2019-Day 91: Moxie bald & a hungry moose edition

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July 23, 2019 

It drizzled last night as I was going to sleep, but we didn’t get any other rainfall that I could tell. I had a choppy night with a fair amount of tossing and my hips were noticeably achy. I woke up at 4:53 and the robins started shortly thereafter. Oakland and I huddled in our sleeping bags and made a bathroom plan because neither of us wanted to use the actual privy because Fossey had described it as a spider cave. We decided that we’d walk up the snow mobile trail, and Oakland would go all the way to our food bags for her spot while I stopped off along the way to find my spot. 

Oakland was in charge of getting the food bags. Very sadly, the looped end of her rope got caught in the tree so she had to cut her line by about 10 feet. She also got two quarter sized mosquito bites on her hips during her morning duties. Talk about kicking you while you’re down. Stupid mosquitoes. It started to drizzle as I walked back from my bathroom spot. We packed most of our gear and did our usual breakfast in the tent routine. In my stupor, I kept forgetting to put things in or out of my food bag to a comical and frustrating extent. I did manage to remember to pack a kitkat as an extra snack in the event that we have to walk and eat in the rain. Fingers crossed it stops soon. 

I put on my calf sleeves for extra warmth in the damp morning air. My knees and hands were cold as we continued to work our way through breakdown. We prepped our feet in the tent and went out into the morass of mosquitoes. We put on deet immediately. Our tent neighbors still hadn’t emerged. The guys at the shelter started talking in full volume at about 5:45, which felt like a shitty move, but we’d already been up for almost an hour at that point. We took the tent down in the sprinkling rain and filtered water while bugs tried to bite my butt. In exasperation, I smeared a deet wipe (thanks HQ) onto the skin inside my pants rather than flashing the world by spraying it like I’d done on the trail yesterday evening. 

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The morning started with a short easy-ish section and then came the climb up Pleasant mountain. There were stone steps and roots and the occasional scramble.

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We walked past the two older guys from shelter last night as they took a break from the incessant hill. They called themselves Old Slashers (slow long ass section hikers), which was a new term for me. A little ways past their break spot, the trail took a sharp left turn instead of continuing to go straight up. The relief didn’t last long as we continued climbing and eventually reached the slabs across the summit.

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Neither of us had looked that closely at our elevation profile for the day, so it wasn’t until that moment that we realized we had a second mountain named Middle mountain between here and Moxie Bald. We joked about heading to middle earth as we also groaned about the addition to our agenda. We hiked down across the rollercoaster of slabs and into pines needles and rocks. I was tired and my feet were sloppy.

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We arrived at middle mountain sooner than expected. There were flat slabs across the top and then we headed back down into the pines. I didn’t take many notes, so I don’t know exactly where these pictures were in the process, but here’s some ambiguously middle mountain-ish pictures:

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We took our customary break at the two hour mark. We put on our rain jackets to stay warm and ate snacks while I texted with HQ about Oakland’s projected departure date. We heard voices in the distance and were soon met with a tall French couple. I asked them about the Baxter stream crossing (a rock hop for them), and they had a host of questions about zpacks. They have a triplex by zpacks and are having issues with the netting. It seems like the durability of zpacks varies widely, as does the customer service experience. The couple continued south and we put our raincoats away before hiking in and out of slabs with frosted greens on either side of us and pine needles littered with roots under our feet. We went through a Virginia-like section that was pleasant at times with a small section full of a series of 4-5ft scrambles, or “scoochortunities,” and a beaver pond with an array of dead trees. The pine forest around us felt like a moosortunity, but it sadly did not produce any moose (or meeses).

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We ate lunch on a rotting log at a stealth camping spot just past a set of power lines. We put on our raincoats, more for bug protection than warmth this time. My feet were holding steady, which felt good given the pounding they’d taken thus far. After lunch, we relished the short road walk along Troutdale Rd past Moxie pond. 

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The trail took a sharp left and we found ourselves at the edge of Bakers Stream. We surveyed the options and decided that it seemed possible to rock hop. I admired the light and the rocky views upstream before settling into the task ahead of me.

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I’ve grown to really hate stream crossings. I don’t know if I’m just not surefooted enough (weak ankles?) or if I have shitty luck or what, but they haven’t gone that well for me lately. That said, I successfully made it across Baker stream and waited for Oakland to do the same.

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A couple of very chatty section hikers were on the opposite shoreline. Between them and the fact that we would have to teeter back onto the rocks to collect water, we decided to keep hiking. We had an easy mile over leaves and through pines until we came to a rocky brook crossing. Then we had another easy mile to the next shelter. Well, the terrain was easy; the bugs were horrendous, especially when the trail edged us around a beaver bog. 

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Once we were well away from the standing water, we stopped to remove a layer to cool down and to apply more deet. We took pee breaks while we were stopped even though we both barely needed to relieve ourselves. We’ve continued to have trouble remembering to drink water.

We proceeded up the trail wafting a cloud of toxic chemicals that greatly improved our quality of life. A few minutes later, we came to a woods road and saw an older hiker sitting on large blue cooler. Trail magic! The hiker is doing the trail in two halves and heading south at the moment. He shared many unsolicited opinions, one of which was that the top of Katahdin was flat and therefore Easy. I scoffed at his equation of the two concepts, and said “give me your phone number and I’ll text you from the top to confirm how NOT EASY it is for me.” As we talked, we looked inside the cooler and found cold-ish root beers, snickers and reese’s Pb cups. Oakland and I split a root beer, which we consumed with my kit kat. I grabbed a snickers for the road because you can never have too many snickers. While we snacked, the SOBO stubbornly pulled out his phone to show us pictures from the plateau on Katahdin. I was almost convinced of his assessment until he nattered on about the hundred mile wilderness being flat without mentioning anything about the roots and mud that drive MANY people out of their minds. I went back to my initial assessment of his opinions as useless, and we resumed our mission to leave his company asap. As we made not so subtle movements to keep hiking, another SOBO came barreling through. Oakland loudly called out, “hey, don’t miss the trail magic!” He looked up in a daze, and was grateful for the information.  

The trail up to moxie bald started as a mild climb with long stretches of exposed rock face scattered with pine needles and dappled sunlight. I joked that it was like a super highway because it felt like we were on a sidewalk.

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We crossed the occasional root system and other nonsense, but the trail remained tame until we reached the intersection with a bad weather bypass. A blue paint can sat on the ground near the turn-off. I guess trail maintainers forgot it or maybe intend to return soon.

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We took a right to stay on the AT because it had turned into a beautiful day. The next 0.4 miles took over 40 minutes because the trail devolved into a narrow path littered with roots and rocks. We were back to Maine mountain pace, which for us is about a mile an hour. Here are some cool boulder formations we passed through before the trail got gnarly.

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About halfway through the mess, we passed an opening in the trees and walked out onto exposed slabs to see a view where I took some pictures just in case the view from the top didn’t capture the horizon.

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We finally made it to a series of rock slabs that were pitched pretty steeply, but easy to walk up because of scratchiness of rock. 

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We made our way over the slabs to the Moxie bald sign so Oakland could take a picture with it because the head of her school is from Maine and Moxie is a big Maine thing. Then Oakland looked for tadpoles in a small puddle but only found tiny worms.

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We took a snack break and laid down on the rock face in the sun, which was a mistake because it made me SO sleepy even though it was surprisingly uncomfortable and scratchy. I took a few more pictures as we followed rock cairns across the summit.

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We went through a mucky, bog board sections where Oakland got her first sighting of chest deep mud (I stuck my pole in it for added effect). Thankfully both of us managed to stay upright (I’ve heard stories of people losing their balance and landing in waist deep mud).

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The trail took us across a series of slabs and through reasonable wooded sections. We saw more of the tiny hot pink laurel and wild blueberries with various shades of greens and light blues. Then came more nonsense in the form of roots and steep drop-offs that required scooching.

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The bugs intensified as we dropped in elevation. We finally put on our new head nets, and it was magical. I hadn’t realized how much I’d been steeling myself against the threat of kamikaze bugs flying into my eyes and ears. The nets made visibility a little darker, and it was definitely more humid around my face, but the overall impact was low. We passed a shirtless SOBO who looked as muscle bound as Rambo and had a large wooden walking stick. I judged him silently and exchanged perfunctory hellos as we passed.

The trail eventually eased up on grading and footing. We could see water through the trees, which meant we were getting close to our evening destination. My left knee got cranky as we descended over the now leaf-covered trail. We crossed small, low flowing stream with a substantial board crossing that seemed laughable given the wide bodies of water we’d crossed with no infrastructure whatsoever. We took a right turn towards the shelter and my heart sank at the sound of teenagers. As we approached the shelter, we found the source of the sound sitting in a row along the shelter roof.

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They were clearly startled by our arrival. Two other campers approached us who turned out to be counselors for the youth group even though they looked barely older than their charges. The counselors told us there was a moose in the pond and then barraged us with questions about how they should handle the situation. Oakland and I were both appalled that the counselors didn’t seem to have had any training for this scenario even though they’d been sent into the backwoods of Maine. Neither of us was any more equipped with factual knowledge, but my general strategy with large wildlife is to keep my distance and ignore them unless they’re actively coming towards me. The counselors had already tried to scare the moose away, and the moose had clearly given none of the shits because she stood in shin deep water crunching away on grass.

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The four of us walked over to the water to get a closer look at the moose. On our way there, we passed all of their tents, which were scattered over the only good real estate in the shelter area. One of them asked us whether the moose would want their onions. I was confused until she pointed at the picnic table covered in food prep that was about 10 yards from the moose (today’s top picture). I cared more about taking pictures than I did about their food predicament, but we assured them that the moose seemed most concerned with eating her pond delicacies and that they should probably cook somewhere else. I recommended that they only have 1-2 people move their gear to avoid spooking the moose. Oakland and I left them to their relocation task while we walked down the path in search of a tent site. The options were mediocre at best, with sloped sites and pointy rocks everywhere. We finally settled on one of two viable options. Oakland agreed to start clearing the site while I returned to the moose for more pictures. I watched her chew on water plants and occasionally look up at us.

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I finally tore myself away from the moose to help Oakland. We decided to divide and conquer so she could use the privy and take care of water collection. By the time she returned, I had pitched the tent and thrown a mediocre bear line because the options weren’t good. Oakland was able to get her now shorter line over a better limb, so we decided to hang our food together on her line. I put my bed together and then we walked down towards the water to sit on a log and setup dinner. While our food cooked, Oakland went to set up her bed (multi-tasking is key at the end of a long day), and I organized my Maine pictures into daily albums, which I hadn’t had the energy to do on a nightly basis on top of all the other chores and late arrivals. We ate dinner and talked about the silliness and the annoyance of the youth group. Oakland continued to be horrified that they hadn’t been educated about moose encounters given the prevalence of moose in Maine. We did our dishes and moved on to Fritos and dessert. I walked around brushing my teeth and flossing to give my back a break from sitting on a log. Right as we hung our food bags, a couple of hikers arrived wearing bug nets and somewhat frantically searching for a tent site. They asked us about the clearing along the waterfront below our site, but we told them it wasn’t habitable because there were too many downed trees. They went back to the rocky, fishbowl spot we had rejected earlier. After hanging our food bag, we changed clothes in the tent. I was so exhausted that I basically took one sock off and sat there staring at my feet like a zombie while Oakland made it through her entire wardrobe change. I finally snapped out of it and changed into long johns even though it wasn’t quite cold enough for them (yet). My skin felt so gross because of the layers of sweat and deet that had accumulated throughout the day. 

I begrudgingly left the tent for my final evening pee and got all the way back into the tent before I realized I’d forgotten to lower Oakland’s tent pole as she’d requested. Back out I went to lower her peak so we could make the bathtub of the tent less taut. I finally collapsed onto my sleeping bag and forced myself to work on notes while Oakland looked at her maps for a little while. We heard loud crunching noises and worried that the moose was making its way towards our food bags, but the accompanying splashing noises confirmed that the moose was wading around in the pond. I wasn’t excited about having something so large that close to us, but it seemed to be primarily concerned with eating plants, so I did my best to ignore it. I’m finishing this to the sound of Oakland sleeping deeply (for now) and the moose snacking away with loud crunches, occasionally dipping in and out of the water with sizable splashes.

Mile 2046.5 to mile 2059.6 (13.1) – Bald Mountain Pond Lean-to

Checklist total miles: 928.2 

Oakland total miles: 450.8 

Creature feature: a few frogs, a small dark snake, a new gray and white bird that I didn’t recognize (warbler-ish), and THE MOOSE 

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