Day 158: What Would You Do With $1.3 Million?
Today someone implied I wasn’t doing a real thru-hike because I sleep most nights in our van and slackpack most days. Ironically, they had slept in a shelter that night and were heading to a food drop in the middle of the 100-Mile Wilderness. So, my metal shelter with wheels is bad, but a wood shelter is good, as are hostels and sometimes, motels. Eating in my van is bad, but getting food delivered by a truck or provided by strangers in a parking area is good.
I wish I’d known these rules six months ago. At this point, there’s nothing I can do but finish up my second-rate hike, even though I’ve apparently wasted most of year. Alas.
My hike seemed real enough to me today, with more than 5,000 feet of climbing over 21.5 miles. PBJ and Just Try hiked past KI Road to the next shelter yesterday afternoon to shave some miles off today’s itinerary, but JW and I had chosen our shameful van stays and lighter packs.
This morning, about four miles in, we met a southbound ATC Ridgerunner who seemed shocked that we planned to walk 21 miles over White Cap Mountain and its four neighboring peaks in one day. He asked if we had emergency food and shelter with us, in case we didn’t make it. We did, as always, though JW carries a more complete kit than I do, and I’d probably have to endure a pretty miserable night.
After the Ridgerunner left, JW and looked at each other, both thinking we might have bit off more than we could chew. We knew it’d be a challenge, so we’d started early at 6:45 am and didn’t expect to finish until sunset if we maintained a 2 mph pace. But there was only one way to find out, so we soldiered on up the climbs over Gulf Hagas, West Peak, Hay, White Cap and Little Broadman Mountains.
The Ridgerunner also told us he’d seen PBJ hiking with a headlamp on Gulf Hagas Mountain at 5:10 this morning. He shook his head in bewilderment, saying that New York City’s millionaires had rented out every available cabin and B&B in Maine for the next few weeks, and PBJ was missing the Fall leaf show by hiking in the dark. So much for “Hike your own hike,” I guess.
Then, the guy started rattling off the location of every upcoming water source and potential campsite, using names and locations that meant nothing to me. I remembered the first one, which he described as the best water on the trail, but after that all his intel went right out my other ear. I could tell by JW’s expression he wasn’t retaining any more than I was. Maybe that’s how my readers feel whenever I do a data dump using thru hiker lingo. If so, sorry.
One thing I did remember was that the Ridgerunner claimed that the President of the AMC (the group that runs the huts in New Hampshire, among other things) took home $1.3 million in wages last year. He said that if the guy had taken a $200,000 pay cut, the huts would be free, and he’d still have made a million dollars. I think I’d have spent the money on some white blazes and new trail alignments, instead of free lodging, but nobody asked me. I’m going to have to look that one up when I get home, but maybe that’s why thru hikers refer to the AMC as the “Appalachian Money Club.”
We’d started the day fording the ice-cold, knee-deep West Branch of the Pleasant River with a hiker JW knew, but I didn’t meet. Then, we walked alone on a fantastic stretch of trail until we’d met the Ridgerunner. Just after that, we came up on BAM talking to Soup and Shoulders at huge tree blocking the trail. As soon as BAM saw me, she started apologizing for repaying our Virginia trail magic with yesterday’s dunking. I think the story I got out of it was a fair trade.
After that we leapfrogged Hope and Holler, a jovial older couple I’d seen yesterday. Then we had the trail to ourselves until we passed a group of 20-somethings celebrating on Little Broadman Mountain. We never caught or saw PBJ, Just Try, Sauce, or Beans. It’s always a mystery how hikers disappear and reappear along the AT.
We’d been seeing the Katahdin mileage on most of the trail signs since entering the 100 Mile Wilderness. Now, with less than 100 miles to go, each sign made us stop, laugh, and take a picture to prove to ourselves it’s real.
In the last week, we’ve stood on a few peaks where FarOut tells us we might catch a view of Maine’s greatest mountain, but weather or haze have kept it out of sight so far. Today, atop White Cap Mountain, we saw Katahdin’s broad plateaued peak sticking out from the low-lying brown smoke layer that still crosses the border from Canada.
The end is in sight. JW and I sat down on White Cap’s bare rock summit, lay back against our packs, and stared in silence. Eventually, we did what all thru hikers do. We pulled out our lunches and ate. We’re still 80 miles and 40,000 calories away. Then we packed up and hiked on.
We’d knocked out slightly more than 12 miles and all the biggest climbs by lunch, leaving us only 9.3 miles and one small climb to go. Smelling the barn, we set an aggressive pace and headed off the mountain. I stopped to re-tie my shoe and JW disappeared in a flash.
He’d been following me most of the day, occasionally commenting that I was too fast for him. I’d jogged along behind him enough to know the truth. I used to bike with a friend in Tucson who’d do the same thing. Whenever I got out in front, he’d complain about my pace, but as soon as he got ahead of me, he’d drop me like a bad habit. I could only hope JW would run out of water and have to stop to filter.
My “new” old shoes appear to be working well. I pulled out a pair I’d swapped out in Virginia but had kept in box in the back of the van. They were in better shape than the ones I just ruined and should get me to Katahdin. The soles are stiffer and less worn, and the uppers are intact. In fact, at the end of today’s hike, my feet felt better than they have for weeks. Maybe the ruin of the last pair was a blessing in disguise.
Hikers have strong opinions about shoes. If you’re into trolling, post a strongly worded statement about sneakers on any one of the AT Facebook pages, then sit back and watch people go at it.
On my hike, I wore six pairs of Altra Olympus V’s. At times, especially in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, I wished I’d had a broken-in pair of leather boots with a steel-shanked sole to protect my feet. In the rain, mud, heat, and river fords, I wore my trail runners happily.
I saw a lot of Altras on the trail. There’s a lot to like about them. For me, l like the big toe box, the light weight, the wide stable sole, and the loose fit. I’m ambivalent about the zero drop design, and will only say that you should never switch to or away from zero drops before a thru hike or you’ll destroy your Achilles. But mostly, I like that they come in size 15, which separates them from most brands. Most retail stores don’t carry that size, even if the brand makes them, so it’s difficult to try out anything else.
Durability, however, is not their strong suit. The new pair JW picked up in Monson were held together with duct tape after two days. My last two pair didn’t make it a month. Then again, New England’s AT trail is tough on shoes.
I caught JW at a water stop and hiked with him the rest of the way to our vans at Johnson Pond Road. Just Try texted him that she was hiking with Sauce and that they planned to camp on the trail tonight and would catch up at Jo-Mary Road tomorrow.
We hiked in just before 5:00, a ten-hour day. Today’s big miles earned us a 6.9-mile nearo tomorrow. JW is hoping for a hammock afternoon. I’ll be heading to Millinocket to find stove fuel and enough internet to post a blog or two. At least that’s the plan. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.
- Start: Katahdin Ironworks Road (Mile 2113.8)
- End: Johnson Pond Road (Mile 2135.3)
- Weather: Cold early, sunny and clear
- Earworm: Those Who Wait on the Lord (a climbing song)
- Meditation: Jn 15:
- Plant of the Day: Birch
- Best Thing: First view of Katahdin
- Worst Thing: Still haven’t seen a moose.
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