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 →
During our 45-minute meeting on the side of the road, as action-packed as it was, my parents had a few moments to spare a word or two about the cottages they’d been in the past two nights (and in which I would spend that night). They sounded nice, but I was a hiking fool. I looked and smelled like I needed a shower, but I felt rested and energized and ready to hike my greasy head across another 13 mile stretch. The range of elevations would be only 1300 feet, with the change spread out over the whole day, and I was ready for an easy day. (Compare this with the multiple 2500 foot elevation changes of the previous day.) In fact, it would be even easier than it looked: the terrain was downright pleasant.
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.
A nasty bout of weather cut short my one-week-to-Pinkham-Notch plan after a mere 5 days. Six days after being shuttled from Chet’s out to Kinsman Notch, I was back again. And I wasn’t the only one. Icarus was back again, having spent the past few days hiking the Pemi with Damselfly and Splash. He showed me pictures they took cavorting on the edge of Bondcliff and enjoined me to go see it myself, extolling it as the most beautiful spot in the Whites, and judging from the pictures, it seemed likely he wasn’t exaggerating.
An epic battle for Bondcliff (by Rachel “Damselfly” Kirchoefner, with Chris Eli “Icarus” Polett and Josh “Splash” Isbell)
So, when I left off writing two weeks ago, I was in Palmerton, PA, June 1st. I woke up in the Jail House Hostel fairly early, and immediately crossed the street for the laundromat to put a load in. Then, I got into the diner with a line of other hikers (Rolling R and the Aussies were there) to get breakfast. Although, I planned to be in town most of the day, I was still hungry early and all slept out.
April Johanssen, a 35-year-old single mom, is turning her life around by getting back to nature. After years of rarely leaving her house in Chicago, she became obsessed with Harper’s Ferry and drew on the support of local and online communities to fund a break-out camping and hiking trip. It’s almost a week into that trip now, and her funds, those she didn’t spend on food and gear, are running low. So, she starts volunteering in exchange for her site at the hostel, and, because she’s got to work four hours a day, she’s not getting to much of the hiking she came to do. The debilitating migraines don’t help either. And when she does have time to hike, after all that work is done, for one reason or another, she just doesn’t feel like it. She’s not getting done the thing she came to do. She wants to try a longer trip with the backpack, but her tent is too big to carry, and she’s never even done a day hike with the pack on. She needs some practice, and a push.
So she had to climb up Weverton Cliffs with me. It’s only a couple of miles, after all, and I need someone to take my picture in front of that gorgeous view anyway.