Day 172- Friday, 8/31- Bethel, ME- (0) (1717.1 total)
Nice day off today. Good mix of relaxing and chores. Woke up, had breakfast at the local coffee shop across the street, and watched my Broncos 4th preseason game that they played last night. After that, the usual resupply stuff. Had to hitchhike out to the outfitter to resupply some stuff, but got rides pretty quickly and easily. All the other stores I needed were within easy walking distance. Bethel is a quaint little ski town and was a pleasant place to spend a day. Want to get to bed early tonight before the big day tomorrow of going through Mahoosuc Notch, but tonight happens to be our fantasy football draft with the guys I worked with in Saudi Arabia. We have guys playing in KSA, the US west coast, and the US east coast, so finding a suitable time for everyone was a challenge. So I took one for the team and agreed to be up at 11:30pm for it. I wanted to take a nap today in preparation, but got too busy resupplying. Oh well. Late one tonight.
Day 173- Saturday. 9/1- Full Goose Shelter- (9.7 miles) (1726.8 total)
Got a shuttle ride over the 20 miles back to the trail this morning. The guy wanted $40, but came down to $30 when I asked him. Still seems steep for driving someone 20 miles, but at least I got there.
I started hiking at 8am and was a bit worried about making it to camp tonight before dark because of how slow the miles are, especially through Mahoosuc Notch. The problem was that I had 7 hard miles of trail to do before reaching the notch. Started the day going straight up for 2500 miles which was challenging. Along the way I met people who kept warning me about the Mahoosuc Arm, a very steep 1500 foot section that drops you into one end of the notch. One woman told me she would hike up it 3 more times before she would dare hike down the arm. She described it as an endless piece of granite rock that goes for miles. That got me pretty worried about how the heck I would make it down that section, as she said there wasn’t much to hold on to. A few other people made comments about its difficulty and got me pretty psyched out about it. But as these things often go, when I got there it was fine. Very similar to the rest of the terrain I have hiked through in Maine. Yes there are large slabs of granite that can be dangerous, but there is always a way around the edges of those parts. You have to hold on to tree trunks and branches, or take small side trails of dirt and roots that allow you a safe way down. The thing about this section in southern Maine is that these rock areas that you have to creatively skirt around are really frequent. They are a rare feature elsewhere on the trail, but out here, it’s every few feet. You can’t just hike or get any rhythm. It’s just a constant slow grind through rugged areas like that.
After successfully navigating the Mahoosuc Arm, The Notch was next. And it was challenging. I think if I had done it early in my day it would have been better, but after 7 grueling miles through the southern Maine terrain, I was a bit tired starting it. It was just like I’d heard. A huge jumble of huge boulders that once upon a time fell down a narrow canyon. And we had to slowly find our way through. Lots of scrambling with all 4s over all kinds of huge rocks. I put my poles away before even entering. At one point I had to squeeze through a narrow opening and through a small cave. 3 others were bottlenecked at the opening. The older couple there climbed in first and kindly pulled our packs through before we crawled through ourselves. The tough thing about the notch was that they haven’t white-blazed it very well. There is no trail of any form, so you just have to pick your way through and sometimes are very unsure where to go. It was a very slow grind to get through it all.
After the long day, I got to camp a bit late. Had to search around a bit to find somewhere to put my tent as a big group of college kids were there on an orientation trip. Those groups should be done after this long weekend, once school gets in to full swing.
Day 174- Sunday, 9/2- Gentian Pond Shelter, NH- (9.6 miles) (1736.4 total)
Wow this section of trail is rough and slow. I had been told by people that the last 15 miles of Maine and the first 15 miles of New Hampshire were especially rugged and they have been right so far. Jesus. I walked for nearly 11 hours today to make under 10 miles. Crazy. And the elevation gains and losses were not even that much. But it was just so slow going. So many steep rock slabs that have to be so carefully worked around, both up and down. I just can’t get any hiking rhythm. Can’t get moving. I usually hike 2-2.5 miles per hour. But these past couple of days I have been doing just under 1 mph. It gets frustrating.
When I got near the top of one small peak today, I passed another guy heading north and said hi. I looked at his pack and suddenly recognized the top section (the brain) of his pack. It was my old one that I took off months ago to lighten my pack, with my Hawaii patch still sewn on to it! He said he had found it at the hostel where I left it. He said there were 5 identical packs all lined up outside of that hostel, so to differentiate his pack, he took my old brain and exchanged it with his. That was cool and weird to see it again. Almost wanted to take it back. Lol! But it is heading for Katahdin, so it’s all good. He said a couple of people have thought he was from Hawaii when they see the patch.
Finally passed out of Maine today. Crossed the state line into New Hampshire around mid-day. Feels good to have finished Maine. It is the second longest state at 281 miles, and is known as perhaps the toughest. It’s pretty close between Maine and New Hampshire for the hardest state. Still got the Whites of New Hampshire coming up, but happy that I successfully got through rugged Maine. Rugged but very beautiful. Had a great time in Maine, from the fundraiser on the coast in Booth Bay, to the 100 Mile Wilderness, to Mt. Katahdin, to the rugged mountains of the south. Maine felt like its own unique adventure.
Day 175- Monday, 9/3- Gorham, NH- (11.7 miles) (1748.1 total)
Thankfully, the trail eased back a bit today. The terrain wasn’t so rugged and slow as it has been, so I could make a bit better time. Still slower that normal, but better. I’m staying at the Rattle River hostel tonight instead of camping. It’s right on the trail and of course nice to get a shower and real bed for a night. They take your smelly hiking clothes as soon as you enter and wash them for you. They have loaner clothes to wear in the meantime after we shower. This is one of the recommended hostels that people way up the trail are talking about.
My next section is the official start of the Whites, the Carters and the Wildcats. 2 big mountain ranges that have 8 peaks total. This hostel does offer a slack-pack over the whole section, but you have to do 21 miles in one day. A few hikers do it, but they have to night hike to finish it. There is no way I’m going to try that. What I will do tho, is do this next section NOBO instead of SOBO. Everyone says it is safer and better to hike it this way. So tomorrow morning they will drive me south to Pinkham Notch and I’ll hike north for 2 days back to here. Then they will return me to Pinkham Notch when I’m ready to hike south again. The first day, through the Wildcats, looks the toughest and I have heard plenty of people bitch about it. Over 13 miles and tons of climbing. But then that just leaves 8 miles the second day, a relatively easier day. Just gotta suck it up tomorrow and push. The Whites extend 100 miles from here southward. The tough Maine section is done, so now I’m anxious to get into these Whites and get through them. Equally beautiful and difficult is what I hear about them.
Day 176- Tuesday, 9/4- Imp Campsite- (13.0 miles) (1761.1 total)
Am trying to keep the miles at or below 10 for these Whites, but this 2 day section breaks down best into a 13 and an 8. 13 is a bit long, and looking at the elevation profile it looked like a hard 13. The first 2 miles were pretty much vertical for 2000 feet, and that climb was a grind. The trail also goes over 7 different peaks in one day. Part way through was a big V shaped valley that dropped down into my first hut, the Carter Notch Hut. In the Whites, they have these huts where hikers can reserve rooms to stay. This is mostly done by section hikers, as the huts cost around $150 a night. College aged people usually work the summers at these huts, cooking meals for the guests and running the huts. For thru-hikers like us, they do allow 4-5 of us to do a work-for-stay each night. You have to show up between 4-5pm and ask them if there are spots available. If they have room, you do a few chores like washing dishes or peeling potatoes, and they will feed you from the tons of leftovers and let you sleep on the dining room floor. You can also stop in at these places during the day and buy $2 bowls of soup and $2 baked goods. I’m hoping to score a couple of these work for stay deals as I go through the Whites. That makes grocery shopping today hard tho, since there is potentially a lot of free food along the way, but you can’t guarantee it if you don’t get one of the work for stay slots.
It’s funny now that I’ve finished Maine, I get a lot of questions from NOBO hikers about what it’s like and how tough it is. And I am asking a lot of questions about the Whites and how tough they are. This whole section is so hyped up as being the hardest part of the trail, and everyone is anxious about it. And as with everything out here like that, yes it’s challenging, but it’s all also very overhyped and completely doable. So easy to let it grow too big in your head as you approach it tho. Part of the reason that they say the mental part of the hike is harder than the physical part.
The miles today were again painfully slow, and 13 was too big of a chunk. But I had no choice and just ground through it. I didn’t get into camp until 8pm, and had to hike the last hour in the dark with my headlamp. Over 12 hours of hiking. Crazy day. Then had to set up camp, collect water, cook dinner, etc. in the dark and am getting to bed now around 10:30pm. Fun times.
Day 177- Wednesday, 9/5- Rattle River Hostel- (8.2 miles) (1769.3 total)
Nice nero day today after the big day yesterday. About a 1000 foot climb, and then a slow and careful 2000 foot descent back down. The legs are taking a beating for sure. Woke up in the night with aching knees for the first time in the whole hike. This terrain takes its toll.
Got in to the hostel nice and early, around 1pm. I have been seeing my old friend Workhorse’s Facebook posts recently and knew we were getting close to each other. I was worried that since I did the last 2 days northbound, that we would miss each other in that section, which we almost did. I was texting him with my plans but got no reply and thought he didn’t get them somehow. He got to this hostel and did actually see my texts. He had already been on the fence about possibly taking a zero (said he hadn’t zeroed in a month!!!), and when he saw my plans, that helped him decide to take the day off. So when I rolled in this afternoon, there he was! Was awesome to see him and catch up again. Then, to my surprise, Wiki walks around the corner. It was a big reunion of the people I used to hike with down south. Definitely made my heart full to see all of them again. We all caught a shuttle into town and had lunch together and caught up. Really nice time, and it made me a bit sad not to be able to be heading north with them. But glad we got to all reconnect. Workhorse and I have made tentative plans to meet up in Massachusetts where he is from when I hike through, if he is done and back home by then. The timing might just work out, as he has 300 miles left and I have 430.
Ended the day sitting around a campfire outside with several other hikers. In the beginning of the trail people made fires every night at the shelters, but after a while everyone was too tired and no one could be bothered to do it, so now we never have campfires at the shelters. And even if there was one, it’s too late in the day when I arrive and I have too many chores to do to be able to sit around a fire and hang out. I’m rushing to get to bed to get enough sleep before the next day’s hike. But since I am zeroing tomorrow, it was nice to have the time for once to chill and hang out a bit and zone out on a fire. Camping TV.