2019-Day 102: indecisive NERO at Abol Bridge edition

August 3, 2019 

I had a decent night of sleep despite our bed of roots and the fact that Oakland’s sleeping pad kept cozying over to mine. At one point, it was actually over the edge of my pad. I woke up without an alarm at 5:26am. Mary Jane stirred around the same time as us, milling about her hammock site preparing breakfast. Oakland tried to delay her privy visit in an attempt to only make one trip, which meant I had to go first without a spider report. I put on my ankle brace, shoes and raincoat, and I grabbed my headlamp, TP, and a spade just in conditions weren’t hospitable. My achilles tendons decided they weren’t going to deliver a full range of motion for the trip down the unmarked path. Several hikers had tented behind the shelter and were already in the process of packing up as I stiffly walked past them. The privy was palatial and clearly on the newer side. There were only a few spiders and, bonus feature, a waist-high bag of wood shavings. I reveled in the real estate while I wrote my letter to congress. On my way back to the tent, I took a detour to see if Mary Jane had any professional opinions about my swollen eye lid. She inspected the bump of concern and proclaimed it most likely to be a bug bite. Nothing to be alarmed about. I relayed that information to Oakland and gave her a privy report. We slowly packed our gear and changed clothes. Oakland eventually had to abandon her privy strategy and went to take care of her morning duties before breakfast.

We decided to put on deet and eat outside because there were hospitable rocks and Oakland’s side of the tent was supremely uncomfortable. I made sure to put in my contacts before covering myself in chemicals. We put on our raincoats and tucked into our bars and skippy jars. I think it’s been over a month since we’ve eaten breakfast outside of the tent.

I heard a couple of pileated woodpecker calls while I worked my way through a probar. We haven’t seen or heard many of them since entering Maine. We took down tent (thank you, pine needles) and filtered our morning water. We have very little mileage to cover today, so we took the time to check for moose in Hurd pond. Sadly, none to be found. I did see a new pink flower and took pictures of it while Oakland went to get a head start on her second privy visit.

I said goodbye to Mary Jane as I slung my pack over my shoulders. She faltered a bit when she said “you guys” as if she intended to say “ladies” and changed her mind. Who knows. Either way, she was cheerful and friendly, and I wished her well. I walked past the shelter where half the teens were chatting with one of their leaders. I interrupted them to ask where they planned to stay the night before Katahdin, and the leader said they would be staying at Katahdin Stream Campground (KSC). A wave of relief swept over me while I tried to control my face and thank him for the info. I wished them a good hike and went to find Oakland, who sat on a log waiting in the privy line. While I, too, waited for my turn (damn you, second privy visit), I judged nearby hikers for their gear choices. I know ultralight hiking gear is expensive, so I try not to scorn heavier choices made with finances in mind. These people were making their lives harder in simple ways, like carrying giant Nalgene bottles that weigh a pound without water and full 2L platypus bags strapped to their packs even though there was an abundance of water on trail, and there was no need to carry that much at one time. One of the members of the group sat a few feet away from me with a package of wet ones in his back pocket and a giant bag of water. I didn’t want to know why he needed all of that for the privy. When my turn arrived, it was challenging to concentrate because I could hear the wet ones guy strike up a conversation with the person next to him. I did my best, and met Oakland down by the shelter.

The morning started with some rock dodging and root hopping with a handful of stone steps here and there. We stopped after only about 20 minutes to remove our jackets and put deet on our top halves. I was so tired of being covered in sticky toxins, but I had no intention of giving them up.

Oakland was on the quiet side, and she couldn’t seem to hear me whenever I made a comment, which wore on my patience. I felt lonely and like no matter how hard I tried to preemptively raise my volume and turn my head back towards her, she still couldn’t hear me. I hung out in a secondary spiral, worrying that she was frustrated with me for getting aggravated. When I checked in on that (rather than continue the unhelpful narrative without evidence), she said was so consumed by our footing that she could hear that I had spoken, but she couldn’t take in the info being conveyed. I could totally relate to her experience, and I continued to feel lonely and cranky about it. I missed my hiking partner, which made me feel selfish. Round and round I went in my head, trying to give myself space to feel lonely and then feeling guilty about it.

We made the occasional mushroom stop for Oakland, one of which elicited a story from a passing day hiker about how she can’t get anywhere with her sister because she’s always stopping for pictures. Clearly, we would be happier hiking with the stop-and-go sister! The youth group passed us about 30 minutes into the morning. Such a polite herd of elephants. 

I started musing aloud about whether we should try to get all the way to birches today if the sign up sheet had open spots, and that started a conversation about the cascade of other things that would have to change if we did that. I didn’t know it at the time, but my waffling threw Oakland into a larger spin about resources. I was anxious about a change in weather – Sunday had a good forecast, and what if Monday (our intended summit day) suddenly called for rain?? I also wasn’t sure what we would do with ourselves all day because we were on schedule to arrive at Abol Bridge around 9:15, and if the list was open, we could easily hike to the Birches. It would mean eating the cost of the cabin, which seemed frivolous and walking about 15 miles the day before Katahdin, which also seemed less than ideal. But I also felt eager to get the mountain done rather than have it literally looming over my head. The pros and cons swirled in my mind as we walked through rocky sections with a trio of section hikers on our heels, but not pushing past us. They were back there for the better part of a mile, getting closer and then falling back. Their poles clacked and they were talking really loudly. I was so tired of being around cis men, and I had a series of unnecessary thoughts about what misogynistic backhanded compliment they might say to us if they passed us. The rage fantasy didn’t do much to help my mood. I tried to pick up our pace to get some mental space from them. A southbound hiker in a headnet and skinny jeans approached with no apparent intention to let us pass. I was tired of pulling over for other people, so I walked directly at him. He finally stepped aside at the last minute with just enough room for us to get by. My patience for humanity has worn paper thin in the HMW.

We made it to a long stretch of bog boards section with the loud trio behind us, but they continued not to pass. The boards were followed by flat pine tunnel that popped us out onto Golden Road and the official end of the HMW.

It felt much like the smokies where there was no fanfare or marker of any sort. Just a small paved road and a set of power lines. Cars passed by, kicking up dust as we walked down the sunny road. We arrived at Abol Bridge and passed the youth group who hung over the railing gawking at the amazing view of Katahdin and the West branch of the Penobscot River. We paused for a few pictures and then moved on to the Campground store. It looked like a closed bar on a country road.

I continued to dither about what to do with our day and our summit choice. Oakland tried to humor me, but she was losing steam for my circular decision making process. We asked the store attendant for an updated weather report while he checked us into the campground. Monday still sounded good and there was a chance of rain tonight.

We stood outside deliberating. Well, I deliberated and Oakland exasperated. We decided to walk to the kiosk and try to figure out how the list works. Could we sign in only for the day of? or a day ahead? None of the instructions we’d come across were super clear on the process. We left our packs in the shade by the teenagers who were huddled at the picnic table drinking Gatorade and eating cookies. 

The walk to the kiosk was flat and dusty. We went up the road, left at a fork and then took another sharp left into the woods. The trail opened up to a marshy bridge and another view of big K.

A ranger sat at the large wooden kiosk (sadly I didn’t take his picture). He was very helpful, and didn’t make fun of us for asking so many questions, even when he found out that my trail name is Checklist. He revealed that his name would be “plan B” if he had one. We found out that sign ups have to be for the same day you intend to camp at the Birches, and the list for today was already full. The Ranger was curious to know if we’d heard of anyone signing up and heading back to the campground to eat breakfast, which is a practice they discourage but can’t really prevent (we hadn’t). With our decision made for us, we went back to the store to get sodas and chips and have a snack before settling into our NERO quarters.

While we waited for someone else to be rung up, I leaned down to say hello to the store dog and got a resounding bark in my face. I backed off, and the dog proceeded to throw himself against my leg as if to say, “sorry about that, now PET ME.”

I felt more relaxed after we decided to stick with our Monday scenario (sorry for the headache, Oakland). A handful of NOBOs said hello while we loitered outside the store, and I asked what they were up to. It turns out they had done exactly what the ranger didn’t want people to do, which is raced over to the sign up sheet and then headed back to the campground restaurant for a huge breakfast. While we chatted, the ranger arrived on foot. Oakland and I walked away right as he approached the group of NOBOs. Neither of us wanted to be around for the ensuing awkwardness.

We ate snacks at the shaded picnic table. One of the NOBOs came over to chat and asked if we had wanted to stay at the Birches tonight. I’m pretty sure he was trying to suss out whether we had complained to the ranger or whether he had “stolen” a spot from us. We shrugged (as if I hadn’t just agonized over the decision for 3.5 miles) and shared our plan to summit on Monday. He stuck around for a bit of trail talk (as one does). We eventually left our comfy snack spot to explore our cabin. It turned out to be a small, prefab box with 6 metal bunks and no light fixture. I was so cranky about the way it felt inside that I didn’t take any interior pictures.

I had no desire to sleep in our sterile “cabin” and kept eyeing the empty car camping spots along the river bank. The whole place felt like a KOA, with a smattering of giant, winnebago style campers and elaborate outdoor setups. On the bright side, we had our own picnic table in our sandy front yard.

We decided the first order of business would be showers. There was apparently “unlimited hot water,” but no towels, so we had to use our small toiletry towels for drying off. The water pressure was like a dribbling hose and drying ourselves was a joke, but we were definitely cleaner after the whole affair. We donned our camp shorts and long sleeve wool shirts with no bras and took the rest of our clothing up to the trailer behind the camp store, which housed a coin operated washer and dryer. Then we went to the restaurant for an early lunch. Burger smoke filled the air while we waited for our food. Our waitress was nice, but painfully awkward. She told us all about her moose sightings when she delivered our food. I had a grilled cheese panini with thin (and tasty) French fries and an orange soda.

After lunch, we took our full stomachs back to the laundry trailer to switch our clothes into the dyer, and we sat outside of our bunkhouse because I couldn’t bring myself to be indoors. We started the discussion of whether to pre-arrange a shuttle from Baxter state park to Millinocket or to do it during our summit hike. Something about the conversation sent Oakland into another tailspin. She got overwhelmed and upset, saying that she needed a break. Something about her tone made it sound as if she had already asked for a break, and I hadn’t relented. I shared my defensiveness with Oakland, and she shared a host of feelings that all centered around her worry that she was making the Katahdin hike harder for me than it needed to be. She was having fantasies about staying at the Birches while I made the trek alone. I knew Oakland’s anxiety about Katahdin was wearing on me, but I certainly didn’t want to hike it alone, which I shared with her. We agreed to take a break from logistics and switched our focus to the day’s chores. Back to the laundry room we went, with a side trip to the small store for the bits and bobs we needed to round out our food supply for the next 2 days. Then we treated ourselves to ice cream, which we ate down by the river with a view of Katahdin (today’s top picture). I both reveled in the view and wanted a break from thinking about that blasted mountain.

After our sugar bombs, we went back to the bunkhouse and took a nap. I felt drugged when I woke up around 5:30pm. We took our cooking gear out to the picnic table and feasted on Ramen and “all dressed up” chips for dinner.

Our closest neighbors were a bunch of mid-fifties meatheads with giant trucks and music that boomed out of a portable stereo. They were yelling at each other and every other word out of their mouths was “fuck.” I had no problem with the swearing, it was all the misogyny in the rest of their words that bothered me. I eventually had to put on my calf sleeves to manage the small but persistent mosquito population. Oakland kindly washed our dinner pots. Somewhere along the way, we realized we had both managed to forget to launder our pee towels, so we hand washed them in the outdoor sink by the shower house. Thunder rumbled in the distance as we set up our beds, including our sleeping pads because the bunk mattresses were dismal.

It started to rain around 8pm. We went back to the shower house to brush our teeth. As we stood under the timed light, a trio of beer toting women entered in a flurry to escape the rain. We silently finished our routines and retreated to our cabin. I’m finishing this to the sound of the bass in our neighbors’ music (so much for the rain dissuading them from being outside), their loud talking at each other, rain drops on the metal roof, and Oakland occasionally shifting in her bunk. Not sure anyone is going to sleep well tonight.

Mile 2173.4 to mile 2176.9 (3.5 trail miles, not counting the 1.4 miles to & from the kiosk) – Abol Bridge Campground

Checklist total miles: 1045.6 

Oakland total miles: 568.2 

Creature feature: frogs, dive bombing birds including a seagull along the stream and the store owner’s black dog

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