Trail Tales 18: Maine Part II, Stratton to Millinocket
The Greatest Mountain
After leaving Merf behind at Stratton we mosied on our way for the Bigelow Range. We stopped for lunch at the Cranberry Stream campground for lunch and privy before heading up. A parking lot is located pretty near the campsite and some day hikers had come by. One of them ended up talking on the phone and was hiking pretty close to us. It is one thing to use a phone in relative privacy away from a campsite, but to be hiking and talking on the phone??? Really? Chris turned around after awhile and told the guy off and eventually the guy fell behind. Don’t be an annoying day hiker! Don’t talk/text and hike!
The climb up to Horns Pond Lean-To had a few bouldering efforts, but was not nearly as bad as I was expecting. I wasn’t sure how fast we’d be able to move so I’d left our campsite for the night flexible. If it was slow we’d stop at Horns Pond, if not too bad we’d keep going to the Avery Memorial Campsite between West Peak and Avery Peak (rumoured to be very cold at night) or if we were cruising well we could make it to Safford Notch. At Horns Pond we’d seen in the shelter log that Moose and Tetherball and Cubbie and Dilly Dally had met up so they weren’t very far in front of us. It was unlikely we’d see them that night but possible within the next few days!
This section of the trail was crawling with dayhikers and overnighters. We stayed up at the top in the gloomy overcast sky for awhile taking in the view. From West Peak we tried to make out Katahdin but in the haze it was still not very visible. We descended down to the Bigelow Col and Avery Memorial Campsite. Looked like a cozy little spot but we were making good time so we kept on up Avery Peak, named for Myron Avery one of the AT founders. Again we stopped for a bit but the wind was a little brutal so we kept on hoofing it. On our way down we met a group of college aged kids (adults?) who told us to pass on a message to another group behind them with a member that’d hurt her foot. It was taking them longer to get up and over to the shelter and that they could turn back if needed. We met the other group shortly after and relayed it on and the girl looked miserable as she hobbled up the trail. I think they’d overestimated how far they could get that day!
And then finally we reached the 2,000 mile mark! Well, within a mile or two at least! There is also a very famous 2,000 mile paint mark on a road at the very bottom of the Bigelow’s but it is several years out of date so we didn’t take a photo there. This one is closer to accurate!
Coming down to Safford Notch was a bit slow, more rocks and slick areas to keep us crawling instead of bouncing down the trail. We walked around some very large rocks that formed small cave-like, moss covered crevices. We set up camp at the site and Chris went for water. A little later a southbounder came in and set up behind us and then some flip-flopping northbounders we’d met on West Peak came in and set up camp further away. I really liked this site, it had a haunted feeling about it, but perhaps that was just the overcast day.
The next morning we got an early start as usual because we were planning a 22 to Pierce Pond, a shelter that is a quarter mile from a hunting and fishing camp that offers breakfast to thru-hikers. It was a partly cloudy day but the trail was pretty nice as we went up a few false summits of Little Bigelow. On the east end of Little Bigelow we were walking down some of the wide rock expanses and met a few kids coming up from the Little Bigelow shelter. They had asked us if they were near the top—unfortunately we were closer to the bottom than the top! That’s always disappointing to relay or have relayed to you! We bypassed the shelter since most everyone we knew that might have been there the night before would have been gone already.
At East Flagstaff Rd we met trail angels performing some trail magic! Our last staffed trail magic! We stopped and chatted for awhile and found a few people we knew had stopped by that morning so we were excited to not be too far behind them. Walking around Flagstaff Lake was gentle and enjoyable. Several stealth campsites were noted, so keep that in mind if you are walking around that area. There was also a trail re-route that hadn’t been completely finished so who knows if we added any mileage to our thru-hike there or not. We had one minor climb up Roundtop Mountain, a mere bump in the woods from recent climbs, before coming into West Carry Pond Lean-to for lunch. I heard Moose talking before I saw her and shouted over to her. We found her drying off from a swim in the pond and eating lunch with Speaker! We hadn’t seen Speaker since Hanover and Moose and T-ball we hadn’t seen since New York! It was good to be reunited!
A few miles down the trail at East Carry Pond we found Cubbie and Dilly Dally and we hiked the rest of the day together in one long thru-hiker line. We pulled into Pierce Pond at 5pm, pulling one of the longest days we’d had in several hundred miles. It felt so good to make a decent distance by dinner!
The shelter and camping sites around it were very packed. A French-Canadian camping group had taken some some spots and there were several thru-hikers and section hikers at the shelter.
I sat on the rocky shore reading while Chris and T-ball went swimming on their inflatable sleeping mats.
An excellent spot to stop for the night! Before we went to bed that night the owner of the camp that makes the breakfast came down to get everyones orders for the morning. I can’t remember, I think it was between $8-$10 a person for the breakfast depending on if you wanted everything or only some of the items.
It was a very easy walk to the camp, a quarter mile and you could smell breakfast cooking. Inside the large cabin were various stuffed animals, photos from local hunters, albums full of thru-hiker thank-you’s and more.
It was a cozy place to slowly sip coffee and relax for the morning.
Hummingbirds outside on the porch.
After breakfast we loaded up to hit the Kennebec River Ferry during its alloted hours of operation. The Kennebec is one of more formidable rivers that is unbridged and while some people try to ford this river, it has proven deadly to several people in the past. Now there is a free canoe service that is the official white blaze on the trail—the canoe itself has a white blaze on it. Everyone let us go first since we had a mail drop in Caratunk and wanted to get there before they closed for lunch.
On the other side we were greeted with a cooler of sodas, only a handful left, and some baked goods. I picked up a soda called Moxie and Chris got a regular soda. When I opened it in Caratunk I realized that I really didn’t like the soda at all. It has such a strange taste and I ended up letting Chris finish it.
Caratunk is a tiny, tiny town and other than some old Victorian houses we only saw a post office in the town. Nearby is a Northern Outdoors Resort which offers cabins and other spaces that many hikers take advantage of. In Caratunk we found the post office really easily and I had to really use the bathroom and there weren’t any public ones available. Luckily the postal worker lived across the street and she just told me to go right on in, that the door was open! I walked in and found someone else there and they helped me find the bathroom. Trail magic in the strangest places!
A pleasant walk ensued from Caratunk to the Pleasant Pond Lean-To. Lunch was had in the middle of the trail with Cubbie and Dilly Dally. We smelled cookouts from the shelter and we’d gone down in hopes someone was making food, but found none. Houses were on the other side of the pond so I am sure the wonderful aromas were coming from there. *drat*. Pleasant Pond Mountain was a bit of a pain to climb. We passed a few groups coming down that informed us we were definitely not too close to the top, which was disappointing because the heat was becoming a bit of a bother. Finally we arrived at the top to see some nasty clouds forming back south over the Bigelows. It was strange to see that we’d only been there the morning before and they were already 32 trail miles away. The top of Pleasant Pond was similar to many summits in the northeast, rock slabs with small plants peeking out of the cracks around it—not the ideal place to be if it were wet. We hurried down after some small talk with a southbound section hiker in hopes to get further down the trail and closer to camp before the rain came. Thunder chased us for awhile but only when we arrived at Moxie Pond did it start sprinkling and the majority of the rain seemed to have avoided us.
We were getting close to Bald Mountain Brook Lean-To when we found a beaver pond and realized we had to cross it on the west end. It was pretty fun to be walking on the beaver dam, but when we passed we didn’t see any beavers. It wasn’t much further before we arrived at the campsite and Chris decided to walk back to the pond because it was close.
Chris met a beaver who gave him a bit of a show!
It rained that night for a bit but we had a nice campsite with Cubbie and DD down below the shelter with a small stream in front of the site. The next morning was overcast and appeared to threaten rain. We had one climb for the day and what appeared to be a pretty easy walk to Monson, the last trail town. The trail up to Moxie Bald Mountain was enjoyable with cushy, moss covered trail and mystic woods. The summit of Moxie was slick from the night before but offered a beautiful site of the coming hundred mile wilderness.
We encountered two different grouse on our walk across Moxie and got a video of this one. Normally they seem to spook easily but these two were friendly enough to let us walk on by without flying away. At Moxie Bald Lean-to we stopped to read the shelter log and found that Moose and Tetherball had seen a moose in the pond that morning! We’d come all this way in Maine and had yet to see a Moose; lots of evidence but no animal. Perhaps we had hope yet!
We passed a few section hikers going south on our way to Horseshoe Canyon Lean-To for lunch. Before getting there we did have our first ford on the trail, the West Branch of the Piscataquis River. They’d told us of a supposed way to get around without having to ford but we couldn’t find the way and decided to just put our Keen’s on and go for it. The water was cold but we quickly got across and didn’t have any problems. We had another ford later on that day, the East Branch of the same river but this one had enough debris that we could manage to get across without getting wet—sorta. The last step where I was going to jump to shore I managed to finagle that and get my left boot completely soaked. Finding a cooler of soda on the other side made up for that! After getting our sugar calories and starting up the trail we met a man with a gigantic pack and dog coming down to refill the cooler! We said our thanks and kept on our merry way towards Monson. There were a few annoying PUDs between the cooler and Maine 15 but we finally arrived at the road at 5pm with some sprinkling rain threatening. We were planning to stay at Shaw’s, a hostel that had been boasted along the trail because of its breakfast. The place was packed but the owner showed up at the trailhead to pick us up and told us she’d manage to find us a place to stay or we could pitch a tent in her backyard. We took the double bed in the front of the hostel when we arrived—a bed sounded better than a tent!
Moose and Tetherball and a plethora of other people were at at the hostel that evening, including the section hikers we’d met earlier in the day. We had a maildrop at Lake Shore House, a gigantic box with 10 days worth of food for the 100 mile wilderness. We shook our heads as we looked at the box and knew we were sending a lot of it home! 10 days??? Not for seasoned thru-hikers. We were planning about six days to get through and in reality it was 5.5. The hostel was pretty nice, offering a nice bunk room upstairs, well appointed bathrooms, internet, laundry and hiker room with tv and couches. I was surprised how many hikers were crawling about the place, it seemed most were section hikers though. A few southbounders were there, at least one was getting off after pushing too hard in the 100 mile wilderness.
The next morning Cubbie and Dilly Dally showed up in the morning rain. We were planning to start until later in the afternoon which worked out for all the nasty rain. The breakfast at Shaw’s is good, but not nearly as good as at the Mountain Harbor B&B/Hostel in Tennessee. We said goodbye to Moose and Tetherball who were planning to get through the wilderness in five days and summit a day before our planned summit date. Who knew if we would see them again?
After a lunch with Cubbie and Dilly Dally at Lakeshore House we decided to finally get on the trail in the mid-afternoon. Cubbie and Dilly Dally were set to enjoy their last trail town and decided to basically zero in town that day. They’d camped near the road the night before so it was an easy hike to the road that morning. We knew we’d see them later on down the trail as we were probably going to have the same summit date.
And then we were there, The 100 Mile Wilderness. We would later find that it wasn’t much more of a wilderness than what we’d already seen. They tout it as having not much road access and no supply options but we met several people slacking several sections, so we knew it was possible to get out via forest and logging roads.
Our goal was to get to the Wilson Valley Lean-To for the evening, 10.5 miles from the trailhead. The going was more annoying than I imagined, lots of PUDs and annoying climbs that seemed to slow us down. Eventually we found a campsite near Big Wilson Stream right by the side of the trail. We had time to go further but Chris wanted to try some fishing so we settled in for the evening.
Campsite along the banks of Big Wilson Stream.
The following morning we had to ford Big Wilson Stream. You can see the guide lines across at the top for when water is much deeper. I was thankful that we did not have anything too deep to cross! We were planning to make it across the Barren-Chairback Range before the end of the day and had about 16 miles to do walk that day. We had a brief stop at the Wilson Valley Lean-To to see who’d been at the shelter the night before, and we set out on our way. It was definitely a slower day than expected, crossing Long Pond Stream without having to ford it and making our way up Barren Mountain for lunch. Along the way we met TinTin’s girlfriend Emily. She’d flown in to meet him along the trail but he hadn’t arrived in Monson yet so she set off along the trail to slowly hike along until he caught up. We hadn’t seen him since Virginia so it was nice to think we might get to see him again.
It was another overcast day and I could tell the clouds had rain on their agenda. We needed some water when we got to the Cloud Pond Lean-To but it was .4 off the trail so I dropped my back and walked downhill to the pond to grab some water. It was an airy walk to trot down the trail without a pack on. It would have been a pretty spot to stay for the night but we hadn’t made it very far at all. From there we were supposed to pass Fourth Mountain, Third Mountain and Columbus mountain but there were so many little hills that we lost count along the way. I swear there were at least 8 mountains in that section.
In the saddles between each summit we’d walk across bog boards through beautiful wetlands. We’d heard in the shelter registers that there was not water at the Chairback Gap Lean-To but several people had told us there was a small stream we’d pass about a mile or two before the shelter and we’d have to carry water up from there. Right after that we started hearing the thunder get closer so we donned our rain gear and started booking it. We had to get over Columbus Mountain in the rain but it was an easier climb than expected and before long we arrived at the shelter.
A flip-flopping northbounder was at the shelter and a couple of hours later we were happy to see Emily arrive. We weren’t sure if she was going to make it that far or not. I enjoyed that shelter because it seemed remote, more than likely because we were swarmed in the fog.
We were greeted by a sun-shining morning the next day at Chairback Gap.
We went further into the gap and found the dry spring and then went up Chairback Mountain. On the north side we saw the looming Whitecap Range our destination for the day. On our way down Chairback we got a disoriented. Poor blazing made it difficult to follow the trail. That side is covered in big rocks making it difficult to navigate and I hated to go further down only to have to come back up. Eventually we found the appropriate path and got off the nasty rocks.
At Katahdin Iron Works Logging Road we found trail magic in the form of sodas and whoopie pies!
Just what I needed to get my engine going for the rest of the day….mmmm sugar!
We had a nice walk along the West Branch of the Pleasant River before having to ford it. Once on the other side we were in The Hermitage and would pass a side trail to Gulf Hagas. We saw a few small waterfalls but did not take the side trail that many people boasted about. I wish we’d of gone back in there a bit but perhaps on our next trip to Maine we’ll stop in and explore that area more. If you have the time I hear that this is very much worth the extra miles.
Lunch was had at the Carl A. Newhall Lean-To where we met a southbounder coming down from the Whitecap Range. Once up on Gulf Hagas mountain we would walk a nice ridge with several peaks: West Peak, Hay Mountain and finally Whitecap mountain. All along the way we’d been following a really annoying hiker in the shelter registers, a hiker from Maine on his third thru-hike. Once we started getting to some of the straight up and down areas of the trail in New Hampshire he would draw these annoying cartoons about how whiny hikers were about not having switchbacks. He was pretty snotty about it and it got to the point that if I ever met him I would probably punch him. Anyway, on our way up Hay Mountain we found switchbacks being installed! I thought it had to be the best revenge to this guy, having switchbacks being put in by MATC volunteers.
Finally we arrived at the top of Whitecap! Mostly sunny at the summit we were able to stop and enjoy it for a good hour or so.
We poked through a small trail to the north side of the mountain where we could see Katahdin. This was the first time we’d really seen it on the horizon and there it was, a mere 73 trail miles away.
Chris had ordered a real kite several towns back, I think in Kent, CT actually and it had been put into our Monson mail drop. He was itching to try it out.
The wind was perfect for flying it but I was worried it would be stuck downhill on the rocks in some precarious position. Luckily none of that happened. We chatted for a bit with a family that’d hiked up from a road down below, about our thru-hike and what was to come. It started clouding up a bit so we knew to head down below tree-line in case the weather turned. The weather did turn when we arrived at the Logan Brook Lean-To. The campsites were full but we managed to find a piece of ground to throw our tent up in before the rain started. I’d tossed around the idea of going further than evening but since the rain started we nixed that idea. There were several flip-flopping northbounders at the shelter. Most of them had gotten off in Pennsylvania and come up to Maine several days earlier. It was hard for me to imagine that there were northbounders still in the Mid-Atlantic states! They would still have time to finish, and many did in October, but thinking of the cold weather they’d have to endure was not something I was interested in.
The rain cleared out by the next morning and I felt like the sky had traces of autumn looming in it. We’d only left Logan Brook Lean-To and were maybe half a mile down the trail when we saw something large 50 yards ahead. My eyes thought it was a downed tree until they adjusted and I realized it was a gangly moose in the trail! A MOOSE! It ambled off to the right of the trail and into the woods not letting us have enough of a good angle to get a picture, but we’d come 2,108 miles to see a moose in the wild! We talked for a bit in our excitement thinking of writing in the next journal that we’d seen a moose. WOOHOO!
We had some of our smoothest trail in a long time during this stretch. If you look at the profile maps of this area it will appear mostly flat with a gigantic 4K foot climb at the very end. We had one small climb at Little Boardman Mountain, where we took a snack break, but other than that we spent most of the day walking around ponds and streams.
There were ample opportunities for swimming and so many spots to camp. It would have been easy to go five miles and pitch a tent, move another five miles and pitch another tent.
Cooper Brook Falls Lean-To was magnificent and would have been a wonderful stopping point, too.
Along the flat trails in this area we passed a group of runners. Maybe they were doing a supported run of the AT? We also met a family that were hiking in to the Antler’s Campsite for the night. We had also tossed around the idea to stop at the campsite because of the good things we’d heard about it but when we arrived we found a group of teen boys being too rowdy for any sort of peace and quiet. We decided to go another three miles to the Potaywadjo Spring Lean-To. We were in luck—no one was there and no one else showed up that night.
The shelter. I poured over a newspaper that had been left there. Good times!
On our last full day in the wilderness we were aiming for the Rainbow Spring Campsite 22 miles from Potaywadjo Lean-To. On the shores of Pemadumcook Lake we peered through the trees lining the shore to Katahdin looming closer. We followed Nahmakanta Stream on our way to its namesake lake. On the eastern shore we found a family who’d been car camping and the smells of breakfast were still looming in the forest air. Oh, bacon and eggs….
We weaved along the shore of the lake, poking out onto the sand shore at times and then back up a hill to the Wadleigh Stream Lean-To for a break. We had one minor summit up Nesuntabunt Mountain. It had some weaving turns that reminded me of getting confused back in the Grayson Highlands, thinking we were going down or up sections we’d already done. On a small side trail to an overlook at Nestuntabunt we had lunch. We took the view of Katahdin while munching on chicken and potatoes for lunch, trying to divy up as much snacks as we could for the last few days. We made a few phone calls and the sky seemed to threaten rain again so we packed it up and headed for our last miles of the day.
Down along Crescent Pond several fisherman were crowding the trail. I think there was a nearby fishing and hunting camp. At the Rainbow Stream Lean-To we took in a snack break among a gigantic group of French-Canadian kids. The were sprawled out across the shelter and most of the campsites so I was glad we were not staying there that night. A few new southbounders were at the shelter and one of them told us he’d gone up and down Katahdin, across Baxter State Park and then into the first shelter in the wilderness in the same day. That was a well over 20 mile day and for a newbie—wow. This guy was paying for it, too, and was going to be crawling over some very easy trail the next few days. Again we walked along more ponds and lakes as we got closer to our destination for the evening. We weren’t but a hundred yards from the campsite when we met a woman named Sweet Tea. Yet another northbound flip-flopper. She took our picture and our names and we each went on our merry way. There was only two other hikers at the campsite that night therefore there was plenty of space to set up camp.
Making dinner down by the lake and the spring. We’d gone through the entire wilderness without seeing another northbound thru-hiker. I was anxious about who was just ahead of us and who might be behind us. There was a limited amount of spots at the shelter in Baxter State Park and it can be tricky if there is a conglomeration of hikers.
The day to we left the wilderness we were planning only to go to Abol Bridge Campground on the Penobscot River an easy 11 mile day. We got up early and though rain was lingering it slowly stopped before we made it to the Rainbow Ledges. I realized later that this was where many people take photos of Katahdin. However as we navigated the ledges it was blocked in clouds and we were unable to see anything. We crossed Hurd Brook and arrived at the very last shelter on the Appalachian Trail if you don’t count the one at Baxter State Park, especially since it isn’t open to everyone. We signed our last shelter log, a very full log book, so full that I barely had room to write anything on the tattered pages. We met a section hiker who was just about to leave the shelter from that morning and we made some small talk about our upcoming summit. I went to use the last privy on the trail and as I came out of the privy I slipped and slid all the way down the two or three stairs to the ground, slamming my right hand hard on the wet plywood. At first I thought I’d broken my arm but after a few tears shed and some cuss words I made it back to the shelter and we mosied on towards Abol Bridge.
Coming out of the wilderness we walked along the Golden Road before coming to the bridge over the Penobscot River. A crowd of sightseers were watching as rafters made their way down the rapids of the river.
Of course this was what we were most interested in. We’d finally made it to the mailbox of Katahdin. A mere 9.9 miles to the doorstep and 5 more and we’d be sitting in the living room.
At the campstore at Abol Bridge we found that the Nature Train, a group of hikers that had formed early on with Nature, a thru-hiker from ’09 re-hiking the trail this year, was still hanging out at the campground and planning on summiting the following day. They said Moose, Tetherball and Ponytail Dave had already made their way for Katahdin Stream campground. A ridgerunner was hanging out there to inform everyone on where they could and couldn’t stay and basic information on hiking up the mountain. We weren’t sure what we were planning to do yet so we just went inside and bought as much junk food we could eat for lunch, filling up on chips and queso and microwaveable hamburgers as a last gorge.
Once our stomaches were sated we were able to focus on the task at hand—where to stay for the night. We decided against stealthing across the street in favor of paying for a campsite in the campground in order to get a shower. Stealth sites were technically fee based but one could get away with staying there for free. We talked for awhile to the ridge runner and another hiker who’d been ahead of us and already summited. He’d actually summited twice, both times in an attempt to see sunrise. Unfortunately the weather hadn’t cooperated and he’d been unable to have a nice sunrise. We found out that we could actually start our climb at 2am from Katahdin Stream Campground in order to see sunrise. This was appealing but we would only do it if we knew the weather would be good.
Throughout the day the mountain was in and out of the clouds but it was a bright and sunny day for the most part. We knew it might have been a perfect day to climb but we were holding off in hopes of Cubbie and Dilly Dally catching us to summit the following day.
We waited for most of the day thinking they’d roll in but they never did. It was so nice to relax the entire day, take in some reading and catching some sleep.
Since we had only 9.9 miles to go we didn’t rush to get out of the campground but we were interested in getting our names on the register at the trailhead so we could reserve our spot at The Birches, the shelter at Baxter State Park reserved for northbound thru-hikers. They limit the number of people who can stay there and if you do not have a reservation at any other campsites in the park you are not allowed to stealth elsewhere either.
It was a really easy 9.9 miles through the park. A beautiful trail along several streams, including the lower Katahdin Stream, a ford of the Lower Fork of Nesowadnehunk Stream (kinda deep for me!) where Chris managed to rock hop but I decided to ford. I was impressed when we arrived at a parking lot and saw their privies—incredibly clean and well maintained. Baxter State Park has no running water and bathrooms are privies like the rest of the trail. We were passing day hikers left and right and our pace was a nice clip. Finally we arrived at the Katahdin Stream Campground where the park headquarters was located but found that the rangers weren’t on duty at the time.
A quarter mile down Pack Tote Road lies The Birches. We were the first thru-hikers to arrive so we reserved our tent for the tent pad.
I walked back up to the the ranger station to pay the ranger for camping, to leave a message for Moose and Tetherball who were on Katahdin and to fill up our water from Katahdin Stream. We made several trips up and down the road before running into Moose and Tetherball on their way down to see us. They raved about their awesome summit and showed us their summit photos making me instantly jealous and wishing we’d gone up. But, I had to be patient, we’d get ours very soon.
I killed time by reading a book and donning my moose antlers that I’d bought as a gag at Abol Bridge.
Cubbie, Dilly Dally and Blue Rooster showed up later in the evening and we bombarded them with our idea to summit at sunrise. Cubbie and DD were game but it took a bit of enticement to get Blue Rooster interested. Everyone had been planning on getting up early, just not *that* early. Moose and Tetherball had told us of the insane amount of dayhikers on the summit and we weren’t keen on having a crowd while up there. Cubbie and DD had bought hot dogs from Abol Bridge and brought them to The Birches for one last feast. We gobbled up the dogs and chatted with a French-Canadian couple who had come up the Blueberry Ledges trail and just said they’d hiked through the wilderness. They were actually started at Abol Bridge and were planning to go down to Chimney Pond the next day.
Wrapped in clouds on the summit, seconds before getting to the sign. The clouds were gone in a few minutes.
And then we went to bed. And soon it was 1am. And I don’t think I can write more about Katahdin than what I wrote in my summit post. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had. I wouldn’t change my summit for anything. The peace on top, being with friends. Oh, I guess I can tell of my kite mishap. The wind was incredibly strong up top and Chris had his kite that he was desperate to fly. It was very hard to control and Chris wanted to get in the middle of the bolted down sign to have some leverage. He asked me to come hold the kite while he got in the sign. I had hold of the string for about half a second when the wind pulled and up I went and across the mountain about 15′ before I let go of the kite and slammed down into the rocks. The kite went tumbling down Katahdin and we couldn’t see it. I was glad I had the sense to let go because I would have been down the mountain, too. I carried a bruise on my right thumb up until about three weeks ago. It finally worked its way out as my nail grew. A few weeks after our summit we got a message from fellow thru-hikers Sugarbush and Dethmarch informing us that they’d found our kite on the mountain! It has since been returned to us but hasn’t been flown yet. I still owe them a little something for finding it and sending it back to us!
I only wish we’d taken more photos on our way down to show some of the ways we had to climb up, more perspective I suppose.
When we arrived back at the ranger station we found we had a Class I day. The next week would be full of Class I days, something of a rarity.
We had our very worst hitch out trying to leave the park. It took us three hours! Three hours!!! Since we’d come down it was nearly lunch time and no one was leaving the park. The ranger had told us that we could try hitching either in the parking lot at Katahdin Stream or at The Birches on the road. We’d decided to split up, with the other three staying at the parking lot and Chris and I at the Birches. After about thirty minutes we saw the other three drive by in a car! Bummer! We had loads of people ignore us, some stop and ask if we needed a ride only to tell us they had a full car. Why stop then?? Gah! Eventually, hungry and fed up, we got a ride in a mini-van driven by two sisters on a vacation with their kids. Thank goodness! We squeezed in the back of the van in between all of their car camping equipment. We watched through the back windows as we passed the other parts of the park that we wouldn’t have a chance to visit, beautiful ponds, campgrounds, passing the Abol Slide.
And then we were in Millinocket. And it was really, truly over.
We decided to stay at the AT Lodge but first we had to get food at the restaurant owned by the same people. Chris was fighting a raging headache and I wanted to sate my hunger appetite. At the hostel we showered and took a long nap. When we awoke we talked to the three that had gotten their hitch earlier.
It was weird to be done. It felt like we still had miles to go, that this was just a zero day. But it wasn’t. We all had a last dinner at a steak house down the street and since we still had a desire to walk we went all the way to a CVS a mile or two away down the road.
The next morning we had breakfast at the AT Cafe and then spent some time in the thrift shop getting town clothes. It was nice to fit into some very small numbers, numbers I hadn’t seen in several year. We felt like different people with jeans on. Cubbie and Dilly Dally had a ride set up to go to the airport in Bangor, so we said goodbye to them early in the day. Chris and I walked all over town that day, did some laundry and waited for my mom.
Mom showed up at dinner time having driven up from Boston. We briefly showed her the town and we drove east away from Katahdin and away from the trail.
Since we’d stayed in Maine for several days sightseeing the entire feeling of being done with the trail hadn’t occured. One day we drove through Monson and then down and around the Golden Road, taking her to Abol Bridge where she got a view of Katahdin. I felt very sad knowing it would be a good long while before I got up there again. We went to Millinocket in hopes of finding Merf or any other thru-hikers at the hostel. Everyone was down at the AT Cafe. We were reunited with a vast many hikers we’d hiked with including Merf, Caboose and Spark, TinTin, Turkey and Thrasher…I was glad we were able to see Merf again.
I finally felt like it was really over after that. We’d gone from Georgia in March to Maine in August.
2,179 miles…we were the same people but vastly different. You can’t even explain what the trail does to you or how you feel about the trail. It’s easy to forget the rain days, the PUDs, any scary moments and only see the flowers, the easy trail, the laughs and the people. But, there’s a good reason why some people become part of the Trail, hiking it multiple times, volunteering, going to trail conferences.
I don’t even know how to end this post! We’ll go back to some of these places again one day and perform trail magic. There will be daydreams and following Trail Journals every year and checking in on White Blaze every once in awhile.
The trail doesn’t really end, does it?
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that sunrise on Katahdin! I enjoyed reliving our journey on your blog!
Isn’t it weird when you come to the end of the trail. The first couple days after a hike always feel like zeros, and then it slowly sinks in that you are no longer long distance hiking. Leaving one pattern and moving into another.
I am so glad you guys got the chance to do the AT, and I look forward to hearing of your other hikes to come!
I’ve really enjoyed your narratives. A lot! I didn’t keep a very good journal and your’s helps me remember. Thanks!
I just caught up on this last post … wow. What a journey. You recorded it so well. I don’t think I realized you guys went up to Katahdin for sunrise and had a Class I day! What an excellent way to wrap it all up!
The 2011 companion book is now available to purchase, so that is going to be my goal next week, then I can start making Katahdin reservations and any other definitive plans for the start … yikes!!!!