Day 140: A Real Thru Hike – Part 1

I’m Back

I’ll bet you didn’t even know I was gone. We ate lobster rolls (not a fan – I prefer plain lobster), hung out in Acadia National Park (big fan – would love to go back), and spent seven days with my oldest son’s family (huge fan). Grandkids are the best. What a sweet week.

We walked or hiked every day, but nothing too strenuous. The family loved the cog railway ride up Mt. Washington and the car ride back down. And the one-mile hike from Pinkham Notch was a hit too. I re-re-learned the value of rest.

What to Do with Maine

I spent some of my free time at the coast reworking my itinerary for the last 300 miles. If I learned anything in the Whites, it was that I needed to make sure my mileage goal fit the terrain. Everyone I’ve met says southern Maine is just as tough as the Whites, but my original itinerary had lots of 15- to 20-mile days.

Somewhere in past twenty years of planning this thru hike, I downloaded Warren Doyle’s AT itinerary. Doyle has thru hiked the AT a record 18 times – more than anyone else. For several years, Doyle supported groups of thru hikers from Springer to Katahdin, slackpacking most of the trail between road crossings. If anyone knows the best way to hike Maine, it’s Doyle.

Doyle’s 127-day itinerary includes some very long hikes, up to 27 miles, including a 21-mile day in the White Mountains. But his mileage drops significantly in southern Maine. So, whenever my itinerary had longer miles than Doyle’s, I cut back. I also added some zero days. The changes pushed back my finish date a few days, but I think it’ll be worth it. I have no reason to hurry.

Still, I’ll be done in three weeks, which is hard to believe.

Back to Walmart

We’d been warned away from parking at the US2 trailhead, and we needed to resupply, so we headed to the Gorham Walmart for the night. As soon as I pulled up to drop Northstar off at the door, four thru hikers I didn’t know walked out, saw the AT stickers on the van, and flagged me down for a ride back to a motel in town.

This morning, as we pulled up to the trailhead, a group of hikers climbed out of a big Cadillac owned by one of the local hostels. I didn’t recognize any of them. Once again, it looked like I’d be in a new bubble.

This time, since there are no roads for 31.1 miles, I’d be backpacking like everyone else. I hadn’t been a “real” thru hiker since the Smokies.

Climb Time

Today’s hike started with a little road walk over the Androscoggin River, past a small hydroelectric dam, and then along a dirt road to the foot of the big climb out of the river valley. I got a little lump in my throat as I passed the 1900-mile mark I’d visited with my granddaughter and the rest of the family. And even more broken hearted when I saw a poster indicating that I’d missed trail magic breakfast yesterday morning that promised fresh fruit and beer – the thru hiker breakfast of champions.

I only had 10.8 miles today, but it included 4,200 feet of climbing and some steep terrain. After my experience in the Whites, I had no idea what to expect, especially since I’d be carrying a full pack for the first time in months.

Once I left the dirt road for the woods, I felt excited to be walking past the white blazes again. It felt right. My legs were a little shaky at the beginning of the 2,000-foot, two-mile climb, but after a few minutes I had a pace and felt great. I passed the hikers that had been dropped off by the Cadillac. The extra pack weight didn’t seem to make much difference.


I felt so good at the top of the big climb that I started thinking about switching back to my original itinerary, which had me hiking another 5.6 miles past the Gentian Pond Shelter to the Carlo Col Shelter. I decided that if I reached Gentian Pond by 1:30, I’d keep going. If I got there by 3:00 and felt strong, I’d hike on. After 3:00, I’d stay put since the hiking after Gentian Pond is said to be nasty.

I stopped at Mount Hayes, hoping to catch enough cell coverage to download a new audiobook, and got passed by the Cadillac crowd. I also met Just Try, a hiker my age I recognized from her frequent Instagram posts. At the next summit, I passed the Cadillac crowd and stopped when I recognized Chumbawumba, who I hadn’t seen since New Jersey. She introduced me to Crane and Fireball, who I’d not met before.

They all planned to hike to Gentian Pond for the night. As I left, I joked that I’d be getting the good spot at the shelter, a mistake I’d made once in the Smokies. Sure enough, they hustled past me a few hours later when I stopped to filter water. They had that competitive look in their eyes.

An Easy Decision

Around 2:00, with about a half mile left to Gentian Pond Shelter, the rain that had been threatening all day finally turned from a light drizzle to a full-on downpour. I pulled out my raincoat and walked as fast as the wet rocks and mud would allow, reaching the shelter a few minutes later. I grabbed a spot, hung up my wet gear, and waited to see what the weather would do.

The rain showed no signs of letting up, my knees hurt, and a south bounder told me the next few miles would be tough in the rain. I rolled out my sleeping pad, wrung out my socks, popped a couple of Advil, and set up for the night.

Back to Shelter Life

I thought I’d sworn off shelter life. But I didn’t feel like laying alone in my little tent for the next 16 hours. Plus, I wanted to dry out my gear as much as possible. And the hikers seemed like a pleasant bunch. No one had cards, so we spent an hour playing a word game called “Contact” until the shelter filled, and it got difficult to speak around the newcomers.

Most of the chatter was about the impending weather, how tough the Whites had been, and what was coming in Maine. Not surprisingly, several hikers said they were emotionally done, and were just in it to finish. One said he couldn’t remember why he wanted to hike the AT in the first place, but he wasn’t going to quit with less than 300 miles to go. Not very cheery stuff, though the foul weather probably helped dampen everyone’s mood.

Still, the shelter had a nice vibe. The hikers knew each other and were welcoming to me and others who they’d never met before. It felt like a community, with no one seeming to care who was sectioning or going north or south.

The rest of the night played out as I’d remembered from my previous shelter stays. One guy periodically lit up a Marlboro for the rest of us to enjoy. Another smoked some weed. A lady came in just before dark, when most of us were already in our sleeping bags, shook off her wet gear inside, talked loudly about her hiking accomplishments, and then lay down and started snoring like a lumberjack within minutes.

A Short Night

I woke up around 3:15 and stared at the darkness, listening to a chorus of snoring, rustling, and other nighttime noises that can’t be helped with 10 people sleeping on a double decker wood floor within 10 feet of each other.

If it’s clear tomorrow night, I’ll pitch my tent. But with the rain pattering on the shelter roof all night, I was happy to be warm and dry in the shelter.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: US2/Gorham (Mile 1899.9)
  • End: Gentian Pond Shelter (Mile 1911.7)
  • Weather: Chilly, overcast, no wind, low clouds, light rain started midafternoon.
  • Earworm: Juke Box Hero (thank you Walmart soundtrack & Nathan’s guitar hero days)
  • Meditation: Jn 10:28-29
  • Plant of the Day: Birches
  • Best Thing: Back on the trail!
  • Worst Thing: Missing my family at the 1900-mile mark.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 8

  • thetentman : Sep 14th

    Farts, mice, snoring, and people make tent living so appealing.

    Love the post.

    • Jon : Sep 16th

      Indeed. Best of the best.

  • Rem : Sep 15th

    Be safe dodging “Lee” wind and rains.

    • Jon : Sep 16th

      Thx. So far, it’s only been wind and not much of that.

  • Lulu : Sep 15th

    We are all gonna miss you too! HIke on

    • Jon : Sep 16th

      In Maine now!

  • Holly : Sep 15th

    Jon, I am enjoying your post tremendously! I love your descriptions of what you see and your interactions with others and descriptions of the folks you come across. Careful on the upcoming weather.

    • Jon : Sep 16th

      Thanks, Holly! Safe so far.


What Do You Think?