15.8 miles, 1987.6 overall (Stealth camp, South Branch Carrabassett River)
The Noodleheads beat me out of camp by almost an hour. I am in no rush today. We all plan to do around 16 miles to one of two camping areas that are within a mile of each other. We prefer the first due to the shorter mileage and it’s proximity to a stream. Leaving camp by 7 I have 11 hours to do the 16 miles and still get in at a reasonable time.
On my way out of camp I feel slow and my knee hurts. It feels like it used to back at the beginning of my hike. Luckily I still have my patellar support strap with me so I take it out and put it on. After a few minutes it starts to feel better. I had hoped I wouldn’t need it again but with the beating my knees took in the Whites and the Mahoosucs I suppose it makes sense, and perhaps by the time I reach Katahdin I will be strap-free again.
I head up to Saddleback Junior where I stop for some pictures and to see if I have cell signal. I do so I take advantage for a few minutes before moving on to the shelter just down the other side. Nobody is at the shelter when I arrive. I stop to fill up on water and read the register. The Noodleheads passed through an hour ago so I haven’t made up much time if any. As I’m getting ready to leave I notice some laminated papers in the shelter and I pick them up to inspect them. It turns out to be an informational pamphlet left here by the shelter caretaker. He has been the caretaker here for around 50 years! The pamphlet is full of about 50 questions that he has written answers to – things like why the shelters in Maine have the “baseball bat” floors (a legacy from when they used to cover the floors with fir boughs for cushioning), why the shelters have a gap between the opening and the floor (porcupine trap!), and whether you can hike the AT in Maine in the winter (you can, but be prepared to have to dig to find the shelter!). I end up spending 30 minutes reading the pamphlet before I push on.
The next few hours are rather boring. I listen to some music to pass the time as I head down off one ridge and up onto the next. I pass plenty of southbound hikers today too but it is getting hard to tell if they are thru-hikers. If they are, they are only a few weeks from starting so they tend to have larger packs than most thru-hikers carry once they have a few hundred miles under their belts. Also, the men haven’t been able to grow their beards out yet so they look like they may just maintain some stubble. Several of them seem to want to stop to talk and, for some reason, they always want to talk about water. They advise me of 5 mile long sections that don’t have any water while in my head I’m thinking, “ok, so? I usually go 10-15 miles between sources.” I try to be polite and exchange the favor but it is something I really don’t think about much so it is hard to think of any stretches where it is hard to find water.
I decide to have lunch at the Spaulding Mtn Lean-to (all the shelters in Maine are called lean-to’s). As I walk in I find the Noodleheads. They are finishing up an hour long break they took for lunch. I pull out my lunch and am starting to assemble my fish tortillas when Almost Awesome and Possum walk up. They camped about 5-6 miles back from us so they’ve really been laying down some miles today to catch up. Awesome is almost feeling back to her normal self after recovering from what the Noodleheads have dubbed the “NoBo/SoBo Explobo.”
I finish up lunch and we all get moving together. We quickly reach the plaque commemorating the completion of the last section of trail which happens to also be right around 200 miles remaining. Eventually the Noodleheads fall behind, preferring to take their time, while I chat with the APE team as they call themselves. I haven’t had a chance to talk to them much yet but I have had a good impression of them and as I talk to them I decide that impression was good. These guys are fun to talk to and we pass the time discussing what we do back home, how our hikes have been, etc. We get on the topic of how we pass the time on the trail and I discover that Awesome and I both do math in our heads, such as computing average hiking speeds or how fast we would have to hike to get to a certain place by a certain time. I explain to her a recent thought I had that as we get close to finishing I have been considering how the necessary average miles per day changes as the number of days you would want to hike them in changes. I explain that if we wanted to do all remaining 200 miles in one day then it would be 200 miles/day, but if we did it in two days it would be 100 miles/day, and so on. I get really excited when she cuts me off and says excitedly, “It’s an exponential decay!” We both geek out a bit over this while Possum makes fun of us.
Eventually after a very steep descent we reach the river and the campground. There are two hikers already there as well as Philly Steve. One of the hikers already has a fire going. I claim a tent location and start to work on dinner. It turns out to be a quiet night with everyone turning in early. Tomorrow will be a half day into town where I’ll get to shower and do laundry for the first time in about 5 days, the longest stretch in quite some time for me on the Appalachian Trail.