Day 109: fractured edition

I woke up to the sound of heavy rain around 6:30. My thoughts went to Tater and Norsemen as the occasional roll of thunder sounded. I tried to consider this unplanned hotel stay as a welcome respite from a morning spent packing up a wet tent and trudging down a muddy trail, but the comfort of such thoughts had a very short shelf life. I flicked off the window A/C and began getting dressed, threading my left arm through my shirt and tugging it in place with care. Cotton stirred as I moved around the room. I felt guilty for waking her, but I also felt antsy about getting to breakfast so we could make it to the hospital for what I imagined to be an infernal emergency room wait. I packed my gear knowing that I stood in a hotel room while a shadow reel of making the same motions from my tent deep in the woods played through my mind.

By the time we were ready to leave, the rain had slowed to a drizzle. The windshield wipers thwacked slowly from side to side as we rode down the gray street towards the Looney Moose Cafe. I felt dismayed by the number of cars in the parking lot this early on a Friday morning, but we were met with several open tables as we entered the wood paneled restaurant filled with kitchsy signs such as “I don’t repeat gossip, so listen carefully.” Cotton and I took a table against the left wall and browsed our menus. Someone had gone to great lengths to detail a wildlife profile for the infamous (and fantastical) “looney moose” on the backside of the menu, which gave us a laugh as we made conversation from our respective dazes. Cotton is not a morning person, and I felt overwhelmed by the purpose of the day (so overwhelmed that I didn’t take any pictures of the cafe to share with you). I glanced out the window every so often and caught sight of the nearby woods, which made me wonder where Tater and Norsemen might be in that moment. Did they camp by the river? Had they waited out the rain or were they soaked?

My order, which had sounded reasonable on paper, turned out to be a gut-busting blueberry pancake the size of a frisbee, 4 triangles of french toast, a hefty serving of scrambled eggs and a side of potatoes. I stress ate my way through nearly the entire heap while Cotton worked on her modest plate of eggs, and we smirked to each other about the cadence of the locals behind us. Cotton stubbornly paid for our bill at the counter after a handful of construction workers picked up their breakfasts. Then we sat in the car while I forced myself to call my health insurance to verify that I had coverage at the hospital in Farmington. When the friendly rep learned of my location and injury, he shared stories of canoeing in Rangeley, a town I had just passed through a couple of days ago. After about 20 minutes of filtering through the paltry list of emergency health services in the area, we concluded that my original choice, Franklin Memorial Hospital, was the best (and closest) option.

Off we went down the two lane highways of Maine listening to one of KD Lang’s country albums (who knew she had more to offer than Constant Cravings?). My cell signal immediately dropped off, and I felt grateful for my decision to call my insurance company from the parking lot of the Looney Moose. Things you learn after hundreds of miles of strategizing phone service in the wilds of New England. During the silent stretches of our drive, I vacillated between optimism and devastation. I searched for yet another glimmer of silver lining by taking in the passing countryside of Maine that I would not have encountered had I continued on my northbound path. After about 50 minutes of driving, we came to the medium sized town of Farmington, ME:

I felt hopeful when I saw the sparsely populated hospital parking lot, as if somehow getting this over quickly would make the news more likely to be positive? Oh wishful thinking, how irrational you are. I grabbed my daypack out of the trunk and added my water bottle to the supply of snacks that I’d brought in the event that we were there through the lunch hour. The man working the admissions desk noted my New York license, and he shared his Long Island lineage with me. As we wandered back to the small waiting area, I laughed to myself about having met a New Yorker in central Maine. There were about a dozen chairs lining the walls of the waiting room and a television set blaring a cartoon that neither of the other two inhabitants seemed to be watching. I set my bag down and immediately located the remote to silence the nonsense. Then I thumbed through a country living magazine, periodically glancing at the young woman listing over the arms of her wheelchair. After about 10 minutes of waiting, a nurse called my name and led me down a corridor past a nurses’ station and into a three-sided exam room with a curtain “door.” She did the usual information gathering and left me to change into a hospital gown. Those things are awkward enough as is, but with one working arm, it was nearly impossible to secure the parachute-sized sack at my waist.

The doctor arrived in a reasonable amount of time and wheeled his stool over to the edge of the exam table. I recounted the story of my fall as he gingerly inspected my arm, noting the effusion (a fancy word for the unsightly amount of fluid collecting in both the area of impact and my tricep) and the scrape. Then he made the obvious proclamation that I would need an x-ray and left me to be ushered by a technician to the x-ray department. Throughout the moments I had to myself, I wandered through different outcomes in my head, attempting to forecast how it might feel to hear one over another.

My stomach started to roil as I waited for the doctor to return with the results of the films. I heard a knock on the door jam. The doctor pushed aside the privacy curtain and walked in holding an iPad. He sat down on the stool, looked me in the eye, and said, “Where do you live?” And with that, I knew. That’s a question you ask someone with a broken elbow who needs further medical attention. I said as much out loud, and he confirmed my suspicions by scooting forward and showing me the films (top picture) that clearly showed a fracture line running through the head of my ulnar bone and about a quarter of an inch into my elbow joint. Because of the joint involvement, he urged me to see an orthopedic surgeon to determine if more specialized treatment would be in order. For the time being, he fit me in a splint and supplied me with a supremely uncomfortable sling. I shared my desire to walk the remaining AT miles necessary to bring my total to 1,000. He said, “Sure, go ahead and hike 10 miles. You can do it this afternoon if you like; it’s not your leg that’s broken. Just don’t fall.

With the doctor’s blessing in my pocket and my arm hanging across my chest, I walked out to meet Cotton in the waiting room. Her eyes went wide when she saw my sling, and she gave me a sympathetic look. I couldn’t quite believe that I was standing in a hospital with a half-cast on my arm when I had been sweating my way up a mountain yesterday morning.

We left the ER and went downtown to a mediocre american restaurant where we ate tacos and formulated a plan for the rest of the day. We decided to drive to Caratunk, ME, and hike the relatively flat miles on either side of the Kennebec River while using the Caratunk House hiker bed and breakfast as a home base.

As we made our way through a small town on the highway between Farmington and Caratunk, we passed an ice cream stand that caught both our eyes. Cotton asked if she should turn around, and I said, “I’m always up for ice cream.” She took a quick left, and we headed back down the road for some food therapy. The picnic table in the parking area faced a river, which seemed like yet another good reason to stop. A woman from the house next door walked across the gravel parking lot and remarked on my cast. I think I said something about how we’d stopped to eat our pain because I’d just broken my elbow, but I can’t quite remember if that happened in my head or out loud. She made her way into the little hut and served us ice cream.

We sat at the picnic table and ate in silence. We had been there less than a minute when a man in his late fifties took a seat on the opposite side of the picnic table. He gave a warm greeting and began asking questions. Cotton and I gave each other a side eye “crap, what have we gotten into now” look as the man informed us that he had no short term memory and proceeded to ask me the same questions over and over. So much for our peaceful ice cream stop by the river. I gave in to the prospect of unwanted company and did my best to answer his questions about the trail while Cotton and I quickly ate our ice cream. After a solid 15 minutes, he finally bowed out of the conversation, leaving us with our empty containers and taxed patience.

We continued northeast to the Caratunk House and into what would be a complete cell phone dead zone. Not exactly ideal conditions under which to research and contact orthopedic surgeons in NYC or keep worried family members informed of my condition. The bed & breakfast was run by two older gay men who had impeccably decorated the rooms with antiques, many of which were direct or oblique references to gay culture. I’m sad I didn’t spend more time wandering around taking pictures of the place. We were shown to our private double room upstairs and then left to ourselves. I attempted to get a wifi signal downstairs where I looked up a few surgeon names and finally forced myself to make a couple of phone calls to doctors’ offices from the land line. I had procrastinated just long enough to receive automated messages telling me the offices were all closed for the week. I chastised myself for not being more proactive because now I would have to wait until Monday morning to get an appointment settled.

There were two other hikers there when we arrived, and it became immediately apparent that I had no interest in socializing with them. My injury put me in the strange position of being a gruesome representation of what could happen to them and completely out of touch with the conversations hikers usually have, which often revolve around the basic premise of “what’s next.” I also had no desire to participate in conversations that revolved around the environment that I had been so abruptly ejected from. Cotton and I kept to ourselves, choosing to eat camp dinners at the outdoor picnic table while the other hikers were driven to a nearby restaurant. I used dinner as a testing ground for the plan that I’d started formulating to hike the southern part of the trail one handed. Cooking turned out to be a relatively easy task to carry out with only one working arm.

After dinner, we confirmed our plans with the owners to get a morning shuttle ride back from the parking lot 6 miles north of the Caratunk House. Then we took a walk down to the Kennebec River about a third of a mile from the B&B. We stood by the river, deep in our own heads, occasionally plunking rocks into the water as the evening wore into dusk.

I continued to feel guilty about having railroaded our hiking agenda for the weekend, but Cotton seemed satisfied enough to help me carry out my crazy plan to make it to 1,000 miles. I paid extra care on the return walk to avoid tripping on roots in the dim forest light. When we got back, we went about our separate phone zombie and bedtime routines. Texting proved to be easier said than done with the cranky wifi that only worked downstairs, if at all. I emailed my parents to warn them about my phone service. Neither sets of parents have the same phone carrier thus making it impossible to use wifi for texting. I crawled into bed with Cotton and set up a pillow for my now-bent arm to rest on throughout the night. The positioning of the splint made it supremely uncomfortable to sleep in any way other than flat on my back. I lay in the dark feeling dejected and exhausted by the recovery ahead of me. What is this parallel reality I’ve been thrust into?

Tomorrow: one more hike to complete.

Miles: 0

Total miles: 990.1

Creature feature: just the two-legged variety today…

Day 108: cracked edition

I woke up around 5:15 and languished until 5:30 when my stomach decided it was time to get up. I crept past Norsemen’s hammock and wandered down the logging road to find a private spot for the morning’s duties (doodies? forgive me, you know I had to make the joke). I heard Norsemen stir as I made my way back under his guy line and lowered my food bag from its hanging perch. Given the soggy state of my shoes from last night’s unintended stream fording, I ate breakfast in my tent so I could delay the experience of wet feet a little longer. I switched into hiking clothes and began the breakdown of my sleeping gear as I heard Norsemen emerge from his hammock. I was packed up and ready to head out a little before 7, but I felt like procrastinating, so I sat around with Norsemen while he prepared a large bowl of cereal with powdered milk. Tater eventually emerged from her tent and went on a bathroom walkabout. I intended to wait for her to say my goodbyes, but I felt antsy before she reappeared. I passed my goodbye to her through Norsemen, and started the day’s hike.

The trail began as a narrow passage through soggy, overgrown ground cover with spider webs criss-crossing my path at such a rate that I gave up on clearing them from my face. I paused occasionally to take in the small water cascades in the stream off to my right. After about 20 minutes of walking, the trail edged to the left and the sound of the stream faded behind me. I started checking the mileage to the next shelter in the hopes of holding out for a privy, but it soon became apparent that I couldn’t manage another two hours of walking before needing another pit stop. I scrambled up a small bank and found a recessed spot of ground behind a tree to convene with nature for a few minutes. I really hope this doesn’t become a habit because it’s stressful to figure out where to go when I know there are people hiking behind me who could catch up at any moment. I felt good about my choice to risk such an encounter because I felt significantly more comfortable hiking without a physical deadline looming over the next four miles.

The trail continued to wind through a beautiful, quiet hardwood forest with thick ferns and other volunteer plants blanketing the forest floor. The diffuse canopy let in an abundance of morning light. The air was very still and humid, and I felt almost as if I was walking in Virginia, but there weren’t quite enough mosquitoes. As spiderwebs crackled against my cheeks, I ran through fantasies of the impending visit from Cotton, hoping for good weather across the big mountains we have on our agenda. My tailbone is feeling a little wonky today after the spill I took on the way down Saddleback Junior. I tried not to fixate on it as I worked my way through the woods.

I came to an even mossier section of bog boards that led me across small streams and eventually to a larger rushing stream. 

Whatever boards used to span the water have since been washed away. About 5 feet to the right stood a few rock hopping options, but they were dark as an oil slick and covered in moss. After yesterday’s mishap, I felt gun shy about stepping on wet rocks, not that the rock I stepped on yesterday was even remotely wet. I didn’t feel like fording the stream, so I used my poles for stabilization and took comically slow steps across the mossy rocks. I felt ridiculous given the fact that most people probably fly across this stream without a second thought…or so my brain tells me when I feel like I’m falling short somehow. Short of what is something that remains to be seen.

The trail crested an overgrown woods road and continued past yet another stream. Then came the gradual climb up Lone Mountain. Sweat ran down the bridge of my nose and hung from my chin, jiggling as I walked. My steps dislodging each bead, making way for a new droplet to form. A steady stream of teenage girls passed me as I moved through the humid air toward the summit. My presence startled a few of them because they were engrossed in their footing. They all wished me happy trails even though they seemed profoundly unhappy. Maybe they’re tired? I made it to the wooded summit where there was a sign and a rock seat that someone had fashioned out of two small boulders. I dropped my pack, pulled out a snack, and proceeded to Internet for about 15 minutes while I had a decent signal. The fall from yesterday has sadly buggered my tailbone a bit. Sitting is more painful than it has been in awhile. I also had to set my pack a little higher on y back so that it wouldn’t press against the upper ridge of my sacrum. I hope that hiking will work its magic (as it has before) and my tailbone will recover soon enough.

I donned my pack, curling my nose at the soggy shoulder straps, and continued onward toward Spaulding Mountain. The trail was relatively flat between the two peaks, and I was surrounded by what appeared to be decaying ferns of a lighter green than usual.

 I walked along at my typical pace, stepping around the occasional root or rock, daydreaming about visiting a music friend in California over Labor Day weekend. I stopped every now and then to inspect a flower or attempt to take a picture of the forest that looked like something besides a flat wall of green. 

I periodically checked the mileage between me and the Crockers, attempting to predict when I might reach them so I could decide the evening’s destination. A moderately sized rock sat at the right edge of the trail ahead of me. As I planted my right foot to step around the rock, I lost my balance and pitched forward. My body twisted in such a way that I landed face down over top of my left arm with the full weight of my body spread across the impact points of my shoulder and my elbow. I felt a distinct cracking sensation as my elbow came down directly on a rock and exploded in stomach churning pain. I rolled onto my left shoulder and struggled to sit up amongst the tangle of legs and hiking poles. I unclipped my pack, which had gone askew in the force of the fall. I tossed my poles off to the side of the trail and sat there taking stock of my injuries. I flexed my left hand into a fist and felt a sickeningly familiar feeling of something gone terribly wrong. There was a strange pressure that felt reminiscent of the time I broke my wrist as a child.

I hadn’t just heard my arm break, right? That doesn’t really happen, does it? That CAN’T be what just happened. As these thoughts ran through my head, I scooched to the edge of the trail and pulled out a snack because it seemed like the thing to do after such a shocking fall. I ate a fig square, drank some water, and gingerly flexed my left arm, which I immediately ceased as it felt like someone was taking a knife to my elbow. As the pain transitioned from vomit-worthy to just this side of bearable, I decided I should probably get moving. I stood up and immediately got dizzy, so I sat back down for a few more minutes. After drinking a bit more water, I stood up again. This time, I managed to put my pack on by threading my left arm through the strap first and then my right arm. As I stood there, still feeling unsteady, I heard hikers approaching. I looked southward to find an older gentleman I didn’t know followed by Tater and Norsemen. I gave a half hearted grunt to the older fellow. Tater gave me a wide smile and asked how I was doing, to which I replied, “not that great. I just took a really bad fall.” I showed them my elbow, which at that point seemed unremarkable with a slight goose egg forming just below the tip and a small scrape that had opened an existing scab in the same spot. They responded to the panic in my voice by suggesting that we all walk a few more minutes to the Spaulding mountain lean-to and take a break together. I gratefully agreed to their offer for company and walked behind them towards the shelter holding both of my poles in my right arm.


The older gentleman that had passed us sat in the shelter with his stuff spread around him. I dropped my pack, taking care not to jostle my left arm, and sat down to process what was happening. Norsemen and the man whose name I didn’t care to know got into a pissing contest about the difficulty of east coast versus west coast mountains. I internally rolled my eyes and began looking up the symptoms of a broken elbow on my phone. 

A succinct list came up that included nearly everything I was experiencing in the moment. Pain and tenderness: check. Swelling: check. Trouble moving arm: check. Inability to touch fingertips to shoulder: check. Weakness or numbness in your elbow, arm, or hand: check. My heart grew heavier as I made my way through various medical websites. I asked Tater and Norsemen if they thought I would know if I’d broken it, as if they would somehow have more authority on the subject than me. They seemed certain that I would have more bruising and the pain would be more intolerable. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that the pain had been at the highest end of what I could stand; I just have a really good poker face. The other hiker saw that I was using my phone and asked me if I had service. I responded with an absent-minded yes. He then asked me what the weather was supposed to be like as he held his own phone in his hand. I curtly replied, “I don’t know, I have other priorities at the moment,” which was code for “F off and check it yourself you lazy jackass.” My tone sufficiently shut down any further bids for attention from him.

I put on my wool shirt, pain shooting through my left arm as I tried to tug the hem down around my waist, and I wandered down the side trail to fill my water bag. Normally, I stabilize the filter with my right hand and squeeze the bag with my left, but there was no chance of that happening, so I reversed hands and awkwardly managed to filter the bag. Then began the conversation of what to do about medical attention. The nearest exit point was a logging road about 5 miles away. That road appeared to be about 4-6 more miles of walking out to route 27 where I could get a hitch into Stratton. Another option would be to head towards the Sugarloaf ski resort and hope to find emergency services there during the off season. We all decided that sugarloaf seemed like too much of a long shot and involved climbing up into nowhere if it turned out to be deserted. I dithered about whether to go to a doctor or just continue hiking past the logging road. I asked tater and norsemen what they would do, and they both gave noncommittal answers that amounted to “we are stubborn folk and would probably keep going.” I can relate. I decided to use the 5 miles to the logging road as a test run to see if the pain would abate. In the meantime, I texted Cotton to warn her that I may have seriously botched our hiking plans for the weekend. She offered to drive up anyway and take a zero day with me if that’s what I decided to do.

Tater and Norsemen empathized my difficult decision and offered to walk with me down the mountain so that I would have company for the one armed trek. I said yes without hesitation, and we collected ourselves to continue northward. I collapsed my left hiking pole and tucked it into the side pocket of my bag. Then I thread my left arm through the shoulder strap again, and winced as I used it to pull my hip belt around to the front of my waist. After getting that buckled, I reached up to buckle my chest strap and realized that there was no way I could get my left arm to bend enough to make that happen. This was the first sign of increased swelling because I had been able to buckle the strap right after the fall. I sheepishly asked Tater to help me with the buckle, and then we left without saying goodbye to the other hiker who had been dithering for the last 20 minutes about whether it was going to rain this afternoon.

As it turns out, Tater, Norsemen, and I have nearly identical paces, at least on warm, humid days. I kept up with them pretty well on all but the flattest stretches as we made our way over Spaulding mountain, which was thankfully a very mild climb relative to the rest of Maine. Every so often, the muscles in my left arm would involuntarily engage, sending a breath-catching stab of pain through my elbow. As the hours passed, my arm began to feel stiffer and more swollen. I periodically took a picture of it to see how it changed in appearance. When I was able to forget about the pain and all that it might portend, I had a wonderful time hiking with Tater and Norsemen. They’re hilarious and easy to be around. We stopped for a late lunch off the side of the trail in a soft bed of leaves and pine needles. At that point, I had come to terms with the fact that I needed to get my arm x-rayed. The pain had not changed in any way and the swelling continued to worsen. I texted Cotton to confirm my need to take the weekend off, and she said that already had plans to drive up for the night because our intended meeting time in the morning required her to make the 5 hour drive from VT a day ahead of time. She had reservations for the night in Caratunk, but as we continued to talk, she agreed to cancel her hotel to stay with me in Stratton. I made a couple of phone calls and found a room at the White Wolf Inn in Stratton. The woman required that I give my credit card information on the phone to reserve the room, which meant I had to say my full name in earshot of Tater and Norsemen. They made wide eyes at me as I gave my name and when I got off the phone, they said in jokingly shocked, hushed tones, “now we know YOUR REAL NAME.” Depending on when you meet fellow hikers, you can go an entire relationship without every knowing their legal names. We joked about breaking through the fifth wall or some such nonsense, and then they gave me their real names in a show of solidarity.

After lunch, we continued to make our way down the mountain, laughing our way through dozens of Monty Python references and general nonsense. I’m not proud of this thought process, but I’ll share it anyway: I noticed that I hadn’t tripped a single time since my fall, meanwhile Norsemen scuffled and botched his steps often. He had claimed earlier in the day that he can barely hike without his poles because he’s so apt to fall. I felt resentful that my misstep had resulted in such a shit show while he managed to stumble around unscathed. Not my most generous moment in life.


We came to this break in the trees and stood in silence for a few minutes. I looked out at the mountains doing my best not to cry, wondering if this would be the last day of my hike. The trail eventually opened up to even more views of the surrounding mountains as the footing devolved into boulder scrambling. 

I had to strategize about how to approach the trickier spots in such a way that meant I could lean on my right arm to lower myself down the large steps required to descend the hillside. We stopped to pick blueberries and take in the scenery. 

When I wasn’t feeling like a monster or laughing at the silliness of my company, I was doing everything I could to keep from falling apart. Instinct told me that my hike, as I knew it, was over. I tried not to get too far ahead of myself, but I felt like all the plans I’d made for the rest of Maine were quickly turning into dusty figurines sitting on an out-of-reach shelf.

As we neared the bottom of the mountain, I made a passing comment about being happy that we’d made that rock scramble in dry conditions. Less than two minutes later, it started to sprinkle. We all laughed at the timing of my comment. Thankfully the rain petered out as quickly as it started. When we came to the southern branch of the Carrabassett River, Tater and Norsemen surveyed the water for swimming options.


I checked my watch and felt both anxious to get to the logging road and wholly uninterested in making my departure from the trail. I decided to join them in a short dip in the water. I took my shirt and shoes off and sat at the edge of the river, not wanting to completely submerge myself should it make my chances of getting a hitch at the road even harder. Who wants to pick up a soggy hiker? I did, however, rinse the mud from my legs and douse my hair to make it more presentable. Then I spent a few minutes with my left arm soaking in the ice cold river water. It had been such a wonderful afternoon hiking with Tater and Norsemen, and I couldn’t believe that the same day I had finally found a rhythm with them would be the same day  I would have to say goodbye with no hopes of catching up to them.

After delaying the inevitable as long as I felt comfortable, I bid farewell to Tater and Norsemen, thanking them again for keeping me company all afternoon. Then I made the somewhat tricky crossing over the river and emerged a few minutes later onto Caribou Valley Rd.

I took a right onto the road, looking longingly at the northbound trail that dipped back into the woods:

I allowed myself to well up with tears as I began the trek to Route 27. The road was lined with wildflowers and tall grass. After about 5 minutes of walking, I rounded a bend to find a gate with several cars parked on the other side of it. One of the cars was a white shuttle van in which sat an older gentleman in a fluorescent orange shirt. In a vague attempt to yogi* a ride to the road, I asked the man if he knew the distance of the logging road. He rattled off “3 or 4 miles,” and asked if I planned to walk it. I told him that I had hurt my elbow and needed to get into town. Then he said in his thick Maine accent, “well, can you bend it?” I said, “No.” He said with incredulity and a hint of skepticism, “you can’t bend it??” I took a breath to avoid biting his head off and said, “No, I can’t.” He told me that he was waiting to pick up other hikers who are doing a day hike for the annual Appalachian Trail Conservacy conference. He introduced himself as a former thru hiker by the name of Mr. Bean (I’m almost certain that’s what he said, but he mumbled it a bit, so I apologize to the universe if I’ve gotten that wrong). He offered to give me a ride once he’d picked up his hikers. My stamina for small talk was completely tapped, and I had absolutely no desire to kill time trying to talk the welcoming but taxing Mr. Bean. I told him I would just start making my way down the road rather than wait an indeterminate amount of time for his hikers. He said, “Okay then. I’ll pick you up when I see you.” Before I could walk away, he suggested that we look at the map so he could show me where I might find medical care. By the time he’d pointed out the two distant towns that he guessed were my best options, a gaggle of hikers ranging in age from 50-70 approached the van. Mr. Bean announced my predicament to them as they circled the van and accepted their complimentary cans of Moxie (care of Mr. Bean). He proceeded to cajole me into accepting a can of my own, which I finally did so he would leave me be. One of the women hikers saw Mr. Bean make motions to toss the bag of ice he’d used to keep the moxie cool. She stopped him just in time and told him that I should use the ice for my arm. I thanked her for the idea as I settled into my seat amongst the other hikers. Then we bounced our way down the dirt road, pain ripping through my arm with every bump in the road. I instantly regretted my choice to accept the ride even though I knew it would save me at least two hours of walking.

When we got to route 27, Mr. Bean surveyed the hikers’ willingness to take the time to drive me the rest of the way to Stratton. They all agreed, thinking it preposterous that I might have to hitchhike from that point. So I lucked out yet again and was driven all the way to the White Horse Inn. As we sped down the highway, I marveled at the timing of the trail magic and felt amused that I had been picked up by a bunch of ATC hikers while simultaneously lambasting myself for the two seconds I can never get back in which I somehow should have managed to prevent myself from falling. The women next to me asked me questions about my hike, and I did my best to hold a conversation with them while my mind swirled.

When we got to the White Wolf Inn, Mr. Bean pulled my pack out of the car and set it against the side of the building. He bid me the best of luck and drove off with his charges. I stepped inside to a bustling restaurant on the first floor of the inn with a harried older woman who appeared to be waiting on the entire restaurant alone. She gave me the keys to my room, and I wandered outside in a daze to the second floor. The backside of the inn looked out onto this little stream, which made me both incredibly happy to not be looking at a paved road and incredibly sad to be reminded of the woods I had just left for who knows how long.

I lay on the hotel bed texting with Cotton about her dinner plans and getting much needed support from another friend. It seemed wise to eat dinner, given the mileage I had hiked and the hour (verging on 6). I went downstairs to the restaurant and took a seat at a booth near the bar. The woman running the place rushed over with a menu and a glass of water. Then she rushed back 10 minutes later and apologized for having forgotten about me. I placed an order for a burger and fries, because F today, and she scurried away to continue serving other patrons. Two obvious thru hikers at the bar approached me on their way out the door. One of them said, “are you a hiker?” (we like to check in with our people in public spaces), to which I replied “yes, but I’ve just hurt my elbow, and I got off the trail today to get it x-rayed.” The other hiker asked me if it was swollen because she couldn’t tell through my shirt, so I gently rolled up my sleeve and showed them my elbow. They both gasped and took a step backward, which I took as a terrible sign (I hadn’t looked at my arm since I’d gotten to the inn). They wished me luck and expressed their sympathy as they went back to their room.

I ate my dinner in a dazed silence and then ordered Cotton a burger to go for her late arrival. I also ordered a piece of peanut butter pie because F today. The server brought the pie in a takeout container and said in a conspiratorial tone that there had been an awkward small piece left over in addition to the piece I’d ordered that just happened to end up in the container. I thanked her, closed out my bill leaving a generous tip, and asked her for a bag of ice to take to my room. I then proceeded to cry, mope, and talk on the phone with my music friend who I’d been texting throughout the day with updates about the status of misery. Cotton arrived around 9 and immediately went into support mode when I floated the idea of driving to Farmington in the morning to the nearest hospital. She didn’t flinch at the prospect of a two hour round trip with an unpredictable amount of time in a hospital rather than the hiking we had planned for the day. We caught up on other life events while she ate her cold hamburger and the rest of the peanut butter pie. I managed to undress myself (I had embarrassing visions of requiring help with that process before Cotton arrived) and took a shower to prepare myself for re-entry into the land of deodorant wearing, bathed people. Here’s my elbow by the end of the day: 

 Then I arranged a pillow fort for my arm and went to bed wondering what in the world I had managed to do with one slip of the foot.

Mile 1982.9 to mile 1993.3 (10.4)

Total miles 990.1

Creature feature: Your guess is as good as mine.

*yogi is a term that references yogi bear and can be defined as indirectly implying a need/desire in such a way that someone offers to make it happen for you. Example: thru hiker says “do you know how far it is to the nearest grocery store?” muggle says “its X miles. I’m going that way, would you like a ride?” 

Day 106: zero edition 

**In an effort to get the remainder of the Maine posts published, I’m going to gloss over the zero day I took in Rangeley**

As previously mentioned, I got in bed on the late side. Not long after I plugged in my phone and settled in to the sound of snoring, I heard footsteps coming up the stairwell. I assumed it was a hiker heading to the one bathroom in the building, but as the footsteps got closer, I heard a sloppy male voice muttering about which bed might be his. Then I felt a searching hand pat my feet. I said, “dude” with a clear “get the F off of me” tone of voice, and the slurring human apologized profusely and muttered something about going to sleep somewhere else. I felt confused and aggravated, but satisfied that the roaming hiker wouldn’t return. The voice sounded like it belonged to the odd gentleman I’d met the day before who I felt deserved a wide berth.

It became clear during breakfast that the events of the night had caused quite a stir in the bunkhouse. Somehow the story got back to the owners of the farmhouse, who were not happy in the least. I passed it off as the mistake of a drunk hiker who relented with little urging from me. When he saw me in the morning, he apologized to the point of awkwardness. As I rummaged about in the packroom a little while later, I overheard one of the managers discussing his strategy to ask the hiker to move on (a sugarcoated way of saying he planned to kick him out of the inn). One of the front desk staff came through the bunkhouse taking roll and checking the number of people booked for the hostel against the number of available beds. As it turns out, the inn had overbooked the building and the bed had indeed belonged to the muttering hiker, hence the missing towel upon my arrival. I hadn’t seen any other belongings, so both the staff member and I had assumed the towel indicated a stocking oversight. The inn apologized to the hiker and assigned him to a proper bed for the next night so that he could take his planned zero day. The true source of the mistake did not prevent the hiker from continuing to apologize to me every time we crossed paths throughout the day. So awkward.

The remainder of the day passed unremarkably. I managed to get some blogging done. I worked out a plan for Cotton to join me for a long weekend beginning Friday morning with the Bigelows and ending Monday with the Kennebec ferry crossing into Caratunk. I’m excited to have her company again.

I went into town in the middle of the day because the weather was far better than anticipated, which made me cranky at having lost another day of decent hiking even though I had far more internet/phone work than I could get through in one day. I ran into tater and norseman at the diner style bagel shop in town. They had spent a good chunk of the morning working on the house puzzle, which they finished save the missing piece.

We parted ways after their success, and I bought a few postcards from a clothing store down the street. Then I sat by the waterfront writing letters and eating doritos while being stalked by a belligerent seagull. I dropped the postcards in the box outside the post office, and made my way to the ice cream shop that serves as a pickup location for the hostel. Predictably, I couldn’t resist getting some ice cream while I waited, which of course made me feel happy and moderately sick to my stomach.

I spent the rest of the afternoon editing posts, organizing my food, and making phone calls to work out logistics for the hundred mile wilderness. I managed to plan out the rest of Maine, estimating a katahdin summit on August 24th. I happened to look up during my planning fugue to notice the sky changing colors. I quickly put on my shoes and ran up the side of the road to the scenic overlook about a half mile away from the inn. The change in pace made my lungs burn as I jogged up the hill. I got there just as the sun dropped below the ridge line of the mountains west of Rangeley Lake (top picture for today). I stuck around for a few minutes ogling a high strung but friendly pitbull and then headed back to the hostel to finish prepping for tomorrow. I spent the late hours of the evening on the phone while the rest of the hikers goofed off around the fire pit. Tomorrow’s adventure: the Saddleback range.

Total miles: 0

Creature feature: that cute dog at the overlook and the sound of loons on the lake.

Day 107: saddleback edition

My watch alarm went off at 5am. It felt like I’d only been asleep for like two hours, but I wanted to catch the 630 shuttle, so I had to get up. I heard the trill of loons as I lay in the dark trying to find the will to get out of bed. I went downstairs and ate yogurt with banana and the cinnamon raisin bagel that I bought yesterday in town, which I toasted it and put butter on one half and peanut butter on the other half. I can never seem to eat a bagel just one way. An older gentleman named Super Mario skulked about while bangles and I ate breakfast at the table. Super Mario has a bushy gray handlebar mustache and wears thick red suspenders that are likely the source of his trailname, but I didn’t actually ask the question.

After eating, I went back upstairs to collect the odds and ends that I’d removed from my pack. It’s disconcerting to be so far from my bag; I feel like I’m going to forget things. I put my phone on to charge and took my stuff to the packroom to get ready. When I stepped outside, I was met with air far cooler than I’d expected. I’m worried I don’t have enough warm clothing, but I’m going to see if I can continue to manage without another mid layer. I sadly stuffed my puffy into the compactor bag with the other things I need to keep dry. Then I put in my very full food bag over top of which I put my tent. My center of gravity feels better when my food goes towards the middle of the bag. It was 6:15 by the time everything was in place, dashing my hopes of getting one more blog post prepped and published. I started loading pictures and editing anyway because I have to figure out a way to chip away at the backlog. It helps when I dictate throughout the day and when I write in complete sentences at night, but both of those practices are difficult to execute when the hiking has been as challenging as it has of late.

No one was ready for the shuttle on time. Everyone rushed and threw things in their bags willy nilly or they were rushing for last minute bathroom trips. We didn’t leave until 645. I crawled into the way back seat, which was a mistake because it made me car sick. As we piled into the car, I asked the shuttle driver, whose name I regretfully didn’t get, if he could drop me off at the hiker hut .3 miles from the trail on his way back to the farmhouse. He agreed. I hopefully have a postcard waiting for me from someone who mailed it before I changed my plans to stay at the farmhouse instead. The hiker hut is an off the grid hostel right off the trail at which I had been excited to stay, but I needed power for electronics. When we got to the trailhead, all the other hikers piled out of the car, and I switched into the front seat for my two minute detour.

The grounds of the hiker hut are incredible. Clusters of gardens surround a small wooden structure. There seem to be other small cabins scattered about (think tiny home size). The shuttle driver offered to stick around to take me back to the trail, which I gratefully accepted. The caretaker came over at the sound of the truck. Her face brightened when I said I might have a postcard waiting for me. She walked to the main building and sifted through a small batch of mail, pulling out my postcard with a smile. I thanked her and hurried back to the truck wishing I could wander around taking pictures but knowing that cutting the road walk out of my day was probably more important.

When we got back to the trailhead, Tater and Norseman were still in the parking lot. Tater had been one of the people shoving stuff in her bag to leave on time, so she was reorganizing before starting out. I gave them a quick hi/bye and crossed the road to head north. The trail was easy going for quite awhile with periodic sections of difficult roots.

My pack felt incredibly heavy today and my legs did not have much in the way of gas. My feet also felt hot and my socks seemed to be rubbing. I decided to stop and put body glide on my feet, which I had been too lazy to do at the hostel. That seemed to help the friction issue without having to resort to KT tape, which I haven’t used in weeks.

The trail went from traditional footing to scaling rock faces nearly 2 miles south of saddleback’s summit. I couldn’t fathom having to walk straight up for two miles with my energy levels so low, but I didn’t really have a choice, so I kept putting one foot in front of the other. As the trail skirted the edge of another pond, I heard the loud laughter and frivolity of a teen group.

I hoped they were headed southbound. Sadly, they weren’t. I came up behind the rowdy bunch, which turned out to be about 8 teenage girls. Their trailing leader heard me approach and announced “hiker behind,” which made everyone pull over to the side to let me pass. I was grateful that I didn’t have to figure out how to go around them because they were going pretty slowly up the hill, but I felt so self conscious about having to walk past them having no clue how badly I might smell. I’d passed a few southbound hikers already this morning and they were…ripe. I craned my ears for any under the breath remarks about how gross I was as I powered up the hill to put some distance between us. No tittering that I could gather, but who knows.

The trail steepened to the point of rebar in a few places. About halfway to the treeline, I took a snack break to rest my legs and hopefully put some energy into my body.

Food seemed to help a bit, but my ability to scamper up the rock faces was severely hindered by tired legs and a heavy bag. My momentum kept stalling out, and I nearly fell backwards a few times.

When I finally reached treeline, the boulders became broader and steeper. The wind chilled me to the point of having to put on my wool layer nearly immediately after leaving the woods. As I climbed, I took in the sweeping views around me and thanked the skies for being dry and relatively clear.

I turned my hat backwards to keep it from flying over the mountainside and trudged over the rock slabs, stopping frequently to take pictures.

The walk to the summit felt endless. The cairns snaked their way up the mountain with no sign of the top. I tried to focus on breathing and taking in the plants and the views, but I also felt impatient to be done climbing in the wind.

When I finally reached the summit, I stopped just long enough to eat a snack because it was too cold to sit exposed to the wind. There was a rocky windbreak similar to those on moosilauke, but a group of teenagers occupied it with no signs of imminent departure. A day hiker from the southern tip of Maine tried to talk to me, but it felt like I had to yell over the wind, which is not a conversation for which I have stamina. As I put on another layer in preparation to leave, Tater and Norseman approached the summit. I asked Norseman if I could take his picture because his beard looked so at home on top of a rugged mountain. He happily consented and then posed with his flag for good measure. Not sure what the story is, but I will let you know if I find out.

I said goodbye to them and kept moving. I was too cold to stand around any longer, and I honestly can’t tell if they enjoy my company. Better to keep interactions to small doses until I can figure out how to be more comfortable around them. Saddleback is followed by another 4K peak named the Horn. Here’s one of the views between the peaks and a video of the surrounding mountains.

The terrain involved more bouldering, some unexpected rock hopping through muddy flats, and more Achilles’ tendon aggravating slab walking. I made it to the horn’s summit around 1145. Prime lunch time, but it was out of the question to eat on the summit because of the wind. Instead, I walked about a third of a mile down the mountain and sat in the sun on a boulder face with this view of saddleback junior and friends.

It felt good to be in the sun minus my sad ears. They are both feeling inflamed again. I put sunscreen on earlier in the morning, but it might be too late. They itch and burn like crazy. But my lunch spot was perfect, and I felt good about packing out a large bag of kettle chips. I don’t know where they’re going to go when I hang my food bag later, but I’m happy to have something salty to eat.

Tater and Norseman arrived as I posted pictures to social media and considered getting moving again. Tater is still having a lot of aches and pains. She gingerly lowered herself down to the rock and began stretching and spraying biofreeze on her knees and ankles. Norseman filtered water and we commiserated with each other about the rock faces and how they aggravate various parts of our lower legs. I’ve been doing ankle circles in the morning and evenings, which has helped with hiker hobble for sure, but the angles of the terrain are still having an impact.

I decided to keep moving rather than wait for them. Again because I felt kind of like a third wheel. They’ve been hiking together for quite awhile now. Anyway, I made my way down the steep descent from the horn and walked the wooded ridge to saddleback junior.

The climb up to the summit of saddleback junior was similarly full of boulder slabs, but it was much shorter than the other two climbs.

The summit sign had a skull resting on it for whatever reason, which made me imagine saddleback junior as the rebellious little brother of saddleback. Excuse me while I spend too much time alone and anthropomorphize the mountains.

I walked past the sign and took another short break in the sun just low enough from the summit to be out of the wind. I happened to notice a squashed blueberry on the path, which made me realize I was surrounded by blueberry bushes. There weren’t many ripe ones here, versus bemis, which was littered with edible blueberries, but I managed to collect a handful.

As I sat, I lamented my water situation. I had mistakenly blown past the tentsite where I should have gotten more water. Now I had a little over another mile to go before I would get to the next shelter and the accompanying water source. I could tell I was dehydrated by my continued low energy, and I was starting to get a headache. As I groused to myself, I heard male hikers laughing on the summit. I wasn’t in the mood to engage (I promise, sometimes I actually AM in the mood to talk to people), so I cut my break short and continued down the mountain.

The descent became steep almost immediately. I carefully picked my way down the jumble of boulders. As I placed my right foot on the slanted surface of a rock, my foot lost its purchase and I went tumbling onto my right elbow/forearm and right butt cheek. I landed hard enough to make me shaky, and the pain in my butt was sharp enough to make me nauseated. Normally when I fall, I pause for a second and immediately resume hiking. This time, I took my pack off and leaned against the offending boulder to collect myself. My right arm felt a little strange, which made me paranoid that I’d broken something. I gave it a minute and moved it around to test for pain. Nothing hurt, so I concluded that I’d just knocked the crap out of myself. A red welt had already formed on my rear, so I’m sure that will turn into a substantial bruise. I also worried about my tailbone because of how hard I fell. There was a shot of referred pain from my glute to my tailbone as I resumed walking, but it was short lived. There’s a saying among NOBOs “no pain, no Maine.” I think that applies on a micro level to just the state of Maine. I’ve fallen at least once every day, and the one day I didn’t fall, I got stung by bee, which hasn’t happened to me in literally 25 years. I think Maine is trying to kill me.

The fall made me shaky and paranoid about falling again for most of the descent. I managed to stay upright, but lost my footing a few more times. The trail finally eased into a flatter, more gradual descent until I reached the shelter. A gaggle of French teenagers sat around talking while I wordlessly put my bag down and filtered water from the stream 10 yards in front of the shelter. I made sure to drink a lot and filtered more so that I could try to catch up with my dehydration. I had intended to eat another snack at the shelter, but I had no desire to be around that many pairs of eyes, so I walked up the trail a few hundred yards, found a good rock to sit on and took my break there. Then I made my way up a gradual ascent to poplar ridge, which was a mediocre viewpoint for the surrounding mountains.

From there, the afternoon became somewhat of a blur. The trip down from poplar ridge was steep at times with the ever present slab walking and rock walls that had to be navigated. The trail eventually changed over to roots and rock piles. There has definitely been a lot of trail work done in this section because there were new stepping stones in a lot of the flat sections:

I took a final break near a small viewpoint and then pushed onward for the last drop into orbeton stream. The stream is apparently a tricky rockhop at best, which I hadn’t been aware of until tater mentioned it on one of our breaks today.

When I got to the edge of the water, I surveyed the potential paths I could take. My strategy seemed promising, but the fourth rock that I stepped on wobbled in such a way that both of my feet slipped right over the sides and into the shin deep water. My left shin grazed the rock on the way down, giving me yet another bruise for the day. I stood there in disbelief and then, rather than bother with rocks, I simply walked through the water to the other side of the stream. I stood on the bank with water pouring out of my shoes and said “thanks, Maine” in a sarcastic voice. Then I said, with forced amusement, “I just washed my shoes” trying to use moss’s perspective from his fording in VT.

I rounded the corner for the last .1 mile to the stealth spot I had picked out for the night and came face to face with an absurdly steep rocky climb. I stood there gaping at the climb and laughed while I said “you’ve got to fucking kidding me.” I couldn’t believe it. But I had to go up it, so I stumbled and heaved my way up the hill and onto a logging road.

I crossed the stream, which had an unexpectedly good view of the mountain I’d just come down and found the stealth spot listed in guthook. I went to work setting up camp while attempting to send a few texts with my frenetic and anemic signal. I finally had to give up on texting because it took over 5 minutes for them to send and the process was murdering my phone battery. I threw a bear line and put my pack in my tent to deal with setting up my bed later. Tater and Norseman showed up right as I sat down to boil water for dinner. They set up camp while I tried my best not to eat all of my snacks at once.

We all sat at the stream together and went about our dinner routines. Norseman slow cooked beans and rice and didn’t start eating until after tater and I were long done. Tater ate a buttload of mashed potatoes (no surprise there) and laughed at herself for once again getting them on her person, which is how she earned her trail name. I ate one of my favorite Mary Jane meals (bare burrito) and continued feeling snacky. I don’t know if I needed to eat more or if it’s just hormones or thirst, but I felt like I could have eaten a second dinner. As we sat by the water, a trio of young, crusty southbounders arrived with two very cute dogs, one of whom came over to me and leaned against me as I pet it. They didn’t stick around, which was fine with me, but I wanted to steal their dogs.
I left Norseman and tater by the water to take care of the annoying period task of emptying/washing my cup. That monthly scourge began yesterday, which was convenient timing for the hostel, but it means a few days of hassle for now. I walked down the logging road a stretch and ducked off into the woods out of sight. When I returned, I managed to get my cinderblock of food in the air.

Then I retired retired to my tent to settle in for the night. My butt cheek is markedly sore and tingles when I lay on it, and my arm is achy, but it could have been much worse. I’m finishing this to the sound of the brook cascading down the hillside and the very occasional squeak from Tater’s sleeping pad. I’m happy to not be camped here alone even if the company did set off my social anxiety a bit.

Mile 1969.4 to mile 1982.9 (13.5)

Total miles: 979.7

Creature feature: the occasional red squirrel, a new little bird that reminds me of a warbler but with a more bulbous midsection, and a single garter snake

Day 105: collision course edition

I woke up around 530 feeling sluggish. It was hard to get out of bed after yesterday’s marathon. The air felt brisk as I grabbed my trowel and toilet paper and hung out with the ferns for a bit. I retrieved my food bag from its mediocre hang and ate breakfast in my tent. There’s only about a tablespoon of peanut butter left in my jar. I was packed and ready to roll by 7. As I walked towards the stream, I had the feeling of never actually stopping last night because of such a late arrival and setting out before the handful of other hikers tented in the area.

The stream required a somewhat tricky rock hop wherein the toe box on my right shoe got doused. Once I reached the far bank, I forced myself to stop and filter more water since I didn’t have full bottles. I’ve gotten so picky about how much water I feel like carrying, and it’s affecting how much I drink.
The trail then crossed over several strange rock beds and went through hardwoods on a gradual incline. My stomach didn’t feel good, so I made a second trip to convene with nature when I found an out of the way spot while crossing a woods road. Sometimes I wonder why I include these details. You probably do too, but it’s all part of the experience, so in it stays.

After my pitstop, the trail climbed toward route 17. I couldn’t shake the sluggish feeling as I picked my way over roots and awkwardly spaced boulders. The woods eventually opened up to a grassy hillside and stone steps where I found this cooler and a Tupperware with pretzels and KitKats and A BANANA.

I’m low on lunch food and feeling worn down, so the surprise supplies were a huge pick me up. I grabbed two kitkats, a sizable handful of pretzel sticks and the banana. I signed the log with a gracious thank you and made my way up to the road where I sat on a bench to eat my banana and take in the view from today’s top picture.

After twenty minutes of dawdling, I crossed the road and slogged through a short climb onto a mostly flat section with small rolling hills. As I walked along zoning out, a buzzing creature pelted my face. My cheek erupted in blazing pain as I swatted at what I assumed was a bee. I brushed it away and proceeded to curse to the trees in disbelief. I haven’t been stung by a bee in about 20 years. Thanks, Maine. Way to turn a pleasant stretch of trail into a punch in the face. I held one of my water bottles up against the sting and kept walking because what else was there to do.

The rest of the morning passed without note. The trail wound through hardwoods past several ponds. Sodden coils of birch bark lay strewn on the forest floor like rumpled table runners. The footing vacillated between densely packed roots and short stretches of mud with little change in elevation save a few brief, rocky hills such as this:

A strong breeze rustled the trees making it sound as if I was surrounded by a distant waterfall. I saw a smattering of southbound hikers, but I didn’t put effort into talking to anyone.

I heard the waves crashing against the shore of Long pond well before I could see the water. I walked through a break in the brush and stood on the beach admiring the deep blue of the lake. Sadly the wind made it too cold to stick around for long. I continued on towards sabbath day pond lean to (as the shelters are called in Maine for whatever reason). A handful of older folks sat near the spur trail to the shelter. Their gear was nowhere to be seen, which made me wonder if they were camped at the pond for the day or perhaps getting a late start. Once again, I had little desire to engage, so I merely replied hello to one of the women who greeted me and kept moving. I walked to the sound of water lapping against roots as the trail skirted the pond for a little while. I looked up right as a loon landed in the middle of the pond and proceeded to make short, yipping interjections to a couple of other loons already in the water. The cool air reminded me of early October mornings in prospect park with my dog.

There was a long, gradual climb away from Sabbath pond. My legs protested at first, telling me they were tired from yesterday, but they soon settled in and did what I asked of them. A breeze flowed through treetops, periodically dipping low enough for me to feel the air rustle my hair. I walked along listening to fiddle tunes and appreciating the mild weather. At one point, I looked up to find a young grouse on a bog board about 10 yards in front of me. It twittered quietly and crossed into the moss next to the path. Here’s a mediocre picture that I managed to get once the surprise of seeing the bird wore off:

I stood watching it meander away, unperturbed by my presence. Then I noticed a second grouse a little to my left. I watched them wander off into the brush, periodically nipping at the ground.

The trail was dotted with annoying muddy sections that gave to roots and more roots. Around 2p, I came to a stream where I forced myself to fill up on water. My energy level continued to wane, so I extended the break long enough to eat the other kitkat in my hip pocket, hoping the sugar might do more than give me a headache.

About a half mile later, the trail began to climb. I came to what I assumed was the best place to make a phone call before I lost elevation again. To my surprise, the woman at the hostel was able to hear me as I asked about a pick-up from the trailhead. I was also surprised that she had no record of the reservation my mom had made for me, but there were thankfully enough rooms to accommodate my request.

The last mile and a half to the road are a rushed blur. I was worried about missing my ride or making them wait too long, so I kicked into “speed” hiking gear wherever the trail would allow. I stoppped long enough to admire this view and continued down the neverending descent:

I could hear the road way far below me and felt dismayed by how much elevation I still had to drop. The trail eventually flattened out and led me to a final stream crossing just before the gravel parking lot. As I hopped onto the opposite bank of the stream, a sinewy fellow in his early fifties wearing street clothes walked towards me. He looked more like he had plans to crack open a beer than hike. As I got closer to him, he said “are you my shuttle?” to which I replied, “I guess so!” He greeted me with a fist bump and announced his name to be Mississippi. I threw my pack into the back of his truck and piled into the front seat thinking once again that this is an example of the “odd and trusting place” my friend described the AT to be. As we headed towards the Farmhouse Inn, Mississippi regaled me with tales of his own thru hike, all the while weaving over every line on his side of the road. The radio station played a mixture of static and classic rock, which he turned up at one point, thus forcing himself to yell over crackling hiss of poor reception. I have a hard time with competing noises and was close to asking him to turn it down when he did it of his own accord. After a very long 10 minutes in the car, we pulled up to a beautiful estate house with expansive grounds with a newly constructed events barn, a smaller carriage house, and a pigpen that I never did make it around to visiting.
Mississippi kindly rejected my offer to pay him a tip and showed me to the reception desk. Muggle guests arrived at the same time I did, and the clerk on duty tended to them first. Grubby hiker hierarchy at play once again. I sat on the bench and watched Mississippi wander in and out of the main house as I drank the Gatorade he had goaded me into accepting. The clerk eventually came back and showed me to the pack room, which stood on the opposite side of the building as the hiker hostel. I understand why owners are wary of hiker packs, but it’s really inconvenient to be separated from what amounts to my home. I can’t count the number of times I had to travel between the bunkhouse and the pack room, checklist be damned. When the clerk showed me to the beds upstairs, she noted that one of the available beds had a towel missing. I happened to choose that bed for the night because it was tucked against the wall, which felt mildly more private. Little did I know the towel was missing for a reason, but I’ll save that story for tomorrow’s post. I settled in as best I could and took a much needed shower. A chatty SOBO camped out on his bed watching videos on his phone kept talking to me as I tried to organize the notes for today’s post. I finally had to leave the room in order to concentrate. On my way out, I met a few of the other hikers, one of whom sounded as if he was slurring his words and was in the process of making a gigantic chicken patty sandwich in the microwave. I gave him a wide berth and camped out on the bench outside the pack room. The weather for tomorrow is somewhat questionable and the terrain involves an exposed traverse of Saddleback, the Horn, and Saddleback Junior. It seems early for a zero, but I’m tempted to wait out the weather and get some much needed logistics and blog work out of the way. I took the shuttle ride to the grocery store rather than into town because I felt too overwhelmed by the idea of getting stuck in town until 730. Instead, I bought a bag of salad, avocado, and a package of sausage for dinner and a bag of chips to round out my current snacks. I ate dinner with a woman named Bangles, whom I met many weeks ago, but didn’t recognize. When she heard my name, she realized that she knew me. We traced ourselves back to Wawayanda shelter in NJ, and played catch-up on the people we know in common. Tater and Norsemen arrived sometime in the late evening, but I didn’t spend any time socializing with them because I had my head in my phone until I crawled into bed well past midnight… or what I thought was my bed…

Mile 1955.3 to mile 1969.4 (14.1)

Total miles: 966.2

Creature feature: the grouse and a handful of frogs

**Forgive the slow meting out of posts. It continues to be really difficult to look through hiking pictures before my fall, but I promise I’ll catch up with myself soon.**

Day 104: late arrival edition 

I tossed and turned all night and woke up around 545 feeling groggy. The temperatures were perfect for sleeping, and I hiked a good distance, so I’m not sure why I felt so restless. I left my sleeping bag as quietly as I could while everyone slept. I peered inside each of my shoes to check for spiders because I had left them in the dark gap between the lip of the shelter and the actual floor of the shelter. It’s a design that seems specific to the older structures on the trail to prevent porcupines from getting into the shelter. The end result looks like a snake pit if you ask me. I made the annoyingly long trek to the privy that was oddly off the trail rather than behind or adjacent to the shelter where they usually are. I took my shorts with me so I wouldn’t have to do a super man sleeping bag change in a shelter full of dude bros. 

Everyone still slept soundly when I returned. I wasn’t about to wait for them to eat breakfast, so I pulled my food bag out of my pack hanging under the eaves of the shelter. It’s the first time I haven’t hung my food outside the shelter, and everything survived. I quietly unwrapped my probar and covered it in a conservative amount of peanut butter. I’m dangerously low considering I have to eek out lunch and breakfast servings. Action Jackson eventually sat up and began to fix his breakfast. I sat at the edge of the sleeping platform and brushed my teeth and put my contacts in without moving because everything was within arms reach. Then I packed up my sleeping gear and put bodyglide on my feet. The others had finally started to rustle around by the time I was packed and ready to go at 7am. 

The trail started with a mile and a half descent to sawyers notch. The sky had been sunny when I woke up, but clouds hung overhead as I walked away from the shelter. The forest was bright green and saturated from last night’s storms, and a light mist hung in the air. As I descended to the forest floor, it started to drizzle. I steeled myself for another soggy morning, but the rain petered out pretty quickly and never got heavy enough to warrant a rain jacket. The extra moisture added to the feeling of walking through a rainforest, which continues to feel confusing relative to what I imagine New England climate to be. 

The trail down to sawyers notch consisted of a lot of man made stone steps and the occasional jumble of roots and rocks. I made decent time down to the notch where an unofficial campsite exists. Someone had hung a line about 5 feet off the ground and what appeared to be 10 red food bags hung from the line. In keeping with what I’ve found so far, people do not seem concerned about bears or proper bear hangs in Maine. A woman tenting at the baldpate shelter had tied her food bag to a stump about 4 feet in the air. Why not just leave it in your tent at that point? 

I walked past the tent site and carefully rock hopped across sawyer brook. The trail took a sharp right and immediately started up moody mountain. The climb was so steep at certain points that I could have eaten my knees for second breakfast.

 I tried to focus on using big muscles and not thrusting my head foreword while I inched my way up the mountain. There were short stretches of flat relief towards the top and then back to climbing nearly straight up. I stopped at this view to have a snack and use my phone given the higher elevation (anything below about a thousand feet is almost guaranteed to be no service zone):

It took about 15 minutes of phone zombie time for wolfie and his friend to catch up to me at the view. Action Jackson strolled through about 3 minutes behind them. I put on my pack and left them all to gawk at the mountains we haven’t gotten to see because of the whiteout conditions. The trip down moody was milder than I expected, consisting primarily of good footing. I stopped at a stream for water and had to work hard not to eat another snack. 
A strong breeze blew all morning, continuing to make it feel like fall with cooler than expected temperatures. I hiked in my wool shirt on and off all day. The walk between the bottom of Moody and sawyer arm road was picture perfect middle of the woods walking. I came upon a brand new privy that went with a tent site that wasn’t on my map. I decided to use it given the guys hiking behind me and the high likelihood that they would catch up with me in mid squat. Sure enough, as I came out of the privy (that had tp!), I saw Action Jackson slow down to read the sign near the privy’s side trail. We both remarked on the beautiful weather and terrain, and then he took the lead. Around the bend from the privy, I came to a steam crossing that involved a tricky long hop from a smaller rock to a large but uneven boulder. It was just far enough that I had to Hail Mary it and hope that I didn’t end up crashing into the water, which I managed to avoid.

 On the other side of the stream, the trail crossed south arm road where Action Jackson had plopped down to eat a snack. I wasn’t ready to take another break, so I kept going after I dumped my trash in a bin chained to a tree. The climb up old blue mountain was just as steep as the ascent up moody. As I made my way up one particularly rocky bit, I saw a raspberry laying on a rock.

 I picked it up and ate it (obviously). I looked around to find a bush dotted with petite raspberries. I picked several and ate them even though they weren’t quite ripe. 

I came to this viewpoint and decided to take another break to rest my legs and take in the sunny spot. Action Jackson caught up with me and checked out the view for a minute before moving on. I lingered, feeling tired and daunted by the 2.3 miles left to the summit. Thankfully some of that came in the form of flatter sections. Around 2700 feet, the forest became mossier and the trees were shorter. For the last third of a mile, the trail transitioned to the steep rock slabs I’ve become accustomed to climbing forever and ever. 
There was a bit of rebar here and there (top picture), but for the most part I just had to creep up the slabs or hug the roots along the edges. I ran into some day hikers heading south, one of whom assured me that this was the last climb for a good little stretch of the northbound AT. I kept my biting remarks about other people’s opinions to myself and pretended to be enthused by her “facts.” When she said I was near the top, I said I was also near lunch. An older gentleman in the party said I’d be better off just eating at that spot because of the wind. He turned out to be very correct. The wide open summit of old blue was a wind tunnel with shrub height trees that didn’t provide any cover. 

I sat my pack down for all of 10 seconds before deciding against eating on the summit. Instead, I went about a third of a mile down the mountain and sat on a rock nearly in the middle of the trail because I was starving and couldn’t be bothered to wait for a better spot. The wind had chilled me on the summit, so I put on my raincoat for an extra layer while I wasn’t moving. As I put together my lunch my hands started to go numb from cold, so I pulled out my hat and hand warmers. I felt absurd in winter gear, but I was still barely warm enough to sit still. I left my warm layers on as I headed down the mountain. I couldn’t pick up much speed because the descent was a little steep, so it took a good forty minutes to warm up enough to remove layers. A lot of today felt more like October than August. 

The descent mellowed out and then transitioned into quiet walking until I came to a section of poorly maintained bog boards. My left foot slipped on one of the boards, and I went down hard on the outer part of my left thigh. Thankfully, it wasn’t a particularly wet section, so I didn’t end up in mud as my legs slopped over the edge of the boards. I cursed to myself and whined about how the trail maintenance shouldn’t be the most dangerous part of my day. Then the trail took me through a pine section with a sparse canopy, which let in both sunlight and wind. The walking was easy minus the odd crop of boulders here and there. 

I eventually came to this viewpoint where a SOBO sat on the bench. I stopped with my pack on, not intending to take a break, but the SOBO offered to make room for me, so I took advantage of his hospitality. That’s when I noticed that the pack on the ground was actually attached to an adorable dog. 
I said hello to her and she proceeded to put her feet on my lap and lick my face. 

Her name is mountain goat and the SOBO is General Ben. He offered me some of his trail mix, which I happily took given my dire snack situation. I stuck around for about 10 minutes talking and ogling the cute dog until General Ben said it was time for them to move on. He knew the campsite I intended to get to tonight and made a passing remark about bemis being easy. I filed that into my “maybe true” category of information and tried not to get too attached to the idea. 

The first peak of bemis was indeed easy, but the ridge between the two peaks was root filled and annoying. I still had about five miles to go at 4p, which felt too far given my energy level, but I need to make the miles, so I can get to rangeley at a decent time tomorrow. As I stood off to the side of the trail sending a text, I looked up to find Tater, who is someone I follow on Instagram (hikinghepburn). She and her hiking partner, Norsemen, have been doing non-AT 4K peaks in the area and in doing so, got behind me. I gave a hearty hello and said that I wondered if we would run into each other. I made a joke about there being a few extra mountains around for them to climb. Tater complained about her legs feeling trashed and said they were both worse for the wear at the moment. I commiserated with their soreness and let them pass so I could finish writing. They will likely stop short at the shelter instead of going all the way to the campsite where they also intended to camp tonight. 
I griped and picked my way down the trail that had somehow devolved into an aggravating rocky mess with some incredibly steep sections. Here’s an example of one pesky spots (the perspective is strange, but I had to climb down this): 

I finally made it to the shelter around 5:30p. I didn’t stop because I was only using it as a benchmark for how much longer I needed to walk. 3.6 miles left at that hour is far from ideal, but it’s doable. The trail didn’t get any easier so my attempts at “fast” hiking were only mildly successful. The trail near the second peak of bemis mountain, as its known, snakes through and endless network of exposed boulders. I had to work hard not to stop to take a hundred pictures like this: 

I also had to avoid stopping every two feet to eat blueberries! Not to worry, I snacked on a fair share as I wound my way from one rock face to the next. I lamented the fact that I couldn’t stick around to watch sunset because of the incredible views of the surrounding mountains. 

Somewhere in the boulder maze, I heard an odd sound that I mistook for a person. I quickly turned my hat back around (I had it on backwards because of the wind) and mentally prepared myself for a short interaction. I came around the corner, but there was no one to be found. I heard the high pitched noise again and looked around to find what I am pretty sure is a grouse sitting on a tree limb twittering at me. I stared at it and said aloud “what are you doing up there?” It was a beautiful brown speckled color with a quail like shape. 

As I went into full-on rushing mode (aka hunger panic), a guy in his fifties passed me and tried to start a conversation about my hike. I brushed him off as politely as I could telling him I was in a hurry to get to camp. He knew of the tent sites by the stream and said that they were a great spot. What he should have said is that I would have to nearly stand on my head to get down the other side of bemis mountain. Dear god was it a steep and neverending descent. The slabs continued, then got steeper and then even steeper. Then came the rocks. The whole way down, I simultaneously cursed the mountain and thanked the weather because it would have been utterly miserable to do that descent on wet rocks. The grade was just too steep. 

I finally made it to the unofficial tenting area around 7:45. Far later than I had hoped because of the painstaking climb down from bemis. I quickly set up my tent, forced myself to throw a bear line and fetched water from the stream around the bend. Then I put on water for dinner. I didn’t have any cold food options to fall back on, so I had to go through my full dinner routine. I sat on a rock in the waning light and ate my black beans and rice meal. The moon shone through the trees over my tent. Today was exhausting, and I feel amazed at my body’s ability to just keep going. My feet were mincemeat by the end, but they’re holding up much better than they used to (knock on wood). I’m finishing this to the sound of what I assume are chipmunks hopping around in the woods and the soft hum of the stream a few hundred yards away. Not too long ago a car went down the dirt road that’s adjacent to the tenting area. It felt disconcerting to see headlights from my tent, but there are other hikers camped around me, so I have the necessary false sense of security to be able to sleep. 
Mile 1938.9 to mile 1955.3 (16.4)
Total miles: 952.1 
Creature feature: the grouse and a green snake that I mistakenly thought was a stick until it slithered away to a safe distance and stared at me from the brush. 

Day 103: foggy with a chance of boulders edition

I woke up around 5:15 and dosed until my alarm went off at 530. I nearly fell back asleep, but I’ve got 14 miles on the agenda, and there’s no telling how long it will take to cover the distance. It poured for a few hours last night, but it didn’t keep me awake the way it usually does. Thanks, mahoosuc notch, for exhausting me enough to sleep through the rain. I did a quick foot and calf massage and then headed to the privy with far less hiker hobble than I expected considering yesterday’s insanity. The sleeping youth group filled the shelter like little ducks in a row. On the way back to my tent, I went into the woods past a the tents of a few late arrivers to retrieve my food bag. Then I had a quiet breakfast in my tent while the rest of the world dozed. I had everything packed and ready to go around 645. I gave the youth group a wave on my way out as they geared up for what I imagine was a protracted breakfast cooking routine.

The morning started with yet another climb, this one towards west baldpate mountain. Someone has done a lot of trail maintenance because over half the ascent consisted of stone stairs. At the top of the mountain, I put on my wool layer and took a break to upload some pictures from yesterday’s craziness to social media. 

It was a foggy morning, which is sad because I imagine the views from this mountain are pretty incredible given the exposed slabs. After 15 minutes of being a phone zombie, I mustered the energy to keep walking. I passed a hiker who had cowboy camped* on top of the mountain last night after arriving at about one in the morning. Apparently, he sat down at Grafton Notch waiting out the rain until 11p and then climbed up in the dark. I don’t get it, but he seemed happy about his choice.

There was a short descent between the east and west baldpate peaks wherein I managed to fall on my right butt cheek because everything was wet. Then came a crazy climb up the east peak. I wondered if a mountain named baldpate would be exposed and the answer is YES. The last half mile to the peak was exposed rock slab that just. kept. going. up.

 The wind whipped the fog around as I traveled from one cairn to the next on a football field of rock slab (top picture is another example). I was grateful for the lack of rain, but the wind really spooked me, sending my fight or flight response into high gear. 

I tried to imagine how different I would feel if I was doing the same climb on a sunny day. That settled me marginally, but I would be lying if I said more thoughts of skipping Maine didn’t pop into my head. Over every rise came more exposed rock slab disappearing into the dense fog. 

I finally reached the wide ridge where there were the usual beautiful alpine plants to admire, including red moss and more red dotted lichen.

I tried to come down from the fright of climbing straight into the air on the side of a mountain. I also tried, with minimal success, not to preemptively freak out about the descent on the other side of the ridge. As I reached the point at which the trail started to go down, I saw a new bird that was ochre colored with a black mask and an orange beak and what might be yellow trim at the bottom of its tail feathers. It didn’t seem very frightened of me as it hung out on a perch about 20 yards away. I stared for a minute trying to memorize what it looked like and then continued down the slab.

As I hit the tree line, the trail devolved into a series of steep, slick rock faces. They weren’t as textured as they have been lately, so I immediately resorted to butt scooching until the rocks and the grade became more manageable. The video is of a particularly useless metal ladder that was more treacherous than sticking to the boulders. It took me about 2.5 hours to go a little over two miles, which felt depressingly slow. The trail eventually moderated to a series of ups and downs. I stopped at the frye notch shelter to get water right as it began to drizzle. I assumed I wouldn’t get out of today without rain because the humidity was out of control. The trail took a sharp uptick after the shelter that left me short of breath and very aware of how tired my legs are today. I also noticed that my lats and pec muscles are sore from all the full-body support I had to do to get through yesterday’s bouldering.

Once I got through the climb, the trail became so mild that I forgot I was in Maine. The rain picked up a notch, so I stopped and put on my raincoat because the temperature was only about 70 (if I had to guess). The forest consisted of dense undergrowth and hardwood trees. With the exception of occasional tricky rock hops and slippery tree roots, the next few miles were easy, albeit soggy walking. Around noon, I passed a good looking log that I momentarily considered using as a lunch spot even though I was dismayed by the meager number of miles I’d covered thus far. I stopped a few feet past the log, turned around and decided to just take advantage of the good seat while it was only sort of raining. I ate lunch and texted my mother to see if she could make a reservation for me at a hostel because I have no clue when I will have enough signal to make phone calls, and I can’t seem to get out of the scarcity mindset of things being booked. The trail continued to be mild for nearly the rest of the day, although I still managed to fall when my left foot hit an especially squishy spot in the mud, and I couldn’t stop my backwards momentum. I landed on my left butt cheek with a laugh. Leave it to me to fall in the simplest of places.

I made it to Dunn cascades sooner than I expected. I heard the falls from a distance, and as I rounded a corner, I saw the water rushing over a steep drop that took a sharp left turn to flow between two cliffs. The twist in the water was mesmerizing and difficult to capture on camera, but here’s my attempt: 

I watched it for a few minutes before heading up the short, but intense climb north of the falls. The trail took me through pines and past several more streams.


I stopped to stare at this trio of waterfalls and dictated some of the day’s notes watching a small black and white bird hop from branch to branch on a sapling. Today felt like fall with the low light and wet leaves on the ground. The trail then crossed a road and dropped down to a stream where I stopped to get water because it’s the last official stop until the shelter 5.7 miles away. I walked through more pines that transitioned into a muddy rooty mess reminiscent of Vermont. This section was in dire need of trail maintenance with disintegrating and/or unstable bog boards. Thankfully, it didn’t last long, and soon enough, I returned to more manageable footing.
The trip up Mount Wyman Was barely noticeable until the last two tenths of a mile when it abruptly changed to scaling rock slabs and climbing tree roots. It mellowed out almost as soon as it started. I took a short break at this spot and watched the fog roll through feeling sad that I couldn’t see farther into the distance.


At the top of the hill, I ran into a SOBO eating a snack. I laughed and told her I had been doing the same thing just down the way. The trail became narrower and overgrown as I got farther from the summit. The rain started again. I cursed myself for taking the extra break and not being at the shelter yet. I had to slow down for some gnarly roots and slick rocks, but I finally got to the water source just south of the shelter. It was a sad series of puddles with no apparent flow. Two guys came down from the shelter empty handed, which was confusing until I saw them pull beers out of the deepest part of the puddle. That didn’t bode well for getting stuck in the shelter with them. I filtered water that actually wasn’t bad looking. As I put my water away, it started to rain harder, so I raced the last tenth of a mile to the shelter and took the corner farthest away from beer brothers. I had been looking forward to sleeping in my tent, but the sites weren’t that great, and I didn’t feel like setting up in the rain. Instead, I boiled water and set up my macaroni and cheese to cook while I blew up my sleeping pad. A drenched hiker named Bambi Magnet showed up and ate in silence on the front ledge of the shelter. A downpour thundered on the tin roof, and I could hardly hear the beer brothers talking four feet away. They were actually really nice. Wolfie is a NOBO and his friend (name forgotten) came to visit him with beer and good food. Bambi magnet and I talked about his experiences between the PCT and the AT and about moderation. He moved on as the rain slowed because he wanted to get another mile down to a tentsite. I was sad to see him go because he was easy to talk to. Around 7, I went around the corner of the shelter to pee, and when I came back, Action Jackson had arrived. He took up a lot of space physically and interpersonally. I’m finishing this to the sound of rain drumming on the tin roof and Action Jackson discussing mileage and proposed finish dates with the beer brothers. Eavesdropping on their conversation helps me gauge when I might summit Katahdin without having to crunch the numbers. Speaking of which, I misjudged which road I need to use for Rangeley, so I have more miles to cover than I intended between now and monday. No rest for the incorrect.
Mile 1924.9 to mile 1938.9 (14 miles)
Total miles: 935.7
Creature feature: just the new bird I’ve already mentioned, which is possibly a cedar waxwing according to my bird app 
*cowboy camping = sleeping without a shelter of any sort, “under the stars” as they say. could be incredible and could result in a soggy alarm clock. I have yet to do this.