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.

Day 80: soggy meltdown edition 


I slept horribly last night. It took forever to fall asleep, and then I tossed and turned all night. There was a horrifying amount of sweating and my legs were inexplicably itchy. A seemingly steady trickle of people going to the bathroom did little to help with my restlessness. I woke up around 530 for good because one of the hikers started packing up his gear. With a heavy sigh, I crawled out of my bag, packed my gear and put on warmer clothes. A wall of white stood outside completely obscuring the nearby mountains. 55 degrees and raining does not a happy hiker make, especially when that hiker is worried about having a wet foot and an open wound. 

We put our packs outside and huddled on the corner benches near the information desk because it was too cold and rainy to sit on the porch. It felt strange to sit in the same room waiting for leftovers while the paying lodgers ate their breakfasts. I did as many things as I could to look busy and pass the time. I read the information binder cover to cover. Looked at the oversized laminated map on the wall. Thumbed through the junior naturalist work book. Eventually, I had to eat a few bites of granola because I was getting too hungry. Midway through breakfast the croo put on a Harry Potter themed educational skit about folding the lodge blankets and packing out your trash. It was horribly campy and hilarious even though I felt embarrassed by the overacting. 
A little after 8, we were welcomed into the kitchen to collect our leftovers. Sadly there weren’t any of the infamous pancakes, but I felt grateful for the eggs that went along with a bowl of mediocre oatmeal and hard to resist coffee cake. I offered to do more dishes after breaksfast while the others folded blankets and swept out the bunkrooms. Walden arrived just as I was pushing through my coffee cake sugar coma to head out into the drizzle. She had left her pond camp around 615 and already gone over a soggy Mt. Garfield. I waited for her while she ate coffee cake, which she aptly consumed with a cup of coffee. Pathfinder arrived not long after Walden and was thoroughly confused by her presence. He looked soggy and haggard while Walden somehow looked as if she was on her way to the gym. It was hard to leave the warm hut, but we had a mountain waiting for us in the cold, spitting rain. 
I feel like south kinsman serves as a good baseline for heinous climbs and south twin registered well below the misery of kinsman. We scaled manageable sized boulders with few if any slick, flat behemoths. We talked as we headed up the mountain. I had a hard time breathing because of my oatmeal and sugar-filled breakfast. I think that may have set me up for a day of blood sugar crashes and the endless hunger feeling, but I’m getting ahead of myself. 


The summit of south twin was blanketed in white. A brisk wind hit me as the trees receded. The trail took a right and descended to a slick rock field that gave me visions of stitches on various parts of my body should I lose my footing. I felt cold and tense as we followed the blazes left up another short climb that was quickly followed by a rocky descent. We ran into a group of teens with a chatty dad whom Walden talked to, but I was too cold to care and had to work hard not to be as biting as the wind. Around 1045, I stopped alongside the trail and ate a snack to quell the empty feeling that had been present since leaving the hut. 
We walked another hour in an annoying, rock hopping mess that made my feet hurt. I finally had to stop to eat around noon.  There was nowhere to escape the rain, so I sat on a rock and made a sparsely filled peanut butter frito tortilla. As I took my first bite, it started to rain harder. I considered getting up to walk and eat, but the terrain wouldn’t allow for such a thing so I ate in cold misery while Walden stood eating snacks with her pack on. 

I felt thoroughly chilled after sitting still for barely 10 minutes. I couldn’t walk fast enough to warm up and I felt anxious about hypothermia because we were nowhere near a place to warm up or dry out. I knew I should stop to put on my wool base layer, but the effort seemed too great. After 15 minutes of needless suffering, I finally forced myself to peel off my raincoat and tug my long sleeved shirt over my wet arms. The extra layer warmed me immediately, but it did little for my mood. The next two hours were miserable. Thoughts of quitting bounced around my head as my feet sloshed over wet rocks and dipped into unavoidable mud puddles. 

The trail dropped in elevation just enough to raise the temperature to a bearable level. There were no views to speak of, but the boreal forest offered its own points of beauty. 

As we continued to descend towards the hut, we came upon an oversized ladder that made us erupt into laughter. I made a joke about feeling like a gnome as I stood on the ladder with at least a foot on either side of me. 


The levity dwindled as the trail got steeper. Then came an influx of rocks and small streams of water adding to the overall challenges of a taxing day. Not long after the forest protection warning (i.e. the .3 mile land mark to the hut), we came to a rushing stream that I believe is part of the water system for zealand falls. The water cuts through wide flat boulders, which we had to cross. Walden had already pulled out of site when I reached the stream. Nothing stood out as particularly tricky, so I stepped forward without thinking too much about it. My right foot flew out from under me. I landed hard on my right hip and forearm and I slid across the rock, stopping just in time to soak both of my feet in the stream. 
After a bit of cursing, I crept downstream across the slick boulders and stepped over the water at a narrrower point than where I’d fallen. Why I bothered given my wet feet is beyond me. I made it to the zealand falls hut a sore, miserable lump of a human being with a fresh hole in the elbow of my raincoat. I stepped into the common area and went straight to the kitchen to request a bowl of soup. Today’s offering was potato dill, which made me miss my mom because she is a potato soup fiend. I’d like to say I felt better after warm food, but the truth is I was still an exhausted, cranky mess with sodden feet. The woman who gave me snacks at galehead was sitting at a different table, looking dry and cheerful even though we’d just done the same hike. The room was situated in such a way that it was nearly impossible to avoid the cold draft emanating from frequently opened doors. I finally moved to the same table as snack woman because it was slightly out of the of the entryways. Another woman from galehead sat across from me and asked me a litany of questions about thru hiking. I found out that snack woman’s trail name is sunshine and her hiking friend’s name is happy. I swallowed the sharp remark that bubbled in my throat, and said that I would try to keep my black cloud relegated to the far side of the table. They laughed and empathized with my mood. I decided to get a second bowl of soup in an effort to not cook my food for dinner. The second round of potatoes did not sit as well as the first, but I succeeded in feeling full for awhile. 
I felt more than ready to head out after such a long break when a soggy pathfinder walked in. Walden began scheming with him about a potential hostel stay tomorrow and other errands she needed to run. I felt antsy to get out of my wet shoes and impatient with the ambivalent tone of the conversation. I was just short of leaving to keep my cranky to myself when Walden decided she was ready to move on. We left the hut and bypassed the falls altogether. I had no desire to be around more water and I’d had enough falling for one day. 


The terrain for the first three miles between zealand falls and Ethan pond was as promised: blissfully flat and easy on the feet. We made good time with little in the way of distractions except mushrooms and a small, brown spotted bird that neither of us could identify. It reminded me of an owl, but that seemed odd given the time of day. 


With about two miles to go, we crossed a rust colored stream and the trail turned into root filled, boggy mess that nearly sent me over the edge even with the help of bogboards. The turn off for Ethan pond shelter could not have come soon enough. I was hungry, thirsty, and beyond ready to take my shoes off. The side trail to the shelter was unfortunately long and rocky. I once again made the mistake of passing the water source instead of stopping to fill up on the way in. Ethan pond was shrouded in fog (top picture) as we passed it on our way to the tent sites. The caretaker happened to be near the shelter when we arrived and showed us to a tent pad that we could theoretically share. Walden seemed skeptical about fitting. I rescinded all decision making due to hunger and dumped my bag on the ground in search of snacks. Walden decided to wander back over to the group tent pad to set up there. I had a sneaking suspicion she wanted some space from my crankiness, but I didn’t ask for confirmation. Instead, I went about wielding my new wooden tent pad skills gained from the liberty springs caretaker. My knots were not fancy, but they did the trick. 

I gathered my food bag and water filter and headed back down the path to make the annoying trek to the pond. The caretaker was headed in the opposite direction with her clipboard. When I asked her if I should go back to my tent to check-in, she said yes. I kept my whining to myself, and turned around, taking care not to trip now that the cute, queer caretaker was walking behind me. It turned out to be a waste of effort because I revealed my klutziness when I nearly fell off the tent pad while trying to get my wallet out of my tent. Nothing to do but own it and laugh. 
After impressing the caretaker, I went back to my chores, dropping my food bag at the bear box. On the way to the pond, I overheard a conversation between the caretaker, Walden and pathfinder. We haven’t had cell service since about 10am this morning, so pathfinder hasn’t been able to coordinate with his son to get a ride to gorham tomorrow. The caretaker is actually going to gorham tomorrow and can drive them if pathfinder’s son is not at their meeting point. I would go with them, but gorham is so far out of the way from here, and I don’t want to take a zero. I also kind of want to be alone for a day. I need to charge stuff, but I think I can do that at the Pinkham notch visitor center. 
After getting water, I sat at the cooking area in a very awkward silence with a group of SOBOs who had clearly been talking to each other before I sat down. I didn’t have the energy to stave off the awkwardness, so I rooted through my foodbag and ate a bunch of random snacks in order of salty to sweet. This seems like a good summation of today: 


Walden and pathfinder joined me, which was a relief from the forced SOBO energy. I retired to my tent early so I could get out of my wet shoes and write up my notes before losing all ability to string 5 words together. I peeled off my wet shoes and socks and crawled into my tent. Changed into sleeping shorts and went about cleaning my foot. It hurt on the rocks today and was twingier than yesterday. It’s clearly not good for it to be wet all day, but there’s nothing I can do about it. The hand sanitizer didn’t burn as much, so I guess that’s a good sign? I left my socks off after I put neosporin on to let my feet dry. Now I’m finishing this with freezing hands to the sound of bullfrogs and spring peepers in the pond and rain plinking on my tent. 
Mile 1829.7 to mile 1841.5 (11.8)
Total miles: 838.3 
Creature feature: a small speckled brown bird that I think is some sort of owl but I don’t want to use my phone to look it up, song sparrows and red squirrels. 

Day 79: Franconia Ridge edition 


**forgive the unannounced silence. I’ve been away at an old time music camp. expect a backlog of posts. I will eventually catch up with myself as I head back to the land of bouldering and poor cell service**
I woke up around 545 and wiggled the toes on my left foot. The skin around the wound felt stiff and sore. As I walked to the privy, I noticed that the stabbing sensation from the night before had not dissipated in the slightest. Hiking felt like an improbable task. I went back to my tent and switched into my hiking shorts. Then I cleaned the wound again and attempted a bandaid/medical tape covering to prevent debris from getting into the area. I packed up my sleeping bag and hobbled over to the cooking area feeling anxious and upset. This came out of nowhere. I kept reminding myself that it’s just a cut and it will heal and it doesn’t have to mean the end, but it could if it gets infected. It felt unsafe to hike with a foot that might not be able to withstand the sure steps I need to navigate steep boulder hopping, but I felt too stubborn to rest another day. Today’s goal is 10 hard miles away to galehead hut from the liberty springs campsite up Little Haystack mountain and across Franconia Ridge, which includes Mt Lincoln and Mt Lafayette. I felt concerned about the dwindling amount of food in my bag, but I decided that I can resort to buying cliff bars and snickers at the huts if I have to. I also had an unexpected chaffing sensation around the left side of my rib cage when I woke up. It felt like everything was falling apart at once as I ate breakfast in silence. I hobbled back to my tent and packed my gear. Walden met me at the trail intersection and waited while I filtered water for the day. There aren’t any reliable sources from here to Garfield Ridge campsite with the exception of a pond, which I try my best to avoid (beaver fever). The caretaker arrived to put a handwritten weather report for the day on the post leading towards the tent sites. With her letter safely tucked in my hip pocket, I bid her farewell and started the climb up to the ridge. 

My foot felt mostly okay walking up rocks, but the searing pain returned as we turned onto the flatter ridge trail. Thankfully it got steep relatively quickly after passing through a stand of firs. Walden fell behind as the trail turned upward. I made no effort to wait for her because the pain in my foot consumed whatever energy I might have for talking. She caught up with me after awhile, and I told her I was hanging out in my pain bubble. She gave me space, which I felt grateful for, and I pulled ahead as the trail continued to steepen. I came to a tricky bouldering section that required some assessment. As I strategized, a SOBO hiker came around the corner. I let him scramble down because I had no desire for him to witness the grunting that was about to occur. 

I made it to the top of the boulder and turned around to this view: 

I decided to wait for Walden to get her picture coming up the path. As I waited, a middle aged hiker I’d seen at the campsite arrived. He made a bigger mess out of the climb than I did, getting his bag caught on a fir tree. I tried to help, but he insisted that I sit and rest while he unhooked himself. He finally made it onto the boulder and sat down with a great sigh. 


Walden arrived shortly thereafter and made quick work of the boulder. We sat together for a few minutes taking in the view of mount liberty where we watched the sunset last night. 

The trail climbed a bit more to reach the summit of Little Haystack. I made a joke about not wanting to see Big Haystack after the short but steep climb to the summit. Then the trail flattened out into a more gradual climb towards the exposed section of Franconia Ridge. I could feel my chest expand as the trees receded and the full breadth of the ridge and the surrounding mountains came into view. I’ve seen so many pictures of Franconia Ridge in the years that I’ve followed thru hikers on Instagram, but I still felt in awe of what lay before me.


Walden and I took pictures of the first section of the ridge and made our way down the rocky path. I pulled ahead and didn’t see much of her until the top of Mt Lafayette over an hour later. Somewhere between Lincoln and Lafayette, I ran into the excessively talkative guy who I had wanted to kick on my way down Mt. Killington. I didn’t recognize him at first, but when he said that I looked familiar I finally put it together. I said, weren’t you the one looking for the bar? To which he replied, I’m often looking for bars. He then proceeded to talk at me for the next 15 minutes. I finally sat down in a nonsensical spot on the side of the trail under the guise of taking a break, assuming he would keep walking. No such luck. He stood above me and blathered for another five minutes while I swatted flies and stared off into the distance. He finally said, oh well I talk too much. I should go! I agreed with his assessment and told him I planned to sit in silence for a few minutes. No sense in pretending that he was wrong. 
I met a group of SOBOs (southbounders, in case I haven’t defined that term yet) at the summit of Mt. Lafayette. They were in the midst of receiving trail magic from an Israeli couple who managed to spend most of the conversation plugging their new hiking book and hostel in Israel. They were tiresome, but they did give me a peanut butter sandwich, so I shouldn’t complain. I loitered in the sun on a wide flat rock waiting for Walden while drizzling honey onto my gifted sandwich (who makes plain peanut butter sandwiches?). When she arrived, she promptly laid on the ground with her feet up. She seemed worse for the wear with low energy and an aching back. I decided to hang out a bit longer so we could leave the summit together.  A friendly middle aged guy out for a few days struck up a conversation about pack weight, which led to me being gifted a bag of granola, almost an entire pepperoni sausage (vegetarian guilt continues, but I am still on the sauce), and a hefty quantity of salted nuts. This barely put a dent in the amount of food he had left for his 4 day trip. He then subjected himself to a pack shakedown care of 6 thru hikers. I was about to leave just as they swarmed around him. Geeking out over what to carry was too hard to resist, so I put my pack down and provided support as we examined his choices. All the while, this cute pitbull somehow restrained herself from running full tilt at a giant crow that taunted her from a distance. 


Walden and I left the summit and made our way down the ridge as a thick patch of fog rolled through. Here are a few more pictures of the views from Lafayette and Lincoln along with a few of the plants burrowed into the rocks of the exposed ridges: 


I thanked the sky for remaining dry as I shuffled across sloping boulders with little in the way of toe holds. Walden fell behind almost immediately, and I wouldn’t see her again for the rest of the day. The trail finally flattened out and the rocks dissipated to a reasonable amount as I moved between Franconia Ridge and Mt. Garfield. I passed pathfinder eating lunch on a bed of pine needles a few yards from the trail. I didn’t feel like talking so I kept moving and had lunch alone on a rock at the foot of a steep boulder scramble. Pathfinder came huffing around the corner as I crunched away on my peanut butter frito wrap. He crumpled onto a nearby rock and we commiserated over the intensity of the whites thus far. He told me that Walden had stopped at his lunch spot to rest and hopefully let a headache a pass. I worried about what to do with my goal to get to galehead hut. Walden’s slowing pace did not lend itself to arriving in time for a work for stay slot, if she were even to make it that far. I gave pathfinder Walden’s phone number so that we could share the responsibility of checking in with her. I texted her to ask how she was doing. She remained silent, as I continued the steep, half mile climb over Mount Garfield, which was followed by an equally steep three tenths of a mile descent to Garfield Ridge campsite. 
The hour approached 3 as I wound my way up the steep side trail to the campsite. I hadn’t made the decision to stay at the campsite, but I still cursed myself for not getting water at the stream by the trail intersection. It would be a tedious walk back down/up should I stop here for the night. The caretaker was out of the office, so I passed her tent and wandered to the shelter. Three hikers milled about, setting up their sleeping arrangements and filtering water. I felt conflicted about what to do and had no one to help me decide. Wait for Walden and likely get stuck at Garfield Ridge for the night? Move on and likely get separated from an under the weather friend who might be upset about my compulsion to get to galehead? Given my impending absence for music camp, I felt pressure to get as many miles in as I could. I attempted to recruit the people around me in the decision, but I received apathetic mutterings. I decided to text halfway, who had been in contact earlier in the day from the AMC center. He assured me that I wouldn’t be a horrible person should I decide to keep hiking. He also warned me that the descent from Garfield ridge campsite involved navigating a waterfall that runs through the steep, rocky trail. As I sat with that information, I finally got a response from Walden. She had set up camp way back at the pond on the other side of Mt Garfield. She had been so out of it that it hadn’t occurred to her to check her phone, hence the silence. She wished me well and told me to move on if I wanted to. With that, I donned my pack and headed to deliver the caretaker’s letter. I happened to run into her on the way out of the campsite. Presenting her with her letter brought me great joy and she had a laugh over my apologies for feeling creepy that I already knew her name. I asked her if she thought I had a chance at work for stay if I arrived at galehead as late as 530. She expressed doubt, but said that if I hiked quickly, I might be able make it. I ignored the voice in my head that scoffed at any thought of me moving faster than average and decided to go for it. I rushed back down to the trail, stopping just long enough to fill my sawyer bag with water should I need to stealth camp. Then I picked my way down the mountain feeling glad to not make the trip in the rain forecasted for tomorrow. It felt as treacherous as moosilauke with pitched rockpiles and a steady trickle of water flowing down the hillside. 

Over the next 2.8 miles, I hiked as fast as I could, slowing for the trickier bouldering descents and returning to a half jog on the flatter sections. I nearly fell a couple of times and vowed to slow down only to succumb to the sense of urgency and return to my manic pace. As I got closer, the terrain became more difficult as the boulders and the grade increased. I nearly gave up several times, but forced myself to keep a steady pace as I searched for a break in the trees that might lead to the hut. At 540, I finally reached the intersection with the side trail to the hut. 


I felt the stare of other hikers as I put my pack down at the edge of the porch trying to ignore the swaths of sweat stains across my midsection. I wiped streams of sweat from my face in a vain attempt to hide the fact that I was drenched and went inside to grovel for a place to sleep. The assistant hut manager turned out to be an affable philosophy major (hut croo are nearly exclusively college students or very recent grads) who gladly said I could stay the night, but meals would depend on whether theyhad enough leftovers because they’d already reached their maximum work for stay spots. Here’s one of the views from the hut: 


With my accommodations guaranteed, I settled onto the edge of the porch to wait for dinner. A small child unabashedly stared at me for nearly the entire 20 minute lecture on the hut’s sustainability practices. At some point, I went inside to fill my water bottle and peruse the snack selection. A woman saw me eyeing the tupperware of food for sale and said, do you need candy?? I expressed interest and she returned from her room with several mini candy bars that I happily took off her hands. The paying hut goers finally went in for their dinner, which left me with the 3 other thru hikers (1 NOBO and 2 SOBOs). We stayed on common ground and had an enjoyable conversation about the trail. The NOBO was a soft spoken, polite kid from North Carolina named Waves. His close-mouthed delivery and faint southern accent made me feel at home, and I found myself directing most of my attention towards him. 

Around 7:30, the hut manager poked his head out and called us inside. There was enough food to cover my meal, so I joined the ranks of work for stay. We ate shredded pork, which I mistakenly thought was beef and then felt guilty for consuming it, rice, salad (!), and chocolate cake squares covered in caramel coffee icing. Waves ate three giant servings of meat and then went back for yet another as we all mocked him for his hollow leg. The woman who gave me candy bars offered us a host of other snack foods that she had overpacked. We divvied up our wares, most of them going to waves and me. I felt triumphant about the amount of food I had acquired throughout the day. 
After dinner, Waves and I set about doing dishes in the kitchen. He scrubbed and I rinsed, trying my best not to say something about the glacial pace at which he approached his task. Then we waited for lights out at 930, at which time we were allowed to set up our beds on the floor in the dining area. I’m finishing this while standing in the hut kitchen so I don’t disturb the guys on the floor with my phone light. It’s been a hard day, but a really good one. My feet felt sore, but very durable today, which makes me happy.  They did what I asked them too and got me here in record time despite the periodic pains from the wound on my left foot.
Mile 1819.4 to mile 1829.7 (10.3) 
Total miles: 826.5 
Creature feature: song sparrows and red squirrels