Sunday, November 4, 2012

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

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

~Vladmir Nabakov

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

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

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

North Pond

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

Little Wilson Falls

FM on the falls

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

Before spring came in Georgia

Brief fling with winter, thank you Tennessee

Green tunnel of Virginia

Colors fading away in Maine

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

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

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


There's a trail there somewhere

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

Meds fording Pleasant River

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

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