My Day as a Total Dumbass: Adventures in Slackpacking
Did you ever have one of those days where just about every decision you made was a horrible mistake? This post is a tale of one such day in the woods of Maine.
Maine is tough. I struggled to average eight miles per day through Southern Maine. When I got to Monson, I think I had managed more than ten miles only a couple of times. With this in mind, it seemed that slackpacking the first 15 miles of the 100-Mile Wilderness was a no-brainer. My day of slackpacking turned out to be a bit more of an adventure than I anticipated.
Dumbass Mistake #1
Given my pace thus far, was I certain to walk 15 miles starting an hour later than usually just because I was packing a tiny pack? Probably not. I really should have talked to Hippy Chick about potential places I could bail if the situation warranted it before setting out that morning. The weather was a bit sketchy and information never really hurts.
Dumbass Mistake #2
I was excited. While my loaded pack isn’t particularly heavy at 30 pounds, it was joyous to carry less than five. I packed my lunch, my rain jacket, a pint bottle of Propel, and my water filter. My down vest might have been nice to have, but I didn’t really consider it. I meant to pack my headlamp just in case I approached the road after dark. I’m a huge fan of what I call the Santa Claus method of getting ready for a hike… make a list and check it twice. In my excitement, I deviated from this practice for this one and didn’t actually pack my headlamp.
The day started out great. I had to ford a stream a couple of times that required wading. Ropes were strung across at the ford to help. There were a few relatively gentle (by Maine standards) ups and downs. It drizzled on and off for most of the day. I noticed the magical power of my rain jacket to make the rain stop simply by putting it on.
Dumbass Mistake #3
About 4:30, I passed a blue blazed trail to a parking lot. I had about five miles to go to the road. I texted Hippy Chick, telling her that I was going to be there after dark and not to worry because I had my headlamp (actually I didn’t… intending to pack it isn’t enough). Would it have been too tough to ask if I could be picked up at that parking lot and do the rest tomorrow?
As darkness approached, I fumbled around my pack looking for my headlamp and found it wasn’t there. No real problem yet; I had the flash on my phone and only a couple of miles to go.
Even with flashlight on my phone it was slow going and I really had to carefully pick my way. Still made steady progress toward the road. A little after 9, I looked at Guthook’s, and caught a brief glimpse of the map before my phone went dead. From this glimpse, I knew I was close to the road and had a pretty good sense of the direction I needed to go to get there. I very slowly felt my way. I could see white blazes if I was close enough. I managed to stay on trail for a while, but I eventually missed a turn.
Dumbass Mistake #4
Leaving the trail in Maine in the dead of night is always a mistake. I knew I was close and which direction I needed to go. Eventually I lost the trail, but instead of staying put, I bushwhacked for a while. To illustrate what it’s like to bushwhack through the Maine woods in the dead of night, I’ll share the low point of my experience. At one point, I stepped in a hole that was deep enough to make me fall on my face . Luckily my head and shoulder slammed into a tree on the way down so I was able to avoid this fate.
Finally I Get One Right
Eventually I saw the most beautiful white blaze I’ve ever seen, but having been off the trail, I had to decide which direction to go. My best guess was to the right. Literally the only smart thing I did all day: I decided to stay next to this tree with the beautiful white blaze. With my back up against “my tree,” I tried to pick out where the trail was. I checked a few of these hypotheses, but if I felt branches brush my legs, I went back my tree. Understand the Maine woods are dark as pitch, and without any clue where the trail was, I decided to lean up against my tree and hunker down to a very uncomfortable night in the woods.
At one point, I heard a car door slam. I called out, but no one heard me. I may have dozed for a while. I noticed some of the shadows were moving and looked over my shoulder to see a flashlight coming toward me. The game warden was there to find me. Turns out I was looking in the wrong direction. It was less than a five minute walk to his truck. Missed it by that much! It was 1 a.m! The game warden took me back to Shaw’s, I took a shower, plugged in my phone, answered a couple of worried texts from Hippy Chick and Poet (owners of Shaw’s), and went to sleep.
I was lucky to come away from this with only a story to tell. I share this in hopes that my readers can avoid some of the blunders I made this day.
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