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.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Read Sign The Signs People (Rangeley - Stratton, Sept 6th-8th)

"To live is the rarest thing in all the world.  Most people exist, that is all."

~Oscar Wilde

The next morning Pants and I were able to get a pretty easy hitch out of Rangeley.  We were hoping to get all the Saddlebacks out of the way and get below Poplar Ridge that night.  Literally within the first half mile out of town we encountered a backlog of hikers debating the best way to cross a stream.  And so began the fording.  Maine became one of my favorite states simply because it was the wildest.  Maine is more wild than populated; nearly 90% of it's land is forested.  The 281 miles of trail in Maine are generally considered the most difficult of the 14 states.  Part of that difficulty is the lack of footbridges over the rivers and streams.  Maybe in an effort to lesson the impact and keep Maine wild, the deliberate moratorium on footbridges and subsequent forced fording of the rivers discourages novice hikers from attempting this part of the trail, keeping traffic low.  I won't lie, I got pretty sick of taking off my boots and walking through rivers, especially when some of them were high and scary, but I truly appreciate the effort to keep the impact down.  I love the solitude one can experience in Maine, the quiet beauty of it all, and if that means getting my feet wet during a few brief terrifying moments, so be it.  It would be a bit hypocritical of me to bitch about them building roads to the tops of mountains, then complain that they didn't build me a bridge across this river.  If I wanted to be on the other side of the river, I guess I have to walk through it. 

The stream we encountered outside of Rangeley was small and non-threatening.  The problem was were were lazy and didn't want to go through the 'laborious' process of taking off our boots.  It is amazing how lazy we could be considering we were walking across the country.  The fact that we were hiking from Georgia to Maine, a very 'non-lazy' endeavour I would say, gave us justification to be lazy in literally every other regard.  Fine, I'll walk across the country, but I can't be bothered to take off my boots for two minutes.  Lighthouse, if you're reading this I'm talking to you. I had to hold a knife to your head to get you to cut your toenails.  Anyway, most hikers ford in their camp shoes, i.e. Crocs.  Hiking in wet boots should really be avoided as it will cause all sorts of unfortunate problems (please refer back to the bleeding toes I limped into Hanover with).  The removal of boots and socks, drying off feet and putting boots and socks back on just took extra time.  Not that we were in a hurry, but if we could manage a way across somewhere via rock hopping or a fallen tree, we preferred that.  Did I mention the streams were freezing.  And that the stream beds consisted of slippery ankle breaking rocks that were impossible to grip.  That too.  

I found a fallen tree downstream that crossed the width of the water, but we didn't trust it.  There were some rocks dotted across the stream with only a bit of water gushing over them, but my stupid short legs couldn't reach from one to the next.  I'm not leaping from one slippery rock to another slippery rock.  Carefully and steadily stepping from one to the next is one thing, but leaping? No.  (I would be eating those words in 13 days).  Most of us just succumbed to fording the thing to avoid wet-boot, but White Wolf, still on his 'I'm not fording any rivers or getting my boots wet I'll rock hop them all' kick, hopped over the rocks only getting his boots marginally wet.  We one by one continued on our hike.  Everyone got ahead of me as I made my way towards Piazza Rock Lean-To.  This shelter takes it's name from a giant rock about a half mile up a side trail behind the shelter.  At the time I had no intentions of going to the rock, I've seen quite a lot of rocks in the past few months, but wanted to take a break at the shelter.  I reached a fork in the trail with a sign that I quickly glanced at and assumed read 'Piazza Rock Lean-To' so I veered left up a steep hill, thinking I was heading to the shelter.  After about five minutes of extremely steep climbing, I began wondering to myself, what the fuck is this?  This was the hardest shelter trail ever, I mean what is a shelter doing up here?  It wasn't until I ran into a rock face with a spray painted arrow instructing me to belly crawl under a boulder then shimmy up a crack, that I realized I was not being led to the shelter.  I couldn't even fit my pack through that.  I assume when they were making the trails to the shelters, they would figure we would want to bring our packs.   

I had forgotten there was a side field trip near the shelter up to this stupid rock.  I was clearly on that field trip.  If I had read the sign, I would have known this was the trail to Piazza Rock, not Piazza Rock Lean-To.  Well, I've come this far, might as well check it out.  I dropped my pack and poles and started crawling under.  The rock was kinda cool, a giant, slanted stone slab that looked like it was being supported by a pebble.  I had forgotten to grab my camera out of my pack so you'll just have to take my word for it.  I sat and admired it for a minute before heading back.  Not entirely sure it was worth the 45 minutes the whole accidental excursion took, but it happened.  I finally found the shelter, and took a quick break before tackling the Saddlebacks.  I hiked past Ethel Pond, crossed Saddleback stream and began the torturous never ending climb up Saddleback Mountain.  Making my climb more torturous was the liter of whiskey weighing down my pack.  I bought it to surprise Pants with later because I knew he was out, but with how heavy my pack felt, the surprise was going to happen the second I found him.  And it was going to be a 'Surprise, look what I got you! Now you carry it!' kinda surprise. 

View from Saddleback

I passed another group of thru-hikers laying by the side of the trail near the top, then finally got to the top and found Pants chilling next to the summit sign.  He immediately wondered where I had been and I began telling him about my side trip to see a rock as I threw myself on the ground to rest.  I then threw him the bottle of whiskey.  He laughed and agreed to carry the whiskey as long as we drank the PBR's he was carrying.  So we enjoyed a long lunch/linner on Saddleback Mountain, trying not to make eye contact with The Horn and Saddleback Junior, our immediate future looming in front of us.  But it was getting late and we still had the five miles up and over those two mountains before Poplar away we went. 

Sun setting as we climb down Saddleback Junior

By the time we got down to Poplar Ridge Lean-To it was almost dark and we were exhausted.  FM, Meds, White Wolf, Flies and Owf were all there sitting around the fire.  I found a flattish enough spot to throw my tent and joined everyone for a late dinner before heading to bed.  Pants didn't even bother with his tent and just cowboyed on the ground by the fire.  The next morning I got a late start with everyone else as we watched Flies fulfill an agreement/bet he had with FM that is too ridiculous to type.  Some things that happen in the woods should just stay in the woods.  As a group we made it down to Orbeton Stream.  Half of us took off our boots to ford, while those with longer legs were able to rock hop.  It was such a nice day, the cool water actually felt amazing rushing over my feet.  We all sat at the bank for a bit, soaking our feet and watching Meds try out his new hobby, fishing.  He decided to carry a mini fishing pole through all of Maine and tried to fish when he could.  One by one we all trickled over Poplar Ridge and up Lone Mountain.  We all met up for lunch at Spaulding Mountain Lean-To before cresting the NW shoulder of Spaulding Mountain, which was actually a pretty enjoyable climb. 

Meds and Flies fishing in Oberton Stream

Relaxing at Oberton Stream

White Wolf crossing Oberton

We walked along the ridge over to Sugarloaf Mountain, passing a bronze plaque commemorating the completion of the last section of the AT from Georgia-Maine.  The trail wasn't created in one continuous stretch, but was blazed in sections and took over a decade to complete.  If you think hiking it is hard, I can't imagine all the work and cooperation that went into creating it.  Now, as you can tell by the mileage on the plaque, some miles have been added over the years.  Originally around 2,000 miles, to the 2,054 miles in 1987 at the time this plaque was erected, to the 2,184.2 miles I hiked today, the mileage keeps growing.  Though for a number of reasons, many of the added miles over the years are due to trail relocation in an effort to keep/move the AT on public lands.  

After the plaque, I began the insanely steep descent off Sugarloaf Mountain.  I mean this was Moosilauke steep and was going to take me 10 years.  I was hoping to get to Crocker Cirque Campsite that night, but after that descent, and the ford across the south branch of the Carrabassett River at the base, I was content with camping on the north side of the river.  Me, and every other hiker who just came down that mountain.  No one had any interest in hiking farther so we just made the tiny space work.  I had to tent so close to FM I could hear him thinking.  But we had a fun night hanging out by the fire (I say that like we had other options on our social calendars).  Meds came back with a little baggie full of trout and we watched him attempt to cook them over the fire, but not before he accidentally spilled his baggie of fish water in front of my tent.  I yelled at him as the slimy fish water started flowing directly towards my vestibule.  Flies helped me quickly dig a tiny moat to reroute the fish water away from my home.  If you are trying to deter bears from eating you and your belongings, sleeping in a tent covered in fish water is not the best strategy.  While I was evading the enemy I briefly wondered what my girlfriends were doing, not digging fish water moats I suppose.  Oh the paths we choose.....I smiled realizing I was still very happy with mine:)  Maybe not at that moment...  

Owf cooking fish over the fire, she's thrilled

Owf, Meds and Solo 

The next morning we had climbs over South and North Crocker Mountains before we could float into Stratton, the next town to grab some resupply.  Unlike my spry days of the south when I was comfortable carrying five to seven days worth of food at a time, my joints were wearing thin and carrying more than three days hurt my knees and ankle something awful.  That meant going to town more often to resupply.  That would be a problem in the 100 mile wilderness but we weren't there yet so let's not talk about it.  Where I currently was, Stratton was only eight miles away, well eight miles to a road that led to Stratton, then a five mile hitch.  While we were all having breakfast, Flies strolled over casually and wondered what time the post office closed.  He needed to get there to get his food drop (some hikers sent themselves food drops instead of having to rely on the scarce grocery stores and gas stations in the north).  Everyone had that look like his dog had just died and no one wanted to be the one to tell him.

Tell him that it was Saturday morning at 8:45am, that the P.O. was closing at 11am and not open tomorrow which was Sunday, and that unless he wanted to hang out in Stratton for two days he should start running because he had eight miles over two mountains to hike and two hours to do it.  Plus getting a hitch into town.  The only thing Flies had going for him was that his long wavy blond hair made him look like a girl from afar, so hopefully he could get a quick hitch.  The look on his face was one of displeasure as he quickly got up to start his hike/run.  Two seconds later he was back "Which road is it?!"  "The only road you come across man!"  Two more seconds later  "Which way do I hitch?!"  "GO LEFT!"  We all shook our heads, agreeing the kid had no chance, as we finished packing up to start our own hikes.  

Happy I wasn't playing 'beat the post office' that morning, I took my time over South Crocker Mountain.  Also it was steep and hard.  As I paused to keep my heart from exploding I let Meds pass me, muttering something about the ATC being a bunch of sadistic fucks.  At least I wasn't the only one struggling.  North Crocker wasn't as bad, and the descent was nothing short of glorious.  Nice and gradual all the way down to ME 27.  I didn't see anyone else at the road so I assumed they all got hitches into town.  Solo females will get a hitch much faster if they don't have their dirty bearded counterparts standing next to them.  You just have to hope it's not the white Astro van that pulls over.  The first vehicle that passed me pulled over, a nice family in a pickup truck.  There was no room in the truck so I hopped in the bed.  The little boy was very curious about me and tried talking to me through the back window.  I attempted to answer all his questions best I could, though I could hardly hear with the wind gushing past me at 40mph. 

I thanked them as they dropped me in what I guess would be the center of town.  Stratton, ME had a population of 368.  If my cat were on Facebook, it would have more friends than this town had people.  It consisted of a few hiker motels, a diner and a general store.  Oh and of course the post office, which Flies miraculously made it to!  The kid can hike, and I found him sitting at a picnic table with White Wolf, Pants, DS and Gribley.  It seemed DS and Gribley had caved on their 'no showers in Maine' plan, succumbed to Stratton and spent the night.  They were about to head out with Pace and Hungus. FM, Meds, Flies and White Wolf had already gotten their rooms.  I was still unsure if I wanted to spend the money to stay, but after checking the weather, decided I might as well.  The Bigalows were what loomed ahead, they were mostly exposed and a storm was coming in that night.  Pace, Hungus, Gribley, DS, Roller, Sunkist and Towelie didn't want to pay for another night so they were just gonna try and shoot for the first shelter before the storm.  By the time I got my town chores done it would probably be raining, so I just agreed to split a room with Pants.  

We said goodbye to our friends, resigning ourselves to the fact that we would still be a day behind them, and headed over to the Stratton Diner for some grub.  I spent the rest of the night laying in bed and watching a movie.  Meds popped by to see if I wanted to grab a drink, but I was honestly more content in my shitty motel bed.  I could tell I was getting exhausted because every time I got to town I was too tired to do anything.  And not just exhausted from that days hike, but from the entire journey.  My body was ready to be in a permanent state of rest.  But my body still had 188 miles to hike.  The hard part was, though my body was putting in it's two week notice, my mind was nowhere ready for this journey to be over.  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Mad Whittler Bunny Club (Sept 2nd - 5th)

"You will find something more in the woods than in books.  Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters."

~Saint Bernard

Leaving Andover we had a fairly easy hike ahead.  We began the gentle climb past Surplus Pond and up Wyman Mountain.  We ran into Daystar and Gribley a few miles out of town by the pond.  They were getting a late start that morning and had just finished breaking down camp.  The five of us got hiking, finishing the climb up Wyman, stopping at Hall Mountain Lean-To for lunch, then making our descent down to Sawyer Notch.  The notch had a gorgeous brook with some nice camping spots and I was half tempted to spend my afternoon there.  But 2pm seemed a bit early to quit hiking and I wanted to get the climb over Moody Mountain out of the way.  Cheesetowel, who had actually already done this section since they hitched into Andover from South Arm Rd, warned us this climb was a bitch.  And a bitch she was.  Moody Mountain was definitely on it's period, she was mean and messy.  The climb was only a mile, but it was very steep and there was debris everywhere.  It was hard to locate the trail and often times I wasn't entirely sure I was on it. 

I found Pants and Gribley resting at a viewpoint that I was sure near the top, but they so kindly pointed out we hadn't even gone half a mile.  Not only was I not near the top, I was not even halfway near the top.  I sighed as I got up to continue the steep obstacle course that was this mountain.  Like most moody bitches, the best way to approach is slowly and carefully.  I finally reached the top, paused at the view, then began the descent to South Arm Rd.  At the road I found Pants, White Wolf, Daystar and Gribley taking a break.  Black Brook ran south of the road and numerous flat camping spots dotted it's bank.  White Wolf had already set up his tent by the brook, it was already 5pm and he had no desire to start the climb over Old Blue Mountain.  I concurred and went to claim my spot, and came back to everyone else reviewing their options.  Gribley and DS made the decision to keep moving just as Cheesetowel arrived.  They had woken up, finished their usual late afternoon lurk around town, and gotten a ride back to the trail.  Being they had yet to do any hiking that day, they decided to join Gribley and DS over Old Blue (I have a hard time not picturing Will Ferrell crying over "Dust in the Wind" every time I type that).  Just as the four of them were saddling up, six more hikers, Yukon and co., piled out of another car to start the climb up Old Blue.  Pants, agreeing that was gonna be one crowded mountain, followed White Wolf and I back to the brook.  

View from Old Blue

The next morning the three of us took off separately to start the climb over Old Blue.  She was long and painful, but we were rewarded with a great view at the top.  Then AWOL (our guidebook) decided to make things interesting by completely fucking up the mileage and just making things up.  Based on the detailed accuracy of our book for the south, and the total bullshit our book contains for the north, I was beginning to wonder if AWOL ever stepped foot in the upper states or if he was too exhausted by the time he got up there and just decided "Yeah, there's probably some mountains, let's throw a random stream here that may or may not actually be there, and that's probably about 10ish miles."  At this moment my book and profiles were providing me no information on where I might be, so I decided to sit down on a rock and eat some pop tarts.  

Longstride and Silvergirl arrived as I was lounging in the sun.  They looked concerned, and asked me if I knew where we were, they felt like they should have arrived at Bemis Shelter by now.  Well according to the book we should have, and no I had no clue where we were.  It occurred to me that at that moment, if someone were to put both a calendar and a map in front of me and asked me to point out what day it was and where I was, I could confidently do neither.  I was alarmingly OK with this truth as I got up to continue hiking.  I knew what direction I needed to go and that was good enough for me.  I made my way over what I was hoping was Bemis Mountain (cuz that meant the shelter should be at the base) but not without falling twice.  Annoyed, I was dangerously close to enacting Pace's 'third time' rule.  Third time I fall, that's where I camp.  

Exhausted and a bit crabby, I finally arrived at Bemis Mountain Lean-To around 3pm.  I walked past a bunch of tent sites which were empty save for two exhausted looking SoBos.  It was a bit early in their hike to be looking so defeated.  I smiled sympathetically at them as I headed toward the shelter.  Pants was there, apparently DS and Gribley had just left, hoping to go another 13 miles.  DS was down to her last pop tart so they were shooting for Rangeley tomorrow, while I was shooting for my sleeping bag and tent.  Pants and I decided that Bemis looked like a lovely home for the night (even though it was afternoon).  I set up shop and settled in with my book.  We saw no sign of White Wolf, so we assumed he passed the shelter without stopping in.  I was sleeping by 7:30, getting some much needed rest since I slept like shit the night before.  

View of Moxie Pond

We woke up the next morning ready for a 15 mile day to Little Swift River Pond.  The morning hike down Bemis was gradual, past Moxie Pond and down to Sabbath Day Pond Lean-To for lunch.  The pond was gorgeous, with a sandy beach in front that would have made excellent swimming.  Sadly, as we entered fall, it seemed our swimming days were over.  The trail in the afternoon was as gentle as the morning.  We arrived at Little Swift River Pond much sooner than anticipated.  It seemed that AWOL had misplaced some miles.  We debated just continuing on to Rangeley since it was early, until we found the unchained canoes by the pond.  It looked like rain, but we decided to take our chances.  We spent an hour paddling around the pond before the rain broke through.  Luckily we had set up our tents before so we just had to quickly paddle back in the light sprinkle and dive into our shelters.  I ventured out once to get some water at the pond outlet, where I was greeted by a very obnoxious red squirrel.  It is safe to say most hikers were getting pretty fed up with the red squirrels.  Red squirrels are small, cute and evil.  They are very territorial, so they make this hissing clicking noise every time we walk by.  They were fearless, would run right up to you, and even throw things at you, as this one was now doing as I tried to gather water.  Even though we were bigger, they out numbered us and were slowly stealing our sanity.  I cursed the asshole squirrel and dodged his acorns as I sprinted through the rain back to my tent. 

Little Swift River Pond

The rain never let up and turned into a ridiculous down pour.  We both woke up in a dirt filled water bed.  Shoving our soaking wet gear in our soaking wet packs, we started our five mile hike to Rangeley.  We passed Chandler Mill Stream and South Pond before arriving at ME 4.  We needed to get into Rangeley, nine miles west from here, to resupply.  At the road was a sign for a hostel called "The Hiker Hut," which was only .3 down the road.  We weren't sure if we wanted to stay in Rangeley that night, but they offered rides into town so we made our way down the road.  Below the sign for the hostel was a note that read: "Tater Tot, your dad left the Hiker Hut this morning to tackle the Saddlebacks and he says hurry your arse up."  Nice dad.  Realizing this note was actually from two days ago, my arse had a lot of hurrying to do.  But first it had some eating to do.  We approached the Hiker Hut, which was just that, a hut.  A nice woman came out one of the small buildings and showed us around.  We chatted for a bit, I guess they had been expecting me since my dad left.  Unfortunately they were full - FM, Meds, White Wolf, Owf, Flies and Solo all stayed here last night, and had such a great time they were staying another.  FM had taken their truck into town, so it looks like we were hitching.  We were picked up by an elderly gentleman and his son, and during the ride the old man asked me to hold out my hand.  I slowly and apprehensively did as he asked, and he proceeded to place a very tiny wooden bunny into my hands.  Just as I was beginning to wonder how much farther until town and how long I would have to be in this man's car, he handed me his 'business card.'

I paused as I was trying to decide if this was creepy or adorable.  I landed on both.  Say what you want about hitching, but it's a great way to meet a lot of interesting people.  We got dropped off in the center of Rangeley, only slightly larger than Andover.  We found everyone eating in the Red Onion, so we dropped our packs outside and headed in, ready to feast.  We were surprised to see Peach and Overdrive inside as well.  I guess Peach had gotten sick and they had been in town for a few days, but were heading back to the trail today.  We sadly had to let everyone else know we couldn't stay at the Hiker Hut cuz they were full:(  We took Peach and Overdrive's recommendation and headed towards the Saddleback Inn up the road.  

After we checked in we decided, in an effort to be efficient, we would split up the chores.  He took off with our laundry while I hiked up the road to the grocery store to grab resupply.  After we did this we agreed we would never do that again.  I was left with improperly dried clothes and he was left with a bunch of food that he apparently didn't want to eat.  You win some you loose some.  But we both won when we discovered the NCIS marathon on USA.  Though I was bummed we weren't at the Hiker Hut with our friends, I also knew it was going to be a mini trail days out there and I was actually looking forward to a little rest after our rainy night.  Southern Maine wasn't easing up on us yet, we had the Saddlebacks and Bigalows to look forward too.  But for the moment, I was just happy that we had caught up to some of our friends.  And that NCIS was on, that too.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

Everybody Shits and Everybody Eats Sandwiches (Aug 31st - Sept 2nd)

"The mountains are calling and I must go."

~John Muir

I had been reading a lot of John Muir at this point in my trip in case you couldn't tell.  The morning after Mahoosuc Notch, the mountains were calling, a lot of them.  And they were all saying "you must climb me if you want food."  Our supply was dangerously low, and we needed to get within striking distance of Andover tonight or risk running out of food. We weren't in danger of dying obviously, but we were about to be really hungry and crabby. That meant climbs up Mahoosuc Arm (the notch's running mate), over Old Speck and up and over the Baldplates.  We woke up and began the mile and a half hike up the arm, which turns out was a large, steep stone slab.  If I were a SoBo I would just bumslide the whole thing it was so stupidly smooth and slick.  Pants and I took a brief break at the top to regain our sanity, but it wasn't too long before the wind chased us away.

Pre-storm Baldplate
We hiked down to Speck Pond Shelter and found Flies and White Wolf, and decided to join them for lunch.  Speck Pond has an overnight fee and a caretaker, but it also posts weather reports that the caretaker gets.  Looked like today was going to be unfortunate.  We would have the pleasure of experiencing 80 mph (hurricane force) winds on the summits and a late afternoon lightning storm, just in time for my hike over the Baldplates (which are, you guessed it, bald).  Due to our food situation, the option of waiting out the weather was not there.  So, let's go get blown off a mountain.  I was a bit worried for the jacketless Flies, but the kid has some serious balls so I figured he would be fine.

We all headed up Old Speck as quickly as possible, the wind and rain starting to get ever more pissy as we made our quick descent into Grafton Notch.  Flies got there first and we learned from two SoBos that he had gotten lucky and snagged a ride into Andover from some day hikers trying to get off the mountain.  Not wanting to do the Baldplates in his current attire, he was apparently hoping to acquire a jacket.  The three of us stood talking to the SoBos for a bit, none of us looking forward to the prospective mountains we had to climb on either side of the notch.  Eventually we went our separate ways, dreading whatever the weather gods had in store for us.  

I was wet, cold and hungry and not very invested in this experience at the moment.  Pants and I started up towards Baldpate West Peak, keeping an eye out for a nice spot to stop and eat.  We didn't have much to eat, so I decided to hike until I couldn't take it anymore - I wasn't dizzy or felt like passing out yet so I could probably go another few miles, and as I write this I realize how insane and unhealthy that sounds.  But what we are doing by it's very nature is insane and unhealthy.  We had to push ourselves or we wouldn't have gotten here.  Though this was the first time I had been this dangerously low on food.  Pants and I took a quick break against a log to eat our meager rations.  I began scooping out the last of my Nutella when I realized that if I ate this I wouldn't have much for dinner.  I pathetically scrapped the Nutella off my spork and back into its jar.  Pants watched me with a sympathetic look...."That was really sad" he said.  "I know, let's just get this over with" I replied as we got up and finished our climb up the west peak.  

The weather was getting worse, and I still had three miles until Frye Notch lean-to (shelters are called Lean-To's in Maine, don't know why).  As I made my way over the rocky bald (which would have been really cool had it not been storming) I encountered a large group of college kids out for their weekend orientation trip.  I took some pictures for them, but when the lightning started to crack, I told them that was my cue, and advised they follow suit.  Instead I saw their group leader showing them proper crouching techniques.  Dude, how about you show them how not to get struck by lightning on a mountain by getting the fuck off the mountain.  We were completely exposed on the rocky summit, and treeline wasn't for another half mile.  Now was not the time for demonstrations.  I sprinted my way across the bald, trying not to fall on the slippery rocks.  I wiped out the second I got below treeline, but quickly recovered and made it to the shelter around 6:30pm.  The college kids didn't arrive for two more hours, they clearly haven't played 'outrun the lightning' as much as I have. But not to worry, the shelter was completely overrun with yet another group of college orientation kids.  What are they doing out here? What college is this? Shouldn't they be getting a tour of their campus?  I stood in the pouring rain and looked into the shelter and saw Gribley and DS shoved into a corner trying to cook dinner.  Screw it, I was already soaked, I'll just set my tent up in the rain.  White Wolf already had his set up in front of the shelter and Pants was struggling with his next to it.  I moved to the other side of the shelter and got everything up as quick as I could, got water, then crawled in, intending not to leave again. 

I put my headphones on hoping it would help me ignore my stomach, when I heard what sounded like a baby crying.  Around 8pm a soaking wet family, with a baby, arrived, having hiked up from the north. It was only a four and a half mile hike from the road, and not nearly as gnarly as what I just did, but it was still very tough, and in my opinion no place for a small child.  If you want to go camping with your family and you have very small children, why would you pick the most rugged section of Maine? I really respect their desire to go beyond car camping, it's something I urge people to do often, but you must research the area of wilderness you are entering to make sure it is something you are capable of.  I guess Gribley talked to them while they were setting up their tent, and they had no idea how tough that hike would be.  My heart went out to them the way it did to UT back in NY.  So many people, who have probably hiked before even, come out to the AT thinking they'll experience a nice hike through the woods.  As far as hiking trails go, the AT in NH and Maine is one of the most rugged, and it definitely kicks the ass of those not expecting it.  Hell, it kicks everyone's ass.  I eventually tuned out the noise and went to sleep.  A quite night in the woods, just me, 60 college kids and a family of 7.  I got up pretty early and left before everyone else, though they weren't far behind.  I'm not sure how it happened, but we were all out of food and were ready to pound out the fairly easy descent down to Dunn Notch and Falls.

Though yesterday was less than awesome, I awoke to a truly splendid morning.  I could tell I was the first one on the trail due to all the spiderwebs I had to walk through.  In the evening the spiders make webs across the trail.  Bugs use the trail as a highway and the spiders know this.  If you are hiking in the very early morning, you have the unfortunate duty to break through all the webs for the hikers behind you.  I usually make a habit of not being the first one to leave camp for this reason.  But there are benefits to hiking in the wee hours of the morning.  There is nothing more magnificent than watching the sun come up through the trees.  Watching the sunrise on a mountain is also phenomenal, but I prefer to view it through the forest.  The rays filter in and dance off the rocks, leaves and moss.  It highlights and lowlights.  It's like looking at something that's already wonderful and watching it get sprinkled with magic.  I paused to watch the light and appreciate the stillness of the forest.  These are the moments I  will miss.  I was wet, cold and starved yet I had no desire to move.  I let everyone catch up and pass me, and it wasn't until my stomach let out some horrible howl that I quickened my pace and caught up with everyone at the falls.

Don't fall down the waterfall
We had fun rock hopping above the falls, being careful not to fall into a watery death, and continued the remaining mile to the road.  We passed by a perfect swimming hole as we walked along the brook and I contemplated getting in.  Then I remembered it was cold out, and I was hungry.  But DS and Gribley, who at the time were challenging themselves to not pay for lodging or showers in Maine, were willing to dare a dip in the frigid water.  They weren't planning on staying in Andover, and wouldn't be getting a shower.  I decided my hunger could wait a bit longer so I could be entertained by the panic attacks they were sure to have when they stepped into their ice bath.  Needless to say they weren't in there long, and all our laughing and yelling were responded with a loud "Coooooweeeee" from the road.  

Out of nowhere, appeared Hungus above the pool.  He and Pace had stayed in Andover the night before and had just got dropped back off at the trailhead.  Not realizing we were so close to the road, I abandoned Gribley and DS, hoping to get a quick hitch into town.  I was presented with a very small, albeit paved, road that looked like it saw about eight cars a day.  We said goodbye to Pace and Hungus as they headed north into the woods just as White Wolf arrived.  The five of us waited for 45 minutes just for a car to pass, and of course it ignored us.  We were going to starve to death trying to hitch here.  The vultures were circling.  We tried to pass the time by playing Ninja, walking in circles and eventually succumbed to just laying on the road.  We stirred when we heard a truck approaching from the east, which was unfortunate as were were tyring to go east.  But who else was in the back of that truck but Flies, his Hawaiian shirt and blonde hair flowing in the wind.  He had gotten a ride out of town with Owf and was just going to skip the ten miles from Grafton Notch.  Their ride agreed to take us into town and we all piled in the back.  It was a windy eight mile drive before we were dropped off at the Andover General Store, the only store in Andover, ME, pop. 864.

We all made our way to the diner in the back and ate an obscene amount of food.  We found Cheesetowel doing what they do best, lurking outside the store.  After the feast we all looked around the store, grabbing our resupply.  I made sure to get more than enough food to get me to Rangeley, our next stop.  I never want to be that low on food again.  That was a type of hunger I've never experienced before.  It was beyond the "stomach growling I feel faint I'm starved" type of hunger.  It was pain.  Have you ever been woken in the night by the pain of your stomach eating itself?  Well it sucks.  We were all crabby and irritable from lack of food, and we all agreed we would never go light on food again, though the pickins' at the Andover General store were slim and pricey.  I spent like $70 on pop tarts.  

Afterwards we scouted out the few hostels in town and opted to take Hungus's advice and stay at The Cabin.  The Cabin was about three miles out of Andover, so we called for a ride just as Trail Momma appeared.  We were chatting with her as our ride pulled up - a dear sweet old man who had apparently just had a stroke and was using a walker, well half using a walker as he also had a broken arm.  We loaded our packs as the old man struggled with the keys.  Yeah....this seems safe.  As we were all piling in, Trail Momma offered to take me to the library, then to The Cabin, as she was staying there also.  I took one last look at our driver attempting to get in the car and decided the library sounded wonderful.  I hopped into Trail Momma's car as the boys apprehensively got in Bear's vehicle,  watching Towelie put the key in the ignition for him.  I said goodbye to DS and Gribley, and got in the car that had less probability of death.  Trail Momma and I spent about an hour at the library before my computer time was up (you see how it was difficult to keep my blog updated getting about an hour of computer time a week).  The Andover Library was a charming building, apparently used to be a church, and was in the shape of a small octagon.  

On the way to The Cabin we picked up an old British guy, a SoBo who was also staying at The Cabin, which turned out to be wonderful.  It was the home of Honey and Bear, the sweetest old couple I have ever met.  One day, years ago, they picked up a hiker trying to hitch into town, and just ended up bringing him home with them.  And they've been doing it ever since.  They've added on to their house, and the entire basement was now a hostel for hikers.  The house is filled with gifts and artwork sent by previous thru-hikers who had stayed there.  They also had several campers and a large tee pee in the yard hikers could stay in as well.  Everything was full but the bunkroom, so Cheesetowel, White Wolf, Pants and I were given beds in there.  Trail Momma and SOS were in the only private room upstairs.  We all went about showering, drying out all our gear and making our way through the case of beer we purchased in town.  

Breakfast at The Cabin
After we ran out of beer, Pants went to ask for a ride to town, and instead struck a deal that if he would grill all the chicken for dinner that night, he could take the car himself.  So, we had more beer and excellently grilled chicken courtesy of Pants on Fire. We had a nice relaxing evening playing Jenga, watching movies and being entertained by a brief but hilarious fight between Towelie and Cheesewater on whether we should crash a wedding that may or may not be a mile down the road.  Several other interesting topics were discussed over our Bud Lights, and I will refrain from mentioning them here.  Just know the most enlightening piece of information I took away from that evening was "Well all I know is that everybody shits, and everybody eats sandwiches."  Cheesetowel how I will miss you.  The next morning we woke up with hints of headaches, and groggily made our way up to breakfast.  It was raining, and over our pancakes and coffee we pleaded with the weather gods to put the rain away.  They did not, and White Wolf, Pants and I begrudgingly got into the car, rain jackets on.  Cheesewater and Towelie were still sleeping off the stimulating conversation from the night before.  Honey and Bear's son drove us back to the trail, and just as we were getting out, the rain stopped.  The weather gods had listened to us!  I wished they would do that more often as we headed back into the woods.