Thursday, October 11, 2012

Falling into Maine (Aug 28th - 30th)

"The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark."

~ John Muir

The first few miles out of Gorham were pretty gradual until we started the climb up Mt. Hayes.  Due to all our separate hitches out of town, we got pretty spread out and I hiked most of the day alone.  Just as I was greeting the rocky exposed top of Mt. Hayes, a rainstorm decided to greet me. You would wait until I had no tree cover you evil wench rain cloud. Luckily it was a quick storm that blew over as I made my way across the summit.  As I stood up there I had to pause to watch the clouds whirl around me. The rain had passed and I stood amazed at how quickly the clouds were moving.  I was going to be sad when I was no longer close to the clouds and didn't have time or need to watch their movements.

I relocated my gaze to the ground and saw piles of crap everywhere.  MOOSE!!!  I was in moose country now, and there was a moose around here somewhere.  I hoped I would find him as I made my way down the trail.  I came down Mt. Hayes and decided to get the climb up Cascade Mountain out of the way before taking a break at a view.  The sun was out now and I tried to dry out some of my gear that had gotten wet when I participated in the mini rainstorm.  I chatted with a group of hikers I hadn't met before,  six guys that had been behind me most of the way, but were now hoping to cruise through Maine and wouldn't see much of after.  Southern Maine is said to be the hardest part of the AT, so I had no plans to "cruise" through it.  It was basically the Whites continued, expect we had just worn ourselves out with the Whites.  

Flies and Pants playing Scrabble
No one really had a plan as to where we were headed that night. I arrived at Trident Col Campsite around 4pm just as the sky was darkening again.  I was pretty over hiking in the rain so I headed in.  It was super crowded, and not with thru-hikers.  It seemed weekend warriors were out by the hundreds.  I found the last open tentsite in the way back and decided to claim it.  My dad, Cheesetowel, Roller and Sunkist, Meds and FM (who had caught up) all made it to the shelter four miles ahead, which  was apparently just as crowded.  White Wolf, DS and Gribley went past Trident hoping to find stealthing at the lake up the trial, while Pants and Flies decided they would try and squeeze their tents next to mine.  The three of us settled in for the night, playing a very intense game of Scrabble. Flies was carrying a full Scrabble board. His other gear choices included two Hawaiian shirts and a Mario blanket. No jacket.  I worried a bit for his well-being as we were entering fall, in the mountains of Maine, and it was about to get cold.  Perhaps the Mario blanket wasn't the best choice....but at the moment I was more concerned with trying to beat them at Scrabble, keeping an eye on the dark clouds above us at the same time, though it never did rain again.

Bog Board of Death
The next morning I was the last to leave, which seemed to be becoming a regular occurrence.  As it got colder out, it was becoming increasingly harder to get out of my tent.  My tent was tiny and cozy, like being in a warm little bottle.  I finally got going, traveling past Page Pond, over Wocket Ledge and around Dream Lake (very dreamy yes). When I got to Gentian Pond Shelter I decided to have an early lunch.  I had the place to myself and the shelter had a nice view over the pond.  I browsed the register and learned that everyone saw a cow and calf in the pond last night!  Dammit, that was my moose! I packed my crap and made my way out of the shelter, ready to head out of NH.  I was five miles from the Maine border, certainly there would be moose over there.  Out of the shelter I was immediately presented with a pud, and was then allowed to climb over Mt. Success.  I caught up with Gribley, DS, and Pants who were resting at a view.  DS immediately showed me a hilarious picture of Gribley face planting into a bog board.  The bog boards, though well intentioned, are really just wooden planks of doom.  Boobie traps. They are rotted, slick, crooked and sometimes don't even support your weight.  So thanks, MATC, for littering the trail with them all through Maine.  Like we didn't have enough to worry about, you threw in your man-made bridges of death.  After getting a good laugh, the four of us successfully finished climbing Mt. Success.  We didn't stay long, as it was a very windy success, and we were too excited to head down the mountain and into MAINE!!!

New Hampshire wasn't giving up without a fight.  Pace had texted me that NH had tried to kill her and Hungus on their way out, and I now understood.  Coming off Mt. Success was slick and rocky, and my dismount was less than successful.  At one point we encountered a 20ft slick, smooth rock face we were suppose to get down somehow.  Gribley went first, and to the far right he found a mossy, rooty part of the rock we could use to gently step down, rather than the rock slide that was the center.  DS followed Gribley and I followed her.  Literally my first step onto the rock my feet flew out from underneath me and I started sliding down the rock.  I quickly grabbed onto a tiny wee tree growing up out of the rock to avoid sliding into, and subsequently taking out, DS.  And then, there I hung. 

I love you Maine
After that snafu, there was no way I was making it over to the right to slowly and carefully make my way off the rock, the way DS was now.  The only option left to me was to let go and slide the remaining 15ft down the rock.  The only problem was DS was still baby stepping her way down.  Not particularly enjoying dangling from the tree, I politely encouraged her to kindly hurry the fuck up.  While she yelled at everyone to quit rushing her, Gribley stood at the bottom laughing and capturing the entire disaster on camera while Pants stood above us watching it all unfold.  She finally hit the bottom and I immediately let my tired arm go and quickly slid to the bottom of the rock, praying I wouldn't hurt myself along the way.  I arrived safely, and ultimately decided I did not fall, I simply found a more efficient way to get down the mountain.  Either way, it didn't matter because we were only a few steps from Maine!

Grbley giving Maine love
We hit the border and were greeted by a somewhat shitfaced White Wolf and Flies.  Everyone else had moved on, but those two decided to wait for us, and kill a bottle of Jameson to pass the time. The four of us immediately joined the party, ready to celebrate our Maine arrival.  We spent I'm not sure how much time at the sign, taking pictures, frightening approaching hikers by warmly and loudly welcoming them to Maine (or NH) and participating in general debauchery.  Eventually we decided it was time to try and go somewhere (i.e. we ran out of wine and whiskey). We ambitiously set our sights on Carlo Col Shelter, a mere half mile away.  Disclaimer:  I do not endorse drunk hiking.  Like most physical activities, hiking is more difficult drunk.  But it didn't matter to us because we were hiking in Maine!  

DS in Maine!
Turns out Maine is a buzzkill.  Think back to the last time you were pretty drunk (if you can remember) and recall how successfully you were able to walk around.  Now throw in roots and rocks and a vertical boulder field to climb down.  But like the hiking rockstars we are, we arrived at the shelter safe and sound.  And sober.  Carlo Col Shelter was a bit far off the trail, so there weren't a lot of other people there.  We all made dinner and eventually drifted off to bed, ready to tackle Mahoosuc Notch the next day.  The following morning we all made our way out of Carlo Col Shelter and up and over Goose Eye west, east and north peak.  The peaks were exposed, windy and cold and we all tried to hurry over them.  I got a bit slowed down on the descent, the MATC again tried to be helpful by putting boards over the steeper parts.  They apparently hoped to incorporate a tight-rope aspect to our hike, as these boards were literally the width of my foot.  I'd rather just deal with the rocks thanks.  From where I stood on the exposed north side of the mountain, I could see down to the rest of the crew below me.

At the border!
Now there have been a lot of epic and hilarious falls throughout this trip.  We all wish there was some way we could get a video montage of hikers falling down the AT.  With our joints getting weaker and the trail getting rockier, it is safe to say we all fell a lot.  But Gribley's bog board face plant and my tree dangling gymnastics had nothing on the 'Dances with Flies mud pit fiasco.'  From where I stood I watched Flies stand on a bog board at the bottom of the mountain, and write his name in the mud next to him.  He liked to write his name in mud.  He then got it in his head that he should top off the work of art with his footprints.  Confident that the mud was just a 'top layer' and not very deep, he decided to jump, pack on, into the mud to leave two perfect footprints.  The mud was not a 'top layer' but a pit.  He jumped into a pit of mud.  He immediately started calling for help as he sunk deeper into the muddy mess.  The more he struggled the deeper he went.  I watched everyone else run back to him, but before helping him out they all got their priorities straight and took an abundance of photos first.  He was eventually pulled out of the mud and unhappily hiked the remaining mile to Full Goose Shelter as a mudman.

By the time I arrived he had cleaned most of the mud off but was left with wet boots and socks.  Flies learned that day not to jump into pits of mud if you don't want to be covered in mud.  We all had lunch and then began hiking towards Mahoosuc Notch.  We had a quick climb over Fulling Mill Mountain and then headed down to the notch.  Mahoosuc Notch is considered the most difficult, or, most fun mile on the entire AT.  The notch is a mile long gap filled with car and house sized boulders that must be climbed over, under or around.  There are several parts that require pack removal in order to squeeze through or under boulders.  Though there are some blazes, the MATC took a 'you figure it out' approach, leaving it up to us to decipher how to traverse the mile.  I personally was quite excited for this section.  Pants and I happily dove in.  The first couple of minutes we were wondering what all the fuss was about.  It wasn't long before we found out.  The trail disappeared and a sea of giant misshapen boulders lay in front of us.

We didn't get very far int the notch before we ran into Gribley, White Wolf and Flies, who had their packs off and were climbing down into a small hole.  The pile up of boulders over the years has resulted in a series of caves underneath the notch.  Flies was ready to explore and we were ready to follow. After the first cave, Gribley and DS took off to make their way through the notch, hoping to make it up the Arm yet that night.  Pants, White Wolf, Flies and I remained in the notch exploring cave after cave.  It did occur to me at one point that I was following a 19 year old wearing a Hawaiian shirt down very small holes with I don't even know how many tons of rock perched precariously above me. Alas, Flies never lead me astray and should really consider a career as a cave captain, though there were some holes I was unwilling to crawl in for fear of severe claustrophobia setting in.  

After a number of hours goofing off in the notch, we were finally ready to get out of it.  Problem was we had spent more time below the notch than on it.We still had most of the notch to actually hike, which can take up to two hours on it's own.  And we had no water.  Brilliant.  As we slowly made our way through the boulders I got it in my head that I was going to make it through the rest of the notch without having to remove my pack.  Why? Well....I'm not sure.  I guess when you dedicate six months of your life to the accomplishment of one thing, have removed all other distractions, literally everything you do from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed is focused on the attainment of one singular goal, well, sometimes that can feel overwhelming.  We've all worked towards goals, everyday we do.  Lose ten pounds, buy a house, get a new job etc...but the difference is, while working towards those goals, our lives are filled with other things as well.  Dotted with smaller goals I suppose, like mowing the lawn and cleaning the kitchen. 

When you set the goal of losing weight for example, you don't drop everything else in your life to accomplish it (well I didn't anyways).  But when we left to hike the AT that is exactly what we have done.  We have completely abandoned everyone and everything in our lives to devote ourselves physically and mentally to the accomplishment of one thing.  Get to Mt. Katahdin.  Six months of my life focused on achieving one thing.  At times Katahdin seemed so far away.  Even where I stood, 275 miles from her summit, she still seemed a figment of my imagination.  In addition, there is not a lot of variety in what we do.  There is a plethora of variety in what we experience, 14 states, three seasons, varying terrain and people, but what we do, that is unchanging.  We hike. Every day, all day, we hike.  Never mind drastically changing your life in order to achieve one thing, but if the only road to that goal was to focus on doing the same thing everyday - get up and hike,  that's all I ever had to do - could you remain focused? Or would you lose yourself in the exhaustive monotony?  Many do, and they are not in Maine.  

I guess I don't expect everyone at home to understand what that feels like, but understand that at times in order for us to deal with this monumental task we have set for ourselves, to reduce it at times to something we can comprehend, we need to dot our lives with smaller goals, so to speak. Something other than "I'm going to hike to here today."  For example, White Wolf decided that he was going to ford all the rivers without getting his feet wet or having to take off his shoes (he would soon learn that trying to accomplish that goal in Maine would be like us trying to hike to a mountain on the moon).  And today I decided that I would traverse the notch without having to take my pack off.

Pants went pack off
This too, proved to be difficult.  I awkwardly squeezed myself through several cracks until I arrived at a point where it appeared the intended route was to belly crawl over rocks under a boulder.  Hmmmm.....I left the pack on and went for it.  It wasn't long before my pack was stuck by the boulder above me, and I couldn't move.  I also couldn't unclip the pack as it was pushing me down into my rocky grave.  Of all the various ways I could perish on this trip, I was going to go with 'suffication by backpack.'  A death that was completely avoidable by the simple advance removal of said pack.  I never said that the smaller goals we set for ourselves aided us in achieving our larger goal of getting to Katahdin.   As I convinced myself not to panic, I wiggled and wormed my way free.  I eventually succeeded in crawling towards the hole above me that was my exit.  Now there really was no where to put your feet, so to exit out of the hole you basically had to pull yourself up with only your arms.  For the smart people, the ones who removed their packs, they could simply shove their packs through the hole, then packless, there was plently of space to lift themselves out.  Now I, with my bulky pack on, had to exit the hole backwards, fitting my pack (on my back) through the hole first, then using all my arm strength (which after walking across the country was zilch) dead lift myself and pack out of the hole.  Success!  It's the small victories.  

Satisfied with myself, but thoroughly exhausted, I was ready to be done with "the most fun mile of the AT."  We caught up with White Wolf and Dances with Flies and found a flat spot near Bull Branch just after the notch.  White Wolf, Pants and Flies played Scrabble while I opted to lay in my tent and drink hot toddies and recover.  The 'pack on' Mahoosuc Notch Challenge proved to be more exhausting than anticipated.  I promised myself to find other ways to entertain myself while hiking and tried to rest up for the long day tomorrow.  Though I will confirm that the notch was extremely fun, just take your pack off before crawling into holes.  Good advice in general I suppose.  

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