Rocks, Roots, and Rain: AT SOBO Journey Begins in Maine

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” Mike Tyson on preparing for his fight with Evander Holyfield.

While my ears are still attached to my head, all my preparation took a hard reality check as I began my SOBO AT hike. Now 114 miles in, I understand much better the conditions I’ll be dealing with for the next several hundred miles. It isn’t what I expected, and I don’t think anyone can really be totally prepared for climbing Katahdin, then heading off for ten days into the 100 Mile Wilderness. Probably the most important lesson I learned is that I am not in charge.

Climbing Katahdin

Getting up Katahdin was a challenge that I really enjoyed. The rangers at Baxter State Park give you a loaner daypack so you don’t need to haul all your gear and food up, just to bring it back down. With all the rain the area received in the days prior to my arrival, parts of the Hunt Trail were a stream. I put my trekking poles away just below the tree line as the trail turned into boulders. Very challenging and very fun five miles of climbing!

It’s a long way to the top with lots of rocks and rolls.

The weather conditions were not ideal on the summit with wind and drizzly fog, so I headed down pretty quickly. I found the cairn marking the true high point, located the first SOBO white blaze, and started back down the Hunt Trail/AT for my first five miles back to the Katahdin Stream Ranger Station and my campsite.

Cairn at the summit of Katahdin. Note the marvelous view in the background.

Slow and steady gets you to the top. And down safely. The journey on Katahdin isn’t over until you make it back.

Looking down the Hunt Trail above the treeline

The 100 Mile Wilderness

Do you remember the haunted forest in The Wizard of Oz when the flying monkeys took Dorothy? That’s what I felt like walking into the 100 Mile Wilderness. It’s a thick bit of woods with a pathway filled with roots, mud, and rocks. Some of the bogs have low plank bridges to keep you out of the mud, but those things get slicker than baby poop after a can of peaches. The condition of the trail was really something I could not prepare for, nor would I recommend it. You just have to get out and do it, managing expectations for daily milage.

Into the Wilderness. At times I wanted to click my heels together 3 times and go home to Alabama.

The reward for enduring the tough trail conditions is walks alongside ponds and sprawling mountain views. The distinctive call of the loon is almost reward enough for the challenge.

Listening for the loons at a pond above Hurd Brook Lean-to while enjoying the finest instant grits

There were a few times I threw my trekking poles ahead of me and climbed the rocks to get to the peaks of White Cap and Chairback Mountains. It was worth the struggle.

View from Chairback Mountain after the clouds broke

Epic Rains Change the Plan

The first half of the 100 Mile Wilderness is mostly flat, creating conditions for a muddy hike. Once I got into the hilly second half, the trail was generally drier but with more rock climbs. I spent my first night in this hilly section at Chairback Gap Lean-to. The rain started at 3:00 a.m. and didn’t stop until 9:00 a.m. the next day. I hiked for miles in ankle deep puddles of 55-degree water. I negotiated slick rock climbs and descents. I waited 24 hours for the water to go down on four stream fords, negating a day of hiking I had actually made up two days before. While I made it out of the Wilderness, I continue to wait in Monson for the Kennebec River ferry to open, hopefully next week. The general store has good beer at a reasonable price, so things could be worse.

Because of the water, I also had the distinct pleasure of visiting the Best Buy in Bangor to buy a new phone. Apologies for a few missing pictures.

Who is in charge, anyway?

It’s not me. As someone who has completed a career where the saying “When in charge, take charge,” rules the day, this experience has been humbling. Nature and the Almighty rule the day here, and I’m just lucky to be in the creation.

Solo, but not unsupported

The AT community is awesome! From the initial logistical support at the Appalachian Trail Hostel and Outfitters in Millinocket, to the great folks at Shaw’s Hostel and Poet’s Gear Emporium, I have a lot of knowledgeable support. I’m starting to meet a handful of other SOBOs, many of whom have vast long trail and AT experience. Besides picking their brains on trail topics, they are just genuinely good people to talk to. There is a family from Ireland (father, 10-year-old daughter, and 8-year-old son) hiking 24 miles per day! I’ve met triple crowners and others like me on their first long distance hike. We all help each other stay positive and hopefully be successful. Everyone has been fantastic, and I look forward to meeting the next group.

Of course, I still have the support of my family back home, too.  I hope they enjoy the photos I send when I can. I particularly appreciate the small Swiss Army knife my dad gave me. It’s critical when I need to cut the cheese.

I’m also happy to be supporting Camp Resilient! If you feel inclined to make a donation, please click the “Tip the Author” button. All donations go directly to Camp Resilient.

Next post in 100 miles or so. Maybe a week, maybe ten days. Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, as they say.

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