18.7 miles, 2047.7 overall, 136.5 remaining (Bald Mountain Brook Lean-to)
I have my alarm set for 6:00 so I can get up and packed to be at Harrison’s for breakfast at 7:00. The Noodleheads, APE team, and Philly Steve had been talking about zeroing at Pierce Pond but with the weather still looking ominous today I think they might call it off. Either way I have decided to push on. I thought about it a bit yesterday and the schedule for the rest of my hike is set. I have two more days of hiking and then a nero into Monson. From there I enter the 100 mile wilderness for which I have planned 5 hiking days. I also want to zero in the 100 mile wilderness, partly because I haven’t done an on-trail zero yet and partly because it just sounds pretty awesome. That still puts me in Baxter State Park at the base of Katahdin a day before Christy arrives. I figure I’ll spend a night in the Birches campground, the place provided by the park for long-distance hikers to camp the night before hiking Katahdin. That way I can experience what it is like there the night before summiting. The next day will be a zero when Christy arrives and I’ll spend it celebrating with the thru-hikers who finish that day. I’ll spend the night in a hotel before summiting Katahdin the day after with Christy.
Since my schedule is set I don’t need to find out what the others are going to do today. I pack up and head to Harrison’s with a long day of hiking planned. I get there right at 7:00 and sure enough the Noodleheads have a seat waiting for me. I had been nervous about this since I had only heard second-hand that my spot had been reserved so finding that it was true is a good start to the day.
At Harrison’s you get 12 pancakes chock full of bits of apple, raspberry, and blueberry. If you pay a little extra you can also get eggs and sausages. I pay a little extra. The food is tremendous! Everything tastes great and the portions are just right. We only half joke that the pancakes have more fruit than pancake in them. Any leftovers (for the few people who have them) are either divvied up between everyone else and eaten or put into a ziploc bag to be taken hiking.
Over breakfast a few interesting topics come up. This seems to happen often around the Noodleheads, who whenever I pass them on the trail seem to have an interesting conversation already going. First, a conversation Philly Steve had on the phone with his mom comes up. I suppose she was having a hard time understanding something about his current lifestyle so he tried to break it down for her this way: “When you get up, I’m already hiking. When you go to work, I’m hiking. When you eat lunch, I’m hiking. When you come home from work, I’m hiking. When you eat dinner, I’m either hiking or eating. And when you go to bed I’ve already been in bed for a couple hours.” I thought this was a perfect way to help someone understand not only how long we hike each day but also the monotony of it.
Second, Almost Awesome notes that non-hikers never get to see us doing what we do best: hiking. They typically see us in town where we lay around, eat a lot, and try not to take any more steps than absolutely necessary. It really helps explain the negative image some people form of hikers as dirty, lazy hippies.
Finally we talk a little about post-hike. I mention something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Some people are already thinking about their next long distance hike. Several people including Wiffleball plan to do the PCT next year. Some want to do the Long Trail. Meanwhile I have no desire to do any of them. Maybe someday that will change, but for now I’m excited to be able to hike without thinking about how far to go. I miss being able to go out for a weekend, hike just a couple miles on a new trail, stop wherever I find a picturesque little campsite, and hang around for the rest of the day. Too often I see great spots to camp on the trail but can’t stop because I’ve only done a few miles and I need to get more in. It will be nice to be able to camp again instead of hiking.
After breakfast it is a few miles down to the Kennebec River. This river crossing is well-known on the AT because of the ferry that carries hikers across it. Widely advertised as the “official” route of the AT, the ferry is a canoe that runs during certain hours each day. It is provided because of the depth of the river (over 8 feet in places) and the danger of crossing (a dam upstream means the water can rise unpredictably). As the ferry runner brings me across I talk to him about the trail and I mention that a hiker recently texted me and advised that I not try to ford the Kennebec. I wasn’t sure if they did this because they tried or because they saw it and thought they should warn me. The ferry runner asks who it was and when I tell him it was Teflon he informs me that Teflon forded the river a few days ago. A 5 minute long story ensues consisting of sobo’s on one side of the river watching Teflon on the other arriving early and deciding not to wait for the ferry’s operating hours. I’m told all of his gear got soaked and he has spent a couple days in Caratunk trying to dry out.
When I get hiking again I skip Caratunk. I have enough food to get to Monson. Everyone else heads into town for resupply and possibly to stay a night. The trail is a gradual ascent over easy terrain and I make great time. I reach the first shelter and stop for lunch. Bobcat is there with a hiker I don’t recognize. I shoot the breeze with them while I eat. When I’m almost done Philly Steve rolls in followed soon after by the APE team. It turns out the inn in Caratunk didn’t have any space so they resupplied and kept hiking. I head out hoping to get in another 9 miles to the next shelter before 6.
The next climb doesn’t look hard on paper – only 1000 feet over a mile – but it takes me a while. My legs are still feeling heavy on the uphills lately despite my increased protein intake. I wonder if it is simply a cumulative effect of 2000 miles on the body. On the way down the other side I start bonking pretty hard and have to stop for a snack. Philly passes me while I eat and, a short time later after I start hiking again, Awesome and Possum catch me too. This time I draft on them, using them to set my pace, and for some reason it feels better.
We hike down to a pond where we see Philly talking to a man who has a truck there. For a minute I get my hopes up for trail magic but I see quickly that it is not. We talk briefly to the man whose family has owned a cabin on this pond for 3 generations. He says he learned to read a map and compass around here but amazingly has never hike more than 10 miles of the AT.
Possum’s feet are giving him problems and he doesn’t know if he will go much further today. Philly and I are set on the shelter only 2.7 miles away so we hike on. With him setting the pace we hike around 3 mph and cover the ground quickly. I conveniently run out of water on the way, meaning I had just the right amount today. Once we arrive I’m able to treat some more and hydrate quickly.
There is already another hiker at the shelter named Lazerlegs. He is an older man from Lynchburg, VA and he likes to tell corny jokes. I find a tent site and get started on dinner. By the time I turn in for the night Straydog has also arrived as well as a sobo and Stats, who is done slackpacking and is now back to backpacking for the rest of his hike. I don’t stay up too late. The days are shortening quickly – sunset arrives about 2 minutes earlier every day now. Pretty soon I’m in my tent, getting some shuteye on the Appalachian Trail.