2019-Day 94: mosquitoes and ponds and beavers, oh my edition

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July 26, 2019 

I slept like a log until about 5am. We lounged around, slowly working our way through our bathroom routine before packing our bags. We went down to breakfast at 7 and occupied the same seats as yesterday with Levi across from us and two other indistinguishable 20 something white guys. The one sitting to my left was a silent lump for most of the meal, perking up only at the suggestion of more pancakes or OJ. The other guy told us that it had taken him 16 days to get through the hundred mile wilderness. That is a confusingly long amount of time, but I tried not to judge him or make him feel like he’d somehow failed. My generosity wavered when he said he’d been at Shaw’s for about a week. Throughout breakfast, the dogs were glued to the corner of the other table. I jokingly asked the hiker at the end if she’d been identified as source or if her audience was a matter of accessibility. She sheepishly admitting to having dropped food for them. 

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I managed to restrain to myself to two pancakes in addition to the eggs potatoes and part of the bacon. We went back upstairs to finish up our last minute gear packing. Oakland settled our bill while I emailed my friend Halfway and texted HQ to let her know we would probably be in and out of cell service which would impact our ability to make hotel reservations. Then we waited outside for our ride to the trail with Poet. I felt left out of the younger bubble, but I also had little desire to worm my way into their carousing. Poet was frazzled and running around trying to solve the issue of having overbooked the hostel. We finally left for the trail around 8:30. Poet gave us a spiel of points of interest that went in one ear and immediately out the other because I was distracted by the need to get moving. He asked for a picture with all of us and doled out stickers while telling us to keep our eyes on the trail and to not rush ourselves to finish. Easier said than done when you’re on a deadline. It was 8:50 by the time Oakland and I walked into the woods, which is far later than either of us would have preferred to start a 15 mile day in Maine. Because of the timing and the bugs, I didn’t pause to take notes for much of the day but I did take a fair number of pictures so I will give a somewhat truncated terrain overview and hit the highlights.

The morning started with a hiker registration box, and a small water crossing at the edge of a pond. Then we made our way over a rollercoaster section through sharp ups and downs that were covered in roots but nothing crazier than we’d already seen.

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It was a beautiful sunny morning that felt like it had the potential to turn into a hot and humid day (for Maine). We made our way over bog boards and roots with the occasional scramble while vireos shared their morning reports. 

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We skirted the edge of several ponds and joked about some of them being Bob Ross ponds because of the evergreens popping out along the edges (oh, “happy little trees”).

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We came to the first of several potentially tricky water crossings at the edge of a dam. We lucked out with pretty low water levels. There was one long, challenging step, but it was otherwise an easy rock hop.

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Then we went up and over rock slabs and back into pine roots. We passed a few soggy sections, one of which was a full-on bog with standing water that gave me mosquito nightmares while also making me pause because the reflections on the water were beautiful.

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The trail took us past yet another pond with limited views and spotted feathers on the ground. From the looks of it, a woodpecker may have met its match.

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The footing around the pond wasn’t as bad as I expected. Then we gained elevation over root covered slabs.

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We decided to skip a slanted log seat in the pines in favor of hiking a little longer before stopping for lunch. We regretted this decision when our options dwindled. We finally found a mediocre spot that turned into mosquito HELL as soon as I started spreading peanut butter on my tortilla. The flying vampires buzzed and hovered around us the entire time we ate. It was the opposite of restful as we scarfed our food and continuously flailed to keep the bugs out of our faces. Levi passed us in the midst of our misery and jokingly said he wouldn’t be stopping. About a half mile later, we came to a small waterfall that would have made for a much better lunch spot, but we couldn’t have known that, and it was already late in the morning when we’d made our stop. A handful of older hikers stood at the water’s edge with Levi holding court as they stood in a circle around him. I resisted the urge to insert myself into the conversation. Instead, we made a very tricky rock hop across the stream in front of us (the pictures don’t really illustrate the distance between steps).

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At the other side, we filtered water and drank a bunch before topping off our bottles. We sat on the rocks for a couple of minutes and tried to rest our minds after having had such an aggravating lunch break. Levi sat across the stream on a rock filtering water and eating snacks. I waved because it felt anti-social not to acknowledge him. We finally stood up to continue hiking, but we couldn’t find the trail. I checked guthook and realized that the trail had taken a sharp right at the water’s edge, and we hadn’t needed to cross the stream. Cool. Nothing embarrassing about that at all.

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We went back across the water using a slightly easier route and walked down past the waterfall. Four more day hikers came towards us as we went downhill over roots with the sound of rushing water at our backs. As the water noise receded, I heard two young women debating which direction they were supposed to go. They turned out to be leaders for another youth group. We walked past the group, but they caught up to us at the edge of another major stream crossing. They motioned for us to go first, but I didn’t want to be watched by all of them, so I told them to pass us. My attempt at privacy was foiled when then they waited on the other side of the stream for us to take the lead. Whyyyyyy. I didn’t think we would be able to hike at a comfortable pace and stay in front of them, but we did as they asked.

The trail took us uphill over roots and packed dirt at annoying angle. We eventually came to another pond with rotting bog boards.

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Then we turned left and walked along the edge of the pond until the AT turned right and went up and over a series of slabs. We stopped a few times to take in the view down to the pond (today’s top photo). Oakland found somewhat ripe blueberries, which surprised me because most of the ones we’d passed so far had been far from ready. We hiked over more slabs then headed back down down into pines for an occasionally steep roller coaster. I stopped every so often to try to capture the downward angles and use Oakland as a scale for the steepness of the hills. 

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We ran into section hikers as they reassembled themselves after taking a break. One of the hikers was wearing a postal service shirt, which looked so hot to me, and all I could think about was how much it must trap smells. In an attempt to cover up my horror, I asked if anyone had just put on bug spray and felt validated when someone said they’d just applied deet. Hiker nose is a real phenomenon. We eventually made it down to Big Wilson stream and turned left to follow it for a little ways.

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We crossed over a brook, and walked in a reflective green tunnel for a few minutes. I dreaded the crossing we were about to make. 

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At the intersection of AT and Big Wilson stream, a couple of Hundred Mile Wilderness (HMW) section hikers sat on the rocks overlooking the water with two cute dogs who didn’t care for our presence. We asked the hikers if they’d managed to find a dry crossing anywhere upstream as we surveyed the large boulders to our left. The answer was of course no.

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We took off our shoes at the waters edge and crossed together. The rocky bottom was slippery, and it was nearly impossible to see my feet because of the reflection on the surface. My feet yelled at me and my anxiety went through the roof because I was worried about twisting my ankle on the mossy rocks. Right at my most difficult moment, when I had just stepped down from a dry rock and pounded my left foot onto the slippery stream bed, a fly bit my knee. I yelled and slapped at my leg in vain. A red spot of blood marked the spot where the fly had been. When I finally made it to the other side, Oakland pointed out another bite, and I looked down to find blood trickling down my other knee. The fucking fly (or flies) bit me 3 times while I forded the stream. I was inconsolable for a few minutes. The crossing had scared me and had been incredibly uncomfortable on multiple levels. I was so annoyed by my misery because it was a beautiful stream. We sat on the rocks and ate snacks while I tried to shift my mood. 

Levi arrived on the other bank and wandered upstream looking for a dry crossing. I felt slightly smug when he was forced to ford it. My self righteousness quickly faded when he put on crocs and tromped through the water without incident. He sat down to roll himself a cigarette and scoffed at my lack of camp shoes when I complained about having crossed the stream barefoot. I met his scoff with my own by insisting that I didn’t want to carry a second pair of shoes because of the extra weight. We don’t really see eye-to-eye on anything, and he shrugs me off frequently as if I’m overreacting. I found it hard not to feel patronized by him. We left him there to smoke his cigarette so we could stew (and hike) in peace. The trail went uphill for awhile with a brief break in elevation change at a railroad crossing.

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We were both tired and wanted to stop short if we found an appealing campsite, but tomorrow has more elevation change and we knew we should cover more miles while they were theoretically easier. We continued to climb and passed many spots where there were multiple blazes in a row. Some of them seemed like bogus blazes because they were so big and they were on several adjacent trees. We plodded through the evergreen tunnel, rotating our bug nets on and off depending on the nuisance levels. We eventually reached an area with dense saplings, many of which had been chewed in half.

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We stopped to look at the devastation and realized that we were at the edge of an active beaver pond. A small beaver swam towards us, moving languidly through the water with its beady black eyes turned in our direction.

We watched it swim around for a few minutes in awe of the little creature. Then we followed the detour flags around the water. We stopped short because the swimming beaver had stopped near the trail.

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As we stood gawking at it, we saw more beavers in the distance, working on a log. Three more of them all banded together and managed to dislodge it. Then two of them ferried it across the water while the biggest of them moved on to find other supplies. We could see the mishmash of logs that made up their den in the middle of the pond. Other large trees near the water’s edge had clearly been chewed on and seemed precarious.

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It was mesmerizing to watch them work, and it was hard to walk away, but we needed to keep moving. We made an explicit goal to increase our pace to make better time and the trail abruptly turned into a rock pile making it impossible to trim any time off our ETA. Oh the hilarity of trying to outpace the AT.

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The trail took us up for a little while and across dejecting stretches of jagged rocks. The tone of the day switched drastically from contentment to anxious exhaustion because our pace continued to slow, and we worried about daylight. At some point, we walked over bog boards that felt comically large relative to the mild terrain.

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The descent wasn’t as bad as I expected, but it still slowed us down. We eventually came to a somewhat flatter stretch, but still had periodic rock piles to navigate. We passed a small stealth spot next to a stream, but we continued to prioritize tomorrow’s mileage over today’s comfort and kept moving. Only a few minutes past that stealth spot, we came to a bigger stream with a cascade and several stealth sites.

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We surveyed the scene, debating whether to stop because it was almost 7pm. The sites nearest to the trail were lumpy and slanted, but walking a few yards off the trail revealed a more hospitable spot that was just big enough for our tent. Done and done.

We dropped our packs and immediately put on more deet because the mosquitoes swarmed the millisecond we stopped moving. We pitched the tent together and then Oakland went to get water while I looked for food bag limbs. The options were dismal at best. The evergreens were full of tightly packed limbs, and I couldn’t find a deciduous tree that had anything remotely accessible. I finally found a tree that seemed to have potential, but I couldn’t get my rope over any of the limbs. I grew frustrated and embarrassed with each throw. I finally walked back to our camp with the intention of having Oakland make the throw. When I got close to the tent, she startled because she had apparently been wandering around trying to find me. I startled her again when I had a humiliated outburst about not being able to get my bear line on any of the terrible limbs I’d found. We weathered my meltdowns and walked around surveying our options together. We finally settled on a limb that was far too close to the ground, but strong enough to hold one of our newly stocked bags. Closer to our camp, we found another limb that was even lower but sturdy enough for the weight. By that point we had lost our ability to care, and we decided to prioritize mice and squirrel deterrents over bears.

With that onerous task finally accomplished, we went back to our tent site to make dinner. We boiled water, set up our food and made our beds during the cooking time. We were both beyond exhausted as we sat on a log and scarfed our dinner in the waning light. The speed of consumption made the food land like a brick in my stomach. We rushed through dishes, ate a handful of fritos followed by chocolate, and brushed our teeth at twilight. We had to get our headlamps out to hang our bags. I walked with Oakland to keep her company in the dark (her tree was a few hundred yards from our campsite). Then we hung mine and did our best to ignore the height of both bags. Back to the tent we went, making a quick pitstop to pee one more time before crawling into our poorly pitched abode. Our hiking clothes smelled so much like breakfast potatoes and bacon that we may as well have slept with our food bags. After changing into sleeping clothes, we both took a minute to massage our overworked feet. I wanted so badly just to collapse into my bed, but I forced myself to work on my notes for about an hour. I’m finishing this to the sound of rushing water that makes all the other sounds impossible to hear. Hopefully we can get an earlier start tomorrow. 

Mile 2077.5 to mile 2091.2 (13.7) 

Checklist total miles: 959.8 

Oakland total miles: 482.4 

Creature feature: beavers! At least 4 of them, several frogs of various sizes, a silly squirrel that stared at us, tiny minnows, a handful of the usual birds, the section hiker dogs, and a disgruntled grouse that flapped away in a huff as we walked by 

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