2019-Day 98: 1000 miles & the race to Antlers edition

July 20, 2019  

I had a choppy, but decent night of sleep. We woke up on the early side, and took turns feeding the mosquitos in the proverbial rhodies. I had the bonus feature of dealing with my period, which meant extra water for hand washing and extra mosquito bites. By the time I made it back to the tent, I was exhausted and dismayed by the fact that it was only 6am. I took a couple of painkillers and went through the pre-breakfast packing routine. Then we had an uncomfortable but blissfully bug free meal on our sleeping pads with a chorus of birds chirping, mosquitoes buzzing the mesh doors, and bullfrogs from the pond. The morning light was soft and beautiful, but the humidity made me dread the rising sun. We packed up the rest of our gear and then doused ourselves in high octane deet after exiting our fabric fortress. Oakland wandered up the hill to attend to additional duties while I started breaking down the tent. She returned with a mosquito bite on her forehead, which was both amusing and pathetic. At some point, I had to stop what I was doing to locate the tiny dagger in my shoe, which turned out to be a wood chip embedded in my sock. It’s safe to say, we were both a little frazzled by 6:55 when we said goodbye to our pond site and clomped back towards the AT.

The morning hike started with a rock slalom through mosquito MORDOR. It looks innocent enough, but clouds of vampires buzzed around our bodies. We were so distracted by the hordes that we didn’t realize our first water source would be a side trail. We’d both been expecting it to be ON trail, but it’s clearly listed in guthook as off trail. Operator error. Neither of us had topped off our water bottles at the pond, so we had to make do for 2.8 more miles to the next source. Here’s Oakland sporting her bug net and looking moderately cranky:

Little Boardman Mountain was a somewhat rocky climb on the south side and a forgettable descent on the north side.

We spent about 5 seconds trying to follow the summit trail, but it wasn’t well marked, and I was too hot, thirsty, and harangued by bugs to care. I was so miserable, that I started day dreaming about Shaws Hostel giving us a ride out of the wilderness at our food pick up later in the day.

The hike between Little Boardman and Crawford pond was leafy and somewhat rocky, but pretty mild by Maine standards. We crossed a gravel road and skirted the edge of pond from a distance.

We crossed a small trickle of water that wasn’t listed in guthook as a spring, but we decided it looked more appealing than pond water. The flow was so low that the water clouded as we mucked around in it, but our filters did their job. It was cold and well worth the effort. We went through a beautiful stretch of easy trail and then it was back to the regularly scheduled rocks and roots.

We carefully picked our way across the rocks where Crawford Pond serves as the source for Cooper Brook. The pile of rocks was laughable, but not as complicated as it seemed at first glance.

Just on the other side of the water, we took an unmarked side path to an ideal snack rock. I put on my raincoat to avoid getting mosquito bites on my back because it was practically the only surface on my body not covered in deet. I ate more than usual because we had our resupply later in the day, and I wanted to consume more calories in the hopes of fighting some of the fatigue I felt. The still air hung heavily around us and made me daydream about the cold soda we had been promised with our food drop. It took more effort than usual to get moving. We hiked through a green tunnel with long patches of bog boards, some ditch maintenance work, and a new yellow flower.

There were a couple of stream crossings that required finesse to avoid slippery rocks. Somewhere along the way, I stopped to make a 1,000 mile sign out of a pile of moose poop. The mosquitoes swarmed the second I put my poles down. Oakland did her best to create airflow around both of us to deter the bugs while I made quick work of my poop selection. Pro tip: moose poop is not very smelly and makes good art material. Then I forced myself to take the time to wash my hands even though the bugs were outrageously annoying.

We continued north for a few minutes before finally giving in to another round of deet because the mosquitoes seemed unperturbed by our original application. I got 3 bites in the process of putting my pack down and removing my deet from my hip pouch, two of which happened simultaneously on my left calf. Side note: I never did manage to control my rage after the tell-tale stinging sensation of a new bite, even though we got dozens of bites daily for the rest of Maine.

The mild terrain had us on track to arrive at Jo Mary road about 2 hours ahead of schedule. Normally this would have meant a welcome period of forced relaxation, but the indefatigable mosquitoes meant we would have to figure out how to remain sane and comfortable for much longer than either of us felt like dealing with. I used my flimsy cell signal to text hippie chick about the possibility of getting an earlier food drop. She replied that it was unlikely, but they would see what they could do. We hiked and discussed bug strategery while doing our best to delay lunch until we arrived at the road. It seemed silly and annoying to set up our tent for bug mitigation, but neither of us could think of anything better, so we put that option on the back burner if needed. Meanwhile, I was approaching starving, so I mowed through a pack of fruit snacks while we hiked. As we passed through a slightly less buggy section of pines, we both decided that the road was too far away for lunch and we should just take our chances right there. We plopped down on a couple of rocks and relished the tiny breeze that flowed through the woods. I sweltered in my raincoat again so I could avoid mosquitoes nipping at my back.

After lunch, we hiked through more of the same terrain with a wide trail, giant rocks and smurf-worthy mushrooms with large orange caps, all of which made us feel like we’d been shrunken and were walking through a giant’s world. Cooper Brook rushed to our right and looked delightfully cool compared to the sticky, humid woods.

We arrived at Jo Mary Rd at 1:05pm, a full two hours earlier than we’d anticipated. We had hiked at 3mph for the last few miles because of the easy terrain and the inhospitable state of taking breaks. We dropped our packs at the road and tried to find a good spot to relax. The air was still and the bugs weren’t as bad as expected, but still highly irritating. We grabbed our packs and crossed the bridge to see about a brook side perch. Our first selection turned out to be way too buggy, so we crossed back over the bridge, went south on the AT for about 50 yards, and edged out onto a set of large rock slabs that extended to the middle of the brook. There was a nice breeze and a combination of shade and sun for shifting body temps. We took our shoes off and dipped our feet in the cool, fast moving water. I tried to ignore a sad little dead fish that sat on the exposed rock and instead focused my attention on a dark green frog lounging in a small pool of water amongst the rocks. It didn’t seem to care about eating any of the bugs swirling around it. Rather, it lazed about in the water with its legs extended, changing locations every now and then.

We did our best to relax and the time passed quicker than I expected. By 2:30, I started to get anxious about missing the truck should it arrive earlier than expected. We reassembled our shoes and made our way back to the small gravel pull-off at the road. The Shaw’s truck arrived at 2:45pm. The shaw’s person (whose name I did not write down), handed us our respective buckets, and we cracked open our not-quite-cold sodas. As I moved my supplies from the bucket to my food bag, I found all of the chocolate bars soft and much flatter than I had expected because they had melted in the bed of the truck on the drive from shaws. I was so irritated. There was room in the extended cab to keep the bins inside. Why hadn’t they thought about temperatures during transport?? They SELL THE CHOCOLATE. Of course they’re also going to TRANSPORT the chocolate. Clearly, I have strong feelings because dessert represents one of my small joys on trail. Did we get our food? Yes. Is that the most important outcome? Yes. Did I grouse about the chocolate at dinner? Yes.

Three NOBOs arrived as we sat down to eat a few snacks and finish our sodas. Their presence made me itchy about camping space, so I casually asked where they were headed for the night. They said, “Antlers,” which sent me into logistics overdrive because that was our destination (per a recommendation from Halfway). Oakland and I silently made a plan to leave as soon as possible to try to get to Antlers before the trio. If more than one youth group had the same plan, we could find ourselves in tight quarters. We made short order of the rest of our re-org, gave the Shaw’s employee our empty soda cans and bid half-hearted goodbyes to the NOBOs who had made little effort to engage beyond answering my question.

We hauled ass at a comfortably fast pace over occasional roots and rocks with Cooper Brook on our right. Our first mile passed in 20 minutes. That seemed inaccurate compared to the effort, so I timed the next mile, and it was nearly the same pace.

We covered 2.8 miles in the first hour with a few slow downs for rocks and bog boards, but mostly clear (Maine) sailing. I was grateful for the easier terrain in the midst of another silly edition of “outrunning the tall people.” That is, until we reached a tricky stream crossing that sent me into a fit of despair. The rocks were spaced far apart and there was a rope strung across the water, which is never a good sign. Oakland offered to go first, and I accepted.

Thankfully the small rocks in the middle didn’t move at all. We both made it safely across, and immediately came upon the last of the three outlet stream crossings for Mud Pond that involved another rock hop.

Once we crossed, the bug situation devolved into another mosquito mordor. Our deet was clearly wearing off, but neither of us wanted to sacrifice the time for reapplication (tactical error). We rushed through spacious pines with the occasional boulder slalom in the middle of the trail.

We eventually curved around to catch a glimpse of a large pond. I mistakenly thought it was the body of water for our destination, but it was actually Mud Pond.

The trail narrowed, got a bit curvier and the mosquitoes thickened to miserable proportions. They landed on my arms two at a time. I swatted at them (in vane) with one hand and held my poles in the other while dodging rocks and trying to hold our faster pace. The air was completely still and we were both boiling. When I checked our mileage, I was dismayed to find that we still had 0.7 miles to antlers campsite. In that moment, it may as well have been 5 miles. I didn’t know if I could make it that far without more bug spray, but I stubbornly didn’t want to stop, and I had been hoping to not put more chemicals on my body so late in the hiking day.

We finally saw water through the tress on our right and entered the Antlers camping area. A group of teenage boys, half of whom were shirtless, huddled in a circle playing cards. We walked past them and dropped our packs at a decent tent site. I ripped my raincoat out of my bag and took partial solace from the bugs. We quickly perused the rest of the camping area, assessing the sites for size, ground obstacles, and view. We finally settled on the tent site at the point. It was small and somewhat boxed in, which would mean poor air flow, but it was the most private, and we had access to both east and western views. I cleared the ground of as much rubble as I had the patience for, with the exception of one very pointy rock that I couldn’t pry out of the ground. The smaller rock I had been using as my grooming tool snapped in half as I dug around the edges of the pesky rock. I gave up to avoid cutting myself. We decided to put a camp towel over it and hope for the best.

The tent barely fit into the postage stamp site, but we made it work. I finally gave up on my raincoat because it was just too hot for the extra layer. We went down a small bank and explored the beach and the point that extended into the water. The breezy side was delightful, but the sunny side with still air had the added bonus of biting flies. Kids tromped around in the lake, which looked like fun and also made me grumpy because that was our water source. A new hiker arrived, and he mentioned wanting to go swimming as we set up his tent. I said in as agreeable of a tone as I could manage, “okay, but don’t pee in it because it’s our water source.” I don’t remember his reaction, but I’m assuming he was nonplussed because I didn’t make note of anything.

We decided to continue exploring and went on a field trip to find the privy. We walked past the card playing gaggle, took a right to follow the privy signs towards Fort Relief, which is a giant two-seater privy with its own logbook.

After a quick pee break, Oakland helped with me my hand washing for the cup cleaning I had to deal with. I was grateful for the extra room and the low spider count inside.

On our way back to our campsite, we asked our neighbor where he planned to hang his food. He informed us that he hadn’t hung his food since the beginning of Maine. I was aghast on the inside, but warmed up to the idea based on the tree options and the fact that none of the youth groups we’d come across thus far seemed to give a second thought to leaving their food supplies under a pile of tarps. We decided to sleep with our food, which meant no searching for tree limbs and less room in our already cozy quarters. Here’s Oakland checking on her deet supply at our tent site:

After a few more chores, we considered walking out into the water to cool off, but we decided against it because we still had a boatload of bug spray on our skin and there were sharp mussel shells on the shoreline. I had no desire to cut my foot (and with my luck around feet, this felt like a plausible outcome). I also remembered all too well the infection my stepdad got from a mussel shell. No thanks. We compromised by taking our shirts off and spending the next hour with an extra breeze. We went out to the point and collected water, making sure to drink a bunch to make up for the fact that we barely stopped all afternoon despite the heat.

Then we ate dinner on the rocky little beach with a glorious breeze. The seating was horribly uncomfortable, but the dwindling bug quotient made up for it. As we ate, I shared my feelings of triumph that we had made it to the campsite so quickly and that it hadn’t felt all that difficult physically (the emotional toll of mosquitoes is a different story).

After dishes, we both ate some squishy chocolates and a few m&ms. We finally put our shirts back on even though it felt way too hot to do so. I took pictures at the point while Oakland took care of other business and got wrapped up in a conversation with our neighbors. I heard my name at one point, so I wandered over and met a NOBO named Adventure Boy (AB) and a flip flopper named Salty. AB is partnered to a man and together they call themselves Adventure Boys, but his partner had to leave the trail because of kidney stones. Another gay person! yay! I tried to contain myself while we made small talk. We’re staying in the same place tomorrow as AB tomorrow night, which could be fun. Oakland excused herself and I stuck around for a minute, but I noticed the sun dipping near the mountain tops, so I dashed back to the water for more pictures.

I felt sheepish about having completely ignored my bed setup while Oakland was gone, but she’s used to my need for pictures. We extracted from another conversation with the neighbors to begin getting ourselves closer to bed. I forced myself to head back to the privy for one more rinsing of my cup rather than have it wait for 12 hours on the first day. So tedious. Oakland was all setup when I returned. It was nearly 8:30pm at that point, but the temperature had barely dropped. We got ourselves situated in the tent, but I went sunset hunting again because Oakland caught sight of some peachy tones from her side of the tent.

A big thunder cloud loomed to the north of us with occasional flashes of lightning. We’d heard a few rumbles of thunder earlier, which is always a foreboding sound when you’re in the middle of nowhere. I took a few more pictures then I went back to the tent for good. I took a slightly different route to our site and my foot got caught on one of the tent guy lines. The stake ripped out of the ground and I fell towards the tent with the left half of my body (aka my formerly broken elbow side). I managed to catch myself before hitting the ground, but the tent had some impressions where I had stepped on it. I felt a rush of fear (falling), gratitude (I’m fine. tent’s fine) and annoyance (because I had to put the stake back in the ground).

I finally made it safely inside the tent and set up my bed while Oakland looked at our plan for tomorrow. We both took our shirts off again because it was just too hot for clothing. The flashes of lightning increased in frequency, and we crossed our fingers that it wouldn’t amount to any rainfall because we had our all of our tent flaps rolled up for maximum airflow. I’m finishing this to the sound of the wind rushing high in the pine tops, the lapping of water along the shore line, a sleeping pad squeaking from a neighbor, and the light rattle of the tent in the breeze that finally returned. 

Mile 2126.1 to mile 2140.3 (14.2) 

Checklist total miles: 1009.0 

Oakland total miles: 531.6 

Creature feature: frogs! Of all colors and sizes, moose poop galore, a dead fish, and very alive minnows in the lake. 

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