Crawford Notch to Rangeley Scorecard
Currently sitting through what is probably going to be the last zero of my thru-hike. It wasn’t actually by choice, but due to a lost package and the fact that if a package is lost, it is always going to happen on a Saturday night.
If you follow my Instagram (follow my Instagram for a front row seat to my gradually deteriorating state of mental health), you know that I was feeling pretty anxious about deadlines when I first got to Maine. I’m less worried now; what can I say, the Mahoosuc Range is probably going to end up being the most physically and mentally difficult part of my hike and I had a bit of a breakdown. I couldn’t even make 10 mile days and was worried about whether that was what all of Southern Maine was going to be like. I really couldn’t imagine doing a 100 miles of that; I barely survived 20. I’m still in the part of Maine that’s supposed to be difficult, but it’s eased up a ton. I hiked 18 whole miles yesterday! I haven’t hiked that many since the day I crossed the Vermont/New Hampshire border. So while I wasn’t SUPER excited to have to take a “wait for the post office” zero, I don’t think it’s going to hinder my chances to get to Katahdin in time.
That said, after I finished my work-for-stay at this hostel, I sat down wondering what I was going to do with a whole day off, and immediately fell asleep. I am TANKED.
Currently at 1969. I’ve hiked 125 miles since last check in. I have 219 miles until I stand on top of Katahdin.
I crossed out of New Hampshire and into the very last of 14 states, Maine. She’s a doozy: at 281 miles she’s the second longest state on the AT, although still dwarfed by Virginia’s 550.
While I’ve included a Feet Report in most of my blogs, the Whites and Southern Maine have turned hiking into a full body activity. I thought this might be a chance to talk about the vast myriad of strange things that have happened to my body over the course of my thru-hike, since complaining about my body is what I do best right now.
After my nap, I woke up to the strange locking and popping in my fingers I’ve been experiencing every morning for the last couple of days. A quick Google search revealed I had Trigger Finger, probably caused by how tightly I’ve been gripping my trekking poles for hours on end. WebMD describes it as painful, which it is, but it sort of just fades into the background with the rest of the aches and pains my body experiences constantly. I used to say I woke up every morning feeling like I’d been hit by a truck, but hiking through New Hampshire and Maine has required an escalation of that. Run over by a tank, maybe.
The other day I was wiping mud off my legs when I noticed that the stretch marks I’ve had on my thighs since puberty were gone. With a start, I realized that meant my thighs are currently the same size they were when I was 11. There’s a lot of generalizations about what your body looks like at the end of a thru-hike, which is silly because like anything else, people’s bodies do different things. Mine, instead of turning into the supermodel I was promised, has become that of an 11 year old girl. The length from my armpits to my knees is one straight line.
I also kind of feel like an 11 year old girl. I don’t feel strong and powerful and like some kind of super hiker. I feel weak and broken down. My pack, laden again with my winter gear and more food than I’ve ever had to carry, completely crushes my ankles and knees with every step.
I also cannot eat enough, regardless of what food I carry. I was sorting through my resupply in Gorham when a flip-flopper came up to me and said, “Are you trying not to resupply between here and Katahdin? Stop in Andover to get more food, why are you doing that to yourself?” He was talking about the four day resupply meant to last me until I got to Andover, and like every single resupply I’ve done over the last 500 miles, I ran out of food early. I thought the flip-flopper was being a bit of a jerk and I hoped the insatiable torture hunger hits him at mile 1500 like it had me.
New Hampshire is hard. It’s all crazy elevation gains, rock scrambles, and unpredictable weather. New Hampshire is really, really hard. I never actually felt in danger though.
I have a newfound respect for southbounders. If I hadn’t had 1900 miles of effort behind me, I would have gotten to the Mahoosuc Range in Maine and turned right around and walked off the trail. I knew I signed up for hard, I signed up for physical pain and discomfort, and I signed up for a ton of different woes I couldn’t even imagine before I started. I did not sign up for hiking “Fear Factor.”
I would describe myself as someone who has a healthy fear of heights. As in if I had a choice between (a) hiking along a slick, rocky cliff face, hanging on to roots and rocks so if the tread on my shoes gave out I wouldn’t just plummet to my death and (b) not doing any of that, I would choose the latter. I’ve spent months espousing the safety of this trail to day hikers (the number one question I’m always asked is if I feel safe) and suddenly it all felt like lies. I did not feel safe. I was really, really scared.
This is possibly colored by the fact that the first thing I did in Maine was fall 10 feet. I had the foresight to take a picture while sitting down on the section of the trail I fell down before I fell down it.
I talked to four different people who chose to skip ahead after the Mahoosucs. One of them talked about having nightmares about some of the rock faces. I don’t blame any of them. It seems sadistic to ask thru-hikers to play broken bone Russian roulette if they want to finish out their hike.
While the terrain has eased up slightly, the biggest difference has been the level of trail maintenance. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to maintain the kind of trail that’s in this part of Maine. The AT goes about 30 miles between road crossings in the Mahoosucs, and while there are other trails that intersect it, the Mahoosuc Notch (the hardest mile on the AT, which takes an average of 2 hours; it’s a fun Google image search) and the Mahoosuc Arm (the most elevation gain within one mile along the AT) are in there and I imagine they make hiking through with tools and ladders and rebar impossible.
The bog bridges are a mess. (There’s a fun one where stepping on one side will cause the other side to swing upward into your face while sliding you backward into the very four foot deep mud it was supposed to protect you from. I had read about it in a trail log, but the person in front of me with mud up to his rib cage was less lucky.)
Once I was through the Mahoosucs, road crossings were more frequent and so were ropes, chunks of rebar affixed to rocks, and drilled in toe holds. The bog bridges were still a hot mess though.
Falling down that rock. I curled up at the bottom of it, my bleeding hand wrapped in my shirt, and thought about how unfair it was that I had gotten this far only to find out that I couldn’t finish it. I had spent the last couple of days asking people which states they hadn’t cried in, mostly because I enjoy forcing people to acknowledge they’ve cried at least once out here. I’ve been pretty surprised to learn that my cry-free state total (West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and New York; I also can’t remember crying in Pennsylvania but it’s so long a state I think I must have) is far from the lowest, because if you follow this blog you’ve no doubt realized I’ve been a big ol’ crybaby out here. I crossed Maine off the list on Day One.
I have no idea how I hiked the rest of it. I still had the Arm and the Notch left. The whole time my brain was going, “This is impossible. You can’t do this. You’re going to break every bone in your body,” and my legs just kind of kept going. The relationship you have with your body is weird out here. It feels like it’s own separate entity, sometimes completely out of my control. I’ve talked about having out-of-body experiences while eating food. Once or twice my body’s just sat down in the middle of the trail and refused to move. This was the opposite. My brain was out of commission, having a total breakdown, and my body was like, “Ok, you sit this one out,” and just carried on through a weird mix of muscle memory and habit.
Maine, more so everyday. I told a lot of people I would never forgive Maine for those first 20 miles and I’m still pretty huffy about it. But Maine is amazing. Fall foliage is more prominent every day and being from California, I’ve never seen anything like it. You’re so much more isolated than in some other sections of the trail. I saw a moose and had my closest encounter with a black bear yet. What they call ponds are what I would call lakes, and they have big, sandy beaches you can wade into.
I’m slowly starting to cross over into that bittersweet last stage of my thru-hike. On one hand, I’m so tired and ready to be done. I spent a good hour of hiking the other day thinking about Lush bath bombs, despite the fact I’ve never purchased anything from Lush and it’s been years since I’ve taken a bath. I fantasize about pampering my body and putting it back together the same way I fantasize about food. I think about the first meal I’ll eat when I’m back, down to the clothes I’m wearing. I think about getting a haircut and putting on makeup. I think about sleeping through the sunrise. I think about putting on clean and dry clothes in the morning. I think about my friends and what I’ll say when I see them and what they’ll say when they see me. I’m so excited for those things.
But every once in awhile a moment passes and I’m struck with how badly I’m going to miss this. Being able to eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and have it be good for me. Sitting alone on a mountain I climbed to the top of, looking back at all the other mountains I’ve climbed to the top of. Bathing in lakes. Curling up in my tent at the end of a long day. The instant friendship between hikers. Laying in a bunk with a bunkroom full of people talking about how much they hate rocks. And mostly, the simplicity of carrying everything you need on your back, with your path forward carefully marked by white blazes.
I’m going to be honest, I’ve struggled with these ratings since the get go. I never have any idea how to rate each section. Your emotional state out here is going from extreme lows to extreme highs within seconds, and switching back and forth a hundred times in a day. How do you give that a fudge stripe cookies rating? My feelings on any one section, or the trail itself, are fleeting and change every moment. This has become even more true as I’ve hiked further and further. There was a point where I literally felt like I was walking through hell. How do I mix that in with the rest of it? And to top it off, I got so sick of fudge stripe cookies less than 200 miles in and now I can’t even look at them anymore. So I think I may tap out on the ratings, at least for now.
One Last Thing
If you’ve been enjoying this blog and following along on my adventure, please consider a donation of any size to the International Rescue Committee. I’ve been fundraising for them over the course of my thru-hike and it’s a cause that means a lot to me. The page to do so is here and is manned by my brother. If you’ve recently started following, the blog where I originally talked about this fundraiser is here. Thank you all for the million and one ways you’ve supported me during over the course of this journey!
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