Why Die Trying, When You Can Try Dying! A Post About Maine!
So I am not done writing about New Hampshire. I have decided that in my mind, the Wildcat Mountain range up to the Maine border belongs to the “Maine Memories”.
Why you ask? Because Southern Maine sucks and should be categorized as an extension of the Whites.
As far as I am concerned, the last bit of the White Mountain State Park is absolute bullshit. By the time you finish the Presidentials you feel like you have completed “The Whites”. They tell you that “You did the hardest part!”
It should be done. It should be nice. You are supposed to be in the home stretch… Lies… fucking lies. Almost as bad as the lies about Virginia.
In reality, you now have the actual hardest section of trail in front of you. This is the section that everyone “forgets to mention” and doesn’t really care about. The bastard children of the Whites, the Wildcat Range up to Mount Moriah. These mountains are tough from neglect and being forgotten about and they want you to know how they feel.
Dreamsicle enjoyed this section, he has completed in Adirondack 46 and Catskills 35, he is a glutton for punishment and enjoys feeling like his lungs are bleeding. I on the other hand, was bitching about sheer stupid steep granite slides and exposed sheer slab climbing. Again, I didn’t know that the AT required a prerequisite in rock climbing.
Lets start with the Wildcats. The climb out of Pinkham Notch sucks. It is a long steep climb that made me feel like I was dying. We were slower going through this section than any of the proper Whites. The issue is you don’t get a break in this section, there is no leveling out or good spots for breaks, it is just hard climb after hard climb. This continues up the Carter Mountains and onto Mount Moriah. You have to wake up, knowing you are going to have to climb up exposed technical sections, just to go back down even harder and more technical knee breaking descents.
Besides being body breaking, this section is mind breaking. They say that this trail will break you just to build you back up, but you begin to wonder when the building back up will begin. The AMC and ATC seems to think that scuttling up sheer granite walls is a form of hiking and if they paint a blaze on it, it suddenly becomes approachable “trail”. I call bullshit! I want the AMC and ATC to know that I have caught them.
While this might be my least favorite section of trail and I struggled to keep up with my more nimble and agile hiking partner, there was some good parts. We got to visit my favorite of the huts, the Carter Notch Hut. The oldest and smallest of the White Mountain huts, it is one of the few that operates year round. Unlike the constant comings and goings of the other huts, the Carter Notch Hut sits on a quiet and peaceful Lake, tucked between two god aweful ascents up into the mountains. I also found out that this Hut is haunted and that the staff has to tell the ghost good night or else he causes problems. I can sympathize with the ghost, if Dreamsicle doesnt tuck me in and give me good night kisses or say good morning to me, I might cause problems too. It seems that I have a knack for finding haunted places on trail.
We managed to persevere and get through this section with minimal squabbling. We were blessed with good weather through the rest of New Hampshire and made our way back to Gorham for another nero in town at the Libby Barn Hostel… which is also hostel (Go watch the Kindred Spirits episode on Discovery about the hostel).
158 – 163
(Southern Maine is stupid hard and I was too tired to write)
Maine is the worst. Period.
Since crossing the border it has been nothing but rainy, foggy, and chilly weather. The terrain is absolutely insane and we havent been able to walk over 12 miles since we have entered this abyss of a state. I am just feeling really discouraged as I see my friends on social media get closer to Katahdin and I am just inching my way through the steep alick granite climbs and the soggy quicksand filled bogs.
I feel so behind. Perhaps this is because of residual trauma from feeling behind in my masters, but that was because of covid and being trapped in a crap program. Out here I am on trail. My value or life isn’t riding on the outcome of this hike. I know we are hiking our hike, but we have been struggling since leaving New Hampshire. We have been in Maine barely 3 days and we have a Hurricane Lee on the radar. Yup, a fucking hurricane is set to go up the coast of Maine. I didn’t realize that was on my Appalachian Trail Bingo Card, Tropical Storm and Hurricane. Oh, and one of the rainiest years for the AT on record!
I just feel like we have been held us back from being farther along. Little things like not planning town in and outs better, unnecessary or unintended zeros and neros, and days we could have gotten a little farther. I know I am being unjustifiably hard on myself, but I feel like compared to my friends we slacked and we are behind. I know it doesn’t matter when I finish, but I just feel like I slacked on my hike. It is stupid insecure bullshit.
This state has just been a struggle. We finally got out of New Hampshire and into Maine a few days ago, where you are met with the Mahoosuc Notch and Arm, the hardest miles of the AT. I have now hiked through this section of trail while helping a fellow hiker, Beans, with her dog, Slay Bells. I love Beans and her dog. They are some of the toughest badass hikers I know.
I felt so bad for Beans and how hard she and her dog have been struggling to get through this horrendous terrain of wet granite and rock scrambles. They day before she walked into the shelter, crying, because Slay Bells wasn’t having it. He apparently is not thrilled by this section of Maine. I knew if I was in her situation, that I would have quit without any help. I promised to help them through the Notch, I couldn’t stand leaving them behind.
So we pushed into the Notch. Slay Bells is a very thick and stout Jack russel terrier and some kind of pug mix, almost 30 lbs of stout squirrel murdering sass. Let’s just say a 3 man team of moving a small and dense dog (who isn’t thrilled about the situation) through Mahoosuc notch is not an easy task. Perhaps participants in this feat should receive a merit badge, just for attempting.
It took us four hours to complete the entire notch. This didn’t just include passing a dog (hot and spicy potato) back and forth. This also included scouting spots the dog and humans could traverse, getting and moving packs, convincing the dog and humans that they could traverse said spot, crawling through spots, retrieving dog and packs, and finding the not well marked trail. All while it was wet and beginning to rain.
Thank God and all spirits, devils, and entities, that no one was hurt and we didn’t lose the dog or gear to the Notch voids and crevasses. Overall, it was like a dreaded workplace team building event, just higher risk.
I was so glad we were able to help Beans and Slay Bells. They are some of my favorite hikers, they have always been so excited and ready to take on the next challenge. They have made it so far up this trail, despite all difficulties that this trail already presents plus the logistics of having a dog. I really hope to see them finish strong.
Dreamsicle and I differ on many things. But, we do agree on one thing, that rain is bullshit.
We do our best to avoid heavy storms and torrential downpours to maximize hiking hours. We have found that it is not efficient or easy to hike in the rain. Flooded trails and heavy precipitation slow down hiking paces and put us in foul moods. It is just easier to try and avoid the rain and make up the miles in better conditions.
At this point we had hiked almost a week in the rain and in flooded trails. The alpine bogs in southern Maine are no joke, there has been videos of hikers sinking up to the waist and chest in these benign looking swamps. And, with the amount of rain that has saturated the ground, these areas are not safe. I didn’t know that quicksand was going to be a concern in my adult life (add quicksand encounters to the Bingo Card).
At this point in time we went from being a hiking duo to a hiking threesome (get you mind out of the god damn gutter). We acquired (kidnapped) another hiker, Fruit Snacks, who also needed to get out of the rain and get into town. None of us had planned on going into Bethel Maine, but we were in no shape to push over Bald Pate into Andover. The notch had taken a lot out of us and most of my gear was wet. So we decided to get a hitch into Bethel and perhaps get a shuttle to a hostel in Andover.
Mainers are incredibly friendly to hikers, getting a hitch in the middle of no-where is easy peasy. We ended up getting into Bethel without an issue and getting a shuttle to The Cabin, a hostel that is known for hosting Earl Schaffer on his 50th anniversary thru hike. The Cabin is run by Honey, a wonderful and kind 90+ year old trail angel. She has been running this hostel since 1996 and while this hostel offers an all you can eat breakfast and dinner for an extra fee, the hiker housing has seen better days. I ended up returning to trail with an allergic reaction due to mold that only worsened in the damp outdoor conditions.
Either way, we survived and overcame the ordeals and were not looking forward to the next chunk of Southern Maine.
(At this point I have lost count of days and I have forgotten the laws that dictate the passage of time.)
There was a (apparently) a hurricane. We were lucky to only face high winds and “some” rain. We ended up taking an unintended zero because of high winds and potential death by falling trees. While this trail has been trying to kill me, I really don’t feel like dying… at this particular moment. Even though the motto for this hike has been, “Why die trying, when you can try dying!”
Due to the absolute shit weather, there was a hiker reunion in town. You know what? It was gosh darn good time, getting to catch up and see who was in our bubble. It was also nice getting to take downtime in the fun little town of Rangely. Equipped with a coffee shop, an outfitter, a sports bar, and some touristy businesses, Rangely had everything a hiker could need. Everything one could need during a hurricane. Honestly, there wasn’t much to report besides the amazing coffee shop.
(As you can see, all sense of time has left the building…)
I left Rangely in relatively good spirits, but I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling.
This shit is getting old.
You start a thru hike thinking that you are going to have so much time. A Thoreau like experience of finding solace and stillness within the woods. That is what you see on Instagram; that by being in nature you have transcended and now are ultimately a better more whole person.
That is an outright lie.
Just by walking in the woods, you have not suddenly become this perfect, beautiful, and enlightened “fixed” being. What you have done is spent a lot of time walking, eating junk food, and being stinky. Your brain also hasn’t been allowed to rot itself by staring into the void of social media except when you are in town or have a smidge of service. You have spent a whole lot of time away from all the distractions of the “real world” and now have to deal with all the little demons that live in your head.
There are no distractions from the physical and mental discomfort. No distractions from the soaking wet shoes or how self conscious you are about smelling like a rotting animal. You have put up with it every damn day. And, I was really getting tired of persevering through more of the discomfort leaving Rangely.
We had the next toughest section of Maine to get through, the Saddleback Mountains and the Crocker Range. This section of Maine is more rugged, you could perhaps say it is more “wild”. Engorged flooded streams and steep rugged mountains were what waited ahead of us…
And Still we persevere.
It wasn’t easy navigating the damp eroded trails, but it had to be done. If you have been following any of the bloggers on this site, you have heard the saying, “NO PAIN, NO RAIN, NO MAINE!”
It is true, you aren’t going to reach the end if you back out at every day. You have to push through it all. I saw this demonstrated by Beans and Slay Bells at a stream crossing. I watched Beans cross a large stream three times to get herself, her gear, and dog across the stream. Three times, she hauled herself across that stream, getting cold and soaking wet. I shudder at the thought of being soggy and cold. I can’t stand having to put on soggy cold wet socks most days, I don’t think I would have the energy or integrity to cross a demanding stream three times to get to my final destination. Her patience and perseverance when handling herself and her dog is amazing to watch. How gentle and calm she was when her dog was panicked about crossing and how much trust he put in her.
It amazes me daily how much we handle out here and how we handle it. Constantly, I am blown away by hikers and how they persevere and put their dilemas on the back burner. That the hold their heads high through it all. I hope that I can continue to hold my head high with confronting difficulty back in the real world. That even though it may be a trivial situation, I can handle it with grace.
Somewhere Near the Kennebec….
Today on trail I cursed someone. Yes, you heard me right! I got on my witch hate on and the whole double bubble boil and trouble. Why? Because I stepped in someones unburied shit.
Some bastard the night before was so lazy at my campsite, that they couldn’t be bothered to burry their own poop in perfectly soft mossy ground. Don’t be this asshole. Find a stick or a rock and burry your poop. I don’t know who this bastard is, but I hope that their butt hole is never fully clean after wiping and it is always a little itchy so that they before their underwear for not following LNT.
Besides stepping in poop, my day was swell. It appears we found the flat part of Maine. No more crazy stupid hills and the evidence of Moose abound. We hit another major Maine milestone today, the Kennebec River Crossing!
If you do not know what the Kennebec Ferry is. Well, you are in for a treat. The Kennebec River has a hiker ferry that is comprised of a canoe, a man, and a dog. This ferry guide shuttles you across the very large river in a very small canoe so that you may walk to the other side (I know this sounds like the start of a joke). This river crossing is considered a major milestone for hikers in Maine, also it is a major bottle neck as you have to get to the ferry before 2 pm.
We ended up pushing 10 miles by 12 pm. Not our fastest 10 miles, but our quickest day since starting the Whites.
It wasn’t a bad day. We ended up surviving the crossing, getting dinner at a restaurant and pushing a total of 17 miles for the day. It was a big fun and cruisy day. It was perhaps the first enjoyable day since entering Maine… Maybe this state isn’t as big of a nightmare as I thought. Although, I haven’t been in Maine long, more data must be collected.
I hope to maybe find more levity and enjoyment in Maine as we approach the end. For now, I will deal with my shitty shoe and endeavor to move north.
I sit in my tent looking at the map, 127 miles to Katahdin. It feels surreal to be that close to a goal I thought I’d never see. I started this trail hopeful and with so much uncertainty. I remember asking my cousin while driving to Amicalola Falls, how many people she had dropped off. She responded that I was the third to be dropped off and potentially the third she would pick up at Mountain Crossings if this “Wasn’t for me”.
I never thought I would get this far. So many other hikers I have met earlier on trail had the mentality of they had failed if they never made it to Katahdin. I don’t know how I would respond if I didn’t make it to the Northern Terminus. I don’t think I would see myself as a failure. I have still walked from Georgia to Maine and I still walked over 2000 miles. I have met amazing people and have been changed in the process. A piece of my heart will always remain on this trail.
The days are getting shorter. The sun is up by 6 am and dusk creeps in by 6:39 pm. It is getting colder and crisper at night, making it hard to get motivated to walk. But, atleast the terrain has become easier. We climbed the last big climb before the hundred mile wilderness, Moxie Bald. It wasn’t hard, just a large granite hill that on a good day you can see Katahdin from. Unfortunately, it was hazy due to smoke.
Now that we are out of Southern Maine and the difficult hard climbs, things feel enjoyable again. We are no longer moving across difficult terrain at a snails pace. We are actually getting into bigger mile days, it feels good to cover ground and stretch the legs. It feels nice picking up the pace, even though we are approaching the end. I can see why people go SOBO, you get the tough miles done early.
Really it is all hard. Every single bit of this is hard. At the beginning, it feels like you have taken on this fools errant of walking 2200 miles in the woods for some noble and perhaps far fetched reason. Then you get out here in the woods and you realize that that far fetched and noble reason may not have a leg to stand on. As nothing is as it seems out here, everyone around you is crazy, some more crazy and some so crazy they should be hospitalized. But, you are here and you either need to just go with it or go home, because this isn’t what you imagined.
You thought you would have more time in the woods to do some self improvement and discovery, but what you discover is walking takes up a lot of fucking time. Any time you might find outside of walking; you eat, sleep, and filter water. While walking you can only distract yourself from your thoughts for so long. It is so damn hard to be out here, with out distractions from ourselves. It isn’t the romanticized instagrammable self discovery you thought it was going to be, but rather an uncomfortable, grueling, and blunt form of facing yourself and your flaws. You now get to analyze and think about cringey, embarrassing, or depressing moment you have experienced ever! I spent 45 minutes thinking about how annoying and insufferable I was from the ages of 12 through 19.
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