Day 155: Monson and The Duke of Hurl
If I’d been willing to do 24.7 miles yesterday, I could have taken a zero today. Three months ago, I probably would have been energetic enough for that kind of a marathon day. But at this point, I’m too worn down for such shenanigans and have nothing to prove to myself. Also, after 155 days of hiking, a 6.4-mile nearo is as good as a zero, just long enough to loosen my joints and not long enough to make them seize up again.
The Duke, Duke, Duke
Plus, 6.4 miles is a perfect distance for hiking with a visitor. My nephew Daniel (a.k.a., the Duke of Hurl, and one of the Nephewlim*) wanted to hike a bit of my journey with me and joined me for the day. He had a reunion with his hiking buddies in Portland to commemorate their ill-fated Paria River slot canyon hike last year. A flash flood left them perched on the cliffs until helicopters could rescue them.
We walked and talked for the entire 2.5-hour hike, the longest trail conversation I’ve had since I hiked with No Name Trent in Vermont. Mostly, we processed his father’s passing earlier this summer. He’s a thoughtful young man, now with his own kids, so our discussion centered on our roles as fathers, sons, and brothers, as well as what had been his expectations for his relationship with his dad in the coming years. He left me with a lot to chew on for the next 100 miles and perhaps for years after that.
Northstar picked us up around lunchtime and took us to the Monson General Store Deli for sandwiches. As we ate, JW and Alex pulled up, PBJ walked past, and Just Try checked in. We’re all on track to head into the 100-Mile Wilderness tomorrow morning for the last stretch of trail before Katahdin.
Hiker Reunion in Monson
In fact, just about every hiker I know who’s still on the trail walked by. I saw Soko, The Accountant, Chumbawumba, Fox, Fireball, Soup, Shoulders, Sauce, White Rabbit, HR, Proof, Scout, Firefly, and others whose names escape me now. I even saw Drewby and Boomhauer, who I met on my second day of the AT and hadn’t seen since Georgia. Most were still Northbound, but a few had flipped to Katahdin and were now southbound back to their flip point. But everyone stops at Monson, the last (or first) resupply point before (or after) the 100 Mile Wilderness.
One of them told me that Shaw’s Boarding House, the main hikers’ hostel in Monson, had been packed with 40 to 50 hikers for the last several nights. We’d planned to boondock there last night, but when we stopped in, it was busier than most of the Walmart parking lots we’ve stayed in. The yard was wall-to-wall with tents, and cars were parked everywhere else, leaving no space to park a van. So, we parked by the lake and rented rooms with JW and Alex in a boarding house over the bar in town. Monson isn’t particularly friendly to boondockers.
The 100 Mile Wilderness
The so-called “100 Mile Wilderness” lies between Monson and Baxter State Park. While the trail is almost exactly 100 miles (99.7 mi) between ME 6 and the Abol Bridge over the Penobscot River on the boundary of Baxter State Park, that is the only accurate part of its name. It is not a wilderness, either legally or practically.
Much of the area is privately owned by logging companies, who’ve built a network of haul roads that can be traveled by anyone willing to pay the $17 per person daily fee. Plus, there are other forest roads frequented by hunters, fishermen, leaf-peepers, and vacationers. If you have a sturdy four-wheel drive or a four-track, you have even more driving options. Barring that, float planes can land on many of the huge ponds and lakes that dot the forest.
We’d been debating how to hike the 100 Mile Wilderness for weeks. Before hooking up with the JW-PBJ tramily, I’d planned to backpack the 100 miles in six days. Then I’d discovered that Shaw’s Hostel will deliver a resupply barrel near the mid-way point so that hikers don’t have to carry six or seven days of food. PBJ discovered that hostels in Millinocket will shuttle hikers in and out of the Wilderness at several other points. Warren Doyle’s itinerary had road stops for every night in the Wilderness.
I’d picked up a Maine Road Atlas in Rangeley and identified three road crossings I thought Northstar could easily find and safely drive, leaving me only two or three nights of backpacking. JW and Alex drove up to the checkpoint/pay station on Katahdin Ironworks (KI) Road to scout the access points and discovered one more. They also learned that boondocking in the private land areas isn’t allowed, but that we could reserve campsites near the road crossings we wanted.
With all this information, we came up with our plan. We’d backpack out of Monson, camping the first night along the trail. The next night, we’d meet up and camp near the KI Road crossing. After that, we’d meet the vans at Johnson Pond Road, then at Jo-Mary Road and Nahmakanta Lake (South Beach) after that. Then, we’d have one more night backpacking before getting to Baxter Park.
Somewhere, lost in all these planning details, I realized that I only have 115 miles left. I’ll be done in a week. I’ll be done. Hard to believe.
- Start: Shirley Blanchard Rd (Mile 2077.3)
- End: Monson (Mile 2083.7)
- Weather: Cool, sunny, dry
- Earworm: None, hiking with Daniel
- Meditation: Eph. 6:4
- Plant of the Day: Garden salad. Mmm.
- Best Thing: Daniel of the Nephewlin, aka, the Duke of Hurl
- Worst Thing: Nearing the end.
*The Duke of Hurl earned his trail name after getting dehydrated on our backpacking trip in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains and losing everything he’d eaten. His brother, a.k.a., Pincushion, had a penchant for finding cacti with his feet and legs. Both “boys” are 6 ft 4 in or taller and big boned like their father (my late brother). Collectively, I started calling them “the Nephewlim” (see Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:32).
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