Reflections in Monson on the Trail Through Maine

It is a cool, wet morning at Shaw’s in Monson, ME, and the cleanup from breakfast has begun in earnest as the household lurches with full bellies toward the remainder of the day. Soon, shuttles will depart, bringing hikers back to the trailheads. Some are heading south, others north. One will take a ride to Bangor to wait for an evening flight. As quickly as the house filled yesterday, it disperses again and a peaceful, anticipatory silence settles into the corners of the rooms as one of the Appalachian Trail’s most popular hostels awaits another night’s guests.

I arrived yesterday afternoon, limping down Pleasant Street in boots coming apart at the seams. In the driveway, a group of hikers reclined in Adirondack chairs, snacking, tinkering with gear, or smoking. Someone handed me a PBR and I slouched into an empty chair and let the domestic lager ease the day’s flat and fast miles off my legs. I met my hosts, Poet and Hippy Chick, with a weary fist bump. The neighborhood pups ambled about, looking for head scratches and handouts. Eventually, I summoned the effort to unroll my tent to dry and shuffle to the general store for a pint of Chunky Monkey.

With just over 100 miles left on this northern leg of my flip-flop trek, I can feel myself reaching the limits of both my body and mind. I wrote in a post on Instagram that Maine didn’t roll out the welcome mat so much as it unrolled a leather belt and proceeded to beat me. In hindsight, this seems a tad melodramatic. Yes, Maine has been relentless and full of surprises. I’ve been nearly carried off by the mosquitoes, shredded skin and clothes in the nooks and crannies of Mahoosuc Notch, and flooded socks in the river and stream crossings. But then again, I’ve also stood on top of Avery Peak and saw sunrise on the Kennebec River the next day.

One of the things that makes the Appalachian Trail experience beautiful is you can’t like it the whole time. When the stench of a rotting moose carcass sent me gagging in the weeds or a false summit revealed another 100 yards of vertical climb, I recall that that all of this comes with the territory, and by meeting the many faces of the trail with clear, open eyes, it is ultimately a worthy pursuit. Sometimes the pain is worth asking for.

In the days since crossing the state line, Maine has become my favorite state so far for its wildness. and in the coming days, it’s about to get a lot more wild. The 100-Mile Wilderness waits for me and as soon as I pick up my resupply from the post office (due to open in 45 minutes), I’ll dive back in, this time with new boots.

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