2019-Day 99: NERO at White House Landing edition

July 31, 2019  

There were a couple of light rain showers around 10pm and again in the middle of the night, but nothing that warranted closing all the tent doors. I woke up around 4:30 and checked the sky for colors, but I didn’t see anything that looked promising. I flopped back down with no intention to get up again, but I woke with a start and saw that the sky had turned a bright orange. I rushed to put on my shirt and shoes and went down to the water’s edge. I took a few pictures of the moody start to sunrise (today’s top photo), but I had to get back in the tent because of the blood thirsty bugs. Oakland went to the privy, and I geared up to return to the rocky beach. I put on my raincoat as a mosquito guard for my top half and grabbed a deet packet for my lower half. I put on bug spray while the hovering monsters lurked, then I washed my hands in a vain attempt to reduce some of the toxins getting on my phone screen.

I stood along the water and watched the horizon grow progressively brighter. There were momentary pink highlights in the clouds and the reflection on the water was mesmerizing.

Oakland returned from the privy and sat on the rocks, taking in the show while swatting the relentless bugs.

When the sun peeked over the treetops, we went back to the tent to get started with the rest of the day. I took my turn at the privy, including the onerous and water consuming task of dealing with my cup (thank you, gigantic privy). We changed into our hiking clothes, did our pre-breakfast packing and had breakfast in our mesh fortress. The temperatures were already steamy, especially because the sun was already hitting our tent site. We eventually reached the point where we had to leave the safety of our tent, which meant a more thorough application of bug spray because it was far too hot for our raincoat layers.

The dry, rocky site made for an easy tent breakdown. Then we filtered water in the shade of the trees to avoid heating ourselves even more. Oakland returned to the privy while I took advantage of the unexpected phone signal to post a few pictures on social media.

I eventually ripped myself away from my phone and met Oakland where the privy path intersected with the AT. My stomach felt a bit tight and oddly painful against my hip belt. I didn’t think anything of it at first, but the sensation quickly devolved into a sharp pain that traveled around my torso and made it difficult to breathe. I navigated the rock slalom while trying to figure out a comfortable position for my pack. I tried unclipping my hip belt altogether, but that immediately put too much weight on shoulders. I gave up on adjustments and slogged through the already high humidity with sweat pouring down my face. The path took us through a green tunnel for a bit and then ran alongside Jo-Mary Lake where the footing devolved for a few hundred feet. There were small rises in elevation here and there, but the trail was nearly flat minus the roots and rocks.

We made surprisingly good time despite the lack of attention to pacing and the stabbing in my abdomen. 2.4 miles for the first hour. The next hour proved to be slower because the pain in my stomach worsened. I finally relented and gave Oakland the tent to reduce the weight in my pack, which helped slightly. We also started taking extra breaks so I could take my pack off for a quick breather. The pain reminded me of the intense, stabbing bubbles that I get when I’ve eaten something I’m mildly allergic to like chickpeas or eggplant. I tried not to think about higher risk possibilities like appendicitis while I muddled through the morning behind Oakland with the occasional stop for mushroom pictures, such as this purple coral:

There’s not much to describe about the trail other than it was far more reasonable than I expected. There were the occasional rooty roller coasters, but they never lasted longer than a hundred feet or so. There were also several long stretches of bog boards in varying states of disrepair with a handful of shiny new planks peppered throughout the walkways. I could see deep footprints in the mud alongside the bog boards, which felt perplexing to me. Why make that choice when the trail maintainers have tried to steer you in a different direction? Here’s a selection of pictures from the first couple of hours:

We eventually arrived at a jumbled looking foot bridge with two layers of planks stretching across a small stream. It looked like it would be a wobbly mess, but it was more stable than I expected.

Then we came to a small stream and a slightly confusing, poorly marked intersection with the Potaywadjo Spring shelter trail. I had to bust out the map to figure out what we’d done wrong and get us back on track.

We took our usual break around the two hour mark and sat on a mossy rock. I forced down a quarter of a bar and checked guthook for the view of Katahdin that was somewhere on the morning’s agenda. We had apparently already passed the side trail that led to the view. I remembered seeing a path not that long ago, but I had been in too much pain to care about it in the moment. We decided to leave our packs and backtrack so I could take a picture of Katahdin with my tattoo, which I had forgotten to do when we were standing on White Cap. I always feel like I’ve landed on the moon when I hike without my pack. The weightlessness put a noticeable bounce in my step, even with the continued discomfort. We turned left onto the side trail and quickly arrived at the edge of Pemadumcook Lake. Katahdin loomed over the far edge of the water.

I had trouble getting the composition I had hoped for (turns out it’s hard to take pictures of your own arm), but I managed something worthwhile with Oakland’s help.

Then we headed back to our packs, which were thankfully untouched, and we continued north.

After about an hour of hiking, we crossed a logging road and found a small patch of blueberry bushes that were full of ripe berries.

We each ate a handful, but we couldn’t stick around long because the bugs were horrendous. Shortly thereafter, we reached the Mahar tote road, which was our side trail to the White House Landing pickup. We had planned a NERO at the lakeside, off-the-grid hostel, and the timing couldn’t have been better. My stomach had slowly quieted down, but I was in no mood for a long day of hiking.

We made our way down a long pine tunnel and took a right at the fork where this sign was posted (phone number obscured on purpose):

We found adventure boy laying on the floating dock when we arrived. He’d been there for about an hour waiting for Bill, one of the hostel owners, to finish his chores before heading to the dock to pick AB up via motorboat.

AB asked if we would make our own call to Bill with the hopes that new arrivals would nudge him into making his way over sooner than later. I was surprisingly able to use my cell phone instead of the 2-way radio that sat in a small wooden cubby.

Bill answered after a couple of rings and said that he was on his way. About two minutes later, an older white guy showed up in a skiff that had an American flag on the back. The combination of variables made my conservative “Real Amurican” alarm bells go off, but I kept it to myself.

Bill pointed to various seats in the boat and told us to spread our weight around as we piled in. AB and I took pictures nearly the entire two minute ride.

It felt like we were floating on air. After having spent so much time traveling at 2ish mph, my proprioception was highly attuned to the tiny rudder movements shifting our trajectory as we skated over the water. I took in the patchwork of tree textures along the perimeter of the water while the wind whipped around us. AB took our picture on the boat. Don’t ask me what I’m doing with my face. Shortly thereafter, I turned my hat backwards for fear that it would fly off into the water.

Bill backed off the throttle as we approached a hillside dotted with several small buildings and an American flag on a tall flagpole (more alarm bells).

He steered us to a dock and jumped out to tie the boat off while we gathered our belongings and carefully stepped out of the skiff.

We all walked to the main building where Bill showed us the communal eating space and a small resupply, complete with homemade whoopie pies.

We bought orange sodas and bags of chips to snack on throughout the day. AB had also signed up for a private room, which meant we were sharing the shore cottage with him. We grabbed our packs from the front porch of the main building and followed Bill and his stocky black lab down to the cottage for the rest of our tour. Per the unofficial rules of the AT, the privies and shower rooms for the grounds were uphill from our cottage.

Bill walked us through the cottage, labeling the room with the double bed “for couples,” clearly implying that we would all need the other rooms with twin beds. Oh, Bill. He was either willfully ignoring the fact that Oakland and I were more than trail friends, or he was unaware of that even being a possibility. Bill left, and we immediately told AB that we would be “the couple” in the double room, which went without saying, but it made for a good laugh. Little did Bill know he had a houseful of gays.

Oakland and I dropped our stuff in the tiny, wood-paneled room. I felt like a space cadet, and I was happy to be done with hiking for the day even though it had gone by quickly. Neither of us could muster the energy for a shower, so we dallied with AB on the couches in the main room, eating a bag of chips and drinking orange soda.

We compared plans for how to navigate the camping situation the night before Katahdin. Here’s a picture of the overwhelming flow chart of Katahdin strategies we got at Shaw’s (I think?):

Notice how complicated life gets if you answer “No” to the question “Are spots still available at the Birches?” It results in options we don’t usually take (e.g. show up at a place and ask if you can share space) or delays in timing that could put us into questionable weather. AB had plans to summit a day before us (Sunday 8/4). The weather forecasts for the two days were nearly identical, which muddied the decision making waters for us. We considered rearranging our plans to follow AB’s timeline, but we ultimately decided to take another NERO at Abol campground to manage our stress around signing up for the Birches campsite and not rushing ourselves. I called and made a reservation for a cabin at Abol campground, which set us up to summit Katahdin on Monday, August 5th.

With all of our braincells officially taxed by the logistical whirlpool, we moved on to lunch. We wanted to keep chipping away at our food weight, and we knew we were planning to eat hostel food for dinner, so we opted to make hiker lunches with the addition of sodas and dessert from the hostel’s resupply. We went back up to the main building and waited for Bill to let us in. His black lab kept us company on the porch:

We bought another orange soda and selected a whoopie pie for dessert (per the instructions of my stepmother who advised us to consume one in Maine). We gawked at the signage while AB made his selections.

We also spied a book about Trump on a table amongst a hodgepodge of reading materials (hello alarm bells). Oakland and I shared a knowing look and promptly returned to land of “we’re going to pretend we haven’t just walked into a Trump den.” We had intended to eat our hiker lunch in the building, but they only keep it open when an owner is present, so we headed back to the cottage. AB joined us at the picnic table that served as our dining room.

We made wraps while he waited for a mountain house meal to rehydrate. I took one bite of the whoopie pie and immediately felt nauseated from the intense sweetness. Neither of us could manage more than a couple of bites before we gave up.

We loitered inside for a few minutes perusing the house rules before going for a brief, but highly enjoyable swim in the lake.

Then we headed up the hill and took turns with the solar powered shower (highly satisfying even with the mediocre water pressure). Here are two of the other cabins on the grounds that we passed on our way to the showers:

After getting clean, we passed on the outrageously huge loaner clothes and opted to hang out in our camp shorts and our own shirts. I washed our various toiletry and food towels at the washing station by the cottage, which consisted of an old school iron hand pump that pulled water directly from the lake. A couple of canoes sat next to the washing station. Exploring the lake would have been a prime zero day activity, but neither of us had the energy to take advantage of the canoes on our tighter time line.

I hung our semi-clean hand towels and our wet swimming clothes on the line next to the cottage in the vain hopes that the sun would dry them out before morning (semi-successful). At some point during the afternoon, we spent some quality time with the dopey black lab whose name I didn’t write down.

I also watched Linda, Bill’s wife and co-host of the hostel, back her truck up to the main building and accidentally take out a nearby wooden bench in the process. I saw the collision coming, but I was too far away to intervene, and I assumed she would stop the vehicle, but the loud cracking sound made it clear that she hadn’t seen the bench in her path. Oops. She hopped out of the truck and tried to prop the bench back up before resuming her task of unloading supplies.

Oakland and I discussed our Katahdin options again (this would not be the last time, much to Oakland’s chagrin) and then attempted to take a nap because it was too hot and too buggy to do much else. I didn’t sleep very well, but we managed to power down for a couple of hours. Small groups of dude bros arrived in stages throughout the afternoon, but they were all assigned to the bunkhouse so we didn’t meet any of them until dinner. Around 5pm, we peeled ourselves off the bed and walked up to the main building to wait for it to open. A gaggle of NOBOs sat on the porch with the same idea. I sat on a bench next to one of them, and his first statement disguised as a question was “so you thru hiking?” My hackles raised, and I paused for a moment trying to decide whether to lay into him. I said, “well what if my answer is no?” He said “So, you’re section hiking then.” I told him I was finishing my thru hike in two sections because the first half got ruined by a broken elbow.

Sidenote: I realize that a lot of my animosity about the thru-hike question is rooted in my own thru-hiker bias and my desire to not be labeled a section hiker. I also think too much emphasis is put on the entire thru hiker vs section hiker conversation and if everyone (including myself) backed off the labels, there would be less hierarchy and judgment all around. End sidenote.

I asked the hiker what he was up to and he said “thru hiking.” Then, because I couldn’t help myself, I said “a more inclusive way to ask that question is just to say: what kind of hike are you doing?” He mumbled something affirmative in return. I saw Oakland look at me sideways with a slight smile from her perch on the edge of the porch. I proceeded to ask him a few more questions about his hike, which he answered amiably while expressing no reciprocal curiosity whatsoever.

All 5 of the NOBOs were twenty-something cis-gender guys, which drove the dude quotient through the roof. I was relieved when the door finally opened and we all went inside to order food. The home cooked options included a gigantic burger or a pizza made to order. We decided on pizza with pepperoni and black olives because I wasn’t in the mood for the heaviness of a burger. We sat at a long family style picnic table across from AB with three of the dude bros to our right. The dude bro across from me seemed like a conversational human. The other two were comically lame. One was the guy from the porch and the other was a kid who was polite, but vacant (and surely uninterested in talking to the salt & pepper gays at the other end of the table). The dynamic duo ate at grotesque speeds, downing their sizable burgers in under 4 minutes. They also split a pizza, which they didn’t share with the kid across from me. We had more leftovers than we needed, so I offered the nice kid two pieces of pizza. When the vapid guy found out I was going back to Shenandoah after Katahdin, he said with derision, “why would you do that??” And I said “contrary to popular opinion, not everyone in the room is a traditional NOBO thru hiker.” The nice kid with a brain said, “Most people aren’t,” and I appreciated him a bit more. It took the vacant kid a minute to get the gist of my patchwork hike, and then he moved on to shooting the shit with his friend. I dipped in and out of their conversation, picking on them in ways I’m not sure they registered while Oakland primarily talked to AB. The room was warm from the summer heat and the pizza oven, so we sweated our way through dinner. Our pizza tasted delicious, and the ice water felt phenomenal after drinking luke warm pond water. We also split a ginger ale because why not. Linda bustled around the entire time we ate. After dinner, they offered to take our phones and/or small charging bricks back to their house to charge overnight using their solar converted power for a $5 fee. I reluctantly handed over my phone and my charging brick so that we wouldn’t haven’t to keep an eagle eye on our tech usage between white house landing and Abol bridge campground.

We left the main building with very full stomachs, two foil-wrapped pieces of pizza to pack out for tomorrow’s lunch, and the promise of a homemade breakfast in the morning. I always feel terrible after a heavy breakfast, but we decided that if it was anywhere near as good as the pizza, it would be worth the lethargy. We made our way back to the cottage admiring the large rainbow arcing through the sky on a backdrop of dark rainclouds.

The sky was even darker towards White Cap Mountain, and I felt grateful that we had a guaranteed roof over our heads and weren’t in the middle of making our way down that mountain.

We decided to take a detour over to the floating dock to admire the evening light. Green and red cup lichen grew in the gaps between the wooden slats. I had hoped we would see more of these little guys along the trail, but it wasn’t that plentiful at the moment (or we were too beleaguered by bugs to notice). Oakland admired the lichen while I tried to get a decent picture of the tiny red clusters.

Then we went back to cottage and sat on the porch with AB until the mosquitoes became too onerous. From the safety of the indoor picnic table, we taught AB how to play “golf” (HQ’s favorite swearing past time). I lost horribly in nearly every round, but we had fun, and it felt good to let myself just exist rather than scurry through blogging tasks. Then we brushed our teeth at the kitchen sink and once again marveled at the luxury of running water, which I assume was pumped from the lake, but I’m not actually sure of the source. AB mentioned that the batteries in his headlamp had died, so I offered him my backup batteries with the logic that Oakland and I could survive off of one headlamp if we had to. He was grateful to have that problem fixed.

As we continued through our bedtime routine, the sky began to glow with a patchwork of colors. Oakland laughed at me as I rushed outside to gawk at the sunset. I stood on a picnic table and tried to take pictures with her phone, but it turned all the pinks into a strange yellow hue. I was so cranky that I didn’t have my own phone, but it didn’t stop me from taking way too many pictures. Here are a few shots taken while grumbling and swatting mosquitoes (a phrase that could describe just about any moment spent taking pictures in Maine):

Oakland eventually joined me and took a few panos. The NOBOs all emerged like zombies from their bunkhouse to see the sky. I had to give them some credit for caring about sunset enough to come outside. The bugs eventually got the best of us, so we left the NOBOs to smoke their joints and swat mosquitoes in peace.

Oakland and I said goodnight to AB and closed the door to our wood paneled paradise. As we settled into bed, I heard the unfortunate buzz of a mosquito somewhere in the room. I left my headlamp on so I could kill the unwanted guest and prevent it from biting us in our sleep. Oakland gave up pretty quickly, and turned away from my light. I finally felt it land on my arm and killed it with a swift slap of the hand. The satisfaction wore off quickly as I realized that there were probably more winged intruders flitting out of sight. Oh well. I worked on my notes for the evening with Oakland’s phone while the mournful cries of loons rose from the lake. I’m finishing this to the sound of water lapping against the shoreline, the evening symphony of bugs, and the occasional gust of wind moving through the trees. 

Real Time Post Script: I looked up White House Landing to make sure I had the name right, and I came across their facebook page. Looks like they are indeed Trump supporters and potentially COVID deniers to boot, so that’s cool. And by cool, I mean infuriating and frightening.

Mile 2140.3 to mile 2146.4 (6.1) 

Checklist total miles: 1015.1

Oakland total miles: 537.7 

Creature feature: a few frogs, a small snake, small black fish in one of the ponds, the big dopey whitehouse landing black lab, loons flying across the lake, and the ravenous NOBOs 

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