Day 145: The Day Before the Storm
Are You The Incident?
We pulled up to the trailhead at 7:30, right behind JW. JW’s wife Alex has been supporting him in a van similar to ours, though she’s only recently rejoined him along the trail. Four or five younger thru hikers milled around their van with their shoes off, making it unclear whether they were just getting ready to hike or had just walked in to catch a shuttle.
One of the hikers, a red-haired young woman named HR, looked at me when I climbed out our van and asked, “Are you The Incident?” When I said yes, she said, “My mom reads your blog. She keeps telling me not to get ahead of you because she likes to know what’s coming up next for me.” Sorry, Mom. She caught up during my break. But she looks like she’s killing the trail and will be fine without any help from me.
Just as I started to leave, she asked, “How did you get your trail name?” Nice try, HR, nice try.
I hiked out of the notch with JW, but he got a phone call less than five minutes into the first climb and I never saw him again. His hiking partners, PBJ and Just Try, had already left, but I didn’t catch them until the summit of Old Blue Mountain, where they were taking a break for second breakfast.
Gus got pretty interested in their food, and they didn’t appear to be dog people, so we moved on. I did find out that their group has the same target date for Katahdin as me.
I had only 13.5 miles planned for today, but it included 4,500 feet of climbing. In southern Maine, it’s been hard to figure out whether 13 miles will be easy or an ordeal. Based on great trail conditions during the last two days, I was betting on easy.
I’m Loving Maine
I should have placed that bet. I had another fantastic day of hiking. The 2.5-mile, 2,000-foot climb up Old Blue Mountain that started the day was steep, but not I-don’t-know-where-to-put-my-feet-steep. And I finally caught some views, albeit under high clouds, but at least it wasn’t raining for a change. The trail was muddy in places, of course, but it was very walkable compared to the torture New Hampshire and the first part of Maine had put my feet through.
I also had near-perfect hiking weather – just chilly enough that I wasn’t soaked with sweat on the climbs but not so cold that I needed to layer up. Or maybe the forest just made the day seem near perfect, with a wonderful mix of birch and pine that provided a range of color, fragrance, and lighting. The trail, not running with water for a change, consisted mostly of hard-packed dirt and roots, and was littered with yellow and brown leaves.
I started listening to The Hobbit yesterday. Today, Bilbo and the dwarves entered the dark, evil Mirkwood Forest. I think I’ve walked through Mirkwood along the AT, but listening to Tolkien’s descriptions of it made me even more glad to be walking in Maine’s lovely woods.
After a mostly level run from Old Blue to Bemis Mountain, the trail descended gradually for several miles before dropping more steeply into the Bemis Stream valley. I sure don’t miss the long, painfully steep descents in the Whites. I hated standing at the top of a big drop, trying to figure out where to put my feet, whether it will be too slippery to hold me, and how bad a shock my knees and feet could take. One such drop on a climb is no big deal. Three miles of them is torture. Today, I glided peacefully down the descents.
On the climb up Old Blue, I walked past the woman who does the Beer in Beautiful Places mini-podcast on Instagram. She looked done. I said hi, and she wearily thanked me for watching. Actually, I had only watched one of her daily videos. I recognized her because her videos appear in my feed and she records each one wearing the same clothes (light brown) and posture (walking with poles under her arm), and I’m impressed by the branding. But I’ll probably watch one or two more now to see what she says about today’s hike.
After eating lunch, I put my head on my arms to rest while playing a game of Backgammon on my phone, when Gus started barking. A nice young man named Questions walked up and started…asking questions. What was my dog’s name? How far was I going? What was my trail name?
When I told him my trail name, he said, “Oh. I’ve heard of you…but in a good way.” Then he left. Now I had questions, but I never saw him again.
Just before I finished the last long descent of the day, I walked into a trail magic setup on Bemis Mountain Road. I guess mid-week trail magic in September is a thing in Maine. I was the only guest for six hosts, all of whom were about my age. They had lots of questions, which I happily asked as they stuffed me with baked goods, homemade salads, burgers, and Maine red hot dogs.
Then I asked them one, “What’s the deal with the red hot dogs?” They told me it’s a Maine thing, but couldn’t tell me why. If you know, please share in the comments. I’m curious.
A second hiker arrived fifteen minutes later. He jogged down the trail with only a fanny pack, saying he run there from East B Hill Road, 23 miles away. When he said he was thru hiking, I asked when he started, expecting him to say July or August, if he had the chops to pull 23-mile days in Maine. Instead, he said he’d started on April 1st, eight days before me. He said he’d lost track of the number of zeroes he’d taken.
On the last, mile-long climb from Bemis Stream to ME 17, I noticed I had started getting a tickle in my throat. Was I getting a cold? I was more tired than I should be for this hike. Maybe a cold is sapping my energy.
Hurricane Lee will pass by or through Maine tomorrow. I had been planning to hike tomorrow, mostly to defy the media hype and because I had another relatively easy 13-mile day planned. But when I met Northstar, she said she wanted to take a day off for my birthday. The PBJ-JW group is zeroing tomorrow, and I wouldn’t mind keeping pace with them. And if I’m getting a cold, hiking on another cold, wet day might not be the smartest plan. So, we headed to Rangeley for a zero.
Rangeley Roll Call
Our motel in Rangeley was lousy with hikers sitting out the Hurricane. Fizz walked by as we pulled in. I’d last seen him at Galehead Hut in the Whites. How is he not a week ahead of us? Thriller and Pub were sitting out the walkway above our room, enjoying the view. They said they had decided to flip up to Katahdin because they didn’t think they could finish a northbound hike before Katahdin closed on October 15th. Crane checked into the room next to ours. We saw dozens of hikers we didn’t know as well.
We checked in and crashed, coming out only to admire a beautiful sunset over the Rangeley Lakes. What’s that rhyme? Red sky at night, huge hurricane tomorrow…or something like that.
- Start: South Arm Road (Mile 1951.4)
- End: ME 17 (Mile 1964.7)
- Weather: Overcast, chilly, 50’s. Not raining.
- Earworm: The Hobbit
- Meditation: Ps. 8
- Plant of the Day: Moss (again)
- Best Thing: Good trail
- Worst Thing: Might be getting a cold
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