Day 121 – The Wilderness Continued

Start Milepost: 2090.6 Time: 6:48IMG_7984
End Milepost: 2105.1 Time: 14:29
Miles hiked: 14.5
Miles to go: 84.7
Weather: sunny
Temps: warm
Blue Side trails:
Resupply:
Overnight: hostel
Map: Click on map pin

Another hike day has been put into the books. I was dropped at the trailhead by Paul without the great hostel breakfast. No fording to report today but I will get an opportunity within 100 yards tomorrow!

I appeared to be alone for much of the day. Three SOBOs passed by and I overtook two NOBOs, one of whom was struggling. He had covered in three days what I was able to do in two while slackpacking. His food bag was either huge or he was going to run out of food. And that seems to be a big topic of discussion in the hostel: how many days to transit the Wilderness and how much food to carry? IMG_7983The average hiker is taking seven days of food when normally they would only carry three.  I am getting by with four days based upon my slackpacking. Everyone’s bailout is White House Landing where the prices are outrageous – allegedly.

Halfway thru the day I met the second of two ridge runners based in Monson. Both, Kim and Wendy, were helpful and cheerful.

Interestingly I met five firefighters who were out fighting a fire. They seemed to be searching for it or were a recon element. I could smell the smoke but never saw flames or smoke. As I left the scene they were calling in a Huey.

IMG_7981Beyond those encounters I was plodding my way alone thru the forest in weather much different than the last week. Last night at 02:00 the cold front moved thru bringing heavy rain. By trail time the front had passed leaving lower temperatures gusty winds. At times I put on my wind jacket and cap but quickly had to remove them as I passed out of the windy areas. At the moment I am under a quilt to stay warm in the hostel.

I have two packs ready for another 06:00 departure to a trailhead. This trailhead will be a fifty minute drive from the hostel with a $14 fee charged by the lumber company that owns the logging trail. After hiking twenty miles the hostel will deliver my pack in exchange for their loaner day-pack and I proceed with the balance of the Wilderness.

Communication in the Wilderness is suspect. Nevertheless I plan to continue to write and will posts when I can. As of tonight I have 84.7 miles to go. Hard to believe.

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Day 120 – Crossing the Stream

Start Milepost: 2075.3 Time: 7:15092717 - Foggy view
End Milepost: 2090.6 Time: 15:36
Miles hiked: 15.3
Miles to go: 99.2
Weather: sunny
Temps: hot
Blue Side trails:
Resupply:
Overnight: hostel
Map: Click on map pin

It was a grand day on the trail. Yes, quite an exaggeration. It was a day like most others. I got dropped at the trailhead and was advised to take the blue blaze trail and turn left at the junction with the AT. I seemed to recall that was a mile of blue blaze. GutHook proved my memory was correct on that point. Hold that thought about memory.

I turned onto the AT and proceeded along the trail – up one hill and down the other. Along the way I bumped into several NOBOs and stopped to get their impressions of the trail and their planned summits of Katahdin.  One young fellow, Shocker, said he was going to summit Katahdin with his dad on the 1st! I remarked that he would be hustling. He agreed, adding that his dad could not get off work for the 4th when he would have preferred to summit. I told him he was a good man – and good luck!

I saw  Bourne again – the hiker from NZ. He will summit on the 2nd so he can get a ride to Boston with a friend and then visit his grandfather in NYC one more time. Bourne advised me that he had to remove his shoes and socks to ford a stream. If he did, then I would have to. No big deal; I was far-shore lifeguard during a night river crossing. I had this in the bag. I mentally prepared: secure boots and socks in the pack, place the iPhone in a baggie, roll up my shorts. Check, check and check at stream’s bank.

I got to the far shore with assist of a rope strung across the creek. It was some help but it would have been better if the rope did not sink below the water level as I crossed. 092717 - BWSOn the  far shore as I dried my feet and started to put my socks back on I glanced across the stream to see if anyone was following me across. Nope. But I did see a nice pair of hiking sticks. Mine! Good grief. I should have taken a picture. I went back and got them with a wide grin.

The rest of the hike was not as interesting. I did meet several men who had been at breakfast with me. One stood on the top of a rock ledge yapping about where he was going to have lunch and was about to move on to another topic when I inquired if he would mind stepping aside so I could pass. His only retort was that he did not know that I was impatient. Little did he know…092717 - Breakfast 2

I finished the hike in good time but can’t say I was full of energy when I reached the pickup point. And then it occurred to me that  I had two more days of Mountains before the level stretch into Baxter State park. And if anyone – like me – thinks the hike is about over, it sure isn’t. I went down again today. I was just trying to get by a tree but a slippery root left me slowly settling down the tree trunk until I made contact with the ground. What was the first part of me to contact the ground? Why not try the old right forearm to include the still recovering elbow. There were other slips in black slate that may as well be black ice.

Update. Recall that I lost my glasses three days ago and the postmaster gave me a pair. Well just before breakfast the hostel owner said a hiker had a pair of glasses for JAX DAD. Sure enough, I got my glasses back. The hiker did not know how many hands they had been through before he got them. I found out later how many when I ran into Captain Whiskers who took a strange interest in said glasses. He asked me for my name and when I told him he broke out in a big smile and his buddy started laughing. Captain Whiskers said he found them as he bent over his poles trying to catch his breath. They were lying in some weeds beside the trail which was the site of another stumble that gave my left leg some pain that persists. I thanked him profusely and left.

 Eight more days; but who’s counting besides me!?

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Day 119 – Loons

Start Milepost: 2057.4 Time: 6:4309617 - Sunrise over Bald Mountain Pond
End Milepost: 2075.3 Time: 14:18
Miles hiked: 17.9
Miles to go: 114.5
Weather: sunny
Temps: hot
Blue Side trails:
Resupply:
Overnight: hostel
Map: Click on map pin

I could not write a blog last night because I most my spectacles. By the time I noted they were not hanging from my neck I was miles beyond where I think there came off. On these record-setting, hot, humid days in Maine the specs cloud so badly that I let them hang. Tonight I have a set of workable glasses courtesy of Bonnie the Monson postmaster who just gave them to me. I will figure out how to thank her.

We did have a discussion of cold weather that proved untimely for Maine and that is fine with me. See the discussion of mailing cold weather gear home below!

Last night I camped on the shores of a lake and heard Loons calling. They have very distinctive calls – entertaining unlike the dang Whippoorwill! Plus the Loon makes its call and leaves for elsewhere.

At the same site, but long past dark, a tree decided it was through standing tall – it crashed somewhere close to the shelter. As tired as I was I rolled over and went back to sleep since there were no known occupants at the shelter.092617 - Trail 2

With sunrise occurring at about 06:30 I get a bit more sleep than during the summer, but not much. For certain I did not clear camp as quickly as I did from the shore of the Kennebec River. The trail when I finally got on it was relatively flat until noon. So, when the climbing began it was timed for the hottest part of the day. Miserable and energy sapping. The four fords I was supposed to make this morning were not necessary because the water level was low enough to take the chance of staying dry. I did.

Monson is a exceedingly small town and I believe I have been to both ends shopping for Gatorade and SmartWater. The PO is smack in the middle. I visited it before its closing time of 16:14. Yep, you read that right. I used it to start the conversation with the postmaster. The purpose of the PO visit was to mail home 4.5 pounds of useless cold weather gear: cap, gloves, mittens, long-johns, stove and fuel. With respect to the latter, I figure I can eat cold Mountain House meals for 3 or 4 nights. That weight reduction makes room for the max of four meals I will have to carry through the Wilderness.

Ok. So I have replacement specs. They are wearing my eyes out but I should be able to blog for the next three nights. Cell coverage beyond that is uncertain.

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Day 118 – Q&A with Dave

Start Milepost: 2038.6 Time: 7:45092517 - Bald Mountain
End Milepost: 2057.4 Time: 15:58
Miles hiked: 18.8
Miles to go: 132.4
Weather: sunny
Temps: hot
Blue Side trails:
Resupply:
Overnight: tent
Map: Click on map pin

Scamper and I arrived at Atlanta airport at 12:20 in time (!) for our 15:15 departure. Joining us were Carole & Dave from Kansas City, MO. We have traveled together before and were delighted to be doing so again. We had hardly completed our greetings when Dave asked his first question about the AT. I immediately knew I was being peppered with potential blog topics.  This was his first – “Am I ever cold while hiking?”

Yes. Any other questions, Dave?

Actually I went into some detail before we moved into another thread.

I described to Dave the two times each winter-like day that I am cold: transitioning from hiking into the quilt and when transitioning out of the quilt for any reason! The transition of the former is generally speedier than the latter! Clearly there are circumstances where the end of hiking doesn’t mean I jump into a quilt. Those comments were me just being JaxDad, although they are close to the mark.

Obviously when one wears insufficient layers of clothing in cold weather, one tends to get cold. The opposite is also true; one can get too hot which leads to sweat-soaked clothing. I carry limited upper-body clothing: a merino wool T-shirt, a wind shirt, a rain jacket, a silk sleep shirt, a fleece-T and a puffy jacket. The puff jacket is only worn as a transition item – when I move from hiking to camp activities. I could not hike in it; it is simply too warm. I have worn the fleece-T for only brief periods of time back in Georgia; it also is generally too warm. It is most often worn in camp when a puffy is not warranted. The last items I want in a tent or pack are clothing items wet from sweat or rain which is why the fleece and puffy are not worn while actively hiking. The sleep shirt is worn only inside the quilt. Thus the first three items form the basic hiking garments.

There are times during the active hike day when I tend to develop a chill that leads to being  cold. One of those times is when the ambient temperature drops below thirty-five while hiking in a T-shirt. At that general temperature, another layer of clothing is necessary.

Another point of chill can occur during rain. Relentless  and I were warm in a rain for a while but when the downpour did not abate we soon found ourselves chilling beyond our ability to generate heat. At that point we stopped and donned our rain jackets. Why didn’t we do so earlier? Well, because in a humid environment the rain jacket tends to sweat on the inside – although certainly not at the rate of a downpour. No need to wear a rain jacket just to keep rain out. But when we did don our jackets we were no longer concerned with moisture, rather we had an interest in retaining the heat the body generated. Hypothermia is a threat to cold, wet hikers.

The most frequent time that I chill is during a brief stop for water collection, conversation, lunch/snack break or similar events when the temperature is below 50-degrees. In those situations an added layer of clothing is worn until just prior to resuming the hike.

There have been times on bald mountain tops when I have been very cold. The return to warmth has been via the hiker trot; move off the bald and into the tree line as quickly as possible!

On most cold days I do not wear head covering but head covering is usually one of the first items I put on when temperatures drop or wind speed picks up.

Once outside activities are completed on cold days, I move inside the tent and immediately change into sleep gear: dry skivvies and a sleep shirt. I then slip into the quilt liner and then the quilt. Warmth comes quickly inside the 20-degree quilt! Night visits to the woods generally requires grabbing an additional layer of clothing for wearing outside the tent/shelter.

“How is the tent pitched at night?”

Relentless taught me a very helpful technique. We both carried tents (mine is a Nemo) with an exoskeleton, basic tent with tub-floor and screened walls and a removable fly. Said fly is difficult to position properly for attachment to the tent because its shape does not lend itself to readily identifying the inside versus the outside surface, or the head versus foot end. That identification process is exacerbated in breezy conditions. Relentless taught me to leave the fly attached to the tent at the head end when the tent is being readied to be placed into its stuff sack. With the fly still attached he then folds the tent longitudinally so that it is no wider than the folded exoskeleton. He then lays the exoskeleton and stake sacks on the tent/fly and rolls the combination tightly so that it can be placed into its stuff sack.

When the tent is then unrolled for setup, the head end is immediately identifiable and can be laid out appropriately on the footprint. Attachment of the base tent to the exoskeleton is simple and subsequent attachment of the fly does not require identifying inside/outside or head/foot. That simple identification process speeds the tent setup measurably.

 

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Day 117 – Level Terrain

Start Milepost: 2018.3 Time: 7:28092417 - The Great Carrying Place
End Milepost: 2038.6 Time: 16:30
Miles hiked: 20.3
Miles to go: 151.2
Weather: sunny
Temps: warm
Blue Side trails:
Resupply:
Overnight: B & B
Map: Click on map pin

I had reached the day’s stopping point at 14:30 and elected to move on to the Kennebec River and wait for the 09:00 crossing time tomorrow. I have heard there is no camping here so I moved laterally along the river and found a level spot. I am not moving. I have been off the trail for an hour and in the tent for forty-five minutes resting my eyes. I am surprised I have the energy to type. I certainly don’t have the energy or interest in supper. To compound the supper issue, it is warm and breezeless in the tent so I don’t want to add to the discomfort by having a hot meal.

092417 Fiction and Non-FIctionToday I met a delightful couple from New Hampshire who were flip flopping their hike. He was called Fiction because he kept giving her bad information from AWOL (the AT Guide.) Apparently she wanted the facts, hence her name – Non-Fiction. We spoke for a few minutes before continuing on in our respective directions.

Hours later…And then I heard female voices down at the crossing site. Then one of them passed by the tent and then stopped by mine as she headed back to the crossing site. She asked if I wanted to cross. I said yes. She said Carol will picked us up in ten minutes! Holy smoke! She, Little Dipper, kept going. I doubted I could get dressed again, pack the tent up and ready the pack for crossing but I did just that. I reached the river’s edge just as the John boat arrived.090417 - Crossong the Kennebec River

We loaded once but could not get off a rock beneath the boat. We off loaded. After moving the boat slightly and reloading we made the four minute crossing. On the far side we had to toss our boots to shore and then wade ashore with our packs. And we hiked half a mile to the Caratunk House B&B. Laundered clothes. Showered. A Mountain House meal, leftover corn chips from yesterday, three orange drinks and a Payday later I deem the early crossing a success.

I am still trying to sort out the bedroom and bathroom arrangements. The bathroom has two doors – my room has one door. The other side is open to some count of other guests.

I signed up for a family style breakfast in the morning. Even with that delay I will be ahead of schedule – assuming I can eat and run (hike).

Recall three days ago I had lunch on the bank of a  stream. While there I slipped on a rock and got one boot/sock wet. A Brit couple looked on aghast. Well, I crossed paths with them again yesterday. 092417 - Otter Pond StreamHe confessed to having later fallen into the stream after trying to jump and do a 180-turn on the plank bridge. His name was Wonder; hers was Baggins.

Another twenty mile day tomorrow with two fair sized peaks – the approach slope is not severe nor is the backside. The trail surface is supposed to support reasonable hiking. The word perspective is echoing in my ears.

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Day 116 – Little Bigelow Mountain

Start Milepost: 2001.6 Time: 7:40092317 - VLake View
End Milepost: 2018.3 Time: 16:08
Miles hiked: 176.7
Miles to go: 171.5
Weather: sunny
Temps: warm
Blue Side trails:
Resupply:
Overnight: hostel
Map: Click on map pin

Don’t believe what others tell you about a section if the trail. Like Pio mentioned in a note, perspective colors impressions. The shuttle driver said it was tougher than the previous two days. Yesterday’s driver differed. The hike today was every bit as tough as the previous two days. But different. Since I was anticipating easier or harder I was not surprised one way or the other.

Trail conditions were typical of Maine: poorly maintained if they were maintained at all. Ok, I did see a steep downhill section with colored tape noting spots to install a “water bar”. Said bars shunt water off the trail at various intervals. Otherwise the bars do little to improve the trail surface itself. (A commentary by a casual user of the trails.)

Views were 360 degrees with excellent visibility. Lots of day hikers were out enjoying  yet another wonderful Indian summer day. Included in the day hiker group was a Bowdin College group. Similar to other colleges the hike was part of a freshman orientation. I did not inquire about the objective. Suffice it to say all appeared to be enjoying themselves.

With that hike in the books, I don’t anticipate ever crossing another peak with slopes as severe as today – except for Katahdin itself. The next 170 or so miles should allow a pickup in the daily average mileage.

An added chore today was to visit the laundromat. As a novice with the machines I took guidance from Joules, a hiker in the same hostel. As payback I am going to fill out his food bag for the hike into Monson with the extra food I have in my pack now. I am still working on getting my Trail appetite back. It will probably develop by the time I leave the trail at Katahdin!

We are now trying to figure out to cool the bunk room. The room temperature is a byproduct of the Indian summer we are enjoying while hiking. The AC unit in the hostel takes care of the ground floor – methinks overflow hikers get that benefit. Can’t wait to get my tent up tomorrow night.

I conserved water all day since there was no water source in the first twelve or so miles. With three miles to go I found an unmarked spring and made good use of it. When I set my pack up for departure tomorrow morning I observed that I had a full liter left in the hydration bladder. Good grief. I am making up for the lack of drinking during the day with a gallon of Gatorade tonight.

So looking forward to putting in more miles on the less severe terrain. Speaking of terrain, I noted yesterday that the peaks were easier than I was expecting. It would have been more accurate if I had written that the peaks were not as difficult as I expected because they were indeed difficult.

 

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Day 115 – Fall Has Arrived

Start Milepost: 1984.7 Time: 8:00092217 - Saddleback Mountain
End Milepost: 2001.6 Time: 16:07
Miles hiked: 16.9
Miles to go: 188.2
Weather: sunny
Temps: warm
Blue Side trails: 1.5 miles for d/o
Resupply: Stratton
Overnight: motel
Map: Click on map pin

I left the Farmhouse this morning in the shuttle with the same three hikers from yesterday. Their presence cut my cost by 66%. (I didn’t do the math!) On the ride to the trailhead the driver offered that today’s hike would be tougher than yesterday. That shocked my system. I was ready for an easier day! Oh well.092217 - Rocks

The morning hike was not too bad (although the trail was totally ungroomed by the Maine maintainers) until just before noon. The trail designers had added a steep, rocky descent that boggled our minds. It ended at a stream where a half dozen of us sat eating lunch, hydrating and commiserating with each other. 092217 - Stream with wood plank crossingThe discussion had no effect except as a release. The topic then shifted to the double-peak climb that was on the other side of the stream. It looked bad on the chart so we expected bad.

I called Scamper right after I crossed over the second peak. I was mentally spent. The crossings were so much easier than I expected. What a relief. And a big thanks to Relentless for his attack the hill style that I emulate. There was another mental factor involved.  About 100 meters short of crossing the second peak I met a day hiker named Mark. He was so positive and  uplifting in his comments that I was a bit stunned. He put the mileage to date in a context that I have avoided until now. And he was so enthusiastic about the hike. He mentioned very good weather for the next two weeks and the diminishing mountain peaks on the trail. He thought I had been on quite an adventure. He has no idea! Like so many other trail conversations I did not it want to end, but I still needed to cross over the peak. I moved on while pondering his sentiments. 092217 - 2000 mile blazeToday’s hike moved me to less than 200 miles to go having passed the 2000 mile white blaze just before ending for the day in Stratton.

Having crossed that second peak I had a little over five miles to reach ME-27 where I would be picked up by the hostel. I hustled along to see if I could best the estimated finish time I offered to hiker Hyde at lunchtime: 17:00. In fact I shaved over 50-minutes off that estimate which had been tainted by our expectations of the difficulty of the two peaks.

On the way downhill it became obvious that fall has arrived. I could hardly make out the trail given all the leaves that covered it. Subsequent hike days could get interesting!

At the trailhead I was pulling up the phone number of the hostel when a man offered me a ride into town. I accepted!IMG_7919

It looks like tomorrow’s hike will be another challenge although the hostel manager says it will not be as difficult as the last two days. I hope he is correct. The big peak is called Bigelow Mtn. Another,  nearby, is called Little Bigelow and is totally flat for about a mile. I like flat mountains.

Perspective. Recall that when I had injured my elbow my morale dropped a bit. Hiking with one pole and not being able to pull myself up rocks was not easy or enjoyable. Well today at lunch I saw a young woman who had no left hand. It did not hold her back and she was obviously enjoying herself.

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