Day 153: The Kennebec
A Candle Pot Night
After dealing with Crabby Harrison and a restful sunny afternoon at our boondocking site, I figured it’d be a great night to break out the candle pot. No, not that kind of pot. Have you learned nothing of me in the past 153 days?
I made a candle pot by rolling up cardboard in a spiral, fitting the cardboard inside a standard enamel cooking pot, and pouring melted wax around it. The cardboard soaks up the liquid wax and acts like a wick. When I light the wick, I get a nice flame like a huge candle.
It puts out a surprising amount of heat and light, requires no firewood (finding, chopping, disposing of ash), issues no smelly smoke, and can be easily extinguished by putting the lid back on the pot. And as long as I keep feeding it chunks of wax, it lasts forever.
We sat around the candle pot, talking, telling stories, and laughing until well after hiker midnight (sunset). I heard the history of JW’s tramily and learned that PBJ has only used his tent twice on the AT, the second time at E. Flagstaff Road two night ago. I respect that. He’s unapologetically hiking his own hike. He prefers sleeping in shelters, hostels, and motels, so that’s what he does.
We headed back to the trail early this morning, hoping to be at the head of the line for the Kennebec River Ferry. JW waited at the trailhead for PBJ and Just Try to come down from Crabby’s, and I hiked out with White Rabbit, Fox, and Scout. We had only three miles to the river, and Fox set a brisk pace, easily passing me, though I caught and leapfrogged them twenty minutes later.
The Kennebec Ferry
Crossing Maine’s Kennebec River is one of those milestone moments on the AT, similar to climbing Georgia’s Blood Mountain, standing on Virginia’s McAfee Knob, or getting your picture taken at the ATC Headquarters in Harpers Ferry. It’s the biggest (~500 ft) unbridged river crossing on the entire AT.
In the old days, hikers had to ford the Kennebec River, or hike miles and miles out of the way to the nearest bridge. At low flow, the river is barely fordable, if you don’t mind “wading” through chest deep flowing water while holding your pack over your head. But if the upstream dam unexpectedly releases water to generate power, the depth can increase rapidly to dangerous levels.
Some years ago, several hikers drowned while fording the Kennebec during a release, so the ATC now pays for a canoe guide to shuttle hikers across during the summer and fall from 9:00-2:00. Or you can try to hire someone from Caratunk to ferry you. Or tempt fate and ford it. I was tempted to try my luck but decided to stay dry. And live to hike another day.
The Morning Traffic Report
The ferry’s limited hours and its two hikers per trip policy can create a bit of a traffic jam during prime thru hiking season, so hikers jockey to be first in line. Camping is not allowed (but is commonly done) at the ferry crossing, so everyone tries to camp as close as possible, get an early start, and beat the traffic.
I arrived on the riverbank at 8:30, finding Soup and Shoulders first in line, with HR and crew showing up just ahead of me. I’d left Gus with Northstar, thinking that he wouldn’t be allowed on the ferry. I’d forgotten the dog, but remembered his bowl and kibble, carrying his dogfood in my pack all day. When the ferryman appeared on the opposite bank, he had his Springer Spaniel with him. He said that hiker dogs were fine as long as they weren’t too wiggly and played well in groups. I will not be telling Gus.
As I stood behind Soup and Shoulders, they explained that they wanted to be first because they were trying to escape a creepy hiker who’d been harassing them. Several other hikers showed up and went straight to the riverbank, appearing to cut the line. Soup and Shoulder got a little nervous, thinking this would push them back, giving the deviant time to catch up. But HR stepped in and put everyone in the proper order.
Apparently, everyone knows this deviant and his reputation, though this was the first time I had heard of him. When I told Northstar about it later, she said she and Alex had met the guy at E. Flagstaff Road after I’d hiked out. He’d made a few very inappropriate comments to them, and they’d shut him down. People only mess with Northstar once.
She also told me that when we gave Fearless a ride ahead in Vermont, she’d been avoiding the same guy. Why is such behavior allowed or treated passively? I’m getting angry just thinking about it now, wondering what I could have done with my parachute cord, a big rock, and a deep, lonely lake in the remote Maine wilderness. Fortunately for both of us, I never met the guy.
A Nerd Fest
After HR put us all in order, I wandered down to the riverbank to look at the mist on the water. Should I stop being amazed at misty mornings in Maine? Not yet.
Fox and two other hikers called out to me, asking if I knew much about Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. “Just a little,” I said, neglecting to mention that I’ve read the trilogy at least 30 times. “Ok,” they said, “Then who are Aragorn’s people?” “What do you mean?” I asked, “He’s one of the Dunedain, but he’s also the heir of Elendil and the rightful King of Gondor. But the Dunedain ruled the Kingdom of Arnor.” Then the discussion devolved into whether he could be considered a Numenorean.
One of the onlookers sighed, telling a story about how some nerd he’d met had known the name of Theoden’s door guard. Could we believe it? “Hmm,” I thought, but wisely kept to myself, “That’s easy. Hamma.” It didn’t hurt that I had The Two Towers playing on my earbud that very moment.
Crossing the Kennebec
Soup and Shoulders got the first ride over the river and sprinted off into the woods to begin their escape. HR put me in the second boat with her, with the rest of her crew coming over on the third trip.
HR let me paddle, but I discovered that six months on the AT has done nothing for my paddling skills or my upper body strength. I’ll be hitting the gym before my next river trip. But at least I managed to stay in the boat.
Hiking Almost Alone
With the traffic jam behind me at the river, I spent most of the day alone in the woods. When I crossed US201, just after the river, I saw a Tacoma with the vanity plate “Tumbles” parked at the trailhead. Buff and I met Tumbles and her husband on our first day in the Smokies, when she helped me with my knee problem. I hadn’t seen her since.
A little while later, I passed a young kilty, who Gus had met yesterday afternoon. I’d stopped at a privy, and seeing no one around, I let Gus wander down to the lakefront. Unfortunately, Kilty was trying to set up his tent down there and didn’t appreciate Gus’ help. Loudly. He yelled and yelled, not hearing me call “Just a second!” from inside the privy. When I got out, I apologized, but to no avail.
My bad. I’ll make Gus sit in the privy with me next time. He owes me. I’ve certainly stood next to him while he’s done his business enough times.
The guy was still angry today, glaring at me as I passed, and not saying hello. I just gave a nod and smiled. The nod was my second apology. The smile was because he was wearing long pants under his kilt. I think that if you’re wearing pants, the kilt becomes more of a tutu. A Highlander’s ballet outfit.
My last encounter was a trio buried in a blue haze of their own creation next to a small stream crossing. As I paused briefly to pick out a route across the steppingstones, one of them said, “No need to be scared, man, you’ve done worse crossings than this.” Wise words, my smoky little friend, wise words. The stream was at most seven inches deep and 10 feet across. I survived the crossing and hoped they did too.
Mud and Trail Angels
I arrived at Moxie Pond Road in the early afternoon and saw Alex driving past. She rolled down her window and said, “Everything’s all right. Nothing to worry about. The van is okay.” I’m not sure how she thought I’d take that, but I immediately thought something was wrong, I should worry, and that the van was not okay.
But it was only some mud. A huge mud pit in the trailhead parking area had eaten the van. Soko and The Accountant had stopped by and helped get it out of the worst of it, with the help of Alex’s traction pads. But it was still uncomfortably close to a tree. I tried everything but couldn’t get it away from the trunk until Northstar flagged down Rob and Lorna, two locals who were riding past on their four-track.
Rob went and got his pickup and chain, and together we massaged the van around the tree, out of the mud, and back on the road. In typical Mainer fashion, they refused payment or a beer, though were obviously more tempted by the latter.
Northstar and I boondocked right there in the non-muddy part of the trailhead. JW had agreed to shuttle PBJ and Just Try into Monson for the night, a 1.5-hour one-way drive, so they stayed in town for the night. JW and Alex are much nicer than I am. They’ll be back in the morning for the long walk to Monson.
Monson. We’re almost at Monson. The 100-Mile Wilderness starts just after Monson. After that, we only have to climb Katahdin. We’re almost done. We will be done in a week, if the good Lord wills and my knees hold out. I can hardly believe it.
- Start: Harrison’s Pierce Pond Camp (Mile 2043.3)
- End: Moxie Pond Road (Mile 2059)
- Weather: Misty and cool in the morning. Overcast early, but sunny and dry the rest of the day.
- Earworm: Here I Go Again (Stevie Nicks)
- Meditation: Jn 14:22
- Plant of the Day: Leaves on the trail
- Best Thing: Canoe ferry
- Worst Thing: Roots and mud
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