Monson to New Hampshire
After finishing the 100 Mile Wilderness going southbound, our small group (ranging from 3 to 12 people) reached Monson, Maine on June 18, 2022. Monson seems like ages ago, although its been just under a month since we reached that first town. It was an important month; the month we completed the state of Maine. First state, first memories, new friendships. This update spans from Monson to the Maine/New Hampshire border, AT miles 114.5 to 281.8.
“It’s more ultralight to lose your mind” (an ode to hiker hostels)
Monson is typically the last town stop for northbound (NOBO) hikers and the first town for southbound (SOBO) hikers. After 9 days of hiking the 100 Mile we took our first zero (zero miles hiking for the day) at Shaw’s Hiker Hostel to avoid bad weather. Making miles is nice – so is taking the time to rest and recover. Avoiding a cold front with temperatures in the 40s and rain is always nice too.
In the past four weeks heading SOBO on the AT I’ve stayed at a few hostels and stopped by a couple to re-supply. They are places where hikers and other adventures gather to rest and celebrate.
Hostels are phenomenal places differing in size, quality, age, and distinctiveness. Most seem to offer bunk room space (individual beds in a shared space), private rooms, shared bathrooms, and lounge areas. Some offer warm breakfasts. A few places can only host a few people at a time; others 30 or more.
Hiking the AT has provided lots of moments where I ask is this really life? And sleeping in a garage converted into a bunk house with 12 other hikers and gear, and feeling totally comfortable sharing that space, was definitely one of those moments. The quote used as the section header was overheard in said bunkhouse.
Our stay at Shaw’s was wonderful, Monson being a very walkable town with a couple restaurants, a general store, convenience store, Poet’s Gear Emporium (ran by the hostel), and even an art gallery displaying peices by local artists. The perfect first town stop.
The Monson Hangover
Although many hikers left Shaw’s with a bit of a headache, the hangover I’m talking about wasn’t physical. It was more of an unspoken feeling that impacted most of our group. Or at least I felt it. I’ll do my best to explain.
The 100 Mile Wilderness is a SOBO’s introduction to the trail. Its a wild section of trail to begin with, technically and with the lack of easy bail out/resupply points. As a group we depended on all these new faces to accomplish the first 114 miles with a big flurry of excitement. But now that gigantic goal had been reached.
With mountains behind us (and in front), the terrain coming out of Monson was easy. Too easy. It provided lots of time to overthink about what was next.
Many of us had expected this SOBO journey to be more solitude. Hiking in a larger trail family has been amazing. However, nerves were definitely present with group dynamics. Should I stay with these friends I had made? Or push ahead? Did they want me around?
I never thought, two weeks into the hike I’d be writing from my tent from a campsite shared with mostly everyone from night one. Whoda thought? This was never the plan.
There was a day near Caratunk that I almost ran. But then, through talking with a few others I realized a few things. Stop overthinking it. Trees need community to survive and so do humans. And don’t should your pants (an idea adapted from Coach Marie-Pier Tremblay @selfgrowthnerds, with the intent to not get stuck in a spiral thinking events should happen in a certain way.) Hiking in a group was fun, we all worked together, and had similar pace/mileage goals. We were a family. And as a family a balance was found as the mountains of southern Maine loomed ahead.
The Tour De Maine
Fun fact, my father loves watching the Tour De France. Much like long-distance bicycle racing, the AT through Maine was a blur. Maybe not to those following at home, but to us hiking it was blurred full of beautiful views, steep climbs, notches between mountains, alpine bogs, sore muscles, slippery slaby rock, step downs that make your knees ache, and ridgeline walks above the clouds. In Southern Maine the game of floor is lava (jumping between rocks and roots to avoid the main path) was replaced with mind numbingly tough ascents and decents where flat earth only happened on the summits.
With that in mind I’d like to give credit to the highlights of Maine:
- Day 12: left Monson
- Day 14: re-supply at the Sterling Inn in Caratunk, pizza at Kinnebec River Brewery, slept in the Kinnebec trailhead parking lot
- Day 15: Kinnebec River Ferry (a free canoe ride for hikers) and avoided attack by an aggressive Goshawk
- Day 16: Bigelow Mountains – sunset on Avery Peak, cowboy camped with sunrise on West Bigelow
- Day 18: zero in Stratton at the Maine Roadhouse
- Day 19: Crocker Mountains
- Day 20: 200 MILES!
- Day 21: Saddleback Mountains
- Day 22: stopped by the Hiker Hut Hostel for egg sandwiches, hitched into Rangeley for lunch at Parkside & Main (A++ food), and a re-supply at the IGA.
- Day 26: Baldplate Mountain
- Day 27: zero in Bethel to avoid rain (which occasionally works) and rest our legs
- Day 28: Old Speck Mountain and Mahoosic Notch
- Day 29: Goose Eye Mountains and MAINE/NEW HAMPSHIRE border
My suggestion for SOBOs heading into southern Maine and entering the Whites, the game of floor is lava is your friend (as long as you dont fall). Rock hopping on easier trail helps to build foot and lower leg strength, balance with your pack, and to learn the limitations of your shoe grip. All of this will become super important as the trail becomes more technical.
The Disappearing Moose Poop
As we continued to head south we ran into a large group of NOBOs who had crossed the NH/ME border only a few days prior. NOBOs are becoming more frequent these days and are often great sources of information. They asked if we had seen a moose, to which we unfortunately replied no, but we all agreed there was alot of evidence of moose along the trail.
To the NOBOs moose scat was a new occurrence that was noticeabley becoming more common. To a SOBO, the medium sized pellets left behind by moose are littered along the trail like leaves. Old piles and new piles of it, and if its super fresh its the perfect time to look around to try and spot the leave no trace offender.
It hadn’t yet occurred to me that one day we would walk over our last pile of moose poop.
It’s a perfect way to close out this chapter of the hike.
At 281.8 AT miles I lived in Maine for around a month. A bittersweet feeling to be leaving, celebrated with Photo Op and Bio Diesel with a swig of spiced rum. There is definitely a different feeling to the air and trail in New Hampshire (less maintained and with fewer blazes, a controversial subject for many.)
I’ll miss the moose poop, summits, and alpine lakes. All the memories of that first state. However, this is what we’ve been walking towards. A new state, new challenge, new chapter to this hike, the White Mountains await.
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Thank you Kate! I just can’t tell you how much I am enjoying following you. You go girl!!!!