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

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