Thursday, July 3, 2014

Last Steps


The last few days of my hike blew by so fast I hardly had time to register their presence.  They possessed a surreal quality unlike anything I've ever experienced.  I could see Katahdin and I was walking towards her.  This was about to be done.  Then my trail family and I would dismantle and return to our corners of the world to do whatever it was we were going to do next.  Ninety-nine percent of us had no idea what that was.  In two days we would be done with this journey, and we hadn't even thought to figure a way out of the woods and back to the populated areas of the plant, let alone a life plan.

We woke up the morning of the 23rd with 15 miles to get to the Abol Bridge, the northern end of the 100 Mile Wilderness.  Abol Bridge was not a town, but simply a bridge with a small camp store and restaurant, with a picturesque view of Katahdin.  We all seemed to float there.  I hit Rainbow Ledges  early in the afternoon and was greeted by Gribley, DS, Pace, Hungus, Towelie and Cheesewater.  We were finally all reunited for our last big climb.  We spent a good hour of that gorgeous day taking in the perfect view of Katahdin.  Our hunger eventually tore us away from the view and we all headed out of the wilderness to Abol Bridge.  My dad was already there with Trail Mamma and SOS.

We all piled into the restaurant for our first real meal in days, before heading down to pitch our tents by the river.  The camp store didn't have much to offer, but we only needed one more day of food.  I had envisioned some grand meal for my last night on the trail the following evening, but the selection at the store quickly crushed those dreams.  It's probably more fitting I have mac & cheese anyway.  My last mac & cheese.  FOREVER. I mean it. And while we are on the topic, here is a list of foods I will never be eating again, in case you have me over or something: mac & cheese, Knorr Pasta and Rice Sides (all varieties), oatmeal, poptarts, honeybuns (they have 43 grams of fat, normal people shouldn't be allowed to buy them anyway), ramen, peanut butter, anything flavored with peanut butter, bars (I am talking all bars here people, including but not limited to Powerbar, Cliff, Luna, Nutrigrain, Nature Valley, Fiber One, Odwalla, Moto, Z-Bar, ALL BARS.  I don't even want to see bar shaped things), Nutella, jerky, nuts, gorp, trail mix, processed cheese, pepperoni, salami, tortillas, Folgers instant coffee, pasta in general really (just too soon) and powdered drink mixes.  Not only will I not be consuming these items, I prefer them not to be in my general area.  Right.

The camp store did however have a selection of beer we all generously helped ourselves to.  And so began the best hiker party since trail days.  I will spare you the details of this night, mostly because I can't remember them.   But I couldn't have asked for a better last hoorah with all of my favorite people.  We only had ten flat miles the next morning to get to the base of Katahdin, inside Baxter State Park.  We all took our time, stopping by the rivers and relaxing when we felt like it.  Soaking up our last day on the trail.

We reached Baxter late in the afternoon, and one by one went into the ranger office to register as a thru-hiker.  I was #540.  I thought back to the thousands that started at Springer.  We beat the odds. We did this. We finished. Well, we still had to climb Katahdin, and she was no joke.  Considered the burliest climb on the AT, we saved the best for last.  After getting assigned my campsite at the Birches I took time to look through the register.  The last register.  I found the names and thoughts of all my fellow hikers who had stood in this moment before me.  I decided to wait until the next morning to put my profound words of wisdom in the register.

Our group was too large to fit in one site so we had to be separated.  Pants, White Wolf, Meds, FM, Bubblefoot, Owf, Stoves, my dad and I headed to the Birches, the shelter half a mile back in the woods they normally put thru-hikers, while Gribley, DS and the rest were given a car camping spot in the actual campground.  After we set up camp we headed back to sit by the fire with the rest of the group.  It was a quiet night, all of us just trying to process the enormity of the moment.  This was our last night on the AT.  We all hit our tents to get an early start up the mountain.  There were also just no more words.

The next morning we were all hiking by 6:30am.  This was one day we had no interest in sleeping in.  White Wolf, Meds, FM, Bubblefoot and I all stopped at the ranger station before heading up.  If you want to know what I wrote in the register, I guess you'll just have to hike the AT:).  We then began our ascent of the last and best mountain.  Hungus was not joking, this was the hardest climb on the whole hike.  No wonder there aren't very many SoBo's.  If I had to start with this climb right out of the gate, I too would probably have been like "you know, nevermind."  The first few miles were a gradual ascent, marching us past the last (or first, if you're a Sobo) privy on the trail.  We began singing "The Final Outhouse" to the tune of the "The Final Countdown" as we continued to climb.  We slowly spread out, until Meds and I were confronted with a bottleneck of hikers (day and thru) who were having problems getting up some of the steeper portions.  This is where we put our trekking poles away as we encountered scrambles and sheer rock faces.  Meds eventually got ahead of me and I continued the climb on my own.  My excited emotions were temporarily subdued as exhaustion (both physical and mental) set in.  This may be the end of my journey and there were a lot of thoughts running through my head, but I was also climbing a mountain and those thoughts couldn't compete with the physicality of what I was doing.  This mountain was ridiculous.

As I finally reached The Gateway and made my way across the Tableland (a flatter section we cross for less than a mile) the summit loomed in front of me.  I was sad to see how far away it looked then laughed at myself for such a silly thought.  I finished the rest of the climb on my own, passing very few people.  Most everyone except for my dad was ahead of me.  As I got closer to the summit I could see the sign and my trail family gathered around.  My friends started cheering and whistling as I made my approach and tears started to swell in my eyes.  I tried to keep myself from balling as I walked up to the sign that until this moment existed only in my dreams, and gave it a giant kiss.  I did it.  I was done.

I had to take a moment to myself, my mind and body unable to process everything.  There were red eyes everywhere, hugs and high fives, pictures and smiles.  Never in my life have I worked so hard and given up so much for something.  Never in my life had I felt more accomplished, more proud, and more amazed than I did in that moment.  I paused to look around at the view that opened before me.  To try to put into words the beauty that surrounded me would be an insult to the majestic scene.  The human language does not have a word to describe it.  There are also very few words to adequately describe how I felt.  I was going to miss the mountains.  That feeling of accomplishment when you climb to the top, that moment when you let yourself rest, bathe in the sunlight and let the breeze wash over you.  The quiet calms you and you hear nothing but your own thoughts.  But even those eventually go away and you are allowed to simply be content with your own existence.

Before I left for this journey the entire thing felt like total insanity.  Because it was.  But the peace and clarity I achieved has led me to think that maybe mental clarity and total insanity are really the same thing.  Everything else felt mediocre.  I refuse to let my existence bathe in mediocrity.  I want to be challenged, and I want everything I do to result in the same joy and gratification I felt on that mountain.  This was a journey that dismantled my life as I knew it, but captured my heart and soul.

My dad made it to the top not long after I did, and was greeted with the same cheers and happiness.  We all took time snapping our summit photos, and while some chose to begin the descent (it was very windy and freezing), most of us decided to stay on the summit a few more hours, soaking up every last wonderful minute out of this experience.

Hungus proposed to Pace at the top, a secret we had all be sworn to keep for awhile.  We cracked open some whiskey to celebrate and stayed just a little bit longer, putting off the inevitable descent back in to reality.  To say this was a life changing journey would be an understatement.  Not in the sense that I had some life altering epiphany that fundamentally changed who I am.  I'm not Julia Roberts in "Eat Pray Love."  I didn't come out here to find anything, to escape from anything or really to even change anything.  But some things did change.  Tiny small shifts in my perceptions that will alter my being for the better.  I can take comfort in knowing that if everything goes to shit, I lose all my possessions and home, my job, all of it - well the happiest time in my life was when I didn't have any of that anyway.  I don't know how anyone can walk away from an experience like this and still hold any deep attachment to material things.  I'm not saying I won't buy or enjoy these things again, but I definitely don't have the same desires I once had (It's been two years since the start of my hike and I still don't own a car and live quite comfortably in a studio apartment).  I would rather fill my life with memories rather than things.  I would rather have more time than money.  I've realized that when people lack meaningful relationships and experiences they fill their lives with meaningless things.

It was also brought to my attention how wasteful our society is.  I realized this after doing a resupply at a grocery store one day.  I sat in front of the grocery store and took all my purchases out of their packaging so I could more easily fit them in my pack.  In front of me stood a mound of garbage, just unnecessary packaging that was being tossed within three feet of where I purchased it.  I stood baffled at how wasteful it all was.  Even those green little plastic bags we use at the store when buying our fruit.  It's not going to protect them from bruising that's for sure.  I mean why?  So we can keep our apples separate from our cucumbers for the car ride home?  When you spend six months packing out all  the trash you create, you will begin to realize it might just be easier to produce less trash.  The argument was made to me that is saves time at the register if all our apples are grouped together in these wasteful little bags.  Well, if you really think about all the things that have been invented in an effort to "save time" that have been at the cost of our health and environment (something I've become attached too needless to say), it's enough to make you wonder if those few minutes you're saving are really worth it.

And then there's time.  People don't take enough time to enjoy small simple pleasures.  I realized this when I was watching an ant colony battle a giant beetle.  It was fascinating and probably something that I would step right over in any other situation.  But in that moment I realized that there is an entire world around us that we just fail to notice. That there is so much amazing stuff happening around us all the time that we don't take the time to appreciate. Time that we're so intent on saving.  I have simply learned it's ok to just slow down.  Enjoy your days.  We don't get a lot of them.

And go hiking:)

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Wilderness Part 2 (Sept 20th - 22nd)

"Happiness can only be found if you free yourself from all other distractions."

~Saul Bellow

This day was going to be an exciting day.  On this day, September 20th, we would catch our first glimpse of Mt. Katahdin.  Our dream, our aspiration, our goal, was about to become a visual reality.  If it was clear, we should be able to see her from the north side of White Cap Mountain.  So, first we had to climb White Cap.  But first we had to climb Hay Mountain.  But first West Peak, after Gulf Hagas Mountain.  Actually but first I had to get out of my tent.  You know how all you normal people complain about Monday mornings?  Well, not actually ever really knowing what day it was, I have to assume every morning was a Monday morning.  Not because I was dreading going to work obviously, but it was just so cold in the mornings now and my ankle was so stiff.  So this is why one moves to Florida.  Sign me up.  Once I got hiking, stretched out and warmed up things were fine, but the getting up part, I was starting to dislike it (In case you were wondering, after the hike I had to go back and use the date stamp in my photos to figure out where I was when.  It took awhile.  On the trail there are no holidays or weekends,  just days, and it's too wonderfully easy to loose track of them).  I finally packed up and hiked all those things previously mentioned.

View of Katahdin from White Cap (the one far away, to the left)

I gave myself a well-deserved break and had a quiet lunch on the summit of White Cap.  Owf appeared but kept going due to the cold.  I didn't care.  I just wanted to sit and stare at Katahdin.  There she was.  Now I just had to walk there.  I was pleased with the amount of flat that stood between us.  Though there was still 73 miles to go, not a lot stood in my way.  I started climbing down White Cap, and I want to mother the children of whoever built that trail.  I flew down it, it was so beautifully executed.  That combined with the excitement of seeing Katahdin for the first time put me in very high spirits.  It could have started lightning and I wouldn't have cared.  I sang a made up song about Katahdin in my head (and out loud) all the way down to Logan Brook Lean-To.

Tree shroom
Everyone had gathered there for a little break before pounding out the four miles to the east branch of Pleasant River.  Yes, Pleasant River, again.  I'm tired of Pleasant River.  First of all, it's not fucking pleasant.  This ford was one of the scarier things we've had to do on the entire hike, at least for my dad and I.  The opportunity to drown or break your leg in a river was a new terror introduced to us in Maine that I hadn't quite overcome.  Pants and I approached the river with Owf.  At first glance we thought nothing of it.  In fact we thought it would be easy because it wasn't very wide.  Owf stepped in first and immediately proved us wrong.  It doesn't look it from the picture, but that current was strong.  And the bottom of the river was nothing short of disastrous for anyone trying to walk on it.  Misshapen boulders of all sizes that must have been coated in ice.  Not only that, they created little pockets of death for us to get stuck in.  You could stick your trekking poles out in front of you to feel where to step next, and they either landed on a slippery boulder not of the flat variety, or they didn't land at all, the pole just going deeper and deeper until you could only assume there was no bottom for you.  All this while trying not to get washed away.  

I held my breath while I watched Owf cross.  She made it to a rock in the middle and climbed on with a look of exhaustion on her face.  "I need a break" followed with "This really sucks" was all she said.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, my dad jumped out from behind a tree.  He told us to try and bushwhack upstream and ford, looked easier he thought.  A lot of good that was gonna do Owf, so we waited to make sure she arrived safely ashore, then Pants and I headed upstream to find a less terrifying way across.  We found a spot that looked a bit better, but not by much.  I started across and about halfway I got a bit stuck.  I felt around with my poles for my next landing but there didn't seem to be one.  I gave my dad, who was standing on the bank, a look that said "I have nowhere to go."  He responded with a look that pretty much said "Well you can't live in the river."  I know my dad really hated the fords and were the scariest thing on the hike for him.  I wonder what it must be like to do something that completely terrifies you, then turn to your only child and say "OK your turn."  I was very happy with how much my dad trusted that I could take care of myself out there.  I suppose you have to keep your 'be careful' nagging at low levels when you're doing the same stupid dangerous stuff.

Watching Owf trying to ford Pleasant River
I took my chances on a boulder I didn't trust and quickly moved to another, somehow not falling and arriving safely on the other side.  I bushwhacked back towards the trail, dried off and relaxed a bit now that it was over.  Manula and Tree Trunk arrived with the same 'how the hell do I get across this' reaction, and my dad proceeded to direct them upstream the way he had Pants and I.  He stayed to play ferry captain while we went in search of a place to camp.  We made our way up to Mountain View Pond and decided to camp at a spring east of it.  FM, Meds and Bubble Foot were already there calling it a day.  The site wasn't ideal, a bit marshy, we would certainly all sink if it rained.  But we didn't seem to care.  It was a mellow night, we were all a bit tired from the climbing and fording.  My dad eventually showed up with White Wolf in tow and we all called it a night.  

I spent the entire next day hiking mostly by myself.  I had a small climb up Little Boardman Mountain, which was more akin to a hill after everything we've done, and then headed over to Crawford Pond.  It had a lovely beach even with the dusting of fog that had settled over it.  I took a small break there, mentally marking this spot as somewhere I'd like to camp next time.  I loved Maine so I knew there would be a next time.  Perhaps in warmer weather.  I went on to hop Cooper Brook and took a break at the Lean-To just past it.  Everyone else was ahead and I didn't seem in any hurry to catch up.  I had an 11 mile stretch of flat ahead of me.  And I don't mean thru-hiker flat, like normal people flat.  I got up wondering what I was going to do in my head for the next 11 miles.

Crawford Pond

An elegant silence surrounded me as I hiked.  The air was so crisp and cool, it felt young, like I was the first one breathing it.  My mind didn't wander much as I walked, almost as if it reached a place of perfect calm and didn't need to think or worry about anything.  I realized this was true happiness.  I was happy.  And not due to some artificial or temporary condition, like a good first date or the fulfilment of some material desire.  This happiness wasn't even due to another person.  Being surrounded by loved ones is a wonderful thing that instills joy in us all, but being surrounded by only yourself and still feeling that same sense of comfort and stability and happiness?  That I think is rare.  I'm not saying I don't need anyone or anything, far from it, but I think after you spend enough time alone with only yourself and your thoughts (which is achievable if you live in the woods for six months) you really get to know yourself on a level many people don't.  Maybe happiness is the wrong word, but a sublime level of serenity washed over me as I realized that if you took away all the things that make you happy, a nice home with comfortable things, a good job, money, even friends and family, all of it, I would still be content with simply my own existence.

None of those other things will provide you with any kind of lasting happiness unless you can first be content without them.  I think if people learned to live modestly before they go about acquiring too much, they may realize the things they believe are making them happy are just adding to the miserable clutter.  It is in our nature to assume that our happiness relies on our relationships with other people and the acquisition of things.  But only you are responsible for your happiness, no one or nothing can provide that for you.  Yes this is the cheesy shit you hear on Dr. Phil, but Dr. Phil clearly doesn't know what he's talking about because if he did he would tell people to turn off the TV and go spend some time in the woods.  I mean most people don't even understand what it means to be happy and they're running around everywhere trying to achieve it through things like work, drugs, retail therapy, online dating, mediocre relationships and reality TV.  I think we all just need to get away from all those distractions and spend a little time with ourselves.  The goal isn't to walk around with a permanent smile on our face, not everything needs to be beautiful and perfect.  You don't have to know what you're doing in five years.  Accept that you will be angry and sad and disappointed, and feel OK expressing it.  Being happy doesn't mean life is perfect.  Embracing the sadness and pain of it as well contributes to the wholeness of who you are.  Refusing to get sad will not make you happy.  Refusing to acknowledge pain is just suppressing a part of who you are, and I truly believe you have to embrace all of it if you genuinely want to be at peace with yourself.  I wasn't skipping through the woods at this moment with some spastic smile strapped to my face, I just felt.....whole.  Wholeness, not happiness is the conclusion I came to.  Maybe wholeness should be the goal and happiness is just one component.  

Anyway, this is what I was aware of as I hiked.  It's not some great epiphany, just the realization that, only when I was completely free of everything and left only with myself, I felt as complete a person as I could ever be.

And then I tripped and fell.  Naturally.

 As I lay withering on the ground clutching my ankle, I looked around for the culprit.  The only way a person could have fallen here is if they were drunk or me.  There was literally nothing on which to trip, the ground was an even smooth bed of earth, practically a moving sidewalk, and yet here I lay on my ass.  I thought I might have stepped on some rock awkwardly causing my already shit right ankle to bend again.  But there was no rock.  My ankle had just given out.  It was getting weaker everyday and with every step I pictured it just snapping in half, bone fragments sticking out everywhere.  I gave the wounded solider a pep talk (come ankle, you can do it, only 56 miles left!) and got up to keep on keepin on.

Hiking around Jo-Mary Lake

I passed Cooper Pond, Mud Pond and found myself on the edge of Jo-Mary Lake.  I had the entire lake to myself.  It was there just for me it seemed.  After an extended break I hobbled my way to Potaywadjo Lean-To.  Owf and Pants were there and they presented me with two possible itineraries.  The only two scenarios ever available to a hiker:  we could keep hiking OR we could not keep hiking.  My original intent was to keep hiking another four miles, but after my fall I was liking the looks of 'not keep hiking.'  We had dinner at the shelter with a couple of SoBos, after which I retreated to my tent to "ice" my ankle with cold water and relax.  All the other guys were about two miles ahead at White House Landing, which was a hostel in the middle of nowhere.  If you wanted to go there, the instructions were thus:  find a blue-blazed trail after a dirt road and go east for about a mile until you got to a lake with a boat dock.  Blow the air horn only once and a man will row across the lake and come get you.  This, seemed to me a lot of work, to pay $40 to sleep in a shitty bunk and eat a hamburger (which was extra). I also heard the guy running it was a total ass (which was confirmed the next day by the boys).  My dad was planning on skipping it as well, though he wasn't at the shelter.  Not sure where he was...somewhere.

The next day we had 18 miles to Rainbow Stream Lean-To, our last night in the Wilderness.  It had to be my last night in the Wilderness because I was out of food.  We crossed Twitchell Brook, Deer Brook, forded Tumbledown Dick Stream (yep) and FM, Meds and Bubble Foot caught us just as we were reaching Nahmakanta Stream.  We passed Prentiss Brook and Nahmakanta Lake before climbing up Nesuntabunt Mountain.  The climb was brief but the top was suppose to have a 16 mile line-of-sight view of Katahdin (we were still 36 trail miles away).  Unfortunately it was too cloudy to see her.  We climbed down and Pants and I spent the afternoon playing alphabet games as we hiked past Crescent Pond, Pollywog Gorge, Pollywog Stream and Murphy Pond, finally arriving at Rainbow.  We all set up camp on a hill behind the shelter and enjoyed our last night in the Wilderness.

I couldn't believe how fast it went.  The next day we would hike 14 miles to Abol Bridge, where there was a small campstore, restaurant and campsites.  From there we would enter Baxter State Park and hike ten miles to Birches at the base of Katahdin.  For the first time in the last six months and eight days, I knew exactly where I would be sleeping the next night.  And the night after that.  We would all be catching up with Gribley, Daystar, Pace, Hungus and Cheesetowel at Abol the next day, reunited for the most epic summit ever.  


Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Wilderness Part 1 (Sept 17th - 19th)

"Do not be angry with the rain; it simply does not know how to fall upwards."

~Vladmir Nabakov

After a somewhat restful night, my dad and I headed over to Shaw's for some AYCE breakfast.  Big E, DK and Bubble Foot were there and I got some good Rhode Island recommendations from DK for our road trip back.  Her and Big E would be taking a zero, but Bubble Foot would be heading out with the rest of us.  Turns out he is a riot, too bad this was the first time we were getting to hike with him.  My dad and I got our stuff together before everyone else so we caught a ride to the trail and told everyone we'd see them later.  White Wolf was organizing a food drop with the hostel so he wouldn't have to carry an ungodly amount of food.  The 100 Mile Wilderness is just that, 100 miles of wilderness save for a few abandoned logging roads.  For a nominal fee, Lakeshore House would leave a bucket of food for you about 30 miles in, down one of the gravel logging roads.  The rest of us, not really wanting to pay for that, opted to carry back breaking packs to get us through the week.  They recommended carrying at least ten days of supplies.  I decided to go with seven days of supplies, but only planned on taking six days to get through the wilderness, leaving an extra day of food if necessary.  Ten days of food is appallingly heavy.  I could barely fit the seven, and I literally had bread dangling off my pack.  

I was also implementing a new Pop-Tart protection program.  Crushed Pop-Tarts is a woe of every hiker.  The only way to really keep them safe is to actually leave them in the box.  Unfortunately this also takes up more room, and wasn't an option for the wilderness.  So, I thought if I took my two boxes worth of Pop-Tarts and stored them on the very top of my pack, they would have less chance of getting crushed.  The downside was that I would be first removing like 15 Pop-Tarts if I wanted anything in my bag.  It was a price I was willing to pay to not have to drink my Pop-Tarts.  Osprey should really have a specially reinforced "Pop-Tart Pocket."  I think it would make some people happy.  Anyway, my dad and I got a ride to the trail and excitedly dove into the 100 Mile Wilderness.  We stopped to read the warning, both acknowledging neither of us had ten days worth of anything and stepped right in!  

The beginning of the Wilderness was not flat, but wasn't super hard.  Lots of small ups and downs.  In keeping with our expectations, the trail was also not as defined.  It was more overgrown, and there were fewer blazes.  Within the first three miles I had to pause often to figure out where to go, so it was inevitable that one of those times I would get it wrong.  As I approached the first shelter, I found Cheesewater hanging out.  He looked at me quizzically and wondered what I was doing coming from there.  "I'm hiking the Appalachian Trail" I told him, and he proceeded to point out the AT, which was most definitely not where I had came from.  Huh.  Well somewhere I started walking my own path apparently, but I at least got to where I intended to go.  Still not the best start to the most remote section of the AT.

North Pond

 My dad decided to carry on while I took a quick break with Cheesewater.  After his drunk hitch out of town he ended up camping practically on the trailhead the previous night.  We got up to make our way to Little Wilson Falls.  We wove around North Pond, Mud Pond, Bear Pond and James Brook before hitting the falls.  The Wilderness is one of the prettiest parts of the AT, dotted with ponds and brooks and streams oh my.  If it weren't literally freezing there would have been ample swimming opportunities at several beaches.  Little Wilson Falls was gorgeous and I sat there with Cheesewater having lunch for about 30 minutes.  He got up to start hiking but I wanted to stay a little more.  Not long after Cheesewater left, FM strolled up, so I sat a wee bit longer with him.  We finally decided to leave when a group of non-thru hikers that I had passed earlier showed up.  They were about to ford the river above the falls before we caught them and showed the correct way downstream at the base of the falls.  Don't ford rivers above waterfalls people, I mean come on.

Little Wilson Falls

FM on the falls

We left them as they decided they first wanted to have lunch so we headed downstream to ford.  The water was actually low enough down there so we could rock hop across.  I hiked quietly up an unnamed hill, slowly taking in the views.  Green still dominated, but the other colors were gently creeping in.  A twinge of sadness settled in my stomach as I hiked.  We really were reaching the end.  As I watched the leaves fall from the trees, I remembered what the trail looked like when I started.  There wasn't a leaf to be found.  Then all the sudden, it seemed we were walking in a green tunnel.  And now, two seasons later, we were slowly going back to how we began, with the colors changing and the foliage dropping away.  I was taken off guard at how deep my sadness was to be leaving the trail soon.  My excitement for Katahdin was indescribable, excitement to see and stand on her and be able to say "Yes, I actually did this." My body was ready to be done, my ankle in severe pain with every step, I was tired and cold and sick of Pop-Tarts.  Yet, like a relationship you've exhausted but are still unwilling to leave, I clung to the trail.  It was almost like it comforted me while I suffered through the pain it caused me.  Part of me wanted to hurry.  Embrace the elation of being so close to accomplishing a long sought after goal.  And yet another part wanted to linger, savor all the beauty the journey towards that goal has brought me.  It was an odd internal struggle that consumed my mind until I was greeted by Big Wilson Stream. 

Before spring came in Georgia

Brief fling with winter, thank you Tennessee

Green tunnel of Virginia

Colors fading away in Maine

Meds, Owf, Stoves, Bubble Foot and a hiker I hadn't met before, Log (and her dog Yo-Yo) had all caught up.  It was quite obvious no one would be rock hopping this one.  Everyone made it across safely, though there was a brief moment of terror when Yo-Yo got a bit swept downstream.  But he survived just fine and ran his way back along the river to find us. What is the AT if not long stretches of boredom pierced by moments of sheer terror?  It was about 5pm when we got to Wilson Valley Lean-To.  My dad and Log decided they would try to hike a little further.  Owf, Bubble Foot, FM, Meds and I all decided to stay.  Ranger Bill and J-Dub showed up a bit later.  Cheesetowel was ahead somewhere and so was Pants.  We got a nice fire going and had an entertaining night swapping hitching nightmares.  White Wolf showed up eventually and stayed for storytime, but was in the mood for a night hike and took off when we all went to bed.  Our ten mile day meant we would be making up for it tomorrow, unless we wanted to starve.

Meds about to ford Big Wilson
 The next morning we all got up early, ready to pound out a 16 mile day to Chairback Gap Lean-To.  It was going to be a long day with lots of climbing, and it was also freezing.  At least it would keep us hiking.  I spent most of the day chatting and hiking with Owf.  It had been some time since I had hiked with Daystar, Pace and Sunkist, so it was nice to spend a day with another girl.  I was so used to being surrounded by farting beards that I forgot how refreshing just hanging out with a girlfriend for a day can be.  We crossed a few streams, forded Wilbur Brook, passed Vaughn Stream and Long Pond and then hit the 100 mile mark right before Long Pond Stream Lean-To.  I remember how excited we were when we hit our first 100 miles back in Georgia, and now we only had a 100 to go..... We all took a quick break at the shelter, where we also found Pants and White Wolf.  FM, Owf and I attempted to pull water from the trickle at the shelter, the whole time cursing myself that I didn't fill up at one of the million flowing streams I passed earlier.  We than began the climb up to Barren Ledges and then Barren Mountain.

100 to go!!!
It was actually getting colder as the day progressed.  Owf and I stopped at the base of Barren with Stoves to inhale a speedy lunch.  My Pop-Tart protection program was failing.  My Pop-Tarts were still getting crushed.  On top of that they were a nuisance to take out everytime I needed something in my bag, and then I had to keep a close eye on them because the squirrels, unable to resist a pile of Pop-Tarts, kept trying to steal them from me.  Who knew Pop-Tarts could cause such problems in a persons life.  It was too cold to not be moving so ten minutes later we were hiking.  Be exhausted from continuous hiking or freeze were the options at this point.  We climbed up Fourth Mountain, down Fourth Mountain, up Third Mountain, down Third Mountain.  You get the idea.  Also, I think they were running out of mountain names.  I finally got to Chairback utterly exhausted from hiking 16 miles without much rest, and found I wasn't the only one.  My dad, Stoves, Owf, Log, Mad Hat, Tree Trunk and Manuela were all going to squeeze into the shelter like sardines.  The shelter would be cold, but, it was going to rain that night and they didn't want to get wet.  So it looked like the rest of us were going to battle the rain.  Problem was there was nothing but crap for tent spots.  With the exception of Bubble Foot, who hammocked (also not the most weather proof sleeping system), we all pretty much had to set our tents up in bowls, which meant if it rained really hard, we were going to wake up in our own individual lakes.  Well, to say it rained hard was quite the understatement.  We each woke up in our own individual oceans.  The ground under my tent was a water bed.  It was an aerobic act just to get out of my tent without flooding it.  Needless to say, no one got an early start that day.  Rain is a hiker's snooze button.  Plus I was afraid if I left my sleeping pad I would drown.  


There's a trail there somewhere

Eventually, one by one, hikers started emerging to brave the wet and cold, packing up in the rainy drizzle that was left after the downpour of the night before.  Not exactly the most amazing birthday morning for White Wolf to wake up to.  He still got a happy birthday song out of it and a truly amazing drawing from me, that I'm sure has since been framed and hung on a wall in some prominent location.  Meds, my dad and I began our hike down to the stream and up Chairback Mountain.  The rain had completely washed out the trail and we had a hard time trying to figure out where to go.  We figured a way across the pond that had appeared overnight, and started up what we thought was the trail, though there seemed to be a stream running through it.  We were hoping it was just runoff from the rain and that we weren't actually following some random stream uphill.  There hadn't been a blaze in awhile so we were just relying on our gut, and it was right, when the "trail" we were following finally began to look like a trail and we spotted a blaze on a rock.

Meds fording Pleasant River

The three of us eventually made it down to Katahdin Iron Works Rd, a gravel logging road where everyone else had gathered.  The sun had miraculously come out and everyone was drying out their gear. I jumped on board and proceeded to do the same.  This was also the spot White Wolf had paid to have a bucket drop.  He went in search of his goods (they hang it in a tree so animals can't get it) and returned not only with a resupply for himself, but beer for everyone!  We had a nice lunch before we all headed down to ford the West Branch of Pleasant River.  This was a pretty wide ford with a slick rocky bottom, not made any easier by the heavy amounts of rain we just received, but we all made it across in one piece.  After the ford we had a gentle afternoon with a gradual climb up Gulf Hagas Mountain.  We all decided to pull up before the summit around Carl Newhall Lean-To.  It was quickly getting too cold.  So cold I dove into my tent and didn't really come out for the rest of the night.  The next day we would climb White Cap, one of the last real tough mountains......other than Momma K of course.  You know the end is drawing near when you run out of mountains to climb.

Friday, October 26, 2012

It's Still Called Hiking Even Though I'm in a Canoe

“I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It's so fuckin' heroic.” 
~ George Carlin

Pierce Pond to Monson (Sept 12th - 16th)
Everyone was up early the next morning excited to get to town, and excited for the Kennebec River.  The Kennebec is the most formidable unbridged crossing on the entire AT.  At 70 yards wide, the center reaches 8 ft. deep.  I don't know what you call that where you're from, but in my village we call that swimming.  Now despite all that, it could still be "fordable," if it weren't for the hydro-electric plant upstream which causes the depth and current of the river to surge quickly and unpredictably.  If you are attempting to ford and one of these surges occurs, you cannot cross faster than the water level rises.  Again, in my village we call that drowning.  Luckily for us, the MATC and ATC have provided a 'ferry' to ship us across.  The 'ferry' is a man with a canoe.  It's schedule varies, but currently it was running from 9-11am or 2-4pm.  Get there during one of those times, David will row you across.  Get there outside those times, you wait, or, attempt to ford.  To discourage hikers who think the "true" trail is to ford the river, the MATC painted a white blaze on the bottom of the canoe, formally making the ferry part of the trail, and to assuage us silly purists that it was OK to take a boat for 70 yards.  Despite this, David said every year there are hikers who insist on attempting a ford, and every year he pulls them out.

Kennebec River 

I myself was quite sick of rivers and very much interested in the ferry.  We had a four mile hike to the Kennebec from Pierce Pond and it was a very pretty four miles on a beautiful morning.  I didn't even notice my ankle.  I arrived at the river with Flies a little after 9:30, and we saw David the ferry man rowing back across the river towards us after dropping other hikers off.  I let Flies take the lead and help row us across as I listened to our ferry captain give us the history of the river and ferry.  After our transport across the river, we thanked him and headed to US 201, our road into Caratunk.  We met up with FM, Meds, White Wolf, Pants and Cheesewater at the Caratunk Post Office.  Caratunk has a population (as of 2009) of 107.  All five buildings were on the same road and every building was white.  The deeper into Maine we got, the smaller the towns, until soon they would disappear all together.

Fall is creeping in...

Pretty hike into Caratunk

The boys had called a shuttle to the Sterling Inn.  We weren't going to stay at the Sterling Inn, but the wonderful owner, Eric, picks hikers up for free, shuttles them to resupply, then drops them wherever they choose.  Hikers looking for a more quiet stay would opt for his charming B&B, those looking for a hot tub and a beer got taken to the brewery.  The driver that picked us up actually wasn't the owner, but a SoBo who was doing an extended work for stay at the Sterling to rest up an injury.  He informed us that the Sterling actually had a better resupply than the 'store.'  Eric apparently made trips to an actual grocery store and bought hiker food in bulk to sell.  So we went to the Sterling Inn to resupply from their pantry.  Pickins were still pretty slim, but the prices were reasonable and we only needed roughly three days worth so we could make it work.  It took our large group awhile for everyone to get resupplied, paid and packed, so I had a brief look around.  Built in 1816, the building had a lot of history and charm.  It was also kinda creepy.  I wasn't sure I would totally enjoy a night there by myself.  I browsed the register and noticed a lot of the retired age hikers had a wonderful stay.  Then I decided I was ready for a beer and that this was all taking too long.  I went outside and nagged everyone until they finally got their crap together and loaded back in the van.  To the brewery!

Porch at The Sterling Inn

When we arrived we found Mad Hat and Solo outside (two fellow Minnesotans) and they jumped on the shuttle to take them back to the trail.  Owf was there, along with Pace, Hungus, Towlie, Daystar, Gribley, Peach and Overdrive.  Roller and Sunkist had apparently left that morning.  They were on more of a deadline and sadly I wouldn't see them again before summiting:(  Daystar, Gribley and Flies would be hiking out later that afternoon, but everyone else was staying the night.  Partaaaaay.......First things first, before securing lodging, we dropped our packs outside and headed in for lunch and beers.  We could figure out the rest later.  I set my sights on a delicious blueberry ale complete with fresh blueberries.  Blueberries abound along the AT in the northern states, and though the season was over, I was lucky to have spent my summer picking and feasting on wild blueberries as I hiked.  I've also noticed many of the local breweries take advantage of this and often offer a blueberry brew on tap.  The bar was small, but located in a cozy great room complete with a giant fire place and leather couches.  Outside on the deck next to the bar was the hot tub as promised, and below that a pool with a volleyball net and a deck with bags (or cornhole) set up.  This was a hikers paradise.  In addition, this place was extremely hiker friendly, offering lodging discounts to AT hikers.

After lunch we decided to get our sleeping situation in order.  They offered cabin tents across the street for $10, which is where Peach, Overdrive, Pace, Hungus, and Cheesetowel were staying.  The remaining six of us (Owf, Pants, White Wolf, FM, Meds and myself) opted for something called a "logdominium."  For $15 each, we had a two story mini condo behind the lodge by the pool, complete with kitchen and bathroom.  Plus everyone had their own bed.  We spent the remainder of the day playing water volleyball and bags, hot tubing and drinking.  And then we woke up the next day feeling awesome.  I the most awesome of all.  So awesome I couldn't get out of bed.  I was always planning to take a zero here because of my ankle, but I wasn't planning on feeling like a pile of rotting garbage on top of it.  Pants and White Wolf were staying one more night, but everyone else was hiking out, planning on taking their last zero in Monson.  We said goodbye and I continued to be a vegetable, lifting my head only once when White Wolf brought me toast.

Around 6pm I emerged from the logdominium to go to the bar for dinner.  I was greeted with a "Well good morning Ms. Fisher!" from the bartender, who was clearly also my bartender the night before, like I would remember.  With most of the hikers gone it was a quiet night and I went to bed early hoping my headache would be gone tomorrow.  With my 24 hours of sleep I awoke the next morning bright eyed and ready to go.  I took a look at my ankle for the first time in a day, though the swelling had gone down, there still wasn't much of an ankle there.  I couldn't afford to take another day off, we were getting close to the end and it was too important to me to summit with my dad and friends, who were already a day ahead.  This was just what it was going to be, I'd deal with it and get it looked at after.  "Vitamin I" (Ibprofen) became my new best friend.

Lets go hiking....
The three of us got packed up and grabbed an 11am shuttle back to the trail.  The first five miles were a gentle climb up Pleasant Pond Mountain.  We ran into DK, Big E and Bubblefoot just outside of town. They had been up all night hiking and they looked pretty exhausted.  We wished them luck and headed to Pleasant Pond Lean-To for lunch before finishing the hike up the mountain.  We then had a long gradual descent off Pleasant Pond Mountain, which was made very unpleasant by the abundance of rocks and roots.  We crossed a stream, forded Moxie Pond's south end, crossed another stream, then had a smooth two miles before arriving at Bald Mountain Brook Lean-To.  We decided to camp right at the brook instead of going up to the shelter.  The next morning I was hoping to make up some miles and get an early start.  My average hiking pace was now even slower due to my ankle, and I would rather get up early and hike then have to hike later into the night.  I was packed up and hiking before White Wolf and Pants were even out of their tents.  Literally five minutes after I was hiking it started to rain.  Well they're never getting up now.

I trudged my way up Moxie Bald Mountain and down to the shelter at it's base for some early lunch.  After that climb I had six straight miles of flat trail to the West Branch of the Piscataquis River.  The only thing my guidebook had to say about the Piscataquis was "River normally knee deep, during heavy rain periods, fording can be dangerous."  So glad it was raining then.  I lost myself in thought during these miles as I didn't run into a single hiker.  The deeper into Maine we went, the less day/weekenders we ran into.  There was less of us too.  I arrived at the river and saw a rope tied across the water.  Better than nothing I guess.  I hesitated, wondering if I'd feel more balanced with my poles, but the current didn't look bad and the water didn't look deep (expect for the middle), so I just went with the rope.  Figured it was something to hold on to if I fell.  Good luck keeping your feet dry here White Wolf (he didn't).  The ford was uneventful, I dried myself off and continued on my way.  I had another five and a half miles of flat before I would run into the East Branch of the Piscataquis River, which yes, I was suppose to ford back over.  I was getting tired of this river.  I passed Horseshoe Canyon Lean-To without going in.  I thought about stopping there for the night, but I assumed I could find somewhere to camp by the river, and it was only another 2.3 miles.

View from Moxie Bald

I got to the river around 6pm, and noticed this side had no rope.  I debated getting the ford over with that night, but I would rather get all wet knowing I'd be hiking right after to warm up, so I saved it for the morning.  Plus I found a nice little flat spot on the bank that was the perfect size for my little tent.  I ignored the obnoxious red squirrels as I set up camp and made dinner.  Then, realizing I hadn't seen any other humans that day, decided to just go to bed.  I would see humans tomorrow surely.  I was happy with my day.  It was quiet and peaceful and despite the early morning rain and my fat lady ankle, I still managed to cover some ground.

The next day I had about seven miles to go to get to Monson, our last town and resupply for the 100 Mile Wilderness.  DS had sent me a text giving me a heads up on a nasty large hornets nest up the trail, a little over three miles from where I was camped.  I had already walked into a wasp nest on this hike and I was done getting stung by things.  Once I hit the point where I thought I should be keeping an eye out, I started walking at a glacial pace.  I was NOT getting stung.  I reached a part where someone had put a bunch of branches to block the trail and deter hikers from going up it.  I looked down the trail and sure enough a giant terrifying nest was hanging from a tree over the left side of the trail.  I mean of all the trees to choose from....  There was no other trail other than the AT, so the only option was to bushwhack east around it.

Fording the Piscataquis

Busy beavers...

Once I felt comfortable I was out of range, I started making my way back towards the trail.  I looked back and I could still see the nest behind me so I didn't linger long.  About 20 minutes later I ran into a SoBo and gave him a head's up on the nest.  He informed me of a trail reroute up ahead right before you hit the road.  Apparently a bunch of beavers flooded a section of the trail so there was a temporary relocation around it.  Unlike my curiosity for the closed Hurricane Irene section, I had no interest in slumming through beaver water and happily took the reroute.  I finally plopped out on ME 15 and stuck my thumb out, wondering where the hell White Wolf and Pants were.  I mean I was hiking sooooo slow, they should have caught me. ( I later found out that the rain kept them from getting out of their tents until noon the day before...I had been hiking for a solid five hours at that point).  I was picked up pretty quick by a nice girl who actually worked at the Lakeshore House and Pub, the hostel I was planning on staying at.  Outside the hostel I found Daystar, Gribley, Pace and Hungus.  They were getting ready to head out to the trail.  I wasn't worried about catching up with them in the wilderness as they were planning to take it slow.  Cheesewater and Towelie were on the deck with a case of Busch Light.  FM, Meds, Owf and my dad where all there and planning to stay another night.  Flies had already headed out and sadly I would not see him again either:(

Kayaking with White Wolf
The second I got there I had some lunch then hopped on a hitch to Greenville with Meds.  There was no grocery store in Monson, the only place to resupply was the gas station.  Normally that would be fine, but we had 100 miles ahead of us, and I wanted something more than pop tarts.  When we got back I found White Wolf setting up his tent out back.  Apparently this hostel, and Shaw's the other one, was full, but they were letting him throw his tent on this tiny sliver of grass.  I guess Pants was just going to hitch to Greenville to resupply and hike out of town.  That was Towelie and Cheesewater's plan as well, but the Busch Light had another agenda in mind.  Around 6:30pm Cheesewater drunkenly got a hitch out of town.  When I asked him where he was going as he stood up, he responded hilariously with "The Road Tater!! The Road!" We tried to get him to stay, as Towelie had already passed out on the floor of my dad's room, but he had his mind set.  It provided us with a solid hour of entertainment as we watched him sleep/stand on the road in front of the hostel with his thumb out, before he finally got picked up.  I spent the rest of the evening kayaking with White Wolf and having beers with everyone in the bar (but not too many:)  Big E, DK and Bubblefoot even made it into town later that night.  I was happy, rested, with friends and my replacement pole even arrived!  I was excited for the Wilderness, because when we got out, we would be at the base of Katahdin!


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ants, Ice Cream and the Meaning of Life

"I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it."

~Harry Emerson Fosdick

Stratton - Pierce Pond (Sept 9th - 11th)
The next morning no one seemed very motivated to get out of Stratton early.  We had a fairly easy two miles past the usual brooks and streams, then began the climb up South Horn mountain. And then.....we hit the 2,000 mile mark.  I can't believe I have hiked 2,000 miles.  That's just crazy.  Crazy awesome. About halfway up I stopped at a view with Pants, Flies, FM and Meds.  We all agreed we would at least try to get to Avery Memorial campsite, which was over South Horn and Bigelow Mountain west peak.  I was the last to get hiking again, enjoying the ridge line before heading up South Horn.  Just as I was approaching the turn off to Horns Pond Lean-To,  Meds and FM popped out of nowhere, informing me they were staying here instead.  This place was a palace, the Hilton of shelters.  Meds proceeded to "show me around," there were amazing tent spots everywhere.  They had picked out the 'deluxe' so we could all fit in one.  Horns Pond was also gorgeous and I spent the late afternoon and early evening hiking around it and fishing with Meds.  Fishing, turns out, is a lot like waiting.  But, I like it.  I even caught my first fish!  We didn't realize how cold it was getting as we hiked from one spot to the next, until we were clear on the other side of the pond.  I headed back to watch the sun set on a rock, then walked back to camp, where I really became aware of how cold it was.  Everyone else, not having just section hiked a lake, was huddled in their tents trying to keep warm.  The second I quit moving I was freezing, and I decided to make diner in my vestibule. 

Flies trying out his new hat as a face mask

View of South Horn

2,000 etched in moss

Meds fishing in Horns Pond
My first fish!

The next morning was no warmer.  No one wanted to get out of their sleeping bags.  I could hear Flies (who was still coat less) moaning "I should have brought a jacket instead of a Mario blanket...." Yes Flies.  That is what you should have done.  I wasn't sure how much longer we were going to be able to live out here if it kept getting this cold at night.  I packed up as quickly as possible, ready to get moving to warm up.  At least it made me hike faster.  I bundled up for the climbs over South Horn, Bigelow west peak and Avery Peak, all very windy, cloudy and exposed.  Halfway up Bigelow I found FM hunkered down behind some rocks taking a break.  We rallied and finished our climb up to the peak, Flies not far behind us.  In lieu of a jacket, he had strapped his Mario blanket around himself like a cape, and as I glanced back while hiking down Avery Peak, he looked like a super hero blowing in the wind.  

FM climbing Bigelow

As I turned to continue on my way, I slammed my trekking pole down for balance, but it somehow got wedged between two rocks, bent at some unforgivable angle, and snapped in two, sending me sprawling to the right of the trail.  Awesome.  I was fine, but my pole was dead.  I examined it's wound, the break was jagged and uneven.  I thought about stashing it in my pack and just fixing it when I got to the base of the mountain, but I kinda wanted it to help me get down the mountain.  I looked around and tried to find a spot out of the crazy wind, as I was still sitting exposed on the side.  I found some cover and got out my duct tape.  The tape wasn't strong enough alone so I had to use one of my tent stakes as a splint, all the while willing my gloveless frozen fingers to hang on a bit longer as I jerry-rigged my stupid pole.  Pants, FM and Meds all passed, wondering what the hell I was doing - I held up my pole and was met with a unanimous "that sucks."  It was freezing so I shooed them along and told them I'd be right behind.  Satisfied my repair would hold up until I could get Sukie to send me an extra I had at home (Black Diamond, in an effort to keep their little AT hiker happy, had sent me three other poles that I had on deck in MSP).  As I got hiking I started going through the list of my gear that was currently being held together with duct tape.  It was like half my shit.  Including my tent (some asshole animal ate it's way in one night) and my sleeping bag (I sorta ate my way out in a moment of panic).  Our bodies weren't the only things getting worn out. 

Flies on Avery Peak

When I arrived at Safford Notch, most everyone had moved on, but I found Peach and Overdrive bundled up on the side of the trail attempting to have lunch and I decided to join them.  It was a cold lunch, even at the base of the mountain, so we didn't linger long.  We still had Little Bigelow to climb over, and the three of us leap frogged each other as we took breaks to put on more clothes.  I got a bit ahead of them as I started the descent down Little Bigelow, when I fell, yet again.  But I couldn't blame my trekking pole this time as it was still intact.  This was me just falling.  I misstepped somewhere, bent my ankle, heard a very loud crack and went down.  The pain in my ankle was unbelievable and I screamed loudly as I fell, though no one was around to hear it.  I sat there for a few minutes just trying to keep myself from passing out, I felt so dizzy for some reason.  Not sure if it was from the pain or from the terror of wondering if I just ended my hike.  I took a breath and pulled myself together to look at my right ankle.  I took my time with it, testing the pressure I could put on it.  It was swelling up pretty bad so I took some ibuprofen right away.  Bad news was it hurt really bad. Good news was I was pretty sure I could deal with it and still put pressure on it. 

Peach, Overdrive and J-Dub arrived as I was pacing back and forth testing it out.  They asked me what was up, I assumed I looked a bit odd.  Well these mountains are trying to fucking kill me that's what's up.  J-Dub hiked slowly with me down to Little Bigelow Lean-To, where I announced I would be going no further that day.  Peach and Overdrive continued on to East Flagstaff Lake, where everyone else was planning to go.  I asked them to tell the rest I would just catch up tomorrow, and headed into the shelter with J-Dub.  We crossed over the large stream that lead to the shelter, and I really wanted to stick my ankle in to ice it.  But it was 30 degrees outside, and my desire avoid hypothermia trumped my desire to ice my ankle.  I figured I could just fill up my bladder with water and use that as an ice pack.  It would stay cold, we were currently living in a refrigerator.  

J-Dub and I were setting up our tents when we were surprisingly graced with the presence of Cheesewater.  He had gotten off in Stratton to visit his brother and was now catching up.  He decided to stay too and built a spectacular fire to help us warm up.  The original goal for the next day was to hike to Pierce Pond Lean-To, only four miles out of Caratunk.  Despite my ankle, that still had to be my goal as I didn't have enough food to sit out there and rest it.  And it was honestly too cold to just be sitting around, we spent most of our time hiking if for no other reason than to stay warm.  The next morning it was still swollen, but I could walk on it as long as I went a bit slower, so I honestly just assumed I rolled it and it would be fine in a few days.  I figured I could take a day off in Caratunk to give it a bit of rest after the 18 miles I was about to make it do today.  I headed out after Cheesewater and thankfully the first few miles to East Flagstaff Lake were smooth and easy.  In fact, if I was going to hurt myself on the hike, I did it at the best place, we had several days of easy hiking (well, easier hiking) ahead before heading into the 100 Mile Wilderness.  At the lake I found Pants and White Wolf sitting by a dwindling fire trying to keep warm as they waited for me, so they could shake their heads at me when I showed them my ankle.  Satisfied that I was alive and could still hike, we headed on our way.  We had two small climbs to deal with, then it was smooth sailing all the way to Pierce Pond.  

Passing East Carry Pond

It was in fact so easy, it got kinda boring.  That coupled with the fact that I was walking so slow made the time just drag on.  One of the things I love about being out in the woods and away from all the distractions of life was that it really gave you time to think.  I really valued that time, just to have complete thoughts, let my mind wander in a continuous flow without interruption.  But six months later....sometimes there just isn't enough shit to think about to fill up all the time we have to think.  So when the trail gets technical it's a welcome distraction for our brain as well as our bodies.  But at the moment Pants and I basically had ten miles of moving sidewalk ahead of us, except we had to do the moving.  We passed the time by playing dumb games.  Like, going through the alphabet and for every letter name an artist neither of us had in our iPods.  In fact, going through the alphabet and naming things became a common game for AT hikers.  (By the way, can ANYONE name a food that starts with the letter X????) the ten body parts that only have three letters or the ten countries that only have four letters.  Yes, we had the time to go through all the countries and come up with this shit.  You just have to be doing something so monotonous that you actually find it entertaining. 

Don't get me wrong, this journey was a mental detox that truly allowed me to explore my thoughts on life, love and death.  And then other days I thought about ice cream flavors.  There's not enough fruit flavored ice creams.  Why does froyo get all the fruit?  And speaking of dairy, how exactly do cows turn grass into milk anyway?  Can scientists even do that?  And how do ants walk upside down? Do they have sticky feet?  Are they too tiny gravity just doesn't apply?  

You get the point.

When you spend a significant amount of time in nature, you may come out with more questions than answers, because you have the time to ask all the questions you never realized you wanted answers to.  The thing about nature is that it re-gifts us our childish sense of wonder.  You lose it as an adult because you have more important things to think about, I guess.  But I was happier thinking about ants, ice cream and the meaning of life than my electric bill or what I was going to wear that night.  I knew I would have to start thinking about those things again someday, but not that day.  

What I was not happy with was my ankle.  I couldn't have been more relieved to get to Pierce Pond.  Everyone was there, but the area surrounding the pond was so open we were able to spread our tents out.  Meds, FM and Cheesewater were down by the pond fishing,  and Pants, White Wolf and I had a quiet dinner up on the hill by our tents.  Pierce Pond had a bit of sadness draped over it.  A fellow hiker, Parkside Paulie, had drowned here earlier in the season.  There was a memorial in the shelter to him and most of the register entries were dedicated to him.  Though we never met him, I think it made us all grateful that we were still out here, having this experience, completing our journey, and it was a reminder that just because we have come this far, that does not mean we are invincible.  I retreated to my tent early so I could ice my ankle with my bladder while the rest of me was in a warm sleeping bag.  Tomorrow we would be in Caratunk, and staying at the Kennebc Pub and Brewery.  Hungus told us that there was a hot tub mere feet away from the bar.  Sounded like the perfect place to rest my injury for a day.