Last week of July has JoJo and I getting our coats and thermals shipped back from home. Gone are the hot, steamy days of Virginia as we flip flop to Maine and start hiking south. Maine in August (for us) sees days in the 70s and nights much colder; especially in the mountains; but more on that in the next post. We have completed 635 miles on foot in 3 months. An additional 150 miles by canoe. We will have to hike those canoe miles in order to get recognition of thruhiking by the AT Conservancy. Although, I’m sure Dr Phil would recommend that I don’t base my self worth on recognition from others ( wink ). Hike your own hike.
On our drive north we stop at the Hyperlite headquarters. They are a manufacturer of lightweight hiking gear. Luckily, they were closing right when we arrived and I didn’t even have time to make an impulse buy. Next stop north was Freeport, Maine; home of LL Bean. We had plenty of time there to shop since it stayed open 24 hours and they got some of our money. I loved that store.
The Expedition North
On Friday, July 28, we finish the drive to Bangor (Maine) International Airport to turn in the rental car. We walk out of the airport to a bus station a short distance away. After a few hours wait in which we visit both McDonalds and Wendy’s to use the wifi; and a local grocery run, we are on the bus riding to Medway. We talk with Saruman who is on the same flip. In Medway, we get dropped off at a gas station to a waiting van. The van is our last ride to the Appalachian Trail Lodge in Millinocket, Maine.
After getting to the Appalachian Trail Lodge we are checked in immediately. JoJo and I make a quick dinner run to the local restaurant for pizza and a beer right at closing time. Back at the lodge we divide our food supplies up. Half is going with us when we leave in the morning. The other half is going into a 5 gallon bucket and staying behind. Right after Katahdin we will be entering the 100 mile wilderness. The lodge will deliver our left behind bucket of food to their hiding spot in the woods a few days later. We are given directions on where to find it. This keeps us from having to carry so many days worth of food at once.
Saturday, July 29, the morning comes way to early. We hustle to a van leaving for Baxter State Park promptly by 6am. The van ride seemed too long. I was sitting in the back and not loving it at all. When we finally reach the campground Ranger Station we swap our heavy backpacks with smaller day packs. Since we did not reserve a campsite ahead of time we have to wait for 8am in order to grab the one site that is kept on a first come basis. It can hold up to six people and JoJo, myself, Saruman, and Savage agree to split it. All the other hikers start their ascent while JoJo and I wait to secure the site.
Just after 8am and we’re off. Katahdin awaits. The AT passes directly past our reserved site. As we pass, Sunset is one of the campers who stayed on it the night before. Darwin and Sherlock are Sunsets new tramily at the moment. After a quick reunion, and promise to catch up with her in the 100 mile wilderness, we once again are off. Just in the woods and JoJo remembers something about her camera that requires her to run back to the Rangers Station. She returns and, finally(!), we are off! A short 5.5 miles is all we need to reach the summit.
Awesome mountain. We are excited to get back to hiking. JoJo and I got along great off and on. When we didn’t; we REALLY didn’t. She had a right to be upset. Our delayed start to hiking put us behind and we knew from the start that coming back down in the dark was a real possibility. The time crunch, not doing any real hiking for the last 20-something days, and terrain made this a tough physical and mental day. We reached the summit around 3:30pm and after only a few pictures we headed back down.
Our southbound hike had begun! 5.5 miles (for the second time, because we had to go up and back down) and we finished in the dark. I would grade that trail as strenuous. The climb up was, at times, as much an actual climb as it was a hike. Coming back down was worse. We passed a couple groups that had to turn back before reaching the top because the trail was tougher than they expected.
Back down at the camp we put our tent in the picnic area next to our tentsite. The ground for the actual tentsite was too hard to get tentstakes into. I spend a few moments watching some people play with a lighted frisbee in the dark before falling asleep.
Sunday, July 30, JoJo and I get up after daylight. Saruman is first to leave. Savage leaves shortly afterwards. As JoJo and I get ready to leave we talk with a guy walking passed to get a picture of the start of the trail. His trailname was Spandex Kid, class of ‘92. His wife was waiting in the car just 30 feet away while he visited the place he hiked 25 years earlier.
A True Oasis
The hike out of Baxter State Park was a nice walk almost entirely along a creek with multiple waterfalls. After about 10 miles we wind up reaching Abol Bridge Campground. The place is remote enough that the entire campground, including onsite restaurant and general store, are all ran off generators. We make it to the restaurant just before they quit taking orders and get ours in for a couple burgers. Savage is there and we decide to grab another campsite together.
The campsite was awesome. Right next to a flowing river that has a long stretch approaching the campground before taking a 90 degree turn to continue downstream. It flows fast enough that a group of whitewater rafts pass as we are setting up our tents on the bank. The site has a magnificent view of Katahdin. Throw in the before mentioned restaurant (which provides breakfast the next morning with each nights stay) and store (selling cold beer) and this seems like an oasis. The facilities were even cleaner than most anything we had ran into on the trail.
I didn’t think this spot could be any better. Then it got better. A bald eagle had a nest directly across the river from us. I don’t get to see a lot of bald eagles. Having one constantly screaching 40 yards away in the same month we celebrate our independence and it just made it a special place. I went to bed a happy man.
Best Zero Ever
We awoke on Monday, July 31, and almost immediately decided to zero that day. We had only hiked two days since getting back on trail but we were about to enter the 100 mile wilderness so it seemed appropriate. Savage had the same zero idea and she wanted the time to explore the possibility of a work for stay.
After breakfast most of the campground cleared out. JoJo was trying to make friends with a little, black dog that was running around. Turned out to be the pet of a campground helper named Tom who was the one responsible for keeping the place looking its best. I decided to grab some beer and just soak up the atmosphere as I was still in awe of everything my senses could take in around our camp. The weather was perfect. JoJo was bouncing between talking with Savage and venturing up to the store to use the WiFi so I just enjoyed the day sitting around camp.
After a few hours JoJo noticed Tom getting a couple kayaks cleaned up on his site so I walked over to talk. Tom said him and Taz (his dog) were going for a ride and I could join them if I wanted too. Before he was finished offering I had his other kayak in hand ready to go. We paddled upstream against the current for a while. Tom talked quite a bit but half of what he said I didn’t follow because I did not understand his lingo. Sometimes I would ask what he meant when I could interrupt. Most times I had to just smile and shake my head like I was following the story.
We got upstream enough to paddle into an inlet out of the strong currents path. After a couple narrow turns it opened into a nice, small bay that provided another awesome view of Katahdin. The fact that this view was not one that everybody got because you needed the kayak to get there was not lost on me. Afterwards, we continued to paddle upstream until the combination of our tired arms and the strong current made it time to turn around.
We pulled over to the bank to rest before letting the current take us back. On the return trip Tom and I got out of the kayaks and floated beside them using a rope to keep them from floating away while we weren’t looking. Taz continued to ride and kept a close eye on Tom whenever he would dive down. The water was cold but not to the point you were uncomfortable. The water was about 5-10 feet deep and clear. I kept floating facedown and opened my eyes to watch the sunlight illuminating the river bottom. When I got tired of holding my breathe I would float on my back and stare at the clouds.
When I got back to the campground Savage had started to swim around some but her complaints of the cold water kept JoJo from joining. I thanked Tom for the adventure and JoJo and I hit the restaurant for dinner. It was a great day that amounted to the best zero I’ve had.
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