Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Appalachian Trail Symphony: Days 68-77 (Mozart in the Woods)

Day 68 - (8/17/16) 7.6 miles (Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to to Doughty Pond)

It rained through the night, really pouring at times, so it turns out I did make the right decision to sleep in the shelter and I actually slept pretty well.  And, just as I had hoped, the rain was pretty much gone by the time I woke up, although it did lightly rain off and on throughout the morning, but not enough to soak my pack or anything.  In Maine on the trail there are several river crossings where the hiker has to ford through it themselves.  But because it has been so dry this summer, I haven't had to get my feet wet on any of the rivers as I've been able to hop on rocks instead.  However, after the rain last night, there was a river to ford that required getting wet up to my ankles.  My boots and socks got soaked and were soggy all day.  Anyways, I made it to Monson and between two small hiker resupply stores and a gas station convenience store I was able to get what should hopefully be 8 days of food to get me through the 100-mile wilderness.  It's not the healthiest food, and is a lot of peanut butter crackers and tortillas and oreos, but should work.  It will be boring foodwise and I won't be able to eat as much as I'd like, but I should be able to do it.  My pack is not quite as heavy as coming out of Gorham, but it is quite big and it'll probably slow me down quite a bit.  But this is it: 1.5 miles until I cross Maine Highway 15 and then it's 100 miles until any other civilization.  When I got back on the trail today, the sun had come out but it was still nice and cool, and I just realized that I want to enjoy this last section and really just be happy and thankful for it instead of being too focused on finishing.  It's been a real privilege to be able to do this hike.

Sunset on Doughty Pond

Day 69 - (8/18/16) 16.5 miles (Doughty Pond to Long Pond Stream Lean-to)

Entering the 100-mile wilderness
100 miles and one week left!  I took it fairly easy today because my pack is quite heavy and I'm still ahead of schedule and the terrain was pretty flat but with lots of little hills.  I'm now 15 miles into the 100-mile wilderness. It is tough trying to hike with a heavy pack full of food, which means I'm doing more work and burning more calories, and not eat more food than I've allotted for the day, both because I'm more hungry and want to lighten my load.  But from here on out my pack will gradually get lighter and it looks like after the next 35 miles, which have several mountains and lots of ups and downs, then the last 65 miles are quite easy, minus the final 5 up Katahdin, but that will be with little on my back, as they lend you a day pack for that climb.  I'm surprised at how big the logging and timber industry still is up here in Maine.  At the roads, I always see big trucks with trees on them go by, and from the tops of mountains I can see patches of forest that have been chopped down.  I wonder what the MATC and ATC think about it.  I never saw any of this in the other states on the trail.  Last night and this morning I even heard the sounds of machinery cutting down trees too.

Day 70 - (8/19/16) 13.5 miles (Long Pond Stream Lean-to to East Chairback Pond)

View from Chairback Mtn
I slept in this morning until 7:30am and took it pretty easy all day, as there were several medium-sized mountains and I'm still well ahead of schedule.  I climbed Fourth Mtn, Third Mtn, and even Mt. Three and a Half (someone had a good sense of humor there) but no Second or First.  I'm now about 30 miles into the 100-mile wilderness.  Foodwise I'm doing okay although during the day I'd love to be able to eat more snacks while hiking.  I thought about stopping at the shelter which I arrived at around 5pm, but decided to shoot for this tentsite here at the pond which was about 2.7 miles away but mostly downhill.  Those were the only miles I really pressed hard, as I wanted to make it by 6:30pm to have enough time for setting up my tent and having dinner before it got dark around 8pm (I arrived at 6:29).  Just before I got to the shelter, I met an older couple who were out here doing trail maintenance and giving out fruits and veggies from their garden to hikers.  They gave me 5 carrots and 2 apples, which was a very nice surprise.  Veggies and fruit are pretty hard to come by out here.  I added a couple of the carrots to my rice for dinner and will eat the rest tomorrow.  There are a couple of 3000ft mountains I should finish tomorrow, plus get my first view of Katahdin, and then it'll be very flat for the rest of the wilderness.  Today marks 60 days of hiking and I can't believe it will be coming to an end so soon.  I'm camping on the shore of another pond tonight with no one else around.  I've now gotten to do this a few times on these remote Maine ponds, and it's a wonderful feeling to have a whole pond to myself for a night.  It makes me feel like I'm Thoreau at Walden.  
East Chairback Pond - I had it all to myself for the night

Day 71 - (8/20/16) 12.2 miles (East Chairback Pond to Junction with White Brook Trail)

This morning my water filter wasn't quite working, and barely any flow was moving through it.  This has happened before and after a little while it usually starts working normally again, but today it didn't.  After spending at least a half-hour trying to fix it, I finally gave up and went to my backup, iodine pills, for the first time.  They are ok, but make the water taste a little funky and I have to wait at least a half-hour before I can safely drink the water.  I just hope I have enough pills to make it until the end now, or I'll have to rely on this stubborn filter.  Anyways, my right leg, especially behind my knee, was bothering me all day, but still I managed to tackle most of the mountains today: Gulf Hagas, West Peak, and Hay Mtn.  I just have to go up White Cap Mtn. tomorrow morning and that's the last 3000ft, or even 2000ft, mountain until Katahdin.  I also should get my first view of Katahdin from White Cap, which I'm excited for, and I'm also excited for the flat terrain again.

Day 72 - (8/21/16) 14.0 miles (Junction with White Brook Trail to Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to)

The morning was foggy and up on White Cap I was in a windy and chilly cloud.  It was cleaning up as I was going down and was pretty clear when I got to the viewpoint that was supposed to be my first view of Katahdin, but I saw no mountain that stood out to me as it.  There was one patch of clouds and that must have been blocking the mountain.  Oh well, I'm sure I'll be seeing it plenty in the next couple days.  Finally flat ground now!  There was a small mountain, Little Boardman, in the early afternoon, but it wasn't bad.  My right leg is still bothering me sometimes, although less so when I am in the zone and hiking fairly quickly.  60 miles left till the end, and 45 of the 100-mile wilderness.  I could have hiked more today, but everyone is saying rain is coming tonight lasting until tomorrow morning, so I decided, like the last time, to stop and stay in a shelter to stay dry.  Just a few days left, so I should be in the clear weatherwise.  I'm hoping I'll have a little bit of food left over when I finish the 100 miles, then I can have a mini-feast on whatever is left.  I'm going to try and take inventory tomorrow of my food and see how much I can eat.  With my lack of food, my hurt leg, and my bad water filter, I'm kind of just hoping I'll survive the trail before more goes wrong.  I'm so close now and I'm just going to take it easy and a day at a time.  

Day 73 - (8/22/16) 15.7 miles (Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to to Nahmakanta Stream Campsite)

Well, it did rain in the night, so I made the right decision again.  I didn't sleep that well, but I managed to stay dry as a feather.  It was still raining in the morning, so I got up late around 8am.  The rain lessened and was only drizzling when I set out on the trail at 9:30am.  It was easy hiking all day, I'm not even sure I broke a sweat, and I took it easy as my right leg was still bothering me off and on.  There was one little hill of a couple hundred feet, and I hardly even noticed it!  I finally got my first view of Katahdin, but most of it was blocked by clouds, but its base was huge and impressive enough that I could imagine the rest of it.  It's amazing to finally literally see the end point, as the beginning point is so far away and beyond the horizon now.  And to think I came the whole way on foot over all those mountains!  I've had a lot of time to think out here on the trail, and there are so many things I am looking forward to when I finish, so many things I want to do.  As I was getting caught up in thinking about all those things, though, I realized this hike was one thing I've wanted to do for so long and looked forward to too, and here I am about to complete it.  For that I am extremely grateful.  29 miles of wilderness left, and 44 until the end of the trail!  (And now over 1 month without a shower!)

Katahdin mostly covered by clouds
Day 74 - (8/23/16) 17.7 miles (Nahmakanta Stream Campsite to Rainbow Lake Campsite)

My first clear view of Katahdin
The last long day of hiking is finished!  Just over the length of a marathon, 26.3 miles, left.  I finally got a clear view of Katahdin, it's surely a magnificent mountain.  Just 10 more miles till I'm out of the wilderness, which I expect to be tomorrow afternoon.  I hear there may be rain on Friday, so that's not good as that's the day I should be going up Katahdin, but it's still early.  I have just enough food to make it out of the wilderness.  I forgot to mention that two days ago I passed a hiker who was out hiking just in his tighty-whities and nothing else; one of the strangest things I've seen on the trail!  I'm a bit confused about this whole process of getting a spot in the campsite in Baxter State Park, where Mt Katahdin is, but I'll try to figure it out when I make it to Abol Bridge tomorrow and am out of the wilderness.  I passed 700 miles hiked today too, I can hardly believe it!  Things I'm NOT going to miss from the trail: being stinky, rolling my ankles, mosquitos and flies, not sleeping o a mattress or real pillow, carrying 25+ pounds on my back, cooking on a camp stove, privies or digging a hole, hiking in the rain, hiking uphill and downhill, rocks and roots, mud, having to worry about calories, worrying about bears, squirrels, chipmunks, and mice getting into my food, setting up and taking down a tent everyday, not having a piano to play or recordings to listen to, and walking through spider webs.  Things I'm going to miss: the smell of pine, amazing views, having everyday be a new adventure and new place, cool and sunny Maine mornings, ponds and lakes everywhere, not hearing cars all the time, being a morning person and going to bed at 8pm, being completely disconnected from the rest of civilization, the simplicity of life out here, having everything I need on my back, not hearing news about Donald Trump and the presidential election.

Day 75 - (8/24/16) 11.2 miles (Rainbow Lake Campsite to Abol Bridge Campground)

Katahdin as seen from Abol Bridge
Well, I survived the wilderness!  I got up and it was pretty easy hiking for the whole day.  There was a little climb up to the Rainbow Ledges with a view of Katahdin, but most of it was in the clouds.  I made it out of the wilderness and to Abol Bridge, which is basically a dusty road with a campground and a small store and restaurant, around 1pm and now I have time to kill.  I'm glad I didn't eat all my food from the wilderness because the store here is tiny and very expensive, $2.50 for a clif bar!  So I just got a couple things that should last me until Friday afternoon when I will get picked up by my family.  The latest forecast shows 30-40% chance of rain on Friday morning and afternoon.  I'm still going up Katahdin even if it is still a bit rainy though.

Day 76 - (8/25/16) 9.9 miles (Abol Bridge Campground to The Birches Lean-tos)

Shadow Self-Portrait
My last night on the trail!  I got up at 5am because I heard yesterday that there were a lot of people trying to stay at the Birches, which is the campsite and lean-tos that are reserved for long distance Appalachian Trail hikers but you have to sign up at this information kiosk within the park during the same day and it's first come-first serve, and yesterday all of the 12 slots were filled by 7am.  I made it in the park and to the information board around 5:45am and was the first to sign up for the day, so that made me feel good, knowing I had a spot to stay for the last night at the place closest to the end of the trail and ascent up Katahdin.  Then it was a game to see how slowly I could hike these remaining 9 miles which were not hard at all.  I got to Katahdin Stream Campground around noon but the park ranger was not there, so I waited around reading and signing the final register and talking with some other hikers who just came back from the summit.  I'm now at the Birches and staked out my site in one of the lean-tos, which are nice and don't have graffiti and carvings all over them like most of the other shelters.  Even though right now I also have time to kill, I feel a lot better here than at Abol yesterday.  Abol was louder, there were more people, logging trucks were always going by kicking up dust in the road.  It's about 3:30pm now and I still have the whole Birches to myself.  It is away from all the other campsites and campgrounds, so it's been nice and quite.  I laid down and took a nap for maybe an hour, something I haven't done at all on this trip, nor have I really felt the need to, despite how early I have been getting up.  The weather forecast for tomorrow also looks slightly better: 30% chance of rain or showers in the morning, and no mention of any rain in the afternoon and nothing about thunderstorms.  I'm still hoping for a nice clear view and climb.  They lend day-packs to hikers for climbing Katahdin, so I'm glad I won't have to be carrying a ton of weight up the mountain for once.  I was feeling today that the end of this hike is really a turning point in my life, a new chapter is starting.  I'm very excited for all the plans and ideas I have in the near future and I think this is a new beginning for me, to face things with excitement and positivity, and to be a better person.  This hike has definitely given me confidence that I can do anything I put my mind to and I can tackle all kinds of obstacles and challenges.  It has certainly taken a lot of physical and mental toughness to do this.  I am also extremely grateful for this whole experience: grateful to Diane for letting me be away while she is home working, grateful to my parents for visiting me several times and being my "Support Crew", grateful for the 50 or so people who funded the project and symphony through Indiegogo and believed I could do this, grateful to Jeanne and Mowgli for picking me up and letting me stay with them during this hike, grateful to the people who have stopped and offered me rides in and out of towns, grateful to the other hikers out here who have given me advice, food, or companionship along the way, grateful for overall fantastic weather on this hike, grateful for not suffering an injury or sickness for the entire trip (knock on wood), grateful for my pack, gear, and clothes for being able to hold up for so long and through all that I've put them through, grateful for this trail and the beauty that it goes through, that I've been able to witness, enjoy, and be inspired by, grateful to know that there still is vast wilderness out here not far from where I live, grateful for the time and space to think deeply about my life and so many other things, and grateful for this body for carrying me all these miles.  Thank you all.

Day 77 - (8/26/16) 5.2 miles (The Birches Lean-tos to Katahdin/Baxter Peak)

The Tableland; like walking on the moon
The Raven
I did it!  There ended up being one more hiker that joined me at the Birches for the night, one of those inconsiderate ones who hikes with speakers blaring music, which is just the most annoying and inconsiderate thing you could do while hiking through wilderness like this.  I came here for silence and to hear the sounds of nature, not your dumb music!  But I still had a whole lean-to to myself and went to bed early around 7:15pm, and like a kid on Christmas Eve I couldn't fall asleep.  It did rain too, but luckily was gone by the time I woke up at 6am.  It was overcast, but I was going up the mountain regardless.  It was really nice to only carry a day-pack and not my big pack and overnight things for once.  That made the hiking a lot easier.  I got above the trees and into the clouds, and what a hike it was!  Lots of boulder climbing and scrambling, and it was dark.  It almost made me feel like I was descending into Hades or something.  I was also worried it would rain and thunder, and I could barely see the next blaze or cairn.  Sometimes on the rocks I felt a bit disoriented about where down and up were, and I was just on some rocky outcropping in the middle of nowhere, I couldn't feel the context of where I was.  It was, again, like walking on the moon or a different planet.  I had no sense of where I was or was going, no view to orient myself; it really was quite terrifying for a while.  But I just kept pushing on and up. I finally made it to a flatter section called "The Tableland" which was above treeline but much easier, and then passed a spring named for Thoreau, who hiked the mountain in 1846.  After that, it was just 1 mile at a pretty easy grade.  At points, the sun nearly broke through, and I nearly thought I was walking up a stairway to heaven, that maybe I'd died on the way up this mountain.  I also realized that the white blazes marking the AT that I've followed for more than 700 miles would soon run out.  And there it was, the sign, and I'd made it.  I was nearly crying, but it was more the condensation that had accumulated over all the hairs on my body, including my eyelashes. No view at all, but I'd reached the end, and that was the most important thing at the moment.  There was a big black raven up there that kept getting very close to me.  Did it just want some of my lunch, or was there some sort of symbolism or something it was there to tell me?  Back down from the mountain now, I'm beginning to realize that this trip was so much more than just a journey from point A to point B, but it was a way of breaking my habits and daily routine and igniting a change in my life.  I'm looking forward to figuring out how to translate the meaningfulness and profundity of this journey into music over the next 9 months, which will be quite a challenge for sure.

Words for Maine: long, ponds, starting slow and ending fast, rooty, difficult, wilderness, remote
I made it!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Appalachian Trail Symphony: Days 61-67 (Mozart in the Woods)

Sunrise on South Pond
Day 61 - (8/10/16) 3.9 miles (South Pond to Piazza Rock Lean-to)

Piazza Rock or Pride Rock?
I woke up at 5:30am and heard sounds nearby that had to be a moose: breaking of branches and a big splash in the pond, but never saw it.  I hope I do get to see another before this hike is through.  I made it into Rangeley early and got my grocery shopping out of the way.  I hear this is the last real supermarket near the trail, so I hope I can find enough vegan food to survive.  Luckily I didn't buy too much food this time.  Rangeley is a small town but much more touristy than I expected, with people everywhere walking around wearing bright orange shirts that say "Moosing in Maine" but really shout "I'm a tourist".  The library was nice, except the computers had no slot for my camera's storage card, so I couldn't upload photos to the blog this time.  I then ate lunch at an Asian place and got a pretty decent tofu curry for being way the heck out here in Maine.  Rangeley is halfway between the North Pole and the Equator, 3107 miles from each.  I got back to the trail and I'm thankful I only have 2 more towns to go into and neither is super far from the trail like Rangeley is at 9 miles away.  It's a pain to figure out getting in and out of town.  The weather looks like tomorrow's fine, but then 3 days of thunderstorms and rain, which is good for the area because the summer has been very dry, but bad for me and keeping pace to finish on the 26th.  I'm going to try to wake up early and pull a big day tomorrow and then take it from there.  Near the shelter here, I visited Piazza Rock, which reminds me of the rock in the Lion King that baby Simba is held up over, and "The Caves", a twisty trail up, under, and through boulders, but neither was anything to write home about.  The privy here has two seats with a cribbage board in between, but I have no one that intimate with here to play with.

Summit of Saddleback Mtn

Day 62 - (8/11/16) 16.9 miles (Piazza Rock Lean-to to Spaulding Mountain Lean-to)
Sometimes the trail is a messy tangle of roots...

I got up early and was on the trail by 6:30am.  I ended up hiking just about 12 hours, finishing around 6:30pm.  I went over Saddleback Mountain and its Horn, plus Saddleback Junior.  Just about 200 miles left on the trail.  For fun, I'm going to go through the guidebook and count how many mountains I've summitted on this hike.  It was a pretty ordinary day on the trail today.

Day 63 - (8/12/16) 15.3 miles (Spaulding Mountain Lean-to to Cranberry Stream Campsite)

I woke up from a dream around 4am this morning.  I wanted to get another early start anyways because there were supposed to be storms coming, so I decided to get up and pack up camp then.  I hit the trail at about 5am or so and had to use my headlamp for about 20 minutes before it was light enough to see without it.  I'd met a hiker yesterday who wakes up at 2am and finishes each day around 11am because he doesn't like the hot sun and afternoon thunderstorms, so perhaps he inspired me a bit.  The rain did come around 8:30am, and luckily I was down off the mountain by then.  The nearest shelter was 15 miles away, so I got completely soaked.  I did take brief shelter in a privy at a campsite, which felt quite weird.  Luckily it was just rain and no lightning, so I decided to keep hiking and make it up both the South and North Crocker Mtns and by the time I made it to the second it had finally stopped raining and was just mist.  I was completely soaked by then, though.  I decided to skip going into the town of Stratton, as I still have several days worth of food and hope that can last me until Monson.  I also didn't want to deal with figuring out how to get into and out of town and also I'd probably have to spend the night in town because I got to the road later in the day.  I'm trying to do this whole trip while staying vegan, not doing any mail drops (sending supplies and food ahead of time in a box to a post office where I could pick it up myself), and not paying to stay in town.  I'm so close, I don't want to break any of those streaks.  Some of my things I had at the bottom of my pack got soaked: my pillow and two pairs of socks, plus the bottom of my sleeping bag.  I hope they can dry, although it looks like tomorrow may be rainy too.  I think I may be sleeping by 8pm tonight.  My sleep schedule is so different out here on the trail and I'm becoming a temporary morning person.
...and other times it's full of rocks...

Day 64 - (8/13/16) 3.3 miles (Cranberry Stream Campsite to Horns Pond Lean-tos)

It rained all night and was still raining when I woke up, so I decided to sleep in and hope the rain would stop.  It didn't, but I really didn't want to figure out how to pack up camp while it was raining, and half my stuff was already wet, so I decided to just lay there and waste time and hope my little sanctuary from the rain would hold.  It did, but barely, as water began to pool beneath the tent so that it felt like I was nearly sleeping on a water bed.  By noon, I decided I needed to try to pack up and at least make it to the next shelter 3 miles away and not have a "zero" day.  Luckily, the rain let up for the most part and it was difficult but I did get all my stuff in my pack while I was in the tent and my pack in the vestibule (and this in a 1-person tent where I can't sit up without hitting my head on the top.)  It was only lightly drizzling for the hike, but when I made it to the shelter it started up again and another hiker told me it is supposed to rain through the night and then again for most of tomorrow.  This may be setting my plans back, and unfortunately still no phone reception (AT&T is just horrible up here), so I'm worried about confirming plans for Diane to come pick me up at the end.  Plus Monson, the last town, the guide says the library is only open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so I'd have to make sure I got to town on one of those days to email her.  Plus, I'm now worried about running out of food before getting to Monson, and might have to get food in Caratunk (pop. 69), which doesn't seem to have much in it at all.  But I suppose I was due to deal with rain like this, as it has been a very dry hike in general and yesterday was only my second day of hiking in the rain and first time setting up or taking down my tent in the rain.  It is frustrating, as I feel unproductive sitting here not hiking because of the rain, but I suppose I have to accept it as one of the ways this whole experience has helped me to slow down my life.
...but sometimes it's actually flat ground!

Day 65 - (8/14/16) 17.9 miles (Horns Pond Lean-tos to West Carry Pond Lean-to)

Avery Peak in the Bigelow Mtns
I woke up early and it was still lightly raining and very foggy, and got on the trail by 7am.  The Bigelow peaks were very windy, so much that I nearly was getting blown over and off the mountain, I'd say maybe 50mph wind gusts, and it was hiking through clouds with no view.  The clouds finally started to part on my way down and luckily stopped raining and cleared up over the course of the day.  Those Bigelow peaks are the last big mountains until the end and Mt Katahdin, and for that I'm very thankful.  I've got about 150 miles of pretty flat terrain left and the hardest stuff behind me, and I'm really starting to hit my stride and do a lot of miles.  I did nearly 18 today, and the last 3.5 I did in about 1.5 hours.  There was an unnamed hill that rose maybe 800ft in just under 2 miles and I was dreading it as it was the final thing on a tiring day, but I got in a zone and made it all the way up in about half an hour without any breaks at all.  Tomorrow I'll hit the Kennebec River, which has a free ferry service because it is too dangerous to ford, but it ends at 2pm.  I'm going to try and make the ferry tomorrow even though it's more than 13 miles away, but it's very flat terrain at least, so if I leave by 6am I think I'll make it.  Plus, other hikers said the weather should be nice tomorrow, and I'm so thankful the rain stopped today.  The shelter here is on the West Carry Pond, and all these ponds here in Maine are just beautiful places.  Just 165 miles left, and I've now completed 115 in Maine already, the hardest part of the trail in this state.  Let's just hope that the weather will cooperate; at least no more climbing mountains in the rain and worrying about thunderstorms above treeline.
West Carry Pond

Day 66 - (8/15/16) 25.9 miles (West Carry Pond Lean-to to Moxie Pond, South End)

Kennebec River
Well, the Whites and Southern Maine must have gotten me in shape, because somehow on this flatter ground I hiked 25.9 miles today.  Just 140 left, halfway through Maine now.  I wanted to wake up early and be on the trail by 6am so I could make sure I caught the ferry over the river which ends at 2pm (it's the only river with no bridge nearby, is wider and the current is unpredictable due to a dam upstream, and the ferry is just a guy with a canoe who gives you a 2 minute ride to the other side) and it was more than 13 miles away.  But I was woken even earlier, at 3:15am, by a mouse who had made it into my tent!  I had left the tent zipper open just maybe an inch or two and he must have gotten through that way as there were no holes in my tent.  I didn't even have any food in the tent, although on the rainy day 2 days ago I did eat in the tent for the first time.  I got out of the tent, opened the door as wide as possible, but the mouse couldn't find the exit.  I had to wait until he got on my sleeping pad and then quickly pulled it out of the tent with him on it.  Not the way I wanted to wake up!  But I figured I was already wide awake so I'd get an even earlier start then I'd planned.  I hit the trail just before 5am and had to hike with a headlamp for the first 30 minutes.  But I was flying through this flat ground.  I remember some hikers talking about "10 by 10": hiking 10 miles before 10am, and I remember thinking that was crazy and nearly impossible.  Well, I did it this morning.  I got to the ferry at 11am and then went into the tiny town of Caratunk to get some food to hold me over until Monson.  The town is tiny, tiny, with half the homes abandoned, rundown, for sale, or all three.  There was a hiker hostel there and the guy was very nice and let me use the phone.  The selection of food wasn't great, but I it will get me to Monson at least.  I finished hiking at 7pm, nearly did the length of a marathon!  I can hardly believe it myself!  I probably won't do another day this long.  All to get into Monson on Wednesday to use the computer at the library.  Yesterday, I had my first experience running into a hiker I'd met way earlier on the trail.  He was at a shelter, Tom Leonard I think, back in Massachusetts with me.  He took 2.5 weeks off from the trail, and then he caught up to me again here.  Then today I saw two guys who arrived at the hostel when I was there, who I saw (but never talked to) on my very first day on the trail at Ten Mile River Shelter in Connecticut!  Strange how that can happen.

Day 67 - (8/16/16) 15.8 miles (Moxie Pond, South End to Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to)

It was a pretty chilly night, dropped down into the high 50s, so I hiked hard in the morning, starting around 6:45am, until I heated up.  I went up Moxie Bald Mtn in the morning (it always seems like a day out here is not complete without summitting at least one mountain) and the rest of the day was pretty flat.  I wanted to see how close I could get to Monson today, especially as I heard rain was coming around 4-5pm, but after lunch the terrain turned into lots of tiny hills, up and down over and over, and my body, tired from yesterday, was not feeling well.  So instead of going past the shelter and tenting and risking setting up and taking down camp in the rain like I did the last time, I decided to stay in the last shelter, about 8 miles from town, to give my body time to rest, to stay dry (even if I have to hike in the rain in the morning, at least all my stuff will be packed up dry) and try to leave by 6am tomorrow morning.  The terrain looks flat anyways tomorrow into town.  It's 7pm now and it has hardly sprinkled though.  I actually hope it rains more tonight, but not the morning, so my decision to sleep in the shelter (for only the second time on the trail) is vindicated.  I'm over 600 miles hiked now.  Monson is the last town near the trail, then it's into the 100-mile wilderness and ending with climbing up Katahdin, Maine's highest mountain.  I'm excited to be near the end, although I'm not excited to try to find 7-8 days worth of food in a tiny town without a supermarket and then carry that food in my pack and probably still have to limit how much I'll eat per day, because I certainly have "Hiker's Hunger" these days and can easily eat a lot.  But this trip is full of challenges and this is just one more of them.  I've conquered all that have come my way and I'm not about to back down now.  I counted that by the end of this trip I will have summitted 102 mountains and peaks, including 1 over 6000ft, 6 over 5000ft, 28 over 4000ft, 55 over 3000ft, 87 over 2000ft, and all over 1000ft, plus another 14 near summits.  It's been a lot of ups and downs!  

A morning view over the mountains of Southern Maine

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Appalachian Trail Symphony: Days 54-60 (Mozart in the Woods)

Wind Turbines in Maine
Day 54 - (8/3/16) 3.5 miles (Rattle River Shelter to near Brook 1 mile past Gorham)

Today was a short one mostly spent in Gorham, NH.  It was an easy 2 mile hike down to the road and I walked about 1 mile towards town before being offered a ride.  He drove me to the only grocery store in town, Wal-Mart, on the outskirts of the other side of town.  I must have been thinking about how I had to ration my food a bit near the end of the Whites because I spent twice as much as usual and bought too much food.  At first it didn't all fit in my pack!  The rest of the day I've been trying to eat as much as possible to lighten the load.  I took a bus from the Wal-Mart to the library and spent some good time blogging and emailing.  Still no phone reception, even in this town!  And I doubt the wilderness of Maine will be any better phone-wise.  I got back to the trail around 5pm and tried to hike up about halfway on Mt Hayes (2555ft) to what should be a brook, or so my guide says, .9 miles up the trail.  Hiking was tough because of my big pack, but 6:30pm arrived and still no brook.  I decided to camp, but have to really limit my water because perhaps the brook was dry and the next water is probably 4 miles away.  I end the day stuffed with food but mildly thirsty, with the heaviest pack yet.  I'm not sure if tonight or last night was worse.  Tomorrow may be a very slow day.  NH has certainly been much, much more filled with rocks than any of the other states.

Day 55 - (8/4/16) 10.2 miles (Near Brook 1 mile past Gorham to Gentian Pond Shelter)

This morning was tough trying to conserve water, I didn't even brush my teeth.  After a couple miles I made it to a "stream" that wasn't even moving, but at least had some standing water and I filled up a bit on that.  I did a light day today because my pack is still very heavy, but at least I am being well fed!  Just 5 miles to Maine now, my final frontier!  I'm also planning to tackle Mahoosuc Notch tomorrow, of which I've heard so much about.  The guidebook says it's the "Most difficult or most fun mile of the AT.  Make way through jumbled pit of boulders."  Using another hiker's phone, I was finally able to call Diane, and she and Mom are going to drive up to see me on Sunday near Andover, ME, although it's a 3-hour drive for them.  I started the day off not seeing anyone, feeling like the trail was practically abandoned, such a contrast from the Whites where there were lots of people and tourists around.  But here at the shelter there are quite a few and I've re-met some that I met in the Whites.  After Gorham, it's amazing how suddenly the trail is different.  Not 100 yards back on the trail after town, the bugs and flies are back.  The trail is less rocky and it is like I'm back in MA or VT again.  I'm definitely feeling a bit tired after the Whites and partly feel like I want this hike to end now, but I may never get another opportunity to do something like this again, so I need to live it up and enjoy it.
Made it to Maine!
Day 56 - (8/5/16) 12.3 miles (Gentian Pond Shelter to Mahoosuc Notch, North End (ME))
Snow in Mahoosuc Notch
Going under boulders in Mahoosuc Notch
Made it to Maine!  But it's been tough so far.  The last 5 miles of NH were fine, but after crossing into Maine the day got tough.  It was probably about 90 degrees and even though I was trying to go faster than yesterday and my pack weight was much more manageable, it was slow going.  Maine so far has been very light brown in color: the dirt, rocks, and trees, different than the other states.  It also felt like tangled messes of roots were everywhere which also slowed me down.  I got to the Full Goose Shelter, so named, I assume, because it's between Goose Eye Mtn and Fulling Mill Mtn, and I had a strange 5-minute stay there.  There was a large group of girls, maybe 10-12, most probably early teens but some looked pre-teen, and every single one had very short athletic shorts and a sports bra on.  And there didn't seem to be any adults around, it almost seemed like some girls version of "Lord of the Flies" was going on.  I filled up on water at the shelter, which I nearly ran out of twice today (It has definitely been a dry summer up here in Maine) and then I was determined to go through Mahoosuc Notch today.  Entering the notch was great, which I did around 5pm, because the sun was out of the sky and the notch was amazingly cool.  Just a drop of maybe 10ft at one point felt like a temperature drop of 20 degrees.  I felt more temperature shifts throughout the notch.  I'm no geologist, but I figure that because this notch is smaller than those in the Whites, the glacier that was in this notch during the last ice age left all these huge boulders with no extra room around them.  It's appropriate that the Olympics begin today, because going through the notch was quite an athletic feat (I actually was in Maine for the beginning of the last Summer games in 2012 while a fellow at the Bowdoin Festival in Brunswick.)  It took me about 1.5 hours to do the whole mile in the notch.  It was pretty enjoyable and fun, climbing over boulders, figuring out how to get down them, taking of my pack and figuring out how to get it and me through a tight squeeze or under some boulders.  I was exhausted though, and my knees were killing me.  It seemed like it went on forever!  It was so cool in places that down below in the cave areas there were some snow and ice patches, and this on a 90 degree day in August!  Luckily, there was a campsite right at the end of the notch, where I am camping tonight.  I think I saw a small pheasant today.  I was thinking back to when I was on Mt. Washington near the summit but taking a break on the way up.  I was sitting and just listening and looking out and thinking about John Foulds' "Mantra of Bliss".  Both grandeur, majesty, and tranquility up there.

New Hampshire words: Big, loud, difficult, rocky, awe-inspiring, exhausting, crowded, majestic, White, stillness in the midst of activity

Day 57 - (8/6/16) 12.8 miles (Mahoosuc Notch, North End to Frye Notch Lean-to)

Wild Blueberries
Maine has been tough so far.  For some reason, I just felt super tired during some of the climbs today, where I'd climb 10ft and feel like taking a rest.  It was that kind of day, 2 big ascents, nearly 2000ft Mahoosuc Arm, which felt like it went on forever, to Old Speck Mtn, and then climbing Baldpate, about 2300ft up.  I was dreading going up the final ascent to Baldpate.  Getting up to the west peak wasn't fun, but the climb over to the east peak was great.  The sun was going down, the wind was blowing and cool, probably 35mph but somewhat helping me up as I walked above the treeline on the bald rock.  Then coming down I picked delicious blueberries with an amazing view ahead of me, which made the tough day all worth it.  I forgot to say that the last mountain in NH was Mt Success, which of course I successfully climbed.  There was supposed to be rain and thunderstorms today, but we never got more than some light drizzle.  I feel like I keep getting lucky weather-wise.

View from Baldpate East Peak
Day 58 - (8/7/16) 10.5 miles (Frye Notch Lean-to to Hall Mountain Lean-to)

The view from Wyman Mtn
The 4.5 miles hike to the road this morning was wonderful.  It was cool and sunny and nearly felt like a fall day, and the trail was easy and nice.  I got to the road at 10:30am and Mom and Diane arrived a little after 11am.  It was very nice to see them and to get a bite to eat in Andover, a tiny town 8 miles from the trail.  They dropped me off at the trail a little after 3pm and I had a fairly easy hike 6 miles to the shelter.  There were dark clouds that rolled in during the afternoon hike and did drizzle a little but nothing else.  The last mountain of the day was Wyman Mtn, and there was an incredible view out over the mountains, a lake, and wind turbines.  The view had a real unique quality to it, perhaps because of the dark clouds, that I wanted to just sit there and look out for a long time.  There was also a part of a rainbow, and something inside me felt that this view was something I would never grow tired of and wished I could live right there at that spot to see it everyday.  I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak.  Maine is quite something so far, and I hope to keep enjoying it.
Day 59 - (8/8/16) 12.8 miles (Hall Mountain Lean-to to Bemis Mountain Lean-to)

View on the way up Old Blue Mtn
Tough day today with some tough climbs.  The morning was very chilly, my clock/thermometer read 55 degrees this morning, the lowest I've seen it out here (and tonight may be even colder).  But I definitely prefer it to 90 degrees and sun beating down on me.  It was a steep descent and ascent in and out of Sawyer Notch and then down to South Arm Rd and up Old Blue Mtn.  It was chilly and drizzled a bit too, and wore me out.  The elevation profile tomorrow looks very mild and I'm going to try to get as close to the road to Rangeley, the next town, as I can.  I'm shooting to finish the trail on Friday, August 26th so Diane can came out to pick me up.  It might be tough to make it be then, but we'll see.  I do get the sense when I go into town that I am itching to get back out on the trail.  I've just embraced the smelliness and dirtiness and maybe I feel like I don't quite fit when I'm town.  I've heard stories about some hikers getting post-trail depression, but I doubt that'll happen with me, as I never got reverse-culture shock when coming back from living abroad. 

Day 60 - (8/9/16) 15.6 miles (Bemis Mountian Lean-to to South Pond)

Easier terrain today, and it looks like water sources will be more frequent from here on out.  I went by some beautiful ponds today, and it looks like there will be more of the same ahead.  I saw moos footprints in the mud and also a lot of droppings I assume are from moose, but no actual moose sightings yet here in Maine.  I've set up camp just 2 miles from the road to Rangeley, so I can head into town early tomorrow, on a nice little pond called "South Pond".  Unfortunately, a half-hour later, a group of probably 6 loud people decided that they were going to camp right next to me.  Not only are they loud and vulgar, but they are talking about starting a fire, right beneath the sign that says not to.  I was looking forward to listening and watching the pond tonight, but that's all ruined now.  It may be a long night.  I've realized that balance is so important on the trail.  Not just physical, which is very important too, but balancing the weight of food and weather, where you want to take as much as you need but not too much because it is then extra weight and makes the hiking harder, balancing saving money with wanting to stay in town, do laundry, and take a hot shower, balancing wanting to do a lot of miles in a day in order to end the hike on time and wanting to take time to enjoy everything you are passing and seeing.  I'm definitely dealing with a little bit of burnout and mental fatigue right now in wanting to be finished soon but still having 200+ miles and at least 2 weeks left.  I did pass 500 miles hiked today (cue the song)  but I'm finding it hard to get the motivation to hike sometimes, especially up hills even when they aren't very big.  I just need to keep reminding myself to enjoy it out here and I'll finish when I finish.  I don't understand these people that come out to camp here and just are loud and bug other people.  It's happened many times out here on this hike, and leaving trash and other things is another big problem.  Leave No Trace is so important, and plenty of people do not follow it.  I don't understand people's obsession with campfires either, and I really don't see the point when you have a camping stove instead.