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!


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