6 JUN, Millinocket: After 2 days of Amtrak sleeper car from Orlando (awesome), a night in NYC area, train to Boston where almost had a knee blown out by a careless fellow passenger (not so awesome) and 2 nice bus rides in ME, was great hanging out with Scooter, Bestie, and Noah (insert “Tequila Song”). Next evening, too amped to sleep so woke up my Trail Buddy Noah (who was dutifully snoozing early) and said let’s get a beer at the “Blue Ox” Being a trooper, we walked over and actually had some nice Baxter IPAs, met some fellow hikers, and enjoyed the company of “Jack.” All of a sudden it’s going on 11pm. Oops
Day 1, JUNE 7 Katahdin
The day we’ve been waiting for. A 0400 wakeup followed by the beginnings of a beautiful weather day. Group photo (14 of us) and off for the 45 min shuttle ride to Baxter. Upon sendoff, “Ole Man” says, “Happy Trails, I never want to see you again this year” (meaning, good luck & get er done) .During the ride, we catch clear glimpses of “K.” The van is quiet minus 1 or 2 talking. We get to BSP (actually privately owned), get registered and are moving by 0715. After moderate climbing, it gets steeper than commences the bouldering, free climbing, and essentially some friction climbing. After crossing the flat tableland and passing the Thoreau Springs (yes, that Thoreau, was there in the 1840s, wow), start up the spine of the Hunt Trail. Approaching the famous A-frame sign, could not help reflecting on how those who had come so far for so long, conquered so many obstacles, would feel right then. Made me emotional for a min. Elation at the sign, photo ops, delicious leftover garlic bread, then the 4.5 hr descent (vs 3.5 ascent). Speaking for myself, portions of the descent were, uh, psuedo scary, lol. Gear superstar of the day: The Leki trekking poles (shouldn’t have taken them). That said, they did save me from a bad fall on the way down. Consequently 1 pole was bent. I said hmm, and just bent it back straight Since using them as tent poles also, felt validated with choosing aluminum vs carbon fiber (would’ve snapped). Before entering camp, We soak our legs and feet in a frgid mountain river, wonderful. At the camp, the Ranger checks on everyone, great guy. We meet up with K_____. He relates how while wearing a kilt, he also went commando and the bugs had a field day. The trail name options came out flying (eg “Bug Balls” lol). We crash, sounds of the moving water nearby g .great end to the first day.
The 100 Mile Wilderness
Day 2 Rain Rain Rain
Departed BSP with a full pack weight of 24 lbs. Rain all day, which I’m strangely ok with. Validated the pack cover and cheapo Frog Toggs jacket, all good. Upon leaving Baxter, saw the Abol Campground Store. Knowing no more civilization for 8-10 days, we treated ourselves to hot coffee (neither of us carrying a stove and are cold soaking meals) and bought 1 Schlitz beer each for later that evening. I also bought Utz, yes Utz !, chicharonies (sp?) And pop tarts… cornerstones of nutritious trail snacks, lol. Entering the OMW, start getting a taste of future trail conditions (slippery tree roots). Also realized virtually no way of making it out in 7 days (14 JUN birthday) due to trail conditions which we knew would worsen and didn’t have our trail legs this early on. I already know I’m not eating enough or right. My meal planning was shoddy at best.
Day 3: 9 HRs for 11 tough miles
Tough day, another day of rain. Day of firsts. Able to make first call home while on a mountain peak. So wonderful to hear my Kuuippo’s voice. First fall, off a tree root but didn’t smash my face on the rocks. However, obtained first equipment casualty: shattered my beloved Costas. Discovered ok to hike all day in wet shoes and socks. Crossing the gauntlet into Rainbow Lean-to (2 long shakey logs over a roaring stream). Kevin, attempting to hang a bear bag essentially over the stream, obtains the moniker “Hang Man.” Valiant effort Bro. 1st time washing up in a mountain stream. Still light rain when crashing at 2000.
Day 4: Pebble Beach
Rain stopped but still starting day off with damp shoes & socks. Today, we walked our own walks, meeting at certain checkpoints along the way. So, first day truly walking alone. There’s an eerie silence. Then one starts hearing things, natural and imagined. Today also started noticing Forest smells / aromas. The trail took us along a nice Pebble beach. Washed up there and saw the meanest looking snapping turtle ever. Bad on me for not taking a pic of that lake surrounded by mountains. Perhaps it was just so relieved for a short break from the green tunnel. Finally got the pack adjusted for an optimal ride. At the campsite with 2 vets, Obie and Frogman. We ended up with nice tent sites. Sun emerged 2 hrs before sunset and due to the thin blue material of the ZPacs tent, could see the full moon and then sunrise. I love that tent. Other equip: First chance will pick up water purification solution. Sawyer works great, but miss guzzling water from the bottle.
Day 5: The Best Day
Great hiking day, sunny & cool, minimal bugs except in the bogs. 1st start with dry socks and shoes. The terrain is becoming more challenging. Passed another cool lake. Battery charger is depleted (as expected, good for 5 days). By the end of this day, Noah and I hiking loosely with Hangman and Kate. The original 14 is strung out in 4-5 groups. I enjoy our “battle rhythm.” Noah and I talk over bfast, have a straw man plan for the day, eventually link up at the evening camp site. In the evening we talk about the day, the “3 good things and 3 bad things,” God, life. Great conversations to wind down the day.
Day 6: “Heard the Call”
Nice hiking day (knowing in the back of my head tomorrow will be a smoker). Yes, one can get turned around on the trail, very easy to do. Went about 300 yds the wrong way before breaking down and checking the Garmin GPS watch. Even in and out of campsites on the blue blaze trails it can happen. Learned this rule: “Right In, Right Out, Left In, Left Out.” Resupply was where it was supposed to be. Purposely put the Alpine Aire Mac & Cheese and wasabi almonds in it. Northbounders starting to trickle past heading towards Katahdin. All have the look of lean hungry wolves, I dig it. We get to the shelter area. There we meet “Heard the Call.” I’ve never been one to judge an album by its cover. But here, I had to remind myself of this. She had a fascinating life story and in my opinion, showed true courage by trying this, for the 3rd time. I so wish her the best of luck as she truly hikes her own hike. We made our first camp fire. Nice to have everyone gather around. Plus it kept the bugs away. Kate passed me something to “chill out” on …… nice. She lounged in the Helinox chair I willingly carry. Kate, Hangman’s trail buddy, her trail name should be “Sunshine.” Always a smile. Damn, don’t have a pic of her. Hangman heated some water for my Mac & cheese. Game Changer! Been cold soaking it. It was ok until this. Am starting to get tired of tuna.
Day 7: The first “suck” day
After a morning of climbing 4 peaks (1 big, the other 3 big enough), at 1300 we decided to deviate from the “10 Day Plan” for the Wilderness and go another 11 (18.6 total). ‘ Today we would make our move. This was easily the longest day so far. In the late afternoon started feeling some pain in the left ankle / foot. Watched the sunset from a ledge, lost track of time. Sun was down and caught up with Hangman at the beginning of a rather tricky boulderfield. He was out of water so I gave him mine. After all, we were only .7 miles from our destination. Well, those boulders took longer than expected. Just as it was getting dark I’m at the base of a hill where the shelter sits. I miss the side trail around the swamp, get everything wet, miss the water source, then climb the hill. Noah showed me a tight spot to pitch my tent and luckily had some extra water. Was so tired, I didn’t eat, wash up, write down notes nothing. Plus since the am was without my singular vice, vape (battery gone) .Just crashed.Truly the 1st time on the trail I wasn’t a happy camper.
Day 8: Happy Birthday
Site on top of an exposed edge. It was windy, chilly, and gloomy. Matched my mood. I step out of the tent and see a note sitting in my chair. It totally changed my frame of mind. This will always be one of my all-time fav “Birthday Cards.”
Despite the pain in the left foot and ever increasingly challenging terrain (f____g tree roots), a pleasant trek day. Really the 1st day where less time spent on the “1 meter stare” and much more on looking, listening, taking it all in. Get into camp and Kate hands me some hot ramen (must get a stove!). Hangman makes some chocolate moose trail for a Birthday cake. They and Noah sing Happy Birthday. It is the best!
That night I foregoed setting the tent up and sleeping in the shelter. I shared the shelter with “Happy” originally from Zermont Switzerland. First time ever I alone shared sleeping quarters with a perfect stranger. But, not really total strangers, we were doing the same thing. She is a Grand Canyon official and has inspired me to put extended camping trips in the Canyon on my bucket list. She was very interesting to talk to. She also had a good battery charger, charped my vape device, yes! Such a unique Birthday.
Day 9: “Selection is an ongoing process”
Woke up to a sore foot, sore enough to barely put weight on it. However, the group decided we’d hike the 14 miles to ME 15 / Monson. We were all ready to exit the Wilderness. @ 0915 Noah and I decided to split up so he could catch Kate & Hangman. I was walking ever so slowly. Being the good trail buddy he was hesitant. I said little brother, hike your hike, I’ll see ya manana. I felt a pang of sadness as he was leaving but smiled when he turned to me and said “Hoohah.” Was my intent to go maybe halfway, 7 miles. However I felt a sense of peace all day and ended up at the last camp site before hitting Highway 15. I covered 11 mountain miles on a bum ankle / foot with 2 things constantly being played in my head: “Selection is an ongoing process” (from a previous life) and “Teresa is counting on you” (present life).
JUN 16, Day 10 total, morning of Day 9 in the Wilderness: “Lucky One”
Got up o dark early, packed and hit the trail. A mile from the highway (I could hear cars, 1st time in 10 days) saw a beautiful camping spot. Then a few seconds later, a tall dude packing his stuff. I said hi, he said hi, and we started talking. “Lucky One” is a retired Army vet and we hit it off. I told him I was gimping the last mile to the highway. He said, hey, I’ll walk with ya. We hit the highway at 0800 and were in town by 0810. (Thanks to a ride from Poet, Shaws). I immediately texted Noah as the day before I said I’d be in town by noon. His response ;: “Fuck Yeah.” Had a nice cookout / reunion with Noah & Hangman. Also great to see my fellow “Happa,” the “other” Kevin. I plan on spending a few zero days to get the ankle / foot back up to speed. I already know I’ll have some stories about Lucky One, Monson, and the awesome people here.
In the meantime, heard the below before and now know them to be true:
– “The trail provides.”
– “There is no such thing as just.”