didn’t have to deal with this, so I just quietly gathered up my things and slipped outside to pitch the tent. A few minutes later Eric joined me. I think we slept much better out there.

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Terry’s hunting camp, not where we thought we’d spend our first night in the 100 Miles.

Day 180: Bodfish Road to campsite off Katahdin Ironworks Road // 15.5 miles. We got a very late start because, of course, Terry cooked breakfast–definitely worth it for eggs and bacon. It was another day of choppy trail, which is exhausting, and it was weirdly warm, plus I felt pressure to get a lot more miles today. We only brought five days of food for the 100 miles and only did 14 miles yesterday, so we need to catch up. But I was loaded up on good radio so I put my headphones in a marched. We got lovely views of the valley and lakes. It was a long afternoon, the sun setting as we got to camp. Cooked in the dark.

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Look at all that flat. Nearing the end of the Appalachian Mountains!

Day 181: Campsite to Mountain View Pond // 18.8 miles. We haven’t made great progress the first two days of the wilderness, so we woke up this day motivated to get somewhere. We passed Teton and Moose still in camp on our way out, so if they don’t catch up to us today it’s likely the last time we’ll see them. So weird! We also said goodbye and exchanged well wishes and congratulations to MexB, who was waiting for his son to join him at a road crossing. It was our last day on big mountains until Katahdin. After today we’ll have two days of low lying, mostly flat trail, so we hoped to really make up miles there. The sun was finally shining and we made surprising time up White Cap Mountain. I really couldn’t believe it when we got to the summit, it just seemed too fast! The book indicated we’d get our first view of Katahdin from the north side. As we walked toward it I was worried I wouldn’t be able to identify it, saying, “Well, I don’t really know what the shape of Katahdin is…” and “I hope it’s not too hazy!” Then we came around a bend and BAM! there it was. It is very obvious. It stands completely alone on the horizon. I felt a little stirring in the pit of my stomach. There it was, what we’d been walking toward all this time. Actually existing. Right there. It was still pretty far away, but very exciting to finally set eyes on it. After that I felt energized and pumped so I put on Game of Thrones and hiked some pretty quick miles to camp by another beautiful lake. Had it to ourselves again people-wise, but with lots of squirrel company. As we went to bed some very ominous cloud banks were rolling in.

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Katahdin! 
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I will miss the lighting out here.

Day 182: Mountain View Pond to Nahmakanta Lake // 24.4 miles. In the morning it was misting already. We packed up hoping the sun would burn it off eventually, because real rain wasn’t supposed to come until the next day. But no. We spent the whole day hiking hard. We had a nice long stretch of flat terrain and knew this was our day to make up miles, so we had to push it even though it was cold and misting or drizzling the entire time. Man what a bummer! The nights in Monson and Terry’s camp had been so celebratory, but all that feeling was wiped away by the cold rain. At lunch we took the time to make coffee so warm up some. I listened to an interesting podcast from Fugitive Waves about Vietnamese women working in US nail salons–so many of my memories of places on the trail include what I was listening to when I was there. The day went long again and we set up in heavier rain. I hoped it would rain itself out overnight and fell asleep. Then I woke up around 11 to use the bathroom. It was still raining. After I’d gotten back in the tent, freshly damp, I consoled myself that there were still plenty of hours for the rain to clear out, and fell asleep again.

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About to ford a river–the last picture I took before the miserable days of rain set in.

Day 183: Nahmakanta Lake to Hurd Brook Lean-to // 22.5 miles. In the morning it was still raining exactly as hard as it had been the night before. Major, major bummer. We were both dispirited–damp already and tired from the high mileage (we hadn’t been doing miles like that in a looong time). Nothing to do but get out and get wet. I had my umbrella up as well as my rain jacket and pants on because of the cold. As usual the jacket was useless. We had some small mountains to climb in the morning. We both agreed this was the worst day on the trail. It rained and rained and rained. My feet were still wet from the day before and felt like they were just disintegrating inside my shoes. I tried not to imagine what destruction was happening down there and just walk, but it was hurting. I never get blisters but these conditions were putting that to the test. We were hoping we could pull out a miracle and get to Abol Bridge campground where the book said they had subs and sodas and ice cream and showers. But it was just too far away and we were too run down. At lunch we realized we wouldn’t make it, so lowered our expectations and took time to sit in a shelter, take off our wet socks, and make coffee. As expected my feet were terrible. After that it stopped raining and the sun came out. It was of course what I’d been wanting, but I was still somehow pissed off about it, mad at the sun for coming out all cheery like that with no apology and acting like nothing had happened, like it hadn’t been raining for the past 24 hours solid. Which is ridiculous of course. We got another view of Katahdin late in the day and the summit was totally shrouded, glad we weren’t up there today. We got to the shelter in the dark and had a hard time finding our way across the creek, which was heavily flooded, and the another hard time finding a level spot to pitch the tent. Very, very cold that night, but I was so glad to pull out the clean pair of socks I’d been hoarding deep in my bag and put them on my poor, waterlogged feet. Everything we had was damp still, but it was nice that more water wasn’t pouring down anymore. We hadn’t had cell signal for awhile and didn’t have very definite plans about meeting our moms the next day at Abol Bridge Campground. I managed to get one bar of signal, enough to try to tell them we were three miles from there and estimated when we’d arrive. I couldn’t get any messages back though, so I wasn’t sure if they got it. I fell asleep dreaming of the breakfast sandwich I’d get in the morning at the camp store.

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Katahdin getting closer!
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I’m sorry for this. I hate when people put gnarly feet pictures in their blogs and documentaries, but somehow I can’t not include my own. I never get blisters, but when I do I get the biggest blisters I’ve ever seen.

Day 184: Hurd Brook Lean-to to The Birches // 13.4 miles. In the morning we were anxious to get to Abol Bridge for breakfast sandwiches. I’d been insatiably hungry, just craving savory food and protein, choking down all my sweet disgusting carb-y bars. We had only three miles to go AND our moms would hopefully be meeting us there. So I didn’t eat anything, just drank coffee and got hiking. We came out of the woods, glorious sunshine, onto the road to the campground. Katahdin was so close, everything was bright blue and gold and red… But then we opened the door of the store and my heart sank. The shelves were almost completely empty. Sweatshirts and bear figurines, lots of mustard, cans of beans, packets of onion dip mix, two Twisted Teas in the refrigerator. “…Do you guys have breakfast sandwiches?” we asked the employees, who’d been ignoring us, knowing already their answer. Which was no. They had nothing. I was too exhausted to cry. I bought two dollars worth of their wireless internet so I could try to contact my mom (they wanted a dollar per minute for the phone). When I got connected I received a message from her from the day before saying the earliest they could get there to meet us was 10:30. I looked at my watch: 10:25. Hallelujah! They pulled up not soon after with snacks and some much needed things like dry socks. Could not have worked out better! I wished we had a way to warn all the hikers behind us about the situation at the campground, since everyone would be expecting to resupply there, but no one has any signal. All I wanted to do was lie down in the backseat, but we still had ten more miles to hike to get to the base of Katahdin. We chatted for awhile but eventually had to get started. It was a nice hike, but I was distracted and just wanted to get done. We had to take a highwater bypass trail because the river was too dangerous to cross. Then all of a sudden we were walking into Baxter State Park, and all the hikers who’d finished that day were celebrating with hot dogs in the park. First we crossed Hobb, whom we hadn’t seen since he gave us cookies in the Smokies. And most unbelievably, Animal was there!  He had been at least four days ahead of us at some point, but he, Kat and many others had been stuck (warm and dry in town) waiting for all the rain (that we were hiking in) to pass so they could summit 🙂 . It was a total shock and awesome surprise to see him again. Once we separated in Hanover I thought that might be it. Also there were Fivel and Little Foot, Rottman, Walter White, Scout and Yogi. I was so glad everyone had been caught by the bad weather so we got to see them again. They invited us to go to the bar and celebrate with them that night in Millinocket, but we still had to resupply and were so tired so we didn’t go. That night in the hotel room I started to feel a little panicky that this was actually going to end. Yogi said, “See you later,” when he walked away in the grocery store, just like he has many times, but this time I realized we probably never would see him again. I didn’t sleep very well that night.

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Katahdin from Abol Bridge. Ten trail miles from the base.

Day 185, summit day, deserves its own post. Stay tuned 🙂

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