Our Abbreviated 100 Mile Wilderness
Our plan for the 100 mile wilderness was to go through it as efficiently as possible within our capabilities. Shaw’s had an option to do a food drop halfway through the wilderness, but we opted to not go with that. Our plan was to try to do this section in about 3.5 days. We would do 25 miles on day 1, get over the Chairbacks on Day 2, coast on the easier trail on day 3, and then walk to the base of Katahdin on day 4. Seems simple enough.
We woke up early for the famous Shaw’s breakfast. Pancakes, eggs, pancakes galore. Margarita and I ate communally at a table with four other hikers. It was a busy scene as almost everyone at the hostel was at a table eating to prepare for the day. Some people were taking zeros, others weren’t leaving until the afternoon. It was a beautiful scene to watch thru hikers sharpened by two thousand miles function in the last stretch. It was a joyous, somber occasion as everyone understood the journey was coming to an end, but the energy at the hostel was that of a west coast music festival simply by its history and significance. After breakfast we packed up our possessions, said our goodbyes to the friends we made, and jumped into the van due to the trailhead. Poet dropped us off at the trail at 8:00. He parted us with a little poem that he wrote when he hiked the trail years back, and we were then on our way to complete this beautiful trail.
The trail was relatively the same, if not a little rougher on the feet. It was what we were expecting though. Everyone had told us that these next 50 miles would be some of the roughest we’d felt yet. Lots of roots protruded on the trail and slick rock slabs were a frequent site on ridge walks. At one point we did get a little lost and had to find our way back on trail. We jumped on what seemed to be an old trail that had been victim of a reroute.
After walking 15 miles, we stopped at Slugundy Falls to eat some lunch. We only had 10 miles left and it was only 2:00. I made three big mistakes here. Mistake one was dropping my water bottle in the waterfall. I had an empty smart water bottle, and I was in the process of refilling it when it just slipped from where I had it. We were on a slight slope and that enough for it to go tumbling down into the waterfall. It was gone forever. I understood the breach of LNT principles but it was just one of those unlucky situations. There was no opportunity for a rescue attempt of the bottle. So I was one liter of water short for the rest of the 100 mile wilderness.
Mistake number two was my choice of fuel during this rest. I ate an entire bag of parm crisps. And that was it. I didn’t feel the effects of this decision until after we started hiking again. And unfortunately mistake number three couples perfectly with mistake number two. I bought a bandana from Shaw’s and thought I’d be a bandana guy for the rest of the trail. I specifically asked Margarita if she thought I could pull the bandana off. At lunch, I fashioned a bandana around my head before we began hiking. Why was this a bad idea? Well it was now the hottest point of the day, and we had a big climb to tackle. Additionally, I was not a bandana expert and had it on too tight. So in closing, I had a bandana that was now giving me a major headache and making me feel slightly woozy, and I had a stomach of only dry, salty, tasteless parm crisps that was already starting to come up the way it entered. All this and a giant climb in 90 degree temperatures. I felt the effects of all of this immediately as Margarita zoomed so far ahead of me that she was no longer in my view. I slugged up the trail, stopping multiple times to drink water and catch my breath. At one point, I tried calling Margarita’s name. I was not good. I was in between a puke, a poop, and a headache all at once. Why did I eat that many parm crisps. I now had the bandana off my head. I was not going to be a bandana guy.
Eventually I caught up to Margarita who had two other hikers following her. They let me pass them in order to walk behind Margarita, and we successfully climbed Barren Mountain. I told Margarita I wasn’t feeling well, and we took some time at the top to relax and breathe. I was honest with her and said that I wasn’t sure how much further I could go. We were doing this together, so she made it clear that if we needed to stop early we would. In my mind, the thought of my hike unraveling at the very end creeped in my psyche. This can’t be how it ends. A bag of parm crisps? An overly tightened bandana? No.
I said that I would continue to hike on, and if I need to stop I will let her know. Things got better as I hiked on. I did dry heave a little bit and that seemed to alleviate some of the problems. I also found a place to use the restroom and that helped a lot. Fortunately for us, I was able to make it to our designated camp site without an issue, and our plan wasn’t stymied by my series of bad mistakes. We found a nice campsite by W Chairback Pond Stream. It was a bit of a squeeze, but we made it work. Margarita and I ate dinner and talked about our future lives post trail as the sun set in the distance. Our days on trail were numbering, and we knew that all of this would be gone in less than a week.
W Chairback Pond Stream
Bright and early just like every other day. This was getting all too easy. We started the trail at around 6:00 and proceeded to tackle more miles. The goal today was to get over the final Chairback mountain. Once we got over a mountain called White Cap, we were told the trail would open up for us to take on bigger miles. So we allocated all of our energy towards getting this done.
Maine continued to flex its muscles on us. Still rocky and still rooty. Continual 500-800 foot ascents in a mile was around every corner. Maine was relentless. We didn’t see many hikers while we were hiking which was surprising. We figured we had caught to up the bubble and seeing the crowd at Shaw’s, we figured that trail would be flooded at this point. But we felt pretty isolated. Occassionally we’d pass a thru hiker or a SOBO section hiker, but these interactions were rare. Aside from the food drop at the halfway point, the 100 mile wilderness was the most primitive section of the trail so far.
We were pleasantly surprised to see that the Maine Appalachian Trail Club had built rock steps to assist hikers on maneuvering steep ascents. The steps were an upgrade from stepping on roots or jagged rocks with foot holds. This and the massive overgrowth of trees protected us from the intense heat on these climbs. We were largely under shade throughout our hike today. Before climbing White Top, we prepared ourselves for the first reveal of Katahdin. After White Top there is an opening in the trees that leads to a view of Katahdin, the very first view of the mountain all trip. Margarita and I were fully expecting to cry at this moment. And after scaling the rocky, exposed summit of White Cap we leveled our eyes on what we were told was our destination: Mt. Katahdin. We took some time to stare out in the vast, Maine wilderness, but no tears emerged from our eyes. I jokingly said, well this was underwhelming in which Margarita sympathized. We were both blank with emotions. We felt weird because of this. Everyone had told us that we would be fighting back tears. In reality for us, we stopped for a minute and then continued hiking. I guess things hadn’t sunk in yet.
We stopped for lunch and a refill on water at Logan Brook Lean-to. I applied some leukotape to Margarita’s chaffed up back (it looked like burn marks), ate some Hawaiian rolls with Salami, and then jumped back to hiking. As we were hiking, I felt a disturbance in the air (very Star Wars of me, I know). The air seemed to smell differently, and the summer sun that casted long shadows on the trees had disappeared. I turned around to look up in the sky and saw what I thought was approaching: A menacing, rain cloud. A large, dark cumulonimbus cloud consumed the sky South of us. We knew that a storm was incoming, so we hurried our legs to the nearest shelter. As we approached the East Branch Lean-t0 a light rain started to drizzle on us. Nothing too serious, but I still popped up my umbrella. But I was getting a little concerned as I didn’t really have any strong rain gear on me. I hiker boxed my Frogg Togg rain suit at Shaw’s thinking I wouldn’t need it and would just be deadweight in my pack. I was wondering if I would be regretting this choice.
We stumbled into the shelter just as the storm fully engulfed our location. Giant rain drops, bolts of lightning, and crackling thunder surrounded us, but we were able to stay dry thanks to the shelter. In the shelter there were some section hikers and a girls camp group. The girls camp group must have been from Canada as they all spoke fluent French and conversed only in this. Margarita and I discussed our plans for the rest of the day. It was only 4:00, lots of daylight, and 10 more miles left on our schedule. We both didn’t want to hike in the rain, but we knew we had to make more miles than just 20 for the day. We agreed to wait to see if the storm would pass through. As we waited, we made friends with the section hikers underneath the shelter. Margarita was able to bond with them as they were all UNC alums. They got to talk basketball and other North Carolina things as I sat there idly. After 40 minutes the rain stopped, and we didn’t hear thunder anymore. We said our goodbyes, and to the shock of everyone at the shelter, we made our way down the now flooded trail.
We had stream crossing that seemed to be flowing rather aggressively. This was probably due to the rainstorm that just passed minutes prior. We crossed with relatively dry feet and continued further down the trail. There were no more big climbs, just gradual ones that looked like nothing compared to the rest of Maine. Margarita was sweating profusely in her rain jacket. I told her she needed to jump on the umbrella bandwagon but she resisted. It has been my belief that on the East Coast it makes little sense to wear a rain jacket for many reasons: 1) Rain jackets wet out far too often. Packable rain jackets with only a 1 or 2 layer membrane are the biggest culprits of wetting out. Anything more than 2 layers tend to be too heavy to bring backpacking, especially thru hiking where one might not use the rain jacket enough to bear the weight. 2) East Coast humidity it too much of an issue to wear any extra layers. Particularly in the summer time, I’ve found myself wetter from perspiration than the actual rain itself. This goes for pants as well. Having said all of this, I did carry a Frogg Togg jacket and pants for a few hundred miles. But I would only use the pants if the rain was coming down hard (once in Vermont), and I would only use the jacket as a backpack rain cover by putting the hood on my head and then draping the rest of the jacket over my backpack to allow for maximum airflow. Anyways, I digress.
We found some awesome trail magic at an access road. Three coca-colas were laying on the side of the trail. Margarita grabbed one, and I grabbed the other two. We clinked our cans together and continued further down the trail. At this point, the trail became flat. And I really mean flat. Little rocks, hardly any roots, and barely any variation in elevation. It felt like a road walk. We zoomed down the trail and made it to the shelter all before 9:00. When we arrived at the shelter, we were shocked to see that it was absolutely packed. Inhabiting most of the sites was a boys summer camp. There were things that they did that annoyed Margarita and I a little bit. For example, they were yelling at an hour where most people were going to bed. They also tied their hammocks right across the trail, so we had to essentially bush wack around to get to a water source. They also were playing music from a speaker (they were playing Uncle John’s Band by the Grateful Dead, so I give them a pass here because I like the song). The rain actually started to lightly fall again, so we didn’t want to eat outside. The shelter was completely full, so we just set up our tents and cooked food in there. Well I cooked food in my tent; Margarita cold soaks her food. I ate my rice, cheeze-its, and bacon jerkey all inside my tent without a care in the world. We felt strongly, based on our campsite location, the number of people at our site, and who was at our site that we wouldn’t have any issues with animals tonight.
Cooper Brook Lean-to
Today was the day to do big miles. The worst of the 100 mile wilderness was behind us now, and we were looking forward to gobbling down easier miles. The day started with a beautiful jaunt down a scenic section of the trail. It was early morning, and the sun was rising, bringing up condensation from the rain last night. Margarita and I were able to have conversations without worrying about tripping over some root or rock. These felt like easy miles—easy miles that we deserved after going through the ringer for 2100 miles. I crossed a stream with a rope for support and almost fell in. I wish that we recorded this incident, but I only got my backpack slightly wet. Aside from this, the miles blurred together. Things got really easy, and we made nearly 20 miles by 2:00 in no time. We stopped for lunch at Nahmakanta Lake and refueled before we pushed another 12-13 miles. An off leashed dog nearly wiped me out of the trail but luckily broke off at the last minute. Nesuntabunt Mountain was a bit of a climb but it ended earlier than I thought and proved to be another cakewalk in hindsight. We had another view of Katahdin from here and still no emotions. We passed by Rainbow Stream Lean-to and saw a decent amount of hikers stationed there preparing for the night. I didn’t think we were thru hikers, as I quickly inspected their bags and didn’t see any AT tags. We pushed on more to the Rainbow Spring Campsite. Here we met some section hikers who shared camp with us. The water at this site was some of the coldest all trail. When we were cooking dinner, I ran out of gas in my stove. Luckily the section hikers near us were kind of enough to lend me some fuel to boil some water. We had about 10 miles left until we were out of the wilderness.
Rainbow Springs Campsite
We were essentially out of the 100 mile wilderness. A nice and early morning got us out of the wilderness by 10:00. We passed by some SOBO flip floppers along the way. Notably, I saw a family of hikers who I passed in Southern Virginia heading South. We made it to Abol Bridge and saw a beautiful site of Katahdin in the distance. But before we continued hiking, we needed to resupply on food. We went into the Abol Bridge Campstore to stock up on a days worth food. Katahdin was tomorrow so there was no need to buy more than a days worth of food. There was Gifford’s ice cream at the store, so we obliged. Ate some chips and other light snacks and then made our way to the trail again. We were off to the Birches Campsite! There is a 12 hiker limit at the site, so we were hoping there wouldn’t be a lot of people already there. We headed down the Golden Road again and actually missed the turn and went down an actual dirt road meant for cars. We quickly realized the mistake and found our way back on trail. The trail followed the West Branch Penobscot River for a long time. Lots of mosquitoes were around this section. Luckily I had pants, but Margarita was getting eaten alive with her shorts. Bugs were so bad that I had to put on my headnet for almost the entire way.
We got to the ranger station and checked in with the ranger to see if the Birches was still available. He said it was and he proceeded to give us the script on the rules of the campsite and the mountain. After a little 5 minute speech, he asked us for $10 each to stay at the Birches. For some reason, I was not aware of this and didn’t have any money on me. Fortunately for me, Margarita and 19$ and covered me. We were still $1 short and that’s when the ranger was kind enough to donate $1 of his own. Wow, I got lucky. Imagine going 2200 miles only to turned away at the end because one didn’t have $10 in cash.
We walked down a gravel road to the campsite and were surprised to only see 5 other hikers, all of them section hikers. We were the only thru hikers at the Birches for the day. Margarita and I wanted to leave super early in the morning, so we actually ate our dinner quite early in order to go to bed at a reasonable time. During dinner, we were given trail magic by a day hiker who was so kind to give us gatorades that she had in her car. We had a big day tomorrow, so we went to bed by 6:00. We were going to be awake by 4:00. Katahdin Eve! The journey was almost over. One more day.
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