1861 miles on the Appalachian Trail
My last three days in Maine pass in a blur of excitement tinged with sadness: excitement at finishing Maine's 282 miles of trail, sadness at parting ways with my trail family when we reach Monson. The owner of Sterling Inn joins us for breakfast, talking nonstop about the hikers who've passed through.
"One thing about opening a place like this is you meet lots of people," he says, leaning back against a countertop. "My favorite story is probably this one guy who came here in 2013. He'd hiked all the way from Georgia and he fell on Moxie Bald and had to be airlifted out. So the next year -- he had to start over."
We will pass over Moxie Bald ourselves in a couple days. The trail beyond Caratunk is tame compared to the terrain in southern Maine. Dirt, interspersed with roots and rocks, makes up the majority of the trail here. On our first day out of Caratunk, we hike over Pleasant Pond Mountain to camp at Bald Mountain Brook, where we find a lovely selection of flat tent spots. The other hikers on the trail have continued to Bald Mountain Brook Shelter; some days in Maine, the number of hikers I see parallels the crowds I'd passed in Georgia. It's nice to have this humble campsite to ourselves.
Nighthawk gathers armfuls of firewood as I put up my tent. Tenacious circles the area to pick out a campsite devoid of dead trees - widowmakers - that might crash down at night; it's a routine she repeats every day. We each gather water from the brook nearby, walking through knee-high undergrowth obscuring a small wasp nest in the ground. Luckily, none of us gets stung. With our camp chores complete, we gather around Nighthawk's fire for dinner. As the sun begins to set, the fire flickers and dances, filling the air with the aroma of campfire smoke. I can still smell the strangely comforting scent of campfire smoke on my clothing when I retire to my tent that evening.
I'll hike 15.4 miles tomorrow and 6.7 the day after that. Then, time to celebrate with some Maine lobster!
As I hike over Moxie Bald Mountain the next morning, I listen to the last chapters of A Walk in the Woods: Bill Bryson describes hiking from Moxie Bald to the Chairbacks during his section hike of the Appalachian Trail. It's a surreal - and rather funny - experience listening to someone describe the terrain I'm hiking. At one point, Bill Bryson writes about losing his friend in the rocky Chairback Mountains. In my mind, I can picture the exact locations that he describes.
In the spring, when snowmelt first fills the rivers and streams, hikers must ford many of the rivers in Maine. Some rivers can reach knee or waist height. I wait for Tenacious at the Piscataquis River, where a skull mounted onto a stick marks the trail. Luckily, in this dry September season, the water levels are low enough to expose a log-and-rock bridge that we hope across. We proceed to hike 5 miles along the same river in the muggy, gnat infested heat, only to cross back to the same bank we'd started on.
Totally logical, AT, I think with some amusement.
Tenacious majored in film and photography in college; she tells me how to develop film manually using things like stopper fluid and developer. Very cool!
When we get to camp, Nighthawk is blasting the full Hairspray soundtrack over another campfire:
But my feet tell me go!
It's like a drummer inside my heart
Oh, oh, oh
Don't make me wait
One more moment for my life to start...
Then, all too soon, my mom is picking me up at ME 15, Nighthawk and Tenacious are continuing into the 100 Mile Wilderness, and I am on my way back to the White Mountains of New Hampshire.