2017 – Day 111: I’m on a boat edition

**This a continuation of the story of my 2017 hike**

I woke up around 4:20 this morning and mentally tossed and turned until the owner knocked on our door to announce breakfast. There’s no actual tossing when you have a freshly broken elbow and a bedfellow you don’t want to smack with your splint. We received the knock because I didn’t feel like having another breakfast spent staring at the kitchen floor so we paid for the meal offered by Caratunk House. Cotton managed to rouse herself from bed and joined us all in the dining room at a table full of freshly cooked food. I don’t remember much of the conversation, but I know there were long awkward stretches, and I continued to feel the strain of having no hiking future to discuss with people who were understandably focused on everything around the bend. After clearing our plates, we made our way through the slow process of packing up. I did as much I could without Cotton’s help, and I silently appreciated her ability to let me struggle until called upon to literally lend a hand. I’m not proud of it, but I have a distinct memory of loathing the hiker who stayed in the room adjacent to ours because she slept through breakfast (strike 1, and yes, I’m judgmental), she swooped into the bathroom to apply her makeup right as I was about to use it (strike 2, who needs makeup for hiking?), and she had the ability to keep hiking (strike 3, not her fault, but a fact I still resented).

During our checkout process, one of the caretakers called me “macho.” For whatever reason, this comment made me feel indignant, perhaps because it was delivered by a cisgendered man and said with an air of disapproval. I replied firmly with an attempt at jolliness that I would have chosen the word “stubborn,” and that I was “merely doing what I needed to do to keep from completely falling apart before it was safe to do so.” Could I have skipped the 14 miles and started the trek back to NY a day earlier? Yes. Did I want to do anything that would get me closer to leaving the trail? Nope. Did I really, really want to feel the satisfaction of all those zeros in a tally of 1,000 miles? Indeed. But that has nothing to do with hyper-masculinity. Vanity is probably more accurate.

As we took a left turn onto Highway 201 south towards Cotton’s current life and my first stop on the way to Brooklyn, I saw a little green traffic sign with the white silhouette of two hikers indicating that a trail crossing was nearby (the AT, in this case). I turned to stare at the quickly shrinking symbol, not knowing when I would see another one of those signs on foot. Thus began crying jag number one for the day! Cotton and I made the ride to Vermont in our usual manner of me asking too many questions, Cotton obligingly answering them, and both of us wandering off into our heads for comfortable stretches of silence. We decided to make a pit stop in Portland, ME for lunch. I can’t remember if the decision was made on a whim or if I posed the question the night before, but in a fit of nostalgia and wanderlust, I asked Cotton if we could take a ferry ride. She agreed with gusto, and that’s how we found ourselves on an afternoon ferry ride, to which island, I can’t quite remember. Down at the ferry docks, I immediately felt constricted by the presence of too.many.people. The culture shock was stronger than I had expected and more noticeable than any of my previous trips back to civilization through NYC and Boston. But I welcomed the open air, and I do love me a boat ride on a beautiful day, so I made the best of it without crying in public.

The rest of the ride is a blur. We got to Cotton’s modest and comfortable abode in the early evening. She settled me in to her guest futon and gave me some privacy to make a phone call that of course involved more crying. I went to bed that night feeling so lost and in a fair amount of pain from my throbbing arm. Among all of the sadness was an intense feeling of gratitude for my friend who continued to weather my mood swings with grace and made me as comfortable as she could.

Mileage: 0 trail miles.

Mileage by car: approximately 350 give or take a side trip or two.

Total miles: 1000.1

Creature feature: too many humans!

2017 – Day 110: 1,000 mile edition

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**This a continuation of the story of my 2017 hike**

I had to sleep in one of 2 positions last night, neither of which were very comfortable because of the bend in my arm and the stabbing pain I experienced whenever I tried to roll onto my right side. The splint seems to be making life more uncomfortable even though I know it’s for the best because it immobilizes my elbow. I woke up around 630 feeling poorly rested and achy. I heard one of the owners knock on the doors of other hikers and call out that breakfast would be ready in 15-20 minutes. We hadn’t signed up for breakfast, but I wanted to get a decent start on the day to leave time for slow hiking, so I rolled out of bed and began the process of changing clothes. By rolled, I mean literally rolled out of bed because it was the easiest way to sit up without putting any strain on my arm. Cotton remained in bed while I went downstairs to put together my breakfast.

As I mixed together my usual granola/muesli medley with a yogurt taken from the well stocked store in the back room of the hostel, I asked the owner if I could join the other hikers for breakfast with my own food. I received a polite but firm no, that would not be an acceptable practice because it might make the others uncomfortable. I had only asked the question to be polite, expecting an affirmative wave of the hand. His answer took me by surprise and amplified the growing feeling of losing my place in the hiker community. I directed my gaze at the highly important task of stirring my food while I pretended to be okay with the idea of eating alone in the kitchen. I felt silly for being so unhinged by the situation, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of rejection as the sound of idle conversation filtered in from the dining room. My breakfast went down in gluey lumps as Tucker, the resident terrier, rested his chin on my knee in the hopes of capitalizing on my loss of appetite.

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I rinsed my bowl in the sink as the other hikers refilled their coffee mugs and loitered at the table. Then I went back upstairs to get ready for the day ahead. We’re “slackpacking” today, which means we are carrying only day hiking supplies in our regular packs, so I pulled out the items I didn’t need while Cotton ate a cliff bar and collected herself. I’m using today as a preview of what it might be like to hike with one working arm, and it became immediately apparent that my pack would be a source of struggle. Have you ever tried to use a zipper one-handed? Yeah, not so effective. Neither is closing a roll top, wide mouthed bag and then buckling it all together. I managed a lumpy version of the usually tightly rolled closure and slung my bag over my good arm to take it downstairs.

Cotton and I piled into the truck of the kilt-wearing hostel assistant whose name escapes me. We followed him 15 minutes up the road to deliver Cotton’s car to our exit point for the day and then he ferried us back to our starting point at the hostel. As we fussed with extending my hiking poles, the clasps of which had become vice-like and nearly impossible to open/close, I heard someone call out “Checklist!” I turned to find Hawaii, First Aid and Sunny resting on the porch of the hostel after their crossing of the Kennebec (this is part of the gaggle of hikers that I had spent a couple of days with around Mahoosuc Notch).  I explained the origins of my splint as they each dug into their collection of snacks. They expressed sympathy for my arm, which I was grateful to receive while also feeling the simmer of envy at their ability to finish what they started.

Cotton and I headed down Main Street towards the river. I clomped along with one pole and my left arm slung across my chest. We passed what appeared to be a thru hiker who had been met by a few family members at the river crossing. I made eye contact with everyone we crossed paths with expecting to get interrogated about my arm, but no one appeared to notice, which was both a surprise and a relief.

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When we reached the water’s edge, we saw the canoe ferry operator picking up a load of passengers from the western bank. To give you some context, from approximately late May to mid-October, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy contracts Greg Caruso, a part-time ferry operator, to assist hikers in crossing the Kennebec River. This is done because the crossing is 400-feet wide and has a strong current under the best of conditions. To make matters more complicated, there is a hydroelectric facility upstream that releases water without warning, which causes a surge in both depth and current. Needless to say, I had absolutely no intention of fording the river even before breaking my arm. Cotton and I watched the operator and the passenger at the bow paddle across the swift river. We were so mesmerized by the process that we didn’t realize we were supposed to be filling out release forms that were set up underneath an ez-up tent. We rushed through the forms and met Greg down at the canoe. He seemed nonplussed by my splinted arm as he lowered my bag down into the center of the canoe and held the sides steady as I took my position in the center seat. Cotton and Greg paddled us across the river towards a small gaggle of northbound hikers waiting to cross. We mentioned our intention of returning after hiking four miles south, and Greg reminded us of the 2pm deadline for the last crossing of the day. Our timing would be on the tight side, but if necessary we could always just turn back sooner and catch the necessary mileage north of our original endpoint. In thru-hiking land, miles that you cover twice only “count” once, so our plan was to hike south for 4 miles, then double back and hike 6 “new” miles north of the Caratunk House to just south of Pleasant Pond, making a total of 10 AT miles and 14.6 actual miles. I’ll pause here for those of you compelled to roll your eyes at thru-hiking logic. I totally get it.

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The sound of water lapping against the shore faded away as we wound our way up the hillside. The trail flattened for a short stretch before dipping into a hollow. Cotton peered back at me with wide eyes as the grade steepened. I assured her that I was okay, and she eventually stopped checking in with me at every change in footing.

The trail brought us within earshot of a raging stream, which I felt sure that we would have to cross in some perilous manner because: Maine. I felt relieved when it became clear that we were going to walk parallel to the stream for the time being. We picked our way through rocky sections with the occasional root-filled rise in elevation that felt like a warm embrace relative to the body slamming terrain I’d covered since entering Maine.

Then came the log crossing. One of the hikers from the Caratunk house stood warily eyeing the slick, narrow log that spanned the banks, hanging several feet in the air above the stream. He urged us to cross ahead of him, clearly steeling himself for the task ahead. Cotton went first, opting for the winged approach that resulted in a graceful navigation across the sodden, knotty log.

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I balanced my pole in the fingers of my left hand and put one foot on the bridge. The surface was as slippery as I’d imagined, and I felt my pulse quicken while also wondering how Cotton had made it look so easy. The “railing” of the bridge (or should I say “bridge”) was placed at such a height that I had to bend at the waist to use it for support. I shuffled across the bridge without incident and stepped foot on solid ground with the dread of our return trip swirling in my stomach.

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The weather was overcast and humid, and the darkened tree trunks, still wet from yesterday’s rain, amplified the greens around us. We crossed another log footbridge that had been cut with a mercifully flat walking surface and wasn’t as saturated as the previous log (Cotton maintained her winged strategy). The trail wound us through a sparse pine forest with brilliant moss and other ground cover with a raging waterfall off to our left. We stopped to take in the sound of water coursing over the boulders, but we didn’t give ourselves much time for gawking.

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We eventually rounded a corner to see this large pond with a mist covered mountain staring at us from the distant shore. The trail skirted a beaver damn that made for pesky footing with jagged rocks and unevenly set boards.

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I tried not to think about how close the water’s edge was as I picked my way past the dam. Our pace slowed even more as we entered an exceptionally rooty and muddy section. With the ferry deadline looming and sloppy tree roots as far as the eye could see, we decided to turn around and catch the remaining .2 miles on the north end of our goal for the day.

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As we made our way back to the ferry, I became overwhelmed by a visceral sadness. I did my best to keep it together because, as mentioned many times over the course of this journey, it is difficult to hike with tear-filled eyes. But the gravity of the situation was too much for me, and I let myself cry for a few steps here and there as Cotton walked ahead of me. I had worked so hard to get here, and two days ago, I had felt so ready for the final northbound tasks ahead of me (e.g. the 100 mile wilderness and Mt. Katahdin). And in a matter of seconds, my intended version of a thru-hike had vanished. There would be no Katahdin this year. That scramble is difficult enough with all four limbs in working condition, so attempting it with one arm was completely out of the question. There’s also no way I could cover enough ground with one-ish arms to actually finish the southern half this year [2017]. I tried to pull myself back to my immediate surroundings, with little success until it came time to re-cross the dreaded slip ‘n slide. Cotton skittered over the bridge as easily as the first time, and put herself in position to take my picture as I made my way across.

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I went with the same strategy as before: hiking pole in my left hand (having not yet been given any doctor’s orders not to hold anything in that hand), and my right hand shuffling along the railing to steady my balance. About 2/3 of the way across, my right foot slipped off the log and I came crashing onto my rear, catching myself against the railing with both of my armpits, thus preventing myself from completely falling off. Here’s the slightly blurry image that Cotton managed to capture:

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Pain shot through my left arm, and I had no idea what to do next. Standing up seemed both an impossible feat of physics and unwise given the slick footing. Cotton scrambled up the stream bank and back to the end of the bridge as I did the only thing I could think of: butt scooch along the wet log until I got close enough to grab Cotton’s hand. Not my proudest moment, butt scooching with a broken arm in the middle of Maine. Cotton helped me to my feet at the edge of the bridge and stared at me in wide-eyed silence. I felt humiliated for having fallen when Cotton had managed the crossing twice with no incident. Why was I such a klutz? [unrealistic expectations for hiking with a broken arm? who? me?] I felt like a failure as I stood there with my arm throbbing and my mind racing through scenarios in which the impact of smacking my arm against the log had just made my hopefully “simple” fracture into a misaligned mess.

There was nothing to do in that moment except keep moving, so I assured Cotton that I was okay, and we resumed our positions with her tromping ahead of me while I sunk into a desolate mood. I wanted to quit for the day, but I knew that part of my despair had to do with exhaustion and hunger, so I decided not to make any choices about distance until after we had eaten lunch.

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We made it to the ferry with about 15 minutes to spare and had a breezy trip back over the Kennebec. Then we plopped down on the pebble covered riverbank and silently scarfed our respective lunches. As I ate, I knew that there was no way I could stop short of the 1,000 mile mark. My splinted arm was hot and achy, but that would likely be the case whether I hiked 6 more miles or went back to Caratunk and sat on the porch.

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Onward we went, back across the road and into a hardwood forest that was basically a green tunnel with rolling hills and easy footing. The terrain reminded me of northern VA and southern PA, which caused my brain to ricochet through memories of the miles I had already covered. Back to the crying place I went, doing my best to blink away the tears so I could safely put on foot in front of the other. The trail eventually went down a gradual pine-needle covered hill and led us along several small streams.

With 2.7 miles to go, we stopped at one of the streams to filter water. I fumbled my way through the task with my working arm, eventually relenting and letting Cotton help. Neither of us were quite ready to move on, so we sat with our feet draped in the cool water. I don’t have a strong memory of what I said in those moments, but I do know that I cried a lot and Cotton continued to be a supportive presence with a helpful combination of validation and silence. We finally pulled our feet out of the water and did our best to dry off before donning our shoes to make our way north.

The trail got a bit messy, with bog boards and roots crossing the path with some frequency. We still had about an hour to go, so we took another short break to eat snacks. Cotton managed to drop a fair amount of her trail mix on the ground, so I dutifully sat in the middle of the trail and helped her eat it. Leave no trace!

The grassy parking area where Cotton’s car sat waiting for us appeared far too soon. We walked a little ways past the car to “officially” cover the necessary mileage. I dropped my pack and stooped over a flat rock to make a 1,000 mile marker out of Fritos on a rock. Then I ate the evidence, and we turned back to the car to call it a day. I have little memory of the ride back to the Caratunk House and most of the evening. I know we had macaroni and cheese with sausage for dinner out at the picnic table, and Cotton practiced her banjo for an upcoming wedding gig. I have a faint memory of the owners applauding our efforts with an air of incredulity. After dinner, we walked back out to the river to catch sunset, but there weren’t any colors in the sky to speak of. Both Cotton and I sat by the river stewing in our respective uncertainties. She wasn’t ready to go home, and I had no home to return to with no obvious next steps except “meet with orthopedic surgeon” and “don’t make arm worse.”

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We sat by the river until twilight and then carefully made our way back to the house. I unwrapped my throbbing arm and fumbled through a shower, making sure to put neosporin on the scrape that the doctor warned me not to neglect. My wrist and fingers felt wonky, which made me worry about tendon and nerve damage, but there wasn’t much point in going too far down that road, so I told myself the weird feelings were to be expected. I iced my arm in the downstairs living room while rain pattered against the windows. Tomorrow I will start the process of actually resting and working on getting the swelling in my arm down. Today’s “1,000 mile mission” felt absolutely necessary and was likely a terrible idea based on the increased puffiness in my elbow. [2019 note: I would make the same decision if faced with that choice today, although I might say “fuck it” to the official versus unofficial mileage debate.]

Mile 2034.3 to mile 2044.3 (10)

(14.6 if you count the out and back across the river)

Total miles: 1000.1

Creature feature: a chattering king fisher, a heron at dusk at the river, and a few red squirrels.

Here we go again…

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Excuse me while I flap away the cloud of dust that has formed on both this blog and my writing muscles. As of my last post, I had 990.1 miles under my belt and a fractured left elbow. Fast forward to 2019, and mannnny things have changed. I can now do 12lb bicep curls (this is an improvement from not being allowed to hold anything heavier than a pencil) and dozens of wall push-ups on my completely healed, though slightly wonky, left elbow. I now live in Oakland, CA, with 3 cats and a wonderful partner who amazes me on a daily basis.

I am also about two weeks away from heading back out on the AT to finish what I started in 2017. Before I begin posting about this year’s 1,200 mile hike, I would like to finish chronicling the events from my 2017 thru-hiking attempt, partially to complete the story for those of you who followed along at the time, and partially because I want a complete account for myself.

Stay tuned for more posts about the adventures of 2017 Checklist, the highlights of which include hiking with a broken elbow! flying across the country with two cats and my person! becoming emotionally and professionally adrift when an ankle/foot injury kept me from going back out on the trail in 2018, and more! I’m not sure how much I can manage to cover while also doing the inevitable scramble to finish prepping for this year’s hike, but I will do my best.

Today’s picture: the French Trail in Redwood Regional Park during a hike with my mom back in February 

Day 109: fractured edition


I woke up to the sound of heavy rain around 6:30. My thoughts went to Tater and Norsemen as the occasional roll of thunder sounded. I tried to consider this unplanned hotel stay as a welcome respite from a morning spent packing up a wet tent and trudging down a muddy trail, but the comfort of such thoughts had a very short shelf life. I flicked off the window A/C and began getting dressed, threading my left arm through my shirt and tugging it in place with care. Cotton stirred as I moved around the room. I felt guilty for waking her, but I also felt antsy about getting to breakfast so we could make it to the hospital for what I imagined to be an infernal emergency room wait. I packed my gear knowing that I stood in a hotel room while a shadow reel of making the same motions from my tent deep in the woods played through my mind.

By the time we were ready to leave, the rain had slowed to a drizzle. The windshield wipers thwacked slowly from side to side as we rode down the gray street towards the Looney Moose Cafe. I felt dismayed by the number of cars in the parking lot this early on a Friday morning, but we were met with several open tables as we entered the wood paneled restaurant filled with kitchsy signs such as “I don’t repeat gossip, so listen carefully.” Cotton and I took a table against the left wall and browsed our menus. Someone had gone to great lengths to detail a wildlife profile for the infamous (and fantastical) “looney moose” on the backside of the menu, which gave us a laugh as we made conversation from our respective dazes. Cotton is not a morning person, and I felt overwhelmed by the purpose of the day (so overwhelmed that I didn’t take any pictures of the cafe to share with you). I glanced out the window every so often and caught sight of the nearby woods, which made me wonder where Tater and Norsemen might be in that moment. Did they camp by the river? Had they waited out the rain or were they soaked?

My order, which had sounded reasonable on paper, turned out to be a gut-busting blueberry pancake the size of a frisbee, 4 triangles of french toast, a hefty serving of scrambled eggs and a side of potatoes. I stress ate my way through nearly the entire heap while Cotton worked on her modest plate of eggs, and we smirked to each other about the cadence of the locals behind us. Cotton stubbornly paid for our bill at the counter after a handful of construction workers picked up their breakfasts. Then we sat in the car while I forced myself to call my health insurance to verify that I had coverage at the hospital in Farmington. When the friendly rep learned of my location and injury, he shared stories of canoeing in Rangeley, a town I had just passed through a couple of days ago. After about 20 minutes of filtering through the paltry list of emergency health services in the area, we concluded that my original choice, Franklin Memorial Hospital, was the best (and closest) option.

Off we went down the two lane highways of Maine listening to one of KD Lang’s country albums (who knew she had more to offer than Constant Cravings?). My cell signal immediately dropped off, and I felt grateful for my decision to call my insurance company from the parking lot of the Looney Moose. Things you learn after hundreds of miles of strategizing phone service in the wilds of New England. During the silent stretches of our drive, I vacillated between optimism and devastation. I searched for yet another glimmer of silver lining by taking in the passing countryside of Maine that I would not have encountered had I continued on my northbound path. After about 50 minutes of driving, we came to the medium sized town of Farmington, ME:


I felt hopeful when I saw the sparsely populated hospital parking lot, as if somehow getting this over quickly would make the news more likely to be positive? Oh wishful thinking, how irrational you are. I grabbed my daypack out of the trunk and added my water bottle to the supply of snacks that I’d brought in the event that we were there through the lunch hour. The man working the admissions desk noted my New York license, and he shared his Long Island lineage with me. As we wandered back to the small waiting area, I laughed to myself about having met a New Yorker in central Maine. There were about a dozen chairs lining the walls of the waiting room and a television set blaring a cartoon that neither of the other two inhabitants seemed to be watching. I set my bag down and immediately located the remote to silence the nonsense. Then I thumbed through a country living magazine, periodically glancing at the young woman listing over the arms of her wheelchair. After about 10 minutes of waiting, a nurse called my name and led me down a corridor past a nurses’ station and into a three-sided exam room with a curtain “door.” She did the usual information gathering and left me to change into a hospital gown. Those things are awkward enough as is, but with one working arm, it was nearly impossible to secure the parachute-sized sack at my waist.


The doctor arrived in a reasonable amount of time and wheeled his stool over to the edge of the exam table. I recounted the story of my fall as he gingerly inspected my arm, noting the effusion (a fancy word for the unsightly amount of fluid collecting in both the area of impact and my tricep) and the scrape. Then he made the obvious proclamation that I would need an x-ray and left me to be ushered by a technician to the x-ray department. Throughout the moments I had to myself, I wandered through different outcomes in my head, attempting to forecast how it might feel to hear one over another.


My stomach started to roil as I waited for the doctor to return with the results of the films. I heard a knock on the door jam. The doctor pushed aside the privacy curtain and walked in holding an iPad. He sat down on the stool, looked me in the eye, and said, “Where do you live?” And with that, I knew. That’s a question you ask someone with a broken elbow who needs further medical attention. I said as much out loud, and he confirmed my suspicions by scooting forward and showing me the films (top picture) that clearly showed a fracture line running through the head of my ulnar bone and about a quarter of an inch into my elbow joint. Because of the joint involvement, he urged me to see an orthopedic surgeon to determine if more specialized treatment would be in order. For the time being, he fit me in a splint and supplied me with a supremely uncomfortable sling. I shared my desire to walk the remaining AT miles necessary to bring my total to 1,000. He said, “Sure, go ahead and hike 10 miles. You can do it this afternoon if you like; it’s not your leg that’s broken. Just don’t fall.

With the doctor’s blessing in my pocket and my arm hanging across my chest, I walked out to meet Cotton in the waiting room. Her eyes went wide when she saw my sling, and she gave me a sympathetic look. I couldn’t quite believe that I was standing in a hospital with a half-cast on my arm when I had been sweating my way up a mountain yesterday morning.


We left the ER and went downtown to a mediocre american restaurant where we ate tacos and formulated a plan for the rest of the day. We decided to drive to Caratunk, ME, and hike the relatively flat miles on either side of the Kennebec River while using the Caratunk House hiker bed and breakfast as a home base.

As we made our way through a small town on the highway between Farmington and Caratunk, we passed an ice cream stand that caught both our eyes. Cotton asked if she should turn around, and I said, “I’m always up for ice cream.” She took a quick left, and we headed back down the road for some food therapy. The picnic table in the parking area faced a river, which seemed like yet another good reason to stop. A woman from the house next door walked across the gravel parking lot and remarked on my cast. I think I said something about how we’d stopped to eat our pain because I’d just broken my elbow, but I can’t quite remember if that happened in my head or out loud. She made her way into the little hut and served us ice cream.



We sat at the picnic table and ate in silence. We had been there less than a minute when a man in his late fifties took a seat on the opposite side of the picnic table. He gave a warm greeting and began asking questions. Cotton and I gave each other a side eye “crap, what have we gotten into now” look as the man informed us that he had no short term memory and proceeded to ask me the same questions over and over. So much for our peaceful ice cream stop by the river. I gave in to the prospect of unwanted company and did my best to answer his questions about the trail while Cotton and I quickly ate our ice cream. After a solid 15 minutes, he finally bowed out of the conversation, leaving us with our empty containers and taxed patience.


We continued northeast to the Caratunk House and into what would be a complete cell phone dead zone. Not exactly ideal conditions under which to research and contact orthopedic surgeons in NYC or keep worried family members informed of my condition. The bed & breakfast was run by two older gay men who had impeccably decorated the rooms with antiques, many of which were direct or oblique references to gay culture. I’m sad I didn’t spend more time wandering around taking pictures of the place. We were shown to our private double room upstairs and then left to ourselves. I attempted to get a wifi signal downstairs where I looked up a few surgeon names and finally forced myself to make a couple of phone calls to doctors’ offices from the land line. I had procrastinated just long enough to receive automated messages telling me the offices were all closed for the week. I chastised myself for not being more proactive because now I would have to wait until Monday morning to get an appointment settled.

There were two other hikers there when we arrived, and it became immediately apparent that I had no interest in socializing with them. My injury put me in the strange position of being a gruesome representation of what could happen to them and completely out of touch with the conversations hikers usually have, which often revolve around the basic premise of “what’s next.” I also had no desire to participate in conversations that revolved around the environment that I had been so abruptly ejected from. Cotton and I kept to ourselves, choosing to eat camp dinners at the outdoor picnic table while the other hikers were driven to a nearby restaurant. I used dinner as a testing ground for the plan that I’d started formulating to hike the southern part of the trail one handed. Cooking turned out to be a relatively easy task to carry out with only one working arm.


After dinner, we confirmed our plans with the owners to get a morning shuttle ride back from the parking lot 6 miles north of the Caratunk House. Then we took a walk down to the Kennebec River about a third of a mile from the B&B. We stood by the river, deep in our own heads, occasionally plunking rocks into the water as the evening wore into dusk.


I continued to feel guilty about having railroaded our hiking agenda for the weekend, but Cotton seemed satisfied enough to help me carry out my crazy plan to make it to 1,000 miles. I paid extra care on the return walk to avoid tripping on roots in the dim forest light. When we got back, we went about our separate phone zombie and bedtime routines. Texting proved to be easier said than done with the cranky wifi that only worked downstairs, if at all. I emailed my parents to warn them about my phone service. Neither sets of parents have the same phone carrier thus making it impossible to use wifi for texting. I crawled into bed with Cotton and set up a pillow for my now-bent arm to rest on throughout the night. The positioning of the splint made it supremely uncomfortable to sleep in any way other than flat on my back. I lay in the dark feeling dejected and exhausted by the recovery ahead of me. What is this parallel reality I’ve been thrust into?

Tomorrow: one more hike to complete.

Miles: 0

Total miles: 990.1

Creature feature: just the two-legged variety today…

Day 108: cracked edition

I woke up around 5:15 and languished until 5:30 when my stomach decided it was time to get up. I crept past Norsemen’s hammock and wandered down the logging road to find a private spot for the morning’s duties (doodies? forgive me, you know I had to make the joke). I heard Norsemen stir as I made my way back under his guy line and lowered my food bag from its hanging perch. Given the soggy state of my shoes from last night’s unintended stream fording, I ate breakfast in my tent so I could delay the experience of wet feet a little longer. I switched into hiking clothes and began the breakdown of my sleeping gear as I heard Norsemen emerge from his hammock. I was packed up and ready to head out a little before 7, but I felt like procrastinating, so I sat around with Norsemen while he prepared a large bowl of cereal with powdered milk. Tater eventually emerged from her tent and went on a bathroom walkabout. I intended to wait for her to say my goodbyes, but I felt antsy before she reappeared. I passed my goodbye to her through Norsemen, and started the day’s hike.

The trail began as a narrow passage through soggy, overgrown ground cover with spider webs criss-crossing my path at such a rate that I gave up on clearing them from my face. I paused occasionally to take in the small water cascades in the stream off to my right. After about 20 minutes of walking, the trail edged to the left and the sound of the stream faded behind me. I started checking the mileage to the next shelter in the hopes of holding out for a privy, but it soon became apparent that I couldn’t manage another two hours of walking before needing another pit stop. I scrambled up a small bank and found a recessed spot of ground behind a tree to convene with nature for a few minutes. I really hope this doesn’t become a habit because it’s stressful to figure out where to go when I know there are people hiking behind me who could catch up at any moment. I felt good about my choice to risk such an encounter because I felt significantly more comfortable hiking without a physical deadline looming over the next four miles.


The trail continued to wind through a beautiful, quiet hardwood forest with thick ferns and other volunteer plants blanketing the forest floor. The diffuse canopy let in an abundance of morning light. The air was very still and humid, and I felt almost as if I was walking in Virginia, but there weren’t quite enough mosquitoes. As spiderwebs crackled against my cheeks, I ran through fantasies of the impending visit from Cotton, hoping for good weather across the big mountains we have on our agenda. My tailbone is feeling a little wonky today after the spill I took on the way down Saddleback Junior. I tried not to fixate on it as I worked my way through the woods.


I came to an even mossier section of bog boards that led me across small streams and eventually to a larger rushing stream. 


Whatever boards used to span the water have since been washed away. About 5 feet to the right stood a few rock hopping options, but they were dark as an oil slick and covered in moss. After yesterday’s mishap, I felt gun shy about stepping on wet rocks, not that the rock I stepped on yesterday was even remotely wet. I didn’t feel like fording the stream, so I used my poles for stabilization and took comically slow steps across the mossy rocks. I felt ridiculous given the fact that most people probably fly across this stream without a second thought…or so my brain tells me when I feel like I’m falling short somehow. Short of what is something that remains to be seen.

The trail crested an overgrown woods road and continued past yet another stream. Then came the gradual climb up Lone Mountain. Sweat ran down the bridge of my nose and hung from my chin, jiggling as I walked. My steps dislodging each bead, making way for a new droplet to form. A steady stream of teenage girls passed me as I moved through the humid air toward the summit. My presence startled a few of them because they were engrossed in their footing. They all wished me happy trails even though they seemed profoundly unhappy. Maybe they’re tired? I made it to the wooded summit where there was a sign and a rock seat that someone had fashioned out of two small boulders. I dropped my pack, pulled out a snack, and proceeded to Internet for about 15 minutes while I had a decent signal. The fall from yesterday has sadly buggered my tailbone a bit. Sitting is more painful than it has been in awhile. I also had to set my pack a little higher on y back so that it wouldn’t press against the upper ridge of my sacrum. I hope that hiking will work its magic (as it has before) and my tailbone will recover soon enough.

I donned my pack, curling my nose at the soggy shoulder straps, and continued onward toward Spaulding Mountain. The trail was relatively flat between the two peaks, and I was surrounded by what appeared to be decaying ferns of a lighter green than usual.


 I walked along at my typical pace, stepping around the occasional root or rock, daydreaming about visiting a music friend in California over Labor Day weekend. I stopped every now and then to inspect a flower or attempt to take a picture of the forest that looked like something besides a flat wall of green. 


I periodically checked the mileage between me and the Crockers, attempting to predict when I might reach them so I could decide the evening’s destination. A moderately sized rock sat at the right edge of the trail ahead of me. As I planted my right foot to step around the rock, I lost my balance and pitched forward. My body twisted in such a way that I landed face down over top of my left arm with the full weight of my body spread across the impact points of my shoulder and my elbow. I felt a distinct cracking sensation as my elbow came down directly on a rock and exploded in stomach churning pain. I rolled onto my left shoulder and struggled to sit up amongst the tangle of legs and hiking poles. I unclipped my pack, which had gone askew in the force of the fall. I tossed my poles off to the side of the trail and sat there taking stock of my injuries. I flexed my left hand into a fist and felt a sickeningly familiar feeling of something gone terribly wrong. There was a strange pressure that felt reminiscent of the time I broke my wrist as a child.

I hadn’t just heard my arm break, right? That doesn’t really happen, does it? That CAN’T be what just happened. As these thoughts ran through my head, I scooched to the edge of the trail and pulled out a snack because it seemed like the thing to do after such a shocking fall. I ate a fig square, drank some water, and gingerly flexed my left arm, which I immediately ceased as it felt like someone was taking a knife to my elbow. As the pain transitioned from vomit-worthy to just this side of bearable, I decided I should probably get moving. I stood up and immediately got dizzy, so I sat back down for a few more minutes. After drinking a bit more water, I stood up again. This time, I managed to put my pack on by threading my left arm through the strap first and then my right arm. As I stood there, still feeling unsteady, I heard hikers approaching. I looked southward to find an older gentleman I didn’t know followed by Tater and Norsemen. I gave a half hearted grunt to the older fellow. Tater gave me a wide smile and asked how I was doing, to which I replied, “not that great. I just took a really bad fall.” I showed them my elbow, which at that point seemed unremarkable with a slight goose egg forming just below the tip and a small scrape that had opened an existing scab in the same spot. They responded to the panic in my voice by suggesting that we all walk a few more minutes to the Spaulding mountain lean-to and take a break together. I gratefully agreed to their offer for company and walked behind them towards the shelter holding both of my poles in my right arm.

 

The older gentleman that had passed us sat in the shelter with his stuff spread around him. I dropped my pack, taking care not to jostle my left arm, and sat down to process what was happening. Norsemen and the man whose name I didn’t care to know got into a pissing contest about the difficulty of east coast versus west coast mountains. I internally rolled my eyes and began looking up the symptoms of a broken elbow on my phone. 


A succinct list came up that included nearly everything I was experiencing in the moment. Pain and tenderness: check. Swelling: check. Trouble moving arm: check. Inability to touch fingertips to shoulder: check. Weakness or numbness in your elbow, arm, or hand: check. My heart grew heavier as I made my way through various medical websites. I asked Tater and Norsemen if they thought I would know if I’d broken it, as if they would somehow have more authority on the subject than me. They seemed certain that I would have more bruising and the pain would be more intolerable. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that the pain had been at the highest end of what I could stand; I just have a really good poker face. The other hiker saw that I was using my phone and asked me if I had service. I responded with an absent-minded yes. He then asked me what the weather was supposed to be like as he held his own phone in his hand. I curtly replied, “I don’t know, I have other priorities at the moment,” which was code for “F off and check it yourself you lazy jackass.” My tone sufficiently shut down any further bids for attention from him.

I put on my wool shirt, pain shooting through my left arm as I tried to tug the hem down around my waist, and I wandered down the side trail to fill my water bag. Normally, I stabilize the filter with my right hand and squeeze the bag with my left, but there was no chance of that happening, so I reversed hands and awkwardly managed to filter the bag. Then began the conversation of what to do about medical attention. The nearest exit point was a logging road about 5 miles away. That road appeared to be about 4-6 more miles of walking out to route 27 where I could get a hitch into Stratton. Another option would be to head towards the Sugarloaf ski resort and hope to find emergency services there during the off season. We all decided that sugarloaf seemed like too much of a long shot and involved climbing up into nowhere if it turned out to be deserted. I dithered about whether to go to a doctor or just continue hiking past the logging road. I asked tater and norsemen what they would do, and they both gave noncommittal answers that amounted to “we are stubborn folk and would probably keep going.” I can relate. I decided to use the 5 miles to the logging road as a test run to see if the pain would abate. In the meantime, I texted Cotton to warn her that I may have seriously botched our hiking plans for the weekend. She offered to drive up anyway and take a zero day with me if that’s what I decided to do.

Tater and Norsemen empathized my difficult decision and offered to walk with me down the mountain so that I would have company for the one armed trek. I said yes without hesitation, and we collected ourselves to continue northward. I collapsed my left hiking pole and tucked it into the side pocket of my bag. Then I thread my left arm through the shoulder strap again, and winced as I used it to pull my hip belt around to the front of my waist. After getting that buckled, I reached up to buckle my chest strap and realized that there was no way I could get my left arm to bend enough to make that happen. This was the first sign of increased swelling because I had been able to buckle the strap right after the fall. I sheepishly asked Tater to help me with the buckle, and then we left without saying goodbye to the other hiker who had been dithering for the last 20 minutes about whether it was going to rain this afternoon.

As it turns out, Tater, Norsemen, and I have nearly identical paces, at least on warm, humid days. I kept up with them pretty well on all but the flattest stretches as we made our way over Spaulding mountain, which was thankfully a very mild climb relative to the rest of Maine. Every so often, the muscles in my left arm would involuntarily engage, sending a breath-catching stab of pain through my elbow. As the hours passed, my arm began to feel stiffer and more swollen. I periodically took a picture of it to see how it changed in appearance. When I was able to forget about the pain and all that it might portend, I had a wonderful time hiking with Tater and Norsemen. They’re hilarious and easy to be around. We stopped for a late lunch off the side of the trail in a soft bed of leaves and pine needles. At that point, I had come to terms with the fact that I needed to get my arm x-rayed. The pain had not changed in any way and the swelling continued to worsen. I texted Cotton to confirm my need to take the weekend off, and she said that already had plans to drive up for the night because our intended meeting time in the morning required her to make the 5 hour drive from VT a day ahead of time. She had reservations for the night in Caratunk, but as we continued to talk, she agreed to cancel her hotel to stay with me in Stratton. I made a couple of phone calls and found a room at the White Wolf Inn in Stratton. The woman required that I give my credit card information on the phone to reserve the room, which meant I had to say my full name in earshot of Tater and Norsemen. They made wide eyes at me as I gave my name and when I got off the phone, they said in jokingly shocked, hushed tones, “now we know YOUR REAL NAME.” Depending on when you meet fellow hikers, you can go an entire relationship without every knowing their legal names. We joked about breaking through the fifth wall or some such nonsense, and then they gave me their real names in a show of solidarity.

After lunch, we continued to make our way down the mountain, laughing our way through dozens of Monty Python references and general nonsense. I’m not proud of this thought process, but I’ll share it anyway: I noticed that I hadn’t tripped a single time since my fall, meanwhile Norsemen scuffled and botched his steps often. He had claimed earlier in the day that he can barely hike without his poles because he’s so apt to fall. I felt resentful that my misstep had resulted in such a shit show while he managed to stumble around unscathed. Not my most generous moment in life.

 

We came to this break in the trees and stood in silence for a few minutes. I looked out at the mountains doing my best not to cry, wondering if this would be the last day of my hike. The trail eventually opened up to even more views of the surrounding mountains as the footing devolved into boulder scrambling. 



I had to strategize about how to approach the trickier spots in such a way that meant I could lean on my right arm to lower myself down the large steps required to descend the hillside. We stopped to pick blueberries and take in the scenery. 


When I wasn’t feeling like a monster or laughing at the silliness of my company, I was doing everything I could to keep from falling apart. Instinct told me that my hike, as I knew it, was over. I tried not to get too far ahead of myself, but I felt like all the plans I’d made for the rest of Maine were quickly turning into dusty figurines sitting on an out-of-reach shelf.

As we neared the bottom of the mountain, I made a passing comment about being happy that we’d made that rock scramble in dry conditions. Less than two minutes later, it started to sprinkle. We all laughed at the timing of my comment. Thankfully the rain petered out as quickly as it started. When we came to the southern branch of the Carrabassett River, Tater and Norsemen surveyed the water for swimming options.

 

I checked my watch and felt both anxious to get to the logging road and wholly uninterested in making my departure from the trail. I decided to join them in a short dip in the water. I took my shirt and shoes off and sat at the edge of the river, not wanting to completely submerge myself should it make my chances of getting a hitch at the road even harder. Who wants to pick up a soggy hiker? I did, however, rinse the mud from my legs and douse my hair to make it more presentable. Then I spent a few minutes with my left arm soaking in the ice cold river water. It had been such a wonderful afternoon hiking with Tater and Norsemen, and I couldn’t believe that the same day I had finally found a rhythm with them would be the same day  I would have to say goodbye with no hopes of catching up to them.

After delaying the inevitable as long as I felt comfortable, I bid farewell to Tater and Norsemen, thanking them again for keeping me company all afternoon. Then I made the somewhat tricky crossing over the river and emerged a few minutes later onto Caribou Valley Rd.


I took a right onto the road, looking longingly at the northbound trail that dipped back into the woods:


I allowed myself to well up with tears as I began the trek to Route 27. The road was lined with wildflowers and tall grass. After about 5 minutes of walking, I rounded a bend to find a gate with several cars parked on the other side of it. One of the cars was a white shuttle van in which sat an older gentleman in a fluorescent orange shirt. In a vague attempt to yogi* a ride to the road, I asked the man if he knew the distance of the logging road. He rattled off “3 or 4 miles,” and asked if I planned to walk it. I told him that I had hurt my elbow and needed to get into town. Then he said in his thick Maine accent, “well, can you bend it?” I said, “No.” He said with incredulity and a hint of skepticism, “you can’t bend it??” I took a breath to avoid biting his head off and said, “No, I can’t.” He told me that he was waiting to pick up other hikers who are doing a day hike for the annual Appalachian Trail Conservacy conference. He introduced himself as a former thru hiker by the name of Mr. Bean (I’m almost certain that’s what he said, but he mumbled it a bit, so I apologize to the universe if I’ve gotten that wrong). He offered to give me a ride once he’d picked up his hikers. My stamina for small talk was completely tapped, and I had absolutely no desire to kill time trying to talk the welcoming but taxing Mr. Bean. I told him I would just start making my way down the road rather than wait an indeterminate amount of time for his hikers. He said, “Okay then. I’ll pick you up when I see you.” Before I could walk away, he suggested that we look at the map so he could show me where I might find medical care. By the time he’d pointed out the two distant towns that he guessed were my best options, a gaggle of hikers ranging in age from 50-70 approached the van. Mr. Bean announced my predicament to them as they circled the van and accepted their complimentary cans of Moxie (care of Mr. Bean). He proceeded to cajole me into accepting a can of my own, which I finally did so he would leave me be. One of the women hikers saw Mr. Bean make motions to toss the bag of ice he’d used to keep the moxie cool. She stopped him just in time and told him that I should use the ice for my arm. I thanked her for the idea as I settled into my seat amongst the other hikers. Then we bounced our way down the dirt road, pain ripping through my arm with every bump in the road. I instantly regretted my choice to accept the ride even though I knew it would save me at least two hours of walking.

When we got to route 27, Mr. Bean surveyed the hikers’ willingness to take the time to drive me the rest of the way to Stratton. They all agreed, thinking it preposterous that I might have to hitchhike from that point. So I lucked out yet again and was driven all the way to the White Horse Inn. As we sped down the highway, I marveled at the timing of the trail magic and felt amused that I had been picked up by a bunch of ATC hikers while simultaneously lambasting myself for the two seconds I can never get back in which I somehow should have managed to prevent myself from falling. The women next to me asked me questions about my hike, and I did my best to hold a conversation with them while my mind swirled.

When we got to the White Wolf Inn, Mr. Bean pulled my pack out of the car and set it against the side of the building. He bid me the best of luck and drove off with his charges. I stepped inside to a bustling restaurant on the first floor of the inn with a harried older woman who appeared to be waiting on the entire restaurant alone. She gave me the keys to my room, and I wandered outside in a daze to the second floor. The backside of the inn looked out onto this little stream, which made me both incredibly happy to not be looking at a paved road and incredibly sad to be reminded of the woods I had just left for who knows how long.


I lay on the hotel bed texting with Cotton about her dinner plans and getting much needed support from another friend. It seemed wise to eat dinner, given the mileage I had hiked and the hour (verging on 6). I went downstairs to the restaurant and took a seat at a booth near the bar. The woman running the place rushed over with a menu and a glass of water. Then she rushed back 10 minutes later and apologized for having forgotten about me. I placed an order for a burger and fries, because F today, and she scurried away to continue serving other patrons. Two obvious thru hikers at the bar approached me on their way out the door. One of them said, “are you a hiker?” (we like to check in with our people in public spaces), to which I replied “yes, but I’ve just hurt my elbow, and I got off the trail today to get it x-rayed.” The other hiker asked me if it was swollen because she couldn’t tell through my shirt, so I gently rolled up my sleeve and showed them my elbow. They both gasped and took a step backward, which I took as a terrible sign (I hadn’t looked at my arm since I’d gotten to the inn). They wished me luck and expressed their sympathy as they went back to their room.

I ate my dinner in a dazed silence and then ordered Cotton a burger to go for her late arrival. I also ordered a piece of peanut butter pie because F today. The server brought the pie in a takeout container and said in a conspiratorial tone that there had been an awkward small piece left over in addition to the piece I’d ordered that just happened to end up in the container. I thanked her, closed out my bill leaving a generous tip, and asked her for a bag of ice to take to my room. I then proceeded to cry, mope, and talk on the phone with my music friend who I’d been texting throughout the day with updates about the status of misery. Cotton arrived around 9 and immediately went into support mode when I floated the idea of driving to Farmington in the morning to the nearest hospital. She didn’t flinch at the prospect of a two hour round trip with an unpredictable amount of time in a hospital rather than the hiking we had planned for the day. We caught up on other life events while she ate her cold hamburger and the rest of the peanut butter pie. I managed to undress myself (I had embarrassing visions of requiring help with that process before Cotton arrived) and took a shower to prepare myself for re-entry into the land of deodorant wearing, bathed people. Here’s my elbow by the end of the day: 


 Then I arranged a pillow fort for my arm and went to bed wondering what in the world I had managed to do with one slip of the foot.

Mile 1982.9 to mile 1993.3 (10.4)

Total miles 990.1

Creature feature: Your guess is as good as mine.

*yogi is a term that references yogi bear and can be defined as indirectly implying a need/desire in such a way that someone offers to make it happen for you. Example: thru hiker says “do you know how far it is to the nearest grocery store?” muggle says “its X miles. I’m going that way, would you like a ride?” 

Day 106: zero edition 


**In an effort to get the remainder of the Maine posts published, I’m going to gloss over the zero day I took in Rangeley**

As previously mentioned, I got in bed on the late side. Not long after I plugged in my phone and settled in to the sound of snoring, I heard footsteps coming up the stairwell. I assumed it was a hiker heading to the one bathroom in the building, but as the footsteps got closer, I heard a sloppy male voice muttering about which bed might be his. Then I felt a searching hand pat my feet. I said, “dude” with a clear “get the F off of me” tone of voice, and the slurring human apologized profusely and muttered something about going to sleep somewhere else. I felt confused and aggravated, but satisfied that the roaming hiker wouldn’t return. The voice sounded like it belonged to the odd gentleman I’d met the day before who I felt deserved a wide berth.

It became clear during breakfast that the events of the night had caused quite a stir in the bunkhouse. Somehow the story got back to the owners of the farmhouse, who were not happy in the least. I passed it off as the mistake of a drunk hiker who relented with little urging from me. When he saw me in the morning, he apologized to the point of awkwardness. As I rummaged about in the packroom a little while later, I overheard one of the managers discussing his strategy to ask the hiker to move on (a sugarcoated way of saying he planned to kick him out of the inn). One of the front desk staff came through the bunkhouse taking roll and checking the number of people booked for the hostel against the number of available beds. As it turns out, the inn had overbooked the building and the bed had indeed belonged to the muttering hiker, hence the missing towel upon my arrival. I hadn’t seen any other belongings, so both the staff member and I had assumed the towel indicated a stocking oversight. The inn apologized to the hiker and assigned him to a proper bed for the next night so that he could take his planned zero day. The true source of the mistake did not prevent the hiker from continuing to apologize to me every time we crossed paths throughout the day. So awkward.

The remainder of the day passed unremarkably. I managed to get some blogging done. I worked out a plan for Cotton to join me for a long weekend beginning Friday morning with the Bigelows and ending Monday with the Kennebec ferry crossing into Caratunk. I’m excited to have her company again.


I went into town in the middle of the day because the weather was far better than anticipated, which made me cranky at having lost another day of decent hiking even though I had far more internet/phone work than I could get through in one day. I ran into tater and norseman at the diner style bagel shop in town. They had spent a good chunk of the morning working on the house puzzle, which they finished save the missing piece.


We parted ways after their success, and I bought a few postcards from a clothing store down the street. Then I sat by the waterfront writing letters and eating doritos while being stalked by a belligerent seagull. I dropped the postcards in the box outside the post office, and made my way to the ice cream shop that serves as a pickup location for the hostel. Predictably, I couldn’t resist getting some ice cream while I waited, which of course made me feel happy and moderately sick to my stomach.

I spent the rest of the afternoon editing posts, organizing my food, and making phone calls to work out logistics for the hundred mile wilderness. I managed to plan out the rest of Maine, estimating a katahdin summit on August 24th. I happened to look up during my planning fugue to notice the sky changing colors. I quickly put on my shoes and ran up the side of the road to the scenic overlook about a half mile away from the inn. The change in pace made my lungs burn as I jogged up the hill. I got there just as the sun dropped below the ridge line of the mountains west of Rangeley Lake (top picture for today). I stuck around for a few minutes ogling a high strung but friendly pitbull and then headed back to the hostel to finish prepping for tomorrow. I spent the late hours of the evening on the phone while the rest of the hikers goofed off around the fire pit. Tomorrow’s adventure: the Saddleback range.

Total miles: 0

Creature feature: that cute dog at the overlook and the sound of loons on the lake.

Day 107: saddleback edition


My watch alarm went off at 5am. It felt like I’d only been asleep for like two hours, but I wanted to catch the 630 shuttle, so I had to get up. I heard the trill of loons as I lay in the dark trying to find the will to get out of bed. I went downstairs and ate yogurt with banana and the cinnamon raisin bagel that I bought yesterday in town, which I toasted it and put butter on one half and peanut butter on the other half. I can never seem to eat a bagel just one way. An older gentleman named Super Mario skulked about while bangles and I ate breakfast at the table. Super Mario has a bushy gray handlebar mustache and wears thick red suspenders that are likely the source of his trailname, but I didn’t actually ask the question.

After eating, I went back upstairs to collect the odds and ends that I’d removed from my pack. It’s disconcerting to be so far from my bag; I feel like I’m going to forget things. I put my phone on to charge and took my stuff to the packroom to get ready. When I stepped outside, I was met with air far cooler than I’d expected. I’m worried I don’t have enough warm clothing, but I’m going to see if I can continue to manage without another mid layer. I sadly stuffed my puffy into the compactor bag with the other things I need to keep dry. Then I put in my very full food bag over top of which I put my tent. My center of gravity feels better when my food goes towards the middle of the bag. It was 6:15 by the time everything was in place, dashing my hopes of getting one more blog post prepped and published. I started loading pictures and editing anyway because I have to figure out a way to chip away at the backlog. It helps when I dictate throughout the day and when I write in complete sentences at night, but both of those practices are difficult to execute when the hiking has been as challenging as it has of late.

No one was ready for the shuttle on time. Everyone rushed and threw things in their bags willy nilly or they were rushing for last minute bathroom trips. We didn’t leave until 645. I crawled into the way back seat, which was a mistake because it made me car sick. As we piled into the car, I asked the shuttle driver, whose name I regretfully didn’t get, if he could drop me off at the hiker hut .3 miles from the trail on his way back to the farmhouse. He agreed. I hopefully have a postcard waiting for me from someone who mailed it before I changed my plans to stay at the farmhouse instead. The hiker hut is an off the grid hostel right off the trail at which I had been excited to stay, but I needed power for electronics. When we got to the trailhead, all the other hikers piled out of the car, and I switched into the front seat for my two minute detour.

The grounds of the hiker hut are incredible. Clusters of gardens surround a small wooden structure. There seem to be other small cabins scattered about (think tiny home size). The shuttle driver offered to stick around to take me back to the trail, which I gratefully accepted. The caretaker came over at the sound of the truck. Her face brightened when I said I might have a postcard waiting for me. She walked to the main building and sifted through a small batch of mail, pulling out my postcard with a smile. I thanked her and hurried back to the truck wishing I could wander around taking pictures but knowing that cutting the road walk out of my day was probably more important.

When we got back to the trailhead, Tater and Norseman were still in the parking lot. Tater had been one of the people shoving stuff in her bag to leave on time, so she was reorganizing before starting out. I gave them a quick hi/bye and crossed the road to head north. The trail was easy going for quite awhile with periodic sections of difficult roots.


My pack felt incredibly heavy today and my legs did not have much in the way of gas. My feet also felt hot and my socks seemed to be rubbing. I decided to stop and put body glide on my feet, which I had been too lazy to do at the hostel. That seemed to help the friction issue without having to resort to KT tape, which I haven’t used in weeks.

The trail went from traditional footing to scaling rock faces nearly 2 miles south of saddleback’s summit. I couldn’t fathom having to walk straight up for two miles with my energy levels so low, but I didn’t really have a choice, so I kept putting one foot in front of the other. As the trail skirted the edge of another pond, I heard the loud laughter and frivolity of a teen group.


I hoped they were headed southbound. Sadly, they weren’t. I came up behind the rowdy bunch, which turned out to be about 8 teenage girls. Their trailing leader heard me approach and announced “hiker behind,” which made everyone pull over to the side to let me pass. I was grateful that I didn’t have to figure out how to go around them because they were going pretty slowly up the hill, but I felt so self conscious about having to walk past them having no clue how badly I might smell. I’d passed a few southbound hikers already this morning and they were…ripe. I craned my ears for any under the breath remarks about how gross I was as I powered up the hill to put some distance between us. No tittering that I could gather, but who knows.


The trail steepened to the point of rebar in a few places. About halfway to the treeline, I took a snack break to rest my legs and hopefully put some energy into my body.


Food seemed to help a bit, but my ability to scamper up the rock faces was severely hindered by tired legs and a heavy bag. My momentum kept stalling out, and I nearly fell backwards a few times.

When I finally reached treeline, the boulders became broader and steeper. The wind chilled me to the point of having to put on my wool layer nearly immediately after leaving the woods. As I climbed, I took in the sweeping views around me and thanked the skies for being dry and relatively clear.


I turned my hat backwards to keep it from flying over the mountainside and trudged over the rock slabs, stopping frequently to take pictures.


The walk to the summit felt endless. The cairns snaked their way up the mountain with no sign of the top. I tried to focus on breathing and taking in the plants and the views, but I also felt impatient to be done climbing in the wind.

When I finally reached the summit, I stopped just long enough to eat a snack because it was too cold to sit exposed to the wind. There was a rocky windbreak similar to those on moosilauke, but a group of teenagers occupied it with no signs of imminent departure. A day hiker from the southern tip of Maine tried to talk to me, but it felt like I had to yell over the wind, which is not a conversation for which I have stamina. As I put on another layer in preparation to leave, Tater and Norseman approached the summit. I asked Norseman if I could take his picture because his beard looked so at home on top of a rugged mountain. He happily consented and then posed with his flag for good measure. Not sure what the story is, but I will let you know if I find out.


I said goodbye to them and kept moving. I was too cold to stand around any longer, and I honestly can’t tell if they enjoy my company. Better to keep interactions to small doses until I can figure out how to be more comfortable around them. Saddleback is followed by another 4K peak named the Horn. Here’s one of the views between the peaks and a video of the surrounding mountains.



The terrain involved more bouldering, some unexpected rock hopping through muddy flats, and more Achilles’ tendon aggravating slab walking. I made it to the horn’s summit around 1145. Prime lunch time, but it was out of the question to eat on the summit because of the wind. Instead, I walked about a third of a mile down the mountain and sat in the sun on a boulder face with this view of saddleback junior and friends.


It felt good to be in the sun minus my sad ears. They are both feeling inflamed again. I put sunscreen on earlier in the morning, but it might be too late. They itch and burn like crazy. But my lunch spot was perfect, and I felt good about packing out a large bag of kettle chips. I don’t know where they’re going to go when I hang my food bag later, but I’m happy to have something salty to eat.


Tater and Norseman arrived as I posted pictures to social media and considered getting moving again. Tater is still having a lot of aches and pains. She gingerly lowered herself down to the rock and began stretching and spraying biofreeze on her knees and ankles. Norseman filtered water and we commiserated with each other about the rock faces and how they aggravate various parts of our lower legs. I’ve been doing ankle circles in the morning and evenings, which has helped with hiker hobble for sure, but the angles of the terrain are still having an impact.

I decided to keep moving rather than wait for them. Again because I felt kind of like a third wheel. They’ve been hiking together for quite awhile now. Anyway, I made my way down the steep descent from the horn and walked the wooded ridge to saddleback junior.


The climb up to the summit of saddleback junior was similarly full of boulder slabs, but it was much shorter than the other two climbs.


The summit sign had a skull resting on it for whatever reason, which made me imagine saddleback junior as the rebellious little brother of saddleback. Excuse me while I spend too much time alone and anthropomorphize the mountains.


I walked past the sign and took another short break in the sun just low enough from the summit to be out of the wind. I happened to notice a squashed blueberry on the path, which made me realize I was surrounded by blueberry bushes. There weren’t many ripe ones here, versus bemis, which was littered with edible blueberries, but I managed to collect a handful.


As I sat, I lamented my water situation. I had mistakenly blown past the tentsite where I should have gotten more water. Now I had a little over another mile to go before I would get to the next shelter and the accompanying water source. I could tell I was dehydrated by my continued low energy, and I was starting to get a headache. As I groused to myself, I heard male hikers laughing on the summit. I wasn’t in the mood to engage (I promise, sometimes I actually AM in the mood to talk to people), so I cut my break short and continued down the mountain.

The descent became steep almost immediately. I carefully picked my way down the jumble of boulders. As I placed my right foot on the slanted surface of a rock, my foot lost its purchase and I went tumbling onto my right elbow/forearm and right butt cheek. I landed hard enough to make me shaky, and the pain in my butt was sharp enough to make me nauseated. Normally when I fall, I pause for a second and immediately resume hiking. This time, I took my pack off and leaned against the offending boulder to collect myself. My right arm felt a little strange, which made me paranoid that I’d broken something. I gave it a minute and moved it around to test for pain. Nothing hurt, so I concluded that I’d just knocked the crap out of myself. A red welt had already formed on my rear, so I’m sure that will turn into a substantial bruise. I also worried about my tailbone because of how hard I fell. There was a shot of referred pain from my glute to my tailbone as I resumed walking, but it was short lived. There’s a saying among NOBOs “no pain, no Maine.” I think that applies on a micro level to just the state of Maine. I’ve fallen at least once every day, and the one day I didn’t fall, I got stung by bee, which hasn’t happened to me in literally 25 years. I think Maine is trying to kill me.

The fall made me shaky and paranoid about falling again for most of the descent. I managed to stay upright, but lost my footing a few more times. The trail finally eased into a flatter, more gradual descent until I reached the shelter. A gaggle of French teenagers sat around talking while I wordlessly put my bag down and filtered water from the stream 10 yards in front of the shelter. I made sure to drink a lot and filtered more so that I could try to catch up with my dehydration. I had intended to eat another snack at the shelter, but I had no desire to be around that many pairs of eyes, so I walked up the trail a few hundred yards, found a good rock to sit on and took my break there. Then I made my way up a gradual ascent to poplar ridge, which was a mediocre viewpoint for the surrounding mountains.

From there, the afternoon became somewhat of a blur. The trip down from poplar ridge was steep at times with the ever present slab walking and rock walls that had to be navigated. The trail eventually changed over to roots and rock piles. There has definitely been a lot of trail work done in this section because there were new stepping stones in a lot of the flat sections:


I took a final break near a small viewpoint and then pushed onward for the last drop into orbeton stream. The stream is apparently a tricky rockhop at best, which I hadn’t been aware of until tater mentioned it on one of our breaks today.


When I got to the edge of the water, I surveyed the potential paths I could take. My strategy seemed promising, but the fourth rock that I stepped on wobbled in such a way that both of my feet slipped right over the sides and into the shin deep water. My left shin grazed the rock on the way down, giving me yet another bruise for the day. I stood there in disbelief and then, rather than bother with rocks, I simply walked through the water to the other side of the stream. I stood on the bank with water pouring out of my shoes and said “thanks, Maine” in a sarcastic voice. Then I said, with forced amusement, “I just washed my shoes” trying to use moss’s perspective from his fording in VT.


I rounded the corner for the last .1 mile to the stealth spot I had picked out for the night and came face to face with an absurdly steep rocky climb. I stood there gaping at the climb and laughed while I said “you’ve got to fucking kidding me.” I couldn’t believe it. But I had to go up it, so I stumbled and heaved my way up the hill and onto a logging road.


I crossed the stream, which had an unexpectedly good view of the mountain I’d just come down and found the stealth spot listed in guthook. I went to work setting up camp while attempting to send a few texts with my frenetic and anemic signal. I finally had to give up on texting because it took over 5 minutes for them to send and the process was murdering my phone battery. I threw a bear line and put my pack in my tent to deal with setting up my bed later. Tater and Norseman showed up right as I sat down to boil water for dinner. They set up camp while I tried my best not to eat all of my snacks at once.


We all sat at the stream together and went about our dinner routines. Norseman slow cooked beans and rice and didn’t start eating until after tater and I were long done. Tater ate a buttload of mashed potatoes (no surprise there) and laughed at herself for once again getting them on her person, which is how she earned her trail name. I ate one of my favorite Mary Jane meals (bare burrito) and continued feeling snacky. I don’t know if I needed to eat more or if it’s just hormones or thirst, but I felt like I could have eaten a second dinner. As we sat by the water, a trio of young, crusty southbounders arrived with two very cute dogs, one of whom came over to me and leaned against me as I pet it. They didn’t stick around, which was fine with me, but I wanted to steal their dogs.
I left Norseman and tater by the water to take care of the annoying period task of emptying/washing my cup. That monthly scourge began yesterday, which was convenient timing for the hostel, but it means a few days of hassle for now. I walked down the logging road a stretch and ducked off into the woods out of sight. When I returned, I managed to get my cinderblock of food in the air.


Then I retired retired to my tent to settle in for the night. My butt cheek is markedly sore and tingles when I lay on it, and my arm is achy, but it could have been much worse. I’m finishing this to the sound of the brook cascading down the hillside and the very occasional squeak from Tater’s sleeping pad. I’m happy to not be camped here alone even if the company did set off my social anxiety a bit.

Mile 1969.4 to mile 1982.9 (13.5)

Total miles: 979.7

Creature feature: the occasional red squirrel, a new little bird that reminds me of a warbler but with a more bulbous midsection, and a single garter snake