AT Day 106 – The Trail That Dreams Are Made Of
Logan Brook Shelter to Nahmakanta Lake
One More Mountain Camp to Million Mosquitoes Camp
AT miles: 30.6
Total miles: 2158.5
Elevation change: 2579ft gain, 4281ft loss
I am covered in bug bites, my legs are tired, I’m sticky with sweat, and I am happy. It would seem that all of the flat trail that I had ever dreamed of while hiking the AT has been sequestered in the 100 Mile Wilderness this whole time. All of it. And not only is it flat, let’s remember that the rocky awfulness in northern PA was largely flat, but it is also smooth. Pine needle bounce, free from rocks and roots. Ah, I had forgotten that such trail existed. Of course not all of today was on absolutely perfect tread, but the consistent flatness more than made up for the rounded rocks and root thickets. So where did all the mountains go? They turned into humongous lakes and piles of moose scat, it seems, because there are ponds and poop aplenty. This is terrain for moose, amblers, and those who like to cruise. And let’s not forget that it is a haven for bugs that dine on blood. These are the final days to feel strong and fast again. This is the deep breath before Katahdin. I just have to remember not to gag on the mosquitoes.
The smooth cruise started immediately after leaving camp this morning. I wasn’t stoked about my 9:15am start time, but it had taken three snoozes on my alarm before I finally motivated myself to get on with the day. I trusted that my body knew what it needed, but the late start left me in a mileage hole right off the bat. I was at the mercy of the trail now. I would hike as far as it allowed me to hike, no further.
The grade was initially less than flat, trending downhill as I surfed the final ripple of Whitecap to the land of lakes below. To start, the crunch of dry gravel, the fluttered shimmering of pale birch, and the tumbling Logan Brook reminded me of the area around Bishop Pass in the Sierra. Then, after the trail leveled off, the towering pine and rocks covered in thick moss brought me straight back to Maine. There was no comparison I could draw here, no thoughtless vibe linking to my past. It was just Maine, and it was wonderful. The shade was deep except for small splashes of brilliant sunlight puddled at random. When one illuminated a fern, it made the plant appear almost neon against the deep dusty brown of matted needles. I hiked fast, easily.
A wide rush of brown water gave me pause at the Pleasant River, but a lunging hop kept my feet dry and gave me reason to pump my fist and feel good about myself. After that, an uphill took me by surprise, then another one, bringing me to the wooded top of Little Boardman Mountain. There was a view of Whitecap through the trees, satisfyingly distant already, but what I would have preferred was a breeze. The mosquitoes buzzed all around me, and a quick glance was all I needed to see that it was not a battle worth fighting. This was the endless swarm, and they were out for blood. My blood.
Several of the. most. pleasant. miles ever followed on the north side of Boardman. The width of the trail said ‘road’. The bulging stones and deep ruts said ‘old’. The flatness said ‘fly’. The open pine forest gave me space to spread my wings and do just that. I made great time, arriving at Cooper Brook Falls Shelter earlier than expected, yet just in time for lunch. The mosquitoes formed a cloud around my legs when I dropped my pack at the wooden lean-to, but dispersed down by the adjacent Cooper Brook. I put on my puffy to guard my shoulders and back, and wrapped my lower legs in my foam pad. The arrangement worked well, allowing me to enjoy the peaceful setting while getting down on all of my yummy foods. The cascading falls churned white into a long pool of tea-tinted water. This may have been the nicest setting for a shelter of the entire trail, and I made a mental note to return in the future after humans had finally forged a truce with mosquitoes. An end to the bloodshed. An end to the horror.
As careful as I was to stay hydrated, the heat of the day and constant effort (gladly given) to make miles made sure that I maintained a slick sheen of sweat on my forehead and kept my mouth dry. Even gulping a gulp of water every mile wasn’t enough to keep my pee copious and clear. I swatted and sweated around Jo-Mary Lake, disappointed that there wasn’t a breeze along the sandy shore, then hustled to Potaywadjo Spring for a refill. Gravity pulled the cold water through my filter while I smashed bugs by the dozen.
The heat of the day had broken by the time I started hiking again, and with cold water in my belly and on my back, I felt confident that I would survive after all. Even the bugs seemed to lose some of their motivation. A tremendous view of Katahdin from the shore of South Twin Lake was the final boost that I needed to finish the day strong. Just as Whitecap had looked satisfyingly distant from Boardman, Big Mama K was shockingly close now. Shockingly large too. It loomed, and I scanned it for a single, reasonable-looking route to the top. I could find none.
The final miles along the wide Nahmakanta Stream were a little bit silly. I’m not sure if it was the end-of-day tiredness distorting time, or if the trail was actually a little bit tougher, but the roots and constant twists and turns dragged on and on. The groovy soul of Har Mar Superstar switched to the music of singing birds and rushing water as I let the final hour of the day envelope me and make me one of its own. I was a frog, I was a moose, I was a hiker. I wished that I had been a loon, soaring to camp. No roots, no mosquitoes.
The last minute of golden sunshine torched the birch on the shore of Nahmakanta Lake. I’d made it to camp just in time for sunset, and for that I was grateful. I watched the final blazing dip below the horizon across the placid water from the sandy shore, then turned back into the trees to erect my anti-mosquito fortress. The packed gravel of the empty campground was bad for stakes, and I picked up many more bites along my lower back as I struggled to pound solid placements. When it was finally done, I walked back to the water, then ran back to my tent, quickly diving inside, bringing my full backpack with me. The strategy seemed to work. There were no mosquitoes in my tent, although they quickly accumulated outside the mesh wall. I didn’t feel too smug though, as I sat in my sweaty clothes in the warm evening air. They would be waiting and hungry tomorrow morning.
This post was originally published on my blog hikefordays.com. Check it out for trip reports from my other hikes including the CDT and Sierra High Route.
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Just read AT Day 106. Nicely done. Nice of you to take us along. I do hope everyone behaved.
Just curious how you add writing to a busy day of hiking. Do you write to completion about the day while taking refuge from the million mosquitos that evening? Or do you take notes during the day or in camp and flesh it out at some later date?
Best wishes, Owen. Thanks again for writing. Very enjoyable.
Right there with you!