Day 155- Tuesday, 8/14- Monson, ME- (0) (1564.5 total)
The plan today was for the hostel back down in Monson to pick me up around 10-11am and drive me back down there. It’s about a 2 hour drive south. (Crazy how it took me 8 days to walk it but only 2 hours to drive!) When I got up this morning, I realized that I had a few things to get done and that Millinocket was much better place to resupply compared to Monson. So I called the hostel and asked them to come at 11 rather than 10. They said no problem and that 11 worked better for them too. But then, around 9:30, just as I was about to get moving and go to the store, I get a phone call from the shuttle driver saying he is close by and will pick me up at 10. Damn, nothing like miscommunication. So after some phone calls, I was able to get him to wait until about 10:30 and allow me to get my stuff done, albeit in a more rushed manner than I would have liked. He turned out to be a really kind man and we had some good conversation on the way down. Also, another hiker called to get the same ride at the last minute, so I was able to split the cost with him, which was nice. The driver told us on the way down that another shuttle of hikers the day before had run into a moose while driving. Fortunately everyone was ok, but I guess the car and the moose took the brunt of it.
Spent the afternoon at the hostel here, getting more resupply done. My package from REI arrived with some new boots and hiking clothes. Those low top boots that I managed to get back with my food drop in the 100 Mile Wilderness worked great for my Achilles and I’ve had no more problems. But I still want the waterproof version for wet Maine, so I’m exchanging them. I’m also trying out a couple different styles of underwear that I hope will work. I’ve been going sans underwear while hiking for a long time now, but the summer humidity was causing some chaffing in a bad place. I had to resort to actually taping part of my wing-ding ding-a-ling for the last few days to avoid the chaffing, so I’m really hoping this new underwear works. And got a new hiking shirt as well, as my other one was starting to get holes looked like it was going to rip in some places. I guess 5 months and almost 1600 miles of wearing the same shirt everyday will do that.
Got some cool trail magic here at the hostel last night. Instead of having to go out for dinner, some former hiker called up and told them to order several pizzas for all the hikers here last night. That’s actually a good idea for trail magic. You don’t even have to be there. Next year when I’m back home, I’ll try to remember this one and call a couple hostels myself.
Day 156- Wednesday, 8/15- Monson, ME- (0) (1564.5 total)
Took a zero today to catch up on errands. Had to return and exchange some items with REI, spray down some new clothes with permethrin for tick protection, upload some recent photos online, and a few other errands. Got all caught up by about mid-day and then had some time to chill and watch some Netflix when the WiFi was fast enough. This town has no cell or 4G service, so we are totally dependent on the WiFi signal here at the hostel, which is up and down. Hard to imagine living somewhere this disconnected in this day and age. I did learn about making regular calls over a WiFi signal from a waitress here tho and was able to set my phone up for that. Never knew that was possible. I’m still working my way through The Office which is still hilarious, and found another show called Last Chance U, about a football program in the middle of nowhere Kansas for talented players who have been too troubled to make it at D-1 programs.
Tomorrow I get back on the trail for 6 days. The last 2 days, starting about 60 miles from here, I will enter The Bigelow Mountains, the start of southern Maine, widely known as by far the hardest section in the entire AT. It’s about 100 miles of very rugged terrain. I’ve seen the elevation profile and it looks brutal. Southern Maine is followed immediately by the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a very close second to the hardest section on the trail, with rocky and steep elevation gains and losses. It’s also about a 100 mile section, so all in all a 200 mile stretch that is pretty killer according to everyone I’ve talked to. The recommendation is to slow your miles during this part. People say you hike all day and only get through 8-12 miles. These parts are something I’ve been hearing about since day 1, and they do sound a little intimidating. By this point tho, I’m just ready to get in to them and see what they are all about already. Tired of thinking and wondering about them and just ready to go fight through them.
Day 157- Thursday, 8/16- Bald Mountain Pond Lean-to- (17.9 miles) (1582.4 total)
Back on the trail today. Got dropped off by the hostel shuttle just after 8am and started my first day as a SOBO (southbound). Luckily, the terrain today was pretty mellow, so I was able to get in just about 18 miles, which is where the next shelter happened to be, and was able to make good time. That will slow way down soon for southern Maine, but nice to get the miles in while I still can. I passed quite a few NOBO (northbound) hikers in the morning as I was walking, but in the afternoon that all dried up completely. I think I saw 1 person on the trail the entire afternoon.
Met 4 other hikers here at the shelter this evening, all of whom are NOBOs. Had a nice dinner with them, but towards the end they started exchanging war stories from the Whites and southern Maine. Good lord they made it sound bad. They kept apologizing to me for freaking me out, but then another story. I think my next 3.5 weeks are going to be quite something.
When I arrived here around 6pm, my first order of business was to find a good camp spot. I always get my shelter set up first, as the one time back in Georgia that I decided to stretch first, it started pouring and I was stuck setting up the tent in the rain and getting water inside. Unfortunately, this shelter doesn’t have many good level tent camping sites so I was forced to look around. I finally found one possible site and was about to set up, when I suddenly noticed that there were so many fallen trees in the area, all around me. So that made me decide not to camp there just in case another one decided to fall on me. I kept looking around and still couldn’t find anything descent, so decided to just go back to that spot, when another hiker pointed out a site that ended up working well enough. So I set up there, and then just a few minutes after I crawled into my tent...CRASH!!! I heard a tree come falling down right over in the area where I almost pitched my tent. Not sure how close that was to where I was going to set up, but that scared the crap out of me! Spooky!
Day 158- Friday, 8/17- Pleasant Pond lean-to, ME- (13.0 miles) (1595.4 total)
2 big mountains were my task for the day. The first was about 1500 ft. up, fairly steep, with an amazing view from the top. The second mountain though was very long and gradual. It was also around 1500 ft. to climb, but stretched over 5 miles. It just seemed endless. I got part way up the second mountain and noticed that my water was getting a bit low. I checked my Guthook app to see when the next water was, and saw that it wasn’t until I got all the way over the mountain and to the shelter, which was about 6.5 miles away. Shoot, I should have checked the water situation earlier. Well, too late. I decided to just push on and ration the half liter I had. Of course right around that time it decided to get humid, which made it worse. I made it to camp with no problem, and promptly filtered a liter of water and chugged the whole thing. Felt a lot better after that. Maine has so much water that it’s usually not a problem to refill whenever. I gotta keep a better eye on that tho.
As I was nearing the peak of the second mountain today, a couple was coming down and I stepped off the trail to let them pass. Suddenly one of the says “Imua! Hey, we met you back in Tennessee. You were planning to come up to Maine for a fundraiser and you’re doing this as a charity hike.” Holy smokes, I had no idea who these people were. Tennessee was so long ago, and I’ve met so many people since then, so I just couldn’t place them at all. I’m just amazed at their memory power. My trail name is Hawaiian and not easy at all for most people to remember. Plus all the details about the charity event in Maine. Amazing. Great people. Wish I could have placed them.
Great group of people at the shelter tonight to meet and have dinner with. One guy is carrying a travel guitar that is smaller and lighter and he treated us to some songs while we ate. He has a really good voice so it was a special treat. Good for the soul. Not too many people are willing to carry that extra weight, but it’s so nice when someone does. One hard thing about going SOBO so far is that most of the people I meet in these shelters are NOBOs, so after one nice dinner, it’s time to say goodbye. They won’t become that loose trail family that I will re-see from time to time. These guys said they have met a lot of SOBOs just ahead of me recently, so hopefully I’ll catch up to those people, or more will fill in behind me.
Well, the rain that was forecast for tonight and tomorrow has arrived. Good sleeping weather. Time for bed. Goodnight!
Day 159- Saturday, 8/18- East Carry Pond Beach, ME- (15.9 miles) (1611.3 total)
Passes the 1600 mile mark today. Soon after that marker I came to the Caratunk House, a bed and breakfast just off the trail that had pulled pork sandwiches and milkshakes. Really nice little B&B with a very friendly owner who used to live in Hawaii. Always nice to have something different for lunch, especially when it’s as tasty as those sandwiches were. I hung out there for an hour or so, and was also able to use his phone to call REI. The shoe saga continues. I recently finally got back to my low top waterproof Merrills that I’ve had so much success with. But a funny thing happens to our feet out here on the trail when we walk so many miles. Our feet grow. Actually they don’t grow but they flatten out some, which gives you a larger shoe size. It is also recommended that you wear a size or a size and a half bigger that your normal shoe size so that you have plenty of room in front of your toes for walking downhill. Otherwise your toes will cram into the front of your boots, causing sore toes and lost toe nails. My normal size is an 11.5, but I’ve been wearing 13s out here. With the mid top pair I returned recently, I was noticing my toes a bit close to the front of the shoe. Just thought those shoes were cut differently, but it’s the same with my new pair. So I guess it finally happened to me too. My feet have flattened some and gotten longer. So now REI is sending me a pair of 14s. No half sizes available after size 13.
Just after the B&B, I came to a large river called the Kennebec. This river can’t be forded, as it is dammed and they sometimes release water out and raise the water level suddenly. Too dangerous to ford and there is no bridge. So instead, there is a taxi canoe for hikers. A guy is paid to sit there and row us across the river, which was quite fun! Just as we were pulling up to the other side of the river, a female hiker is just approaching, so he was able to take her back. But again it happened- she recognized me and I had no idea who she was. She said she met me in North Carolina and she was in a big group, so I guess I didn’t really meet her personally the first time. Her name is E.T., and she remembered my charity hike. Embarrassing to have that happen 2 days in a row. But then, just up the trail from the river, I ran into On Step, a guy I hiked and camped with for 2-3 days, but saw around for a week or so back in Virginia I think. We had a lot of great talks and laughs when I was with him, so I definitely remembered him. Great to see him and catch up again. That is one benefit of going SOBO like this. I get to see everyone one more time and it’s always a surprise. I never know who or when.
Camping right on another beautiful lake tonight- the second night in a row on a lake. Gorgeous view. There is one other camper here, an older guy from Germany named Tin-Tin. Very friendly guy- we chatted quite a bit over dinner. He has hiked north from Georgia, but skipped about 150 miles recently. He got really freaked out by all the wet rocks in the Whites of New Hampshire. He said they were super slippery when they got wet, and he took a bad fall. After that he just decided to prioritize his health and skip up here to central Maine. Hike your own hike. He seems very happy and content with his decision. He’s actually the 2nd or 3rd person I’ve met recently who told me they skipped a section or a few states to get further along. A lot of people get off trail for a bit for whatever reason, and then their friends are ahead of them and they end up yellow blazing (driving) up to catch up to people. Sometimes they go back afterwards to finish up those sections, other times not. There is a lot of grumbling on the trail about people who secretly yellow blaze and pretend they hiked it all. Like if you yellow blazed, own it. I think a lot of people get pressured out about finishing on time with the October 15th deadline and all, and skip ahead to keep pace. But to each their own. For myself, I want to hike every mile. Even this very difficult 200 miles that I have coming up. Although it’s an intimidating section for sure, I just feel like I need to do it to earn those trail miles and to test myself. Everyone who has finished has had to endure that section, and I need to be one of them. Plus I’m just very curious to see what all the hype is about.
Day 160- Sunday, 8/19- Little Bigelow Lean-to- (11.5 miles) (1622.8 total)
The tough southern Maine section starts with the Bigelow Mountains, and I’m camped at the base of the first one tonight. Actually, this shelter is about 600 feet up the first peak, so I guess I’ve officially just barely started them. The Bigelows are supposed to be tough, with 4 different peaks to go over, but everyone says it only gets harder after that. We will see. I’m just glad to finally be here and get started on this section in earnest tomorrow. Tired of thinking about it and hearing about it all the time. Time to go find out for myself. Shorter hiking day today just to best position myself for tomorrow. I’ve been advised by many different people to lower my miles to 8-10 a day for the next 200 miles, and it’s exactly 10 miles to the next shelter, so I want to hike there tomorrow and see how that distance feels. I met a guy yesterday on the trail with his wife. They actually volunteer to maintain a 3.5 mile section of the trail, and I talked to them for a while. He said the most common thing he sees with hikers coming through this section is people just absolutely wiped out and defeated my them, simply due to pushing bigger miles. He recommended me to just take it very slowly- shorter milage days which will still take many hours. He also recommended that I stop in towns more frequently. The towns out here are only 25-30 miles apart or so, so I can resupply more often and have to carry less food. And they are slack-packing options here and there as well. He said this was the best way to survive the section without killing yourself. Sounds like good advice that I plan to take.
I passed a hiker today and she told me to stop at the next shelter as there was trail magic there in a box. Turned out there were 2 boxes left by people who live around the lake we were on. They left a note saying that they come out 3 or so times a week to drop food for us. The boxes had PB&J with marshmallow fluff sandwiches, fresh apples, chocolate muffins, cookies, and moon pies. It all looked homemade as well. I was quite impressed by these trail angels. The kindness of strangers. I met a British couple there who also stopped for a break. They were telling me about the upcoming section and recommending that I do a 21 mile slack pack through one section just to get it over with. Opposite advice from the guy yesterday, and advice that I think I’ll skip. Tempting just to get a big chunk done without my pack, but no. Slow and easy so I can try to enjoy it and live to tell about it.
Came down the trail this afternoon and looked up and suddenly there was Energy. I met Energy back in Virginia I think and saw her on the trail and at the shelters for the next couple of days. I remember having a good talk with her one day, but trying to keep up with her over the rocks and just couldn’t. She was like a rabbit going over those rocks and I finally just had to let her pull ahead of me. Was good to see her again and catch up. She asked if I had flip-flopped and I BSed her and told her I had gone NOBO all the way up to Katahdin and was now turning around and going south back to Georgia, what is called a “Yo-Yo” out here. She looked pretty surprised, until I started laughing and told her the real story. She kindly invited me to call when I pass through Great Barrington, Massachusetts where she lives for a place to shower and stay for a night. At that point I’ll nearly be done with the trail. Will be awesome to compare notes at that time as she will be done and I’ll be so close.
Earlier in the day, I met a hiker from Japan named Masa. Masa is 29 and has traveled to over 27 countries or something like that. He works part of the year in Japan and then heads out traveling. He first went to Australia on a working-holiday visa to learn English, and since has traveled South America, North America, Asia, and Africa. He has already hiked the PCT, and is now finishing up the AT. He is rushing through the end so that he can fly back to Japan and go hike Mt. Fuji with his Mom before it closes for the winter. Quite a guy and not so typical for a guy from Japan. Had an awesome talk with him and when we were saying goodbye, he handed me a bracelet he had made up that says “Journey is one moment, but meeting forever” in both English and Portuguese (he had them made in Brazil). He said he hands them out to other hikers/travelers who he meets and connects with.
Day 161- Monday, 8/20- Horn’s Pond Lean-to- (10.2 miles) (1633.0 total)
First full day in the challenging southern Maine section, and that whole “slow your miles” advice is sound. Took me 9 hours to do 10 miles today. Went over 4 different peaks today. The lowest points in Maine are generally about 1000 ft. elevation, and 3 of today’s peaks were above or near 4000 ft., so you can imagine the climbing we have to do. And the trail is not smooth and easy either. Still lots of the usual Maine roots, rocks, and mud. So this section will be a challenge for sure, but little by little I’ll get through it. The views were insane today tho! Could see forever from the tops of those peaks, and there was the largest lake I have ever seen running along one side of us. On the other side were mountains, one of which is ski resort in the winter called Sugar Loaf. Must be a whole different world out here in the winter. While on one of the peaks, I got cell reception and so called the next town to make a reservation at the hostel. The guy saw my Hawaii number and told me he was stationed in Kaneohe at the Marine base there and has a brother who went to UH Hilo. He loves every part of Hawaii except for Pohakuloa- the military training grounds on Mauna Kea on the Big Island. Pretty rugged up there. He said he loves Hawaiian food and asked me if I’d cook for him. I asked him if he likes Mountain House meals (the freeze dried meals that I eat for dinner out here). Lol!
Hiked with a guy named Gabe for a while this morning. He is just starting his SOBO hike. He’s taking a semester off of college to do the AT. He used to work at REI before starting this hike so is super knowledgeable about gear. Was fun to pick his brain. The funny thing was that despite the REI and AT things, he is majoring in computer science. Those don’t seem that compatible, and he actually has discovered that he doesn’t really like the whole computer thing so much, but he hopes to merge the 2 worlds and do something like web design for outdoor companies. Good dude. It’s rare to meet other SOBOS, as most are heading north, so I hope I see him again. He hikes faster than me tho, so perhaps not. Also passed Dimples, a girl I hiked with and talked to a bit down south somewhere. So fun to keep meeting old friends each day.
Day 162- Tuesday, 8/21- Stratton, ME- (5.1 miles) (1638.1 total)
Was stoked last night to discover that I had a really strong internet connection up on the mountain, so could finally watch the Broncos 2nd preseason game, 2 days after it happened. Always a nice treat to escape from the hiking world and watch my team.
Just a nero day of hiking today to get into town. 5 miles which normally is super short and easy, but I had to descend down 2000 feet of some pretty rough and very steep terrain, so it took awhile. And with the new 10 mile days, that was actually a half day. Crazy how it’s all changing with this new difficult terrain. Ran into 3 more people I knew from before, coming north up the trail. It’s like a constant reunion party these days.
Tomorrow is supposed to rain all day, so a good day for a zero day. These mountains are no joke when the rocks are wet. I’ve met a few other SOBO hikers here at this hostel who are interested in splitting the cost of some slack-packing through southern Maine, which would help a lot. Ease the strain on the body a bit.