Caratunk

So. I think I have a new favorite hostel. 😀 (I say that for most of them, lol.)

There are two kinds of hostels on the AT—or, rather, those two are at the extreme ends, and everything falls on a sliding scale somewhere in the middle. There are the dumpy, loved places that are falling down, need work, well swept but well worn, where the priority is clearly the hikers over the property. And there are the picture perfect, magazine-type places, with lots of comforts but that tend to prioritize their property investment over the hikers. There’s nothing wrong with the latter; it’s just an observation that these places exist. Examples of the former: Glencliff, Shaws. The latter: 19E, Rattle River, Top of Georgia. I’ve come to realize that I like the seedy, hiker-friendly ones the best. Not coincidentally, they tend to be run by former thru-hikers. (The hotel-type ones are courting other outdoor types, as well.) Thru-hikers have pretty low standards; thosr higher-standard places tend to have a lot of rules that don’t mesh well with what thru-hikers need, pragmatically speaking.

This Caratunk B&B is one of the homey, comfy, gently used ones, and Paul (PCT x2, AT, many others) is amazing. No bells, no whistles, but bring your pack inside and make yourself at home.

Hiking today was magical. That whole area by Pierce Pond was one of those Maine places I wanted to spend time with, but after a night stealthings in a creepy little spot, I had 7 miles to hike and a canoe to catch! (Frogs +5, I’m not even kidding!)

I got to the Kennebec by 9:30, and there was a line 12 deep for the canoe. But listen! While we were waiting (Little Blade was there, whom I met at the Half Gallon, and Aria from Virginia), three eagles started to duke it out over the river! It was amazing! I took a pic of one of them perched in a pine tree, but you probably can’t see him. The canoe guy said they’re after his dog.

And here I am. No phone service, but they let me use their land line to make my arrangements with Shaws—my last town stop. I’ll take a full zero there to get ready for the Hundred Mile Wilderness.

My resupply is here! I supplemented with some stuff from the hostel.

And I think we’re good to go. I probably won’t have phone service until Wednesday, so expect a gap.

Oh! And when I went to recharge my headlamp, the entire recharging piece has pulled entirely out of the headlamp. Unexpected! Honestly, Black Diamond has been less than stellar this hike. The thing still takes regular batteries, though, so I’ll be going old school for the last couple of weeks.

The resupply here has Crocs. I’m trying to resist the urge to buy them. Sure, there are a couple of fords and two hostels to go, but do I want to add the weight for the Hundred? I’m trying to resist! (I have Sealskinz for the fords.)

Nero day! I think I’ll eat some ice cream.

Kennebec

Frogs +3! Must’ve been the rain!

Trail was beautiful today—ponds and pine. I managed about 14 miles. Kennebec tomorrow, I hope!

All my peeps who were aiming for an August finish would be summitting tomorrow—Sneaky Pockets, Hufflepuff, Kiwi, maybe True and Unicorn and J-Rock. Best of luck to all of you! It was a pleasure and a privilege sharing the Trail with you this year!

No cell today, or pretty much for the next 60 miles, unless I can get a room in Caratunk tomorrow. I’m anxious anxious anxious about all the various logistics for the next 2 weeks. Kennebec, Caratunk, Shaws, Baxter, Katahdin, Millinocket.

No moose yet. But frogs!

The tiniest frog

Frgs +1! It was the tiniest frog! Like… the size of my little fingernail!

Last night’s storm was epic. I woke up at 10, and it was raining so hard that the inside of the tent was a river, and everything was soaked, including half my sleeping bag. I stuffed the bag to minimize the damage and put on all my layers.It wasn’t enough, even with the puffy, and I never got warm enough to fall asleep (with the additional worry about whethet the pitch would hold—which it did). So here I am at the next shelter, drying things out.

I’m pretty sure I’ll hit the Kennebec on Saturday. Labor Day weekend!

Snakes! Also, Bigelows

Mile 2014.2
Safford Notch Campsite

Snakes +2! Maine, who would’ve thought?

I left the Hostel of Maine this morning and got substantially farther than anticipated, despite the late start. That’s the Trail, helping me out. 🙂 Thanks, Trail! The Bigs are Mainey but not horrific, and I think I’m done with 4000-footers until Katahdin.

Big rain’s in the forecast for tonight and tomorrow—an inch, or sonething. I’m on a platform at an official tent site. There’s a big wolfpack of young male hikers here. I’m polite, but not really engaging much with new hikers at this point. This is the end game. Gotta focus.

The next couple of weeks look like this: a couple of days to Caratunk, cross the Kennebec River in a canoe, a few days to Monson (where I’ll zero if I can build up the time), then the Hundred Mike Wilderness, then Baxter and Katahdin.

Fingers crossed.

Also, the leaves are changing.

Confessions

I’ve spent some time on this hike talking to other repeat offenders—second timers on the AT, triple crowners, PCTers who are finishing the AT right now. There’s comfort in those discussions, a language of emotions and familiarity and exhaustion and bliss that doesn’t happen with people who are doing this to themselves for the first time and likely won’t do it again (smart people).

You remember those episodes of Survivor near the end, when the finalists did a little retrospective on all the moments and competitors they’d met along the way? This trail feels like that now—every discussion is a retrospective of the journey as it nears its end. “Remember that time in Virginia when…?” “Remember So-and-so, how he started with that 68-pound pack?” It’s all cementing the moments in our heads and hearts as we make our preparations to finish. It feels like a wake.

And despite all the suffering, and how difficult long-distance hiking is, when I sit here in my room eating my Ben and Jerry’s and working out my train schedule to get home in a couple of weeks, my heart tightens and burns with the desire to get out and do it again. I love it and hate it more than anything I’ve ever experienced, and my eyes well up at the thought that I have to leave. I’m ready for a break, but I don’t want the ending.

I was thinking I’d do the CDT next, but after all those discussions, I’m thinking I’ll go back and finish the PCT instead. We’ll see.

After 1000 zeroes.

OMG

Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod. For the second time, a random decision has turned into Trail serendipity. Hostel of Maine… ohmygod. The place is beautiful and amazing, the owners are FABULOUS, and their resupply is outstanding. Best in-hostel resupply I’ve ever seen. They even have cheese. And tuna in oil!

I’d decided to zero here because I thought I’d have to walk into town to find a market. But I won’t. So I get to sleep and eat, which is awesome, because I really need it. Really. I’m trying to squeeze out enough energy to finish this beast of a hike.

North Crocker was nice—not nearly as tough as South Crocker. The gentle 5 miles down to town, though, were hard, just because I’m pretty spent. Running on fumes. Every mile feels like 5280 feet. But one day at a time, yo.

I love this place. I’ll be here tonight and tomorrow night. Mostly eating Ben and Jerry’s.

Oh, and I almost forgot: 2000 MILES! That gives me 5000 long-distance miles. I’m a baby in the long-distance community, but man, am I proud of that number. 🙂 Thank you so much to everybody who’s supported me in this crazy hobby, especially my sister and brother!

Crocker

[Dawn! Right Turn! Looks like you got to Crocker before I did, since my schedule exploded!]

Crocker is hard, hard, hard—at least, the NIBO ascent up South Crocker. The good news: I didn’t have to ford the Carrabassett River. Last time, I did. That’s the difference between a wet year and a good year, precip-wise. I’m currently camped up on South Crocker. Going down to the 30s tonight. That’s OK. I still haven’t broken out my puffy or my wool gloves for hiking. 😁

Expect light updating for the next 2 weeks. (The Hundred Mule Wilderness is in there anyway, with spotty cell service.) Gotta put the pedal to the metal! Tomorrow I’m heading into town for an unplanned resupply, and I’ll be there Tuesday also.

Tomorrow AM: Early start, North Crocker, then down to the highway for a 1 PM shuttle. Fingers crossed!

Maine has mountains

Mile 1990.3
Spaulding Moutain Lean-To

Oh, Maine, you crazy kid. There are no bugs now! There are no bugs because it’s 40 frakking degrees!

OK, call it ‘in the 40s at night, with high winds. The wind chill last night was in the 30s, if not the 20s. I have the gear for it, but man, is it hard to de-tent in the morning.

Yesterday was rough. Oh, hell, they’re all rough. 😆 But Saddleback and the Horn with high winds were… harder than I remembered. But part of that’s the NOBO/SOBO thing. The NOBO descent down the Horn was the typical vertical tumble of treacherous boulders for a mile, but this time they were slate! I called it a day at the official tentsite before Saddleback Junior. That descent britalized my knees to Jello, and the ascent used up my courage for the day. Oh, and there was a bonus on top! A trick bog with moving rocks that unexpectedly swallowed your feet to mid-calf!

So I had black, muddy, wet socks and shoes. Camp shoes would have been great for that, except there was nothing to indicate it was a bog. Looked like a little puddle.

I’m eeking out tiny miles by listening to pods for like… 4 hours a day. The pods are using my battery like crazy, and the short days and the cold are using my food. I won’t have enough food to get to my next resupply, so I had to do a little tapdancing. I’ll be at the Hostel of Maine Monday and Tuesday nights. Spendy, but there are only a couple of yowns left. Schedule-wise, who knows?I think I’m OK, but I’m just concentrating on one day at a time. I think Icoyld maybe have gotten thete Sunday, but tomorrow are the Crockers, or one of them—more high above-treeline bullshit. “The AT in Maine: An unrelenting procession of bullshit.” 😄

Shelter’s crowded! A college group, a lot of weekenders. Maybe some thrus, since I’m firmly in the bubble now. Dogs. Three dogs. Dogs are good.

Frogs +37

Mile 1970.8
Frogs +37! OK, more on that later.

That crappy little stealth spot turned out to be Aces, as the cool kids used to say. It rained steadily, but not torrentially, for half the night, and this morning my tent and footprint were pretty much dry. The fly was soaked, of course, but… yeah.

I hit the trail at 5:15 AM and managed 12.5 miles or so in 11.5 hours. The Trail helped me today! Thank you, Trail! There were no miserable miles-long scrambles—just short bursts. There was plenty of swamp to navigate, though, around several big ponds. No moose, but an insane amount of moose poop. Do fhey, like, congregate together, ass to ass, and let it rip? One place must have been a 6-foot square area of poop, several dumps deep. I almost took a picture, but I restrained myself. 😁

Water’s a problem. You’d think Maine would have pristine springs and beautiful clear creeks. Not on the AT, it doesn’t. I ran out of water entirely by lunchtime, after rejecting a couple of slimy trickles, and had to go to an official campsite near a pond. The water source was the pond. The edges were black silt topped by algae with a side of floating insect carcasses. I tried to dip my bag in, and dozens of frogs scattered! These looked like actual frogs, as opposed to the usual toads (which got a real +1 today). Frog water! Instead, I spent a half-hour letting 2 liters trickle from a nearby boxed spring, but with the filtering it wasted an hour of my hiking day. Not good. And now I’m down to 1 liter again.

Not much to add. I’m camped near the road to Rangeley, but I’m skipping that town. All my food numbers are screwed up because I can generally only get 8 miles right now. I think I’m OK to Caratunk; if not, there are some other town spots before then. Blah. Met another second-timer and a guy who did the PCT last year, which reminded me I could be hiking in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, finishing up the PCT like I was supposed to this year. Idiot. 😉

Tomorrow: The fun’s over. Saddleback and the Horn, which I remember were pretty gnarly mountains. And no camping above treeline, so I’m not sure where I’ll end up. Trying for 14.5, but that hasn’t exactly been working out lately. We’ll see.

Maine is Maine

Couldn’t get to the shelter. Managed 9.8 miles in 10 hours. It’s raining now, but I’m in my tent. Not a great stealth spot, but it was here, the rain was starting, so I grabbed it. I hope it’s not a boggy spot. I guesstimated that it’s not, based on positioning (and it’s an existing spot). We’ll see! The rain’s just a soft regular rain, anyway, as opposed to a fast downpour. It’s supposed to end this evening.

Frogs +1. Which is, honestly, the only real update. 😁

Hikers, unless you ran out of food, stop eating the damn blueberries by the handful. There are these 1000-pound moose out here that need the blueberries to survive. You can go to the grocery store. The animals can’t. /grumpy

Moody Blues

Updating mostly because I saw a tiny frog. Frogs +1! I’ll start putting the animal score at the end if I spot sonething. Frogs have taken the lead!

Short mileage continues. Today, 10 hours for 8.5 miles. But that included two steep mountains with some technical bits: Moody and Old Blue. I may actually have a problem… but I think I’m OK. I’d like to get 12 miles minimum, but I need help from the trail to do that (eg, some good hiking amid all this crazy vertical rock climbing and deep swampy bogs). Also, I’m pretty sure I left the hostel with 7 or 8 days of food, which is a massive carry. Every time I eat, my pack gets a little lighter and I can hopefully cover an increasing amount of ground.

Last night something smallish, some ground animal, ran past my tent at midnight. Skunk? Raccoon? Fox? Porcupine? That sort of thing creeps me out. Tonight I couldn’t make it to the shelter, so I’m stealthed. Fingers crossed that the animals all ignore me.

There was supposed to be thunder, rain, and hail last night. I heard thunder in the distance but it didn’t rain a drop at the shelter. Let’s hope tonight stays clear!

Tomorrow: Nothing major, I don’t think. Bemis Mountain, but I’m already halfway up. I’m trying for a shelter 12 miles away. Fingers crossed!

Saw a guy today, Bunny, whom I haven’t seen since the NOC. And did I mention I saw Raven and Happy Dance at the hostel? Haven’t seen them since Virginia—that day with the prescribed burn.

Only saw a couple of people today (although three NOBOs and one SOBO have passed my tent since I set up). That’s always weird. I think I must be past the SOBO bubble, although there were a few at the hostel, and I’m also seeing flippers.

—————

Frogs: 18Red salamanders (efts): 14
Snakes: 8 [2 rattlesnakes]
Turtles: 6

Moose: 0

Bears: 7 (2 Shenandoah, 2 New Jersey, 1 Connecticut, 2 Vermont)
Wild turkeys: 1
Deer: a lot
Rabbits: yes
Grouse: chatty

Fear

Mile 1935.1
Andover, MaineHuman-Nature Hostel

OK, this place is a place. I have sensory overload. Ska and reggae and conversation always in the background, amazing woodwork, hikers hanging everywhere—beanbag chairs, porches, firepits. Hikers playing trivia games, watching movies, outside smoking weed, hanging at the fire pit. This is a clear vortex. 😁 I bought $37 of panic candy during a road trip to the general store, which I can’t possibly eat in one zero, and here I am in a bed in a loft. I’m clean and warm and wearing crazy velour loaner plants.

Hikers are either speeding up or slowing down. Yesterday I met two South Africans who started April 6 and a woman who started February 23. All of us, circling the same drain, as it were. I got a text from Kiwi! She saw a moose! She thought it was a donkey. 😆 That’s so Kiwi.

Woobie is here, although he’s hiking out today. Firefly, also, and a hiker I met up on Washington whose name I forget. Plus a bunch of others, all hiking out today.

Good things here: The atmosphere, for sure. Yukon, the owner (who was on some show called Naked and Afraid, which I thought was a joke but apparently isn’t 😄) is a former thru-hiker and is fantastic. He’s patient with the crazy bustle, but still exerts control over it all to keep things moving along. The food is terrific. I had a restaurant-quality cheeseburger last night, and the coffee this morning was actually the best cup I’ve had on the trail. My bed last night was crazy comfortable.

Disadvantages: You have to leave your pack outide in a wet tent. Which I get and respect, but it’s a big problem for, say, dealing with this massive resupply box I have. Can’t spread out, organize, optimize. Plus, you can’t hang your stuff up indoors, and my tent is soaking wet. My plan is to wait until all the shuttles have left, then go hit the pack and try to get it ready for tomorrow. Also, only camp shoes inside. It’s weird that AT hostels now have this expectation that everybody has camp shoes. But the bigger problem is that this place had a sensitive septic tank, so you have to schlep across a gravel yard to a portapotty during daylight hours. It’s like walking on Legos if you’re in bare feet!

What is it with the camp shoes? It seems so… section hiker. 😆 On the PCT, you could always tell the JMT hikers; they were the ones with camp shoes.

————-

So. Fear.

Fear of heights, like most phobias and fetishes, is hardwired. It’s just a fact of you, like blue eyes or that crazy birthmark that looks like a kangaroo. I remember being terrified as a toddler on the Jersey boardwalk, panic-stricken that I might somehow slip between the slats and plummet to my doom (on the soft cool sand three feet below). As a younger child, my mother and park rangers had to peel me off staircases twice—once on the third level of a firetower, and once on a ladder leading up to the cockpit of some historical airplane. I get… not dizzy, not vertigo, but in the panic I lose my sense of balance, and feel like my feet are going to fly up over my head. I can’t breathe. My hands rurn to rock and grip whatever root or rail they can find. Like… it’s awful. I’m sure you can relate. We all have our own phobias.

So. The mountains in Georgia and North Carolina and Tennessee are tallish, but not high, if you know what I mean. No scary precipices, no hundred-foot drops. Albert Mountain at mile 100 was scary the first time, and let me tell you, I’m currently climbing Albert Mountains about thirty times a day.

The scariest single thing I ever did in my life, at that point, on July 14, 2013, was summit Katahdin. I did it on my hands and knees, with my fingers practically clawing divots into the rock face. I’d flipflopped, so after Katahdin came all this crazy high stuff in Maine and New Hampshire. And later, the new scariest thing in my life, which has yet to be surpassed—“the Chute” on Forester Pass, 13,000 feet , in the ice and snow on the PCT in 2016. Six inches wide, ice. A straight drop into infinity. Scary enough for me to quit a thru-hike that instant—or at least, after I stopped shaking like a leaf. 😁 (They told me Glen Pass was worse. I couldn’t face it. I went back in 2017 and did the whole Sierra section. Glen Pass was not, in fact, worse. Nothing was worse. I’d quit the PCT immediately after I’d done the hardest thing on that trail. Out of fear.)

The anxiety, terror, panic never go away. But the muscle to breathe through it gets stronger.

At Fontana I met a young female hiker named Eleven with acrophobia who’d jumped out of an airplane to try to get rid of it and was surprised that it didn’t help. It doesn’t help. But all that stuff teaches your body how to remember to breathe while your feet are advancing an inch at a time.

An inch at a time, a day at a time, a step at a time. That’s the moral of the story. If you’re failing, you’re taking too big a bite of the thing. Get smaller. Breathe. Still failing? Get smaller.

I didn’t internalize this on Katahdin, or in Maine, or on Forester Pass. It finally sank in in the Sierra in 2017, when I had to cross these crazy raging streams on little toothpick logs. The rushing loud water is its own distracting terror. The motion of the water increases the fear and the dizziness. Then I thought, “You’re not responsible for crossing this river. You’re responsible for finding a single flat, solid footstep.” One step. Stop there for as long as necessary to feel the solidity, to take a breath. Stop there forever. The world is forever in that center of balance. The hell with pasts and futures and people on the bank. Just wait until it feels solid. And then take another step. Just one step.

I think the best way to train against a fear if heights is probably on a plank over a little stream. Then a smaller plank. Then a round stick. Moving water. Breath. And the wolf that gets stronger is the wolf of concentration, the one that can filter out the panic so the body keeps moving.

And there we are. I’ve climbed two bare rockfaces, infinity high, in the last few days: Old Speck and Baldpate. In both cases, fuck the magnificent view. I didn’t turn around, didn’t even look, until I was safe at the top with firm footing and a solid exit. I hate the view. The view is death. I crawled sometimes—particularly on Baldpate, because it was raining and slick as hell, and the wind was gusting hard. Honestly, I was terrified. But that rarely stops me anymore.

One step at a time. That’s how you get to Maine.

—————
PS. Yukon just spotted me limping acroos the gravel and gave me a brand new pair of flipflops to wear. What a great host that guy is. Maybe I’ll check out his naked TV show someday. But probably not. 😆

Baldpate: big wet heap o’ slab

Mile 1935.1
Andover, MaineHuman-Nature Hostel

Stormy night, with bonus thunder. Did crazy-ass Baldpate in the rain. Descending Baldpate was the NOBO version of the SOBO Arm. And crawling, literally, up a mile-high mountain of slab in the rain was terrifying, and bruising.

I’ll be at the hostel for two nights, all things remaining equal.

The AAAAAAARM!

Mile 1927.2Baldpate Lean-To

Soooooo. A whole bunch of tents sqieezed into fhat stealth–not stealth site between the Notch and the Arm. I found out later that one of them was Siren! Remember Siren? She shared a tentsite with ne after Trail Days. We had a quick catchup when she passed me this afternoon, and it was magic. I also ran into Reno today! He’s here at the shelter now, in fact. I haven’t seen bim since that same post–Trail Days shakeup. Er… no. Since fhe Half-Gallon Challenge. Reno saw a moose a couple of days ago! It was quick and in the trees, so he’s not sure yet if he’s going to count it.

Oh! Speaking of counting things… frogs +1! 😁

It rained last night. Like… hard. I packed up the tent from inside while it rained, then I started climbing to do the Mahoosuc Arm—in the rain. The Arm took 2 hours. If anybody reading this is thinking about sectioning Maine (I’m looking at you, Doug), NOBO is the safest way to do this whole section.

Worse than the arm was that bit of rock-climbing misery at the top of Old Speck. Vomitously vertical and high, high, high. I lost a little more skin, but I made it. I have a few things to say about fear of heights, but I’ll save them for a zero. I can’t believe I did that SOBO. That or the Arm.

And that was today! Tomorrow are the Baldpates, which I loved last time, but somebody told me it’s supposed to rain again, and that descent is supposed to be hellish in the rain. I hope all those opinions are exaggerated. I’ll get started an hour early, though, and take it one step at a time. I have a shuttle picking me up 8 miles from here at 4 tomorrow, and I’m not sure I can get there in time. How Maine is that?

Speaking of which, the rock climbs and descents in Maine come in two flavors: ‘Maine, you crazy kid’ and ‘Fuck you, Maine, you fucking fuck.’ The Notch was FYMYFF. The Arm was mostly FYMYFF. Old Speck was definitely FYMYFF. Actually, pretty much everything from the border to Grafton Notch was FYMYFF.

Mahoosuc

Mile 1917.8

Yesterday’s update was image heavy, so it may post out of order. FYI, this post comes after the one entitled Moose Tour 2019. This’ll probably be a continuing problem, here in the land of no signal, so I’ll try to remember to attach mileages for reference.

I didn’t see a moose today. I did, however, hike with a NOBO named Firefly who saw one earlier—in Vermont, maybe? Firefly started March 7. I also met a young guy today, Tin Can, who started May7. All the salmon hitting the end of the stream at the same time, because the journey ends when Maine is done.

Firefly’s husband works for NASA, designing doodads and bits of equipment for the International Space Station. How cool is that?

So. The water filter tuned that brown muddy stuff crystal clear! I was astonished! I treated it anyway. So many of these water sources are beaver ponds, moose swimming holes, and frog swamps that I’m extra paranoid. Or… the same degree of paranoid, because I’ve been double treating since Harper’s Ferry. 😁

This morning. Oh, man, this morning! I totally forgot that this section was that crazy misery with the funky rebar and steps. So… I made it! Got through the rebar, survived the vertical slab descents and the walls of sheer rock. Got to Mahoosuc Notch at 1. My cutoff had been 2:30, so… boom! I yanked up my socks and went in.

I couldn’t even get up the first boulder! It took like… 5 minutes, and I slammed my shin and scraped all the skin off my left butt cheek, Boulder 1. Joy! Mark me down for ‘hardest mile’ rather than ‘most fun mile.’ I’m battered, bruised, and skinned.

But I got through it. 2.5 hours, as opposed to the 3 hours first time around. Guthooks helped, because I could keep checking and screaming, “PLEASE DEARGOD, IS IT OVER SOON?”

My pack, though, didn’t fare as well. One of the side pockets got torn to crap on the rocks—which is going to cause me some logistical problems. I covered it with Tenacious Tape. Fingers crossed that it sticks, but I’m not holding my breath. It hasn’t been sticking to anything. Just 270 miles. It only had to last 270 miles or so.

What else? Nada. A flip-flopper named Roy just joined me at this stealth site. That’s good. I like to camp with a few other people, these days. Roy flipped in PA, so that’s where he’s headed.

Tomorrow: Mahoosuc Arm, Old Speck Mountain, other satanic ups and downs.

I have to call the hostel in Andover tomorrow to make sure they’re running the shuttle on Saturday. I might zero at that place… but probably not. No food there, except what they might sell on premises. Frozen pizza. If I zero, I’d rather do it in a town. But I don’t think I’m in a real town until Monson, before the Hundred.