Maine Needs Bridges

Author’s Note: I finished my thru hike in October 2023. Enjoy my delayed update as I finish writing my story! 

Day 194: 1,600 ft ascent, 8.8 miles

Erik and I started our last morning at the Maine Roadhouse with another of their incredible breakfasts. We got our long shuttle back to the trail after breakfast, not getting started until a little before 11am. The skies were sunny and temperature perfect. I thought it would be an easy, lovely day of hiking. Quickly I learned that wasn’t going to be the case.

This season had been a particularly wet one for most on the season, but Erik and I had only hiked through rain a handful of days by being behind the crowd and planning days off when it rained. The extra wet season had made the ground already saturated, so the hurricane remnants from the day before had nowhere to soak into the ground.

Within the first few minutes we came to the first stream crossing in Maine that we couldn’t rock hop. I later realized how lucky we had been to make it this far before saying that. After a few minutes looking upstream and down for the best place to cross, I took off my shoes and socks, put on my crocs in four wheel drive mode, tied my shoes to my pack, and rolled up my pants to cross. It was maybe shin deep, but the water was rushing and cold. Good morning to us.

We made it across with dry shoes and started going again. At first the big boards on the trail kept our feet dry, but the water was up to the top of the boards and we had to be careful with our steps. Soon we got to underwater bog boards, and any hope of having dry feet for the day was gone. It didn’t take long before we reached trail without bog boards that was flowing with runoff like a small stream ankle deep. There was no choice but to splash through it under sunny skies.

The trail river made us pretty slow-going. We should’ve been back to making time since the elevation was getting flatter, but it felt like we couldn’t go anywhere. After my feet got wet I didn’t need to be as careful trying to stay dry on the big board segments, but I still hopped along the bog boards so I would be ankle deep instead of shin-plus deep.

We crossed a dirt road within maybe a mile of our dropoff, but after that we were alone in the woods. It felt like we pushed all day but between the late start and wet trail we didn’t go anywhere. The wet trail also made stealth campsites hard to find.

Right at sunset we snatched a stealth site in a pine forest about ten feet above a nearby swamp that we had crossed with a boardwalk. We set up our tent with the setting sun.

As we were getting our air mattresses pumped up, we heard some people coming up the trail from the direction we were heading. It was the three guys we had been passing for the past week! They were slackpacking back to the road past where we had started. By this time they recognized our tent and said hi as they passed. I didn’t have the heart to warn them of the wet night they had ahead. They would be hiking late into the night.

Day 195: 1,960 ft ascent, 17.1 miles

It was cooler the next morning. I didn’t need my warm hat, but I wore my mid layer until we took off. We were getting into a habit of waking up and getting ready by headlamp so we could be packing up the tent by first light.

Similar to the morning before, we quickly came upon a stream crossing. This one was deeper and colder than the one from the morning before. I was starting to get a routine, now adding taking off my pants too because I couldn’t roll them up high enough to avoid getting wet. There aren’t many benefits of being short on the trail, and this was another area I had a disadvantage.

Many of the crossings of this day stick out in my mind. On this first one I remember stopping in the middle and looking at the water rushing towards me as I started to shiver. It was 9am. In three weeks I would be starting back at my job and sitting in an office chair. A stark contrast to standing in the middle of a stream in the backwoods of Maine.

We continued on. The wet trail from the day before wasn’t as bad but still slowed us down. The bog boards were no longer mostly under water. We got lucky as we passed the next few streams, crossing over on beaver dams and using a private bridge off trail that was for a hunting camp. I had thrown away my purist card months ago, and taking an alternate path here off of the AT was more than worth it as we saw the raging water below us.

Later in the afternoon we got to the Kennebec River. We knew this was not one to attempt crossing on our own at over 400 feet across. During the hiker season, various hiking clubs sponsor a canoe that takes hikers across for free. As another reminder that we were behind the crowd, that service had ended nine days earlier. Instead, we had to coordinate a private shuttle across.

Luckily, my friend Mona Leafa had also been a late hiker in 2021. She had told my dad and I stories about Cheryl, a local resident who lived on the north side of the river. For $50, she gives hikers a ride across the river in her personal canoe. I had coordinated with her a few days before, and confirmed our time that morning.

We arrived at the river crossing. Before long, we saw a canoe dart out into the river and start making its way upstream towards us. Cheryl arrived and quickly got Erik and I loaded up, handing Erik a paddle. They started paddling up river as I enjoyed the ride. Erik was paddling for all he was worth as requested, but Cheryl still asked him to paddle harder. This meant I got wetter being in the middle of the canoe behind him. I didn’t complain though, I was getting the break.

We made our way to the other shore, and made conversation with Cheryl before she left. She was the first person to tell us with confidence that we would make it to the end. That was so refreshing to hear after getting comments since July that we were late and behind. She had a relative who was also thru hiking and was a few days ahead of us, so she was tracking the weather a little closer than usual.

After we left her, I looked at the ten day forecast on my phone. The weather looked like it would hold until we could make it. I knew ten days out things could still change, but my confidence that we might actually make this thing to the end was growing by the day. It was moving from a hope to possibly reality. My aches and pains seemed to soften as we made our way to camp that night (but of course not before one more small shoes off crossing right before camp).

Day 196: 3,470 ft ascent, 17.2 miles

I looked on my guide app and saw we were in for some more stream crossings that day. Every day the water on the trail itself was getting better, so I had high hopes for our daily mileage. We were up and moving at daybreak again.

The trail was pretty empty, most days we were alone. Within a few minutes of us starting out, a hiker approached us hiking from where we were headed. I got nervous when I saw him. There was something about his mannerisms that had my senses raised.

He got to us and asked how much further to the road. He wasn’t talking completely clearly, but from what we could understand he had gotten stuck between two river crossings, camping between them while his friends had gotten past the second one for the night. When he woke up, the water had risen and was still going up. He ended up having to swim across the river with his pack. He was out of food and was going to quit the trail, barely 100 miles from the end. For him it wasn’t worth risking his life anymore to finish. I offered him some extra snacks that he declined, and then gave him directions to skip some trail behind us and road walk to the next main road. After we parted, Erik and I both looked at each other concerned about what we were hiking towards.

Being a civil engineer, I know of some online resources that other hikers may not know exist. I looked up local stream gages on the USGS website to see how high the rivers were and if they were falling. I then called my dad and asked him what day he had hit the upcoming river crossings when he was hiking through a month prior and how deep they were on him so I could compare his experience to what we were walking towards. We determine the rivers were falling, but they would still probably be about a foot higher when we got there than when my dad had crossed, and he had been  knee deep. That would mean waist deep or deeper for me.

We kept hiking. We didn’t have another choice. We didn’t want to quit before seeing the risk for ourselves. There were two more shoes off stream crossings I read we would encounter that day.

We made it to a gravel road beside a pond, a welcome relief from the woods… or so I thought before I realized we needed to cross the stream serving as the outlet for the pond.

I thought the stream crossings the day before were a little dangerous. They were getting more extreme as we went. The morning stream was about 10 feet across. This one was even more swollen and about 80 feet across, with maybe 60 feet of it deeper and flowing. I was worried about how fast the water was moving, but we had to keep moving. So I did my new stream crossing routine and prepared to cross.

The beginning of the crossing was flood waters. Not really flowing, but quickly over knee deep and cold. Erik wasn’t hiking with poles, and I had read online that you should only use one while crossing, so I let him borrow my other one. I quickly realized that had to be the stupidest advice ever not to use 2 poles because I had no balance, but I couldn’t ask for it back now so on I went.

Erik moved faster with his longer legs, navigating the slick, large boulders through the fastest flow. I was hesitant with every step, making sure I had sure footing before moving on. I had no idea where I was stepping and was using my feet to guide me. I almost lost my balance once, and I still don’t know how I saved it and didn’t end up with my pack in the water. I used my free hand to balance on the larger boulders when I could.

The crossing felt like forever, but was probably only a few minutes. Erik had made it across and came back to help with my spare pole and without his pack. I took my last few mid-thigh deep steps and suddenly I was in shallower, calmer water. I followed Erik to the opening for the trail through the trees, and it was maybe another 50 feet before we got to dry trail.

I went back and took a video of the stream crossing so I could remember what I had just done. I felt too close to one wrong step resulting in catastrophe during the entire crossing. It was so strange to just dry off, get my shoes back on, and continue down the trail as if everything was normal. But I guess this was normal for the AT at this point for us. Whatever it threw at us we had to keep going because we had already overcome so much as this point to get here. We were almost numb to the extreme.

After one more crossing later in the day, we set up the tent beside a stream at an intersection with a hunting road. The deepest river crossings would be the next morning. I looked at the USGS website and saw they were still high. I started looking at my maps a little more. As I zoomed out, a plan started for form in my head. I wanted to sleep on it though before deciding for sure our plans for the next day.

Day 197: 1,100 ft not AT ascent, 12.3 not AT miles

Over coffee in the morning I was looking at all of my resources again. The rivers were still up. On top of that, rain was forecast for later in the day. I explained my idea to Erik. We could road walk starting from the hunting road we had camped beside all the way to Monson. This would skip the river crossings, and hopefully get us to Shaw’s Hostel early enough in the day to give us some of a break. Erik was immediately in. We like the idea of generally keeping a continuous footpath from Georgia to Maine and this would continue the spirit of that idea. So after we packed up the tent, we said goodbye to white blazes and started down the road.

Boy was that road lovely. It was flat and so easy to walk. I had decided to track the day’s stats using my garmin watch. We were over 3.5mph pace, much faster than our usual under 2mph lately. The miles flew by. We eventually made it from gravel road to asphalt, and soon crossed the bridge of the river we would’ve had to cross had we continued on the trail. Neither one of us had any regrets once we saw the raging water.

The rain soon started, earlier than I had hoped. We threw on our packas for the last hour as we marched towards town. Finally to the town limits and on to sidewalks. We made it to a restaurant right around lunchtime. Inside and dry, we ordered way too much food and were in such good spirits having gotten into town early.

We made our way to Shaw’s, where the workers were doing deep cleaning after finishing the rush of the season. There were a few other hikers there, including the hiker we had seen who had swam the stream crossing! He explained that he had gotten a ride up to Shaws to see his friends before he headed home. He was much calmer after getting food and sleep in a bed.

We got resupplies and our laundry washed. I went down to their store late in the afternoon to get a bucket for our planned resupply. The campground store outside Baxter State Park was closed for the season, so we wouldn’t have any more chances to get food for the next 115 miles. Luckily, Shaw’s (for a fee) would deliver us a bucket of food about 60 miles ahead.

When I was picking up the bucket, another thru hiker was at the counter asking some questions about upcoming stream crossings and the resupply option. The guy at the counter wasn’t being very helpful answering his questions, so I started telling the hiker the information I knew, including that the campground store was closed. I invited him to join our resupply bucket drop as they would allow 4 hikers to share one food drop and we could split the cost.

This meant we would be hiking with a third person for the next three days until we picked up our resupply. They advised we needed to hike together if we did the resupply together. I felt bad inviting someone else to hike with us without consulting Erik first. The guy seemed nice enough in the little bit I had chatted with him, maybe about my dad’s age? Erik didn’t seem too upset when I told him. We planned to have breakfast cooked by the hostel in the morning and then take off into the 100 Mile Wilderness.

After the muumuu at the last hostel, Erik decided to go more formal this time with his loaner clothes.

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Comments 4

  • thetentman : Jun 6th

    Great pics and writing.


  • Sly the Navigator : Jun 7th

    Thanks for this wonderful account and great pics,

  • Trail master : Jun 8th

    NO Bridges for Maine ! Maine is Rough , Wild and Free ! Keep your Bridges to the south , We’ll take them out if they go in !! Keep Maine wild and Free !!!

    • Courtney Branson : Jun 9th

      Yes, rough, wild, and free with handicap accessible privies in the backcountry.


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