Day 163- Wednesday, 8/22- Stratton, ME- (0) (1638.1 total) Rainy day today, so lots of hikers in town. The hostel manager, Trout, drove a few of us to a local diner and had breakfast with us, then I joined him for a post office run to mail back my boots to REI. The boots from REI were not supposed to arrive until today, but surprisingly showed up yesterday by UPS. When I checked, they had sent it next day air, instead of 2 Day air, which concerned me because I didn’t want to pay that much shipping cost. But when I called them, it turns out they had charged me only 2nd day air, but shipped it 1day air. Very nice of them! The morning was kind of crazy. I had talked to 2 other hikers yesterday about all slack packing together. It is quite expensive to do alone, but if a few people go in together, it lowers the price. So all 3 of us were all set to go, until this morning when the guy changed his mind suddenly and backed out. That was frustrating. Then it turned out that the girl that was going to join had gotten in a big argument last night with the manager here who was going to help us slack pack. They were all drinking last night, the girl got quite opinionated politically, he didn’t want to hear it and so told her off quite rudely. Then he told her she couldn’t stay at his hostel anymore. At least that’s what I can figure out. I wasn’t there. I found her this morning at a different motel across the street and we were able to make a plan B to use a different hostel to do our slack pack. It was a lot of running around and phone calls and planning, but it looks like we should be able to slack pack all through the difficult southern Maine section, which will ease things on the body without the big packs. We’ll see how it goes. With all the drama last night, Im hoping that this girl works out to be a good slack packing partner for the next stretch. I’m just glad that I found at least 1 other hiker to share the cost and make it feasible. Hopefully all works out smoothly. But if it gets weird in any way, I can easily just peel off and do my own thing again. Will keep optimistic for now. Spent the afternoon just lazing around and watching Netflix shows. Trout the manager was kind enough to make some pulled pork sandwiches for all of us for dinner which was awesome. Otherwise just good to refresh the mind and body for half a day before getting back to it tomorrow. The elevation profile is nuts for the coming sections, but should be manageable with the light packs. Day 164- Thursday, 8/23- Carrabassett, ME- (8.3 miles) (1646.4 total) Walked down to the local convenience store in Stratton this morning for some doughnuts and coffee. Ran in to Max, a guy from Ohio who I had met up the trail a few days ago who is hiking with his girlfriend Courtney. I mentioned to him that we were slack-packing and asked if they were interested. He talked to his girlfriend, and all of a sudden our group of 2 became 4. Good deal. Saves us all money to divide the price and adds 2 cool people to the dynamic. We got picked up around 9am and headed out to the trail head. With the slack-packs, the available roads that allow them to drop us off and pick us up determine the distances we can hike. Today it was only 8.3 miles, but the next 2 days will be longer. Today was kind of a test to see how we all fit doing this. Are our hiking paces similar or really different? This matters the most because we all need to get picked up at the same time, so it gets tough if we are too spread out. Fortunately tho, we all hiked a similar pace and arrived at the ending within 10 minutes of each other. We all hiked separately except for the couple, but met up at the road crossing. It actually worked out quite well. We hiked over the Crocker Mountains today, which actually didn’t seem that bad, although I’m not how much the lack of heavy packs colored our perceptions. Tonight we are staying at the Hiker Hostel of Maine in Carrabassett, a place I have heard about along the trail recently. Many recommendations to stay here. This area is a ski resort in the winter, and this place is one of those fancy, beautiful upscale ski resort cabins. All blonde wood with great natural lighting. Just an amazing place- somewhere you’d come on vacation. It doesn’t just cater to hikers- they have families, etc. staying here as well. As a result, they are trying very hard to keep all the hiker funk smell out of the place. We have to keep our packs outside in some ski lockers, showers are mandatory as soon as we arrive, and we have to wear loaner clothes that they give us rather than our stinky hiking clothes. A lot more rules than a usual hiker hostel, but this place is way more upscale that any other hiker hostel I’ve seen. It’s more like an upscale B&B that only charges hiker hostel prices. Very impressed. It’s owned by a young couple and has only been open a year. Even better, the awesome Italian restaurant down the street gives us a 15% discount if we are staying here, so guess where we went for dinner. Tomorrow morning they will drive us back to the trail head and we will continue south. Another hostel in the next town of Rangely will pick us up from a logging road somewhere out in the boonies and take over the slack-pack from there. Day 165- Friday, 8/24- Rangeley, ME- (10.4 miles) (1656.8 total) Finally reached my 3/4 mark today on the AT. 1650 miles. Been waiting for this milestone for a while now, so it felt good to finally reach it. This morning 4 of us left from the Hostel of Maine and were driven out to Caribou Valley Road, where we started southbound. The 4 of us are slack-packing together, and before we left we all emptied most of the stuff in our backpacks into big garbage bags, except for what we needed for the day, and the owner transferred the garbage bags to the hostel in the next town where we could pick it up. Max, his girlfriend Courtney, me, and Kat hiked together over Sugarloaf and Spaulding Mountains today. To slack-pack between 2 different towns, 2 different hostel have to work together to get us the whole distance. Hostel of Maine did the first part, and then transferred us over to The Hiker Hut in Rangely. The owner needed to drive an hour out on a logging road to pick us up at then end of the day and needed an approximate time that we would arrive at the pick up point, so he asked me to text him a couple of different times from mountain peaks where I would have cell reception, so he could chart our progress and time. The 4 of us spread out at our individual hiking paces during the day, but we set meeting points at the peaks where I needed to text the hostel guy. This made the day a bit slower with some longer breaks waiting for people to catch up, but it was a nice to take it a bit slower and relax some. Plus we just had a really good group of people, so it was great to hang out and talk throughout the day. Unfortunately, Max had some stomach issues that had him running into the bushes from time to time, and Courtney had some blisters that were hurting her feet and slowing her progress, but we all managed and made it through the day. As we were getting near our pick up point, we ran into the support team for a European guy who is trying to set the time record for finishing the AT. He is currently on pace for something like 43 days or so! These guys get support crews and apparently sleep only a few hours a night, and actually run most of it. Quite an accomplishment. This hostel we are staying in is quite unique. It’s run by a guy named Steve and it is totally off the grid. No electricity or wifi or phone signal at all out here. Everything is run on solar or propane. The shower is outdoors, right next to a river. The water is in a bucket and gets pumped out as you shower. Therefore, at the end of the shower you need to walk down to the river and fill the bucket for the next person. A very artsy, rustic place to stay but really nice. Steve saves what money he can during the summer/hiking months and then spends the winters in India where he helps young poor children with large facial growths get access to a hospital and get the necessary surgery. He has also tamed 3 chipmunks to the point that they will crawl up on you and eat nuts right out of your hand. Very cute. Day 166- Saturday, 8/25- Rangeley, ME- (13.5 miles) (1670.3 total) Max and Courtney decided to stay at the Hiker Hut and take a zero today to let Max’s stomach and Courtney’s feet heal up. So just Kat and I got shuttled back to the logging road so we could hike the section back to here in Rangely. From the elevation profile, we knew it would be a challenging day. We had 5 different peaks to go over, so lots of ups and downs. The terrain was challenging but some of the views from the tops of the peaks were gorgeous. The long distance views were quite hazy tho, and people were saying it’s smoke from the wildfires in other parts of the country. I was surprised to hear that, since Maine is so far removed, but I guess it can blow pretty far. It was a long hiking day. Took me 11.5 hours and the final descent off of Saddleback was a tough one. The good news was that the Hiker Hut is just 0.2 miles up the road from the trail, so easy to get to without needing a shuttle or hitchhiking. I started walking down the highway to get back to the hostel, when suddenly a van stops along side of me. It was Ms. Janet and Half-Slow with couple of other hikers. They graciously gave me a ride back here and hung out a while. Really good to catch up with them again! They invited me to join them in town for some Thai food which sounded awesome, but I had already told the owner Steve that I wanted dinner this evening, and he had already cooked for me. Great to catch up with them regardless, and a good boost to the spirit to see those old faces. Day 167- Sunday, 8/26- Rangeley, ME- (0) (1670.3) Had to take an early zero here to do some resupply. We have been slack packing for the past few days, and therefore didn’t need to carry much food at all- pretty much just lunch since we can eat breakfast and dinner at the hostels or towns. But the next 2 days we will switch back to regular backpacking and carrying our own packs, so we needed to resupply groceries. We hiked 11.5 hours yesterday, so couldn’t nero or get anything done yesterday, and it just made the most sense to resupply and recoup today. And honestly, my body was pretty sore after yesterday’s hike over the 5 peaks. We had initially planned to keep slack-packing for the next several days, but the owner here said the next 2 days, especially tomorrow, aren’t too bad, so we felt like we were just wasting money paying for the slack. And although we have definitely come through some tough terrain, the really crazy infamous stuff is still 2 days ahead of us. So it’s back to carrying our packs for the next 2 days. Hope to slack a couple more days further up in the hard stuff. Partially depends on my hiking partner here. She has a sore knee and has just started the trail, so doesn’t have her trail legs yet, so I may pull ahead of her. Our other 2 friends who I really liked apparently decided to quit the trail today. They both had stomach issues, so I guess that played a role. They were just doing a section hike to New York, so weren’t thru hiking, but still a bummer that I won’t be seeing them along the way anymore. Nice town day today. Rangeley is a really quaint town with everything within walking distance. Library, coffee shops, laundromat, restaurants, outfitters, etc. Spotty phone service but tons of places with WiFi, so we could get our stuff done. I caught up on watching the Broncos 3rd preseason game while doing laundry, then got some lunch, chilled at a coffee shop, got an ice cream, resupplied at the outfitter and supermarket, etc. Always feel very refreshed after a day like today. Talked to my brother today. A few years ago he found his biological birth mother (we adopted him at 2 weeks old). They have developed a close relationship on the phone over the past few years, and so a couple Christmases ago my gift to him was the offer to pay for his ticket to go see her in person whenever he had time. Well unfortunately he just found out that she is dying of stomach cancer and hospice has already been called. So he finally is cashing in on his Christmas gift. He will fly out to see her for the first and last time in a couple days. Sad situation, but I’m glad he can go see her at least once and get some closure. Day 168- Monday, 8/27- Beamis Stream Campsite- (14.0 miles) (1684.3 total) Last night, Kat informed me that she was planning to stay at least another day or 2 at The Hiker Hut. Her knee is bothering her and she needs more time to rest it, and also the owner of The Hiker Hut, Steve, made her a nice offer to stay there for free for a month- she just needs to pay for her food. Kat is a freelance journalist in the UK and has some projects she is working on while on the hike. So she is considering his offer and may just use the coming month as a writing retreat. We will see. We were sitting around the campfire last night talking just before bed, and she started asking me questions about my charity cause that I’m hiking for. I explained more and she suddenly said that she wanted to interview me and make a pitch to The Guardian, the British newspaper, with this story idea. Who knows what this will lead to, but I did the interview and she took some pictures of me with my pack this morning. I’m always crossing my fingers for more exposure, especially in a major news outlet, so hopefully this will turn in to something. Time will tell. Awesome of her to take an interest and try to run with it tho. She has mainly written about the automotive industry in her career, but she is ready for a new direction and seems to want to branch into more human interest subjects. Could be a win-win. We will see. I’ve lost all 3 of my recent hiking partners over the last day or so. People come, people go out here. So, I headed out solo this morning. It was actually relatively flat terrain today, although quite a bit of mud, and the usual roots and rocks. But a pretty smooth day overall. Ran into Cato and Papa G, 2 excellent guys that I knew before. Great to see them but sad to hike in the opposite direction after we met. Been seeing a lot of college orientation groups out here recently. A couple days ago it was a group from Harvard, and today it was a group from Tufts. Both were camping and hiking groups of incoming freshmen, led by upper classmen. I talked with both of them and it was interesting to hear that they had the same idea and approach to such activities as I did back when I led activities for the international students at HELP and LCC. Basically just that it’s a lot more than just fun and games. Bonds and friendships are formed. People are pulled out of their books. Studying in high pressure situations can be very stressful for students and they can and do get depressed and sometimes even suicidal. So dragging them out of their own heads and books and taking them on various activities really afforded them they chance to look around and see a larger picture and a larger world. They can make some friends and have people to call or talk with if things get rough. I see it as a hugely important counter-balance to the studying side of things and I’m glad to see these big universities recognizing that and taking action. Tonight I’m camping by Bemis Stream in a little stealth spot. I was the first one to arrive, but now several others are setting up around me. Tomorrow I will head over 2 big peaks and into Andover, Maine. Only 12.5 miles or so, but lots of steep climbing so should be a challenging day. Keep hearing how wonderful the Human Nature Hostel is, so curious to check that out tomorrow afternoon or evening. Day 169- Tuesday, 8/28- Human Nature Hostel- (12.4 miles) (1696.7 total) Challenging day of hiking today. I actually think the descents are tougher than the climbs out here. For sure you work harder and breathe harder going up, but it’s so much more controlled. Coming down you are constantly putting on the brakes and really stressing the leg muscles and knees. Plus it just feels more sketchy and less in control. You have gravity taking you down faster and harder and it always feels like you could slip or fall if you step the wrong way. Some parts today were just big slabs of granite going steeply down and all were wet from a morning rain. There is just no safe way to go down that. I need to skirt the edges of the rock slope where there is some small traction, grabbing and using trees to ease myself down. It’s nuts in some parts. The last stretch today was a super long 2000 foot descent. I was exhausted when I finished. Over 11 hours of hiking. I had heard that the Human Nature Hostel ran shuttles from the road where I finished today. There was a sign when I got there at 5:15pm that said there was a 5:30pm shuttle, but it asked us to text first so they would know someone was there waiting. There was very little phone service, but I texted and waited. After a while, a truck passed and stopped to see if I needed a ride. I thanked them and told them that I was waiting for a shuttle and they drove off. But a couple minutes later they came back. They said there was only one road into this area and we could flag down the shuttle if it was coming in. But it was a remote road with little traffic, so they didn’t want to leave me stranded out there. So I jumped in with them. We never did pass the shuttle, and they guys were kind enough to drive me the 20 minutes to the hostel. The owner said my text never came through, so lucky thing these guys picked me up or I would have been stranded there. The kindness of strangers. Human Nature Hostel is amazing. This guy is an ex-Marine who thru hiked the AT a couple years ago after leaving the military, just to clear his head of it all and start fresh. He has built this geometric dome hostel that is really beautiful. It’s like an upscale dome ski lodge cabin or something. These last 2 places I’ve stayed are above and beyond the usual hiker dive hostel places. They all require us to keep our packs and everything outside, and to shower right away and do laundry. They make a huge effort to keep the hiker stink out and keep the places nice. Really enjoyable to stay here. The best part is the food I think. Tonight he cooked up Philly Cheese Steaks, pasta salad, and watermelon. Awesome! Day 170- Wednesday, 8/29- Human Nature Hostel- (10.1 miles) (1706.8 total) Slack-packed today with this hostel. After a huge pancake breakfast, they dropped me off back at the trailhead and I headed 10 miles over Moody and Wyman mountains. The first half was pretty tough with two big climbs and one big descent, but once I got over all that, it was a nice and easy gradual descent down to the road where they picked me up. I hit my 1700 mile mark today which was nice. That only leaves 500 miles to the finish. I like that I can now count down the 100 mile chunks with one hand. Feels like I’m getting closer to the end. Saw a couple more familiar faces along the way again today, including Cado, the dick-shaking guy from a few months ago. We had a good laugh remembering that day! Back at the hostel again tonight. Homemade pesto pizza dinner tonight. This guy is an awesome chef. With the pancakes in the mornings, he uses a squeeze bottle to make the AT symbol on the griddle, let’s that cook for a few seconds, then pours a label of pancake mix over it. When we get the pancakes, each one has the AT symbol on the top. Very creative. Tomorrow I will slack-pack south again from where I finished up today, and end up in Bethel, ME. The guy here will transport my big pack down there to my motel while I’m hiking. This slack-packing thing is so awesome. Wish I could do this every day. It’s really not the pack weight that is the best part, although that is certainly nice. The best part is actually just being in a hostel each night. Hot shower, other hikers to talk with and eat dinner with, a nice proper meal, a proper bed to sleep in. It is just so refreshing and rejuvenating. Like doing a day-hike from home each day. I’m definitely getting spoiled, but this section has been good for my head space too. Soon back to reality tho. Day 171- Thursday, 8/30- Bethel, ME- (10.3 miles) (1717.1 total) After another knock out pancake breakfast at the Human Nature Hostel, I got on the shuttle bus and headed back to the trail head. Met a couple at the trail head who were heading in to town and talked to them for a while. A nice thing about heading SOBO at this point is that I am meeting tons of NOBO hikers who have just gone through the Whites and can tell me all about them and give me all kinds of good advice. The girl was very talkative and gave me tons of good info on all the upcoming stuff. Big 3000 foot climb to start the day. A few people who had just come down from the peak looked pretty frazzled and warned me about it. They had been hit by some very high winds up top and said it was very exposed with lots of slippery, wet rock. When I finally got up top, the wind had calmed down some but it was still definitely blowing. The granite was wet in many places and I was sketched about which parts I could trust for grip. I did slip and fall on one part, but not too bad. It was misty and cloud-covered up there, making it look rather ominous. As I was about to start the descent, another hiker popped up over the ridge several yards ahead of me with his hood up. Walking out of the mist at a distance, he looked like some kind of ghostly figure. It was a trippy environment. Yesterday when I called to reserve a motel in this town, the motel I booked with gave me the number of a trail angel who gives free rides to hikers from the trail to town, about 20 miles. The trail angel at first told me she was not available, but when I sent her my card about the charity hike, she agreed to make the ride her donation. Later I found out she had been supporting the Wounded Warriors military guys hiking out here and had spent the last several days hosting and shuttling them around, so was ready for a break from shuttling. Nice of her to do one more trip for me. The kindness of strangers. The only thing was, she needed to know what time I would be coming down the mountain so she knew when to pick me up. That’s always so hard to judge, especially in this recent terrain where the going is so slow. So I agreed to text her from the final peak, about 3 miles from the finish, so we could set a more accurate time. When I popped out at the parking lot, she was already there waiting for me and took me right to my motel. Super nice lady, obviously with a very big heart. I did enquirer about rides back to the trail after my zero tomorrow, but she said she reserves weekends for spending time with her husband, so that will have to be a hitchhike for me which should be no problem out here. I felt kind of bad asking, but our options for rides are so limited out here that we need to pursue every possibility. I’m gonna enjoy my day off tomorrow and try to relax some, as the crazy starts after leaving this town. The very first day out, we hit the Mahoosuc Notch, known infamously as “the hardest mile on the AT.” It’s also called the adult jungle gym. A 1-mile stretch of a jumble of boulders that we have to puzzle our way through, often by taking our packs off and squeezing our way through some caves, etc. Takes 1-3 hours to get through that 1 mile. Supposed to be pretty crazy, yet fun, depending on who you ask. It’s about to get real for the next 130 miles.