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. 


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