The Lasts (Days 163 to 167, Stratton to Monson)

Hey there! It’s been a few weeks since I last posted. Spoiler alert – I summited Katahdin on September 24th! The internet in Maine was really slow even in towns, and I couldn’t upload my pictures during my brief stays in town. I’m back home in North Carolina now. Enjoy these last posts that I had saved on my phone. 

Day 163

Start: ME Route 27 / Stratton, ME
Finish: Flagstaff Campsite
AT Miles Hiked Today: 17.9
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 2,018.8
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 170.3

Reindeer and I had a great night at the Stratton Motel last night – friendly people running the motel, pretty clean room, no complaints. The best part is that they run a slackpacking service up and over the Bigelows, about 17 miles. The Bigelows are the last 4,000 footers before Katahdin, so Reindeer and I jumped at the chance to slackpack them and pick up some extra miles today. We were dropped at the trailhead at 7:30

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What a perfect day to be going over the Bigelows. The weather here can be unforgiving on a bad day. Fortunately there were barely any clouds in the sky, it was nice and cool, and the wind wasn’t too gusty – perfect hiking weather.

We absolutely flew today. We cleared over three miles in the first hour, stopping only once for water and once to check out the excellent views over Horns Pond

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Reindeer slowed down a bit, but I kept flying. I emerged onto the top of South Horn and was greeted by some of the best views of the whole trail. Maine, you are horrible for my knees, but you are undeniably the most beautiful state on the Appalachian Trail.

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It was a quick down and up to Bigelow West Peak and Avery Peak. I met Hot Toddie on the way down and we talked for the next hour or so. The walking was so easy today. Sometimes the hiking feels effortless, and today was one of those days.

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Towards the bottom of the Bigelows, I ran into Optimist, Purple Mist, and Cavs. We hung out in the parking lot as I organized my gear, which was waiting for me with a driver from the Stratton Motel. What a treat to slackpack today. I spoke with the others while waiting for Reindeer to arrive, but most of the others were picked up by a church group and whisked away. Hopefully they catch up tomorrow – I really like that group.

Reindeer and I hiked another mile to a campsite near the shore of Flagstaff Lake, a huge lake you can see in my pictures on top of the Bigelows. It was such a beautiful night, and we had an hour of sunlight left when we arrived, so I stripped down to my underwear and hopped in the lake. So cold!! But the sun dried me off quickly, and we ate dinner while watching the sun set over the Bigelows.

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The end of the hike is creeping up on us. Under two weeks from today, we should have summited Katahdin. As Reindeer and I hiked today, we talked a lot about “The Lasts” – yesterday was the last time we will kill a day watching crappy movies at a crappy motel. Today is our last 4,000 footer until Katahdin. My resupply yestersay will probably be the last time I need to buy Ziplocs, so no sense in conserving them like I have been all trail. Each time I do something I wonder if it will be my last on this trip. It left me in a melancholy mood as I watched the sunset.

Day 164

Start: Flagstaff Campsite
Finish: Bushcamp a few miles from the Kennebec River
AT Miles Hiked Today: 16.9
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 2,035.7
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 153.4

What a beautiful, quiet campsite we had last night. We were close to the lake, so we fell asleep to the sounds of the water, and I think I heard loons this morning. Probably my favorite campsite I’ve had the entire trail.

Now that we have left Southern Maine, the elevation profile is much flatter and hopefully the terrain will be much easier. It certainly was nice terrain as we left camp. A few small uphills and downhills, and we hit a road with a very unofficial and slightly incorrect 2,000 mile mark.

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Nearby was a posted notice about the ferry across the Kennebec River. The Kennebec is over 400 feet wide and is supposedly very dangerous to attempt to ford. So, a guy in a canoe shepherds hikers across during certain hours of the day. We couldn’t make the river today, but definitely tomorrow.

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We hit a few more alpine lakes today. Maine continues to amaze me. Every day it seems like we cruise past immensely beautiful lakes nestled into the mountains.

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Since the terrain was so easy,we quickly cleared 14 miles in about 6 hours. This left us at a nice alpine lake named Pierce Pond, where we kicked off our shoes and soaked our feet for an hour, relaxing and enjoying the gorgeous weather. Both of our ankles were hurting today for some reason, so it felt amazing to soak them in the cold water.

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We slowly made our way down towards the Kennebec, and found a bushcamp a few miles out. No sense in getting any closer today, the ferry doesn’t start until 9am. So we set up camp at 4:30 and were lying down by 6. Perfect day!

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Tomorrow we will hopefully catch the first ferry across the Kennebec at 9am and get a good half day to enjoy Caratunk. Reindeer said something about a giant burger with mac and cheese on it. I can’t wait.

Day 165

Start: Bushcamp a few miles from the Kennebec River
Finish: Pleasant Pond Lean-To
AT Miles Hiked Today: 7.9
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 2,043.6
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 145.5

Lying down for 12 hours really rejuvenated me, I highly recommend you all try it sometime! We were out of camp around 7:15 and my ankle felt much better than it did yesterday.

By 8am we had arrived at the fabled Kennebec! It looked… Not very intimidating. The low water made a ford look not only possible, but pretty easy. There were signs nearby that warned of sudden releases of water from the dam upstream, so Reindeer and I sat down to wait an hour for the guy with a canoe to show up.

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By the time 9am rolled around, there were about 10 hikers in line behind us. Then Cavs, Coach and Sunflower showed up, took one look at the line to get across, and decided to ford the river a bit upstream. They made it across and everyone gave them a standing ovation.

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The guy with the canoe had shown up at that point and after he watched to make sure Cavs and crew didn’t die walking across, he began shuttling hikers in the canoe. Reindeer did all the paddling and I got to relax and enjoy the ride!

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We walked 1.3 off trail to the Sterling Inn and grabbed my mail drop. Reindeer resupplied at the inn (fantastic resupply available there, by the way) and the guy behind the desk offered to drive us down to the local brewery and restaurant about 3 miles down the road. Nice!

When we arrived we dropped our packs in the basement and planned out next move. Monson is only 37 miles away, so if we did 5 miles or so out, that would leave us with plenty of time to make it to Monson on Friday. Then 6 days in the 100 mile wilderness, then 2 days to summit. It’s all coming together! Our hike planned, Reindeer and I went upstairs to eat.

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It was still time for breakfast, so I ordered smothered hashbrowns topped with 3 eggs. What arrived was about 2,000 calories worth of hash browns, bacon, cheese, sausage gravy, and eggs. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? I couldn’t let it go to waste, so I powered it down and was left super satisfied, and also slightly sick. I retired to the basement to lie down. So worth it.

Once I could move again, I went upstairs to take advantage of the free shower that the center offered hikers. I saw that it was pouring outside and hikers were coming in drenched. Once again, Reindeer and I have dodged the raindrops! And the forecast for the next few days looks amazing. We are the luckiest hikers on trail this year.

At 2:30 we caught a ride back to the trailhead and hiked up the 5 miles. I was still full from breakfast (see? told you it was worth it) and the terrain was super easy to the shelter.

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When we arrived, we swapped stories with Kimosabe and Owl, watching as the rain fell outside and appreciating being under cover. I got up and walked away to brush my teeth and didn’t realize my sit pad was stuck to my butt, I sat in some sap earlier. That’s the type of thing that gets you a trail name back in Georgia! We had a good laugh. Reindeer and I were in bed by 7, just the way we like it.

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Day 166

Start: Pleasant Pond Lean-To
Finish: Bushcamp a mile or so short of Horseshoe Canyon Lean-To
AT Miles Hiked Today: 20.7
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 2,064.3
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 124.8

It rained out most of the night, and I slept terribly. Daylight came way too soon. At least the weather was looking really good! All the clouds burned off as we left camp at 7:15. It was still super cold though, and I was hiking in my puffy and gloves.

Only two mountains stood in the way of Monson, and we hit them both this morning. Pleasant Pond mountain was up first, and it was surprisingly steep and tough! Blowdowns complicated the climbing, as I had to Tetris my way through the fallen trees.

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We cleared the first 6 miles down to Moxie Pond within 3 hours, and took some to sit in the sun and enjoy a snack on some rocks. In a typical year we would have to ford this inlet river, but this year has been dry – so we had an easy rock hop to the other side.

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The trail cruised right along until we hit the easy ascent up Moxie Bald Mountain. There were even some caves to explore on the hike!

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The views from the top of Moxie Bald were spectacular. It was almost entirely downhill from here all the way to Monson.

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The trail was amazingly smooth, and we cruised along at over 2mph. We had planned on camping near the West Branch of the Piscataquis River, which was 18.9 miles into our day. We hit the river at 4:30. Again, this is usually a river that hikers have to ford (see the stability line in the picture below), but it was another easy rock hop across.

I looked at Reindeer and said “One last 20 mile day?” He nodded, and off we went. There are many things I’m sad to be doing for the last time on this hike, but 20 mile days aren’t one of them. Adios!

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We bushcamped at a nice spot with the Piscataquis a few dozen feet away. Another great day, and we set ourselves up nicely for a full afternoon in Monson tomorrow. Last trail town! Gotta make the most of it!

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Day 167

Start: Bushcamp a mile or so short of Horseshoe Canyon Lean-To
Finish: ME Route 15 / Monson, ME
AT Miles Hiked Today: 10.3
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 2,074.6
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 114.5

Oh my god, so cold this morning. I had trouble sleeping because my nose was frozen. I reluctantly got out of my sleeping bag at 6am and dressed in all the clothes I own. Am I just wimpy after being on the trail during the summer? It felt like 40 degrees. Reindeer complained and stayed in his hammock for about 10 more minutes but finally crawled out and we packed up. Fingers frozen, toes frozen, noses frozen, we set off around 7am.

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It was such easy walking today. We coasted along somewhat rooty but flat trail almost the entire way to the gap. We were pulling over 2mph.

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We got to the gap around 10:45am and stuck up our thumbs to hitch into town. The first car that passed us pulled over and picked us up! They must see a lot of hikers trying to get into Monson. Our driver told us that he was up early and his car thermometer said 38 degrees in Monson.

Monson is the typical small trail town. A lot of hikers coming to town stay at the famous Shaw’s, but there are now a few more spots for hikers to stay that looked really nice. Reindeer and I had mail drops going to Shaw’s so we ate lunch at a local restaurant and headed over.

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Mail drops are optional at most trail towns, but many hikers consider Monson a required mail drop, because we are approaching the 100 mile wilderness, a 100 mile stretch without any resupply options. Reindeer and I plan to knock it out in 6 days, and buying 6 days worth of food in a small town like Monson would be expensive and difficult. I picked up my mail drop box and had to use both hands, it was so heavy. Thanks, mom, for sending me the heaviest mail drop to date! After I organized and put it in my food bag, it weighted 12 pounds. Tomorrow is going to be awful.

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Poor Reindeer. He had two mail drops sent to him, a large one and a small one – His small one showed up, but his large one was stuck in Freedom, Maine for some reason. He called the post office and I guess a lot of packages sent to Monson are getting stuck in Freedom right now. The guy at the post office told him it would be in Monson by 10:30 the next morning, so Reindeer will wait for a while in Monson and I will hike out and set up camp around 14 miles away.

We did laundry, showered, and killed a few hours hanging around the house. Shaw’s is like a giant house with bunks in some rooms and private rooms if hikers want to pay a little extra. We chose bunks, and saved our money for a giant dinner. A Cobb salad, french fries and a cheese pizza! Calorie up before the 100 mile, right?

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We got back to the bunk room and crashed around 8:30. The next time I shower and sleep in a bed  I’ll officially be a successful thru hiker of the Appalachian Trail.

Until next time, happy trails!

-Slice

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Comments 8

  • Avatar
    TBR : Sep 29th

    Great pix! Now I see what I missed when i hiked through the Bigelows in mist and fog.

    That view of Horns Pond … pretty dang nice. I had no idea. Viewed was socked in for me. Makes me want to lace up the shoes and head back to Maine.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Vinny Tagliatela : Sep 30th

      Hey TBR – Yeah, Maine was unbelievable – Favorite state on the whole trail! So rugged, but it pays off with some beautiful mountain lakes and views. I don’t know how SOBOs start with Maine, I had already hiked 2,000 miles and it kicked my butt.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Brenda M Lynch : Sep 29th

    Once again such beautiful pictures!! You will never ever know how much i have enjoyed following your adventure these last days and months!! Hopefully you will consider writing in the future–I read a lot and you certainly have the talent. I have loved that you have known just the right words to use, to truthfully tell us tell about other hikers, your fears–when your cold and all the other stuff that your have so wonderfully shared with us!! Thank you again and welcome home to North Carolina!!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Vinny Tagliatela : Sep 30th

      Thanks Brenda! I appreciate the kind words. I’m catching up on comments from the last few months and once again thank you for the encouragement on each post. It’s been fun writing and I’m glad to know you and others enjoyed taking a peek into the life of a thru-hiker!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Joe buchanan : Sep 30th

    Vinny- great job on the blog ! Your text/pic selection has made for a most interesting read . Yours was my favorite at blog of the 2016 season!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Vinny Tagliatela : Oct 4th

      Thanks Joe! I appreciate the kind words. It was fun trying my hand at writing for the last 6 months.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Deb DeRoy : Oct 3rd

    Welcome home! Hope you’ve been enjoying NC these past couple of weeks.

    Did I miss the last 100 miles post? I didn’t see one and I need the ending! I want the summit from that town in Maine, I’m sure I can not pronounce correctly!

    Congrats on making it all the way thru!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Vinny Tagliatela : Oct 4th

      Just put it up yesterday! I’ve been distracted by lying on the couch watching Game of Thrones while my mom cooks for me. (Being off trail is rough, right?) Sorry for the delay!

      Reply

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