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.

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 103: foggy with a chance of boulders edition


I woke up around 5:15 and dosed until my alarm went off at 530. I nearly fell back asleep, but I’ve got 14 miles on the agenda, and there’s no telling how long it will take to cover the distance. It poured for a few hours last night, but it didn’t keep me awake the way it usually does. Thanks, mahoosuc notch, for exhausting me enough to sleep through the rain. I did a quick foot and calf massage and then headed to the privy with far less hiker hobble than I expected considering yesterday’s insanity. The sleeping youth group filled the shelter like little ducks in a row. On the way back to my tent, I went into the woods past a the tents of a few late arrivers to retrieve my food bag. Then I had a quiet breakfast in my tent while the rest of the world dozed. I had everything packed and ready to go around 645. I gave the youth group a wave on my way out as they geared up for what I imagine was a protracted breakfast cooking routine.


The morning started with yet another climb, this one towards west baldpate mountain. Someone has done a lot of trail maintenance because over half the ascent consisted of stone stairs. At the top of the mountain, I put on my wool layer and took a break to upload some pictures from yesterday’s craziness to social media. 


It was a foggy morning, which is sad because I imagine the views from this mountain are pretty incredible given the exposed slabs. After 15 minutes of being a phone zombie, I mustered the energy to keep walking. I passed a hiker who had cowboy camped* on top of the mountain last night after arriving at about one in the morning. Apparently, he sat down at Grafton Notch waiting out the rain until 11p and then climbed up in the dark. I don’t get it, but he seemed happy about his choice.

There was a short descent between the east and west baldpate peaks wherein I managed to fall on my right butt cheek because everything was wet. Then came a crazy climb up the east peak. I wondered if a mountain named baldpate would be exposed and the answer is YES. The last half mile to the peak was exposed rock slab that just. kept. going. up.

 The wind whipped the fog around as I traveled from one cairn to the next on a football field of rock slab (top picture is another example). I was grateful for the lack of rain, but the wind really spooked me, sending my fight or flight response into high gear. 


I tried to imagine how different I would feel if I was doing the same climb on a sunny day. That settled me marginally, but I would be lying if I said more thoughts of skipping Maine didn’t pop into my head. Over every rise came more exposed rock slab disappearing into the dense fog. 


I finally reached the wide ridge where there were the usual beautiful alpine plants to admire, including red moss and more red dotted lichen.


I tried to come down from the fright of climbing straight into the air on the side of a mountain. I also tried, with minimal success, not to preemptively freak out about the descent on the other side of the ridge. As I reached the point at which the trail started to go down, I saw a new bird that was ochre colored with a black mask and an orange beak and what might be yellow trim at the bottom of its tail feathers. It didn’t seem very frightened of me as it hung out on a perch about 20 yards away. I stared for a minute trying to memorize what it looked like and then continued down the slab.


As I hit the tree line, the trail devolved into a series of steep, slick rock faces. They weren’t as textured as they have been lately, so I immediately resorted to butt scooching until the rocks and the grade became more manageable. The video is of a particularly useless metal ladder that was more treacherous than sticking to the boulders. It took me about 2.5 hours to go a little over two miles, which felt depressingly slow. The trail eventually moderated to a series of ups and downs. I stopped at the frye notch shelter to get water right as it began to drizzle. I assumed I wouldn’t get out of today without rain because the humidity was out of control. The trail took a sharp uptick after the shelter that left me short of breath and very aware of how tired my legs are today. I also noticed that my lats and pec muscles are sore from all the full-body support I had to do to get through yesterday’s bouldering.

Once I got through the climb, the trail became so mild that I forgot I was in Maine. The rain picked up a notch, so I stopped and put on my raincoat because the temperature was only about 70 (if I had to guess). The forest consisted of dense undergrowth and hardwood trees. With the exception of occasional tricky rock hops and slippery tree roots, the next few miles were easy, albeit soggy walking. Around noon, I passed a good looking log that I momentarily considered using as a lunch spot even though I was dismayed by the meager number of miles I’d covered thus far. I stopped a few feet past the log, turned around and decided to just take advantage of the good seat while it was only sort of raining. I ate lunch and texted my mother to see if she could make a reservation for me at a hostel because I have no clue when I will have enough signal to make phone calls, and I can’t seem to get out of the scarcity mindset of things being booked. The trail continued to be mild for nearly the rest of the day, although I still managed to fall when my left foot hit an especially squishy spot in the mud, and I couldn’t stop my backwards momentum. I landed on my left butt cheek with a laugh. Leave it to me to fall in the simplest of places.

I made it to Dunn cascades sooner than I expected. I heard the falls from a distance, and as I rounded a corner, I saw the water rushing over a steep drop that took a sharp left turn to flow between two cliffs. The twist in the water was mesmerizing and difficult to capture on camera, but here’s my attempt: 


I watched it for a few minutes before heading up the short, but intense climb north of the falls. The trail took me through pines and past several more streams.

 

I stopped to stare at this trio of waterfalls and dictated some of the day’s notes watching a small black and white bird hop from branch to branch on a sapling. Today felt like fall with the low light and wet leaves on the ground. The trail then crossed a road and dropped down to a stream where I stopped to get water because it’s the last official stop until the shelter 5.7 miles away. I walked through more pines that transitioned into a muddy rooty mess reminiscent of Vermont. This section was in dire need of trail maintenance with disintegrating and/or unstable bog boards. Thankfully, it didn’t last long, and soon enough, I returned to more manageable footing.
The trip up Mount Wyman Was barely noticeable until the last two tenths of a mile when it abruptly changed to scaling rock slabs and climbing tree roots. It mellowed out almost as soon as it started. I took a short break at this spot and watched the fog roll through feeling sad that I couldn’t see farther into the distance.

 

At the top of the hill, I ran into a SOBO eating a snack. I laughed and told her I had been doing the same thing just down the way. The trail became narrower and overgrown as I got farther from the summit. The rain started again. I cursed myself for taking the extra break and not being at the shelter yet. I had to slow down for some gnarly roots and slick rocks, but I finally got to the water source just south of the shelter. It was a sad series of puddles with no apparent flow. Two guys came down from the shelter empty handed, which was confusing until I saw them pull beers out of the deepest part of the puddle. That didn’t bode well for getting stuck in the shelter with them. I filtered water that actually wasn’t bad looking. As I put my water away, it started to rain harder, so I raced the last tenth of a mile to the shelter and took the corner farthest away from beer brothers. I had been looking forward to sleeping in my tent, but the sites weren’t that great, and I didn’t feel like setting up in the rain. Instead, I boiled water and set up my macaroni and cheese to cook while I blew up my sleeping pad. A drenched hiker named Bambi Magnet showed up and ate in silence on the front ledge of the shelter. A downpour thundered on the tin roof, and I could hardly hear the beer brothers talking four feet away. They were actually really nice. Wolfie is a NOBO and his friend (name forgotten) came to visit him with beer and good food. Bambi magnet and I talked about his experiences between the PCT and the AT and about moderation. He moved on as the rain slowed because he wanted to get another mile down to a tentsite. I was sad to see him go because he was easy to talk to. Around 7, I went around the corner of the shelter to pee, and when I came back, Action Jackson had arrived. He took up a lot of space physically and interpersonally. I’m finishing this to the sound of rain drumming on the tin roof and Action Jackson discussing mileage and proposed finish dates with the beer brothers. Eavesdropping on their conversation helps me gauge when I might summit Katahdin without having to crunch the numbers. Speaking of which, I misjudged which road I need to use for Rangeley, so I have more miles to cover than I intended between now and monday. No rest for the incorrect.
Mile 1924.9 to mile 1938.9 (14 miles)
Total miles: 935.7
Creature feature: just the new bird I’ve already mentioned, which is possibly a cedar waxwing according to my bird app 
*cowboy camping = sleeping without a shelter of any sort, “under the stars” as they say. could be incredible and could result in a soggy alarm clock. I have yet to do this. 

Day 102: mahoosideawasthat edition


I woke up around 5am this morning after suffering through a nightmare I’ve had before. I can’t remember the content anymore, but the feeling is one of anguish and lack of control. No real surprise there. The shelter was quiet save the light snore of Action Jackson next to me. I don’t think twice anymore about sleeping next to people I’ve know for an hour. I’m not sure it was ever much of a concern, but from an outsider’s perspective, it could be strange to say I slept about 5 inches from two dudes I don’t know and may never see again. I considered going back to sleep, but today is mahoosuc notch day, and it seemed wise to give myself as much time as possible to make it through the gauntlet. I crept as quietly as I could out of my sleeping bag and grabbed my toilet paper out of my pack. When the shelters are full, we exist in 2.5′ x 12′ foot orbits, so I had just enough room to step to the side of my sleeping pad without tromping on my neighbors’ limbs. I grabbed my wet shorts hanging from a nail under the eaves of the shelter and put on my soggy shoes, cursing myself for not taking the insoles out during my long afternoon of not wearing them. Had some quality time in the privy and then squeezed into my shorts. They smell embarrassingly bad because of the rain yesterday. I might have to switch to the shorter backup shorts until I can do laundry. The different length will involve showing off my sweet shorts tan. As I headed back to the shelter, I could see the sunrise over the surrounding mountains through the trees. The colors were a deep pink that eventually turned more orange as the sun actually rose. Sadly the pictures look like nothing, but seeing it pulled me out of my anxiety long enough to remember how amazing it is to be out here.

I grabbed my food bag and sat at the foot of my space with my feet hanging over the low slung shelter. The sleeping platform sits about 2 feet off the ground whereas some of them are as much as 4 feet. Olive was the only person awake. I felt bad for making noise, but I didn’t feel like waiting for the world to stir, so I unwrapped a probar and ate it covered in peanut butter and honey. I’m trying to stretch my breakfasts and the probars weigh less than the granola/muesli mix I packed before I left home. An older gentleman whose name I didn’t catch and who definitely snores, was the first one to rise. The rest of the hikers followed in fits and starts. I was packed and ready to leave by 620. I gave a halfhearted goodbye because I don’t feel all that comfortable with these people and I hate having everyone look at me.


The hike started immediately with a climb to the top of fulling mill mountain. My legs felt strong and my Achilles’ tendons were in surprisingly good shape. I didn’t even really have hiker hobble this morning. I imagine it will only take a few more days for that to set in. Here’s the view from the top of the mountain:

The ridge walk consisted mostly of bog boards and alpine flowers. Then came a steep, mile long descent into mahoosuc notch.


I felt dismayed by all the moisture still on the rocks. The idea of going through the notch was hard enough without trying to navigate slick surfaces. The trip down took the better part of an hour because of the rock faces and slipperiness. I got to the intersection with the sign for the notch and thought about turning left to run away from the whole thing. Maine has really tested my will thus far. I considered quitting at least 5 times yesterday. But I took a deep breath, turned right, and said okay fine,  let’s do it.

The unassuming entrance to the notch blasted me with cool air and a light fog filtered through the trees. The bouldering started almost immediately and only let up for a few yards over the next mile. The notch is considered the longest mile on the AT because it’s painstaking to traverse. Some also say it’s the hardest. I would say it’s the most death defying based on the number of times I had my limbs spread across multiple boulders over top of a crevice with serious injury only a slip away. About 20 minutes into the escapade, I had one leg stretched out to land on a rock 3 feet below me, but my planted foot, which was resting at a precarious angle on the side of a rock, slipped. I went tumbling down into the rock I had intended to step on. I scraped my hand and hit my left ankle bone pretty hard, but no other damage to speak of, which is good because I was worried about my tailbone. Not long after my fall, I heard voices behind me. Action Jackson, Olive, and a clumsy fellow named Tasty had caught up with me. I let them pass and then managed to keep up with them for a little while. I noticed that in their presence, I started second guessing my choices and found myself looking to see what the others were doing. I also felt somewhat alarmed when they pulled ahead, leaving me alone again. Before they arrived, I hadn’t noticed much self-doubt. I simply moved through the maze and tried to make smart choices. After realizing the impact of other people, I worked on letting go of the judgment and returning to myself.


About halfway through the notch, I ran into the group as they filtered water at a little stream. I stood and ate a snack with them, but didn’t stick around for long because I needed the insanity to be over sooner than later. I couldn’t believe we’d only traveled half a mile and still had .4 of a mile to go. I was done having “fun” as everyone kept calling it. My shoes were slippery and my arms were tired from supporting me as I inched from one boulder to the next. was it fun? In some ways, yes. When the traverses weren’t on slippery rocks over 10 foot drops, I enjoyed the jungle gym aspect. Do I want to do it again? No. Maybe if it was the driest day ever, and I didn’t have 26 pounds of gear on my back. Maybe.

I don’t have the memory to give a play by play through the whole notch, so here are some pictures to depict a small measure of the outrageous bouldering we did (top picture included in the madness).


The temperatures fluctuated wildly, as if I had stepped into a steaming greenhouse one minute followed by blasts of cooler air around the next boulder. Small sheets of ice lingered in crevices here and there. At one point, I had my pack off and was crawling through a cavern between two boulders. It was in this section that I got someone else’s blood on my pack as I shoved it over splattered rocks and through the small exit from the crawl space. Towards the end, the boulders were even slipperier because the area clearly doesn’t get much sunlight and a lot of them were covered in moss.
I felt so relieved when the boulders gave way to actual trail. I didn’t want to get excited in case I was wrong about the end, but then it became clear that we’d made it. I sat and ate a snack with the small group while two of them smoked cigarettes (why??). Then the rest of their NOBO crew showed up full of excitement and triumph. I offered to take their picture since I was very much an outsider in the group. I juggled 5 phones while my version of a nightmare occurred as they all stared at me, and I had to give the 1..2..3 picture prompt. Then I left them standing around shooting the shit because I wanted to get through the next big hurdle: mahoosuc arm. Why it’s called that, I don’t know, but it’s a 2000 foot climb in about a mile. In other words, steep AF. It started out mildly enough, although sweat poured down my face in a matter of minutes. The NOBOs caught up with me as the grade intensified. I let a few of them pass me, but I stubbornly tried to stay in front of the other half. That lasted until the top third of a mile, which was nearly all sheer boulder faces. Here’s a picture with a few of the NOBOs to give some perspective on the verticality of the climb.


I felt aggravated that everyone had passed me, but I couldn’t go any faster so I settled into my pace as the boulders continued upwards around every corner.

I finally reached the top and was again faced with being the last one. Hawaii gave a small cheer upon my arrival, which no one else followed, but I appreciated it nonetheless. I dropped my pack and sat on the rocks feeling satisfied and exhausted. Steep climbs I can do any day. The notch I can do without. We covered 4.1 miles in 4 hours. Unreal.


The NOBOs sat around chattering about the intensity of Maine thus far. I felt glad to not be the only one getting pummeled by this wilderness. The older gentleman from last night’s shelter arrived after we had been sitting for a few minutes. He apparently fell pretty hard in the notch, possibly more than once (his blood must be what ended up on my pack). His legs were scraped and bloody in over a dozen places, and he had plans to get off the trail as soon as possible. It sounded like he might be leaving for good because Maine feels too dangerous. I can relate. We all decided to eat lunch at the shelter .9 miles down the trail. Hawaii said “lets kill this pig,” which I find horrifying, but it’s what they say to jumpstart their hike. I started out in the front of the pack, but after about two minutes, I pulled off to the side, and said I wasn’t even going to pretend to be able to keep up. They all trooped past me, and I didn’t see the again until the shelter. Not long after they pulled ahead, I hit a wet spot on a rock and went flying forward onto my right arm and hip. I somehow didn’t get hurt even though I’d fallen with no control. I felt ridiculous, having slipped on a seemingly benign spot, but also relieved at the knowledge that I could fall, and it could be okay.​

 


The trail followed a ridge for a little while. Then I crested a small rise in the trail and began to see lily pads off to my left. Speck pond appeared as if out of nowhere, shrouded in thick fog. There had also been no view to speak of on top of mahoosuc arm because of fog. The trail followed the edge of the pond until the campsite where it took a hard right. I continued forward towards the shelter where I found the NOBO crew already eating. I sat on a rock and prepared my wrap. My hunger felt bottomless, but I don’t have enough snacks to eat extra food, so I did my best to stay within the realm of a normal sized lunch. I half-engaged in conversation, laughing when appropriate but not feeling all that enthused or included. I forced myself to announce a goodbye of sorts as I went to get water because they’re all likely going farther than I am today, and it seemed rude to just disappear. Sunny made a comment about how you never know when we’ll see each other and I got a halfhearted bye in return. As predicted, they were all gone when I got back from fetching my water.
The “little up” we had all been talking about during lunch turned out to be another neverending exposed rock face scramble up the side of Old Speck. I felt somewhat grateful for the fog because it hid just how high I was, but I was also sad to miss what I’m guessing were some really amazing views. There was a slight break in the fog at one point, and I caught a glimpse of the mountainside below.


I didn’t even consider taking the side trail to the actual summit of old speck. Today was not the day for extra mileage and there wouldn’t have been any views because of the fog. At the intersection for the summit, I hung a left to head down the mountain. Or so I thought. The down took a while to materialize and it was intermingled with a lot of small bouldering ascents. The trail eventually did take a consistent downward turn that was far more reasonably graded than I had expected given the verticality of the ascent. The rocks were wet and there were frequent open slabs, but they were of the gnarled texture that’s better for traction.

After about 90 minutes of walking, the trail opened up to these boulders with a nice view of the adjacent mountains. I thanked the skies for not raining in the midst of the endless rock slabs today. Then it took a right and became a bit steeper and significantly wetter. I passed a waterfall that was more of a trickle and several other streams. The trail got rockier still as it approached Grafton notch, although there was about a half mile of simple walking right before the road crossing. I reached the parking lot and wandered over to where I saw two hikers. I didn’t see the trail and the parking lot sits between two maps in my app so it’s not easy to tell where to go. I asked the hikers where I could find the trail. When I got a flummoxed response, I realized they were likely SOBO, and I had asked it in a very NOBO-centric way. They pointed me in the right direction, and I crossed the road to find this giant wooden AT sign.


The hike up from the notch to bald pate shelter was mercifully uneventful. The humidity and the slight incline made for even more sweating, and I realized that that’s part of what I love about hiking. Maybe it sounds strange, but I love it when sweat streams down my face, and I look down and see it trickling down my shins. Anyway, I made it to the shelter to find a school group, but none of the NOBOs. I wandered around with my mouth agape feeling exhausted after 11 hours of difficult hiking. One of the leaders of the group approached me holding his brimming food bowl of beans and rice that smelled of tacos. He said they’d be happy to scoot over in the shelter if I needed them to, but I told him I’d rather tent. I had been thinking about the privacy of my tent on the climb up from the notch, and I had already decided to use it even though it’s likely to rain. The mosquitoes buzzing around my head on the climb had also driven my decision.

The group leader told me where he thought the tent sites were, and I wandered in that direction. I picked a beautifully flat spot and began setting up my tent, which I have yet to do since returning from music camp. I had gotten a stake or two in the ground when the leader came over with his co-lead and said that they had a lot of leftover taco fixings that they’d be happy to share if I wanted to bring my bowl over. I enthusiastically agreed to come over after I set up my tent. As I continued setting the stakes, I pondered the etiquette of having to stay by their group while I ate or doing what I wanted, which was to grab food and run to the solitude of my tent site.

I grabbed my bowl and threw my entire pack in my tent. 10 pairs of teenage eyes stared at me while the leaders asked my name and offered me food. I awkwardly asked the kids where they were from and how long they’d been in the woods. In my head, I thanked the chatty ones for not leaving my question hanging in the air too long. Then I managed to hold some semblance of a conversation with the leaders and interjected in the teens’ conversations every so often while I ate beans, rice and Fritos (their Fritos!) covered in sriracha.

I watched the leaders as they doled out tasks and tried to recruit the kids to buy into their responsibilities. One of the nerdier, possibly queer, of the bunch asked me about my tattoo and seemed intrigued by thru hiking. When it felt reasonable, I extracted and returned to my silent patch of woods. I cleaned my bowl, brushed my teeth and pushed through the task of throwing a mediocre bear line because there’s sadly no food box here. Then I went to get water, toting my phone in the very slight chance that I could catch a signal somewhere alone the way. I’d lost what tiny signal I had about a mile before descending into the notch and hadn’t climbed high enough for it to return. A few of the kids were at the water making a mess of the pools with their giant cook pot, but they were friendly, and I forgave them in my head because they’re learning. I went a few feet upstream from them and filled my water bag. I felt a few drops of rain as I filtered the water. Just as I suspected based on the increase in wind over the last hour. I hit the privy on my way back to the tent and then crawled inside to finish setting up my bed. I decided it was time to change shirts, so now I smell like clean laundry while also getting wafts of hobo camp coming from my spandex. I’m finishing this to the sound of constant rain pattering against my tent and the wind occasionally gusting through the trees. My wrists are sore from the gymnastics in the notch and my left ankle feels stiff from the beating it took in the fall. I’m going to attempt a 14 mile day tomorrow so I can try to get this infernal state over with. I’m much farther behind schedule than I would like, and I fear that I won’t start the southern section until Labor Day. However, I’m hoping the easier terrain combined with my increased hiking strength will help trim a little of that lag time. Another thing of note: going through the notch has made me more confident on the insane descents that these mountains keep throwing at me.

Mile 1912.9 to mile 1924.9 (12)

Total miles: 921.7

Creature feature: saw a new bird by speck pond. its beak reminded me of a sand piper with a more compact body and a grayish coloring and it repetitively dipped its tail region on a strange way. that’s about all I can recall for today.

Day 101: white knuckle edition 


**As those of you on my social media may already know, I’m off trail at the moment because I fractured my left elbow in central Maine. I’m going to post the preceding days of hiking as usual before I write about the incident that has me sitting in Brooklyn in front of my laptop with a half splint (for now) and a heavy heart.**
 

I woke up around 530 and put on my glasses to check out this view from the shelter:

 

The mosquitoes weren’t terrible last night, but I got a bite on my arm that made me wary of sticking my legs out of my sleeping bag. I tossed and turned for a lot of the night because of the heat. Did a little calf massage and changed my shorts before I hopped down from the loft and walked to the privy. By the time I got back, most people were stirring. I ate breakfast sitting on a rock at the edge of the shelter, filtering water in between bites. My appetite is still kind of wonky, so I had to force my way through breakfast.
I was packed up and walking towards the trail around 645. Took a quick duck down to the pond to see if the moose had returned, but no dice. The morning started with a steep climb that had me drenched in a matter of minutes. I came to a small stream about a mile after the shelter. The water stops are few and far between today, so I gave in and filtered an extra liter. As I stooped over my water bottle squeezing my sawyer bag, the rest of the crew from the shelter trickled in. Everyone stopped to fill up and collectively whined about the water situation. I left them griping and made my way up the next steep climb towards the summit of Mount Success. It seemed as if it would be a mile of boulder scrambling, but it flattened out to periodic bog boards and mildly rocky footing before the final boulder scramble to get to the summit. The trail was set a bit lower than the trees with an abundance of moss that reminded me of the whites and the higher peaks of MA and VT.

 

Halfway up the climb, I turned to see this view: 

The NOBO named first aid passed me, and we whined about the false summit a little ways back. I complained about the prospect of another mile of climbing, but first aid seemed to think we were nearly at the top. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was wrong because I’d just checked the mileage on my phone. I got to the summit and found first aid with Olive, another one of his NOBO friends. 

Hawaii showed up a few minutes later. They all sat around eating chips while I posted a few pictures from last night. I continued to be a phone zombie with a beautiful view in the background while they collected themselves and got moving.

 

The trail climbed a bit more then flattened out to bog boards with little white scraggly flowers popping out of thick clumps of grass. 


Then came the first of many steep descents, one of which consisted of jagged boulders the size of smart cars arranged in odd angles that were not conducive to my center of gravity. 


It was the first of many butt scooches for the day and felt like a prelude to the notch (aka mahoosuc notch, which is dubbed the longest mile on the AT because you have to traverse a crazy boulder field at glacial speeds).
As I went down one of many steep boulder faces, a knife-like pain shot through my right Achilles’ tendon and my foot gave out a little. It happened again on the next step. When I got to the bottom of the boulder, I stretched my calf and tried not to freak out because it felt hard to put all of my weight down. It happened again on the next boulder, so when I got to a flat spot, I decided to stop for lunch. I wasn’t really hungry, but it seemed wise to give my leg a few minutes of rest. I watched small sparrow-like birds chatter and jump from branch to branch as I ate my wrap (no need to specify; you likely know the contents by now). I’m sad that I didn’t pack out any chips, especially after watching the NOBOs sit around with their giant bags this morning. My Achilles’ tendon felt better after the rest, which is good because I had a long afternoon of scaling boulders in my future (not that I knew it at the time).

 

I ran into the cluster of NOBOs again at the Maine border where they asked me to take their boomerang dance video to commemorate crossing into their last state. I lingered after their departure and ate a snack to the sound of dragonflies popping around me. The trail was reasonable for a about five minutes until I popped out to this view that was followed by descending the giant boulders in the second picture. 


Then came the goose eyes, a series of peaks by the same name that are denoted by cardinal directions. The first goose eye (west) passed unremarkably. There were steep sections that definitely fell in the realm of rock climbing, but the whites have worn off the shock of looking up to find 20 foot boulders as the “trail.” As I made my way towards the peak of east goose eye, things got a little more interesting than I care for, but the views were incredible (hopefully the video works): 


It started raining right as I reached this boulder face with a rebar ladder.
 

I questioned the sanity of climbing up in the rain, but I didn’t have much choice, so I stashed my poles and inched up the side of the boulder. The climb continued around the bend without the help of rebar. I reached the peak and looked at what lay ahead: goose eye North with a long exposed section (top picture).
And then it started thundering. I was surrounded by two clusters of thunderstorms, one off to my right and one behind me. It was hard to tell which direction they were headed, and I hated the idea of standing around in the rain, so I kept moving. It was slow going down endless rock faces that had me emotionally white knuckling it the entire afternoon. As I inched my way down an exposed and especially tricky boulder, a deafening clap of thunder sounded off to my right at what felt like a very uncomfortable distance. I sat there with one leg jammed against the slick corner of a rock, my arms holding my weight, no clear step within reach, and the weight of my pack threatening to propel me forward. Not exactly a place I could pick up the pace. That was one of the moments where I could see myself tumbling down the rocks. I very nearly did, but somehow managed to slip and slide my way to having both feet solidly on the ground.

 

I wound my way down east goose eye, taking care not to slip on the wooden boards in place to theoretically make the descent easier. The rain slowed to a light drizzle, but the trail spit me out onto the bald just as the thunder intensified. The lack of lightning made me feel slightly less insane for crossing the bald in the storm. I made my way across the exposed section, dipping back into the trees only to be taken back out into the open repeatedly. Then came the climb up goose eye North, which also left me more exposed than I wanted as the rain picked up and the thunderstorm settled directly overhead. The descent from goose eye north was one slick boulder face after another. I wanted to sit down and give up a dozen times. I also considered the possibility of just skipping Maine altogether. I felt mentally exhausted from the constant fear of slipping down the side of rock faces like this:


Eventually, the terrain eased up to a normal version of hard with actual rocks instead of sheets of boulders. I reached the full goose shelter around 330 and found the entire NOBO crew from last night. They had their gear spread out and someone was sweeping the shelter floor. I had hoped to see other hikers so I could navigate the decision of whether to stay or go. I had assumed they would all continue through the notch, so I was surprised to find they had stopped short. Hawaii said they’d been there for about a half hour and had just made the decision to stay. I sat on the edge of the shelter and weighed my options. I really wanted to get the notch out of the way because it’s plaguing me in much the same way moosilauke did. However, the prospect of going through it alone on a day when the boulders were likely wet and it was potentially going to rain again seemed unwise. I ate a snack and continued to dither. The idea of getting stuck in the rain alone is finally what did me in. I stood up and reached down to unhook my gaiters. Hawaii exclaimed “you calling it??” I sheepishly said yes and continued taking off my shoes. Then I set up my bed and switched into dry shorts. I added a few things to the collection of soggy clothes hanging from the trees and proceeded to loaf about for the next two hours. It poured about 90 minutes after I made the decision to stay. 


The NOBOs watched avatar and ate snacks while I lay on my sleeping pad trying to have a text conversation with a schizophrenic cell phone signal. One minute I’d have a signal good enough to receive a picture, and the next minute, I had no service whatsoever. Around 530, I boiled water and made dinner. I had somehow managed to sit around for 3 hours without eating all of my snacks. There’s definitely something wrong with my appetite.

 

More hikers filtered in as the afternoon wore on, and the shelter quickly filled up. There are now about 10 people inside with another 7-8 tented out back. I’m finishing this to the sound of a mustachioed hiker named Action Jackson shuffling in his sleeping bag, leftover rain dripping from the shelter eaves, and the tap of my fingers on the screen. Today was frightening and emotionally exhausting. Tomorrow comes the notch and then mahoosuc arm, which is a notoriously steep climb.
Mile 1903.3 to mile 1912.9 (9.6)
Total miles: 909.7
Creature feature: I startled something in the woods that made a short growling screech, but I didn’t lay eyes on the source, a little brown rabbit (hare?) that I’ve never seen before, and the usual bird suspects.