My Walk in the Woods, Ch 17

This is the tale of A Lo Hawk’s 132 day, 2200 mile traverse of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 2008.

Chapter Seventeen (August 10th-19th)

Day 125: (ME) 22+ miles to camp north of Shorley Blanchard Rd

Today I bust out big miles in my New Balance street runners (I had been wearing Montrail trail shoes). It is partly cloudy and the terrain is not difficult. I meet a tall southbound hiker who tells me about a treacherous, chest deep ford of the Piscataquis River a few miles ahead. He insists I can do it since he did it but I’m not so sure. He looks like a strong hiker and claims the current was in his favor.

I know there is an 8 mile dirt road detour and decide not to risk the high water crossing. The lonely road walk is easy/relaxing/boring. No regrets, I camp north of Shorley Blanchard road after getting back on the trail.

Day 126: (ME) 9 AT miles plus 4 round trip miles into Monson

Today I split my AT miles with a four mile round trip detour to Monson to pick up my last mail drop from Oregon. Before the Post Office, I head directly for hiker’s favorite Shaw’s B&B Hiker Hostel. I miss main breakfast but for twenty bucks get to chow down delicious leftover pancakes (butter! syrup!), biscuits, oatmeal, great coffee and OJ as well as a shower and laundry service.

There is a large number of hikers milling around the hostel. Everyone seems to be in a gloomy mood, people are discussing the flooding in the 100 mile Wilderness (which begins north of town). Nobody wants to venture out, some are debating skipping this section. I had spoken to a pair of southbounders early this morning who told me it was not bad at all. I don’t feel like sharing their opinion so I escape the gloom tomb instead.

I get mail, visit the small general store, and motor on down the country road back to the AT. A few miles later, I see the sign for the 100 mile Wilderness. Although there are a few logging roads, it is the most remote section of the trail. The sign warns hikers to carry 6 to 8 days worth of food. Ridiculous. I find a sweet camp next to North Pond.

Day 127: (ME) 18 or 19 miles to camp north side of Fourth Mtn

It is my first full day in the 100 mile Wilderness and I am eager to get started. The weather begins well but doesn’t end well. I watch a porcupine cross my path. The views are good on the Barren Mtn ledges. I do not see another human being. Since my little digital camera malfunctioned in the Whites, there is no reason to stop for photos. I become Mr Roboto (my PCT persona).

The rain begins on the climb to Fourth Mtn. I power over the summit and set up a wet camp, boiling water for dinner from inside the tent.

Day 128: (ME) Good 20 miles to Logan Brook Lean-to

The weather has cleared overnight, it is an enjoyable day of hiking. Good views of the state from Third Mtn and West Chairback Mtn. Pleasant walking along endless shorelines. Walking boards over bogs that sink to my shins when I step on them. Easy climbs to wooded high points overlooking large bodies of water. In the lower elevations, fording is becoming easier as the water drains. An intricate network of tree roots are exposed.

Near the end of the day I climb 3644 ft White Cap Mtn. When I crest the summit, I get my first glimpse of the broad silhouette of 5269 ft Mt Katahdin in the distance. Just as hiker lore predicts, my heart begins to race. Lying in an empty Lean-to tonight, it takes longer to fall asleep with the image in my head.

Day 129: (ME) 28 miles to camp near Nahmakanta Stream campsite

I wake up this morning with a very sore jaw, a symptom of the Lyme disease I’ve self diagnosed after finding the tick between my toes back in Virginia. The thought of getting off the trail to seek treatment never occurs to me. Now its motivation to finish.

The trail spirits seem to be with me because today’s miles are the easiest of the entire trek. I have two moose sightings: a passive cow and a bull with large scoops standing in a pond 10 feet from the trail. I watch in awe for a quarter of an hour, even dropping my pack, until it decides to saunter away.

I follow the blazes through a maze of creeks, brooks and ponds; finally reaching Nahmakanta Stream (fast flowing river). My legs have that familiar feeling after running a marathon.

Day 130: (ME) 25 miles to Hurd Brook Lean-to

I awake with tired legs but it is a beautiful day with clear blue skies and I do not have to walk through any water for a change. A leisurely stretch brings me to a broad beach opening to a large lake (Nahmakanta) extending to the horizon. It is so inviting I must stop for a swim.

Fully refreshed, I pound out another scenic marathon, mosquitoes providing extra incentive. I cross logging roads and see the first humans in days– a family out for a walk from a nearby fish camp.

I stop at the Hurd Brook Lean-to where I meet two former Rangers hiking SOBO. We exchange stories about falling asleep while walking (me on the PCT, they in the military).

Day 131: (ME) 13 miles to Katahdin Stream Campground then Birches Shelter

I leave the ex Rangers snoring the timbers off the Lean-to this morning. A minor climb to the Rainbow Ledges gives me amazing views of the Penobscot River, the Golden Road (to civilization), Abol Bridge and Campground, and the looming outline of Mt Katahdin. Abol Bridge marks the northern end of the 100 mile Wilderness and the end of my four and a half day march across it.

At the Campground store, I take a look around but the proprietor gives me the creeps. Later I hear stories of employees stealing from hikers. I continue on, crossing the boundary into Baxter State Park, Governor Percival P Baxter’s ‘Magnificent Obsession’ — “Man is born to die, his works are short-lived. Buildings crumble, monuments decay, wealth vanishes. But Katahdin, in all its glory, forever shall remain the mountain of the people of Maine.”

A few miles of pleasant walking along streams and old growth trees takes me to Katahdin Stream Campground and Ranger Station. At the Ranger Station, I spend a few minutes reading the inspiring messages written by hikers in the registry. There is a supply of daypacks that thru-hikers can use on the 9 mile round trip climb to the summit.

Not far away, hidden from sight, is Birches Shelter, reserved for thru-hikers only. It is early in the day and I am the only one here. I relax all afternoon, trying to comprehend what I have done. No other hikers show up.

Day 132: (ME) 10 miles round trip to Mt Katahdin Summit and Northern Terminus of the AT

I’m wide awake. The moon is full and I can’t wait. Using my headlamp, I pack quickly and return to the Ranger Station. The building is dark and silent but the porch door is unlocked. The clock reads 1:10 am. I load a daypack with food and water, reorient myself outside, find the summit trailhead.

I can hear large volumes of cascading water beyond the reach of my headlamp. Gradually, I can see the outline of boulders and trees. When I reach treeline, there is a pink line on the Eastern horizon. Fun parts of the steep route utilize iron rungs, handholds and railings. I feel so nimble without the big pack.

Closer to the summit, I watch the sunrise while navigating broad scree fields. The sky is crystal clear but fog covers the lowlands below. I ascend to the beat up summit sign without fanfare. I am alone taking in the spectacular view of the massive mountain lording over an expanse of green forest interwoven with sparkling silver lakes and streams connected by a patchwork of fog.

I sit and meditate, trying hard to live in the moment without letting emotion overwhelm me. As I sit here, I can see that the fog is rising quickly. The trail spirit is telling me its time to go. Aloha!

On the descent, the fog greets me before a hiker does. Suddenly, out of the mist appears Forest Gimp. She is leading a pack of mouth breathers, we exchange congratulations. Further down, the day hiking horde parades by. I don’t believe anyone else today gets the summit view I was given.

Back at the Ranger Station, I sign the registry and grab my backpack. The parking lot is packed, it is easy to find a kind gentleman willing to give me a ride to Millinocket, closest town to the state park. I check in at the Appalachian Trail Lodge then walk downtown to an internet cafe where I make plane reservations. The flight out of Bangor International Airport is in a couple of days.

Back at the lodge I run into Rhino, a man and his dog (name?) whom I first met in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and have been chasing ever since. I congratulate him but secretly am glad I beat him to Katahdin, Penobscot for ‘The Greatest Mountain’.

AT-1 day: Aug 18th, Bar Harbor

My body is in a state of confusion, its the first day I don’t have to put on a pack and hike. After breakfast at the cafe, I return to the lodge where I meet an elderly couple loading their car. They are willing to give me a ride to Bangor immediately. Although Millinocket is only an hour from the big city via I-95, they want to take the scenic/rural route. For two hours I entertain them with tales from the trail.

They deliver me to a car rental company near the airport (Mahalo!). I drive (first time in four months!) the auto to a nearby motel and rent a room. Later in the afternoon I make the 75 minute drive to Bar Harbor, popular tourist town on the coast at the main entrance to Acadia National Park.

I find a fancy seafood restaurant (white table cloth and napkins!) with outdoor seating overlooking the gorgeous harbor. I order the obligatory lobster dinner to celebrate my accomplishment. After I stuff my face, I find a bench to sit and people watch. I call Sue on the small flip phone with pre-paid minutes. Back at the room, I drink beer and watch TV like a lazy slug.

AT-2 days: Aug 19th, Acadia NP

One more day to play. The sun is out and I feel fine. Sit down for a quick breakfast next to the motel then hop in the rental for a second road trip to the coast, this time to explore Acadia National Park.

My body is in recovery mode but I drive directly to the trailhead for the Precipice Trail. The short, thrilling hike climbs straight up rock faces using iron rungs (like large staples) attached to the stone. The views of the Maine coast are incredible. A light rain passes over making the descent slow and focused. Other hikers arrive causing bottlenecks at the bars.

I drive the entire loop around Mt Desert Island, returning to Bar Harbor for a late lunch. I make a poor choice to eat crappy fish and chips at lame Route 66 restaurant then wander the shops looking at overpriced souvenirs. I return to the room, get dinner, call wife and watch TV.

Tomorrow I will return the car at the airport and fly back to Oregon. This adventure is at an end but the journey continues. Aloha and Happy Trails until we meet again. A Lo Hawk

Sidetrack August 22nd I enter Urgent Care in Eugene, take a blood test and pay $50 for a shot of Doxycycline antibiotic to treat Lyme Disease.

4 Responses to “My Walk in the Woods, Ch 17”

  1. I’ve read it all, a marathon experience on par with your backpacking adventure. I could feel your emotion at the end – it took me back to how I felt completing the CT in Durango. Mahalo.

  2. Rob, I am struck by how different your vocabulary is in this one. Many words precisely the right ones to describe certain things, and even if they are not immediately familiar to me I know they are just right, and I see what you are wanting me to see. Great post.

  3. roguebotanist Says:

    2000 feet here, 3000 feet there. Seemingly everyday. At what point did your body (mostly) stop rebelling to this? Is this your Magnum Opus?

    • A lo Hawk Says:

      Yes, this is the final chapter of a 12 year project. I’ve published chapters 15-17 this month. Chapter Fifteen has the most climbing.

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