Starting out this morning, I had a little more than 200 miles to go to finish my hike. After a modest climb to the top of Little Bigelow Mountain, which is 3,025 feet in elevation, there will be only one more mountain above 3,000 feet until I reach Mt. Katahdin. Nearly all of the most challenging parts of Maine are completed, but I still know it's unwise of me to think a successful finish is assured. Just the other day I learned that RedEye injured herself in Maine and had to get off the trail. Bluestem had to skip a large section of the trail after he hurt his knee. These are just a couple examples of people I thought for sure would complete their thru-hikes, yet couldn't. Overall, just 20 to 25 percent of thru-hikers finish each year.
Day 164, ME Highway 27 (Stratton) to Safford Notch Campsite
Maybe when my turn comes I will have guessed
I’ve often heard that southern Maine is at least as difficult to hike as the White Mountains. The hiking doesn’t get easier until you cross a mountain range called the Bigelows. I’m beginning to think this section is difficult in the same sense as the Smoky Mountains are difficult. In my mind, it’s not so much the terrain that is difficult. The trail is difficult when the terrain and bad weather combine to make it difficult. Don’t misunderstand. Hiking in Maine isn’t easy. The Whites and the Smokies aren’t either. It’s my conviction, though, that they aren’t nearly as difficult in good weather as they are in bad weather. Weather determines your outlook of the trail and the degree of difficulty.
Day 163, South Branch Carrabassett River to ME Highway 27 (Stratton)
I've stayed in every blue light cheap hotel
After yesterday afternoon’s harrowing descent to our campsite on the south branch of the Carrabassett River, I was looking forward to an easier day today. Our plan was to hike to Maine Highway 27 and get a ride into Stratton. A motel there was owned by the same people who owned The Farmhouse, the hostel and B&B where we stayed while in Rangely. That stay turned out well for us, so Tengo, Stick and I were hopeful of another good one today.
Day 162, Poplar Ridge Lean-to to South Branch Carrabassett River
You can't let go and you can't hold on
When I left Poplar Ridge Lean-to, sunlight was splintered by trees as it pierced the thick morning air. Light glistened where it caught droplets of water clinging to the needles of spruce trees. This scene was nothing like the dramatic vistas I have viewed from mountain tops, but to me, it was far more beautiful. Walking through the cool air of the peaceful forest was just one more reminder among many of why I was hiking this long hike.
Day 161, ME Hwy. 4 (Rangeley) to Poplar Ridge Lean-to
How you gonna feel when you come to the end of the way?
As my wife Kim convinced me last night I needed to complete my hike by finishing the miles I skipped in New Hampshire, she assured me that she and our sons would be ready to help. I didn’t know it at the time, but I could have easily guessed that she sprung into action as soon as we ended that conversation. The first thing she did was contact our older son, Logan. Instantly he was on board, assuring her that he and his brother would be there when I reached Mt. Katahdin. Landon soon affirmed that for himself. Plans were already in motion to figure out how they would reach Maine when I finished.
Day 160, Little Swift River Pond to ME Hwy. 4 (Rangeley)
It's such a clever innocence with which you show myself to me
I felt like a new person at the end of yesterday, strong and invincible. This morning I felt as I have most mornings, creaky and sore like an old man. Hiking more than 1,900 miles will do that to you. Truthfully, though, I didn’t feel any worse this morning than most mornings of my hike. Each day has begun slowly and stiffly. It usually takes five to ten minutes of walking around to make my muscles understand they’re in for another day of hiking.
It has now been a week since I took a double-zero to rest and heal. I can't say for sure if those days are the reason why, but since that time off I’ve felt stronger and more capable. I suspect the weather and Maine’s scenery have had something to do with this feeling. They have both been outstanding.
Day 158, Sawyer Brook to Bemis Mountain Lean-to
I saw things getting out of hand; I guess they always will
There was a time when I thought I would have completed my hike by now. I estimated, or at least hoped, I would finish in five-and-a-half months. Admittedly, until I reached New Hampshire, I didn’t have a good idea how much effort was involved in getting through the White Mountains and Southern Maine. I knew I would slow down there, but I didn’t expect I’d have so many days with mileage in single digits. Still, i don’t have any complaints about how much time my hike has taken me.
Day 157, East B Hill Road (Andover) to Sawyer Brook
Ain't it just like the night to play tricks when you're tryin' to be so quiet?
The day came a little too soon this morning. Some of the hikers staying at The Human Nature Hostel last night didn’t seem to notice when the rest of us went to bed. They remained noisy well after hiker midnight. To be sure, if any one of us had mentioned it to them, I’m sure they would have quieted down. No one did. Everyone must have been like me, too tired to care and figured sleep would come soon. Unfortunately for me, it didn’t.
Day 156, Baldpate Lean-to to East B Hill Road (Andover)
Gonna rise up; Find my direction magnetically
As we prepared for the day, it was hard to imagine how Maine could top what it showed us yesterday. When the bad weather pushed out last week, it left us clear skies and calmer winds. Since then we’ve had warmer temperatures and have been able to enjoy Maine’s scenery. And what we’ve seen so far has been spectacular.
As difficult as the last three days had been, they didn’t leave me feeling broken down and worn out. Far from it. It’s true I was feeling sore when I woke up this morning, but that was true every morning. Still, something felt different. Call it more confidence or just a more positive outlook, but I was feeling better about the day ahead than I had in a while.
There is some uncertainty about how Mahoosuc Notch got its name. One source says it may have come from the Abenaki Native American word for “home of hungry animals.” If that’s the case, the name fits its context today, when the notch is filled with hikers trying to find their way through a maze of boulders massed at the bottom of a steep canyon.
When I started hiking this morning I knew I’d soon enter Maine, the last of the 14 states traversed by northbound hikers on the Appalachian Trail. Because of what I’ve read and have been told, I was expecting the trail would include several long and steep ascents and descents, lots of rocks and roots, and the potential for extreme weather. This probably sounds a lot like the White Mountains in New Hampshire, but some people will tell you Maine isn’t the same. It’s more difficult.
Stick and I were out the door and on the trail before 7:30 this morning. We were the first hikers to leave. The trail passed in front of Rattle River Hostel, so it only took a few steps to get back on it. As we left, I wondered if I would be back here again in a few weeks. If I am going to hike every mile of the Appalachian Trail in the same year, which is the traditional definition of a thru-hike, I will need to come back and hike the 21.2 miles I skipped. I didn’t want to think about that now. First, I needed to finish the remaining 300.2 miles to Mt. Katahdin, and that's what I was concentrating on.
The next two days of my hike were dull and uneventful. In other words, they were exactly the way I wanted them to be.