13.2 miles, 2145.6 overall, 38.6 remaining (Sandy beach, Nahmakanta Lake)
When I was hiking with the Noodleheads and the APE team they often mentioned that they were trying to suck the marrow out of Maine. After hiking big miles all the way up to New England they have recently been satisfied with 12 mile days, preferring to enjoy Maine as much as possible rather than race to the end. Today it is our turn to suck the marrow out of Maine. As I’m packing up this morning Stats talks more about his excitement for a burger. It sounds really good and, although I am still reluctant to hike an extra mile out of the way for a burger, he assures me that we are returned closer to the trail than where we are picked up. I decide to go with him and immediately set about convincing Sunroof and Yellowtail to do the same. They are non-commital. We decide that since the boat dock for White House Landing is 7 miles away (including the 0.9 mile side trail) that we will all meet there by 10 if we want to go. We will assume that anyone who isn’t there has continued hiking.
For those who aren’t familiar with the trail, White House Landing is a hostel/restaurant in the middle of the 100 mile wilderness. To get there hikers take a 0.9 mile side trail along a lake to a boat dock where there is an air horn. By blowing the air horn the hiker lets the proprietors know someone is there who wants to come across. They drive across in a boat, pick up the hiker, and bring them across to the property where they can get a meal and resupply or stay the night.
I leave the campsite first and take my time. It is 7:30 and I have plenty of time to get there with the trail continuing to be easy today. The worst part about the trail today is the bugs as I hike along swampy lakesides. I remind myself that I’ve hiked through worse and I have a flashback to the section in Massachusetts where the mosquitoes were so bad I had to use bug spray – the only time on this trip that I’ve used it. I hike up a small hill and find myself cursing at the trail for going over it rather than around it. When the entire day’s hike is flat it seems to make the uphills seem that much more annoying! When discussing this later with Stats he tells me he thinks of school as an analogy for the AT. As you hike, each state is like a grade level and each grade prepares you for the next grade. For instance as we hiked through Vermont the mountains there were preparing us for the Whites in New Hampshire. At this point we are seniors about to graduate. We have one final exam ahead of us (Katahdin) and it is the last week of school. The small hills we have to climb are so annoying because they are like pop quizzes during the last week of school – completely unnecessary but something we still have to get through to graduate. I like the analogy.
I reach the next shelter and, even though it has only been a few miles, since I’m ahead of everyone else I decide to take a break and sign the register. There are lots of tents at this shelter. I see a dome tent and immediately know that these are section hikers. I can’t think of any thru-hikers who I have seen with a dome tent since Georgia. There’s nobody in the shelter and I sit down for a snack and start flipping through the register. One of the section hikers comes over and strikes up a conversation with me. He’s a friendly guy and I learn that he has hiked all of the trail north of NY and south of VA. I inform him that he has gotten the best parts of the trail done first and has left the worst for last, which I’m sure he already knew. I ask about White House Landing as I’ve heard mixed reviews about it. I’ve heard that the owners aren’t the friendliest, to which he replies that he would call the guy who runs the place “particular.” It is not a ringing endorsement. Still, I figure if I’m friendly enough to him he may return in kind.
Not far from the shelter is a side trail to a lake with a view of Katahdin. The day is clear and when I reach the side trail I get an impressive view. It is still early and the lake is calm underneath a beautiful morning sky. When I turn to the left I see The Mountain and I am close enough now to make out the treeline. I get a quick rush of adrenaline realizing that I am only 40 miles and a couple days away from the base of the mountain that we’ve been trundling toward for almost 5 months.
Not long after I return to the trail Yellowtail and Sunroof catch me. They tell me they left the campsite after Stats so we figure he must be up ahead, having passed me at either the shelter or the side trail. We’re all fast hikers and, motivated by Stats and cheeseburgers being ahead of us, we cover the remaining trail quickly. Even the almost mile long side trail doesn’t seem to take long as we pass the time with some conversation. We arrive at the boat dock and find the air horn with instructions for how to use it, but Stats isn’t here. Either he fell behind somewhere or he’s already across the lake. We decide to wait 15 minutes before blowing the horn, but he never shows up. I give the horn a quick blast and then we wait on the dock. Several minutes later the boat comes shooting across the lake. We load up and not 5 minutes later we’re sitting at picnic tables on the other side of the lake.
The descriptions of the owner weren’t far off. Although he doesn’t come across as mean, he certainly isn’t friendly either. The best word I can come up with for him is efficient. He loads us in the boat quickly, informing us where to put our packs and where to sit. When we arrive he ties up the boat and is already off the dock as we’re stepping onto it. He shows us where we can sit and tells us it will be about 30 minutes before lunch is ready and then walks off. We’re left wondering whether we will be eating on the picnic table or inside, whether we’ll be able to do resupply as well, and most of all whether Stats has made it here.
While we wait we inevitably talk about food. I’m really happy when the conversation turns to donuts and Sunroof pulls up Brian Regan’s donut lady bit on his phone. We admire the view across the lake and are somewhat sad we aren’t staying here for the night. Pretty soon Sunroof thinks he hears the airhorn across the lake and, when the owner takes the boat across a few minutes later, we learn that Stats has arrived. It turns out Yellowtail and Sunroof passed him when he stopped at the shelter.
Lunch is served not long after he arrives. We’re told to put on camp shoes to come in and are directed to a large dining room with a kitchen/bar at one end where there are menus. A resupply cabinet tempts us on one side of the room while we order our lunch. We all opt for deluxe 1 pound cheeseburgers. They are cooked while we wait and pretty soon we have some juicy, incredibly delicious hunks of meat sitting in front of us. None of us have trouble packing away the entire burger and afterward I opt for a whoopie pie (a Maine specialty). Stats and Sunroof have both already eaten one while they were waiting for their burger and that turns out to be the better order of eating as by the end the infusion of sugar starts to make me feel uncomfortable.
White House Landing is a little bit controversial among hikers. On the plus side, since it is a hostel in the middle of the 100 mile wilderness it has an allure to people hiking through this section simply because of the availability of a bed and good food. The boat pickup is also pretty nifty and adds to the charm of the place. However a place in the middle of nowhere has pricing power and they use it. A can of soda runs $1.50 and the burgers cost $12. If you don’t stay the night they charge $2 for boat fuel. On top of that, if you pay with a credit card they charge an extra $7.50 to run it. They explain that this covers the fees they incur for the service but I’m incredibly skeptical it really costs them that much. The other negative of the place is the hospitality. While we were there we didn’t have any horrible experiences, but while we are paying the owners mention how busy it has been this year and that they’re ready for hiker season to be over already. This isn’t something to say to hikers, especially when the season has barely started and more hikers means more profit for you. We like to go places where we are wanted and where the owners enjoy what they are doing. Telling us that our patronage of your business is a burden is neither a “hiker-friendly” thing to do nor a good business strategy. By the time I leave I can understand why the place gets a bad reputation. Still, the owners mention they are trying to sell it and I hope that somebody is able to buy who will be able to repair that reputation.
We do get dropped off closer to the trail than where we were picked up. We all muse that walkie-talkies would work better and would allow hikers to signal from this closer dock rather than having to walk the 0.9 miles to blow the air horn. The cynic in me decides that the owner kept it this way to save on gas since the drop-off point closer to the trail is also a longer trip by boat.
Once we start hiking we quickly separate. Yellowtail and Sunroof hike the fastest and get out ahead while Stats falls behind me. I take my time, letting the sugar rush from the whoopie pie wear off and wondering why I didn’t learn my lesson from the cake on top of Mt Washington. This morning I had hoped to do some more big miles after lunch in order to make the next 2 days shorter, but it is becoming clear that I won’t be doing that today. The others are all talking about a lakeside campsite about 8 miles up and it is sounding really great to me now.
The trail winds along more lakes and continues to be flat. It will stay this way almost all the way to Katahdin. The map is littered with lakes that we will wind through and it promises to be quite scenic. I go up and over one last bump in the trail and then arrive at the sign for a “sand beach”. The beach isn’t quite sandy, it is more of a gravel, but it is actually preferable for me since the gravelly stuff is less likely to stick to my feet. The beach is long and I have to walk down a couple hundred feet to find Yellowtail and Sunroof in a clearing in the trees just yards from the lake. There is plenty of room for all four of us and I stake out an area for my tent. Stats arrives and since it is only 4:30 we all go swimming in the lake. Unlike Virginia where lakes are usually dark green with algae and it is impossible to see very far into the water, lakes in New England tend to be clear enough to see the bottom several feet down. It is much more refreshing and after taking a dip I actually feel a bit cleaner.
The night turns out to be perfect. The weather is cool but not cold and we find enough wood to make ourselves a campfire in the makeshift firepit that has been created at the edge of the woods. Dinners are cooked and Stats fries up some falafel that he has been carrying but doesn’t have the appetite for so that we can all share it. As the sun goes down we listen to the loons making their haunting calls on the lake. We stay up a little later than usual learning a dice game that Sunroof’s family plays. This morning Stats mentioned that although he is ready to be done and return home to his family, when he looked across the quiet campsite last night and saw our headlamps on in our tents it was the first time he had sensed that he would miss being out here. Tonight playing dice around the campfire with good friends I get the same feeling. It is the perfect ending to a pretty perfect day on the Appalachian Trail.