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.
Total miles: 990.1
Creature feature: just the two-legged variety today…