20 miles, 2165.6 overall, 18.6 remaining (Hurd Brook Lean-to)
As I wake up in the morning I can hear Stats packing up. We have two days left to cover the 33 miles left to the base of Katahdin so today needs to be a longer day. I’m hoping to go 23 miles to reach the Abol Bridge campground. This would give me the chance to get a shower, eat some food at the camp store, and buy a beer. I pack up and get out of camp as Yellowtail and Sunroof are just starting to pack up. For most of their hikes they have hiked together and rarely started hiking before 9:00. They have started leaving earlier the last few days as they’ve been hiking with me and Stats. Today they will probably start by 8:00. I leave before 7.
There is a shelter only a half mile away and I stop in briefly to look at the register. The hikers here are all southbounders and they are just starting to wake up when I arrive. I chat briefly with them while I sign the book and then move on.
A short time later I get to Nesuntabunt Mountain, one of 2 climbs today (both less than 1000 feet). At the top is a side trail to a view of Katahdin only 16 miles away as the crow flies. It is an incredible view but I have to settle for a memory of it rather than a picture. My phone and external battery are both out of power and so I have no camera until I can get to Abol campground and charge the phone.
On the way down the mountain I pass another pond. This one is called Crescent Pond and it has canoes on the shore. It is a small pond for canoeing and since I want to get some miles in today it isn’t very tempting. I pass them and only wish that I had a camera to snap a quick picture since the canoes on the shore of the pond are a classic scene. Just after I pass them I start looking for a place to stop for a snack. I haven’t gone too far today but I’m already hungry. I find a nice rock to sit on and pull out some crackers.
As I am reaching for my crackers I take in the scene. It is a beautiful morning on the pond and everything is quiet except for some waves hitting the shore to my left. It takes a second for my brain to register that I hear waves even though the pond is calm. I wonder if maybe there are some rocks or something that are exaggerating what tiny waves there are on the pond. Then, just as I realize what is going on, a moose stands up in the grassy shallows! It is a cow moose and she is huge, hardly 50 yards from me. I clear my throat a bit to let her know I’m here and she looks at me briefly before reaching down and grabbing some grass to chew on. She doesn’t seem to care much that I’m nearby. I watch for a few minutes, eating my crackers as she eats her breakfast of littoral (vocab!) pond plants. At one point she walks straight at me as she comes closer to shore and I begin to back away up the trail, but she turns and walks along the shoreline instead of following me. I return to my rock as she takes a moment to defecate in the water, then returns to eating from it. This is apparently a dirty moose. I think about the times I have used pond water on this trip and I’m glad I let the chemicals work a little longer before drinking it. Because my phone is dead I’m not able to get a picture of the moose either so after a few minutes I hike on, hoping that some of the others behind me will come by soon and notice the moose here so they can get a picture and send it to me later.
When I start hiking again I quickly reach a viewpoint of the Pollywog Gorge. I take the side trail without realizing it and when it dead-ends at the view it takes me a second to figure out what has happened. I am forced to backtrack, but when I return to the trail I can’t remember exactly which way I came. I feel like I had been hiking downhill so I continue downhill on the path to the right rather than uphill on the path to the left. 15 minutes later I realize this was the wrong way to go when I notice the canoes next to Crescent Pond again. After a bout of cursing I turn around and start going north again. This detour will set me back about 30 minutes. On my way back I figure the moose must have moved on since I didn’t notice it on my way back, but a few seconds later I see her just off the trail and realize that on my southbound trip I passed her without noticing. I’m not as excited to see her this time, but the incident makes me wonder how many other moose I’ve passed in Maine that I didn’t notice. I also wonder how far back the other hikers are since they don’t catch me during my detour.
Back on track, I soon reach a road with a bridge across Pollywog Stream. As I cross I see Stats ahead of me and wonder how he got there. Did I take another wrong turn? After toying with me for a second he tells me he walked here on the road from the first road crossing a few miles back. It cut out a few miles for him which he is happy about until I tell him that I saw a moose. Still, since he isn’t feeling well, it was probably the right strategy for him. Having already “blue-blazed” a few times earlier in his hike he doesn’t have a problem doing it again now, especially in the condition he is in.
A couple miles later we stop for lunch at a shelter. It is a scenic shelter with a large stream right in front of it. I still have hopes of making it to Abol campground but due to my wrong turn they are fading fast. A southbound hiker named Caboose arrives and pulls out his lunch. He thinks he is the last southbounder (hence the name) but we doubt it. While we eat we discuss the audacity of the squirrels in Maine and how likely they are to try to take your food. Stats and I both can’t believe it as, while we’re talking, Caboose pulls the corner off some of his bread and tosses it away on the ground. He explains that a mouse got to some of his food and so he ripped off the eaten part. We explain that what he just did is exactly why the squirrels are so audacious. We make him pick up the food and pack it out.
As I’m finishing up my lunch Yellowtail and Sunroof arrive. They’re only planning to get to the last shelter. This helps me make up my mind to stop short of Abol today. Instead I’ll hike 13 miles tomorrow – still a reasonable amount – and have second breakfast at the camp store.
The next 10 miles are tough for me to get through. They aren’t physically hard but without my phone to listen to music or audiobooks, with nobody to talk to as I hike, and with the end so near the miles drag. The trail follows the shoreline of Rainbow Lake and I pass a number of hikers going southbound. It is hard to tell at this point whether they are section hikers or southbounders since either way they are at most only a couple days into their hikes.
At last I reach Rainbow Ledges, the last uphill before Katahdin. It is small at only about 500 feet and I finish it quickly, but at the top is a gorgeous direct view of Katahdin only a few miles away. The treeline is clearly visible and the clouds passing by frame the summit perfectly. Being this close to the end is emotional and I take a minute to drink it in. Since the shelter is only 2 miles further I stop to wait for the others. I put my pack down and lay back against it. I think the others will be close behind but as I wait I become tired and wind up closing my eyes for a nap.
Eventually I hear someone coming but when I open my eyes and look I see Caveman, Captain and Willie. They are on a mission to get to Abol before it closes so they can have some beer. It is 5:00 and the store closes at 7. It is just about 6 miles from here to the store, mostly downhill, so they have a good shot at it. I wish them luck and they scamper off. It has been almost an hour since I stopped to wait for the others so I decide to move on to the shelter. I figure if I get there early enough it would be nice to have a fire again tonight.
I arrive at the shelter around 5:30. I pick out a spot and set up my tent, then go about gathering a bit of wood for the fire. Yellowtail arrives just as I’m lighting the tinder and Sunroof isn’t far behind. After a few minutes struggling with some damp wood I’m able to get the fire going on its own just as Stats arrives. Yellowtail uses the fire to boil her water so she takes over tending it while I start on my dinner. Stats, still not having much of an appetite, pokes around the site and tosses more stuff on the fire to pass the time. Once we’ve all eaten we play another game of dice before heading to bed. As we leave the shelter they remind me that tonight will be my last night in the woods on this trip. It seems fitting that it is a cool, dry night and I leave the rainfly off the tent so I can see some of the stars through the forest canopy. I am kept awake for a little while contemplating which pieces of my trip I will miss and which I’ll be glad to be over. I’ll be glad not to hike 20 miles every day anymore. I’ll miss the people I’ve met along the way. I won’t miss the stifling heat of summer or the soaking rains we’ve had, but I will miss cool nights in the shelter or around a campfire. I force myself to stop thinking about the last two days ahead of me so I can fall asleep on the Appalachian Trail.