Friday, January 11, 2013

Chapter 6 - Rain, Pain, Elevation Gain in Southern Maine

I was hobbled. My foot in major pain after letting it cool down at all. I would do the 'Ozzy' walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night and in the morning. Fortunately I was at Lovett's Inn for some rest and recuperation. But since I had some time to kill, and sitting around really isn't my thing I tried to help around the property as much as possible. I helped mow the lawn, refill the pond across the street, tear down an old shed, and did some dishes in the kitchen after guests ate in the dining room.
A rainbow in Franconia
While I was there Cara came and visited for a few days. This was going to be the last time I saw her until I finished the Trail, at least another 3 weeks. We had finally been getting used to being apart, at first it was hard for both of us, missing each other constantly. While we didn't like being apart, we were falling into a groove of being apart. It helped I had cell reception everyday and was able to call and chat in the evenings before bed.
While at the Inn it rained everyday, sometimes not much or for very long, but part of the day and sometimes for most of the day. The tops of the Whites obscured by clouds and lashed with rain. I picked a good week to take off. And by the ache in my foot continuing for 4 days unabated, my body needed it as well!
After the six days drew to a close I was prepared to finish the Trail. I made the executive decision to skip over the White's and come back and do them as several shorter section hikes. I have not regretted it. I would follow the same course of action had I to do it again. The section is rough, tough, and beautiful. The Trail steep and apparently in terrible disrepair in places, the AMC apparently only maintains Trails that lead from a road to their huts (the things that make them $100 a night). I heard an incredible amount of whining and complaining from thru-hikers in Maine about how terrible the AMC is and how bad the Trails were and on and on. I was dropped off in Gorham one morning and got to experience first-hand the roughness of the Trail.
The day was misty with threat of rain, as I climbed Mt Hayes. The AMC, apparently, hates the Appalachian Trail and refuses to put trail signs that have the AT mentioned. White blazes, those rectangles that lead us thru the wilderness are often neglected and the AMC only puts them once every 1/4 or more. I had heard that in a few sections in the Whites you would go for miles without actually knowing if you were on the AT. I'm not sure what they are trying to prove. But what I do know is that at the shelters they were able to have a care-taker, tent platforms, and an out-house with a newly printed sign explaining how expensive it was to helicopter mulch in for the composting privies. Strange that nowhere else on the Trail is this a problem...
That first day I was able to hike 12 miles, since I had started at 11 I felt that was good progress, especially in the mist and occasional rain. The campsite at Gentian was gorgeous, and would have been even more so had the views been clear. The next day started rainy and stayed miserable all day. I hiked with a hiker named MMRF that I had last seen in Southern Virginia close to Cinco de Mayo!

The day rained and then stopped and then rained even more and then more again. My shoes saturated, and I stopped dodging puddles. The terrain was tough too, up and down slippery rock faces and washed out trail. On the flat spots above tree-line were swamp meadows, the trail on boards many times and the boards would disappear into the moose muck, so that you had to feel along to where the board ended so as to not fall in and disappear into the quagmire. However, you could tell, like most of the Trail that at one time it had been nice, but people had stopped maintaining it. The boards sinking into the swamp, the old vestiges of stairs washing out and tumbling down the Trail. A lot of work would need to be done to this trail to get it nice again - had there been any maintenance over the years the level of work required would be much smaller. Everywhere else Trail clubs have little money, work on a purely volunteer basis and have much better treadway than the "rich" club of the AMC. Interesting and a bit sad. If they don't want to do a good job give the responsibility to an organization that cares - like the MATC (Maine Appalachian Trail Club). But more on that briefly!

I struggled across the NH/ME border that day, and was only able to make a total of 9.4 miles before the day ran out! Between the trail condition and the weather the going was very slow; I thought I was slow because of the week off but MMRF got no further and he hadn't taken the time off and was a stronger hiker too.
Despite the conditions I was happy to be hiking. I was happy to be making progress. I was in MAINE!! Even with jumping the Whites, I had come so far that my mind has trouble wrapping itself around that package!
The day after all that rain began clear and bright, which was heartening - and important. Today was the day that I would be going through the Mahoosuc Notch. When preparing to hike this Trail some people are kept up at nights worrying about this 1 mile section of Trail. I had heard stories of it taking people 4 or 5 hours to go this one mile. Nonplussed, I did the short climb from Full Goose Shelter over Fulling Mt and down into the Notch (of DOOOOOM). Right at the beginning I met up with Ranger (whom I had met in VA), Craisin (whom I had met in PA when hiking with my bro), Rebound (both Cara and I met him in PA), and Tex (never met the guy). I climbed through the rock scramble, up and under, over and through the boulders. I thought it was easy and fun, nothing too technical and nothing worse than I'd done before. It's like Old Rag but in a valley and a bit longer but nothing more challenging. I made it through, even with getting stuck behind a few slower climbers and losing the Trail in a stream, in right around an hour. My shoes were still saturated, so much so I had put fresh dry socks on that morning and they became immediately soaked. I stopped at the other end of the Notch to take off my shoes and eat a snack before beginning the ascent up Mahoosuc Arm (1600 feet in a mile and 1/2). The Trail condition going up the Arm was terrible, old washed out steps, barren rock with little hand holds, hiker-made trails around some of the worst of it making the whole thing look over-used. Up to Speck Pond the Trail continued to be bad, over slippery rocks and just under-maintained. I was beginning to think it may take me 2 months to get through Maine if the terrain stayed consistently like this, I was beginning to doubt my ability and was frustrated at the horribleness of the Trail. Then coming into Grafton Notch something magical happened. The Trail became NICE! The roots disappeared, the rocks rolled off the Trail, the incline kind, and switchbacks appeared. I made great time down to ME 26. And at the road crossing a couple handed me a beer, and some day hikers handout some fresh vegetables. Oh, yeah and this was where the MATC took over maintenance of the Trail. It was like a switch had been flipped. A line had been drawn, shit trail on the AMC-side, nice trail on MATC-side! How in the world is there such a big difference?!

The hike from the Notch to Baldplate was exquisite, even if I didn't beat the rain storm that got my shoes re-wet after the day of slightly drying.
I was getting low on food, and my feet needed a rest. The rain started giving me blisters and on the third day in wet shoes I became pained again. These weren't blisters I was getting, instead rashes all along the inside of my feet. I needed a night in a room to dry out these shoes, with a hair-dryer or something! I hiked the day with Tex, us with plans to get a shuttle into Andover and stay at the Pine Ellis Lodge. Though it was only 9 miles it was a painful 9 for me. Baldpate was a steep and rocky mountain, much of it above treeline, one part following carins up over a huge expanse of rock to the peak. I was glad the day was sunny and warm. Had the day been misty finding the Trail would have been difficult, in the wind and rain dangerous! We made good time over the balds and down to Dunn Notch where we called for a ride and got picked up and taken into town.

I got a private room and was glad to have my flip-flops on! There was a all you can eat pizza buffet at the Red Hen restaurant and the resupply, both at the Lodge and gas station was more than enough to supplement the essentials I had shipped to myself. I liked the place so much, and dreaded putting my shoes on just as much I decided to do a slack pack the next day for ten miles to see how my feet would fare. The sores on them weren't deep but they were raw. I was afraid my still damp shoes would make them worse if I hiked too far. I was dropped off at South Arm Rd and hiked south on the AT, passing Rebound, Craisin, and Ranger - I figured this would be the last I would see of these familiar faces as they were pulling ahead due to this slack I was doing. I had also heard about lots of hikers getting a virus that was causing vomiting and diarrhea and low energy levels. It was supposedly centered in Andover, though hopefully the worst was over. I met a hiker that was holed up in a shelter, and had other hikers tell me of their plights as well. I was hoping not to catch it and was taking precautions - the biggest one was not signing register logs, EVERYONE pages through those and seems the perfect medium for transmission.
Moose Tracks! (not the ice cream)
I had a greatly enjoyable hike that day. I had hardly anything in the pack and I had taken off the shoes immediately in the morning and was hiking in flip-flops! I figured I would hike until it got too rough, otherwise my feet were loving the air and I figured it would be good to heal them (if I could avoid injury!). I hiked the entire day sans shoes and my feet recovered and my shoes dried! I had no more foot issues the rest of the trip! I was loving Maine now, lovely forest, nice cool mornings, beautiful views, and my time was winding down. I would, literally, soon be able to see the end!
The day after the slack I felt incredibly energized and ended up doing 23 miles, some of that I blue blazed around Bemis Mountain down Clearwater Brook Trail. I wanted to see something other hikers didn't often see, I wanted a greater chance to see a moose, I just wanted to hike the Trail less traveled (per Robert Frost!) as almost always, the Appalachian Trail is the path most traveled. That night I made it beyond the top of the world, beyond Sabbath Day Pond and onto a nice little campsite on the edge of a pond. The pond had a few canoes and I took one out for a spin! What a great way of travel. If a river flowed next to the Trail I would have decided to paddle myself to the end. It was such a nice change. Now I want a kayak, and my next adventure will be on water!

Being camped where I was meant the next day I would be going over the Saddleback Range. Three miles above treeline and one of the last mountain ranges before reaching the end of the Trail. At a road crossing before heading up the mountain I found a coconut water, an onion, and a mango a Trail angel had left. I ate the mango and drank the coconut water immediately, the onion I used for the next week in everything, from tuna sandwiches to cooking it with dinner - I will carry an onion on every trip going forward!

I made it to Stratton and was going to get a ride in from the lady that ran the Inn that I was staying, but a couple ladies pulled over and let me climb in the back of their pickup truck on top of fire wood. At the Inn the guys I had been matching up with were there. Apparently Rebound had caught the virus and was very sick and had to take a day off. This place was nice, nice enough to stay two nights and do a slack? Why yes, yes it is! I got dropped off on the other side of the last biggest mountain range (beside Katahdin), I figured I was doing good on money and I was getting close to the end, why not enjoy these last few climbs without a heavy pack!

The Bigelow Mountain Range was gorgeous, the mountains tough and steep, but gorgeous and alpine. I made good time passing Tex going in the opposite way. The views were great and I even got cell reception from the top as I ate lunch. Another wonderful day of hiking provided by Maine! Instead of getting a ride back into town (for some reason I really don't like it) I decided to do a blue-blaze that continued down the tail end of the range and came out very close to town and within easy walking distance to the Inn. The path was soft with disuse and the views were great, a thunderstorm blew in as I was scampering across the last of the open rocks. The rain didn't last and I stayed dry, soon enough the sun came back out and made for an ethereal hike into the valley full of swirling mist lit by bright yellow sunshine.

Views not seen from the AT
I was dropped off the next morning in the same place, going north instead. Almost immediately I came to a sketchy bridge over a beaver pond that sunk and wet one of my feet. A few miles through easy trail over almost non-existent hills lead me to switching to the flip-flops, this time with a full pack. I wanted to be especially careful with the weight of a full pack. But the terrain was easy and nearly hill-less. At some point in the day I looked at my watch and figured out if I hiked really fast I could make it across the Kennebec River on the ferry. The last ferry across leaves at 4 and just the right amount of time to get there, maybe, if the terrain continued to be nice. I booked! I didn't have time to change back into my shoes so I went as fast as I could in the flip-flops, which turned out to be over 3.5 miles an hour and just enough time to get there! As I made it to shore another hiker had had the same idea, Dirty Girl got in the canoe as well. We both stayed at the Sterling Inn, and Hill-Billy Dave dropped us off there since we were the last hikers across and he was going home. The Inn was amazing! Great re-supply, free shuttle down to a restaurant, nice rooms, friendly proprietor. All around great place!
After Caratunk I had another benign hiking day. The weather was near perfect and the bugs non-existent. The mountains were easy and the terrain was kind. I loved hiking through this part of Maine. I was even rewarded with seeing a moose and then camping on the shores of Bald Mountain Pond where the loons howled their mournful song! That night some section hikers made Thanksgiving for the three of us and I shared a Jello No Bake Cheesecake for dessert (it was going to be my dinner).

From Moxie I hiked to Monson the next day and made it very early for lots of reunions! Hotshot, Tex, Rebound, Craisn, Ranger and a bunch of other familiar faces were there at the Lakeshore House Lodge. I was full of restless energy and wanted to bolt out the next day but decided to take a zero, knowing that despite my supposed energy, a day of rest before hitting the 100 mile wilderness push was a completely necessary action to take!

Part 7 - Conclusion