Hangover (Days 157 to 162, Grafton Notch to Stratton)
Start: Grafton Notch parking area
Finish: Bushcamp near Surplus Pond
AT Miles Hiked Today: 12.2
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 1,934.1
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 255.0
I woke up to my alarm at 4:15am. My sister, brother in law and I were making the 3 hour drive back to Grafton Notch from New Hampshire, where they picked me up yesterday from the airport. The 6 days off for the wedding in Wyoming was fun, but now it was back to business, and by business, I of course mean being unemployed and hiking all day. I got to the parking area, said my tearful goodbyes, and started hiking at 8:30.
Right off the bat, I could tell I was in trouble. I assumed that getting off trail for 6 days would mean my legs were fresh and ready to pull a 17! In reality, my legs felt like rubber, my lungs struggled for air as I climbed, and my back hurt as if I hadn’t already walked about 1,900 miles to Maine. I felt sluggish and, to be frank, really hungover.
I’ve had my fair share of hangovers (shout out to my public university – UNC GO HEELS GO). At the time, it always felt like I would be hung over forever. That fear began creeping in as I was forced to take break after break hiking today. What was wrong with me? Did 6 days off trail mean I lost my hiker legs? Would I be able to catch up to my friend, Reindeer? We had planned to summit together, but I feared that I was broken and wouldn’t be able to catch up to him.
I was going sloooooow up and over Baldpate, which had steep rock faces that would be horrifying to hike in the rain. The hours ticked by. 6 miles in 5 hours. No way I was doing a 17 today, but maybe I could do a 13 and back to back 17’s to get to Rangeley? Mental math is hard, so I resolved to push as far as I could and see where the next few days took me.
The descents today were so steep. At one point there was a rope built in so hikers could tape down the steep rock faces. One misstep meant serious injury.
I continuned to struggle even on easier downhills, where I usually fly. I took a half hour break to consider my options. If I needed to bail out and go to Andover tomorrow, I could. But I didn’t need to make that decision until tomorrow.
Around 5 I gave up and called it a day. Hopefully this is just a hangover and not a permanent debilitation. I found a really nice solo bushcamp near a pond. Nobody else here tonight.
I’m in bed at 7pm. Fingers crossed that tomorrow goes better than today, otherwise I won’t make it to Rangeley on my supply of food.
Start: Bushcamp near Surplus Pond
Finish: Bushcamp a bit past Bemis Mountain Lean-To
AT Miles Hiked Today: 17.1
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 1,951.2
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 237.9
Well, it turns out I was just tired! I slept for over 12 hours last night. The wedding in Wyoming really took it out of me, I didn’t get more than 7 hours of sleep any night I was there. Compared to my usual 9-10 hours of sleep on trail, I was seriously sleep deprived!
Even when I finally got up at 7:30 my body protested. It wanted to keep sleeping. I almost took a trail zero, but I decided to see how my legs were feeling once I started hiking.
What a difference! I was really flying up the trail. The easier terrain combined with my semi-coma allowed me to cover serious ground in the morning.
The terrain today was difficult, yet again. We get it, Southern Maine is tough! Please just give us one or two ridgelines to meander down. Maine seems intent on showcasing each and every steep rock face in the state.
Mingled with the terrible terrain was some really beautiful water, and the views were amazing. I decided to try for a 17 mile day, despite the late start. I was still feeling good in the afternoon.
The hours flew by. I was hiking hard to make it to Bemis Mountain lean-to (Maine calls their shelters lean-tos for some reason). The shelter was off-trail, but it had the only water around. Then I read in Guthook that the water there was dry, so I packed out a few liters from a stream a few miles short of the shelter, and decided to find a bushcamp near the shelter.
As I passed the shelter turnoff, night was quickly wrapping around me. I found a semi-flat spot around 7pm and decided it was good enough. By the time I got my tent pitched, I needed my headlamp. It’s getting dark so early now! Fall is right around the corner. Or are we in fall already?
Start: Bushcamp a bit past Bemis Mountain Lean-To
Finish: ME Route 4 / Rangeley, ME
AT Miles Hiked Today: 17.5
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 1,968.7
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 220.4
I set my watch alarm for 5:15 this morning. I was determined to get to Rangeley during the day. It’s a long hitchhike into town, so if I showed up as late as I rolled into camp yesterday, I’d be screwed. I packed up in the semi-dark and was hiking by 6:30.
It was foggy as I set out, but that quickly burned away, and the sky alternated between clear blue and grey storm clouds. My first few miles were over large, flat-ish rocks, where it wasn’t always clear where the trail was. I had to backtrack and find blazes multiple times.
Despite the pictures above, almost the entire day was fantastic terrain! I flew down the trail. The only hiccup was when I wasn’t paying attention and slammed my head into a downed birch tree lying about 5’11” above the trail. I had to check if I still had all my teeth afterwards, and I decided to slow down a bit.
I made it to the road crossing by 3:30, only slightly limping, which I count as a win. I walked the 0.3 miles to a hostel named The Hiker Hut and reserved their private hut. What a cool place! Very quiet, very low key, and the owner Steve is an ex-ultra marathoner.
On the way back from resupply in town, my driver stopped by another hostel, and outside that hostel was Reindeer and Cavs! We made plans to meet up tomorrow on trail. It’s been nice hiking alone, but it’ll be awesome to hike with those guys again.
Start: ME Route 4 / Rangeley, ME
Finish: Bushcamp next to Sluice Brook Logging Road
AT Miles Hiked Today: 13.5
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 1,982.2
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 206.9
I slept great in the private hut last night, and woke around 6:30 to pack up. I ate a couple donuts from the grocery store for breakfast, then as I was almost ready to head out, the owner Steve offered me a fried egg sandwich. I never say no to egg sandwiches! And he had hot tea as well. Two thumbs up for the Hiker Hut! I got hiking at 8am.
The trail was a gradual uphill to the base of Saddleback, and the terrain wasn’t bad at all. I went more than 2mph up to the steep base. No other hikers around me this morning, it’s strange after seeing so many in town and at the other hostel. Where are you, hikers? (I’m not complaining, please leave me in peace!)
The climb up Saddleback was steep and, in true Maine fashion, one big slick rock without toeholds. On my way up my foot slipped and I took a really hard fall backwards into a bush on my back. Fortunately no lasting damage, although it does remind you how fragile the hike is even at this stage. One false step…
Getting above tree line was cool for about 100 feet, before I ended up in the clouds for the rest of the ascent. There were stiff winds, but nothing like the hurricane force winds that I had going over Lafayette.
As I descended out of the clouds I got a great view of The Horn, my next 4,000 footer. The descent off Saddleback’s main peak and the ascent up The Horn were both treacherous and almost entirely above tree line. Fortunately I had some great views, and the clouds socking in Saddleback moved on, so I got good views looking back as well.
Most of the afternoon was cruising down the mountain back towards 1,500 feet. It’s unseasonably warm right now in Maine. Very pleasant hiking weather!
I got to the stream where I was meeting Reindeer around 3:30. I slowly unpacked, stretched out, and enjoyed the flowing water. Reindeer showed up a few hours later, and we spent the rest of the night catching up. We haven’t seen each other since before the Presidentials! It’s awesome to be back with him. Now we won’t separate until we summit Katahdin, where we will have a fight to the death! Just kidding, we’ll just go our separate ways, back to the real world.
It’s wild to have a date that we will likely be summiting. We’ve told our families who are making arrangements to come meet us. The end of the hike is only a few hundred miles away at this point. I’m not happy or sad to be finishing… I don’t know, I can’t really parse my feelings right now. The trail is my home. The outdoors feels more comfortable than the indoors. But I’m so weary. My body is breaking down, everything hurts. I’m torn between wanting this to never end and being excited to sleep in my own bed again each night. It’s really confusing.
Start: Bushcamp next to Sluice Brook Logging Road
Finish: Bushcamp a few miles short of ME Route 27
AT Miles Hiked Today: 16.5
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 1,998.7
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 190.4
I took down my food bag this morning to discover that a chipmunk or bird or something got into my food – fortunately only my cookies and goldfish were ruined. I’ve still got enough to make it to Stratton, but just barely!
It was awesome hiking with Reindeer again today. All morning we caught up and told stories from our time apart. The trail was nicely graded and the terrain was mostly smooth so we flew up the first mountain to Lone Mountain and then Spaulding Mountain.
We passed a plaque embedded in a boulder marking the spot where the Appalachian Trail became a continuous footpath from Georgia to Maine in 1939. This also marks 200 miles left to go until Katahdin! Jesus, it’s starting to get real.
Reindeer and I decided at the summit that we would pull up short of town tonight and and Nearo in tomorrow. That means we will probably have to knock out the 100 mile wilderness in 5 days to summit on the 24th like we planned, but we wanted to rest up before the Bigelows, which we heard were really difficult.
Walking along Sugarloaf was smooth and the trail broke out along the ridgeline for some great views.
Then, the descent started. It was only 1,500 feet of descent, but it was all boulders and precarious jumps down. Not fun. Reindeer and I both slowed down tremendously. Our knees and ankles are really bent out of shape right now, and as we reached the river at the bottom of the descent, we found ourselves needing to take a break. There were lots of other hikers there enjoying a break as well.
We were shot as we ascended to South and North Crocker peaks. These are some of our last 4,000 footers before Katahdin!
As we descended towards the gap where we would hitch to Stratton, we struggled to find a bushcamp. On both sides were dense vegetation and steep slopes. I call this process Bushcamp Roulette. Usually we can find something within a mile of starting to look, but today the roulette wheel wasn’t spinning out way. We finally found a spot a few miles out of town. Reindeer and I were exhausted from a long day. We ate dinner (which for me was a slim jim, a chewy granola bar, and a Clif bar) and went to bed before 6:30.
Oh, and one last piece of advice: don’t pack out Jelly donuts. They don’t hold up very well in a stuffed backpack. Above photo taken on the summit of North Crocker.
Start: Bushcamp a few miles short of ME Route 27
Finish: ME Route 27 / Stratton, ME
AT Miles Hiked Today: 2.2
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 2,000.9
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 188.2
I woke at 6:30 to Reindeer yelling over that we had a weather window to get to town. The rain started around midnight and rained on and off until 5. The radar showed some serious storms coming in, so we packed up quick and raced down towards the gap.
A mile in, we hit the official 2,000 mile mark! Wow, we are 2,000 milers. Unbelievable.
As we got to the parking lot a van was exiting, and offered to give us a lift to town. Easiest hitch ever! We got to the Stratton Motel at 8am, where we had a private room reserved for the night. Reindeer and I dropped our stuff and went to grab breakfast at the only breakfast joint in town. We ate with Lazerith and Alice, and as we swapped stories we were clearly the loudest patrons of the restaurant. So much fun when you immediately click with some new hikers. A vicious storm rolled through as we ate French toast and eggs. I’m so happy not to be on the Bigelows today!
We ran errands and did laundry at a local laundromat, then resupplied at a surprisingly nice general store downtown. All errands were done by 1pm and we retired to the motel for some quality relaxation time.
We watched two terrible movies and drank Long Trail Ale all afternoon. Reindeer and I called New Hampshire Bob and had a 45 minute catch-up call. I love that guy. So many good stories, he summited two weeks back. Next time I’m in the NH area I’ll be hitting the trail with him for sure.
As Reindeer and I walked to dinner, two other hikers asked if we were interested in slackpacking 17 miles tomorrow. 12.50 each. Uh, yeah we are interested! So with that settled we grabbed dinner and hit the sack, ready to hike over the Bigelows tomorrow morning.
Still on track to summit on Saturday 9/24. Hopefully Reindeer and I can pick up a day somewhere between here and Monson to give us 6 days in the 100 mile wilderness.
Until next time, happy trails!
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