At the end of the last, you left me loading hastily into a car at the top of Springer Mountain to immediately throw myself into a social situation in which a majority of the participants would not be hikers, something I had not done for seven months.
After the nearly hour-long drive back to Amicalola Falls and the cabin (in which we stopped to buy like 10 bags of boiled peanuts for the party that very few people ended up eating), I said a few quick hellos, took a picture, and headed straight for the shower. People would be arriving within the hour and I needed to be fresh and well-dressed so as not to offend.
After that was a whirlwind of food and posing for photos and entertaining children and trying to interact normally with people I hadn’t seen in at least a year, and for several years in some cases. (And we wouldn’t be the only ones celebrating. The park was full of children and families doing some kind of fall festival event in the park, involving tractor-towed hayrides among other things.) But a picture is worth a thousand words, so fifty pictures will easily make this the longest post on this blog. Here’s what happened at that party, in pictures in no particular order.
Around 4PM, I began my climb out of Dick’s Creek Gap toward the top of Powell Mountain, fully stocked on snacks again (and sporting a brand new pair of Leki pokes), but all alone. After 3.5 miles, I stopped at Deep Gap Shelter to check it out. It was one of those shelters designed like an outdoor theater, with a wide stage on the front. I took off my shoes to let them air out and started on my snacks. I was listening to the new audiobook I had downloaded on Mama’s laptop at the Unicoi Lodge: Cory Doctorow’s For the Win. I wasn’t exactly expecting a YA novel, but I was getting into it a bit, just on the basis of the unusually multicurtural characters. Actually, I can’t remember another time I’ve read any other novel not largely focused on American characters. Oh, I remember one: Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. I’m getting off-track. So, yeah, I sat there on the bench on the front of the shelter for the brighter part of the afternoon before I finally decided to get going.
165 miles is all I had left to go. 10 days is all I had left to do it. Not only had I committed by giving the okay for a day to have people join me on the final climb, but I also had committed by agreeing to go back to work within a couple of days of my arrival on Springer. Sure, it’s one of the easiest sections of the trail, but that only meant it was bound to be even more of a whirlwind tour than Maine was: there were fewer views, fewer hard climbs and fewer reasons to stop or slow down in general. It’ll be a wonder if I can even remember half of it. I’ve certainly forgotten all the names.
It all started in the dark. I don’t mean I got up before dawn. I didn’t. I mean there was no light inside. Despite being a mile from an immense hydroelectric dam, power outages are a recurring problem, and I just happened to start my hike during one of them. As a result, it did no good to make it to the lobby before breakfast ended: how breakfast was canceled. They offered me a room temperature pastry instead. Welp. Good thing we had sandwich fixings in the room. Not a particularly auspicious way to start a 22 mile hike, but on the bright side, it gave me little reason to stick around. Continue reading →
144 miles left to go in Maine and a plan to do it in 9 days. That’s an average of 16 miles a day. In Maine. Crazy right? The are three reasons that is even imaginable (let alone possible), any two of which would not be sufficient to put such a plan on the radar:
I’d nearly hiked 2000 miles already, and was in the best hiking shape of my life.
Copper wouldn’t be with me for any of it.
I could slackpack most of it, and sleep in a proper bed most nights.
Attempting 16 mile days every day for 9 days straight while climbing the steepest hills on the A.T. with a full pack, or with a dog, or on untested legs would be something only attempted by crazy professional hikers, crazy people, or Renea. But in my very particular situation, it seemed doable, and doing it is the subject of this post. Continue reading →
This is a REALLY LONG POST. I recommend spreading out reading it over a few days. Or, you know, just skim it and look at the pictures. I won’t know the difference. I’m not even sure who all is reading these days. You all look like bars on a graph to me.
It was quite late in the day to be starting my first day into the hundred mile wilderness, given that I only had 7 days worth of food for Copper and me. (Yes, I was carrying half of his food to begin with, in a large bag. He carried in Tupperware, which, since his bowl had gone missing on Mt. Adams, he could eat out of) I needed to make ten miles to the Wilson Valley Lean-To before I slept if I were to stay on schedule. And not staying on schedule was not an option when you the trek ahead means crossing an under-trafficked logging road only every other day. The problem was, the trail doesn’t wait until after the first day to start throwing you in front of things worth taking pictures of.
For instance, right past the warning sign, I already reached the first pond of the wilderness: Spectacle Pond. All the ponds out here are scenic, so I succumbed to my urge to move quickly, and skipped the picture. An hour and two more ponds later, I dropped down a steep hill and landed at Leeman Brook Lean-to, where most of the hikers leaving that day had already gathered, some to snack, some just to chat, and some to have a safety meeting. Among the hikers already there were Counselor, Wonder Boy, and Piper. (The latter two may have been largely responsible for the safety material.) Continue reading →
As I just mentioned, the southern part of Maine is known as the most rugged part of the A.T. From the day I left Gorham, it took me three days to do the first 26 miles in the Mahoosucs to Grafton Notch, where I arranged, while at the White Mountains Lodge, for my parents to pick me up. Since it was the beginning of October (this post begins with the 29th of September), I had no other chance to make the Kennebec River crossing or be guaranteed a chance to climb Katahdin if I didn’t skip ahead and do it before most of Maine. Also, I could do the rest of Maine a lot faster without a dog and a pack, and given that there was almost no one left on the trail this far back, I had no reason to draw out my trip any longer. It was time to get a move on. So, this was the plan: get to Grafton Notch, ride to Caratunk, do the Kennebec crossing, ride to Monson, do the 100 mile wilderness and Katahdin, and then slackpack the rest of the state southbound in nine days, before driving back south to do North Carolina and Georgia. It was to be a whirlwind tour of Maine, to be completed (I hoped) before it started snowing. This post should bring the story as far as Monson, after which I expect the story can be finished in just four more posts. So close!
After about 2 weeks, I’d managed to complete about 70 miles of the “real” Whites. That averages to about five miles per day. Even two months before, when I’d spent half of every day swimming in lakes, I was averaging better than that. And I still had 45 left to go before the Maine border. And I can tell you now: my average didn’t improve much at all for the remainder of it. When it comes to arduous hiking, there’s nothing like the Whites anywhere on the eastern seaboard.
I had set myself up on the edge of the road and the parking lot so I could try to bum rides from hikers leaving or entering the woods. It didn’t take super long to find a couple in a van headed towards Gorham on the way out of state and home. They took me to Gorham, and I explained that actually I was trying to get to the Lodge just on the eastern end of town near the A.T. They were perfectly happy to carry me that far, even though it was well out of their way.
Eventually (eons later), an older couple in a van picked me up, indicating that they were hikers themselves and very amenable to giving them a lift when they get the chance. They drove me right to the doorstep of the Lodge, even though it was much farther than I expected, way past the far end of town.
Setting up a hammock over mud not only got my mosquito net tent dirty, it made it uniquely tricky to climb out of it in the morning. Routine for this style of camping is trying to find places to step that aren’t on your own gear, and standing hunched over due to the height restrictions imposed by the rainfly. However, you sort of come to count on the ground being there for you. I started the the morning by plopping down onto my butt without warning. Continue reading →
Despite the lateness of the hour, we still had plenty of light left, and once we finally hit the trail, we moved fast. I didn’t expect to go very far, just perhaps to Brassie Brook Shelter. Copper was just a week out from being unable to stand up on his own, after all. When we stopped in at Brassie Brook Shelter, there was plenty of daylight and energy left, so I decided to move on after a snack, especially when one other fast-moving Nobo I hadn’t met (well, obviously, seeing as how I’d fallen behind by a week) stopped in for a moment and decided he’d move on. Even though I left slightly before him and basically moved as quickly as I could to reach the top of Bear Mountain, he passed me moving twice as fast somewhere on the steep rocky slopes. I redoubled my speed and chased him to the top, where we stopped next to an enormous rock pile in the shape of a frustum. Years and years ago, when it was still a complete pyramid, it looked like this: Continue reading →