AT: Maine-taining Good Pace
Throughout the last week I hiked 106 miles, helped a couple new friends off Pleasant Pond Mountain, fell sick to Norovirus, explored a handful of quaint trail towns and experienced some of the most scenic wilderness the North East has to offer… and got a chance to edit some of my favorite photos off the SONY camera. Enjoy!
Back to the Woods
Leaving Shaw’s Hiker Hostel early last Friday, I was eager to get back on trail. Clouds had given way to sunshine, a trend which would hold for the week to come. After a second consecutive day of the famous Shaw’s endless blueberry pancake breakfast, I was powered up heading back into the woods. I had 5 days of food packed for Stratton ME, 70 trail miles south of Monson. Although the 100 Mile Wilderness was behind me, I knew many challenges still lay ahead. However, the next three days consisted of much more mellow terrain. My first day was a surprisingly easy 18 mile walk to the shores of Moxie Pond, where I set up an early camp. Lots of beautiful lakes dotted the trail, and two river fords made the day interesting. Good scenery makes easier days much more enjoyable.
Norovirus… and an Unexpected Rescue
Norovirus is probably the most dreaded ailment of all long distance hikers — A highly contagious stomach illness that comes with vomiting, fever, diarrhea and classic flu-like symptoms. Hikers were getting sick by the handful during my stay at Shaw’s, and despite my best efforts to quarantine my self, I awoke Saturday morning feeling miserable. Being sick at home is one thing, but in the wilderness it is a whole other animal. I slept until the early afternoon that day, before deciding to attempt some hiking. Luckily, the small town of Caratunk sat between Stratton and myself, so if I needed to take it slower I wouldn’t be in danger of running low on food. None the less, I felt a little better after a long nap, and began the climb up Moxie Bald at a frustratingly slow pace.
After cresting the summit of Moxie Bald, I began to feel a bit better. I decided to keep pushing on, exercise seemed to be benefiting my health. At the very least, I wanted to keep making progress so if I did need to get off trail, I would be closer to the nearest town. I was definitely low on energy and appetite, but was still excited to come across a late season blueberry patch on the exposed mountain top! Wild fruit always taste so much better than Stop N’ Shop. As daylight slowly faded, I was climbing the foothills of Pleasant Pond Mountain when I came across two “soon-to-be” new friends. Liz and Lisa, local section hikers attempting the 30 mile stretch between Monson and Caratunk, stopped me on trail looking for extra water, as they forgot to fill up at the last stream. After a couple minutes of conversation, it was apparent they were not on pace to make it to the next water source, Pleasant Pond, before nightfall. It was over 4 miles away, and a 2500' mountain stood in-between us and them. With one of the pair not carrying a headlamp, I became concerned for their safety. Pleasant Pond Mountain has an intimidatingly steep and technical descent, not something you want to attempt with tired legs after nightfall.
I decided to hike with them, as I had sufficient water and a headlamp to make their hike easier. We made summit right at dusk, and as the last glimpses of light faded from the horizon, I began transferring gear from Liz’s pack to mine. Taking her sleeping bag and pad to lighten her load, we clicked on our lights, zipped up our jackets and began the climb down the north face of the mountain. While the situation was far from ideal, hiking in the night was rather serene. It was a clear evening, with a cool mountain breeze and an amazing view of the starry sky. Everything was quiet… and still. After what seemed like hours of slowly stepping down large rocks and slick roots, I stopped to point out the bright constellations. We had been so focused on not falling, no one even bothered to glance upward. It was there that Liz’s trail name, “Starry Night” was born. Around 11 PM we staggered up to the Pleasant Pond Lean-to with a stream running right across the trail. Water never tasted so good… and we were all grateful to set up our tents, eat some food and curl into our sleeping bags. Liz and Lisa were incredibly appreciative of the assistance, and I was grateful for the opportunity to help. The Appalachian Trail community has been so generous to me throughout my travels, and that night on Pleasant Pond Mountain gave me the opportunity to pass it forward.
The next morning I awoke feeling slightly better than the day before, but after attempting (unsuccessfully) a bowl of oatmeal it was clear my stomach was still in disarray. I began having severe chest cramps, and after struggling through a long six miles to the next highway crossing, I decided I couldn’t spend another day climbing mountains in pain. Luckily, the Caratunk B&B, a small lodge exclusive to long distance hikers, was less than half a mile from the road junction. Showing up miserable, I was ecstatic for a hot shower and warm bed. I slept that day away, waking only for a bowl of soup before closing my eyes again. “The trail provides” is a common adage used along the Appalachian Trail, and it turned out the Caratunk B&B was the perfect remedy for my illness. I awoke well rested and rejuvenated, feeling ten times better than I had the morning before. The hardest section of Maine loomed a few miles to the South, and I was happy to be of good health headed in that direction.
The Bigelow Preserve and The Saddleback Range
The Bigelow Preserve is one of Maine’s most acclaimed wilderness areas. Known for it’s large cirque of glacially shaped peaks and unique arctic alpine terrain, it was something unlike anything I’ve experienced on the East Coast. By far the largest mountains I’ve crossed since Katahdin (I was warned by more than a few northbound hikers), it was another significant milestone for my injured ankle. Sustained talus granite scrambles reminding me of Wyoming’s Grand Teton Mountains greeted me soon after departing Caratunk. The climbs were strenuous, but the views from the treeline made the long days well worth the effort. After bagging the three tallest peaks, (Avery Peak, West Peak and South Horn) the hidden Horn Pond was a glorious spot to break for lunch. My foot ached, but I was consumed with happiness to be back in real mountains again.
(Fun Fact: The Bigelow Preserve was actually created as a grass-roots effort against the construction of another ski area — Sugarloaf and Saddleback Mountain Resort are both within a twenty mile radius)
Hiking down off the ridge-line of the Bigelow Range, I had a light pack headed to the nearby village of Stratton, Maine to pick up more supplies. Descending down through varying elevation profiles, the fall colors are beginning to burst into view. Especially in the alpine, where dark crimson shrubs cling to small patches of dirt between the granite slabs… and in the lowlands where deciduous trees transition to a faded yellow tint. Something about the New England autumnal foliage reminds me of home. It also makes me crave pumpkin pie… maple syrup… and the other familiar flavors of the fall season.
Reaching Highway 27 after an exhausting 12 miles over the Bigelow Range, I resupplied at Stratton’s Fotters Market, grabbing some Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey and a veggie sub for the road. With many more days of strenuous hiking ahead, I decided to keep my pack weight down and only carry food for the next town — 36 miles south. North and South Crocker Mountains, Spaulding Mountain, The Horn and Saddleback Mountain all stand above 4000' feet blocking my path to Rangeley. Keeping my load light payed dividends in the coming days, as the climbs were much harder than I anticipated. Thankfully, the weather continued it’s streak of perfection, allowing me to enjoy three more ideal days of East Coast hiking. Saddleback Mountain and The Horn was the most notable section, offering nearly 3 miles of consistent “above-treeline” alpine hiking. The two spires offered challenging granite scrambles, with a picturesque rock saddle bridging the gap. For the 3 hours it took to tackle the pair, I felt as if I was on a National Geographic movie set. On the way down the back side, I caught myself telling Northbounder’s that Saddleback and the Horn were “more spectacular than Katahdin.” I shouldn’t be comparing the two, but everything about that area was beyond breathtaking.
Rest, Recovery and Blueberry Pie
A short hike yesterday morning took me to Highway 4. A 15 mile hitch into Rangeley was far from trivial, but I succeeded. While I’m proud to have conquered the last week, my foot is definitely taking a beating. Coming down off Saddleback was the worst, and although I have an urge to continue marching, I know my body needs recovery time. New Hampshire’s White Mountains are a mere 60 miles away now, a notoriously difficult section I need to be healthy for. For now I intend to continue to carry minimal supplies, until I regain the full strength necessary for longer stretches. My mother and Aunt Debbie decided to make a surprise visit for the day, so I have been enjoying their company before heading back out this afternoon. And about the Blueberry Pie… yes, it was delicious. Maine is famous for their Blueberries, and the local Rangeley Tavern’s homemade recipe did not disappoint! As always, thank you for the love and support.
“Your creative conscious is unlimited” -Yogi Tea