AT Day 107 – The Wisdom Of Cookies
Nahmakanta Lake to Abol Bridge
Million Mosquitoes Camp to Cookie Caramel Camp
AT miles: 25.5
Total miles: 2184
Elevation change: 4016ft gain, 4035ft loss
And just like that, the 100 Mile Wilderness is behind me. All that’s left of the AT is Katahdin, and it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the final, mega summit. How natural it would be to forget the buggy mess of lakes and rivers that I traversed today, and the day before. The Chairbacks? No one talks about the Chairbacks. This far north, it’s Katahdin or nothing. However, I try to resist that temptation. Maybe it’s just the rose-tinted glasses casting their pre-nostalgic glow, but despite the horrendous mosquito situation, the past 100 mile section was my favorite stretch of the whole AT. Yeah, I said it. Sure, it would have benefitted from another Baldpate or Moxie Bald equivalent, but the scenery was only part of the story. The vibe was different, the vibe was better, more wild and rooted. And that feeling might just be a reflection who I was during these specific days in my journey. I’m positive that the horde of sobo hikers that I passed today felt differently than I did. They’re on their journeys, and I am on mine. My soul cries for them a little bit thinking about how far they have left to go, and I’m not sure if I shed tears of joy or sadness. The same goes for me. Am I happy or sad when I see Katahdin from every viewpoint? Both, I suppose. The 100 Mile Wilderness was as vaired as my emotions, and functioned as a perfect canvas onto which I could let them splash and flow. The final result is a messy smudge of dirt, sweat, and blood, but also shines bright with streaks of brilliant light and clarity. Without this mixture of both, I wouldn’t be where I am. I wouldn’t have even taken one step north from Springer, so many days ago. Pain is drudgery without bliss, which is meaningless without hardship. I take the smudges, I take the clarity, both. They are my joy, they are my treasure.
The morning started with joy. Before or after my alarm, I can’t recall, a moose shuffled through the birch grove not 10 feet from my fragile face. It was big, it was peaceful, wanting nothing to do with me and my strange abode. I watched it graze in silence, impressed by both the grace and power it exhibited as it pressed branches aside like they were nothing. The shutter sound effect from my camera finally scooted it along, and I relaxed back to my belly thinking that I was pretty darn lucky.
The trail started me out with a twisting wander around the long south shore of Nahmakanta Lake. The humidity was real, but the high clouds kept the temperature reasonable and the bugs subdued. They were nothing like the relentless swarm yesterday, and I was able to hike with my hood down, feeling the breeze on my ears. A few beach-side campsites of bouncy pine needles precipitated fantasies of the fabled on-trail zero day, but my legs kept me on track each time.
A short, sweaty, and fun climb up the bouldery lump of Nesuntabunt Mountain earned me an epic view of Katahdin, which hulked over the hills of lakes and forest with a confidence that made me believe that it had been that way for a very long time. It was capped with a smooth lenticular dome that made me shiver with remembrance of Franconia Ridge. I was glad to be observing from a distance today, and would not complain about the calm, warm air. I reserved the right to spit insults at the bugs, however.
The descent to Pollywog Stream was fast and uneventful, as was the turn up Rainbow Stream near where the two collided at a conveniently placed road bridge. Rainbow cascaded for a mile on smooth slides and short drops, drowning out the quiet patter of rain drops as they filtered through the dense covering of beech leaves. I got a little wet, but considered the dampness a free, sweat-alternative. That said, I did take cover at the Rainbow Stream Shelter to keep me dry through lunch. It did just that. I wore my puffy to keep the bugs off my back, and swung my dangling legs to make them less appetizing while I finished off all of my remaining food except for a few bars and dried figs. While I nommed down, a clean-looking sobo showed up, happy to be home for the day. Two others soon followed, and suddenly, I was in a hiker bubble. Their excited newness was endearing and sickening at the same time. I wasn’t better than them, but they made me feel as if I were as calm as one of the ancient white pines standing nearby in silent observance. They questioned and commented on everything. Was I ever so busy-minded?
The sobo parade continued as I followed the trail around the humongous Rainbow Lake. The miles were sweet, and I gladly stepped aside to let them pass and share a smile. They were all great, all so unique. And so many hiked under umbrellas. It was hardly raining at all anymore, but I tried not to judge. Maybe I was just lazier than they were. I couldn’t remember the last time I had actually used my umbrella in the rain.
The gradual climb up Rainbow Ledges crossed what I decided right then and there was my favorite kind of trail on the AT, a smooth sidewalk across bulging granite through a sparse forest of dwarf pine and white moss. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen it, and I hoped that it wouldn’t be the last. On top, the best view of Katahdin yet surprised me through the trees. The cloud cap had gone the way of the rain and vanished, leaving a sun-drenched wall of alpine rock, more detailed and textured than before. I could, and did, trace the route to the summit. It looked big. Maybe those sobos weren’t so fresh after all.
A mile later, I was for the last time interrogated by a trio of sobos, the 14th, 15th, and 16th of the day. I could have basked in their ego-boosting wonderment all evening, but needed to make it to SpiceRack and Tango by 7pm. Places to be, meals to eat. I sped away, trying to look smooth just in case they were watching me go.
I turned Spice and the pup around after a pat and a hug when I found them hiking my way with a bright bouquet and bottle of booch. We hiked back to the waiting Blackbird, then trundled 200 yards along the dirt road to Abol Pines Campground. The mosquitoes there were relentless again, and had their fill of me as I showered, but soon I was warm and protected in a shell of metal and incense smoke. I cooked dinner for a change, then Spice took the lead on a batch of chocolate chip cookies. What little energy I had left after the stir fry was completely obliterated by the perfectly underbaked sugar bombs. The dark chocolate chips swirled in brown streaks within the golden batter. The bitter with the sweet, the smudged with the clear, the pain with the bliss. These cookies knew it all. These cookies were wise.
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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