15.3 miles, 2063 overall, 121.2 remaining (Stealth camp, north side of East Branch Piscataquis River)
In the morning I expect Philly Steve to be gone. He typically gets out early. Today though he is taking his time. So does everyone else, although I am still the last NoBo out of camp. We are about 20 miles from town so several people want to make the push to get there. If I did that it would only mean another zero day on top of the 2 I already have planned for my last week. Instead I’ll stick to the plan and nero into town tomorrow, saving some money in the process.
The day begins with a climb over Moxie Bald. At 2600 feet it is not a behemoth but the climb is harder than I expect. It seems that way with every climb lately. It takes me about an hour to do the 2 miles to the summit where I am rewarded with a thick fog. If it were a clear day I’ve been told I could see Katahdin from here. As it is I’ll have to wait to get my first glimpse of “The Mountain.”
On the way down the rocks are slippery and I’m forced to take my time. At one point it starts to rain so I don my rain gear. It doesn’t last long though and I end up hiking with my poncho bunched up on top of my pack, ready to pull over my head if necessary.
After Moxie Bald the trail today is incredibly flat, hence the motivation to push into town. I pass the time trying to consciously look for moose as I’ve still not seen one. I listen to some music while I hike as well since there isn’t much else to keep me occupied.
Eventually I reach what I think is the west branch of the Piscataquis River which the data book tells me I will need to ford. As I examine it I see there is no way to rockhop across and I don’t see a great spot to sit and change into my Five Fingers. My socks are already a bit wet from yesterday and the rain earlier today, and tomorrow is a new sock day. It is also turning sunny so I figure maybe my shoes will dry a bit by evening. I decide to simply cross in my hiking shoes.
Shortly after I ford the stream I catch up to Stats and Lazerlegs. They are preparing to ford the actual west branch which turns out to be much larger. Apparently I forded a smaller stream. Still, with my feet already wet I don’t see any reason to change my approach. After a quick conversation with the others I start my first real ford of the hike. The water rises as I make my way across and in the middle it is knee deep, as advertised. It is just starting to get the bottom of my shorts wet when I pass the thalweg (stream lingo!) and it begins to get shallower. I make it across safely and deem this adventure a success. While Lazer, who forded at the same time, stops to change shoes I’m able to take off immediately.
The trail follows the river down to near the point where it connects with the east branch. Just before it deviates from the west branch there is a shelter so I stop for a late lunch. I find a sobo there and chat with him a little bit while I eat. Pretty soon Lazerlegs catches up though and dominates the conversation, as he tends to do. Stats arrives too and stops for a quick break. He plans to push into town tonight. He has two kids at home and is ready for his hike to be over. I’m not in as much of a hurry since my timetable is set in stone. I plan to stop and camp somewhere on the way to town tonight to set up tomorrow’s nero.
I leave just before Stats does and follow the trail around to the east branch of the Piscataquis where another ford is necessary. This time I change my shoes since I plan to camp somewhere close on the other side and so there wot bedtime for my socks to dry out as I hike. As I’m putting my shoes back on on the other side Stats arrives and does his ford. As he is putting his boots back on I start up the trail but I don’t get very far. Only feet away from the river is an excellent camping spot and I decide to stop for the night. Since Stats is pushing on I don’t know if I’ll get to see him again so we wish each other well. I’m sorry I didn’t get more time to get to know him since he seemed like a great guy, but that’s the way things go sometimes on the trail.
I set up my campsite and, since I’m alone, I decide to listen to some Sherlock Holmes while I cook and eat dinner. I spend some time sitting by the river where I can see some of the colors of the sunset just over the hill before I head to bed. As I’m getting settled in my tent I can swear I hear things moving around outside and at one point it sounds like a rock is thrown and lands near my tent. I figure it must be squirrels but, unable to verify my hypothesis, it leaves me just a bit unsettled as I fall asleep on the Appalachian Trail.