In case anyone is interested, due to peer pressure, we’ve started a new blog about life in London. I’ve posted a couple of times and it’s been fun to read the comments and hear about other people’s experiences, mostly more-than-a-few-years ago! I probably won’t post that often since I’m pretty sure (hoping?) life will settle down and be quite boring, but we’ll see. Here is the link:
Things that surprised us (really, in no particular order and not attributed to any particular person):
We didn’t play board games. Our family loves board games and never passes up a chance to play. We had some really wild games of Pictionary just before we left Maine and when Melinda, Elias, Amanda, Jean and Meredith were up for the funeral. But we were too tired to play when we spent time at night in the RV. All we could manage was to watch an episode of Hogan’s Heroes (which we brought with us on DVD.) We were really tired!
The proliferation of Confederate flags. We had really never had any exposure to this culture and we don’t pretend to have any insights or understanding after our limited experience but it is clear that the culture and values of the metro-New York area are not ubiquitous across our country.
The demographics of thru-hikers. There were several prevalent cohorts. (1) Ex-military guys, mostly retired enlisted men after 20+ years of service, some with PTSD. (2) “Older” retired guys. (3) Recent college grads, or even some taking time off while in college. (4) Guys and gals in their late 20’s who had been working for a few years and gotten quite disillusioned with their jobs and wanted to make a change. We were also surprised that there were very few females, especially among the NoBos (there were more Flip-Flop females), and very few people with college degrees.
The “bubble” effects. We started on February 16 to get in front of the large bolus of hikers that start in early March (March 1 is a big start day) and early April (same for April 1). This large bolus, or “bubble”, makes the trail a bit crowded, and the shelters are overflowing with way too many hikers. So if there’s bad weather, there’s a race to the shelters and even competition for the few tentable spaces near the shelters. Getting out in front of the NoBo bubble worked well for the first half of the hike. Even the dozen or so thru-hikers who started the same day we did, and those just before and just after us, spread out pretty quickly based on different hiking rates and distances per day. But then we hit three other bubbles along the way. (1) We passed through the psychological half-way point, Harpers Ferry, the first week in May. Guess what? that is a very popular time for Flip-Floppers to start. And they start at Harpers Ferry. Who knew? So we ran into this bubble in Maryland and southern Pennsylvania. Fortunately, they didn’t have their trail legs yet, so we successfully hiked through this bubble after a week or two. (2) Then in southern Vermont we hit the Long Trail bubble. Did you know that the Long Trail goes the whole length of the state of Vermont — from the southern (Massachusetts) border to the northern (Canada) border? It’s about 275 miles long and “a thing” to hike. And for the first 100 miles or so of the Long Trail, the AT overlaps it – they are coincident. Then, after Mt Killington, the AT takes a hard right turn (east) to head over to Hanover, New Hampshire. So guess what? early June is a very popular time for hikers to start on the Long Trail because school is over and the snow has melted up north. And guess when we hit southern Vermont? early June! Fortunately, it only took a week for us to make it to the point where the LT and the AT separate. We had tons of rain that week, which made for a relatively unpleasant experience in “VerMud”. And then right after we shook the Long Trail bubble, we hit the SoBo bubble in the Whites of New Hampshire and in southern Maine. The SoBos start from Katahdin in early to mid June, and since it takes a few weeks to get trail legs, we ran into them in late June and early July.
We are very glad we started early because we think the hikers we started with were more serious about hiking than some of the NoBo and Flip Flop bubbles who were more interested in socializing (which is ok…just not our thing. HYOH! (Hike Your Own Hike.)) Sometimes we even got a little discouraged because some in our cohort were really focused and speedy hikers, and they finished weeks before us, partly because they didn’t have the same level of injuries. But there were plenty in our cohort who went more slowly, took more time off, or had injury issues as well. We were always surprised and delighted when we reconnected with someone 1000 miles after we had last seen them. Of course, quite a few of the people we started with left the trail without finishing, for various reasons.
Broken poles. Someone suggested Robby ought to become a consultant for pole manufacturers and I think he should. But really? Nine broken poles? Who would have every thunk it? To be fair, three of those were manufacturing defects in the Black Diamond Distance Z pole – the joint sleeve came detached after a few hundred miles.
Robby’s body held up better than Meredith’s. We expected the trail to put wear and tear on Robby’s body, especially his left knee which had been operated on in 2015. But that old man’s body held up fine. It was Meredith’s that fell apart. Her sprained ankle could have been prevented by starting with orthotics. We actually tried to use orthotics in the beginning, but they caused blisters. Little did we know that we should have persevered and figured out a better orthotic before starting the hike. I’m not sure about the neck problems. I kind of think they were caused by the loss of all those shoulder and neck muscles when she abruptly stopped swimming and then tried to carry a huge pack looking down at her feet. I’m not sure we could have predicted this issue but we are extremely thankful for all the chiropractic care she got! Then there was the costochondritis in her chest…At least the Lyme disease was equal opportunity – it got them both! And I wish I had known more about how Lyme disease presents in hikers–the grumpiness and intermittent fevers. I have just read yet another account of someone whose symptoms were exactly the same as Robby and Meredith’s.
How much mental concentration the hiking took: Especially when the trail got rougher after Virginia. The elevation changes weren’t the issue – we were in good shape doing those, and actually didn’t mind the long climbs. It was the rocks and roots that meant that any step could be a misstep and cause a hike-ending fall (or even life-ending fall!). Especially when it was wet from rain. So north of Virginia, we couldn’t sing, we couldn’t do the Bible memory we had planned on. We didn’t play GHOST (a spelling word game we often play while hiking). We didn’t even talk that much. We dedicated all of our mental focus on placing every step carefully, and there was little time to make the decision because the pace was quick — we’d start the next step even before placing the one before it. We were mentally exhausted every day.
So little wildlife! Four bears, a wild boar, an owl, a few snakes, and a bunch of deer. We see almost as much as that in our Maine yard every day!! No rattlers, no water moccasins, no moose. And Robby saw two bald eagles at the Brunswick dump last week. Lots of scats, so few true sightings. We think we were too early for the bears down south and then we had so much rain in May and June, including drenching rain half our time in the Shenandoahs which is supposedly teeming with black bears, that we imagine the bears were hanging out in their dens. If I were a bear that’s where I would have been.
I didn’t have an accident in the RV. I am not really a good driver. I get distracted. I think about other things. I think that of the four times I drove Joshua back from the Naval Academy to New Jersey, we got talking and, even with the GPS on, we got lost three of those times. I have terrible spatial visualization (I’m not THAT kind of engineer) and really don’t judge distances well. I am, much to my family’s frustration, slow and probably overly cautious when I drive (that doesn’t apply to the rest of my life.) And that worked extremely well for driving the RV. For the first month or so, I had to focus for every minute I was driving. I didn’t listen to podcasts or the radio. If someone was with me, I really couldn’t talk. Focus, focus! And that is very hard for me. I think the dangerous time was when I started to get comfortable. I was pretty far into the journey when I realized what a big blind spot I had on my right hand side. I think I had been so conservative, I hadn’t noticed and then, one day, there were two identical red sedans on my right….fortunately, I didn’t hit either one.
Rain. Too much rain. Way, way, way too much rain! Meredith is doing statistics but I think she’s calculated that it rained, at least part of the day, 40% of the days they hiked. Some hikers just refused to hike in the rain and holed up when it started. Robby and Meredith deliberately took two separate days off when horrific rains were forecast, and we were very glad we did. But hiking the trail means you just need to get wet. They thought their rain gear was great, but no rain gear is truly waterproof in drenching rains that go on for days. And remember last year – there was a summer drought. The thru-hikers from 2016 tell us that they had it easy – they had to carry more water, but gladly would take that trade-off again. Robby and I have been in London for four days now, and it has rained some on three of them! Robby said, “I hate rain.” I hope this move isn’t a mistake! (NB from Robby: rain in civilization is fine – you spend your time inside. Even if you get wet you know you’ll be dry at the end of the day. And it’s 60-70 degrees F here, so you not cold, not the 45-55 degree we had on the trail. note: Robby noticed he was the only one in the office carrying an umbrella; his colleagues told him they “just get wet!”)
How much we slack packed and how much others slack packed. We never gave slack packing a thought when planning the hike but when we had an opportunity after Hot Springs to slack pack six miles, we jumped at it. After all, our goals said that we wanted to walk every mile of the trail. We didn’t mention packs. At least one sibling was pretty dubious about this but, in the end, it really saved us. We slack packed about 60 miles for “optional reasons.” And we slack packed about 200 miles when Meredith was hurt (again, Meredith will give the exact numbers in another post.) If we hadn’t slackpacked those 200 miles, we couldn’t have hiked those days and we’d have added another couple of weeks to our hike. No, thank you! However, slackpacking does seem to be a “dirty little secret” most bloggers and hikers don’t want to talk about too much. One of our good trail friends even slack-packed the entire White Mountains section! He along with a friend rented two cars and did the daily car-to-car slack pack hike! Indeed!
Time off trail. Our gold standard was Mitch Lawson who hiked the trail in 97 days, took two zeros and slack packed only twice. This was not average. Out of our 155 days on the hike, we hiked 132 of them and took 23 days off, 17 or so for injuries and 6 for rest (including the two drenching rain zero days). Most hikers had injures and took days or even weeks off. Many people took time off for weddings or funerals or to hang out with family. Lots of people went to hostels and hung out for days with their “tramilies.” I think we might have even been below average in time off and three-quarters of our time off was for injuries.
How constraining money was for many hikers. I don’t think we are naïve about how expensive the trail is and how hard that might be for many people. We were, however, surprised that people started the trail, when the average cost was reasonably predictable, without having the funds stored up to finish. Some seemed to know they would have to take time off to work but others seemed genuinely surprised. Perhaps they didn’t believe the cost estimates or never thought they’d spend so much on hostels and food and beer? Most never expected to break a pole or rip a rain coat. Perhaps they were just more wildly optimistic than anyone we hang around with.
Being a homeless person in the Whites. At several huts in the Whites, we did “work for stay”, which meant that they let us sleep on the floor under the dining room table after all the guests had gone to bed. We’d have to get up early, as the guests started floating in to the dining room, and pick up our sleeping bags and gear and clear out, waiting to eat breakfast leftovers. There was definitely a “homeless person” feel to the whole scene. We never really quite imagined that we would think this was a fantastic option for a night in the Whites, but at the time we were, and we are now, very grateful for the opportunity.
How complicated planning the logistics was — miles, water, shelters, privies, RV pick-ups, etc. Before we started, Robby had made this very simple spreadsheet with illustrative planned resupply places. He had listed road crossings and mileages. We knew we wouldn’t keep to the plan exactly but we got so far off the plan so quickly that even Melinda couldn’t find anything useful to do with the spreadsheet. The trail is a dictator. Sometimes a benevolent dictator and sometimes a despot but you get off the trail when you don’t have food or water AND there is a reasonable road crossing. The RV sometimes limited the choice of crossing and we were grateful for Melinda’s truck in Virginia and our Suburban (RIP) in Maine which allowed us to go places where the RV couldn’t. We spent hours planning every single resupply and we still got it wrong or had to adjust. We were glad for our Garmin InReach Explorer satellite device. It allowed me to follow them and make adjustments to our plans and it allowed them to send short texts when we had no cell service. Sometimes. We were sometimes frustrated by our lack of connection but we have been told that the Garmin is still way better than the Spot. And, I think, thanks to God’s grace, it always worked when we really needed it to.
How much Meredith loved her hammock and her sleeping bag liner. She loved her hammock so much that she rarely slept in the shelter, even in terrible weather. She loved being outside, seeing the stars when it promised to be a clear night, being away from the crowds. The hammock was super comfortable. And the sleeping bag liner was wonderful — it could be easily washed each resupply so that she could climb into a clean sack every few days. And when it was hot, it was all she needed. Robby loved his sleeping bag liner equally, and liked the hammock a lot, but was more risk- and rain-averse in inclement weather – he would high-tail it into a shelter then. Once, though, he tried to sleep in a shelter when rain was forecast, and ended up next to a guy who was snoring really loudly and persistently. Robby couldn’t get him to stop so Robby bailed out of the shelter in the middle of the night and set up his hammock near Meredith’s. We never thought that sharing a tent might have been just too much togetherness but using hammocks was a happy and unintended help and we never had to find out if using a tent might have caused too much friction.
How random and volatile the weather was. Despite Robby neurotically checking the weather forecasts and the handy radar screens on line, we were surprised almost every day. I remember the day near Mt. Washington when it had been bright and sunny all day and in the last half hour, it poured. I opened my awning in the parking lot and hikers huddled under it, complaining about how they had been blindsided. Just one more example of the trail calling the shots, not the hikers.
How much the day length affected us: Unlike some thru-hikers, we weren’t fans of hiking in the dark. In the beginning, the days were so short that we couldn’t begin hiking until 7:30 or 8 in the morning and had to be in camp by 4:30 if we didn’t want to also eat dinner and get ready for bed in the dark. We got lots of long, great sleep but felt pressure to hike quickly without many stops in those days. Once the days got long and the sun rose at 4:30, Robby wanted to get up earlier and start hiking earlier but that didn’t really match Meredith’s biorhythms. Additionally, at times, it was important to get moving early if you wanted to get a spot in a shelter, especially on rainy days. We never gave much thought to length of daylight when planning the trip.
How incompetent we all felt, all the way to the end. Even after 2000 miles, we were still figuring it out. We changed hydration systems in New Hampshire. What could be more basic? We were always amazed when the SoBo’s thought we were knowledgeable and asked us questions. The more we hiked, the less we thought we knew.
How demanding the need to make miles was. Some of this was because of the RV meet ups. Robby and Meredith say they were glad they had this requirement because they saw other hikers just roll over in the morning and decide to hunker down for another day or half day and Robby and Meredith just didn’t have that choice. When we set meet ups, in many places, there were few choices. If we said 4 days (optimum for weight of food carrying) then that meant 60-90 miles. Hopefully 80. And there might be 2 choices of RV friendly road crossings or there might not be. And maybe we would have internet to explore those possibilities or maybe we’d have to rely on the AWOL book. Once we chose a meet up place, they’d then try to figure out where they were going to camp. In some areas, this wasn’t a problem because they could throw up their hammocks anywhere. But in many places, you weren’t allowed to “stealth camp” so they had to find shelters or designated campgrounds. Then they had to think about where they could get water. Fortunately, this year, there was so much rain that I don’t think they ever had dried up springs. (In fact, we had tons more water sources than were marked on the maps and guides. And sometimes the trail itself was a river.) New Jersey was the hardest because there were so many swamps and not springs. Anyway, after all that, they had a rough plan. I would follow on the GPS to see if they were ahead or behind the rough plan to know if I needed to adjust my timing. I never wanted them to wait (and I was only late once, when the GPS decided that a loop through a church back alley was necessary). They, on the other hand, didn’t want to miss the meet up by a day or end up hiking in the dark, so they felt the pressure to keep moving.
We’re not sure if that was good or bad or maybe neutral. I think they didn’t “stop to smell the roses” as much as they might have. On the other hand, every extra day on the trail meant they were more tired and worn down and that made the hike just that much harder. They had to be done in time for Meredith to start Amherst and after the first ankle injury, they realized they needed to leave some cushion for injury days off. After talking to lots of people, we kind of think that there are two ways to somewhat minimize the misery of the trail. One is to hike quite quickly (a la Mitch) so that you get done more quickly. You get less worn out because you are on the trail less time. Not many people can do this. Another way is to stop and smell the roses and take zeros and not worry about miles. You sort of need indefinite time to do this method and not many people can do that either. The rest of us are in the middle, hiking more slowly with every day meaning a bit more misery, especially if it rains! (guess who wrote that comment??)
How few people we saw. It might have just been our timing, but we had many days when we would see only 2 or 3 people. (Except when we hit the bubbles.) Unless it was a nice day on a weekend.! Meredith continued to be amazed by how many day hikers came out in terrible weather. She wanted to shout, “Go home to your cozy, dry, warm house. I have to be out here. You don’t!”
How may section hikers were doing the trail. We ran into tons of “section hikers” – people who had planned to, and were doing, the whole trail over the course of years in bite-sized sections. These could be big sections: one girl took two of her summers in college to do half the trail each time; another retired guy had divided his hike up into four roughly equal sized chunks and was completing his fourth one, and his hike, when we saw him. Other people were using their two weeks of summer vacation to section-hike and would complete the whole trail over ten or more years.
Tramilies. We never had a tramily (“trail family”), maybe because we were each other’s tramily and because some of our social needs were met by the RV meet ups with Nancy, other family and friends. I guess what surprised us was that very few people really hiked together during the day. Even couples who began and ended each day together rarely stayed together the whole day. We did. We figured what would be the point if we didn’t? Meredith led and Robby followed a few feet behind for the whole 2190 miles, except the few times off-trail friends joined them and they sandwiched the visitors in-between. When other people hiked “together” with “tramily,” it would be even looser: “meet you at such and such shelter tonight.” Which might or might not happen. People talk a lot about how their tramily cared for each other, but we observed (and maybe we were wrong) that people helped when others were in dire need or when it was quite convenient, but not in other circumstances. Everyone was there to hike their own hike (HYOH) and they enjoyed company when it worked out but they weren’t going to change plans or inconvenience themselves too much for someone else. And probably they couldn’t. They all had restrictions and requirements on their hike (e.g. picking up mail drops or meeting their brother etc.) and they’d never finish if they tried to mesh their needs with other people’s. Every time you saw someone, you wondered, “will I see them again? Maybe? Probably not.” (There were exceptions. Our friend, Sparky, stood out as a person who sacrificed for others over and over again.) I (Nancy) wondered if this uber independence would lead to their being more selfish after the trail. I get why it had to be this way on the trail and I also know quite a few of the younger people were trying to learn to be independent but I wondered if after five or six months of being able to optimize your life around only your own needs, would you be resentful or even forgetful of how to function in a family or as a couple or with a roommate? I feel like Robby and Meredith had exactly the opposite experience. They were joined at the hip and none of their decisions could be made independently and that was not easy at all.
How much we love New England! When we got to Massachusetts (sorry Connecticut) we felt like we had come home. Although the children and Robby were all born in New Jersey and we lived there for 29 years, we’ve always felt most comfortable in Maine. We just understood the people and found them the much more friendly once we hit New England. The people at the campgrounds chatted and asked what we were doing. Perhaps New Englanders are more blunt and willing to ask and Southerners are more reticent? I’m not sure but we really felt like we “came home” when we got to New England. Even the terrain felt familiar and comfortable, though it was more rugged!
The discouragement and the despondency that Lyme Disease brought. I was shocked to see the two most happy and kind people in our family turn into ogres. Since then I’ve read of this same phenomenon in a couple of blogs and in this quote from The Barefoot Sisters: Southbound, speaking of a fellow hiker who had contracted Lyme Disease: “But I swear, y’all, the first thing Lyme disease does to a person is to make ’em hell to live with. He didn’t get it diagnosed for a long time, and before he did he was just so negative and mean.” (a great book. It’s fun to see how much the trail has changed and been re-routed since 2000!)
That we finished. I think most of you were never in doubt but we doubted every day. Well, maybe not every day. Most days. In the early days, we didn’t want to quit but didn’t know if we were tough enough to persist through the whole hike. In New England, especially when we had Lyme disease, we knew we could finish it if we really wanted to, but we were so miserable that we weren’t sure we wanted to. I think until Meredith hurt her ankle, we were a bit cocky but after that and especially after the first neck problem, we knew every day was a gift and that anything could happen to stop the hike. Would one of them have finished if the other were permanently off? Maybe or maybe not. It’s hard to tell. I know they both said yes and they both said no to this question depending on the timing. We’re still a little shocked they summited Katahdin, and I have to sneak a peak at the pictures to remember.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! The following is a compilation of thanks that we worked on together. The bold writing is specifically from Meredith and the italics from Nancy. The regular font was mostly penned by Robby but discussed and developed by all of us as we reflected on how blessed we were by so many people over the course of this adventure.
We wouldn’t have finished our trek without the support of so many, both tangible and moral support. We didn’t imagine how many friends and family would be rooting for us the whole way, and how many would meet us on the trail to provide trail magic and an emotional boost. Some hiked with us a bit. And there were even folk whom we didn’t know personally but we encountered on the trail and provided a boost! I would have never guessed so many people would read the blog and comment on it either publically or privately. You were huge encouragements. Some of you gave really practical help and suggestions. Others were “silent” readers but we knew you were there (from looking at our blog statistics) from Czech Republic to Bermuda to France to Hawaii. I think we felt some responsibility to finish because we knew we’d have to explain to you all why we didn’t, and that was a huge help when we were at low points. It’s never good to walk alone and we knew that you all were with us! Thanks!
So we’d like to thank the follow friends and family for helping us finish this hike. We probably forgot some people, to whom we apologize.
First and foremost is Nancy/Mommy. There is just no way we would have succeeded without all that she did for us. She played so many roles — commanding our “mobile hostel” (the RV) where we slept well 35 nights out of the five months; cooking the best dinners and breakfasts for us when we did; resupplying our food and gear; looking after our health and directing us to the hospitals and urgent care clinics so many times; coordinating family and friends to come see us and encourage us; rescuing us in emergencies; braving the sometimes scary places and people that she encountered in Appalachia; selling our house and land in NJ; and dealing with all the logistics of living life so we didn’t have to worry about that. She was definitely our biggest cheerleader. While I’m sure she had as much of an adventure as we did, she did it all self-sacrificially for our benefit. I was glad to have a Mommy available because, although I have a great Daddy, he isn’t a Mommy. I’m thankful they let me be a part. I would have hated waiting at home for them for five months. I will always treasure this time we had together. I am especially thankful for those of you who texted, emailed, and called me while I was in the parking lot of a fast food place or hunkered down in a remote state park. You persevered through bad service. I won’t mention names since they were private contacts but you know who you are and I couldn’t have done it without you.
Lucille and Charlie Dedekind. Thanks so much for taking care of our finances and life challenges while we were on the trail. Plus setting up our sleeping arrangements and providing food and utensils when we were back in NJ. Not only sending us hikers many encouraging messages and praying for us throughout but also being a support for Nancy. I remember some of those late night calls in Georgia and surprise texts from Charlie….you were champs. Always there for us. Thank you.
Paul and Melinda Sulewski. Our home away from home throughout the whole state of Virginia! Our refuge during the healing of Meredith’s ankle and during the chiropractic treatment for her neck. Melinda, the vigilant monitor of the GPS data and the master driver of their Tundra on small, windy, dirt backroads at the drop of a hat. Paul, the master chef. When I arrived at your farm, I didn’t know that I was lonely and depressed, but your love and company instantly cured me and made me realized I had just spent too much time alone. You welcomed me and the dogs and our guests and the smelly hikers and all of our chaos into your rather calm existence for a long time. Leaving your house for the last time was one of the hardest moments on the trail for me. I will forever treasure the time we spent together.
Jean-Baptiste Andre. Trail name “Boyfriend”. An awesome sport, logging almost 50 miles with us at three different points, including the last 5.5 mile ascent of Katahdin at the end. We’ll never forget his waddle during the last two miles through Damascus. He called almost every night we were off trail to send good wishes. A huge encouragement to us whether he was with us or not. My first and only RV driving buddy. A great navigator and Walmart shopper. Thank you for your willingness to help me with Baxter and to drive afterwards when I was too sad. You were a rock.
John and Fatima Soley. Our good friends and gracious hosts for our NJ stays. Stored 1/4 of our trail food and served us lots of tasty bread that tempted John (but he never gave in!). Thank you for just letting us show up and invade your house. It felt like home.
Chris, Amy and Katie Baldwin. Hosted us and let us stay in their beautiful CT retreat house, and Chris and Katie met us on the trail and hiked with us in the pouring rain and up and down some hills near the Housatonic River. I enjoyed my time in your quiet space and being there enabled me to do all the negotiations for our land and house sale. Your home was the first place I was alone without the dogs and it allowed me to make that adjustment in a gentle way. It was better when you were at the house but I’m grateful you let me stay when you left.
Chris Booth. Good friend and great photographer in Rutland, MA. Took lots of time out of his busy schedule to show us around his studio, take us to get epoxy at the local hardware store, and have dinner with us on a beautiful lake.
Alison and Libby Dalziel. Totally surprised us after Stratton, VT, by setting up a trail magic station in Mad Tom’s Notch! That was so great! And spent the morning with me and even tracked me down to return the AT maps I left behind. Many thanks.
Paul and Theresa Hansen. Also totally surprised us at the summit of Mt Washington with a car-load full of trail magic, including chocolate financiers for Meredith using Melinda’s recipe. Theresa even thought to wear a yellow coat to cheer me (yellow is my favorite color!) Your emails and comments and notes were always spot on and encouraging. Thank you!
Jack Flood and his Boy Scout troop. Sent us on a treasure hunt for an emergency kit hidden on the trail in NY. That was really fun.
Brody, Mitch and Chet Lawson. Provided valuable advice and insight to help us prepare (including recommending hammocks!), and also left a fun surprise gift hidden for us in a cairn at the summit of Katahdin. And we continue to be amazed at Mitch’s 2016 hike. He is truly a rock star. Your accomplishment was constantly in front of us and encouraging us.
Roger Soucek and Carter Parker. Surprised us by tracking us down on the trail in the Shenandoahs, hiked with us for a stretch, and provided trail magic. Saw a bear 1000 miles before we did! And spent the night with the dogs and me, cooking me two meals at a campground. I didn’t know that we were about to hit a rough patch with Meredith’s neck so your visit shored me up even before I knew I needed it.
Max Dedekind. Shuttled us to Harriman State Park from Short Hills, NJ. Always there for us.
Tom and Cindy Clement Thank you for for housing us and our not-so-easy dogs! It was great to go to church with you. Reminds me of the old Girl Scout song: “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” Gold. I think you’re gold.
Darby and Demi DeBonis. Picked us up on the Kittattiny Ridge in NJ. And Darby took planes, trains and automobiles to surprise us on our zero day in Williamstown, MA. That was a huge morale boost when we were soaked, cold, and down! Loved hanging out with you, driving around and around the Albany train station. Your optimism, laughter, and perseverance are always a huge encouragement. Thank you for coming and thank you for always calling it as you see it.
Joe Narciso and Pat. Picked us up at the Delaware Water Gap after we finished PA and crossed the river to NJ. Yay! And we didn’t end up in Krygyzstan.
Rich and Felicia DeBonis. Visited us in Virginia at Paul and Melinda’s house, on their way to watch their son Dean compete in the NCAA triathalon championships down south. Thank you for taking all our stuff from Melinda’s to New Jersey. That was a huge help.
Richard and Helen Boveraux. Friends from long ago in Short Hills, who met us at the ATC in Harpers Ferry.
Ashley Cooper. Long time friend from Summit NJ who read every word of our blog real-time, gave us lots of encouragement, and arranged for us to be interviewed by “Mighty Blue” who has an online radio program about the AT. And thanks for taking us out to lunch to debrief, Mr. Cooper! Thank you!
Josh and Morgan. Super supportive. Flew to Virginia while we zeroed for Meredith’s ankle. Did an overnight hike with me in the Grayson Highlands, coming face-to-face with the ponies and got rained out of our hammocks and visiting all the highlights of Wytheville. Then Josh was going to fly out and hike with us in the Whites since we were so discouraged (from Lyme Disease but we didn’t yet know it), but Meredith had neck problems so that got canceled. Then he was going to fly out again and hike with us on our last day or two submitting Katahdin, but Meredith’s illness in the 100 Mile Wilderness made that unschedulable. For both of you always being willing to change your own plans and help out. You are always easy to be with, low demands, high encouragement. Love you both.
Amanda and Elias. Came and visited us several times — while we were at the Soley’s in NJ, while we stayed at the Baldwin’s in CT, and near Grafton Notch in ME. Thank you, Amanda, for coming to stay with the dogs when I had a doctor’s appointment and for recognizing the issues with Baxter. Thank you for taking Gusty and “keeping her in the family” even though she has now consumed about 20 pounds of steak off your counters. Lots of love.
Dr Pat Smith. Our Berkeley Heights-based chiropractor. He was terrific. Several times when Meredith had neck and head problems, we got off trail and high-tailed it to his place for him to fix her. One time he let us drive down to his home on the shore on a Sunday and he was so gracious to let us interrupt his evening with his wife Diane and mom, and take care of Meredith there and then. Plus he served us a wonderful hamburger and salad dinner! He really is the best.
Dr Short. Melinda’s and Paul’s chiropractor in Lexington, VA. He did a great job treating Meredith’s ankle and identified the insole support she needed to fix it permanently.
Dr Reinkemeyer. In Manassas, VA. Helped with Meredith’s first neck problem in the Shanandoahs.
Dr Mosenthal. In Plymouth, NH. Helped with another of Meredith’s neck problem when she averted falling after leaving the Carl the Omelet Guy.
Uncle Johnny and Jerry. At Uncle Johnny’s hostel in Erwin, TN. So helpful and supportive when we needed a place to stay during the March 9 blizzard and cold snap afterward. Helped us arrange two days of slack-packing and shuttles.
Tom and Marie. Wonderful husband and wife who shuttled us while we hosteled and slack packed in Erwin. Thanks to Tom for stomping out boot holes in the deep snow for our first slack pack day going over Unaka Mountain.
Neville in Woods Hole Hostel in southern Virginia. Really special place — we highly recommend everyone stay there on their thru-hike. And Neville prepared scrumptious food, tailored to work with Meredith’s food allergies!
Odie and Tracey at Hikers Welcome hostel in NH. Were really helpful in recommending and facilitating our slack packs over Mooselauke and the Kinsmans. Odie is tireless in his promoting the Hikers Yearbook. We ran into him again later on outside the White Mountain hostel just before we crossed the Androscoggin River b/c he hit the trail to get in contact with more hikers.
AMC Huts staff. We stayed at many of the AMC huts in the Whites, and whether we were staying as paying guests or doing work-for-stay, the AMC crews were really friendly and helpful. They always did a great job accommodating Meredith’s food allergies.
Poet and Hippie Chick at Shaws Hostel in Monson. Not only were they so helpful with food drops in the 100 Mile Wilderness, but when Meredith got sick in the middle of the wilderness and had to get evacuated, they were awesome at executing that. Thanks so much!
My Aunt Helene. She learned to use an ipad to follow our blogs at the age of 80. She called me often on the trail and worried about us all even though she was undergoing treatment for Pancreatic Cancer. I am glad she was able to see the finish and that all of the children were able to spend time with her while she was still relatively well. She was a huge inspiration when I was discouraged.
We were constantly amazed throughout the trip of how God provided. Although we have thanked many people above, we recognize that, in many of the instances, God worked out complicated details and enabled them to provide or for us to find what we needed, even when we didn’t know we needed it and He deserves the ultimate thanks and praise. We are also grateful for the opportunity to live for five months with much less luxury and comfort than we are accustomed to and to encounter difficult circumstances and come out on the other side. Not that we were bereft, but we hope that this experience will have helped us to learn to be more content in all circumstances, by looking to the Peace of God to satisfy rather than to our often cushy life.
Meredith has always liked Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I think the verse is even more appropriate to our experience, taken in context.
“…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
–Philippians 4:11b-13, The Bible, written by the Apostle Paul to the church at Philippi to thank them for supporting him.
So, we’re in London! The last six weeks have been a blur of activity. I spent most of the time either with my Aunt Helene (the aunt who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer as we were driving to Georgia to begin the trail) or, later, helping to care for her when she was dying. We also managed to sell our house and land in New Jersey, buy a car, make a gazillion trips to Goodwill and the dump, throw a rehearsal dinner, go to Virginia to help Joshua and Morgan move in (including retrieving their stuff that we had left at my cousin Michael’s on the way down to Georgia),get our visas in New York, and drop the RV at an RV place in New Hampshire on consignment (we didn’t work as diligently on selling it as we should have!)
on our way to Logan airport to go to London. Many thanks to Melinda who flew up for the funeral, played the piano for the girls and a couple of other songs, drove to New Haven with Robby to pick up stuff from Amanda’s and then helped us move everything in to Joshua and Morgan’s fourth floor, elevator-less apartment with 19 steps per floor!
In the meantime, Meredith went to New Jersey to try to swim a bit with her team. She did numerous doctor appointments and said good bye to many people (since we will no longer be living in New Jersey.) She and Jean rushed back to Maine when Helene became suddenly worse and stayed through the funeral, where Amanda (our oldest daughter) and Meredith sang “It is Well with my Soul” and Robby gave the Homily. Immediately after the funeral, she flew to Las Vegas to meet Joshua. She had planned to fly to San Francisco to meet him but her flight was cancelled so she flew to Las Vegas and he drove and they met to drive across the country, stopping at the Grand Canyon (she had never been there) and Kansas City (steak and the eclipse) and got to Virginia in 3.3 days.
We returned to Maine and dropped her at Amherst where we’re confident she will be happy and successful. Two days later, we flew to London (do you know that old joke about how your parents took you to summer camp and then moved without leaving a new address….?) Phew.
All that to say that this has been an incredibly busy time and I have thus not gotten to the blog. I will post some random things over the next week as I have more time now than I’ve had in a long while. The posts will probably be somewhat disjointed and out of order and I apologize but I think “better late than never.”
Robby wrote this entry a couple weeks after they finished. He is finally, just this week, wearing sneakers. His big toe and parts of the balls of his feet are still numb. I think only Meredith’s big toes are numb at this point which is good because her swim team is running a 10K in the next couple of days. She was relieved to be assigned a non-hiking “orientation” trip at Amherst. Somehow, creative writing was more appealing than “hike a section of the AT!”
Recovery from the thru-hike, and re-entering the real world, two weeks on…
I’ve recovered more quickly than I expected. I hadn’t lost much weight on the trail, maybe 5 pounds, thanks in large part to Nancy’s great dinners and breakfasts she cooked for us when we spent the night in the RV, our “mobile hostel”. (note: he had a lot of fluid in his legs and feet which Morgan was able to partially massage out, so I suspect 5 is lowballing it.) I’ve dialed down my eating to a more normal-life sustainable level. For the first week or so, I was definitely very tired, but I feel fine now. I’ve been exercising daily – a mixture of P90X and masters’ swimming at the Bowdoin pool (which I hadn’t done in maybe 10 years?). My biggest problem has been my feet and knees. The knees ache a lot going up and down stairs. The feet continue to be swollen and both numb and sensitive. Walking barefoot on a hard floor (wood, tile) still hurts a lot, so I wear my Crocs around the house full time. (note: One goal of Meredith’s was to go to town with Robby not wearing Crocs. Five weeks out, we have yet to do that. He did suck up and wear work shoes to work in the city twice but he paid for it later!) I do sense they’re improving, but very slowly. I had to get new sneakers, and indeed I had to get a half size larger than I used to wear, and even the widest pair were too narrow for me — my feet hurt if I wear them for an extended period. Oh well. We’ve started trying out a chiropractor here in Brunswick, and she’s been working on my neck and feet. I hope this helps.
It is common for people who thru-hike the AT to go through post-trail depression for a while. That hasn’t hit me at all. Maybe I even “suffer” from some post-trail elation? I think what happens is that thru-hikers have focused on this one huge goal for so long — all the years of anticipation and prep — and then are completely consumed for 5 months driving themselves to accomplish it, so that once they’re done they don’t know what to do with themselves and have nothing to look forward to. Their whole purpose for living has disappeared. Fortunately, I’ve been really busy since the day we finished and have plenty of new objectives to work toward. We’re trying to organize the Maine house, purging old clothes and furnishings and miscellaneous stuff, and incorporating what we can of all the stuff we’ve brought up from NJ and put in storage. And we’re staying very much engaged in activities and events here real-time: Josh and Morgan and Amanda and Elias all came to visit the weekend after we finished; I’ve been swimming with the masters team here; I visited my father and his wife Jane and my aunt Martha in Florida; Nancy and I threw a rehearsal dinner for her good friend from high school, Sarah Adams; we helped Morgan (and Joshua) move to their apartment in Virginia as Josh starts TBS at Quantico and Morgan starts nursing school at George Washington. In addition, we’re already preparing for our move to London, both personally (thinking about what to pack; interacting with the people who will coordinate our move) and talking to my colleagues at work about my responsibilities there. So no PATSD for me!
That said, I have been sleeping restlessly (“and how!” according to Nancy), and I have been having nightmares every night about continuing to hike the trail (note: both Robby and Meredith had nightmares for about three weeks, nearly every night. Most of the dreams consisted of lots of trees and rocks passing them by.) It just never ends. Well, the past couple of nights I don’t recall having those dreams, so maybe I’m done with that phase. We can hope.
Rejoining the real world:
Now that I’ve been reading the news and catching up with what’s transpired during the five months I was disconnected, my conclusion is…I didn’t miss much! The same political shenanigans in the US that were going on in January and February are still going on, and it appears that Congress has accomplished nothing. Brexit planning seems to continue to be in limbo, having made very little progress. The global and US economy and financial markets seem to be surprisingly better. I guess the biggest real new development is North Korea’s demonstrating its progress in its missile and nuclear capabilities.
On the personal front, our 23 year old Previa was having engine malfunction problems and so we got rid of it (it wasn’t worth the repair cost so, upon my cousin Gordon’s suggestion we donated to 1-800-kars for kids) and our ten year old Suburban had yet another electrical/computer failure, so we traded it in and purchased a new Toyota Tundra pickup truck. It’ll serve double duty here in Maine as a haul-stuff-around car (garbage, kayaks, etc.) and passenger vehicle (we got the “crewmax” version that has a full, comfortable back seat.) It’ll be nice to have a reliable care here in Maine when we come back for vacations. The Suburban has had massive problems since the accident we had leaving Joshua’s graduation a year ago May. Of course the insurance company claims these issues weren’t caused by the accident!
The hikers are recuperating. Meredith is in New Jersey, seeing friends and trying to rebuild her swimming muscles. Robby and I are trying to organize our house and making multiple trips to Goodwill.
While we were on the trail, Meredith wanted to make a video for her boyfriend to commemorate their dating anniversary. Her friend, Anshul Kamath, had suggested the format and we took many videos along the trail to string together. (Anshul is the one on the right in the above picture.) I was attempting to make the video and then decided Anshul would do a better job, which he did! I hope you enjoy. The scenes are not in chronological order and you might notice that the mid-atlantic states are missing, both because there aren’t really mountains and valleys and because I think they were too depressed and tired to video there!
Oh, and the “rock” thing is some kind of inside joke with Jean, Meredith and Anshul. I didn’t try to understand it. Enjoy!
They are done! It might be complicated to piece together how they spent their last days on the trail so I will try to summarize:
Day 152: I returned them to the trail in the middle of the 100 mile wilderness. They slackpacked, retracing their last 5.5 miles, did another 16 miles, met the Shaw’s hostel resupply person and took their packs and then hiked another 6 miles.
Day 153: Longest hike with full packs: 29.6 miles.
Day 154: Hiked 15 miles out of the wilderness, met Jean and me at Abol bridge, we drove them to Katahdin Springs campground and they hiked 10 miles southbound, slackpacked back to Abol (southbound because if they had done it northbound, I wouldn’t have been able to get into Baxter to pick them up because it was too late.
Day 155: Returned Jean, Robby and Meredith to Katahdin Springs campground to take the AT to Baxter Peak. They returned via Saddle and Chimney Pond to the Roaring Brook Campground where I was waiting.
So I drove from Katahdin Springs to Roaring Brook and spent the day in the parking lot. Every hour, I did a 0.75 mile loop around the parking lot and campground and spent time down by the brook, even taking off my shoes and rolling up my pants and wading into the brook. I had lunch with two young (10-12 year old) Boy Scouts who had been left behind because their troop only had spaces for 24 people to hike up to Chimney Pond. I was a bit surprised that they hadn’t been taught not to talk to strangers and in the hour or so we spent together, no adult checked on us. What if I hadn’t been a nice person?
After lunch, I returned to the car and decided to roll down the windows but my battery was dead. Arggh. I had left the lights on from our early morning departure from the hotel. I knew the hikers would be devastated if we had to deal with this when they finished. But, I knew Boy Scouts! By then the troop had returned and they pushed and then jump started my car.
I eagerly waited by the Ranger Station for them to appear from the woods.
And here they are! Such relief. I never knew what their state of mind or body would be! They were exhausted but healthy. Yay!
It’s hard to sum up what we felt and thought. It’s hard to believe I’m not going to take them back in a couple of days. We’ll post a few sum up blogs in the next week (including pictures of a clean-shaven Robby, thanks to Morgan!)
Today was the day! The summit, the grand finale, the final bouquet and all that jazz. On our drive in to Katahdin this morning, we saw a bear cub. We calculated that I had done about 60+ miles of the trail over the course of this year (about 3% of the trail). This is an impressive bear to mile ratio and I am very happy to have seen it. The hike up Katadhin was, despite its difficulty, challenging in super interesting and fun ways. On our way up, we came across a river multiple times; each tim, I asked “does this come from that spring on the top of the mountain?” And each time the answer was, “no, that spring is on the other side and doesn’t produce that much water.” We had pretty varied terrain on the uphill, and quite a bit of bouldering towards the end! It was quite fun to coordinate and I felt quite accomplished clambering up the side of the mountain. Once up top, I filmed the two hikers finishing, tears were shed and congratulations were shared. They did it!!!! The end of their trek; as we pointed out many times, anything at all could happen to them and yet, they were done! Nothing more to worry about! We saw Tofu (note: German hiker they’ve been with several times and whom I picked up and gave a ride into Monson a week ago) at the top too, who had hiked up to see the sunrise and had been waiting and resting at the summit for 6 hours before we arrived.
We ate with him and called Amanda and Josh and Morgan (Mrs. King was unavailable because there was better connection at the summit than at the pickup lot at the bottom (note: I assumed they had reached the top, but I had no idea. I hadn’t seen rescue helicopters or rangers running around with a stretcher, so all seemed well. I will be very glad not to be waiting at a trailhead, wondering what they will be like or what problem they have when they emerge.) We drank and ate and then back down another trail; saddle! We had done this part of the hike previously, a couple of years ago with Dusty, Ursula, and Max, but in terrible weather. The view this times made both climbs worth it, and the descent down Saddle was much less scary to me than when it was completely in fog, as I summed up by saying, “it’s a lot less scary to know that if I fall I bash my head against some rocks as opposed to plummeting to my death in an unknown abyss.” The hike down was quite hard, as my legs were shaky and tired from the ascent. The beginning was fun because we sang songs from Beauty and the Beast and other Disney movies! (note: I think this is the first time they have sung in a long time…..)
The view from Chimney Pond was gorgeous, and provided a great short break. As we approached the end, we Started to sing Hamilton, though I quickly found out that I had forgotten most of the words. Finally, we arrived at the car! The end of an adventure! I think our hikers have not fully realized they are done, but after they wake up several times and have the ability to not walk anywhere, and can sleep in more, or just sit down for an extra long breakfast or snack whenever they want, it will fully sink in. I am so proud of them both! They have truly accomplished something spectacular.
Day 152, 07/17/17
A successful day! I was nervous coming into today because we were potentially doing a long day and I wasn’t sure how I’d feel after being sick and all, but after the first five and a half miles, I actually felt quite good and I wasn’t even wiped out at the end of the day. We slackpacked 21+ miles to where we originally planned to have our food drop a few days ago. We had the same outfitter (Shaw’s) bring not only food but the rest of our gear, and then we hiked on another 3.3 miles to a shelter. The first five and a half miles were kind of hard for a few reasons — firstly, we’ve done them before. Twice. And while they’re nothing terrible they’re actually not entirely trivial, since they’re going upward the whole way (not very steeply though), and the trail really isn’t great quality. Plus I was just getting my legs moving again after a couple of days on top of the fact that they felt like the miles didn’t count since we’d hiked them before, so they were kind of bonus miles. But after the beginning, we had a series of four shortish climbs, each followed by a small down, the last climb bringing us to the top of White Cap Mountain — our penultimate mountain! Just Katahdin left! The climb down White Cap was made very pleasant by the appearance of 800 steps (a trail maintainer gave us the number). It was much better on the knees and much faster than a steep trail. We didn’t get to our second break at 12.5 miles until 1 pm, and, while the rest of the terrain for the day looked easier, I was a little worried about time since we were supposed to get our stuff 8.5 miles later at 5 pm. We had a super quick break and then rushed at breakneck speed, since the trail had turned into a lovely, leafy path!! There were still sections of rocks and roots and mud of course, but for the most part it was smooth and fast. We got hit with a thunderstorm and were somewhat drenched during our last small climb before coming down to the road, but the sun was shining and it was all nice out by the time we got to our meeting point — at 4:30! We enjoyed a nice break, ate some food, looked at our naps, and felt somewhat relaxed. When AJ from Shaws arrived a little before five we packed our bags (very quickly according to him) and were off by 5:15 and at the shelter by 6:15. A good trail really makes a huge difference. It’s a crowded shelter tonight with a lot of people we know (Spice, Luna, Karoake, Perch, Chocolate Rain, Captain Underpants) and a bunch of SoBo-ers. We’re camping a little above everyone else to avoid being all crowded in. We had Pasta Marinara with extra Ramen for dinner and it was delicious. Now it’s 8 o’clock and I am happily curled up in my hammock. It was a good day. D
Day 153, 7/18/17
Today was a rather boring day trail-wise (we didn’t go over anything interesting or by anywhere interesting, just generally a flat trail with varied levels of niceness), but we pulled out 29.6 miles. We finally bested our 27 miles in the snow for our longest day yet! (The 32 miles we did in Pennsylvania were slack-packed; this was with full packs!) As I said before, the terrain was varied, with some patches really, really nice trail and some frustratingly rocky and rooty, but it was generally flat. So, despite obstacles, we made good time. We had planned to do 21.5 miles, but we banged out the first 11.5 miles by 11 am, so we thought to ourselves, “hmmm, we’re going to have extra time, why not see if we can do more?” We got to the shelter we’d planned to stop at around 3:30, far too early to stop for the day. But we were a little tired and needed both a rest and food, so we decided to make and eat dinner there before heading out for the last eight miles. This gave us some time to breathe, good fuel for energy, and cut out time when we arrived at camp at the other end since we would each just have a bar rather than having to make dinner. We realized this was our last camp dinner — wow! The last eight miles were definitely the worst trail of the day, but we chugged along and got to camp at a reasonable time. Now I’m in bed at 9 pm — my last night in my hammock!! Many crazy lasts. But it feels good to be going out on this high note, with some good mileage days tucked under our belts.
It was a crazy day today, a big whirlwind, and very successful. We did 15 miles with full packs on before meeting with Mommy and Jean. The 15 miles were rather bad trail, and it felt like quite a struggle to finish them. I was really worried about doing an extra ten miles after, but we had organized it with Mommy that we would drive up to the top of the ten miles to Katahdin Stream Campground, inside Baxter State Park and slackpack the 10 miles SoBo — it was slightly downhill and then we ended closer to town and it seemed easier. Thankfully, the lovely gift of Jean (and Mommy!) also came with lots of goodies to eat.
So while we navigated a ton of dirt roads to find the trail ten miles up, Daddy and I downed hamburgers and Subway salad and chips and crackers and Gatorade. It was a good thing, too, because those ten miles were some of the hardest I’ve done, despite a mostly good trail and flat and slightly downhill. My legs felt like they were just slowly freezing up, and the last four miles we actually did really quickly, because I was afraid if I slowed down or stopped my legs were just going to stop working entirely. It was a major relief to get to the car — 79 miles in three days. Ridiculous! Now we just have 5.3 miles to the top of Katahdin tomorrow!! Jean is going to join us and it’s going to be fun and not stressful.
We had a great dinner nearby and swam in the motel pool. Just one more day. Woot woot!
Day 155, 07/20/17
We are finished!!! It’s actually done. It feels surreal, but not in the hazy accomplished way, more in the “it’s not going to feel real until I go days and days without hiking” way. Thankfully, we will go days and days without hiking and perhaps it will sink in.
It was a beautiful day to hike, and it was kind of exciting to say goodbye to Mommy because we knew next time we saw her we would be done. The first couple miles were pretty normal trail, albeit a little steep. Then we started to reach some boulders and eventually opened up into boulder climbing for about another mile.
The views were beautiful the whole time, and I’d never been up that side of Katahdin so it was new feeling as well. Jean thought the hike was especially cool since he’d never really done a bouldering climb that was similar. After the steep section we had a mile and a half on the tablelands, and the whole time we could see the cairn on top of Baxter, which was motivating and really exciting.
I was tearing up the last few tenths of a mile to the sign. It was really weird to get there and know that we’re done, because I kept feeling like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. That someone was going to pop out and announce the rest of the miles we had to do. But they didn’t!!!!
We took pictures, and took some with Tofu, who had already finished. We had a long nice break in the spot we sit in when we normally (note: as in when Robby takes the kids and their friends to camp at Chimney Pond and then do day hikes up to the various peaks of Katahdin) climb Katahdin, and filled the time with calling the family members and putting our rocks on the cairn and finding the present that Mitch Lawson had left for us (note: Robby had left a small present for Mitch last year and he returned the favor.)
It was weird to set out again and follow blue blazes instead of white ones. It felt really, really wrong. Saddle Trail is hard to climb down, but the easiest way down Katahdin. It kind of killed our knees and stuff, and we were pretty tired by the time we reached Chimney Pond, but it weirdly, didn’t matter. The 3.3 miles down to the parking lot at Roaring Brook were quite tiring too, but we finished, and took off our hiking boots, and are never putting them on again. Just kidding. But it might be a bit, we have to recover!
We made it to the AT cafe before it closed and got our names on the ceiling tile as well as ate a late lunch. It was a sleepy car ride home, and we stopped at Gelato Fiasco on our way into town for yummy gelato and sorbet. The car had to be unloaded and our stuff somewhat sorted (note: trash thrown away and incredibly smelly laundry sorted out and started), which was frustrating because we’re done but never really done with logistics and organizing done. I’m excited to be home, though.
We put the dates on the map in the RV and it truly feels like we’ve finished. No more miles!!! They’re all done!!!!!!!!!!! (note: I found it interesting that Meredith usually wrote in the passive. Maybe that is just Meredith or her age and experience. I also think she actually feels at some level as if the trail and the hike were “done” to her rather than she hiked (actively.) In some ways that is true–they had no control over the weather, the state of the trail, the placement of the trail or shelters or water. It’s sort of interesting.)
152 – Mon 7-17
A surprisingly good day of restarting on the trail. After a day of rest for Meredith to recover from her illness, we set out with an ambitious goal today, and all went well.
We left our motel in Greenville at 6.15, and Nancy drove us to the Gulf Hagas trailhead parking area, where we got off the trail two days ago. We hiked the 0.2 miles to the West Branch of the Pleasant River, forded it (for the third time – once going nobo on Friday and again going sobo to evacuate on Saturday), and then, starting at 7.15am, went 24.5 miles over the Whitecap ridge (four peaks). Note that we retraced the first 4.5 miles up to Carl Newhall Lean-to that we did on Friday (and reversed on Saturday). We slack packed to mile 21, at which point AJ from Shaw’s Hostel met us with the rest of our gear (this is a good drop point for them). We then hiked another 3.5 miles to our destination campsite – Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to – and put up our hammocks and ate dinner (penne marinara).
Given Meredith’s illness, slack packing over Whitecap went really well – neither she nor I got too tired despite the aggregate 4000+ foot ascents, and we were able to make good time so we were 30 minuts early for our 5.00pm arranged gear drop time at Kokadjo-B Rd near Crawford Pond, mostly because the trail today had some good stretches without many rocks, roots or mud.
Whitecap (elevation 3600+ feet) our last peak over 2000 feet until we get to Katahdin! It was very rocky/alpiny on the top so we had great views and as we circled around to start to descend we could see Katahdin off in the distance. Storms were all around, and it was quite humid, so Katahdin was fuzzy.
As we reached the Whitecap summit, we heard rumbling thunder a bit to the north of us. It wasn’t until we were down at the bottom of the mountain that we got rained on by our thunderstorm. It lasted about 45 min and soaked us, but since it finished by 3.35pm and we hiked until 6.30, we had ample time to dry off a lot.
Meredith felt well today and kept up a great pace – once again I was scrambling to keep up most of the time. And we’re both psyched that we have a smidge less than 60 miles to go. We plan to finish the rest of the 45 miles in the wilderness in the next two days. There is little elevation gain, but we understand the trail gets very muddy. We’ll see!
Hey, I didn’t fall or break any poles today! Woohoo!
153 – Tues 7-18
Big day. We went an extra 8 miles more than planned, so 29.6 miles, to get to Rainbow Stream Lean-to and set up the end game. This way, we only have 15 miles to finish the 100 mile wilderness, which we can do tomorror by 1 or 2 pm. Then we can meet Nancy and Jean at Abol Bridge and slack pack the first 10 miles of Baxter State Park, which should take 3-4 hrs. They can pick us up or drop us off at the Katahdin Stream Campground via the Tote Rd in the park. That means we only have the 5.5 mile climb up Katahdin to do (slack pack) to finish on Thursday!
Today’s 29.6 miles was our longest single day with full pack, smashing our 27 mile record we set when we high-tailed it to Uncle Johnny’s Hostel in Erwin, TN during the snowstorm. Our only longer day was the 32 mile slack pack through Boiling Springs and the flat pastures around it.
At our original destination, the Wadleigh Stream Lean-to, at mile 21.5, we made an early dinner (3.45-4.45, mushroom risotto over ramen) as our break before we banged out the last 8.1 miles. We got to camp around 8.15pm pretty exhausted but excited about how this sets up our last two days.
Today’s trail was mostly rooty and rocky, with surprisingly little mud and water and mosquitoes and black flies (compared with what the soboers had been telling us), with some smooth parts. It often ran alongside rivers and lakes/ponds. When the sun came out mid-afternoon, the ponds were gorgeous, reflecting the sky and contrasting with the rich green trees. There was very little elevation changes, except we did climb one mountain – Nesuntabunt Mtn – which is only 1500 feet high, but offered a superb view of Katahdin, whose top was in the clouds when we saw it.
Rainbow Stream, which we followed for the last few miles, had really fast water rushing down deep cascades for long stretches – it was truly impressive.
And our hammocking tonight, our last one of the whole journey, is in a beautiful, open, spruce forest. It’s too bad we got here so late and we had to rush to get to bed as darkness fell.
One interesting surprise that was on the trail, just a few miles into our hike this morning, a Boy Scout troop from Wenham MA (yes MA not ME) dropped off trail magic in two secure barrels. All sorts of goodies from ramen to cookies to trail mixes that Meredith could have. So nice of them!
154 – Wed 7-19
The penultimate day! Today was a challenging day, but a good one and sets up tomorrow’s summitting.
Meredith and I hiked the final 15 miles out of the Wilderness, met Nancy and Jean at Abol Bridge, and then slack packed 10 miles from Katahdin Stream Campground back to Abol Bridge. So all we have left is the 5.5 mi climb up Katahdin from Katahdin Stream Campground. Meredith and I and Jean are going to do that together, and then we’ll descend via the Saddle and Chimney Pond Trails to Roaring Brook where Nancy will meet us.
The last 15 miles in the wilderness today were more muddy than we’ve seen before, but still manageable with enough careful rock and root hopping. We have also observed that a trail next to a pond or lake is always rocky, bouldery and rooty, and for a while today we were going along Rainbow Lake. As we hiked, a seaplane landed and took off several times. Maybe somebody was practicing? t There were tons of small ups and downs, and only one quasi-climb up to Rainbow Ledges, where we had a great view of Katahdin.
It was great to meet Nancy and Jean. We could shed our heavy packs. They have us food (for me, two quarter pounders with cheese, fries, a shake, and Gatorade), which we ate in the car while Nancy drove into Baxter Park and up to Katahdin Stream Campground. Nancy and Jean left us there to slack pack 10 miles back to the Abol Bridge .
During this part of the hike, we passed by a few beautiful ponds, the “Small Niagara Falls” and “Big Niagara Falls” of the Nesowadnehunk Stream and then followed that Stream down through all its gorgeous cascades until it flowed into the Penobscot River. Right where it empties there is a natural water slide, and whenever we go rafting, we stop there to go down the water slide. It was funny to see it from a different perspective.
We had to rock hop across the Nesowadnehunk twice, and both were tricky, even more than usual because we were pretty exhausted this afternoon.
The last few miles, we just hiked alongside the Penobscot; it was mercifully flat and smooth. I suppose that the trail designers know they’d already extracted their pound of flesh from us in the Wilderness, so they’d better take it easy on us here!
By the time we got to Nancy and Jean the second time, we were pretty shot and enjoyed the really nice dinner on the way back to the hotel in Millinocket (River Runner Restaurant) and a short swim in the hotel’s indoor pool. (note: Robby’s swims are always shorter than ours because he is so wimpy about getting into the water, that we’re getting out before he is fully submerged. Was he really a swimmer and water pool player all the way through grad school?? He should have learned to swim in the Maine lakes, the way I did, and then he’d be less wimpy about pool temperature water!)
So in the past 24 hours we’ve had a lot of “lasts” – last night out camping and all that entails – dinner, hammocks, breakfast – and last day hiking with full packs. We’re very ready to be done!
155 – Thurs 7-20
We summitted Katahdin!! Woohoo!! It’s over, done, complete, finished!! And God blessed us with beautiful weather. In a few days we’ll write up a huge thank you to everyone who supported us in so many ways throughout, and give some parting thoughts. But for now, I’ll just take you through the day.
We woke up at 5.15 in the hotel in Millinocket, ate breakfast while driving out to Baxter State Park, and started hiking around 7am. Before we set foot on trail, I gave Meredith a rock that I picked up in the 100 Mile Wilderness for her to carry to the top of Katahdin and leave there. You see, the fundamental reason that she (and we) were hiking the AT is that she has lived in the shadows of her very confident and accomplished older sister and brother, and she wanted to prove to herself and the world that she was tough and could conquer her own hard challenge. So I told her that this stone represented her feelings of inadequacy, incompetency, non-toughness, non-accomplishment, which have been weighing her down like an albatross around her neck. And she’s going to cast them off, get rid of them altogether. And accomplishing this thru-hike proves that she is tough, accomplished and competent. So it’s fitting that she leaves that emotional burden behind her at the top of Katahdin. I guess it’s sort of like Frodo taking the ring back to Mordor – we often joked on the trail that we were heading toward Mordor aka Katahdin.
We did the 5.3 mile, 4200 foot elevation gain, hike in about 3.5 hrs. The first 2 miles were normal with not too steep of a slope. Then we got into bouldering for a while, but still in the treeline. Then we got into a stretch of really challenging bouldering exposed above treeline (see the comments from others about this stretch). Then with 1.5 mi to go, we got to the Gateway, the top of the bouldering,from which point we were hiking across the tablelands along a gentle slope to the top.
As we approached the sign, we both got quite emotional, and Jean caught this on video. Meredith put her “Mordor” stone on the summit cairn (which is about 10 ft high!) along with a stone she brought all the way from GA. And I then gave her a gift from Nancy and me to commemorate the successful completion of the AT – a sapphire set in a gold band, made by a childhood friend of Nancy’s who is a jeweler in Brunswick, Maine, Keith Field.
We sat down for a snack break looking across the Katahdin bowl to Knife Edge and Pamola Peak, internalizing what it meant to be done and enjoying the view and beautiful day.
We saw Tofu at the summit and shared our snack break with him. He stayed at Katahdin Stream Campground last night and was the only one there and, he believes, the only other noboer summitting today. He heard of 13 others who were planning to summit tomorrow. Tofu had gotten up at 2.45am and hiked up in the dark to try to catch the sunrise. He got some spectacular photos of the very early morning sky. Tofu is from Germany, and he plans to travel around the USA with friends and family until the end of August.
We then descended 5.5 mi to meet Nancy at Roaring Brook Campground, via the 2.2 mile Saddle Trail to Chimney Pond Campground, then the 3.3 mile Chimney Pond Trail. This was not trivial. On the Saddle Trail, after the first mile down walking on the table lands, there is a half mile of very steep descent on scree and gravelly rock and ledges with narrow step-like topography where it’s all too easy to fall. So we made sour way carefully and slowly. It took us about 1 hour and 45 minutes to hike down to 2.2 mi to Chimney Pond. But we made it safely to Nancy with the only casualty being one of Jean’s trekking poles! (note: I think Robby was kind of happy to have someone ELSE break a pole!)
It was such a relief to get to Nancy and take our hiking boots off – for the last time ever, ever, ever! We’ll, probably not but at least that’s how we feel right now! We went to the AT Cafe in Millinocket for a late lunch. They have a tradition of letting thru-hikers sign their trail names on a ceiling tile, so Meredith added our “Doc & Tunes” logo to the Class of 2017. It was fun to see others we knew we’ll who had finished and signed it – Salesman, Nope, Fax Machine, Penguin, Bear, Sweet Cheeks, A-Pick, Zen Master.
And our last celebration of the day was stopping at Gelato Fiasco in Brunswick on the way home. Yum.
At home we cleaned out the car, which smells really bad because of the great scents of three of us who hiked that day but also all of Meredith’s and my other gear that we shedded after the 100 Mile Wilderness. Eww. (note: Jean and I discussed that we will almost miss that peculiar, not particularly nice, blend of sweat, pine, and dirt. It’s not just your run of the mill athletic sweat smell.)
It’ll be great to get back to normal life – shower, sleep in a bed, not carry toilet paper around, not have to worry about making miles and where the water sources are, not have to treat the water (what a concept – just turn the tap and voila you get potable water!), not worry about the weather, not worry about falling and getting injured. But I think it’ll take some time to adjust back. I’ll even look forward to getting rid of my beard and mustache – it’s kind of getting in the way every time I eat.
Now I want to address a concern that Nancy and M and others have expressed throughout the hike – that I wasn’t eating enough and lost a lot of weight. When we got home to Brunswick and showered, I weighed myself – 169 lbs exactly (actually, 76.8 kg, translated). That’s right at the low end of what I used to weigh normally before the hike – 170-175. So all is well. I attribute my maintaining weight completely to Nancy – she was vigilant at preparing us wonderful, protein- and carb-rich meals every time we were in the RV.
I thought the next time I’d see them would be Millinocket and we’d spend the night and they’d take two days to finish Katahdin. But, I got a GPS text on Friday night saying “Meredith vomiting.” Nothing more. I didn’t sleep all that well and didn’t hear from them until about 9:30 saying, “Seeing if Meredith can hold down food and water.” These are the old fashion 140 character texts and, for the most part, I learned later, they weren’t going through. So there wasn’t much back and forth and I had very little information (which is quite stress inducing.) At one point, I encouraged, “Think creatively,” knowing that Robby often gets on a track and needs help thinking of other tracks and his helper was probably huddled in a lean-to. However, I eventually got the idea that they were hiking backwards and the outfitter who was supposed to be dropping food for them was picking them up instead (so much for there not being any resupply points….) So I packed up a whole bunch of stuff in our Suburban (the RV was empty at this point) and headed North.
I have to admit I was a bit annoyed. I wanted this to be over. Surely they could have just waited it out. Why did they need me? As usual, I listened to podcasts on my 2.5 hour trip and I ended up listening to the last two sermons from our church in New Jersey: one on friendship and one on love. I was quite convicted by the Love sermon (taken from the Good Samaritan story) that I wasn’t willing to go the extra mile and help them. I was just thinking of myself and my plans and was tired of driving to northern Maine (it’s gorgeous. Trees. Mountains. What’s not to like?) And I wanted the hike to be done. What if she had Giardia? Arghh. They met someone who had thru hiked to Millinocket last year, 15 miles from the end, and got Giardia and were now finishing up this year. It was probably just a 24 hour virus and she’d be fine. I’m a Mom. I know these things. But no, I listened to this sermon and it was my job, as someone who loves them, to be kind and patient and go the extra (or extra 125) miles. One way.
I arrived at Shaw’s a few minutes before them and I immediately sized up the situation. They needed me. Meredith was a mess. I had no idea how she had hiked the 5.5 miles out. And she was exhausted and crying and saying she was done. She couldn’t keep pushing off the endpoint. Maybe she’d go to Brunswick and come back and finish it up at the end of August, before she went to school. This totally panicked me. I could not keep this on the back burner until the end of August. I wanted it done now. Nope. So I told her that of course she couldn’t hike when she was this sick but in a day or two she’d feel fine and they would finish. Now. Not August.
The other thing I noticed is that Robby looked great. Relatively. He wasn’t grey and he was moving a lot better. Eventually we learned that the lyme antibody test was negative (which it can be negative for quite a while since it measures antibodies) but I am quite sure that the doxycycline had made this turn around and he does have Lyme. The doctor told him to finish out the course of antibiotics no matte what. It was interesting to me that both he and Meredith had this same “lack of confidence” when they got sick. I remember Meredith saying, “this hike was supposed to increase my confidence and now I feel as if I am totally incapable.” Robby was still tired (and got obliquely scolded by an old lady in the laundromat for taking the chair and not offering it to me….I explained that he was exhausted and is normally very polite!) but he’s definitely better and has a much better attitude. Despite this setback.
A couple of days of rest at the Kineo View Motel made all the difference and they seemed in good spirits when I drove them back through the woods today, despite having to retrace those 5.5 miles again!
I drove in one side of the K Jo-Mary Mulit-use forest and out the other on a dirt road. The woman at the other end questioned me about a blue Prius at the parking lot where I had dropped the hikers. Apparently the car hadn’t checked in at either end of the road and has been there for a while. They are worried about the owners. And, I would ask, how in heck did a Prius get in that road? It was pretty rugged. But I loved that they are keeping track and are worried.
So, I hope not to see them again until Wednesday. With their huge desire to finish, they have decided to do the whole Katahdin in one day, but more or less slackpacking. That’s 10 miles from Abol Campground, 5 miles up and then coming down on the easier, Chimney Pond side. I’ll meet them at Roaring Brook campground. A couple of people might just be hiking up from Chimney Pond to meet them on top. I hope it works out because I’d love to see the video of them reaching the top.
Day 148, 07/13/17
Long(ish) day so short notes!
‘Twas a complicated day. When we woke up it was raining quite hard, so we all looked at each other and decided to go back to sleep and start a little later in the day to avoid the rain. We had a good breakfast (after sleeping for a couple more hours) and then hit the trail about 11:30 or so. It was sprinkling but much lighter rain than before. About a mile and a half in Daddy slipped and landed on another pole and broke it. He was incredibly frustrated but was able to reach Mommy on his phone, and they decided he’d hike back and get a new pole. So I settled in, sitting on a log, and pulled out one of our tarps to drape over our packs and me and keep everything from getting wet from the dripping. He was back in an hour and we chugged on. We ended up feeling good and actually decided to push on and do 15 miles — not bad for starting at essentially 1 pm. Granted we did finish past 8 pm, and we had a rush to set up and make dinner and get in our hammocks. But we did it and were asleep by 10! 99.5 miles to go!
Days 149-151, 07/14/17-07/16/17
This entire adventure is so complicated. It’s never smooth sailing. On Friday, we had an incredible triumph — 21.5 miles! Over hard terrain! We’d caught up to where we had planned to be on Friday night before we had the late start on Thursday. We went over all the Chairbacks today, which the SoBoers all complained about. They had tiny bits of rock scrambles at times, but nothing like Southern Maine or the Whites. I was feeling quite good most of the day, but when we got to camp, I was quite tired and pretty wiped. As I made dinner, I realized I really wasn’t hungry and that my stomach didn’t feel good. So I made the pasta and sauce dinner for Daddy and just Ramen for myself. I drank some tea, since I knew I should hydrate, and got a few bites of ramen down and decided I just couldn’t eat. I spent the rest of the night alternating between sleep and throwing up. Around midnight, I’d finished my three rounds of throwing up and passed out for the rest of the night. I wasn’t good in the morning, although i wasn’t throwing up anymore, just feverish and weak. We really didn’t have enough food to sit around for a day, since we’d planned to get a food drop that day from Shaw’s (the food I had left there the day before.) There was a dirt road five and a half miles back, and so either Daddy could hike back and get our food and hike back in to the shelter, or we could both hike out and go somewhere from there. We decided it was too risky for him to get the food and hike back in, since it would require me hiking eighteen miles the next day in order for us to have the food to finish the wilderness. So we both hiked out. It was really hard, both to retrace steps, and to have this set back. I was really sick and tired and somewhat done. I even entertained the idea of just stopping and coming back in August to finish. But when we got to Shaw’s (the hostel that shuttled us out) and got to Mommy she was encouraging and firm. We were going to finish, but I had to be not sick first. So we found ourselves a motel and I took a shower and a bed. We took today (Sunday) off as well, and I was pretty exhausted this morning but I’ve been eating all day and my stomach feels good, and I dozed most of the morning away. We did all sorts of logistical stuff, and are all set to finish this trail. We’re going to slackpack tomorrow; Shaws will bring us our food 21 miles into the day, so that’ll make getting over our penultimate mountain (White Cap) that much easier as well as aiding me in being potentially tired from this silly virus. We hope to finish Thursday: we’re going to go up and over Katahdin all in one day. This will be hard but we are almost there! I cannot wait to be done.
148 – Thurs 7-13
A lot happened today, but I guess it does every day.
The RV campground we stayed in overnight was very nice. Dense pine tree stands in between each camping lot, which made them very pretty and private. It rained over night and was raining hard in the morning, so we decided to sleep in and get hiking around noon. We left the RV park at 11am, and started hiking the 100 mile wilderness at 11.30.
About a mile in, I fell and broke one of my trekking poles. Since we were still so close to the road (and had such a long way to go to resupply), I tried to reach Nancy who was driving the RV back to Brunswick. After a couple of tries, we connected, so I left Meredith on the trail with my pack, and no-pack hiked back to the Trailhead to meet Nancy who drove back. I got another pole (the recent LL Bean poles she got the last time I broke a pole matched the REI poles I had used a while back (I had broken one of the REI poles but had kept the good one) – they’re no doubt private labeled by the same manufacturer) plus I took two others (no match – these are left over from my other broken poles) in case I broke others! So after that hour or so delay, I was back with Meredith hiking again, with two good poles and two more to spare.
But falling so soon and breaking a pole really hit my confidence level. I’d been tired and falling lately, so I was very concerned about going through the 100 mile wilderness – would I be falling all the time and breaking not only poles but bones?
Our original plan that morning was to go 15 miles to a shelter, but with the lost hour we cut that back to 10 miles. We had a river ford and one that was supposed to be a ford that we were able to rock hop downstream a bit. The trail was very rocky and rooty (no surprise, though I always hope for better!) and slippery because of the morning rain which persisted as drizzle through much of the afternoon. I fell four times today, including on four steps before we made camp. I was, needless to say, discouraged.
But there was one bright spot. When we got to the 10 mile shelter, we both felt good and decided to press on to the 15 mile shelter even though it was 6.15 and that meant getting in late. So as it grew a little dark (under thick tree cover it gets darker earlier), we did one more river ford and we got to the campsite at 8.30. In the dark we did dinner and set up our hammocks and were able to get to bed by 9.45. Though that sounds late, it wasn’t too long a hiking day, and the extra 5 miles put us in a good position for tomorrow.
And we hit a big milestone – we were now less than 100 miles to go – 99.5!
149 – Fri 7-14
Today was a hard but good hiking day that ended with an ominous twist.
We went 21 miles over a ridge of Barren Mountain and the four Chairback peaks (lots of steep ups and downs, with some vertical rock scrambling). And coming down the last Chairback, we went down a short boulder field created by a rock slide. We had another river ford today which was wide but shallow.
The weather cooperated today (hooray!) and so we had some nice views from the Chairbacks. We could see our last hard ridge over Whitecap that we’d be hiking tomorrow.
And perhaps, best of all, I fell only once, around mile 18. I was tired and we were rock hopping through water/mud. My fall was kind of dramatic and I got quite wet and muddy, but sustained no injury except to my confidence. But overall I was feeling stronger and more optimistic. We were only five days from finishing – three more in the wilderness and then two for Baxter/Katahdin!
We got to the campsite (Carl Newhall Lean-to) and decided to hammock out despite some reasonable chance of rain. There were some beautiful open pine tree spots for our hammocks. Then as we were preparing dinner, Meredith felt sick to her stomach and couldn’t eat much. We were going to split a rice pasta bag over ramen, so she just ate the plain ramen because it would be easier on her tummy. She didn’t even keep that down. Then over the course of the next few hours she threw up a few more times. Not good!
We have no idea what brought this on. The most obvious explanation is drinking bad water. But I’ve had the same treated water and I feel fine. We’ll see if this is just a virus that passes overnight and we might be able to go on as planned or with some changes. Or if she doesn’t feel well enough on the morning, do we need some sort of evacuation plan? We can’t just take a zero day where we are because we don’t have much food – we were going to hike to our food drop tomorrow so we only have enough snacks for one day. But there is one other option which I’ll look into tomorrow morning. The hostel that is doing our food drop mentioned three options – at 30, 50, and 60 miles. So about 5.5 mi before our shelter was one of their drop points. Maybe we can hike back and get evacuated by them there. I don’t have any cell service to contact them, but I can try texting them through the gps device to see if that’s a possibility. We’ll see how Meredith feels in the morning.
Well at this point we have only 79 miles to go!
150 – Sat 7-15
Three steps forward, one step back. Today was a day for stepping back.
In the morning, Meredith was feeling a little better. She hadn’t thrown up since about midnight, and so she tried drinking water – that stayed down – and then eating a little – cookies stayed down, as did a bar (note: these might seem like strange choices but they really were the most bland foods they had.) We moved all our gear from the hammocks to the shelter so I could be with her. She was cold and feverish and weak and just curled up in her sleeping bag. So we definitely couldn’t go forward. But could we go back? This was the 100 Mile Wilderness. Through the gps device I tried contacting Shaw’s about whether it would be possible to have them pick us up at mile 30, but didn’t hear back from a while. The gps is notoriously unreliable on these text messages. I hiked about half a mile up our next mountain to see if I could get cell reception. Nothing. I finally heard back from Shaws – yay, they could get us. We considered just asking them to bring our food drop there, which would give us an extra day of flexibility. I could hike down and get the food and hike back up. But given Meredith’s condition, it seemed clear to us that she was going to need more than one day of rest.
Deciding to evacuate was a big blow to our morale. We are so close to finishing and want so desperately to do so ASAP. But we decided that trying to push forward was too risky to Meredith’s health and the likelihood that we’d succeed was low. Waiting in the shelter or going forward would just put us at more risk.
So around noon we packed up, I took as much weight from Meredith as I could, and we hiked back down the last 5.5 miles to he Gulf Hagar trailhead parking area on the Katahdin Ironworks Road (dirt). We hiked very slowly given Meredith’s physical state, and, despite the rocks and roots and mud, plus several really bad fallen tree obstacles, and one river ford, it only took us three hours.
Shaw’s picked us up at 3.30pm, and we met Nancy (in the Suburban, for she had already cleaned out the RV) in Monson and found the Kineo View Motel in Greenville to stay in for a couple of days. While Meredith rested at the motel, Nancy and I went out to dinner and shopping at the local supermarket, and brought back food for Meredith. I’m so glad we decided to evacuate. We hope that after another day of rest and recovery Meredith and I can get back on the trail to finish up.
151 – Sun 7-16
Zero day in Greenville while Meredith rests and recovers from her stomach illness. Very productive day at that.
Nancy and I did laundry at the local laundromat. It was actually quite interesting because it was a combo commercial laundry and laundromat. Two twin sisters and their mother were there doing the linens for local hotels, etc. and directed us which washers and dryers to use and when. They were very hard-working and nice.
Nancy and I also took our gear to Shaw’s Hostel in Monson for our gear and food drop tomorrow at 5pm. Meredith and I will slack-pack from Gulf Hagas over Whitecap to Crawford Pond where we’ll meet them and get our gear and go another 3.5 miles more to a shelter. Nancy will drop us at Gulf Hagas (note: the board at the trail head said “The Grand Canyon of Maine.” Can’t wait to see the pictures.)
They are very nice and helpful at Shaw’s. Poet and his wife, who own and run the place, have a very interesting story. He was a high school English teacher in a magnet performing arts school in Florida. He and his wife took a leave of absence to hike the trail in 2008. Then three years ago Shaws was up for sale and they decided to buy it. Poet’s wife’s parents own and run the AT Hostel and Cafe in Millinocket, so they sort of knew the business and could coordinate helping hikers better – both sobo and nobo. Poet was the guy who picked us up yesterday and he told me a lot of stories about his teaching, coaching soccer team and girls bowling team (a quasi title nine thing) and how he was a maverick and refused to teach to the test. Really good guy.
We went to Flatlanders for dinner and had their famous “broasted” chicken. I couldn’t eat it all, or all of the wedge salad, after eating a bowl of clam chowdah (sic).
So we’re all eager to finish up this hike starting tomorrow. We want to summit in four days – Thursday!
I can’t tell you what an up and down day yesterday was. When I woke up at 5:30, the rain was beating on the RV roof. I actually love the cadence of the rain and I love feeling cozy inside, especially with Meredith and Robby with me, but I was dreading that they would have to hike in the downpour, especially Robby. So I called out, “It’s pouring. Do you want to take a zero?” Robby immediately whipped out his radar app (Meredith teases him about being addicted to the radar and weather app and says she can’t wait until she doesn’t have to think about the weather all the time!) and said the rain was going to stop by 11 or 11:30 so why didn’t they delay their start. We all went back to sleep for a while. When we got up, I made hash browns out of the baked potatoes from last night that we didn’t eat since we got take-out while waiting for Robby to be finished getting a Lyme test at the hospital (see below.) At their request, I made french toast from each of them, Meredith’s made from a gluten-free bread loaf I had made at home and frozen. We did our final “dump” and flushed the tanks with bleach and lots of extra water. In the rain. I am glad not to have to take care of the RV and look for diesel and worry about parking and maneuvering but I am also going to miss our cozy home. She has served us well. (And if anyone wants to buy a great RV, let me know!)
We drove to the drop off point, about 15 miles north of our campground. By the way, this was another beautiful site, Balsam Woods. It seems to be a starting place for ATV riding and even has an ATV parking lot. Each RV had a large, wooded, private space and Meredith declared the showers and bathrooms the best of any campground. Robby commented that I am a “campground expert.” I don’t really think so. I always learn something every place we go and every place we go does something different. This time, for the first time in five months, my grey water tank filled up and I didn’t notice until the kitchen sink wouldn’t drain. Nothing backed up and I just had to do a quick dump but I was on notice: I’m still not an expert!
After I dropped them, I got back on the road to Brunswick. I picked up a thru hiker walking to Monson and enjoyed a short chat with him. He is the hiker from Germany and knows Meredith and Robby well. He was going to spend a couple of nights at a hostel before attempting the wilderness. The turn around in the parking lot was a bit tight and I was congratulating myself on my last tight turn without any accidents, when the phone rang. I pulled over to answer. I barely had service. It was Robby and I heard him say, “I broke…static…static.” Well, it turns out he broke a pole and wasn’t that far in and had walked back to the parking lot and wanted me to bring him another pole. We’ve kept all the good ones from the pairs where one broke. Poor guy. He had been calling for a while but I didn’t have service for about 45 minutes and he was already back at the parking lot (he’d left his pack with Meredith. He wanted to come for the pole because he wanted to make the decision about which misfit to take.) When I got to the parking lot, he was sitting with his head in his hands, looking so sad. He was upset that they were still on flat ground and he’d already broken a pole. He said he was on the edge of crying and was so worried that he was going to break a limb. I convinced him to take two extra poles in case he broke another. Without a pack, he didn’t have a way to carry them so I duct taped them to his back. It just killed me to watch him go off and I asked once again if he wanted to let Meredith finish alone. “No, I can’t let her down. I just don’t want to get badly hurt.”
I did receive a message about 8 pm. Despite the 11:30 beginning, the 1.5 hour delay due to the broken pole and my lack of cell service and the wet path, they were only 4 miles short of their original goal. These guys are amazing.
Day 146, 07/11/17
Today was actually a really good day, despite it being about 19 miles (18.9)! We got a later start than we’d like, about 8:30, but we finished about 5:45 so it all worked out! We had beautiful weather, and a lot of really good nice trail where we could make good time. We went up and over two mountains — Pleasant Pond Mountain and Moxie Bald Mountain. Neither of the climbs were anything terribly hard, and neither of the downs coming down from them were too steep or rocky.
It was funny because right before Pleasant Pond Mountain, we stopped for our first break at a shelter, and I was reading through the logbook and there were tons of comments from SoBoers about the mountain being so hard and the rock scrambles reminding them of the hundred mile wilderness. There weren’t any rock scrambles(?) but this bodes well for us going forward if they thought it was hard and it actually wasn’t! It’s funny though, because a few times in the last hundred miles we’ve asked the Soboers for advice on the hundred mile wilderness and such, and they seem to always forget that we’ve hiked 2000+ miles already. They seem a little smug and arrogant and they’re giving advice to people who haven’t hiked at all. Now maybe there are really nice Soboers out there and we’ve just gotten unlucky, but it’s been an interesting experience for sure. The shelter and our campsite tonight are right next to a pond. We ate dinner on a rock looking out across the pond — it was so beautiful and we had yummy mushroom risotto over ramen. This is the view from my hammock!
Maine is certainly a beautiful place, and made all the more enjoyable by smooth, quickly moving miles.
Day 147, 07/12/17
Fording the West Branch of the Piscataquis. Luna and Karoke are also fording while an unknown SOBOer waits on the far side.
Today was harder than expected, but we finished it, with a small twist at the end. The miles today were not very notable — no mountains or anything spectacular. The only excitement was two rivers where we had to take off our boots and ford. They weren’t too deep or too cold though, and so were a nice little cool-off for the toesies. Although the miles looked basically flat today, they ended up being rather hard. The first 12 miles or so were decent trail, but rather than being flat, it was a lot of small steep ups and small steep downs — much more tiring than flat. And the last seven miles just turned into a root-filled trail. It hurt the feet and was both mind-numbing and physically tiring. We got to Mommy about 3:15, which was pretty good time for 18 miles. She had decided that Daddy should go get a Lyme test since there was a hospital not too far away and he has seemed so sick (or something) for a while. (note: I had decided I was going to stand my ground when he protested; I had regretted not taking him somewhere when we were in Rangely, even though it was far away. Remarkably, he didn’t protest at all. He must have been feeling pretty terrible.) So we drove him to the hospital. Then Mommy and I drove 20 minutes away to Shaw’s Hostel, a house in Monson where they offer food drops in the Hundred Mile Wilderness. I gave them three days of food to drop off for us on Saturday, 52 miles into the wilderness. This just makes it so we don’t have to carry five days of food, and we also put an extra day of food in the food drop so that if we’re dragging and need an extra day in the wilderness we can do that without carrying six days of food! So we did that and then, after checking in with Daddy. we went and got some dinner (cheesesteak for Daddy, burger for me, salad for Mommy). (note: I had flank steak marinated, had already pre-cooked baked potatoes and salad was chilling, but I knew we weren’t going to have time to cook and clean when we got to the campground and besides, they were starving!) By the time we got back to the hospital from getting food, he was getting discharged. The doctor decided to put him on doxycycline until he gets the lab results back, since it seems likely he has Lyme. So that will hopefully make him feel better in the next day or so! We are both tired and looking forward to getting a lot of sleeps tonight. I hope he’s up for hitting the trail tomorrow — I think the sooner we’re done the better for his body (and psyche!)
146 – Tues 7-11
Today was a really great day to start our nine-day push to the finish. We’re doing two days from Caratunk to Monson, then planning to do five days in the 100 mile Wilderness, then a day to hike into the Birches shelter at Baxter State Park (about 10 miles), then a day to summit Katahdin (5 miles but 4000 foot) and descend to Roaring Brook, where Nancy will pick us up.
So today we did 19 miles from Caratunk to Bald Mountain Lean-to. We climbed up and over Pleasant Pond Mountain and Middle Mountain, and then came down to Moxie Pond, then climbed up and over Moxie Bald Mountain and then came down to the lean-to. Though the miles were pretty long and the total elevation gain was 3700 feet, the trails were good most of the way, so we made good time (started hiking at 8.30am and finished at 5.35 pm) and we weren’t totally wiped out at the end!
Maybe Nancy’s wonderful dinner last night of chicken and sausage with tomatoes and peppers over brown rice, or her breakfast of bacon and eggs and Jean Toast (French toast stuffed with Jif Nutella) gave us that extra energy!
And the weather was pleasant today. Rain had been forecast for the afternoon and evening, but instead we got mostly sunny skies with some beautiful clouds.
At the summit of Moxie Bald we took a long break and had 360 degree views of northeastern Maine. To the southeast, we could see the Bigelows, where we were two days ago. And we could see Katahdin a bit more clearly than when we saw it from Bigelow.
Twice today I had big falls, but didn’t get injured either time. Both times I slipped on damp rock slabs. The first time I fell on my side and bruised my hip, but that’s all. The second I fell backwards on my backpack which absorbed all the impact, so no harm. I don’t know why I’m falling now. Perhaps I’m tired and just not focused and coordinated enough.
We had the mushroom risotto with ramen, with bacon for appetizer. And we prepared and ate dinner sitting on a boulder overlooking the pond. I think it may be our prettiest dinner setting yet, perhaps eclipsing McAfee Knob.
Meredith and I are hammocking right next to the pond. It’s beautiful as the sun sets and the clouds get reddish orange and are reflected in the pond. And this evening, besides the sounds of the bullfrog croaking (Meredith called it a goose), we could hear a variety of water fowl calls, some were haunting.
At the shelter tonight are Karaoke, Luna, Perch, and Spice, plus Chocolate Rain and Sniffles. Sniffles has a flight home (WDC) from Bangor on the 19th, so he has to finish one day before us. That may be a challenge.
Two older men are resting near the pond. One man, Long Portage, is the VP of the Potomac AT club and is heavily involved in the national ATC and ALDHA and other AT-related organizations. He nobo thru-hiked the AT and is nw finishing up a sobo section hike. It was interesting to talk to him about the issues of overseeing and maintaining the trail. He said that one of their biggest challenges is the growth in its popularity and use in the past decade, both by thru-hikers and other groups who don’t follow “leave no trace” practices. He said there have been 4000 noboers who started in GA this year. He cited day hikers and camp groups (especially in Maine) and college groups, as folk who don’t really know how to preserve the wilderness of the AT. He said there are movements afoot to try to regulate the number of thru-hiker who use the trail. So maybe in the future you’d have to register with the ATC and would be checked in by the Shenandoah and Baxter rangers.
Meredith and I are sure glad we’re doing this now!
147 – Wed 7-12
Today wasn’t too exciting. We hiked 18 miles to Monson, which is the last stop before the 100 Mile Wilderness. The trail only had a few small climbs, but lots of small ups and downs. Portions of it were smooth, leafy path, but a majority was rocky/rooty with some mud (I think the mud is moderating since it hasn’t rained hard in over a week). The most interesting part of the hike were the two river fords we did – the West and East Branches of the Piscataquis River. They were only calf-knee deep and not strong currents.
We pretty much hiked in lockstep with Perch, Spice and Chocolate Rain. Sniffles left first out of the shelter this morning, and Karaoke and Luna went much faster than we did.
When we got to Nancy in the RV, she took me to the local hospital to get blood tests to see if I have Lyme or something else causing me to feel tired. That’s where I am right now writing these notes. The hospital here in Greenville is small, so the emergency waiting room is a hallway (where you ring the bell for service) and all the ER beds were filled so the triage nurse and doctor and blood-taker all took care of me in the hallway – I very much appreciate their flexibility in order to speed along my treatment.
I fell twice again today. Again no serious damage beyond a bruised knee (I seem to always bang the left one!). On the rocky/rooty rugged trail here in Maine, every step is treacherous – one where I could fall and really hurt myself. It takes a lot of mental focus for me, which is part of the exhaustion. Meredith has become a champ hiking this tough terrain – she seems to hop and glide effortlessly and quickly across the obstacles while I struggle to keep up with her (note: this will be a big surprise to her swim coaches who, along with her family, think of her as a klutz who always has some orthopedic issue going on! Jim, her main coach, even recently wrote her text which included the advice, “Pay attention!” So appropriate! At least in the past.)
This will be our last night in the RV . When we meet Nancy after the Wilderness, at the Abol bridge, she’ll pick us up in the Suburban and we’ll stay overnight in Millinocket because the road there is a very pot-holed dirt road. It’s amazing to think this will be the last time in the RV!
Meredith and I are excited that we only have seven days left – five in the Wilderness and then two in Baxter Park to climb Katahdin. We’re amazed that we have been able to complete this journey despite all our challenges. This is harder than we imagined it would be. Everyone’s support has made it possible, especially Nancy’s. She’s been incredible.
So I got done with the Greenville Hospital. The Lyme test and a couple of others will take a few days, but the other blood tests came back and are ok. The doctor and I discussed the possibility of Lyme and so he prescribed me a course of doxy to begin since I’ll continue to be out hiking. I hope this will help.
The end is in sight. Literally. They saw Katahdin in the distance from the top of one of the Bigelows. They crossed 2000 miles and have less than 200 to go. We think their hiking days are in single digits (as in 9!) This is our last RV campground, my last solo night in the RV and one more night for the three of us. Really, there are only two obstacles ahead of them: the 100 Mile Wilderness and that last day climbing Katahdin. I think we are all confident this will happen. It could be 8 or 10 days, but I’m betting on 9. As you read below, these last days have been rough on Robby and Meredith has had to step up and be the encourager and leader (have we mentioned that she leads the hike every single day? Robby has always believed (taught by NOLS) that the slowest hiker goes first and the strongest last. So, I think, at first, that’s why Meredith was first but she’s lead for over 2000 miles) They are working it out. They’ve spent almost 150 days together and except for some brief times on zeros or at campgrounds, they’ve been together 24/7. That is rough on anyone and I think they are doing very well. Joshua has suggested they might enjoy a few days apart when they are finished and Meredith is planning just that: she wants to go to New Jersey and try to find some swimming muscles.
I have enjoyed driving around northern Maine. This is my country! I love the trees, especially when we get far enough north where great stands of white birches and pine trees dominate the landscape. I feel comfortable on the roads. Robby pointed out that the sides of the roads are much wider than in the south; we’re guessing because Maine needs to pile up plowed snow in the winter. I drove for a couple of hours today without seeing a car and barely seeing a house (camp.) So peaceful!
I spent some time in this “break” finding new boots for Robby (there was only one pair in all of Maine!) and then new poles (he had to settle for what I found…there weren’t many.) I should have just ordered some when I saw them last time and he was GLUING! his treads back on but he was sure the glue would work. By the time he texted that the glue had failed, it was too late to order, even with overnight delivery (which has a whole ‘nother meaning in northern Maine.) I also hung out with my cousins at my Aunt Helene’s. Her son, Michael, and his wife, Donna, have returned to Virginia. I loved seeing them. They’ll be back and we’ll probably see them again when we help move Joshua and Morgan into Manassas since a uhaul load of their stuff is at Donna and Michael’s. My cousin Dawn cut Helene and my hair on Sunday and Karen made us all BLT’s–minus the T, with some lobster added for Dawn. Turns out not liking tomatoes is a kind of family thing. I think it’s because they’ve never had Jersey tomatoes. I never liked tomatoes until I moved to New Jersey and found out I’d only had fake, pink ones all those years. The opposite of blueberries where the Maine ones put the New Jersey ones to shame! I’ve enjoyed sitting around and listening to family stories; some of my cousins, particularly Dawn and Susan, are excellent story tellers.
Day 142, 07/07/17
We conquered today! This was definitely a very hard day, but we did the 18.7 miles that we had set out to do, which is great. It gives us options for the next few days. Daddy was holding up really well until the last three and a half miles, but he’s revived a bit since dinner and wants to shoot for 18 miles tomorrow, so I’m excited and very impressed with him. (note: she doesn’t mention what happened in the last 3.5 miles! Robby gives us a picture of it below.)
This morning he was quite down and very worried about today. He was thinking it would take us about 13 hours and it took about 10, meaning we got into camp at a reasonable time (before six!) and he was worried because we had a long pretty hard uphill to start the day, up Saddleback mountain, and then some alley-oops down and up to the Horn, and then down and up to Saddleback Jr.
Those ups and downs were quite hard, as was the beginning of the down from Saddleback Jr. Daddy had originally wanted to stop for the day at the next shelter, but we got there about 1:15 and he was feeling a bit more confident, so we took a long break and chugged on. We had a sharpish down but it didn’t kill our knees too much. There was a river that we were supposed to have to ford but there were easy rocks to use to hop across so we just rock hopped and started climbing up. It was a good up for a while and then somewhat flat before we took a break at a stream. After that break we hit a hard and somewhat steep up for a couple of miles, which made us both tired but Daddy especially. The last couple miles were just wiggling up and down, and the trail was somewhat decent. We had ratatouille and ramen for dinner, and we’re both sleeping in the shelter tonight since it’s supposed to rain in the night. I did fine sleeping on the ground in the huts so I figure I’ll be okay in the shelter (note: she had thought that the flat shelter sleeping was harder on her neck than the hammock), plus it’s nice to be near Daddy and not off in the woods by myself! And it’s nice to be dry. I am hopeful about tomorrow and quite relieved about today!
Day 143, 07/08/17
This was definitely a good day to have over and done with! We did the 18.6 miles we’d hoped to do, leaving us with just 32 miles to do over the next two days. We have less than 200 miles to go (183!) and have crossed over 2000 miles! Big number. We went up and over Spaulding Peak first thing in the morning, and then went along the side of Sugarloaf (there was a half mile trail to the summit it but we did not do that). On the way down from Sugarloaf, we had some steep bits and some rock climbing but it wasn’t too bad or for too long. The frustrating part actually was that it wasn’t raining out but all the trees and plants were wet from some rain last night, and there were all these teenage-age fir trees that were sticking into the path and so we were soaked from the trees! We had a steep climb up to both the south and north peaks of Crocker Mountain, but we made it over both peaks before it started to rain. Coming down from the Crockers wasn’t super steep but it wasn’t exactly gradual either. For the first couple miles there were a fair amount of rocks in the trail. Unfortunately Daddy had a bad fall at one place and got quite frustrated trying to get up, while it was raining and thundering. But it cleared up before we got to the bottom of the mountain and we had clear blue skies the rest of the day. We had a dip down to a campsite area where we took a break and ate a lot of food since we were both feeling kinda tired. Then we had two and a half mile climb up part of Bigelow and a 0.8 mile wiggle to our shelter – Horn Pond Lean-tos. Tomorrow we just have a couple of miles of wiggling up and down some peaks, and then we have a pretty gentle time coming down Bigelow and then we will be officially out of Southern Maine! (note: I take exception with calling this “Southern Maine.” Western Maine? It’s not in the south. Brunswick is in the south. Kennebunk, Portland, Kittery. The Southern part of the Appalachian Trail in Maine?) The terrain gets flatter and hopefully easier. It will be good!
Day 144, 07/08/07
Today was a longish day but definitely a good one and one of the more enjoyable ones in recent memory! Bigelow was absolutely beautiful. We got to walk along the ridge for a bit and it was a beautiful blue sky and sunny day. We could look back to sugarloaf (which we went around yesterday) and WE COULD SEE KATAHDIN! Off in the distance but not TOO distant! It was an exciting start to the day. We had a long and slightly steep down from Bigelow, during which Daddy fell and snapped yet another pole (although he was able to kind of finagle it back together and later we fixed it still more by mixing and matching with my pole so that both his poles were the same length.) We were pretty tired so we took a break a tenth or two earlier than we’d planned. We found this beautiful viewpoint where we were looking at Little Bigelow (our next climb). It was a beautiful rock face and was exposed to the sun, but since it was low down (as opposed to on a ridge or something) we didn’t have any of the wind. It was a lovely break and kept us going up over Little Bigelow and down to the Little Bigelow shelter where we sat by a lovely stream and had another nice long break. The last seven and a half miles of the day were generally good trail, a mix of a nice leafy path but sometimes rooty and rocky. Overall, definitely better than what we’ve had. We’re officially out of Southern Maine now, meaning we’re out of the hard part of Maine!
Daddy is still quite tired and a little down but he got excited talking about the end (it’s in sight!) at dinner. We’re hammocking out by Carrying Pond Shelter. Since it’s a nice night, I went for a dip in the pond, which felt lovely. I am quite tired but very relieved that these last three days are over — I was worried about them. Tomorrow we have 14 very flat miles to Mommy, so we should finish early-ish and not be too tired and get to enjoy most of the afternoon off! 165 more miles!
Day 145, 07/10/17
We finished these four days! Definitely a good section to conquer. 150 miles left; we can do it! We only had 14 miles today, and they weren’t easy (it’s never easy), but they were manageable, basically flat.
The trail had its bad moments but it also had some good ones. About ten miles into the day we took a break at a shelter that was right on a pond and met these two old ladies who had hiked up from the road, one of whom had thru-hiked in 2008, and the other was on her first back-packing trip at age 79! Very cool. We got to the ferry across the Kennebec in time (hours are from 9-2). Since the river was high from recent rain, the guy who canoed us across had Daddy help him canoe! The guy knew Morgan too, from living around here, which was a very fun connection to make. We met Mommy just after the river. We had a nice afternoon, somewhat “off”, but of course it involves packing and planning and showering and more planning. I will be happy to get through this next short segment (just two days) because after that we will enter the Hundred Mile Wilderness — the last obstacle before Katahdin!
142 – Fri 7
Today was a hard hiking day for me.
After a really nice stay in the RV at a pretty wooded campground on Rangeley Lake, and a breakfast of warmed up leftover pizza (which was great!), we started at ME Rt 4 and did 18.5 miles up and over Saddleback, the Horn, Saddleback Junior, then down to Orbeton Stream and falls, then up Lone Mountain to Spaulding Mountain lean-to. It was a lot of vertical – about 5500 ft. And there was a lot of scary rock climbing down from Saddleback and the Horn.
I was doing fine until the climb up Lone Mtn got steep. I ran out of gas and had to take it slowly. I felt like my legs were weak and I was stumbling my way up hill (and then flattish for the final two miles to the shelter) being propelled and kept upright by my poles.
Most of the hike from Saddleback all the way to Saddleback Junior was above treeline and afforded beautiful views all the way around. We could see Rangeley Lake in its entirety. And the town of Rangeley. We could also see the ski trails of Saddleback, plus buildings at the base of the slope.
Overall we made good time and got to the lean to by 5.45pm and had ratatouille and ramen for dinner. It was a nice end to a hard day.
Along the hike today we passed noboers who we had long seen on shelter logs – Yogi and Booboo. It turns out Booboo is a girl and Yogi her dog! She began in GA on Feb 4. And with her is Tenacious D who began on Jan 14. We also leapfrogged today with Mismatch, a nobo section hiker. We only passed about 5 soboers today, a small number compared to how many we’ve been passing for the past week or so.
Our lean to tonight was quite crowded – a couple of soboers, a couple of local weekenders, a couple of sectioners, and a couple of noboers. There are three guys renting and one hammocking, even though it’s supposed to rain tonight.
At certain points today, when we were going down the steep rock jumbles (as M calls them), where it feels like every single step I take could send me plummeting to my grave, I just felt overwhelmed and wanted to quit. I’m just kind of fed up with this! But of course I won’t quit. We only have 11-12 more days. Tomorrow we cross over 2000 miles completed and under 200 miles to go. We can’t wait to finish.
143 – Sat 7-8
Today was a tough day, and I hope it will be a positive turning point, especially in my spirits! It was another long hiking day, wherein we did 18.5 miles with over 4000 feet in climbs. And while we were descending Sugarloaf, which had some technical sections, we had thunderstorms – a half dozen thunderclaps and rain. I fell several times today, once cutting my palm/thumb and the other time twisting my ankle (which seems to be a daily occurrence). I was so tired and frustrated that I yelled out “I hate this! I hate this!”. There is truly nothing that I hate more in hiking and camping than rain (note: he says that the civilized rain of London will be just fine!) And on this thru-hike, you have no choice but to hike and camp in whatever weather comes your way – because you have to make the miles. In the last couple of months we have taken two zero days off because of forecast heavy rains. But you can only do that selectively – you can’t avoid the preponderance of the rainy days. And being tired, plus just wanting to finish up this hike (after a record wet spring and summer!), plus seeing the forecast of rain for the next five days, plus my rain gear being absolutely useless to keep any water out, plus the treads on my boots coming off (glue and tape aren’t holding them on), I just have a very short fuse now to vent my frustrations.
This put Meredith in a tough position. She also wants to finish up ASAP, but realizes the aggressive pace she’s set between now and Katahdin puts pressure on me and may contribute to my falling lately. (note: she doesn’t think it is aggressive…) She suggested that I take a couple of days off while she hiked from Caratunk to Monson and rejoin her for the 100 mile wilderness and Katahdin finish. No way. I’m finishing this out. I was a bit offended (and told her so) that she would think of going on without me. (note: I think this speaks to her conflicting desire to finish but not knowing how to deal with a Dad who is less than superhuman! We’ve never seen him fail to conquer whatever he set out to do. Actually, I’m not sure we’ve ever seen him do less than spectacular in whatever he set out to do!)
But the day turned around. We made it to our destination shelter (Horn Pond Campsite) by about 5pm (recognizing we started hiking at 6.30am), the sun came out and the forecast for tomorrow is better – only 20% chance of rain. And tomorrow should start the easing of the trail – we are only going 17+ miles, have few significant climbs – the Bigelow Horns and Peaks (West and Avery) and then we descend and do lower-altitude wiggles and climbs. This all should be much easier than the past two days. I can only hope.
We crossed two big milestones today – less than 200 miles to go and over 2,000 miles hiked! It’s funny, because the trail has changed so much over the years, there are 2000 mile signs in several different locations, some ten miles off where the actual 2000 mark is today!
The campsite tonight is large – two 8-person shelters plus many tenting sites. There are a whole bunch of soboers, plus four noboers whom we’ve hiked with before (Karaoke and Chocolate Rain) and one that we haven’t (Yoga), and two flipfloppers we’ve seen in the shelter registers (Spice and Luna). Karaoke and Perch (guys) and Luna and Spice (girls) are hiking together and were in Stratton yesterday staying up late drinking and singing karaoke. On their 5 mile hike up to the shelter from Stratton, Perch fell and hit his knee hard so it still hurts a lot tonight and he can’t move it. He’s hoping it’ll feel better tomorrow.
I forgot to mention that at last night’s shelter we encountered a first – the two local weekenders smoked pot (and also did so this morning). They said it’s legal in Maine now, and not just for medicinal purposes. (note: it’s only legal in private spaces. I think the AT is officially a public space.) I thought it was sad that these two guys seemed to make this a regular practice.
144 – Sun 7-9
Well, the day started out pretty poorly. Actually it was last night after I went to bed in the lean-to. The soboer sleeping next to me was a very loud and persistent snorer! Not quite as loud as Tank back in NC, but a close second! I tried nudging him to get him to shift sleeping positions or turn over so he’d stop, but he didn’t respond. All the other people in the shelter were also kept awake by him – Perch, located on my other side, offered me some earplugs. I declined because they really don’t help me much. At 10.30pm I decided to grab my hammock and sleeping stuff and went over to the tent site where Meredith had hung out up her hammock and put mine up. I was pleasantly surprised it was pretty easy to do this in the dark. Then I had a hard time falling asleep, so I read some and started a crossword puzzle. I checked the weather forecast and decided to put my rain fly over my hammock. It’s a good thing because, guess what, it rained a bit in the middle of the night. Not a lot, but just enough to remind me that I hate rain when hiking and camping.
We did another 18 mile day, over all the Bigelows (Horn, West Peak, Avery, Little) and a few other hills, to get to East Carry Pond Lean-to tonight. That leaves us about 14 miles to the Kennebec Ferry to get us to Caratunk where we’re meeting Nancy in the RV. Today was again over 4000 feet in climbs, and I was once again pretty wiped out by the end of the day. But the Bigelows mark the end of Southern Maine, which is considered by many the second hardest part of the trail after the Whites (or as Sniffles calls them, the “Caucasians”), so for the most part we have mostly flattish ground (though muddy and rocky and rooty) with just a few climbs between here and Katahdin. We should be able to make good time, even if it rains!
For the record, it did rain on us! As we were hiking by Flagstaff Lake, it sprinkled on us! Not a lot. Just a gentle reminder that I hate rain! (note: I have only seen Robby this negative once: when he was working on his PhD and got tired of programming in an underground, windowless, lonely room. He was going to quit grad school but his advisor convinced him to go outside and walk over to the business school in the sunshine and take a few “easy” classes where he might get to talk to other people. It worked! He was much happier and he went into business rather than engineering where he’s been very happy for 29 years.)
We had beautiful views from the Bigelows, looking at Sugarloaf, Saddleback, and Spaulding Mountains and Flagstaff Lake. From the top of Bigelows West Peak, with the help of Luna’s mountain map app (like the star map app), we could even see Katahdin! Unbelievable!
Coming down Avery I slipped and broke my pole. This is my 7th pole I’ve broken (the Black Diamonds aren’t my fault) and I’ve run the table on brands – all four have broken – Black Diamond, Gossamer, REI and Leki! Better the poles than my leg! Once again, as with the REI poles, it broke right below the lever lock, so I could adjust the lengths of the other two sections and the pole still functioned ok for now, though a bit bent.
Meredith and I are hammocking out because the weather is supposed to be pretty good. Plus it was crowded and I don’t want another experience like last night. There are several soboers here, plus Sniffles, the foursome from last night (Karaoke and Luna hiked ahead while Spice stayed with Perch who went very slowly because of his knee). Chocolate Rain appeared, as did Sniffles who said he had to take a couple of days off trail to see an eye doctor – who said he has retinopathy.
After dinner (rice pasta marinara), M went swimming in the pond – the water wasn’t too cold! It was a gorgeous evening with only a few clouds in the sky.
145 – Mon 7-10
Today was a pretty short 14 mile, flat hike to the Kennebec River and across to meet Nancy in the RV in Caratunk. But it also had a number of meaningful moments.
The Kennebec is too wide, deep and swift-moving a river for anyone to safely ford it, so the ATC hires a guy to ferry thru-hikers in a canoe. This is the only place on the AT where we don’t have to hike! The service operates daily, 9am-2pm. We needed to make the 14 miles before 2pm, and weren’t sure how rugged the terrain would be, so we started hiking at 7am after a hot breakfast. During breakfast, it sprinkled on us, just slightly, and then later in the morning it also drizzled a small amount. But we got to Nancy dry. (note: we had found a couple of other people listed in the AWOL guide that you could call (and pay) to come get you after hours. We had contacted one and had a backup plan, but didn’t need it.)
The trail for the first 10 miles to Pierce Pond Lean-to was a mix of smooth hiking and rocky/rooty/muddy. That lean-to was right on the pond and sitting amidst a beautiful open pine forest. (note: Meredith has put this on her list of places she’d like to visit again, along with Saddleback and the Bigelows.) Then the hike down for the last 3 miles ran along the Pierce Pond Stream, which was large and had many cascades and falls. It was gorgeous and worth a day hike some day.
At the lean-to we found two elderly women, one who thru-hiked about ten years ago and her friend, 79 years old, who had never hiked nor camped overnight before and whom she wanted to take to this spot because she remembered it so fondly. It was a bit much for the new hiker – it took them 9 hours to hike about 3 miles up from the Kennebec. We certainly admire their grit!
The guy ferrying us across the River turned out to be Greg Caruso who was a former river rafting guide and knew the Knowles, regarded Morgan fondly, and had been one of the rafting guides on the “Guns and Goats” Maine adventure we did with a bunch of BAC dads and sons the summer before Joshua graduated from high school. What a small world (at least up here in Maine)!
During our hike, Meredith and I had a long conversation about how we seem to have switched roles – she wanting to be more aggressive about hiking longer miles now, while I’m more conservative and, arguably, pessimistic. She is very focused on finishing by July 18 or 19, while I would be ok taking it a little more slowly in order to enjoy the last 150 miles a bit more. But Meredith could say to me “I told you so” because the 4-day segment we just completely had some aggressive miles and climbs, and we got through those ok. (note: since they seem to get more tired every day they are out here, it is not clear if going more slowly will help or hurt. And they still aren’t doing the 22 mile days they regularly did in Virginia.)
I also tend to be more cautious about the timing of our daily hikes. Since we had a deadline today (needing to get to the Ferry by 2pm), I preferred a shorter first break in order to build cushion (because you just don’t know when setbacks happen) vs Meredith who was more balanced about being enough ahead of schedule and wanting to take a longer break. (note: usually, in the “real world,” Robby is the one “living on the edge” of timeliness, not wanting to waste a minute by being early. Our kids, trained by Jim Wood and Berkeley Aquatic Club (and I suppose the Naval Academy!) always want to be on time and prefer to be early. The BAC saying is, “if you are last, you are late,” and you always have to be 15 minutes early for practice and meets or you are considered tardy. This desire to be on time (early?) has led to many conflicts but always with Robby on the other side.)
At any rate, we made it to the Ferry with plenty of time to spare. And while Meredith rode in the middle seat of the canoe, I had the privilege of being in the front and paddling! And given all the rain, plus a big dam release, Greg said the river was very high and flowing strongly. So I had to work to help us get across!
I picked the hikers up in Rangeley, just three miles north of “Small Falls,” one of my favorite places anywhere. When we lived in Farmington, my grandfather worked for the State, repairing roads and cleaning picnic areas. My grandmother and I would often go visit him and take him lunches and his area was Avon/Stratton/Rangeley. It was fun to see the places I had grown up. I wanted to stop at Small Falls but I was afraid I would get my RV stuck, so I reluctantly drove by.
We spent last night at Cupsuptic Campground on Cupsuptic Lake last night.
The campground was among the most beautiful and cleanest we’ve seen.
We loved swimming in the lake and Meredith and I swam out to the “float” where I was goaded by a couple of teenagers to taking a big jump off. I told them I hoped they would still be jumping off floats when they are 56! I’m sure they can’t imagine ever being as ancient as 56.
I don’t think I’ve swum in a lake in 15 years; I think I last swam in Sebago Lake with the Elisabeth Williams and her children. I love lake swimming. I learned to swim in (extremely chilly in June) Clearwater Lake outside of Farmington, Maine. I resolved that I am going to swim in a lake at least once a year from now on. I enjoyed my drive up to Rangeley, through Farmington, the town I lived in from ages 1-11. On the way home, I drove by some of the places we had lived, including one that has been torn down and replaced by community housing. It was a huge firetrap so I was kind of relieved.
Last night, we had some interesting conversations. Robby was very upset about the next four days that Meredith has planned. He was convinced that 18 miles today (Friday) was too much and he was really concerned that Saddleback and Sugarloaf are going to be as hard as the Whites. He is so tired. Meredith felt that this was the only plan she could make to accommodate his desire to stay in shelters (lean-tos) and with the limited road access for resupply. I was really worried since he never complains or backs off from a challenge and even wondered if Meredith should finish the trail alone and Robby should go home to get better. It was so strange to have Meredith advocating for longer miles and Robby wanting shorter. They could slow down even more (remember–they used to do 20 plus miles routinely) but that would also delay the finish and I think more days is also going to be more difficult and further exhausting. I wonder if Robby does have Lyme Disease or something else that didn’t show up in the last tests. I have physicals scheduled for the day after they are finished. We weren’t anywhere near an urgent care center and won’t be for a while or I would have insisted on going. It is so hard to guess what is fatigue and what is something else. In the meantime, it is good to see Meredith both feeling better and stepping up to the role of encourager and leader. The next two days, I think, are the two hardest days left, with today quite a bit harder than tomorrow. The terrain is rather flat after that.
Day 139, 07/04/17
Today was a very good day! The trail was infinitely better, in general, and we made decent time, so it was a legitimately pleasant day. We had some hard climbing to begin with, up Baldpate Mountain, but the first part of the climb was a good slope and the second (and steeper part) up to the West Peak had a lot of tiny stone steps that made it quite manageable. (note: I listened to a Grammar Girl podcast about when you capitalize directional names and I am absolutely paranoid as I edit these notes. Her parting shot was “the style guides disagree on this matter; when in doubt, use lower case.) From the West Peak we had to go down a little and then climb further up to the East Peak, which was almost entirely stone sheet covered, from about half a mile before the summit to half a mile after (note: I think this is shale, which can be very slippery). It was tiring to climb up and down the sheets, and it was very windy because it was so exposed, but it was a beautiful day so the views were amazing and it was generally really cool. After Baldpate, the rest of the day was pretty nondescript — long gentle-ish down and then a longer gentle-ish up. We met a lot of Soboers, but most importantly, we got excited because we realized we’re actually getting towards the end. We did about sixteen miles and finished around 5:15, which was nice because we had time to leisurely get water and make dinner and talk to Dining Hall (guy going to Stanford Law School next year and the only other hiker at the shelter). Daddy’s sleeping in the shelter and I’m in my hammock. I love my hammock. The beginning of tomorrow looks hard — a steep down/up/down/up, but we’re hoping for the best (16 mile) and have a fallback of 13 which is an okay distance, so no matter what, it will work out!
Day 140, 07/05/17
Today was definitely a hard day, but I’m feeling okay. Daddy is quite wiped out. The good news is that we made our further mileage, so we only have 14 miles to Mommy tomorrow, and they look like fairly easy miles (especially compared to today) so we should have a good and somewhat relaxing day tomorrow. Today started with a bang: a mile and a half straight down, a mile and a half straight up, a mile and a half more reasonably down (but still steep) then three miles up, the beginning and end of which were very steep. It was quite hard, and when we took a break about eight miles into the day I was very tired, and continued to be tired for the next four and a half miles until we took a break at a shelter.
Dining Hall was spending the night there and a section hiker was there as well. We took our time eating and drinking and all, and by the time we left I was still tired but my body felt generally better, and so the last three and a half miles of the day didn’t feel as miserable as I expected. Since Daddy was really exhausted still, I got the water and started it boiling and got the food set up while he set up his hammock. We had a good dinner of pasta marinara with extra ramen added in (I accidentally brought extra so I figured why pack it out when we could eat it!) And Storyteller joined us at our campsite! (note: do you remember Storyteller? They last saw him in Tennessee when Jean first hiked with them, just before Damascus!) It sounded very complicated but basically he’s had tons of knee problems so he’s had to jump around a lot and he’s currently SoBo-ing from Katahdin to the end of the Whites, and then he has a section to do down in Virginia. As always, he amused us while we had dinner. I am looking forward to going to sleep early and hopefully having a very good day tomorrow!
Day 141, 07/06/17
Today was remarkably a good day. We had wonderful weather, and after our first climb up from our campsite by a nice river (which we forded), the rest of the day was little bumps up and down, with a general downward tilt the second half of the day.
While I was a bit tired, and the trail was still somewhat rocky and rooty, we were able to make good time and with beautiful terrain and a beautiful day. We took two breaks, once at a shelter and once at a campsite, each right by beautiful ponds. We ran into a lot of SoBo hikers, and à group from a summer camp. All these people we hadn’t thought to account for. But we got to Mommy around two, and enjoyed a nice swim in the lake at the RV campground before showering and repacking. This next segment that we planned out will be hard, but we really are getting close to the end, and so I’m excited and motivated even though I’m quite tired.
139 – Tues 7-4
Happy 4th of July!! Just about the only patriotic thing we did today was that Meredith wore her Stars and Stripes buff. And I guess hiking the great American AT counts?
After a steak-and-eggs breakfast at the RV, Nancy took us back to Grafton Notch. We did 16.4 miles today, kicking off the morning with a challenging 4-mile 2300-ft “stair-step” climb up Baldpate, which was a very cool mountain. It has a Dome-like mountaintop that was all rock slab not only on the top but all around the dome. When we hiked up it, we were walking up the slab with really wavy winds blowing us sideways.
At the top of Baldpate was a Soboer named Halloween who was Interviewing the Noboers he came across and thought our father-daughter story was interesting. So he took a few minutes and asked us a few questions.
We saw lots of Soboers today – maybe a dozen? I think we’ve hit the Sobo bubble of folks who started the first week in June. I am told we’ll likely hit the Sobo bubble of early July departers also, I suppose, in the 100 mile wilderness? One pair of Soboers that we met today were a couple from GA who just got married and were hiking from Katahdin to GA for their honeymoon!
The only other person at our shelter tonight was Dining Hall, the guy starting Stanford Law School this fall and hiking the northern 750 miles of the AT starting in NY. He has someone picking him up at Katahdin on July 24 so he’ll take his time and we likely won’t see him again.
Meredith and Nancy laid out a tentative schedule from today until the end, which will be July 18 or 19, if all goes well. Only two and a half more weeks to go! I can hardly believe it! And I think we only have a few more big mountains to go over before it gets flatter and then we enter 100 mile wilderness.
All the Soboers we run into welcome us to “rocky, rooty” Maine and talk about how rugged the trail is here. I think it is rocky and rooty (and muddy), and very rugged, but not more so than what we’ve been seeing for hundreds of miles since VT. That’s why we’re only doing 2.0 gross(max) 1.5 net mph’s. But that’s ok. And once in a while we have a nice surprise. Like today, we had a couple of nice smooth trail stretches for a mile or more. And on some of our climbs there were really nice stone steps that someone had built. Usually they’re too big for Meredith but today they were smaller rises and worked well for her.
But the rugged trail is definitely having an effect on our feet. Mine feel a lot like they did in Rocksylvania – achy and beat up on the bottom. But his time I think my feet have very much gone numb from the balls of my feet all the way through my toes, so while they still hurt they don’t hurt as much as they did then.
Today I did two dumb things to my toes. The first was when we were hiking, and I pulled my poles forward and planted them on the ground (hard, as I always do—note: is this why he has broken 6 poles??). Except this time, a low branch on the side of the trail caught my right pole and bounced the pole back and in toward the middle of the trail so when I planted the pole it went right on top of my boot and crushed one of my toes. That middle toe still hurts, but I think it caught the nail because I don’t have a laceration or blood.
The second toe incident was when we were making dinner. I’m always very careful about holding the pot far away from everything when I’m pouring the boiling water into a bag, e.g., of ramen. Well tonight I had my legs crossed and was a bit cavalier, and when I was pouring the water into the ramen bag, the bag folded closed so a bunch of the water went straight down and on top of my foot. Fortunately I was wearing my crocs, but I had socks on, so the boiling water only burned my toes where it came through the holes in my crocs, but the socks kept the hot water on the skin until I could whip off the crocs and the socks. It looks like there are only two blistered spots, so I’ll put bandaids on them and hope it won’t hurt hiking tomorrow.
And today was the first day in a very long time when my feet didn’t get wet inside my boots. Even though it hasn’t rained for a couple of days, the water and mud in the trail is still abundant. But today the mud felt manageable/avoidable. Hooray!
140 – Wed 7-5
Today wiped me out. And it was only 16.3 miles. We started out with a pair of pretty steep downs and ups, each about 1-1.5 miles long and 1,000-1,500 ft in elevation change, followed by another steep 1,000 climb to Old Blue Mountain. And the trail the entire day was rocky and rooty, though the mud was once again avoidable with enough effort. So for the second day in a row I started and ended the day with day boots – a record!!
The Maine AT Club has done a good job maintaining the trail, as far as we can tell. On many of the long, steep sections they have built stone stairways which are very helpful. The boulders seem to be placed flatter than we’ve found in other similar sections maintained by other clubs. And they put up log ladders, rebar ladders, and even rebar railings in several places. Very helpful.
We kept leapfrogging Dining Hall today, and left him at the Bemis Lean-to (the Maine Appalachian Trail Club (MATC) calls them lean-tos instead of shelters). He’s doing a Nero tomorrow to be picked up by his godfather and then taking a zero, so we’ll likely not see him again.
It was a beautiful day so we had some great views back all the way past Baldpate, the Wildcats to Mt Washington (we think) and forward to Saddleback and others which we yet don’t recognize.
Instead of finishing at a shelter tonight we went another 3.6 miles to an unofficial Campsite by Bemis Stream (which we’ll have to ford tomorrow morning) to shorten tomorrow’s hike – make it 14.1 miles instead of 17.7. Since it’s supposed to rain tomorrow and we’re meeting Nancy, it’d be nice to make the day short.
A number of Soboers told us that the campsite near the river was swarming with mosquitoes, but since we’ve been here it hasn’t been too bad. We made dinner (the commercial rice pasta marinara with our rice ramen added), and hopped into our hammocks nice and early at 7.15).
We were shocked to be joined at this campsite by none other than Storyteller, a 60+ year old Noboer from “the people’s republic of Maryland” (his words) whom we thought was weeks ahead of us. We last saw him when Jean was with us the day before we hiked into Damascus, VA, and he was going faster than we were. He explained that he had to come off the trail twice – for 15 and 9 days – because of knee problems, one caused by falling several times on the descent down Moosilauke. So the last time he got back on the trail he started at Katahdin and headed southward. So he’s now officially a flipflopper (so the ATC told him at Harpers Ferry) and it irks him!
141 – Thurs 7-6
Today was a very nice day. Weather great, trail pretty modest rock/root-wide, very little in climbs and descents after the first 1,000 ft uphill from our campsite. We did 14.4 mi from Bemis Stream campsite on meet Nancy just after 2pm.
The two most fun parts of the day were fording Bemis Stream right as we left camp and then hiking by several beautiful ponds in the Rangeley area – Long Pond and Sabbathday Pond. With the blue sky, the color of the ponds was deep, dark blue and the deep green forests were a gorgeous contrast framing them.
The hike itself was small wiggles up and down all day, so we made good time and were able to meet Nancy and get to the RV park before 3pm in the afternoon. That gave us time to enjoy a swim at the Rangeley Lake before showering, resupplying and eating a wonderful homemade pizza dinner with salad.
I noticed that the tread on my boots was peeling away in several places, so I repaired them with epoxy glue – I’ll see how well that works to keep them secure over the next few days!