Day 150: After the Rain
(Note: I’m in the 100-Mile Wilderness now. Coverage has been spotty, but I’ll catch up eventually.
I shared last night’s shelter with Sylvan, a southbound flip-flopper who started in the Shenandoahs, went north to the Delaware Water Gap (PA/NJ border), then skipped ahead to Katahdin. He’s hoping to get to Springer before winter. The ATC encourages these kinds of thru hike variants to ease crowding, especially in Georgia and North Carolina in the Spring.
When I saw him at the shelter when I arrived last night, I wasn’t sure what to think, as he was wearing a thick face mask and hood, coat, and gloves, and stood in the darkest back corner. A Cryptid? COVID protection? Serial killer? But he was just cold after a day of rain, wind, and chilly temperatures. It had dropped into the 40’s by the time I showed up and fell into the 30’s overnight.
Over dinner, Sylvan told me about watching two northbounders accidentally swim and get rescued in the flooded Carrabassett River* crossing that I’d reach the next day. He described the crossing as 20 yards wide, more than waist deep, and very pushy, with large rocky rapids downstream. But he thought it would likely have receded by the time I got there.
He also told me about a purist he’d met. Whenever the guy encountered a fallen tree blocking the trail, he’d walk up to it, touch the trunk, find a path around the tree, and then come back and touch the other side before hiking on. As if touching both sides of the tree absolved him of the sin of not treading the ground underneath it. Good grief.
Might as Well Be Raining
Sylvan’s alarm went off at 5:00 am. I heard him rustling around, but I had no interest in climbing out of my warm sleeping bag or hiking in the dark, so I dozed until 6:15 when I finally had just enough light to see without a headlamp. My wet clothes hadn’t dried overnight, so I delayed getting dressed until I’d packed up everything else. In 30-degree weather, I wanted to be hiking and generating body heat the second I put on my cold, wet clothes.
We both hiked out at 7:15. I have no idea what he did with his extra hour and fifteen minutes, but he seemed busy the entire time. I only had 13.5 miles to hike today, but it included steep climbs over Spaulding and Sugarloaf Mountains and at least one potentially difficult river crossing.
As it turned out, I got wetter from the trail than the stream crossings. Most of the trail was muddy, covered in puddles, or draped with wet vegetation. I spent the entire day stepping from wet rock to wet rock to avoid puddles and pushing through dripping trailside brush to avoid mud pits. More than once, I missed a step and soaked my feet in cold water and mud. A few times, I slipped off a wet rock and bashed my ankle between rocks, making me momentarily miss the heavy leather boots we all wore 30 years ago.
I passed the blue blaze trail to Spaulding Peak summit but skipped it since it was buried in low clouds and wet fog. As I hiked on, I wondered why the AT so often climbs 95% of a peak but skips the actual summit. If we’re not going to summit, why bother with climbing at all? Why not just contour around the mountain? Maybe this winter, I’ll try to research the history of how the AT was designed and built.
A sign at the trail junction noted that the Spaulding Peak blue blaze also served as the high-water bypass around the Carrabassett River crossing. After my sketchy crossing at Orbeton Stream and Sylvan’s stories, I thought twice about taking it. But I expected the Carrabasset to have subsided by the time I got there, and I didn’t want to skip the upcoming 2,000-mile marker along the main trail.
A half mile later, I reached the 2,000-mile point. Two thousand miles.
That’s a long walk, for sure, but it’s a hard number to comprehend. Most people have no basis of comparison in their personal lives. No one walks that far. Most people rarely walk a single mile, except cumulatively over time from the couch to the fridge. We rarely even drive that far.
But for me, the marker meant that I had less than 200 miles left to hike. Two hundred miles is the distance from Springer Mountain to Clingmans Dome. That distance I understand. It’s two weeks of walking. Or less. I’m so close.
Just after the 2,000-mile marker, I walked by a Maine Conservation Corps camp complete with tarped-over tents, a barbecue grill, chairs, and big propane tanks. I’m glad they’re out here. I’m even more glad I’m not the one who had to haul all that gear up the mountain. I hope they had helicopter support.
I passed the MCC crew a few minutes later installing new rock steps on a steep descent. I stopped and thanked them for their work, especially for the excellent trail blazing in Maine. I said that that the trail was in much better condition in Maine than it had been in New Hampshire. They stared at me blankly, perhaps thinking I was being sarcastic. I wasn’t.
A few minutes later, further down the steep descent to the Carrabassett River, the trail turned to crap. Poorly marked, ridiculously steep and slippery, water running down the center of the trail, and with huge ankle-busting drops off wet boulders. Speaking of New Hampshire…
No, Really, Maine’s Trail is Much Better
A short time later, I passed a hiker all decked out in Maine ATC gear – hat, shirt, and patches. Someone later told me he worked as some kind of ATC trail steward. I complemented him on Maine’s great trail. He replied that the next 40 miles are in horrible condition, and that the rest of Maine is really bad. He said to expect roots, rotting planks, and miles of steppingstones over muddy trails. I guess that’s how they say “thank you” in Maine.
Hmm. Has this guy hiked the AT in New England? He just described the trail since Massachusetts. Has he been to Vermont? Every thru hiker I’ve talked to agrees that the trail conditions have improved drastically since getting to Maine, and most of the southbounders have said the trail will get better and better.
As if to prove my point, I passed three consecutive switchbacks on the next climb. Yes, switchback technology has been leaked to Maine trail builders. They use it sparingly, to be sure, but they have successfully kept its secret out of the hands of their rivals in Vermont and New Hampshire.
The Carrabassett Crossing
A southbounder told me he’d crossed the Carrabassett this morning without getting wet. The plank that spans the deepest part of the crossing was back in place and the steppingstones that led to it weren’t even wet. When I arrived, the board was still wobbly and unstable, so I repositioned it and crossed without problems. What a difference a day makes.
Even today, the chute spanned by the plank was too deep and fast to cross safely by wading. I couldn’t imagine trying to cross the raging river on a submerged, unsecured plank. The video I saw later showed one of them crawling on his hands and knees across the plank, with the water up to his thighs and elbows. The rapids below him were insane. How did the other four hikers make it across? What were they thinking? Or not thinking? Crazy.
Crocker Mountain, North and South
The sun came out as I reached the Carrabassett, giving me hope that I’d finally catch a view once I climbed the 2,000-foot ascent up to the Crocker Peaks. Nope. Not for me. Not today. Perhaps never. Low clouds blew in just before I reached the South summit and hung around until I passed the North summit.
I ate my lunch under a sign that read “View.” Apparently, the “of the inside of clouds” part of the sign had fallen off.
Once again, I’d hiked alone all day and had just missed everyone from my most recent bubble. Then Northstar texted me that she was waiting at our meetup spot at ME 27. She said that if I hurried, I’d get trail magic and that PBJ’s group would arrive at any minute.
What? I’d thought they were two days ahead of me by now. They must have done this section in three days after all, though it was PBJ who convinced me to do it in two days. But I still had two hours of hiking left and would probably miss them.
By the time I reached ME 27, the trail magicians had left, as had most of PBJ’s group, as well as Fizz, Sauce, Just Try, and Beans. Soco still lingered, so we chatted a few minutes with the local Police Chief who’d stopped in to share trail information.
JW and Alex, the other vanlifers, we still there too, and they invited us to come camp with them at the Maine Roadhouse Hostel outside Stratton. Some company, a hot shower, and real bathroom sounded like just what we needed.
I finished more tired after today’s 13.5 miles than I had been yesterday after 18.9 miles. Maine has been like that. The mileage is definitely not the whole story, nor is elevation gain, though both are factors. The ruggedness of the trail (rocks, mud, puddles, tree falls, steps, etc.), the steepness of the descents, and the number of river crossings, and whether you can keep your feet dry seem to make a bigger difference than the number of miles.
I started listening to The Midnight Library by Matt Haig yesterday and was so engrossed I nearly finished it this afternoon. I’d recommend it to anyone who struggles with regret.
- Start: Spaulding Mountain Lean-To (Mile 1996.5)
- End: ME 27 (Mile 2010)
- Weather: Cloudy, cold, humid, then clearing by mid-morning
- Earworm: It’s All Right, Once You Get Past the Pain. Love Will Find a Way.
- Meditation: Jn 14:6
- Plant of the Day: Birches turning yellow.
- Best Thing: 2,000 miles
- Worst Thing: Steep, wet descents
*Yes, I know the proper name is the South Branch of the Carrabassett River.
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