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!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Wow! Congratulations, Keane! I know your folks from years ago in Chapel Hill...they were always so kind to me. Anyway, I've just read the last days of your hike - hope to be able to hear your Symphony. Best wishes as you pursue the new dreams!